Sleek design and high-quality materials make the Manfrotto Chicago Camera Backpack Medium an appealing proposition. Fully laden the wide shoulder straps help take the load. However, this is a bag for the urban photographer, so there's no waist strap for rural exploration, but then who'd want to with a bag that is so obviously designed for city life.
The top section is spacious, and with a choice of left or right side access, there's plenty of flexibility for both left and right-handers. The only issue I have is with the large laptop slot at the back; the structure of the bag doesn't give this section the support or protection it should for your laptop. Otherwise, a very stylish camera backpack ideally suited to the urban photographer.
What is the Chicago Camera Backpack Medium
Slick city-style backpacks seem to be one of the major driving forces for camera bag design at the moment. The Manfrotto Chicago Camera Backpack Medium is one of the most stylish bags I’ve seen so far.
If the name of the new range wasn’t enough to categorise this as a city bag, then looking over the bag highlights a few additional features that truly mark this camera backpack down for urban photographers.
Firstly the wide shoulder straps are designed to take a comfortable weight, which is good as there’s no additional waist strap.
Access is through the side, making it easy to go sling style, and adding to the usual convenience of this style of the bag the internal section can be configured with either left or right side access.
Zip’s and pockets are aplenty, and all help to keep the contents of your bag safe. There’s even a large laptop slot in the back.
The look and style of this backpack instantly stand out; it’s sleek, stylish and couldn’t be further away from what we traditionally term a camera backpack.
However, pop open the top or open the side access, and the true heart of this bag is revealed. This is a true camera backpack in city-slicker style.
The entire look is premium with high-quality materials used for the exterior and an ultra-tough Kevlar fabric used on the base.
Incredibly for the size of the bag, it’s able to comfortably hold a DSLR or Mirrorless camera along with four lenses and a 15/16-inch laptop.
Access to the bag can be made through the side; which side depends on how the middle insert is rotated for the opening.
This means that you have the choice about the bags main access being from the left or right. You can’t have both, and there’s no rear or front access.
If you’re going to carry a tripod, then there’s a large strap that can be attached to the front of the backpack, along with a fold-out tripod pouch at the base of the bag.
Once in position, the tripod is helped surprisingly securely.
As well as the top section, large main section, there are a variety of pockets and pouches dotted around the bag. These are all flush with the design of the bag which is a nice touch, and the two stretch pouches on either side are a real winner when it comes to design and are ideal for water bottles or Map.
To give you an idea of size the internal dimensions these are
31 x 17 x 44 cm with the camera insert being 28 x 11 x 21 cm. The External Dimensions are 35 x 20 x 49 cm, and the overall volume of the bag is 18 litres.
Build and Handling
The material quality of the bag is outstanding with Manfrotto’s choice of materials defining the look. The bag, for the most part, feels well supported, and when sat on the ground, it is easily able to support itself without the bag is wanting to topple over.
The shoulder straps are well designed with plenty of width to take the load. The chest strap is there in case you need it, for an urban bag I don’t feel that you need to have a waist strap, so it’s good to see Manfrotto hasn’t thrown in a token one to meet the needs of the critics.
Another nice touch on the shoulder straps is the metal adjustment buckles which all help to reinforce that feeling of quality. There are also two fabric loops on the right shoulder strap, great for feeding a hydration pipe through or something else.
On the back section, there’s also a trolly loop, meaning that this bag would also be a great choice as a flight carry-on dependent on restrictions.
As you look over the bag, it’s obvious that all zips are of decent quality, and open and close smoothly. A nice feature of the top section is that as well as zip, the lid includes a magnet which helps to keep the top section lightly closed.
To get to the main section you unzip the side to reveal the removable inner section. This features the usual velcro inserts so you can configure as needed. This insert is all well-padded, ensuring maximum security and protection for your kit.
The only part of the backpack that I’m unsure about is the laptop insert. While this is well padded the back panel itself, that sits against your back, lacks any real structure. As such, there can be quite a bit of pressure applied to the contents of that pocket, which would be your laptop.
Having damaged a laptop in a backpack in this way, I prefer to see a little more support for the protection of the laptop, or make sure that the bag isn’t heavily loaded in transporting camera kit and laptop together.
Let’s start with the top section; this design is now a common sight amongst all genres of camera backpacks and is incredibly useful.
Having a large open space on the top of your bag that you can quickly access is a real lifesaver in all sorts of situations.
Herewith the Manfrotto Chicago Camera Backpack Medium the fact the bag can sit upright and support itself means that this top section is an ideal platform to leave filter cases, lens caps and all manner of items.
Items can be left in the top section while you’re taking a shot, and the magnetic clasp helps to keep things secure and covered while you’re concentrating on getting the picture.
Of course, the top section is also a great place to store all your stuff, rain jacket, phone, keys, wallet, and the great thing is there’s plenty of space. If there were a secure zipper pocket at the rear of the section, then it would be just about perfect.
Moving down to the main section and after a short battle with the velcro inserts, I’d configured the interior to fit my Sony A7 III, 24-70, 70-200 and 90mm Macro. For a mirrorless camera, there’s still plenty of space inside, and the variety of inserts gives you plenty of flexibility over the layout.
I also switched the insert to give access through the left side of the bag as you look at the front. This means I can swing the backpack around my left arm for quick access.
The backpacks design isn’t sling, so the sling action is far more backpack than a sling, but it has much the same effect.
Access to the kit is easy enough, and the slight overlap of the side pocket helps to add an extra level of security.
With the internal and upper sections filled with the kit, I popped in a laptop, water bottle and BeFree tripod on the rear.
The shoulder straps took the weight well, and the backpack felt relatively comfortable. Taking the laptop back out of the backpack helped improve comfort. When it comes to the laptop insert I’d say this should only really be used for commuting use rather than every day.
For my first trip, I headed into town and instantly felt that the backpack blended in well. It doesn’t feel at all camera bag, which I feel is a good thing.
Stopping to take pictures and the side access works well, swapping a lens around while using the bag was all easy enough. As camera backpacks go it, all felt very versatile.
The next test was on a trip to the beach, again those wide shoulder straps helped to distribute the weight well, but on this out of town adventure, the lack of a waist strap was noted.
However, again in use, the bag performed amicably. The side access is well thought out. When using filters, having the bag propped up against the tripod leg enabled fast access to accessories and more importantly, an easy place to keep kit safely.
Overall while the bag was much better suited to city and street photography, it also performed well as a more general use bag.
I like the look and style of the Manfrotto Chicago Camera Backpack Medium. The high-quality materials aren’t just there to make a great looking bag, they’re tactile and tough reassuring you that the kit inside is well protected.
In use in an urban environment, the bag was in its element; kit could be accessed quickly, and it was comfortable to carry around.
My only reservation is the level of protection that it would offer your laptop, but in this test, all seemed fine, maybe I’m just over-cautious.
As urban / city backpacks go the Manfrotto, Chicago Camera Backpack Medium is a great all-rounder with its feet firmly placed in the city.