September 01, 2011 — These are not your father's camera bags. Sure, it's a paraphrase on an old Oldsmobile commercial, but it's also the idea behind camera bags produced by Jill-e Designs. These bags are specifically for female photographers looking for a safe and secure, yet attractive bag to carry their equipment. In addition, they have expanded their line to include camera bags designed for male photographers, and yes, you guessed it, they're called Jack bags.
Jill-e Designs sent several different bags that I could try out with my own equipment to see firsthand how they worked.
To get a true opinion on their looks I thought it best to consult some female photographers whom I have known for some time, as well as my wife, who has a long love affair with purses and handbags. After all, since the bags are designed for women, their opinions are of even greater importance.
When I first received the samples, it was clear they were both stylish and well made. The materials used in their manufacture include weather-resistant leather, suede, and/or nylon. The bags themselves resemble designer luggage more than camera bags – something many people, including me, prefer, since it camouflages your expensive camera gear without large logos or labels that shout "steal me."
Sample bags supplied for review included the Large Rolling Black Suede Gear Bag, Medium Bone Leather Camera/Carry-All Bag, and Swing Carryall. For men, Jill-e Designs also included the Jack Leather Messenger Bag. All the bags had well-padded exterior walls to protect their contents, along with adjustable dividers for customizing the interior as needed. Even the small Swing bag, which looks more like a ladies' purse that anything else, had adjustable dividers allowing the photographer to customize it for a DSLR and a couple of lenses. It was also deep enough to handle a telephoto lens if needed. This purse-like bag is 13" H x 10" L x 4.25" W and has a wide top opening and full zipper closure.
The bag has an adjustable shoulder strap and exterior protective pocket to accommodate a small iPad, tablet, or e-reader. This particular bag weighs about 1 lb. and is made of weather-resistant nylon that easily cleans with a damp cloth.
The large Rolling Black Suede Gear Bag accommodated quite a bit of equipment. Measuring 15" H x 20" L x 9" W overall, this bag includes a well-hidden telescopic handle inside a zippered enclosure in the rear of the bag. There are wide wheels for stability and two front feet, allowing the bag to sit so its material is not in contact with the ground. The leather straps provided a nice finished look, and are easily fastened to the bag with secure yet hidden magnetic snaps. Inside was ample padding, a pocket for a laptop up to 17 inches and room for 1 or 2 DSLRs and several lenses. The bag was deep enough to carry a large telephoto lens. This particular bag also includes a small tethered yet removable matching pouch inside for carrying small items.
The medium bone and red leather camera/carry was an attractive bag with dual carrying handles and a dual zipper top allowing for one-handed access to the bag's contents. This bag measures 9.5" H x 14" L x 8" W and like other Jill-E Designs bags included a matching shoulder strap with a rubberized pad that ensures the bag stays on your shoulder, a matching pouch for carrying small items, and internal netted pockets for quick identification and access of their contents. There is also a convenient back pocket that converts, allowing what is termed a "trolley pass through" – a means to slide the bag onto the telescoping handle on luggage for easy transport.
As a male photographer, I was interested in the Jack Leather Messenger Bag the company provided. This bag measures 12" H x 16" L x 9" W and is made from weather-resistant deep brown Colombian leather. The bag is beautifully made with plenty of padding and room inside. There were two side and two front pockets for various items with the front pockets having small interior pockets to accommodate a variety of items. This bag has a full-length back pocket for files or folders, a separate zippered pocket for up to a 15-inch laptop, an adjustable shoulder strap, and a zippered trolley pocket for transporting the bag on rolling luggage. There is a fold-over top flap with a button clasp closure to secure the bag's contents. A single handle located to the rear of the top allows for easy carrying and transport when not on your shoulder.
Opinions and Comments
Like many photographers, I have owned more than my fair share of bags over the years. That being said, I have to admit that the bags from Jill-e Designs are among the most fashionable I've seen and are sure to turn heads. In fact, their small camera clutch with its one-touch clamshell opening was among the select items chosen for this year's Daytime TV Emmys.
Jill-e Designs has also created an exclusive Deluxe Gadget Bag for Canon, available through Canon's online store, that can accommodate a DSLR, several lenses, a flash, and other accessories.
Since the bags are primarily designed for women, the most important opinions are those from the female photographers who took time to review them with me. All loved the Rolling Black Suede Gear Bag and the fact that it is also available in red was equally appealing to several. Clearly, this was the favorite. As one photographer put it, "This bag is looks like luggage, can accommodate my 17-inch MacBook Pro, and is ideal for travel with plenty of room for pro bodies and lenses. What more could I ask for?"
Surprisingly, they all liked the Jack messenger bag and said it was among the nicest leather camera bags they had seen with, more than enough room for their equipment. Sure, it is really designed for men, but they did not care. They liked its design and looks. This was one comment that came up time after time. The bags were fashionable but did not sacrifice functionality.
With a series of bags ranging from a small clutches and purses to a large leather rolling bag, Jill-e Designs bags are a hit among many photographers. And as they continue to expand their line, the bags seem to have something for everyone, regardless of gender.
Peter Kotsinadelis is a writer/photographer living in Pleasanton, CA. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.