Something else: Crumpler New Delhi 620

So far I haven't written a review on this blog on something other than games. Without further ado: my new bag, the Crumpler New Delhi 620.

Official mugshot: nah, don't worry, in life it is much darker shade of red

Yes, I do have an actual camera. I've opted for the Sony NEX system, as I've had it with dSLR/bridge models that were just too big to carry around to everywhere I go, and didn't want to go compact, as I wanted actual quality, good low-light and the option to go full-out "what-is-that-huge-thing-in-your-hand" crazy if I had to. As I work as an editor, plus I help a friendly NGO in photographing their events I sometimes had to do that. As for how the system performed, that is the topic for another post. The main motivation is that, over time, I acquired enough lenses that I needed a bag that could function as a camera bag and wasn't screaming "Hey, expensive camera stuff here! Somebody rob me!" more than a high quality bag.

Why Crumpler?
Because they have a couple bags that look like just some stylish messenger bags rather than camera bags. This, plus the removable-customisable velcro laid inside within many of their products struck a cord in me. As in itself or with the 16mm lens attached, the NEX can be as small as a mid range zoom lens, I did not need dedicated dSLR--size spaces in the bag. Plus, I had this crazy notion of using the bag for everyday. I mean, they market their bags with 30 year guarantee and they do look acceptable as a regular messenger bag, so why not?

Why the New Delhi?
At first, I wanted to get a Million Dollar Home (preferably the 6 or 7) but there were some complications. First, you can't get them in Europe, at least not without a huge fuss. I contemplated getting a fake from China that cost about half or third as much, but decided against it. After all, it would be inferior and I didn't want to pay money to the manufacturers of fake items.

That old analogue film SLR hiding under the left flap is about the size of my NEX-3 with the 16mm lens attached

But there were other issues as well. Three, mainly. First, I wanted to keep my ageing Windows tablet in the bag, and only the ridiculously big Bazillion/Gazillion bags offered that capability. I didn't want a bag that big for the everyday project. The second was that I read that the owners weren't able to pack it into a larger bag: despite the name, the MDH didn't crumple at all. The third was that while the bag itself was waterproof, it was basically open from the sides under the flap. Besides a great storm, this would allow a thief to get their hands easily inside the bag while I'm on e.g. the public transport. Not good.

The New Delhi 620 had none of these problems. I could buy it from Europe only, right now there are no fakes, it has a laptop compartment for a 15" laptop and it has a separate, removable, closed compartment for the camera stuff. If I remove it, the bag can actually be crumpled. Not that I knew this last part before I bought the thing though.

Quite deep indeed

Problem: rain & intruder protection
Of course, removing the compartment also removes the protection it offers against thieves and the rain. Weirdly the laptop compartment is not protected against rain, even though a big new extra of the ND line is the "third leg" that lets you mount it on your back with an extra strap. In this skewed position, the opening on the sides are at an almost perfect angle to allow rain in. Yes, there is a raincover included if you buy it from the source that supposedly protects from rain. Unfortunately, you can't buy it, as the official European web shop no longer sells this size, only the smallest 230 and an even bigger 770 for 17" laptops. Plus, setting up the rain cover takes time which sometimes you just don't have.

Problem & strength: VELCRO
One nice feature of the MDH line is that it has a velcro silencer flap. With this, you can cover the velcro, so you won't have to raise the dead with the sound every time you want to open it. Most of the times the clasps are enough. Sadly the ND does not have this.

The good news is, the front velcro is so strong that you don't have to use the clasps even if you pack the bag quite heavily. I put in a heavy laptop, a keyboard, the power brick, a mirrorless camera, three bottles, cables, a raincoat and unsorted miscelania (Without the internal bag; it was quite full.) one day and forgot to use them. Guess what, nothing happened. The velcro held still.

Problems: no pockets outside
As far as I'm concerned, every messenger bag should have a couple zip pockets on the outside. It is a great place to store everyday essentials you might need on short notices, like travel passes or kleenex. On the flap, on the body side at least: these are the most common places for these pockets. While the bag is certainly thick enough in these places for an extra pocket, there isn't any. The easiest pocket to get to is on the inside of the flap. There is a very big zip pocket on the front, but it is hard to open with one hand. There is also the pocket for the rain cover, but that has nothing to secure it with: it is an open pocket just under a tiny flap.

Problem: front zipper
Only a minor gripe: you do have to fight to get it open. Getting that compartment fully open is not quick by any means. That said, I think it is very robust, and will probably last the lifetime of the bag, and gives some extra sense of security.

Extra: removable compartment
One of the best features of the bag is the completely separate internal camera compartment. With one pull, you can now remove most of your things. Yes, it does waste some space, but the benefits (and added padding) are worth it. Oh, and this is the compartment that has the customizable velcro dividers, the other parts don't have anything like it, not that there would be place for it.

Should fit most lens except maybe for the f2.8 *-2/300 types and the like, unless you pack them horizontally.

How spacious it is, you ask? Well, the NEX-3 with the SEL-16F28 lens is rather small, so I can fit that into a quarter of the space normally reserved for the full dSLR body + lens. In another fourth, I keep the LA-EA2 adaptor that makes it possible to use A-mount lenses on the NEX. In one of the big, deep parts I keep the Tamron 70-300 USD, (it could fit a bigger lens, but not by much, maybe by 3-5 cm?) the other houses the SAL-50F18 and the SEL-1855 on top of each other. The Tamron and the 1855 are with their shades on, reversed. One of the remaining half-width deep pockets keeps my batteries and the charger, the other is empty. You could possibly fit in a big flash there. Plus, there is the half empty compartment in the middle that I could use. And remember, this is only this removable compartment we are talking about!

Extra & Problem: third (and fourth) legs
A messenger bag is traditionally for the sides, but Crumpler did something extra with this line: the 620 and the 770 have a "third" leg on each side. That is: a hidden buckle that attaches the bottom side of the bag to the strap and a quick adjustable buckle that lets you lift it from waist-height messenger to backpack or back in seconds.

The extra legs revealed
The problem with the legs is that if you use them, the main strap will go through your chest. If you pack it heavily enough, you might find that breathing is not as easy as with a conventional, two strap backpack, as this constricts your chest if worn tight. A partial solution for this is to breathe "to your belly" as the singers say. Not belch, that is something else. ;-) To a lesser degree, the length - or lack of it - of the hidden strap is also a problem: unbuckling it can be hard.

Another problem is the ever-present part of the third leg: it cannot be removed from the strap, and it doesn't fold away neatly into any corner or hidden crevice. If you use it often, but not always (e.g. you have to remove the bag from your back on public transport) the strap will just hang there waiting to be caught in something. Maybe the best solution is to tuck it into the companion strap on the side of the bag.

Although you have a third leg on either side of the bag, as the strap is not fully symmetrical (the buckle is not at the middle), so you will have considerable amount of difficulty if you want to use it with your right shoulder. This is firstly because you would have to tighten the strap in an awkward if not impossible position,  (nearly on the top of your shoulder) secondly because the hard plastic buckle would be somewhere on or nearly on your shoulder. And  the padding is not that thick even if you do manage to wrap it around the buckle.
The bucle clamps down pretty hard, but the (supposedly seatbelt-class) material is sturdy: it does partially return to its original state.
Photo as seen after two months of heavy use, with a fresh mark.

The good: toughness
Judging by experience from my previous bags, it is quite conceivable that the bag will last decades. My old Samsonite messenger bag is from a very similar material (though not 1000d) and the only thing that was torn in it during the decade of its service is the extra water resistant backing. Not one tear in the outer material though. My Samsonite laptop backpack is in its sixth year, and if it wasn't for a mangled strap and the scuffed soft backbrace material, you would not be able to tell it.

The good: space
Besides the removable main compartment, the bag has numerous rather spacious pockets. I would have liked a netted pocket more for the inside of the flap, but whatever. Other than my point about the lack of outside pockets, they are more than enough. Actually, if you remove the main box, you will even have extra side pockets in its place. They did leave the tripod clasps of the million dollar home line off the front though. It has some "companion straps" on the sides, but it is not the same, you can't fasten them.

The fix
Some of the problems I described can be fixed. The silencers can be made at home if you (or your friend / spouse) have any affinity for a sewing needle. You only need wide patches of velcro and some fabric of your choosing. I'm planning on going this route sooner or later, getting my hand on some black 500-600 deliner fabric, and maybe amending the loss of extra lock with hidden magnets in both velcro covers, though I'm a bit scared as to what the close proximity of a couple of neodymium magnets could cause to the stuff inside. So at first I might go with just a pair of covers without the extra magnets.

As for the rain / intruder protection, I'm might make an extra pouch for the laptop, and I'm thinking about making an extra zippered internal pouch for the times when I won't be taking the camera stuff with me. That should make it protected enough. As Option B, I could buy a smaller bag like the Banana Bowl (M would be a snug fit) and just place it inside. I could also just rip out the dividers, but putting them back is a real hassle and I might find myself too lazy for that. Besides, if I get an extra internal pack, I won't have to remove all my gear from the original one every time I change the New Delhi from full-on photo mode to everyday pack. For the lack of outside pockets, I can't do anything. Then again, it is the same with my current backpack: i have to open it and dive down to the bottom for my wallet, so I think I'll be mostly fine.

Update: what I did was get a neoprene bag for my laptop/tablet and so far nothing else. So far I've only had one serious rain incident, but as I was only outside for maybe half a minute with the bag strapped onto my back, I can't really assess the openness of the big compartment. It did feel as if things were a bit damp  inside immediately afterwards, but when I arrived an hour later to my destination, everything was as dry as it gets. That said, I didn't have anything like paper in it that you could see water damage after drying, so take this with a grain of salt. Also, as winter is coming, weather reports are starting to forecast snow, which will find it harder to "penetrate" the bag.

So the New Delhi is (so far) two steps forward, one backward and some sideways compared to the Million Dollar Home and also to my older regular messenger bag. A brilliant product upgrade incentive for a manager, not so much for me. That said, I'm happy with the bag. Nice, big, spacious, rugged.

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