Note – We’ve broken this article down into 2 different posts in order to make for lighter reading. It shouldn’t take more than ten minutes to get through both and doing the effort will arm you with valuable knowledge about the f-stop Gear system so you can make the best possible decision on what to purchase. If you prefer a personal opinion, call Hougaard (076 279 2202) or mail us using the contact page – simply send a list of your gear along with any other questions you might have and we’ll get back to you with a recommendation within 24 hours.
The f-stop Gear Solution + ICU’s
Choosing a camera backpack can be one of the most difficult decisions a photographer ever has to make. There are an endless number of brands offering a wide variety of products. Most of these brands tend to design something that can hold lots of camera gear and then add some padding and shoulder straps as an afterthought. This back-to-front design philosophy is the reason why countless photographers across the world have tried products in all price ranges from most brands, with no satisfaction. There is however one company that has revolutionised the design of photography backpacks and propelled themselves to the top of their industry in a few short years – f-stop Gear.
Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of the brand before, LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA is proud to be responsible for bringing this amazing product to Africa for the first time. Their product range isn’t better thanks to just a few marginal improvements over the competition. The f-stop system is fundamentally different to anything else on the market.
Conventional Backpack Design
Space for Additional Items – Most photographic backpacks have an internal compartment for camera gear and a few external pockets for items that go along on a shoot like snacks, extra clothing layers, headlamps etc. Even the flagship bags from most manufacturers don’t have enough of that external space for all the additional items, which leaves photographers scratching their heads about how to balance camera gear with the rest.
Space for Camera Gear – The internal compartment of most bags offer a bit of packing flexibility thanks to customisable dividers, but most photographers still aren’t satisfied with their packing arrangement even after reshuffling their camera bag for the tenth time. I’m sure that most photographers who have been shooting for 5+ years and have owned a plethora of different backpacks will share our sentiments.
f-stop Gear was the first company to take a step back and question the unpractical design of camera packs. Their resulting modular ICU concept has revolutionised the industry and other manufacturers are now stumbling in their footsteps.
f-stop Gear’s Modular ICU System
Their concept is simple: split the bag into two – the camera-carrying part (ICU) and the accessories-carrying part (Outer Shell). Furthermore, you’re offered the choice of how large or small each part must be AND the camera carrying components are easily interchangeable between different sized shells. f-stop Gear bags are also designed superiorly and manufactured using better materials than any of their competitors. Thanks to constant communication with a team of ambassadors, comprising some of the world’s best adventure and extreme sport photographers, they are able to continually evolve their products. Their unending commitment to produce the world’s best photo backpacks have resulted in exactly that.
LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA offers 7 different Mountain Series outer shells and the 7 most popular ICU’s (internal camera units) to cater for a wide range of needs.
What is ideal for me?
1. The first step in choosing the ideal combination of shell and ICU is to decide which ICU will best accommodate all the gear you normally take on a shoot.
2. The second step is to see which shell fits that ICU and how much additional space you need in the shell for other items.
- You will find useful bullet point notes on the product page of each shell and ICU advising what is a good pairing.
- The product page of each ICU has some really helpful images that show how much gear can go into that specific ICU in various arrangements.
- The product page of all shells and ICU’s have the below chart that shows the compatibility and recommendation of all ICU’s with all shells.
Internal Camera Units (ICU’s)
These are the deepest of the standard ranges and can accommodate a pro body or normal body with battery grip across the entire length and width of the ICU. This depth is also ideal for storing most wide or normal lenses (24-70mm) in an upright position.
- The XL Pro is the largest of the pro range and can easily accommodate half a studio. Make use of the images on the product page to get an idea of how much you can fit in an XL Pro ICU to determine if it’s the right one for you. The XL Pro ICU is best paired with the Tilopa or Sukha or shells, depending on how much extra space you need. It also fits the Ajna shell, but leaves just enough space in the main compartment for a rain jacket.
- The Large Pro is the median of the pro range and can easily accommodate two bodies, 4 lenses and a few accessories. The largest lens it comfortably accepts is a 300mm f/2.8 or a 400mm f/5.6. The Large Pro ICU can be paired with the Ajna, Tilopa or Lotus shells, depending on how much extra space you want.
- The Small Pro is the smallest of the pro range and a bit different from the rest, as it is the go-to ICU when you need more non-photographic stuff than camera gear. This is usually the case when going on an overnight trip or hike that requires either clothing, food, camping gear or whatever you require for your adventure. The Small Pro ICU is just the right size to accommodate the most basic gear like one body, 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses and a useful amount of accessories. This ICU can be paired with any of the shells, depending on how much space you need for other items. Pair with the Ajna to make a great weekend travel bag or day hike backpack, or go to the extreme and pair it with a Sukha for a week long hike in the Drakensberg.
The medium ICU’s fall right between the Large Pro and Small Pro in height, but the shallow and slope models both offer unique features, which the Pro range does not.
- The Medium Shallow ICU (as it’s name implies) is several centimeters shallower than any of the Pro range ICU’s. This makes it ideal for non-pro setups that don’t require such deep storage. It is perfect for smaller DSLR’s and compact systems like the Sony Alpha, Olympus OMD EM-10 and Fuji XT ranges. This ICU is best paired with the Kashmir UL or Lotus shells for a sleek and lightweight carry solution.
- The Medium Slope ICU offers a perfect compromise for shooters who use a pro or battery-gripped body, but want to keep things to a minimum. It features pro depth on the one side, which slopes to shallow depth on the other side. This provides compatibility with pro-size bodies together with more packing space in the shell. This ICU is best paired with the Kashmir UL or Lotus shells for a sleek and lightweight carry solution that can accommodate a pro body.
These two are the big boys of the range, each designed for very specific uses. Their primary distinguishing feature is that these ICU’s offer access through the top, allowing you to remove your camera with the bag in an upright position.
- Co-developed with the Sukha shell, the Tele Master ICU allows safe, easy and comfortable carrying of super-telephoto setups. It is the 2nd largest in the range and accepts anything up to a 800mm lens mounted on a pro body with enough space for additional bodies, lenses and accessories. It also features top access that allows you to remove or stow your camera and lens in seconds with the bag in an upright position. This combination is the ultimate solution for safely shooting on game-drive vehicles or travelling through airports with telephoto setups. Check out the below chart to see how the XL Pro and Tele Master accommodate various telephoto lenses.
- Specifically designed to haul big camera setups, the Cine Master ICU is the largest in the F-stop product range. Co-developed with the Shinn, the two combine to make the ultimate super sized camera bag for serious shooters hauling large video rigs or elaborate gear setups. Designed with cinematographers in mind, it can accommodate the most popular cinematography rigs like the Red Dragon, Canon C300, Sony F5, Blackmagic Ursa and Arri Alexa. It accepts most of these bodies with a rigged and rodded lens – just pull it out and you’re ready to shoot in seconds.
Note – The Master ICU’s occupy the entire main compartment of their corresponding shell.