I've owned a lot of camera bags during the 30 years I've been taking pictures. It's been a never ending search to find the perfect bag. To be fair, given the wide latitude of projects or gigs one may be involved with at any given time (and the range of gear required for each that often differs from gig to gig), there likely isn't such a thing. That said, most of the time I'm working with the same basic kit: a camera body or two, several lenses, occasionally an on camera flash and various misc doodads that every photographer has in their kit. Finding the "right" bag has eluded me and while I've come close, I keep hoping I'll find IT.
WOTANCRAFT is a manufacturer of high-quality leather goods based in Taiwan. Though perhaps best known for its watch straps, the company has managed to break into the crowded camera bag market. This is no small accomplishment, given the brand names that have dominated that market for decades. Companies like Tenba, Domke, LowePro, and several others have been making the camera bags of preference for as long as I can remember. Luxury brands like ONA, Billingham, and Think Tank have also come onto the scene, making products meant to appeal to an upscale, luxury-lifestyle clientele. Wotancraft sits firmly in this category and have done so offering bespoke luxury goods with a vintage aesthetic, while incorporating modern innovation designed to accommodate the needs and expectations of the most discerning connoisseur, yet the Avenger is also most definitely aimed at the working photographer. It's perfect for carrying a full basic kit and is positioned size wise between their compact Ryker bag and their larger Ranger bag.
The Avenger is a versatile tool for the photographer desiring a compact, rugged, and well-appointed bag that will not only work well in the field (on the street, on location, or in the great outdoors) but also at events like weddings, annual report shoots, or editorial work. These are among the environments in which I have found myself during my 30-year career, and the Avenger delivers, whether I am going casual or formal. It has proven itself to be a formidable tool.
Back in black
Although the Avenger has been in Wotancraft’s “urban” lineup of camera bags for some time, the bag that is the subject of this review is their new charcoal black version. This iteration adds an element of sophistication to the traditional appeal of the original (and still available) ash green or grey-and-tan Avenger. The black Avenger quietly screams “low key” for the photographer wanting to disappear into the fabric of whatever work environment he or she finds themselves in.
The black Avenger is not just another camera bag. No, the user is treated to bespoke-level luxury, with a fit and finish, materials and craftsmanship that complements the functionality of this shooter’s tool. It has the right combination of form-follows-function versatility, providing a healthy dose of chic, aesthetic sex appeal while maintaining a ninja-like presence. Wotancraft products are hand made by skilled artisans. The very “nature” of the leathers and canvas used, ensures that each hand-crafted bag is uniquely different—truly limited edition, one-offs. The Avenger doesn’t call undue attention to itself like the ubiquitous Billingham, with its retro, tan leather/khaki canvas look (though Wotancraft offers similar options).
The sum of its parts
Functionality aside, the Avenger has all the attributes of a high-end, luxury offering, including premium vegetable-tanned cowhide and sheepskin leathers, proprietary water-repellant waxed composite canvas, heavy-duty thread, an ergonomically-designed strap, removable high-density foam equipment inserts, and fine cotton and microfiber linings all hand-crafted by Wotancraft’s skilled artisans are the hallmarks of a Wotancraft camera bag. Only the finest high-strength, solid metal hardware is utilized, including bronze YKK sealing, water-repellent, zippers. All of this adds up to a bag with a patina that looks as if you’ve traversed the globe several times with it.
The Avenger’s retro styling intentionally hides several proprietary, innovative features that set it apart from other bags. It’s easy to overlook these features because they are integrated so slyly, but each of them makes it easier to quickly gain access to your gear.
The Avenger is actually two components—the bag itself and a removable insert that fits into it. There are two insert options. The standard Quickdraw insert is shock resistant, heavily padded, and covered with a microfiber lining, and facilitates the use of Wotancraft’s flexible divider system. The Quickdraw insert also features an innovative dual-flap design that allows the photographer to close one or both flaps for added protection of the gear inside. The second option is Wotancraft’s Waterproof Camera Insert. It is similar in size to the standard insert, but is manufactured from a waterproof “hovercraft-grade mesh” material that looks like it’s sourced from the Navy Seals! In addition to the removable insert, the Avenger offers seven compartment options (all of which are either zippered, Velcro-ed, or have snaps for quick access) for just about anything one might need or desire to lug around. I also found that removing the insert from the Avenger made for a versatile, messenger-bag-like solution.
The Avenger ingeniously incorporates four low-profile magnets (about the size and thickness of a quarter), positioned at both ends, near the front and back of the cover of the main compartment. The magnets allow the user to fold the cover in half upon itself, which gets it out of your way when you want to keep the cover unzipped for quick access. The magnets are positioned so that when the cover is folded, they attach to each other. This is very convenient when you require frequent access to the main compartment—when street shooting, for instance. This is the way I configure my bag most of the time, only fully zipping the cover if I’m done shooting for the day, or when caught in inclement weather.
In addition to four external pouches, the Avenger offers a large zippered pouch, which I think of as the “fanny pack pouch” because it hangs off the main bag and is easily lifted out of the way to gain access to the two large pockets located directly underneath it. I keep items like a Sharpie, a pen and pencil, a Leatherman, and anything else I might need to quickly access. It’s also the perfect place to stow my iPhone or wallet.
The two quick-access front pockets, located directly underneath the “fanny pack pouch,” offer ample room to store a variety of things. The innovative thing about these pockets is the dual-zipper design that allows access from either the top of the pocket or the bottom. This allows you to access either pocket from the side simply by unzipping it at the bottom. Each zipper pull is cleverly outfitted with a riveted snap so you can snap-down the zipper underneath the pocket. These pockets easily accommodate my portable hard drive, plus an extra Hasselblad film back or several Pro-Packs of 120 film. They also keep my full sized Sekonic flash meter, several batteries, extra SD cards, my earbuds, and chargers for my cell phone and camera too. The dual-zipper design gives me convenient access without needing to open the top flaps.
While I don’t go out of my way to expose my gear to inclement weather, I did get caught in the rain & snow a few times, which provided an opportunity to see how well the Avenger fared under adverse conditions. I’m happy to report that after zipping up the various compartments and snapping the pockets shut, the Avenger held its own against the elements, keeping everything inside dry, safe and sound.
Carry On Wayward Son...
As with any new bag, it took me several weeks to get used to the features and functionality of the Avenger, but once that happened, shooting with it became second nature. Reaching for a lens or other item in the bag became intuitive, requiring little, if any, cognitive thought. Using the Avenger came to feel completely “right.” After carrying it for several weeks, the bag began to meld itself to the contours of my body like an extension of myself.
The Avenger’s ergonomic, and uber-comfortable City Explorer pressure-alleviation strap is a masterpiece of design—a true work of art. Its curved shape and anti-slip padding allows it to be reversed, to comfortably hang on either shoulder. The strap is a successful example of form following function. It is so good at what it does that Wotancraft should make it available for purchase on its own. It would add an element of functional comfort to any camera bag, one that can enable a photographer to lug heavy gear around all day long without discomfort. The combination of Wotancraft’s proprietary canvas material and the boomerang-shaped, amply padded leather pad evenly distributes the weight carried in the Avenger, and makes this strap great.
The gear I typically carry depends upon the shoot, but most of the time I pack a body, two or three lenses, a flash, a table tripod, and a myriad of other thingamabobs. The Avenger will easily accommodate my full mirrorless kit (Sony A7R2, 24-70 GM zoom, 16-35 zoom & 70-200 zoom), Nikon D800e kit, or a Leica M or R film kit. Considering the Avenger’s tidy dimensions, I was surprised to find that it easily accommodated a medium-format kit, whether a Hasselblad 503CW body with three lenses & extra film back or a Rolleiflex TLR with prism! There is also a heavily padded pocket inside the main compartment that is designed to carry a 12-inch laptop or 13-inch MacBookAir.
Once I acclimated to using the Avenger, it didn’t take long to appreciate its utility, versatility, and fit and finish. I’ve been shooting regularly with it now for several months, and it has become my go-to camera bag among the many I own. This is saying a lot. It might be time to thin the herd!
By now it's apparent that I'm enamored with this versatile photographer's tool. It checks all the right boxes for me. Not only does the Avenger accommodate a wide range of kit I typically lug around, it does so comfortably. In addition, it's sheik aesthetic blends into just about any environment I find myself shooting in.
There's a subconscious thing that happens when something feels right. It's positive energy and it manifests itself in all sorts of ways, including ones outlook and how one literally sees things. This applies to all living things, and I firmly believe it also applies to the inanimate. Even my car performs better after it's been washed, waxed and tidied up (my mechanic concurs btw)! Looking good is feeling good, and the Avenger provides all of the above in spades.
$500 is a premium price point for a camera bag, but the Avenger is more than just a typical camera bag, it's a luxury experience that both you and your gear are treated to -- one that is not an exercise in futility either. Given the substantial investment made in my cameras, lenses and other gear that makes it into my Avenger, it's comforting to know they're well protected from the elements and rigors of shooting out and about. Peace of mind is priceless.
Finally, the folks at Wotancraft are a delight to work with (Thanks Jimmy!). They quickly responded to my initial email inquiry, providing informative answers to my questions. Once ordered, Wotancraft kept me posted on the progress of the bag their artisans were hand-crafting for me. When the Avenger was ready to ship, I received an email with a friendly heads-up.
The experience I've had from start to finish with Wotancraft and the Avenger has been worth every dime. Enthusiastically & highly recommended.
Price: $499 (inclusive of shipping and handling to your doorstep)
Warranty: 3-Year “free repair” warranty
Dimensions (W x D x H): 35 x 16 x 26 cm
Insert interior (W x D x H): 29 x 11 x 22 cm
Weight (with interior protection): ± 1.5 kg
Vegetable tanned leather (sheepskin front flap, cowhide straps)
W.A.L composite waxed canvas
High-strength metal hardware
Bronze YKK Zippers (with rustproof coating)
High-density foam padding (shock resistant insert)
Microfiber dividers (2 with caps and 2 without)
City Explorer pressure-alleviation strap (wide leather pad)
Cotton dustproof bag
"REMOVE BEFORE ADVENTURE" military ordnance tag keychain
Wotancraft contact info