A professional Fuji photographer’s review of the Vanguard Havana 41 camera rucksack

blue camera rucksack

Ever since I jumped to using the Godox flash system and thus gained about 9 x 20cm worth of trigger/receiver space, my Venque CamPro bag has felt rather empty and spacious. Whilst snack space is always welcome, I felt like I was lugging around a lot of extra material for no real gain- the outside pockets were often left empty and there's a huge vacuum in the top section. The stitching had come undone in various parts of the bag so I felt with Black Friday sales around the corner, it was finally time for me to spend money on new kit, as I hadn't for a full 28 hours. After literal hours of umming and erring and measuring things with a ruler, I settled on the Vanguard Havana 41, which seemed to have similar enough dimensions to the Venque and was £63 in the sale. I will compare it to my experience with the Venque, not because it's a fair or direct competition, but more to demonstrate how the switch over made me value certain elements of each bag.

For context, I am a professional wedding photographer who shoots Fuji. This means I require space for at least two X-T2 bodies, a variety of lenses and multiple flashes. The first thing I will say is that if you are a DSLR photographer with two bodies and a couple of lenses, especially zooms, there's no way in high hell this bag is big enough for you, this is why I specify Fuji in the post title, as I think Canon and Nikon shooters needing to carry back up bodies are pretty much out unless you don't carry that many flashes and want to stash the second body without a lens.

OK, assuming I have only have mirrorless photographers or DSLR shooters with minimal flash kit left in the room, let me first explain what made me choose the Vanguard:

  1. I don't like ugly ass bags- I don't want to look too cameraish, I almost went for the Evecase which was well reviewed on amazon but I felt it looks like an advent calender. Plus the Vanguard got plus points for being blue. I like colour.
  2. Weirdest thing I'll say on the net (probably, not actually), but I was really excited for the hip and chest straps. The Venque has a chest strap but it's with D rings which aren't quick to handle, and over a bit of time the shoulder straps kept slipping so it was impossible to use the buckled waist strap. The vanguard has chest and hip buckled straps and I don't think the straps will start to slip over time as it's all buckle and not D ring based. I shoot a lot of London weddings where I take public transport, it does fatigue me to be carrying around all the kit with badly balanced weighting i.e. 100% on shoulders, and really I want to save my body for the shooting.
  3. The outside drawstring pockets looked more useful than Venque's, which are flap tops. I often want to bop a water bottle on the side, and I had to put my water bottle on top of my actual equipment inside a main pocket with the Venque, which isn't ideal in case I turn up to a wedding with flooded kit!

(padded shoulder and hip straps)

Here are my first thoughts upon looking at the Vanguard pre-packing

  1. It's smaller than I expected, although the dimensions are the same as the Venque the top pocket curving inwards definitely loses you significant space
  2.  The material isn't as nice as I hoped- for a start I am curious as to how unwaterproof it is, it has a rain cover but you kind of want to know whether a light shower will get through. On the upside of needing a raincover, when carrying it on the tube I guess I could cap the bag with the cover for increased pick pocket safety. The material is very plasticky and the inner lining is like that as well, maybe I was spoilt coming from the Venque which has a soft cotton interior. Also I do recognise the price difference between the camera bags, and potentially the weight difference with a thicker material, but waterproofing built in would have been a better idea in my opinion. *5 mins later- I proceeded to test the fabric by pouring a bit of water over the bag- interestingly it appears that the main fabric is water resistant as the water pools on the surface, but the water would get into the zips instantly (which obviously would always happen)- so I think the bag would be ok in a light drizzle for a bit, and the rain cover is to fully protect it. This improved my opinion on thought 2.
  3. I don't really like the way the main bottom pocket doesn't fully pull out for easy access. The Venque just flaps right open when laid horizontal, with the Vanguard there's a padded box inside with the opening at the top, so you could either take this insert box out and lose the protective layer but gain a lot more space and access. The interior lining of the bag itself has velcro strips so you can use flexible dividers without the box insert

*10 mins later- After a bit of womanhandling, I found it was easy to rotate this insert for full access by sliding your hand over the top lip of the insert, and similarly doing it in reverse, so pushing the insert box back in by it's lid was very smooth and easy- so that wasn't too bad in the end.

Packing the bag

So as you can tell, initially I was concerned I'd be returning this bag, but I thought I'd give the packing a go and give it a chance.

Here's the full amount of stuff I packed in:

I feel like they've done a good job of demonstrating the pockets on the website so I won't bother repeating all their stock photos- what I will say, because it was something that interested me- is that the top and bottom main sections are divided by a layer of fabric that can be removed by a velcro strip, so it's not obvious on their side but you can make the rucksack into one whole compartment, and most importantly the weight of whatever is in the top section doesn't crush the bottom section, even if you took out the bottom box insert.

There's two main compartments, both with zipped front external pockets, the bottom external pocket is flat and top one a bit more puffed out so I put my charger in the bottom and batteries in the top. Inside the top section there's two CF card slots- I carry about 30 sd cards on me in Thinktank pocket rockets, so instead I use those CF card pockets for my spare eyes a.k.a contact lenses.

There's notably a lot less mini pockets/slots than the Venque, which had a hidden card pocket, internal lid pocket and lots of card and pen slots, so I do feel a bit sparse on the small bits and pieces storage. I actually decided to stash my memory cards in the vacuum on the side of the box insert. There's enough space to also store the rain cover (which is originally clipped to the bottom external pocket), leaving that external pocket free for my charger.

I like the fact that there's little elastic loops around all the straps to keep it all tidy after adjustment, and the hip strap can be tucked away and completely hidden if it's too dorky for you

The bottom half is well padded, but the top main compartment doesn't have any protective padding, so I keep my speedlights inside their padded cases.

All in all, especially considering the price, I think this bag could be a keeper for a couple of seasons- I would be pleasantly surprised if the material doesn't take a hit throughout a year of shooting, I will update this review if I notice any quick deterioration or any pros and cons of on shoot user experiences!

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