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Lowepro Fastpack 250 Camera Bag Review
by JerryJ -  3/11/2008

With the CompuDaypack line of SLR and laptop bags from a few years back, Lowepro pioneered the first designs for a backpack that can transport both camera equipment and a notebook computer. While the CompuDaypack was original, it was heavily criticized for its lower camera compartment that wasn't easy to access. Photographers require quick retrieval of their equipment whenever a photo opportunity arrives. Learning from this first attempt, Lowepro's newest offerings – the Fastpack series – moves the access point to the side of the bag alloying you to quickly grab your gear and go.

Lowepro Fastpack 250
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On the surface the look and feel of the Fastpack 250 is quite conventional and downright maybe even a little bland, but look a little deeper and you'll find the Fastpack offers a unique approach to the traditional camera or laptop backpack.

Design and Construction

Lowepro's Fastpack bags come in two sizes, with the smaller 250 that we used for this review recommended for larger semi-pro and pro-sized DSLRs and laptops with up to 15.4-inch screen. The larger Fastpack 350 is designed for photographers using larger lenses and holds 17-inch widescreen notebooks. In both cases, the Fastpack has a typical backpack profile, with the laptop storage inside a side-entry pocket behind the back pad and the side-entry camera compartment located at the bottom of the bag.

Lowepro Fastpack 250
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I find the look of the Fastpack's commonplace looks quite appealing. Stylistically, the bag looks like any other average backpack, which means it doesn't look like a stereotypical photo bag and is less likely to draw attention from thieves.

Lowepro Fastpack 250
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In terms of build quality, Lowepro is well known for high quality standards, and the Fastpack 250 is no exception. Thick ballistic nylon fabric, smooth polyester interiors, solid stitching, and durable hardware, and thick padding help make the Fastpack a superior product. The various zippers feel rugged, Velcro camera compartment dividers stay firmly in place, and even the accessory pockets feel like they can handle some abuse. In terms of padding, Lowepro provides ample padding around both the laptop compartment and the camera compartments; with a camera, several lenses, and a laptop packed away, everything feels safe and secure.

Lowepro Fastpack 250
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A relatively minor omission from the design of the Faskpack series is the lack of either weather-sealed zippers or an accessory rain cover. Since the Fastpack is targeted at nature photographers and urban photojournalists who need to access camera and notebook quickly in a range of environments we would have liked to see a more weather-resistant design. Even the addition of the mesh pocket on the side of the bag for a water bottle seems ill advised since a broken or otherwise leaky water bottle could spell doom for both your camera equipment and your laptop.

Cargo Space and Capacity

Internally, the Fastpack is laid out much like many other side-loading DSLR backpacks, with Velcro-in-place dividers that you can customize to fit your needs. The security flap which is secured with two plastic clips holds the main side flap from opening too far and spilling your expensive gear on the floor. There is abundant padding between both camera gear and the notebook compartment.

The main notebook compartment is nice and well padded, but lacks a retention strap inside. This isn't a problem if you remember to close the zipper on the Fastpack, but most laptop bags include a retention strap to help hold your laptop in place and such a strap would have been welcome inside this bag.

In terms of size, the Fastpack 250 is deep enough to easily hold one DSLR body with battery grip attached, two or three lenses, a flash, batteries, and a charger. Our test unit has enough space for my camera, and my three favorite lenses (a 50mm prime lens, a 24-70mm f2.8 lens, and a cheap telephoto zoom lens).

Lowepro Fastpack 250
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Lowepro officially states the Fastpack 250 holds "one digital SLR with a mid-range zoom lens attached plus 2-3 additional lenses or flash units (up to a 70-300mm f/4.5), a 15.4-inch widescreen notebook, memory cards, batteries, and cables."

In Use

Over the shoulders, the Fastpack's heavy-duty straps offer the perfect amount of padding for a bag of this size. One additional note about the straps is that the cell phone storage pocket on the left shoulder strap is only large enough to hold the smallest cell phones. If you use a larger smartphone such as a Treo or Blackberry you won't be able to fit the phone inside the storage pocket on the strap. In fact, many mid-size cell phones won't fit inside the cell phone pouch either.

Lowepro Fastpack 250
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The back padding, like the shoulder strap padding, is very nice. Unfortunately, given the location of the laptop storage compartment (directly behind the back pad) the Fastpack is uncomfortable to wear as a backpack when a full-sized 15.4" notebook is inside. With a large notebook inside the backpack feels like a slab of solid rock is pressing against your back. I found the Fastpack comfortable enough for all-day use only when I placed a much smaller 7" Asus Eee PC inside the storage compartment. While it's nice that the Eee PC fits with room to spare, most photographers prefer to bring a larger notebook with better photo editing capabilities.

Lowepro Fastpack 250
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Depending on the weight of your laptop and the weight of your camera gear, the bag does an excellent job of sitting upright on its flat, padded base. This makes it nice when you just want to sit down at a desk or in a chair at the airport to do some work.

Lowepro Fastpack 250
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The extremely roomy top compartment gives you quick access to small accessories, business cards, pens, or anything that doesn't fit in the laptop compartment or camera compartment. If all this storage wasn't enough for you Lowepro also offers a number of small bags and pouches that can connect to the shoulder straps on the Fastpack using the Lowepro "SlipLock" accessory pouches.

Conclusion

Overall, while the idea of a combination camera and notebook bag might not be anything new, the Fastpack proves itself as a solid, functional bag that works well in the field. If you've ever watched a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity pass by while fumbling to pull your camera from a conventional backpack, the Fastpack's side-entry compartment probably makes some sense to you. Although the laptop storage compartment isn't placed in a very comfortable location, being able to transport a laptop and serious camera equipment in one bag offers a lot of benefits.

Photographers using larger professional SLR bodies and large zoom lenses or telephoto primes will likely find the Fastpack's space a little cramped. The Fastpack series might not offer as much camera equipment storage as similarly sized camera bags, but most camera bags can't protect a full-sized laptop as well. The storage flexibility combined with a $90 street price make the Fastpack 250 one of the best options for digital photographers.

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