With the ever increasing number of photographers armed with advanced amateur cameras and compact digital SLRs, Lowepro was eager to bring a solid compact camera bag to the market. Lowepro's newest compact beltpack offering – the Nova 160 AW – offers photographers everything they need for a compact camera kit in one easy-to-use weatherproof design.
On the surface the look and feel of the Nova 160 AW is quite conventional for a compact camera bag that doubles as either a shoulder bag or beltpack. If you look a little deeper you'll find the Nova 160 AW offers a few unique elements that make it a worthwhile travel companion.
Design and Construction
Lowepro's Nova series bags come in multiple sizes, with the smaller 160 AW that we used for this review recommended for compact DSLRs and all-in-one enthusiast cameras.
In terms of build quality, Lowepro is well known for high quality standards, and the Nova 160 AW is no exception. Thick ballistic nylon exteriors, smooth polyester interiors, solid stitching, and thick padding help make the Nova 160 AW 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 core compartment and accessory pockets; with a camera and accessories stored inside, everything feels safe and secure.
The one minor issue I had with the build quality was that the hardware used on the shoulder strap (the clips that connect the strap to the case) are made of plastic and felt like they wouldn't handle serious abuse. On a similar note, the belt loops used for attaching the case to your belt are fine for a normal belt, but are too small to conveniently fit on the Lowepro Street & Field modular belt pack system (an odd thing since this case might make a good addition for Street & Field belt users).
The "AW" in the name of the Nova 160 AW stands for "All Weather" thanks to the inclusion of weatherproof cover that wraps around the entire case.
Although I'm glad to see the accessory rain cover with the Nova 160 AW, I can't say using it was entirely practical. Specifically, I found it rather difficult to rapidly deploy the rain cover in the field, and because of the design of the rain cover it was easy to accidentally wrap the rain cover around the case inside out...preventing the case from opening and closing correctly. Since the Nova 160 AW is targeted at nature photographers and urban photojournalists who need to access camera quickly in a range of environments, we would have liked to see a simpler weather-resistant design.
Cargo Space and Capacity
Internally, the Nova 160 AW is laid out much like many other top-loading DSLR shoulder bags or beltpacks, with Velcro-in-place dividers that you can customize to fit your needs. The overflap lid provides a little extra protection from the elements and also offers a place to store memory cards. There is abundant padding between the camera gear compartments.
Lowepro officially states the Nova 160 AW holds "1 DSLR with lens attached (18-55mm or 17-85mm f/3.5-5.6) plus 1-2 additional lenses; 2 memory cards and a flash unit." In practice, I found that larger DSLR bodies with normal zoom lenses just didn't fit inside this beltpack, and the Nova 160 AW is really only suited for compact DSLRs and kit lenses or small prime lenses.
Over the shoulder, the strap on the Nova 160 AW offers plenty of padding and is comfortable to carry for a bag of this size. When used as a beltpack the Nova 160 AW becomes an even more versatile "hands free" camera bag, making it easy to access your camera kit while hiking. The only slightly negative aspect of the beltpack use (as mentioned before) is that the belt loops are a bit too snug around my Lowepro Street & Field belt.
I had no problem using the Nova 160 AW with a Pentax *ist DL camera and three Pentax prime lenses. I also found it nice for carrying a Nikon Coolpix P5100 with accessory lenses and an external flash. However, a Pentax K10D with battery grip was just too large to use with this case.
Overall, the Lowepro Nova 160 AW is a solid, functional compact bag that works well in the field. If you've ever hesitated to bring your camera with you because of a bulky camera bag then you know why this compact shoulder/beltpack makes perfect sense. Although the interior storage isn't big enough for professional-level DSLRs, many average consumers will likely find the size of this bag perfect for vacation and weekend photo opportunities.
Photographers who often find themselves in wet environments will probably find the all-weather rain cover a little frustrating to quickly use/and or remove. Still, the Nova 160 AW is a pretty nice compact camera bag and deserves a spot on your shopping list.