The Lowepro Classified Sling 180 AW is a somewhat lengthy name for what might be one of the best sling bags currently on the market for digital photographers. I've been using Lowepro camera bags on and off since Lowepro pioneered the first designs for a backpack that can transport both camera equipment and a notebook computer (the Lowepro CompuDaypack line) several years ago.
There are three problems with those old designs. Most bags that store camera gear and a laptop are difficult to use in terms of getting your gear out quickly and putting it back just as quickly. Likewise, many camera backpacks and sling bags that also store a laptop are uncomfortable on your back. Lastly, the camera bag logo is usually front and center, broadcasting to the world (and potential thieves) that you are carrying expensive camera gear. Learning from these earlier attempts, Lowepro's Classified Sling 180 AW offers almost everything a serious digital photographer needs in a sling bag.
Build and Design
The Classified Sling AW series employs one of the newest styles of DSLR sling bags, combining plentiful storage space with an abundance of features and easy accessibility. The slim profile hugs your back and stays tucked in behind your arms as you walk - making it easier to move around people during a crowded press event or wedding. Of course, since it's a sling bag you can quickly rotate the Classified Sling 180 AW from your back to your front and pull your camera gear out of the massive side compartment.
Best of all, despite the roomy interior of the bag, the 180 AW is "airline compatible" (fitting into overhead compartments) and free of dangling parts such as straps or webbing that might get caught in a security conveyor belts. The exterior of the bag is covered in 1680D ballistic nylon, 840x600 nylon poly, and leather accents, but an All Weather "AW Cover" is included in a concealed compartment on the bottom of the bag so you can wrap the entire bag in a protective covering if you're caught outside in bad weather.
The "SlipLock" attachment loop on the shoulder strap helps you configure the single strap for your body, and the sliding buckle is a nice touch. Speaking of nice touches, the premium leather zipper pulls, padded mesh backpad and subtle Lowepro logo on the leather trim inserts all help give this slingbag a professional appearance.
The term "classified" in the Classified Sling AW series refers to the fact that Lowepro listened to customers and made a series of bags that doesn't prominently display the Lowepro name-making it slightly less attractive to potential thieves. That said, even though the LowePro name isn't obvious it's hard to mistake this bag for anything other than a large camera bag.
Inside, the Classified Sling 180 AW features adjustable padded dividers with suede tips (so the dividers won't scratch the finish or rubber padding on your camera gear), pull tabs and hook/loop lining that allows you to fully customize the sling bag to fit your gear.
Lowepro officially states that the Classified Sling 180 AW can hold "one DSLR with standard zoom lens attached; 1-2 extra lenses (up to 70-200mm f/2.8) or flash; accessories; personal gear; and 7-9" netbook in front pocket." In practice, I was able to store the Olympus E-3 with 40-150mm lens attached, an Olympus E-330 with 25mm pancake lens attached, 8-19mm lens, 12-60mm lens, 50-200mm lens, two FL-50R flash units, and a microfiber lens cleaning cloth inside this massive sling bag.
I was also able to fit an 11-inch Alienware M11x notebook into the laptop storage compartment with room to spare, so I wouldn't be too concerned about Lowepro's claim that the front pocket can only hold a 7-9" netbook. I was also able to fit a standard 14-inch Dell Inspiron 14 inside the laptop compartment, so a 14-inch notebook PC or 13-inch MacBook Pro will feel right at home.
I also appreciated the fact that Lowepro included a series of memory card pockets on the inside flap for the main compartment for easy storage of extra memory cards. The memory card pockets even have little flaps that you can change from a full card (orange) image to an empty card (black) image-making it easier for photographers to know if they're dealing with an empty memory card or one that has images on it.
In terms of additional storage there is a top zippered pocket that offers fast access to smaller items-such as the two FL-50R flash units I previously mentioned-and this pocket includes an adjustable divider to create more or less space in the main compartment. There is a side-mounted "Hideaway Tripod Mount" that provides a convenient place to store a travel tripod. The "cup" on the bottom of the tripod holder is a little small since it barely holds the feet for my compact travel tripod, but the tripod feels reasonably secure.
Over the shoulder, the heavy strap on the Classified Sling 180 AW is durable yet extremely comfortable thanks to generous amounts of padding. Although the strap is extremely comfortable I would have liked to see just a little more padding for the times that I stuffed the bag with as much gear as I could possibly fit inside. I was also a little sad to see that Lowepro didn't include a cell phone/smartphone pocket in the strap. Sure, you can put it in one of the extra pockets on the bag and just spin the bag around whenever you need to answer the phone, but it would have been much more convenient to have a phone pouch on the strap.
The back padding, like the shoulder strap padding, is very nice. Thankfully, Lowepro listened to previous complaints and moved the laptop storage compartment to the other side of the bag so your laptop doesn't press right against your back. Even with the slingbag completely loaded with camera gear and a laptop, the bag rests comfortably over my shoulder and against my back. I had no trouble running to catch a flight with the bag secured across my torso. I can easily imagine using this bag for an extended photo assignment in the field.
The main reason I fell in love with the Classified Sling 180 AW is the fact that it stores more gear than I thought. As mentioned previously, it holds almost twice the camera gear and a larger laptop than what Lowepro claims on their website. I understand that Lowepro doesn't want to overestimate the amount of gear their bags can hold, but I can certainly pack more than what Lowepro claims.
Depending on the weight of your laptop and the weight of your camera gear, the bag also 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.
Overall, while the idea of a combination camera and notebook bag might not be anything new, the Classified Sling 180 AW is easily one of the best combo laptop/camera bags I've ever used. It's comfortable, it's easy to get to your gear quickly, it stores tons of gear, and it has a simple-yet-classy design. In short, it works well in the field or the office.
Although the laptop storage compartment isn't large enough for a thick 15-inch or 17-inch desktop-replacement notebook, it's fine for ultraportable laptops. Additionally, the massive camera gear compartment makes up for the small size of the laptop compartment in my opinion.
Photographers using larger professional SLR bodies with large telephoto zoom lenses attached might find this slingbag a little cramped in terms of space, but if you can leave larger lenses unattached and use mid-size or compact DSLR bodies then you'll find plenty of room inside this bag. My only real complaints are the lack of a storage pouch on the strap for my smartphone and the fact that this is obviously a camera bag despite the "classified" series name. If those aren't deal breakers for you, then the Lowepro Classified Sling 180 AW is a fantastic bag.