Organizing the 335: Superflex Inserts & Delta Pockets
I’ve separated the use of Superflex Inserts and Delta Pockets from the main article on the Billingham 335, as they are an additional expense, above and beyond the price of the bag.
The 335 does include two Superflex Inserts and a flap, with the purchase of the bag. But to truly optimize the interior space to the sizes and shapes of your personal gear, you’ll likely have to buy additional Superflex Inserts.
By optimum, I mean the ability to balance the need to carry all of your equipment in a limited amount of space, while having fast access to all of your essential gear during assignment. Ideally, having the most important lenses for that type of assignment already mounted on one or two bodies, so it’s ready to shoot.
You have also have to evaluate whether to purchase Delta Pockets or not. For some photographers such as myself, where I have certain equipment that would fit in the Delta Pockets that I don’t always need with me (depending upon the assignment), the Delta’s make a lot of sense. I can expand or contract my load out with the 335 bag, without having to re-organize the interior spatial arrangement.
On the other hand, if you have a very consistent load out that has little variance, Delta Pockets are not the way to go. If all the gear you need fits in a 335, then that’s great. If more room is required than the 335 has, for equipment you always need with you, then instead of getting these accessory pockets, it makes much more sense to buy the larger 445 or 555 bags.
The key feature to using Billingham’s Series 5, 7 and 550 camera bags are their Superflex inserts.
The first important characteristic of the main compartment in all of thos system camera bags, is that they all have the same Depth (front to back) measurement of the main compartment: 150mm. Hence, all of the Superflex inserts measure the same, to fit within that 150mm depth. Everyone one of them measure a hair shorter than 150mm.
Other than height limitations of the tallest 21cm Superflex inserts (which can’t fit in the 225), all Superflex inserts can fit in any of the other Series 5 (or Series 7 & 550) bags. Height is especially important if you decide to have your camera body attached to a lens and sitting on top of an insert (more on this, below).
Each insert has two openings. The main opening is always a square. As it increases in size, two things happen –
- The side-to-side measurement gets larger
- The secondary opening’s depth (front to back measurement) gets smaller
The measurement of the square side of the main opening of a Superflex insert is always the first number of the insert’s ID name. So if the insert is called 8-15, then 8 refers to the 8cm dimension of one of the square sides of the insert’s main opening.
The size of the secondary opening can be calculated from this figure. The side to side measurement is obviously the same. The other measurement will be 150mm or 15cm, minus the insert’s number (which is in cm). Note that we’re talking about soft goods here, so until the inserts have equipment fitted into them, their openings measure a touch smaller than they really are.
The number after the dash in a Superflex code is the height of that insert in centimetres. In the case of our example Superflex, the 8-15, its height is 15cm.
While all of the bags come with Superflex inserts (the bigger the bag, the more inserts Billingham includes), the full potential of the system may not be reached unless the photographer is willing to buy additional inserts in sizes that are specific to the user’s gear.
In Billingham’s sample pictures, it often shows one or two inserts, with the negative space (any area that is not taken up by the inserts) being occupied by the a camera with a lens mounted, ready to use.
Billingham includes the 8-15 and 9-18 inserts and one flap, with the 335 bag.
To begin, here is a picture of all the included stock Superflex accessories that comes with the 335, in one possible configuration. The inserts to the sides, with a “negative” or open space in the middle, that can be divided horizontally by the flap.
For the purposes of visually highlighting the inserts and contents of the bag, I’ve lined the dark padded floor with white paper, to provide contrast with the black camera equipment and the dark green inserts.
Still empty but with the flap folded down and into position.
This next photo shows three lenses in the inserts that come with the 335: the 8-15 is on the left, the 9:18 is on the right. In the centre “negative space”, sits a Fuji X body with a Fuji XF 60mm Macro lens mounted, ready to shoot.
What’s missing from the next picture of the gear that I own is another Fuji X body with a Zeiss Touit 32mm lens on it (obviously being used to make these pictures). That can be stored on top of the first Fuji X body with the use of a Superflex flap, to prevent the two cameras from damaging each other. Here’s a pic of the flap in place, acting as a padded floor to separate the bottom camera from where the second camera would be sitting.
Previously, I assumed that creating this open space between inserts was the only way to store a camera with a lens mounted on it in a Billingham bag. This is the way I used my first 335, back in the ‘90’s. It shows that, at least for the gear that I use, I can indeed use a 335 out of the box, without having to purchase accessory Superflex inserts.
Recently though, I saw a brilliant and better way to organize the main compartment of a Billingham, including having two cameras with lenses mounted, with equal access. Unlike the stock flap solution, where you would have to remove one camera first in order to access the second, there’s a way to access two, ready to shoot cameras simultaneously.
The other issue with the 335’s stock inserts is that the taller one, the 9-18 (at 18cm tall – remember, the second figure of the insert’s name is its height in cm) is too tall for even my tallest lenses. And if I drop one of my smaller lenses in the 9-18’s secondary opening, like the XF 18mm, it’s very difficult to lift it back out again.
On the forum mu-43 (a Micro 4/3 user group) a participant named Savas K came up with this smart method of organizing a Billingham 307. I wanted to mention that forum, the participant’s online name, and post this link below, to give full credit to where that full credit is due, as this method of organizing a Billingham with Superflex Inserts was not my original idea:
Savas K’s method is this: Inserts are packed in tightly within the main compartment, without having to create negative space for a camera body with its lens mounted. Instead, cameras with their lenses mounted, are stored with their lenses point downing into the silos of the inserts. The camera body sits on top of the inserts, making great use of the vertical space. This allows instant access to both cameras, without having to remove one to get to another.
This picture will be repeated towards the end of the article with further detail. But this is a peek at what the arrangement that I’m discussing, looks like.
While Savas K was referring to a different Billingham bag, the 307, the same principles of organizing with that method can be applied to any Billingham’s system bags that uses Superflex Inserts.
The 335 has sufficient height to store my Fuji X bodies with lenses mounted and sitting on top of the inserts without exceeding the “ceiling” of the bag – if I choose the correct insert height.
For users with thicker cameras (like pro, full frame DSLR’s) and/or longer lenses, then they should look into the taller 445 and 555 bags.
I had one concern. As the main insert’s opening grows, the secondary opening gets smaller and smaller in its fore to aft dimension. Perhaps too small for even a small, compact system or rangefinder lens. At first, I thought this would be wasted space.
In practice, this wasn’t the case at all. There are a substantial number of items that can be efficiently stored in these small insert openings. Smaller diameter lenses like the Fuji XF 18mm will fit, as will a Minolta light meter, spare camera batteries, and so on.
If you decide to use Savas K’s method of storing the camera body with lens attached on top of the inserts, you’ll also need to choose the correct insert height (second number in the ID code) to ensure the insert is tall enough for your lens, but short enough tat the camera sits within the bag.
To reiterate, the first number in a Superflex ID name is the square side of its main opening. Here’s how that applies to the stock Inserts.
Here’s an example, showing the 9-15 insert that can be purchased as an accessory for a 335 bag::
- Main square opening is about 9cm (90mm). If you take into account the padding, it’s slightly less than that, but remember, these inserts are soft, so there’s a bit of give, both outward and inward
- The secondary, rectangular opening is 150mm – 90mm = 60mm. Again, the actual dimension when empty is a bit smaller than 60mm or 6cm, but there is room for it to expand
- Its other dimension is obviously 90mm, as dictated by the square dimensions of the main square opening
The number after the hypen in the Superflex ID name is the height of the insert in cm. Here are the stock inserts of the 335 bag:
The 8-15 is 15cm high.
The 9-18 is 18cm high.
While an accessory 9-15 purchased afterwards is the same height as the stock 8-15.
Looking at my lenses in diameter and height, I began to figure out which inserts I needed to buy in order for me to optimize the space.
The 10-24mm ultra wide zoom is my main workhorse for architecture and real estate photography. It has the widest hood of all my Fuji X lenses, and needed an opening of 9cm square. At 12.5cm tall (from the front of the hood to the where the bayonet flange is attached on the lens), the 18cm height of the stock 9-18 insert is too tall.
But the biggest disadvantage of the stock 9-18 insert is, with a Fuji X-Pro1 body attached to the 10-24mm lens, it would raise the camera above the protective padding of the main compartment’s walls. And it would be difficult to zip the bag shut as well.
So I ordered a 9-15, which is Billingham’s shortest insert with a 9cm main opening. I could store the 10-24mm with its hood in place in that main opening. The insert was short enough that with the body attached to the lens, the Fuji camera sits comfortably on top of the insert, but just below the top of the main compartment’s padding. So it’s protected and doesn’t sit above zipper line.
Other lenses I use will all fit into 8cm main openings. They are a Zeiss Touit 32mm f1.8 and a Fuji XF 60mm f2.8 Macro, both with hoods installed. I also have an old Tokina RMC f3.5 for Nikon F mount on a Kipon shift adaptor (Nikon F to Fuji X mount) that I use without its hood. I’m a firm believer in using hoods on all my other lenses. But because this lens has a shift capability, I use it without a hood to avoid vignetting at extreme movements.
The final lens that I own for the Fuji X system is the tiny XF 18mm f2. Even with its hood on, its diameter is so small that it can fit into the secondary openings of any of the inserts that I use
When shooting professionally, I ALWAYS carry a minimum of two bodies, in case one camera body goes down. Not that it’s ever happened – but I would have my reputation seriously damaged if I didn’t have a back-up camera during a paid shoot.
So I could use two 8-15 inserts (including the one that came with the bag) and a 9-15 insert, to fit all of my lenses with two cameras installed on two of those lenses.
I figured, however, that I’d like to store the cameras at each end of the bag’s main compartment, to reduce any chance of them scraping against each other while in transit.
And there would be times that I might not happen to have the 10-24mm on one of the bodies. If I had only one 9-15 insert, and the 10-24 wasn’t mounted on a Fuji camera, it could mean that I would have to store two of the bodies in side-by-side inserts – too close for comfort.
In the end, I choose to use the stock 8-15 insert, and ordered two 9-15 inserts. This is what it looks like without any gear in place. The stock 8-15 is on the far left, there is a 9-15 in the centre with its main opening at the bottom of the picture, and another 9-15 insert on the far right, with its main opening at the top of the picture.
All of my Fuji X system gear in the bag
In order to show my complete load out with both Fuji cameras, I’ve shot the following photos with my mobile phone’s camera. So please forgive the drop in photographic quality.
Here’s what the main compartment looks like, if I would ever choose to carry ALL five of my lenses. It leaves one opening where I can drop in a Minolta light meter. Please note that I’ve NEVER had to carry all five lenses of my Fuji X system for any assignment, so this is a non-real world example, at least for me. But it’s good to know that it’s possible to carry my entire Fuji X system in the 335.
So you can see the gear that I stored in the other openings of the inserts under the cameras, here a view with the Fuji X bodies turned 90 degrees.
If you noticed as well, I show both cameras with their straps. Most advertising shots of camera bags show nice, neat pictures of cameras in the bags without straps.
But I’m willing to guess most photographers use camera straps while on location for security and common sense. A great place to store those straps neatly while inside a 335 is in one of the secondary insert openings, if it’s unoccupied, or at the ends of the bag. My personal choice of two 9-15 inserts and a single 8-15 insert can leave a bit of room at each of the main compartment, if the three inserts are all clustered in together in the center.
My Fuji X system gear for a Real Estate/Architectural Assignment
A more realistic load out is this one, when I’m shooting real estate and architecture photography. I skip the wide angle 18mm and standard 32mm primes.
Instead, I use 10-24mm as my main lens, the 17mm shift lens when I want to avoid convergence, and the 60mm (90mm-e) for architectural details.
My Fuji X system gear for a Corporate Portraiture Assignment
Main shooting lens is the 60mm (90mm-e) Macro, a flattering and classic focal length for head and shoulders portraiture.
I also have the Zeiss Touit 32mm standard lens, which is great for shooting a little bit more of the subject. I round it out with the 10-24mm, ideal for environmental, indoor portraits, when showing the subject in her or his workspace.
I leave the shift lens and 18mm wide prime at home.
Hopefully, these three configurations can give you ideas of how you can choose additional Superflex inserts and use them to optimize your load out.
While you can use the negative space between inserts to store one of our cameras with its lens mounted at the ready, consider Savas K’s method of storing your camera with lens mounted down into one of the inserts. If you choose the correct insert height and the correct bag height in the 5 Series, it makes for a very efficient way of carrying your system.
The Delta Pockets fit at either end of all Series 5 and 7 Billingham bags. They attach very securely and look very good on the bag. They are nicely padded, and have very easy snap buttons with space for your fingers behind the buttons to press them together – a thoughtful feature. There’s also a drawstring to increase weather and security protection.
Once they’re added onto the 335, especially at both ends, they do add considerable width.
With that in mind, I would not recommend Delta Pockets if the amount of equipment you carry is very consistent, with very little variance. It’s better to calculate the interior volume that you need, and then choose one of the Series 5 sizes that will accommodate all of your equipment within the bag itself.
If you, like me, have varying equipment requirements, than the Delta Pockets provide a great solution to expand or contract the amount of gear that you’re carrying, without having to continually re-arrange the organization of the main bag.
As an example, I’ll discuss how I use the Delta Pockets with my specific gear.
When I’m working professionally, I would say that the need for me to carry a flash system is about 50 percent of the time. I use a very old and battered Vivitar 285 flash unit, with two radio slaves and their mounting feet, and all the required batteries to operate the flash and the radio slaves.
The total amount of gear isn’t huge, but it would be enough equipment that it would require time-wasting re-arrangement of how the main bag is organized. Also, by the time I stuff all of the above flash gear in the 335 bag itself, it would reduce the ease of access to all of the gear, as everything would be packed in quite tightly.
Luckily, my flash gear will fit neatly into two Delta Pockets. The Vivitar flash fits neatly into one of the Delta Pockets.
I place the batteries for both the radio slaves and flash in the bottom of the other Delta Pocket. I always take the batteries out when I’m not using my flash equipment.
The radio transmitter/receivers with their feet then get loaded on top.
Both Delta Pockets get secured to the ends of the 335. With their loads, both Delta Pockets add a considerable 14cm combined, to the overall width of the 335. You will definitely notice that added width when hauling the bag on location.
But the Delta’s secure onto the 335 very well, it looks professional and sharp, and most importantly, it allows me to expand my gear to include flash equipment in seconds, without having to contstantly re-arrange the interior of the 335, just to add lighting.
Part I contains the overview of the Billingham 335’s dimensions, features and benefits.
Part III will compare the features that separate the 335 of the Series 5 line, from the 307, from the Series 7 line. On the surface, they seem to be redundant designs, but they have three distinct differences which will easily decide which Series a photographer might prefer.
I’ll cover criticisms regarding the Series 5 bags that have cropped up over the years, and how to deal with them. And finally, the overall verdict on the Billingham 335.