Billingham 335 Review Part III: Series 5 & Series 7 Comparison, Common Criticisms of the Series 5 and Verdict

This is the conclusion to the Billingham 335 review.  I’ll cover how to choose between a Series 5 and 7 bag, some of the common concerns about the Series 5 design, and my conclusion and verdict on the 355.

Choosing between a Series 5 and Series 7 Billingham Bag

Billingham’s line-up of bags is usually in tight, focused categories. There’s usually no confusion when buying one type of Billingham over another.

  • Street work with a small rangefinder or CSC system? Look at the Hadley’s.
  • Smallest bag possible with one camera and perhaps an extra lens or two? L2.
  • Minimal Leica M-specific bag? Billingham-made Leica M Combination bag.
  • International travel with room for a pro laptop? Packington or Eventer.

For a full load of system cameras, there have been the Billingham Series 5 bags that have been around for decades.

Billingham 335 Camera Bag

Billingham 335 Camera Bag

 

Since 2009, another line-up from Billingham has been readily available, the Series 7. This one is an evolution of the no longer made Series 6.

On the surface, it seems to be a redundant line when compared to the classic Series 5. A quick glance of the Series 5 and Series 7 in pictures or even in person, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the two designs.

But having used both in the “size 3” (335 and 307), I found that they had substantial design differences. In my opinion, it is these differences that determine which a photographer might prefer.

 

Before I delve into that, here’s where the Series 5 & 7 are the same:

  1. Both are available in FibreNyte fabric
  2. Both have similar color combination choices
  3. Both are camera bags designed to carry an extensive working photographic system
  4. Both are available in ascending widths, to accommodate bigger loads
  5. The Series 5 & 7 use the same line of inserts, called Superflex. Which means all of the bags in both series have the same internal dimension, front to back, of their main compartment – 150mm

With some many similarities, it’s the following differences that separate the Series 5 and Series 7 from each other.  I would look at these differences and use them to choose between the Series 5 and 7.

Very different openings for the main compartment

The Series 5 unzips and then the flaps can be conveniently folded back, to keep the zipper teeth out of the way and to provide easy access to all contents inside the main compartment. Billingham’s marketing-speak calls this feature Tuk Top.

Main compartment folded into open position: Tuk Top

Main compartment folded into open position: Tuk Top

The Series 7 has a unique, doctor’s bag style opening made from carbon fiber rods. These open and stay open, without having to fold or lock anything into place.

Functionally, once the openings are both engaged they provide equal ease of access to their respective main compartments. The old school Tuk Top on the 5 Series takes a few seconds to position, both otherwise both work equally well.

If you’re a photographer that prefers to zip up the main compartment every time you pick up the bag, you will prefer the Series 7 opening, as there’s no active, additional step in order to get the top to stay wide open – it does it by itself.

On the other hand, the Tuk Top of the Series 5 folds back and sits just above the protective padding of the main compartment. It’s a bit easier to see and reach in, when compared to the Series 7 opening, which is a few inches above its main compartment when in open position.

Front Carry Handle position

When the front carry handle of a Series 5 is not clipped together with its rear counterpart, it can dangle perilously below the bag, catching on random objects. There’s actually a really easy way of dealing with this dangling strap on the Series 5 – simply tuck it into one of the front pockets of the bag.

The Series 7 front carry handle is mounted higher up the bag. When it flops down, it doesn’t do so below the edge of the bag. So it’s less likely to catch on anything.

Main Flap closure

The Series 5’s main flap closure needs to be threaded through the front carry handle’s brass rings.

 

The Series 7 doesn’t require that, the user goes to its clog ball closure directly.

Front Full Length Zippered Pocket for Series 5 only

The Series 5 has this. Inside this pocket, are two further dump pockets to carry and organize small items.

This is NOT a laptop specific compartment. It’s completely unpadded, nor does it have a protective floor. So use at your own risk, if you decide to store your valuable laptop in it.

With that said: I carry my MacBook Pro 13” with a hard shell armor case in this useful pocket of the 335. I’ve lined the bottom of this narrow pocket with some closed cell foam to provide protection on the floor.

The downside of this pocket is that it significantly adds to the bulk of the Series 5 bag.

The Series 7 lacks this feature completely.  The 307l has a laptop specific carrying area, but it’s the only one of that line-up.

The Series 7 loses a significant amount of carrying capacity because it lacks this feature. It’s possible to jam a 13” MacBook Pro with a case in the main compartment of a 307, just outside the padded area, but it’s a very tight fit.

The upside is, that it keeps the Series 7 a slimmer and more svelte bag than its closest size counterpart in Series 5.

All Series 7 bags (except for the 307l laptop variant) are the same height

Unlike the Series 5 bags, which get taller as the width gets wider, all Series 7 bags have the same interior height of 220mm (except the 307l, which is 270mm).  And because they all have the same interior depth (150mm), the only difference in size as you ascend in capacity with the Series 7 is the width.

This is neither good nor bad – it depends on the size of your camera bodies and lenses, and how you like to store them.

An additional note, is that the Series 5 and Series 7 sizes don’t have straight up matches.  The Series 5 starts with the small 225, then goes to the 335 being reviewed here, the larger 445 and then the taller 555.

Series 7 starts with a very small but tall 107 (there’s no real Series 5 equivalent to that one).  The 207 and 307 can be seen as a close alternate to consider when looking at the Series 5’s 225 and 335.  But the next Series 7 model is the 307 again, but this time with an internal, padded laptop compartment.

Laptop-specific pocket in Series 7’s 307l only

Rather than having to wrap your 13” MacBook Pro in armor and line the bottom of the 335 (or larger) of the Front Full Length Zippered pocket, if you want a laptop-specific compartment, the only option in either Series, is Series 7’s 307l (or L, for Laptop).

The protective floor with a stabilizing ridge extends to below the laptop compartment, and the compartment itself is padded too. To accommodate the laptop compartment, the 307l is taller than the other Series 7 bags, going up to 270mm.

Billingham also eliminated the quick opening Clog Ball closures for the handles, as they feel it wouldn’t support the weight as well. So the bag has to be opened with slow to operate, dual, traditional buckle straps.

COMMON CRITICISMS ABOUT THE SERIES 5

I’ve noticed that over the years, there have been some criticisms of the design of the 5 Series. Some of them have even been addressed by Billingham’s 7 Series. I’ve found, that some of the supposedly negative aspects of the 5 Series can easily be dealt with or aren’t an issue when one is actually working with the bag. Here are a few issues I’ve read about, and how I’ve dealt with them when using a 5 Series.

“The front carry handle hangs dangerously low when not snapped together to one of the rear carry handles”

If left by itself, the front carry handle can indeed by an annoyance or even outright dangerous, depending upon the environment you’re shooting in. Billingham seems to have listened to this criticism over the years and addressed it with their Series 7 bags.

But the Series 5 bags can be used safely. There is a simple solution when working with the front carry handle unconnected to the rear carry handle. Just tuck it into the one front dump pockets. This keeps it out of harm’s way.

“The 335 is way too bulky compared to the Hadley Pro”

There’s no denying the 335 is far larger than a Hadley Pro. It’s depth (or front to back measurement) is huge when compared to the depth of a Hadley.

But it’s really “Horses for Courses”. The 335 is bulkier than a Hadley, but it also has a much bigger carrying capacity. Except for the smallest 225, a Series 5 bag is NOT what I’d recommend for a street photographer shooting in a dense, urban environment with a light load such as rangefinders or compact system cameras. The additional depth will result in bumping into people and objects, while in a crowd.

A photographer will need the room of a 335 (or larger) during location assignments where she or he is expected to bring a lot of gear, in order to complete the job properly. Having a lot of gear in a satchel style, messenger bag, makes for slower access. The slimness of messenger bags means that gear has to be stacked vertically (e.g. lenses).   Its lack of depth actually becomes a disadvantage.

That’s where the Series 5 is truly suitable, and a photographer will be grateful to have their gear in a well-organized and easily accessible bag. The thicker depth of the bag means gear, for the most part, doesn’t have to be stacked on top of each other. Open the main flap and unzip the tops and fold them back, and you have instant access to almost everything in the bag.

“There are too many straps, flaps, snaps and closures in order to open and close a Series 5 bag”

There’s no denying that to completely close a Billingham Series 5, not including the rear pocket, a photographer would have to do the following:

  1. Un-tuck and zip up the main compartment
  2. Zip up the front zippered pocket
  3. 2 clog ball closures on the two front dump pockets
  4. Close the main flap and thread its two leather straps through front carry handle’s D-rings
  5. Attach the main flap’s two leather straps to its respective clog ball closures
  6. Gather the front and rear (external) carry handle & attach them together via two snaps of their grab handle

Admittedly, that’s a lot of steps. In practice, I rarely ever seal up my 335 to this extent. The only time I do all of the above is when I’m flying and the bag is going into the overhead or under seat compartments on the plane.

When I’m driving to location, the bag gets steps 1, 2 and 6 done, but I don’t bother securing the main flap.

On location, the main flap gets thrown back and I keep the main compartment open the entire shoot. When I move the bag, I use the shoulder strap or the front and internal carry handles, but I certainly don’t seal up the entire bag when I’m in the middle of working.

I often don’t access the front external pockets or the rear zipper pocket, as most of my active equipment (camera bodies and lenses) is in the main compartment.

In practice, it’s an exaggeration to say that the bag needs to be completely opened and closed, utilizing every closure, strap and flap. Most of the time, partial closure is all that’s needed.

“Billingham bags are too expensive”

There’s no denying that Billingham prices are higher than most other bags out there, like Domke and Lowe Pro. The price of the 335 alone is not cheap, and when you add additional inserts or side pockets as I’ve done, the cost goes even higher.

A lot of that cost is mitigated by the durability of Billingham products. I’ve been using Billingham bags for over twenty years, and the quality of their construction and material results in a very long-lived product.

I have one bag, the Hadley Pro, that’s over a decade old and it’s still weather proof and has no stitching coming undone after that time. In comparison, I owned another satchel type bag from another brand, that didn’t last more than four years before the stitching unraveled and the leather trim cracked.

So a lot of that cost can be amortized over a much longer usage period. Billinghams are definitely built to last.

Don’t forget that if you have multiple Billingham bags, some of the accessories can be used on other bags. The Superflex inserts and Delta pockets can be used in any Series 5 or 7 bag.

Verdict on the 335

Pro’s

  • Well-thought out design, proven over decades of use and refinement
  • 335 has excellent carrying capacity for a working system
  • Top quality materials
  • First rate build quality
  • Will provide decades of service due to the last two points, so the high price can be rationalized
  • Stormblock canvas or FibreNyte fabric stops rain and doesn’t absorb water like traditional canvas.  Useful in heavy storms or tropical environments
  • When the bag is fully closed, it is essentially weather proof (but not waterproof – don’t submerge the bag)
  • Main compartment is well padded to provide decent protection for your camera bodies and lenses
  • Quite usable for many photographers with the two stock Superflex inserts and flap, without having to purchase additional inserts
  • Multiple sizes of Superflex inserts can be purchased to further refine the main compartment’s organization
  • Delta Pockets can be purchased and attached to the ends of the bag to temporarily increase its carrying capacity
  • With the padded floor removed, can be converted easily into a weekend travel bag
  • Stylish and classic design makes for a professional appearance in front of the client
  • If the all black color combination is chosen, the bag can go relatively unnoticed while carrying it in public

Con’s

  • Quite expensive (although its durability negates this issue, somewhat)
  • Purchasing additional Superflex inserts and Delta Pockets adds to the cost
  • The bag itself can be heavier (due to durable, rain proof material and use of leather fittings) when compared to other brands of bags with similar capacity
  • Leather trim and straps require periodic maintenance (waxing) so that they don’t dry out and crack
  • Photographers who prefer to completely seal up the bag will face a multi-step process
  • The 335’s good carrying capacity also means a bag that’s bulkier than a messenger style, smaller bag like the Hadley Pro or Filson Harvey Messenger
  • Front carry handle can hang dangerously low unless the photographer buckles it up or remembers to tuck it into one of the front pockets
  • Traditional, English “game” or “fishing” bag styling may not be to everyone’s taste

Who should consider the Billingham 335?

Any photographer that carries a full camera system plus a laptop, to a location should seriously consider the 335. Ideally, the photographer will be at one location long enough to fully open the 335 (Tuk Top) to gain full access to its contents. A Series 5 bag shines when it’s used this way, providing the photographer full access to their main gear.

If a photographer carries a 13” laptop with armor or smaller, the front zippered pocket makes a great place to store that laptop. That pocket is missing on the Series 7 Billinghams.

Please note that this pocket is NOT designed specifically for the storage of a laptop, and has no padding. Make sure you have a protective shell on your laptop and place a strip of closed cell foam at the bottom of this compartment, to protect against impact.

If the owner is willing to purchase additional SuperFlex inserts, she or he can really customize the interior’s main compartment to organize their gear well and provide good protection. Adding Delta pockets, as an assignment requires is another great way to expand the bag’s capacity.

The Series 5 (and indeed, all Billingham bags) are fantastic in damp, rainy conditions. The material is truly waterproof and will protect your gear within, in any weather.

Build quality and materials used will ensure the bag’s longevity for decades of regular use.

Overall, a classic design that still works very well today, is weather proof, provides decent impact protection to your most valuable gear in the main compartment, is superbly constructed and will last for decades, which negates the high price.

 

If you missed it, Part I is the overview of the design, features and benefits of the Billingham 335

https://eyebeamimages.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/billingham-335-review-part-i-overview/

Part II details organizing the main compartment with the Superflex inserts. This is an overlooked feature, yet it’s central to what makes the Billingham Series 5 (and 7) such functional bags. It also covers the use of the accessory Delta Pockets.

https://eyebeamimages.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/billingham-335-review-part-ii-superflex-inserts-delta-pockets/

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Billingham 335 Review Part III: Series 5 & Series 7 Comparison, Common Criticisms of the Series 5 and Verdict

  1. Pingback: Billingham 335 Review Part II: Organizing with Superflex Inserts & Delta Pockets | Eyebeam Images

  2. Pingback: Billingham 335 Review Part I: Overview | Eyebeam Images

  3. Extensive and excellent review. Section II has made me understand this bag, which I have owned for a year, much better. That may sound silly, but I had the feeling there was always too much wasted space. You have clearly shown how to deal with that, thanks!

    • Hello Bert;

      Thank you for kind words!

      Glad the review was helpful. As I mentioned, it wasn’t an original idea – I found the method on a forum and it was clearly a very intelligent method of using the Billingham inserts to maximum efficiency. Like yourself, it’s a method that’s been very helpful to me in using the internal space very efficiently.

      I sincerely believe that if Billingham detailed more about how to use their quality inserts, that users would better utilize their camera bags!

      Best regards, Marco

  4. Hello Marco!
    it’s one of best reviews about Billingham bags I’ve ever read. You aren’t just advertise this bag like many reviews (paid by manufacturer or not…what is very common indeed) but you just simply see how the bag works in real world – with all positives and negatives. Many additional remarks from practical use makes this review very very useful for 5 or 7 Billingham’s bags series users. I have 206 and 445 bags. I switched to medium format last years (Mamiya Press) and I found 206 is a bit small to carry that kind of outfit. However 445 bag is just too big for this stuff I think. That’s why I searched reviews about 335 and 307 as I want to buy one of them – as I consider one of them will suit my needs in terms of capacity. Your opinion helps me find many useful informations. Thanks you a lot, great job! Really really wonderful reaview!
    Many regards, Tom.

    • Hello Tom;
      Thank you very much for your nice words! I really appreciate them. Better still, I’m glad the information I provided has been useful for your ideal camera bag search.

      I have the 225 (which I’ll probably review this autumn, but I wanted to use it for almost a year, before I wrote a detailed review) which is good for a smaller load. But when I need to bring a full complement of equipment, I always turn to the 335, and sometimes add the accessory Delta pockets if I have to bring my flash gear too.

      By the way, I like both the 335 and the 307. Their main compartment and outer front pockets are almost identical in capacity. For me, it came down to choosing the 335, simply because I sometimes need to carry my Macbook Pro 13″. The 335 has that interim pocket (between the front pockets and the main compartment) as you know, while the 307 doesn’t. Unless you’re planning to carry your laptop frequently, I would suggest either the 335 or the 307. They are both good!

      Write back and let us know which bag you decide upon. All the best, and once again, thank you for the kind words!

      Best regards, Marco

  5. A very balanced review. My partner bought me a 335 Khaki Nytex Christmas 2002. Despite professional use, it shows no sign of wear and heavy showers do not penetrate it (although my pair of Nikon F3P bodies are water resistant). It is not heavy to start with. I regularly carry two F3P bodies with 28/2 35/2 50/2 85/2 135/2.8 together with film, etc and an A5 size Filofax. Not backbreakingly heavy although I often have to use public transport. I’ve sat on it on crowded trains too ( that’s when people start talking to each other!!!!)
    I thoroughly recommend this bag. Avoid the Packington as it’s heavy to start with and the Eventer is just a Packington at twice the price with a few bits of leather on that will soon get scuffed. AND FORGET THE BLUE ONES – Billinghams for the CHAVS!!

    • Hello Toby;
      Great to hear from you again. Thanks for the kind words!

      Good to hear your 335 is still going strong, well after a decade of use. My Hadley is from around 2004 (I think) and the waterproof fabric is still going strong. I should’ve treated the leather trim more often as it’s cracking a bit, but other than that, it’s in great shape. Billingham bags are worth the extra money, due to their durability.

      I really like your double Nikon F3 cameras with the smart selection of lenses. The first time I saw Nikon F3 cameras, two of them were carried by a veteran photojournalist for a newspaper here in Toronto. They are sturdy and all business. Your lenses: are they the AIS manual focus versions? I always loved those Nikkor lenses.

      The primes I use for my pair of Fuji X cameras are similar focal length to your 28, 35, 50 and 85mm. I have the equivalents for APS-C size – 18mm, 23mm, 35mm and 60mm (the 56mm would be closer, but currently, I have the 93mm-e Macro). I used to own a 135mm for my Leica M system, and I miss that focal length. I’ll pick up the recently released Fuji XF equivalent, their 90mm f2, sometime next year.

      Thank you for the comments about the Packington!! I was seriously thinking of getting one as an all-around travel bag, but will avoid it, if they are that heavy!

      Best regards, Marco

  6. Marco: my lenses are AI and pretty worn. The 135mm f2.8 does not stop down so every shot with it is at f2.8. The 85mm f2 is a cracker of a lens for portraiture, even though the focus barrel turns a little way beyond infinity! I did not realise you were in Canada, I’ve got three Leicas made there. Two M4-P and an MD2. The M4-P are used with VC 25/4 + the 40/2 Leica lens for the CL and a 90/4 also the compact one. All in a black canvas Hadley.
    The MD2 has the 21mm f3.4 Super-Angulon, the second of the Leica 21s. Now we are on version 5 and it’s f3.4 again! Viewfinder for 21 in the shoe on top and it’s a brilliant bit of kit for cities like London, Oxford, Cambridge, York, Norwich, Sheffield and Manchester.
    All the best from Blighty.

    • Hi Toby;

      I think that’s great that you continue to use equipment isn’t “perfect” – I’m referring to your 135mm that can’t stop down or your 85mm that focusses a bit beyond infinity. I believe as a consumer society that we get too obsessed with material possessions that have to work perfectly. I like to read about actual photographers like yourself who can work just fine with gear that’s worn down!

      My equipment is far from perfect as well. I use it daily to make a living, and I’ve dropped it, damaged front lens elements, fried electronic camera bodies in a rain storm, lost small bits of accessories, etc, etc. But that is what happens when we actually use our equipment to make images 🙂

      Yes, I’m in Toronto, Canada, a few hours south of Midland, where Leitz made a lot of the Mandler designed lenses and the immediate successors to the the M4. I’m happy to see you have some Canadian made M bodies! The Leica M4-P is GREAT. It’s one of the most under-rated M bodies ever made. Its stainless steel (rather than brass) gears makes it feel “rougher” when winding the film, but also makes it tougher and longer lasting.

      I owned two M4-P bodies as well, and they were extremely reliable. I had a body with one of Tom’s sturdy, Rapid Winders when I worked in Asia for a year or so, as a photojournalist. An M4-P has never failed me.

      Although I never owned one, I read in an archived interview that Cartier-Bresson used the 40mm f2 Summicron for the the Leica CL as his wide angle during the ’70’s. Your MD2 with a 21mm Super Angulon sounds like an ideal combination. I owned a 21mm Super Angulon as well perhaps about 10 to 15 years ago, but sadly didn’t use it very much. The few pics I made with it certainly showed its qualities.

      Best regards, Marco

  7. Very nice in depth review of the 335!

    Two quick random questions:

    -Can you fit your 13″ Macbook Pro in the main compartment with the padding insert in still in the bag? Is there adequate height to do up the zipper?

    -Can a 1″ binder fit in either the main compartment or the front compartment (dimensions ~30 x 27.5 cm).

    Cheers,

    Chris

    • Hi Chris!

      Question 1:
      1″ Macbook Pro in the main compartment: On my 335, the front and rear wall padding is stitched permanently into the walls of the bag, down the centre of each wall. So it would be impossible to slide a Macbook Pro into the main compartment, outside of the internal padded area.

      The 307’s walls are NOT stitched in such a way, to the bag. So it’s possible to slide a Macbook Pro in there. I have done so, with my 13″ Macbook Pro wearing its hard shell armour. And yes, I was able to zip it shut, but barely.

      Going back to the 335: the only place possible to slide in a 13″ Macbook would be the slim, front, zippered compartment. And only do so if you pad the bottom of it, plus have your laptop well armoured.

      Question 2:

      1″ binder in the main compartment – no (see above).

      1″ binder in the front compartment – no. longer dimension is OK, but the shorter dimension of 27.5mm won’t fit the height. I just measured the front compartment and it’s probably 24mm at the most.

      My recommendation: unfortunately, I can’t recommend the 335 for what you want to do. The dimensions are simply too small.

      If you do up in the size to a 445 or 555, then the dimensions might work, but you would have to un-stitch the inner padded walls from the bag in order to place the Macbook inside there. Probably not a good idea!!

      It woulds like you might be best with a 307L, the 7 series with a dedicated laptop sleeve, I think. I’ve never used one, but that, or the Hadley Pro Large (the really big one with the dedicated laptop sleeve and double buckles instead of clog balls), might be your ideal candidates.

      I hope that helps!

      Best regards, Marco

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s