Review: The Artisan & Artist ACAM 7100 Small Camera Bag for the Fuji X or Leica M system

I’ve written previously about carrying the Fuji X cameras as a large, comprehensive system on location for professional use. But one of the best aspects of Fuji X cameras, and the Leica M system which partially inspired their styling and form, is their compact, unobtrusive size.  It makes the X and M systems especially appropriate for daily and street photography.  A huge system isn’t appropriate – better just to carry a body or two, and perhaps a couple of lenses.  A small, compact bag is all that’s required. Artisan & Artist have a suitable model in their line-up.

Artisan & Artist are makers of fine camera bags and straps. Made in Japan, their quality is top notch, right up there with the craftsmanship of Billingham from England.

Artisan & Artist ACAM 7100 camera bag carrying: Fuji X-Pro1 with 18mm, 60mm on the left, 10-24mm on the right.  Meter, blower bulb, microfiber & spare batteries in front pockets

Artisan & Artist ACAM 7100 camera bag carrying: Fuji X-Pro1 with 18mm, 60mm on the left, 10-24mm on the right. Meter, blower bulb, microfiber & spare batteries in front pockets

In Canada, they’re available from numerous retailers, as well as from Digitec Trading, here –

http://www.digitectrading.com/?product=artisan-artist-acam-7100-shoulder-bag

Artisan & Artist are made by hand, at a very high level of skilled labor, with superb materials.  Its not coincidence that both Artisan & Artist as well as Billingham are among the few craftsmen and women that Leica Camera has chosen to make bags for their high-end, luxury line of photographic gear.

The look and design is quite distinct from Billingham, though. While the English bag manufacturer evolved from fishing and game bags for country use, Artisan & Artist bags have a minimalist, sleek and urbane look.

A&A ACAM 7100 packed full.  Front flap zipper pocket can be clearly seen

A&A ACAM 7100 packed full. Front flap zipper pocket can be clearly seen

On review here is their popular ACAM 7100 camera bag. The design has been around longer than some of their other bags, and for good reason: it’s an excellent and proven bag to carry one or two rangefinder form cameras (Fuji X or Leica M) with two or three lenses. It’s a small, well-padded bag that shuts securely, making it ideal for city use.

A&A calls the ACAM series their canvas line of bags, although the 7100 is not all canvas, like a Domke. The main flap, sides, most of the shoulder strap and the carry handle are canvas, but the rest of the bag is made of a tough nylon that’s waterproof. The trim and zipper pull are made of soft leather.

Some of the different materials used - canvas, nylon & leather - shown in this pic

Some of the different materials used – canvas, nylon & leather – shown in this pic

At 30cm wide by 20cm high and 10cm deep (about 11.8” x 7.9” x 3.9”), it’s small and handy. In contrast to medium size satchels like the Hadley Pro or Harvey Messenger, which have a bit more room for every day extras, the A&A ACAM 7100 is best for carrying a minimal camera system and its required essentials. A bag this small is best paired with a suit or blazer jacket, or perhaps a practical walking jacket like a Barbour. Jackets like those have numerous pockets to carry life’s every day items (e.g. wallet, mobile, car keys, house keys, etc) rather than placing them into the camera bag.

It’s about as small a camera bag one can get for carrying a couple of rangefinder style cameras or perhaps one rangefinder style body and three lenses.

Features & Benefits

The ACAM 7100 is designed like a very small messenger bag: a weather resistant flap that covers the top and the entire front of the bag. The sides of the flap have a bit of extra material to further keep out rain.  Velcro secures it.

Flap open, Velcro on the front pockets

Flap open, Velcro on the front pockets

Normally, I prefer not to have Velcro closures on camera bags. I don’t like having to hold the bag with one hand and then using the other hand to tear the flap away from the Velcro. I also don’t like the loud noise it makes. Most of the time, I much prefer the silent clog ball quick releases used on Billinghams or Filson’s simple snap buttons.

In practice, the Velcro closure is actually very secure for city streets. Sure, I still need two hands to open the flap, but once I get a camera out, the flap falls back and the Velcro holds it shut. If someone were to try and open it, they would have to grip the bag to lift the flap. That action would be quite noticeable by the owner. There is also an addition security feature (more on this below).

The sound of Velcro ripping open is annoying during a client meeting and downright rude during an important ceremony (like a graduation or a wedding). On the street, the sound of the Velcro is totally moot. A typical downtown city street during the day has so much noise that it’s a non-issue.

In the flap on the outside is a zipper pouch, suitable for flat items. It spans the width and depth of the front section of the flap. If I were travelling, I would use this pouch to carry a city map. It’s also handy for other flat items such as microfiber or a slim pad of lens tissue.

A&A ACAM 7100 packed full.  Front flap zipper pocket can be clearly seen

The 7100 has an adjustable shoulder strap with an integrated pad. The strap is long enough for me to sling cross body, for security on the street. And it’s great to have an integrated pad that doesn’t slide around. It’s also very comfortable, although part of that is the minimal weight one can carry in the ACAM 7100, due to its small size.  The strap is also sewn under the bottom of the bag.

Adjustable shoulder strap goes all the way under the bag & is securely sewn in

Adjustable shoulder strap goes all the way under the bag & is securely sewn in

It also has a carry handle – that’s an essential feature that I won’t live without, on any of my camera bags.

Domke got it right with their old F-2 and F-3 bags decades ago: a carry handle that can be utilized without having to close the flap or lid down. It makes for handling the bag, whether on a bus, subway or pulling it out of one’s car, so much easier. A&A has a similar, removable carry handle on their ACAM 7100. It’s one of the few small camera bags that I’ve used that has one.

Rear view shows removable carry handle, back pocket & adjustable shoulder strap with padding

Rear view shows removable carry handle, back pocket & adjustable shoulder strap with padding

Over the decades, I’ve eliminated all camera bags that I owned that didn’t have a carry handle. For example, I love the Billingham Hadley Pro with its carry handle, but got rid of the Hadley Small because it didn’t have one. So the carry handle on the ACAM 7100 makes this bag a keeper for me.

About the only minor annoyance is that, unlike Domke, the carry strap doesn’t connect centrally to the d-rings on the shoulder strap – it’s connected to one side. If you’re carrying a very light load, it makes the bag tilt forward. It’s a minor annoyance, but a d-ring similar to Domke’s would solve the issue.

Handy, removable carry handle.  Connected off centre

Handy, removable carry handle. Connected off centre

On the back, is a pocket that spans the entire width of the bag. A single button closes it and there are two penholders on either side of the button. Like Filson, A&A’s snap button is sewn securely into a finger loop, so you can slip your index finger behind the button and press it down with your thumb. Very thoughtful design.

Rear pocket is closed using a snap button with finger loop.  Pen holders to either side

Rear pocket is closed using a snap button with finger loop. Pen holders to either side

Opening the main flap reveals an interesting feature: there’s a plastic, quick release buckle, which can attach to two points. The fork of the buckle is on an adjustable canvas strap, sewn securely between two accessory pockets at the front of the bag.

Security latch for main flap

Security latch for main flap

If it’s connected to the anchor point on the inside of the flap, it acts to limit the amount that the flap can be pulled open – an interesting security feature. Along with the Velcro on the flap, if you use this buckle, you’ll have a very secure bag while walking through city crowds.

Security latch limits the arc opening of the main flap

Security latch limits the arc opening of the main flap

Alternatively, the quick release can be attached to the top back wall of the main compartment. I never use this attachment point – presumably, its a compression strap to keep the main compartment slim, if it gets over-stuffed?

Strap can alternatively connect to the back of the main compartment as a compression strap

Strap can alternatively connect to the back of the main compartment as a compression strap

Inside the main flap: a narrow, mesh pocket that can hold spare SD cards or slim batteries.

Inside the flap, a mesh pocket which can hold SD cards or flat batteries

Inside the flap, a mesh pocket which can hold SD cards or flat batteries

As mentioned, there are two front pockets that can hold larger accessories such as a blower bulb, lens cleaning kit, perhaps a light meter. These don’t have their own flap and depend upon the main flap for security and to prevent items from falling out. In practice, the Velcro again saves the day, as the main flap shuts tight as soon as it falls back down into place.

Close-up of front pockets in use

Close-up of front pockets in use

And finally, the main compartment features a gorgeously made, thickly padded, removable insert. I truly believe Artisan & Artist does better camera-specific padded inserts than anyone else in the world.

Its bright red in color, which looks great, has a practical element to it: it’s much easier to see my gear. Not being able to see equipment inside a camera bag is, surprisingly, an annoying issue with other camera bags that use dark inserts.

The ACAM 7100 comes with two removable, padded dividers and its Velcro can attach anywhere inside the wall of the insert – a great feature.

The padded floor is actually a separate piece from the walls, which is a nice option if you want to have a softer, unstructured bag while sacrificing a bit of shock protection.

A&A's modular padded insert.  Wall with removable dividers & separate floor

A&A’s modular padded insert. Wall with removable dividers & separate floor

Speaking of structure – I would say that A&A ACAM 7100 is probably the second most structured of the soft bags that I regularly use, due to its robust insert. The only soft bag that I use that has more structure is the Billingham 335, which has a rigid floor base. This is neither good nor bad, simply a matter of preference for the user.

Usually I prefer a very soft, almost sagging medium to large size bag, so that it hugs and conforms to my torso when I’m carrying it.   Since the ACAM 7100 is quite small, I don’t mind that it’s a more structured bag. It has less volume and surface area, so I don’t feel I need that wrap effect from a softer bag.

I really like using the Billingham 335, which is quite large and rigid, but this isn’t a bag that I use for carrying around in the city. I use that bag for getting a lot of gear to a location, and then work out of it like a mini-studio.

For those who are curious, out of the bags that I regularly use for carrying all day, the softest bags are at the top of this list, and the most structured, at the bottom:

  • Domke F-3X RuggedWear (waxed canvas that’s thinner than their standard canvas bags, but is water resistant)
  • Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger (uses a light-weight, water resistant cloth that’s thinner than Filson’s own camera bag designs)
  • Domke F-803 satchel (using their thicker, standard canvas)
  • Billingham Hadley Pro (water proof outer material + thick insert)
  • Artisan & Artist ACAM 7100 (water resistant nylon & canvas shell with thick insert) 

Carrying Capacity for a Fuji X system

For my hobby of street photography, I like carrying two Fuji X-Pro1 bodies, each with its lens (a Fuji XF 18mm and a Zeiss Touit 32mm) and hood mounted, no cap. Except for switching the cameras on, both are ready to shoot as soon as I pull them out of the bag.

The A&A ACAM 7100 is ideal for this. I can split the main compartment into two spaces with a single divider. Into one space, I slide the X-Pro1 with its Zeiss Touit 32mm and hood, lens down. The Zeiss with its hood installed is quite long, so this is the best way to fit it into the 7100.

Into the remaining space, I can place the other X-Pro1 with its XF 18mm and hood, on its side, with the lens pointing forward, as the 18mm is quite petite.

Obviously, for the included pictures, I had to use one of my X-Pro1’s, so I substituted my old Leica M3 with its Zeiss ZM Biogon 28mm lens.  The Fuji X X-Pro1 and classic Leica M rangefinders have very similar forms and dimensions.

Two rangefinder form cameras, with lenses mounted, ready to shoot

Two rangefinder form cameras, with lenses mounted, ready to shoot

Alternatively, if I want to carry three lenses with one camera, this is how I would arrange it: X-Pro1 with the 18mm mounted, in the middle. The Zeiss 32mm to one side. The XF 60mm to the other.

I’m old school and often use an incident meter for my readings. This I place in one of the front pockets. The other front pocket will usually hold a small blower bulb and some micro fiber, as well as a couple of spare batteries.

The mesh pocket on the inside holds a spare SD card. I used to carry the X-Pro1 manual in the back pocket, just in case I needed to consult it, but I’ve been using the cameras for nearly a year now, and am used to its operating system, so most of the time, I leave that pocket empty.

Artisan & Artist ACAM 7100 camera bag carrying: Fuji X-Pro1 with 18mm, 60mm on the left, 10-24mm on the right. Meter, blower bulb, microfiber & spare batteries in front pockets

And that’s it – everything I need for photographing people on city streets.

A Leica M system can easily be placed in as well, as the body style and shape of the M was an obvious inspiration for the Fuji X-Pro1 design.

Summary

The Artisan & Artist ACAM 7100 is a fantastic small bag for city use. While its capacity is too small to carry anything besides a very small rangefinder form system, for those who are looking for a very small bag to carry two cameras with lenses, or a single camera with three lenses, the ACAM 7100 is a great choice.

Its Velcro anchors the main flap without the user having to secure the bag with buttons or other closures. A unique, quick release security latch can further limit the amount of the flap can be pulled open. Both features increase security while wandering through city crowds.

There are numerous smaller pockets so that you can organize your gear and keep small items well separated.

A&A make the best-made camera-specific insert that I’ve used. Its generous padding will provide excellent protection from bumps in crowds. The bright red cloth makes it easy to see your gear. The floor is a separate piece. And the dividers can be connected anywhere inside the walls.

Overall, A&A ACAM 7100 is one of the best small camera bags available today.

An Artisan & Artist ACAM 7100, can be ordered through Digitec Trading –

http://www.digitectrading.com/?product=artisan-artist-acam-7100-shoulder-bag

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