Billingham Hadley Pro
One of the greatest satchel or messenger style camera bags is the Billingham Hadley. It’s been in production in various forms since 1988, and continues to be one of Billingham’s most successful lines of bags.
Currently, it’s offered in various sizes, from the tiny Hadley Digital to the big Hadley Large Pro, which has a dedicated laptop sleeve. For this post, I want to cover the mid-sized Hadley Pro. And this review isn’t based on a brand new sample. I bought this specific Billingham well over a decade ago, so this review is VERY long-term.
The original Hadley for photo equipment measures about 350mm wide by 120mm deep and 280mm tall (13.74” x 4.75” x 11”). Its form is based closely on the English fishing bag. Slim in thickness, flap over the top and coming part way down the front, two front pockets and a removable insert. Instead of a rubber insert for carrying fish or game, the Hadley had a padded insert with two dividers for protecting and separating one’s camera equipment.
While you could place an SLR in a Hadley, the slim design (only 4.75” on the outside, even slimmer inside the padded compartment) and size of the mid-sized bag was a natural fit for Leica M rangefinders. Today, in addition to the Leica M, the Hadley is great for carrying a mirrorless system too, such as my Fuji X cameras.
I owned an original Hadley for several years. It’s a simple and proven design with its form and features carried on in the current Hadley Small and Hadley Large. But in 2004, the original Hadley was enhanced with two additional features: a weather-resistant, zippered back pocket and a carry handle.
For those who’ve read my other articles on camera bags, a carry handle beyond that of the shoulder strap is an essential feature for me. The original Hadley was good, but the Hadley Pro is great, because of that carry handle.
It’s rigidly attached through the top flap to a solid bar via brass studs and thick leather. With the flap buttoned shut via its two straps, it’s easy to control the bag when grabbing the handle.
With that said: since the handle is attached to the flap and not the ends of the bag, if the flap isn’t shut with its clog ball closures, then grabbing the handle will allow the bag to open. Bags such as the Artisan & Artist ACAM 7100, the Domke F-3x or the Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger all have carry handle straps that aren’t attached to the flaps, so they work equally well whether the flap is secured shut or not. Regardless, it’s still an excellent feature to have the carry handle.
The other excellent feature that was added to the Pro design is a weatherproof rear pocket. It covers the entire width of the rear of the bag. The zipper has a rain flap. This is useful for carrying paper documents, a slim wallet or a mobile. As it’s positioned against the user’s torso when wearing the bag, the contents are relatively secure and out of sight.
The rest of the bag has the classic features of all Billingham Hadley’s throughout the decades. The fabric is truly waterproof, with rubber fused in between the outer and inner layers. The original outer material is canvas with the rubber layers in between, and this fabric is still available. A more recent, artificial outer fabric, which Billingham calls Nytex, is being used as well.
I have Billingham bags with both materials, and functionally, they are both weatherproof and completely seal out rain or snow from getting to your equipment. The newer Nytex is said to be lighter, but if it is, it’s hardly noticeable. It’s also said to be more fade resistant, but I haven’t owned a Nytex fabric Billingham long enough to confirm that. The point is, both materials work great, and I don’t think it really matters whether your Billingham is made from the original canvas or the newer Nytex. With their rubber layers fused inside the material, they hold out water exceptionally well.
At the front are two handy, expandable pockets. If the side buttons are clicked shut, it makes the pockets slimmer and creates a default penholder on the side. With the side buttons undone, the each front pocket can hold a surprisingly large amount of gear.
Each pocket also has a button down flap, so even if you leave the main flap open, these pockets can still have weather protection and some security. Still, as they are the outermost pockets, I usually place essential but inexpensive items in these pockets: blower bulb, micro fiber, lens tissue, etc.
The main flap is secured with two clog balls, one on each adjustable strap. They are a completely silent method of opening and closing the bag, so the Hadley is a perfect choice for sound sensitive events such as a wedding or business meeting. No annoying Velcro ripping sound here.
The straps are also adjustable; with long lasting brass or nickel plated brass buckles. This really helps with a variable load, allowing the Hadley to accommodate a big variance in the amount of gear carried.
The main compartment has a really well padded insert. It buttons into the main compartment, so it stays anchored when pulling cameras or lenses out. The insert comes with two vertical dividers, to allow three compartments to be created, of any size (see earlier picture, showing a Fuji X camera inside). This is really useful, compared to the fixed compartments of some of Domke’s inserts, or the single position divider of Filson’s Harvey Messenger. Those are much more limited in versatility, when compared to the Hadley Pro’s insert.
The shoulder strap is adjustable and comes with a thick shoulder pad. This helps to alleviate the pressure point if you load the bag with heavy gear (like Leica M equipment). If your load is very light, the shoulder pad is easily removable.
The Hadley Pro is expensive compared to other messenger or satchel type bags, but Billingham’s quality is unimpeachable. My personal Hadley Pro that is photographed here is over a decade old, and still looks great. I really should use Nikwax more often to keep the leather supple, but other than that, Billinghams are maintenance free.
As the front straps age and crack, or perhaps the insert gets compressed, those parts can be replaced and you can keep the bag going.
The Hadley Pro comes in a wide variety of colors and leather trim. The original choice was khaki with tan leather and brass furniture. For those who want a very understated color scheme, it’s available in all black (including the leather) with nickel-plated brass. My personal opinion is the sage (a mid green) is the nicest looking of them all. I don’t have that color in a Hadley Pro, but I do have one of Billingham’s 225 in sage. And it looks great.
My last piece of advice when choosing a Billingham Hadley Pro is, make sure it’s the color you really want. The reason is, this bag will last you not years, but decades. So it’s worthwhile choosing a color you can live with, as you’ll own this bag for a really long time.
You can find the Billingham Hadley Pro bag at Downtown Camera. Link below is to the sage (green) but they have it in khaki and black too.