I’ve owned the Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger Bag now for 9 months, and it’s become my favourite satchel for daily carry of my cameras and as a laptop bag. Here’s a detailed update on the Harvey Messenger.
I still use my Billinghams frequently, but the Harvey goes out the door with me most of the time now. I’ve come to appreciate its slightly larger size over the Billingham Hadley Pro, its additional pockets for better organization, and the light weight, waterproofed cotton that keeps the weight down. Often, I go to client meetings with a 13″ Macbook Pro. This bag has quickly become my go-to carrier for that duty, and by keeping the camera insert inside, I can both carry my laptop in the padded sleeve and still have a camera with me, in the bag.
The great Magnum photographer, David Alan Harvey, designed this bag for Filson. (BTW, I would highly recommend a copy of his phenomenal book, “based on a true story”. I bought a copy recently from Mr. Harvey’s Burn Magazine group, and it brings back the power of the photo essay).
As many enthusiasts of photojournalism and street photography know, Mr. Harvey is a minimalist when it comes to equipment, which usually means one camera, one prime lens. With that in mind, the photo insert that he designed reflects that sensibility: it’s one padded insert that can be divided into two equal spaces, or the divider removed and it’s one large open space.
It can easily hold a couple of my Fuji X-Pro1 cameras, each with a prime lens (like the XF 18mm on one and a Touit 32mm on another body). In fact, I couldn’t imagine a better photo insert than the Harvey design for carrying two, relatively light rangefinder form cameras. I’ve also carried one Fuji X-Pro1 with a prime and a Leica M3 with its prime, and that works great too. Mr. Harvey writes a bit about his design philosophy on his bag, here:
And here’s a short promo video about the Harvey Messenger, where Mr. Harvey talks about the bag, as well –
The insert makes it obvious that Mr. Harvey truly designed this bag, and it’s not merely Filson using his name for cachet.
Going out repeatedly with just one or two prime lenses, and one or two cameras, when using Mr. Harvey’s bag, is a revelation: the reduced choice and lighter load forced me to use the one or two tools I had at my disposal, and I tended to move around my subjects much more, to look for new ways of seeing the scene.
Also, walking for four to eight hours at a time wasn’t a burden, with such a light load. So I get the idea behind the minimalist insert.
With that said: Having the ability to divide the inserts into two asymmetrical compartments or even having a second divider (so that three compartments can be created) would have created a lot of versatility, and still not overload the photographer.
But overall, for street photography and as a daily carry, I’m happy carrying a single camera with one prime, or perhaps two cameras with two primes, at the most. It’s funny to say, but yes, I think a camera BAG actually taught me a valuable lesson!
Besides, when I really do need three lenses or more, it’s usually when I’m on assignment. At that point, I’m not even considering messenger or satchel style bags. I choose boxier, camera bag designs like Billingham’s 225 or 335, or one day I might try Filson + Magnum’s McCurry Sportsman. Their deeper designs makes it easier to access the equipment from the top.
I’m very appreciative of the additional small pockets the Harvey Messenger has, over my Hadley Pro and certainly over my Brady Gelderburn (the latter is not a camera bag, but a fishing bag). The easy to access smart phone and pen pockets on the back are handy, and the slim, end pockets are fantastic. I place spare batteries and SD cards in those. And the hidden, zippered pocket inside continues to be a secure place for my wallet.
If you’re looking for a more formal looking bag, you’ll be better served by the appearance an urbane Artisan & Artist or country estate Billingham, which have a neater, more rigid appearance.
The Harvey Messenger, on the other hand, looks like an old, soft, army surplus bag. I’ve found during my 9 months of usage, that’s a good thing on the street – no one ever pays attention to my bag. It’s always under the radar, and it doesn’t attract attention. A good thing, when I’m carrying a few thousand dollars worth of camera equipment.
With 9 months of continuous use, I can say this: I like the Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger bag even more now. And even its minimalist insert, which at first I disliked for its lack of versatility, has proven to me that carrying a smaller load of equipment is sometimes the smarter way.
A note to readers: Filson did not provide this bag to me, I purchased it at full retail price with my own funds. This goes for all of the equipment that I review here. This ensures my reviews are honest and free of influence from the manufacturer.
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