Go with what you know: Billingham Bags

Monday, 10 April 2023 13:29

I should've right from the start choosen the Hadley Small shoulder bag for my M system. It took just over one year and two crappy bags later for me to end up here. This isn’t just a hindsight 20/20 thing… I knew the Billinham Hadley is a great bag from the beginning, becuase (wait for it) I’ve owned them for over 10 years! So why didn’t I just get the Hadley Small then!!! ???

They say negative experiences carve stronger neural pathways than positive experiences, making the former easier to remember. It makes sense that evolution has wired us this way, since learning that a Lion in the veld doesn’t wan’t to be poked with a stick is probably more pivotal to survival than remembering how transcendent that steak tasted last night.

My first Hadley was a black canvas bag I bought used some thirteen years ago. It quickly became my everyday carry for my camera gear. An astoundingly practical bag, however the black cotton canvas was definitely not suited to the African outdoors and the strong UV made short work turning the canvas into an ugly grey. For years I still carried this ugly black bag around until one day I felt so ashamed I tried to dye it, and with that, I died it. The dye I used wrecked the leather, drying it out and making it brittle. It was probably caustic. It was stupid I know.

Some time shortly after that, I was in England with the wife, and by some miracle the Hadley bags were on special and available in all sorts of options. I quickly delved into the rabbit hole that is the canvas vs fybrenyte debate, knowing full well that the black canvas faded quickly (clearly I’m bad at learning). I don't understand why it took me so long to choose the fybrentye material. Critics said the texture is rough and that it’s not in line with the traditional and classic like canvas. What a load of...

The Fibrenyte material is amazing. My every day carry bag goes with me pretty much everywhere. Up rocks and mountains, through thorny veld, through Namib sand dunes or a wet Newlands forest in the rain. It doesn’t get pampered, so long as my gear inside is safe, I don’t think much about the bag. My 2017 Hadley in Sage Fibrenyte and Chocolate Leather has been through a lot. It's seen many many hours of harsh Namibian sun. It's slid down or scraped up against abrasive granite boulders and caught in thorn trees. It’s been drenched in rain and survived dusty rally races. My point is, looking at it now while writing this, it looks almost unused. Next to my new Sage Fibrenyte Hadley Small, the older bag has faded a little bit. Or is it just dirty? I don’t know, it’s hardly noticeable. 

The Hadley Small has replaced my almost one year old Cecelia Tharp Chestnut Leather bag. I bought this bag used, but as new, but I feel that even for $112, down from $190, I overpaid. It’s made from thin delicate leather with barely acceptable stitching. For a fashion bag that sees very little use, it’s fine.

There are companies like Domke or Billingham that in my opinion do get it right, but Domke offers way too little padding protection for my gear, and for those prices it's easy for me to justify Billingham's prices. In contrast, bags like those from Peak Design just feel over designed to a point that the bag and its bits gets in the way of the basic job description. Peak design seem to  find ways of fixing $5 problems with a $100 solution. Thats not my thing.

The Hadley Small is my perfect bag to fit the Leica M11 with lens attached, two additional lenses, spare battery, charger and cable, Visoflex, filters, etc. It’s comfortable, it’s good looking, but it’s proven tough and it protects its contents well.