Gura Gear bataflae camera bag review

Testing the Bataflae pack at the famous Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park

IMPORTANT NOTE

Gura Gear acquired the Tamrac brand and merged the two together.  Gura Gear as a standalone brand is gone, and all of their bags have been renamed to be sold under the Tamrac name in the G-Elite collection.  Aside from small aesthetic changes to use the Tamrac logo, the bags have remained the same.  Throughout this review I have used the name Gura Gear, but when searching for more info on these products, or searching to buy them, you should now search for the Tamrac G-Elite bags instead.

 

Gura Gear’s original backpack, the Kiboko, was designed by renowned wildlife photographer Andy Biggs.  He determined that there was a lack of great solutions for carrying long lenses on his many safaris and endeavoured to design a pack to fill that gap.  The Kiboko was a great pack but there was room for improvement in a couple of areas and the Bataflae seeks to do just that.  I own the 26L version of this pack which falls in the middle between an 18L and 32L.  For the Bataflae, the laptop pocket that was on the equivalent sized Kiboko has been removed and is now only found on the smallest 18L pack.  This allows for a better fit with pro sized camera bodies than was possible with the Kiboko.  Of course the Bataflae still features the unique butterfly style opening that makes this pack so well suited for work with longer lenses, but there’s one key addition to that design.  At the top of the pack you’ll now find a buckle that releases the whole front panel of the pack, allowing you instant access to all the bags interior volume in one go.  I’ve found this makes the pack a lot more versatile than the the Kiboko used to be.  To start with you can now put items in it that are larger than one half of the pack, like a large strobe pack for example.  When working with a many different lenses you can also open the pack up and instantly see what’s what and where.  When using the pack in “butterfly mode”, you have to hold the “wings” open to see what’s inside.  In a safari situation this is actually great because it keeps excess dust out, but during a commercial shoot or a wedding, you just want to be able to get to your gear quickly and easily.  In terms of access, you get the best of both worlds and it works very well.

I definitely do not miss the laptop pocket from the old bag one bit.  I think that like most photographers who travel a fair bit, I’m always maximizing my carry on capacity by taking my “personal item” laptop bag separately.  In fact I almost always use the Gura Gear Chobe bag for that purpose which I’ve previously reviewed here.

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Unclip this buckle and you can use the Bataflae just as you would any normal front opening photo pack.

Gear Capacity

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I have the 26L version of the Bataflae but there’s also an 18L and a 32L.  In the photo above, the long lens is a Canon 200-400 f/4 L IS for reference.  You can also fit a 500mm f/4 in there as well.  If you plan on carrying a 600mm, 800mm or a 500mm with a body attached then you should take a look at the larger 32L version.  The smaller 18L will carry a 300mm f/2.8.  What makes these packs unique it their long lens carrying ability.  You could very easily travel with two long lenses for a wildlife mission, perhaps a 600mm and a 300mm, or a 600mm and 200-400mm. That’s a pretty incredible capacity for a pack that fits into most airline carry-on limits!

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On the inside of the lid you’ll find 4 mesh pockets that come in handy for smaller items like lens cloths and spare batteries.  On the outside of the pack are two longer pockets that are actually surprisingly spacious. You can easily store large flashes in there like a Canon 600EX-RT, or even stash a spare jacket and waterproof pants in there as well.  There’s also the usual assortment of slots and pockets for pens, business cards and a clip for your keys or memory card holder.

Tripod Attachment

I’ve probably reviewed close to 30 outdoor photo packs over the last 6 years and I’m a bit of a stickler for a solid tripod carrying solution.  If you have a shorter travel sized tripod you can side mount it to the Bataflae but longer and heavier tripods will give you a top-heavy feel.  The suggested tripod mount for the back of the bag involves a system of three straps.  One on each side which wrap and clip around the upper portion of the legs, and then an elastic cord that secures the bottom part (photos in the slideshow above).  I didn’t get on well with this system though, I found it far too fiddly compared to a simple tripod cup and top strap that many other packs employ.  With those kind of systems it feels like a single motion to attach a tripod.  Slide the feet in and cinch up a strap, like the MindShift Panorama for example.  With the Bataflae it was very definitely a three-part process that required me to lie the pack down on the back panel and really become a lot more involved than I want to be for an action I might to do 30 times a day.  The tripod straps also didn’t secure very well to the pack and I lost one of them almost immediately in Death Valley and just resorted to carrying the tripod over my shoulder.  That said, mounting a large tripod to the back of an already quite deep pack isn’t going to be a comfortable option for long anyway.  I side mount my small travel tripod to this thing all the time and it works just fine.  Big tripods are clumsy necessities!

Comfort & Carrying

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Much like its predecessor the Kiboko, I’ve never found the Bataflae a comfortable pack to wear on my back for any great length of time.  Whilst the boxy design is great for maximizing useable space for air travel, it makes for an unwieldy feeling pack when you want to go for a hike.  I still use the Bataflae a lot when I need to carry my Canon 200-400 f/4 around, but I’m always asking myself “how far to I need to carry it?”.  My bag of choice for ultimate hiking comfort is the MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Professional.  The harness system on the Bataflae has been kept pretty low profile, presumably to make the strap cover a feasible feature.  There will always be compromises with these kinds of bags and I do love the hideaway straps for storage and air travel so it really comes down to how you plan on using this pack. For safari usage it doesn’t really matter how comfortable it is because the bag is going to spend 90% of its time next to you on the seat.

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With the back panel covered and the straps tucked away it really helps to make the bag look a lot less bulky.  If you can summon the strength to carry the pack using the side handle for the few yards as you get onto a plane, you’ll stand a much lesser chance of getting the dreaded ” excuse me Sir, can I weigh your bag?” question.  It also makes it easier to tuck into luggage racks, squeeze under seats or just store away on a shelf at home.

Pros

  • Extremely durable sailcloth material construction
  • ‘Butterfly’ design allows exceptional long lens carrying ability
  • Included rain cover
  • Hide-away strap system is great for storage
  • Plenty of storage in the front pockets for other items
  • Top and side handles are great for lifting heavy bag into cupboard and airline stowage

 

Cons

  • There’s no denying that the price will give some people sticker shock, though they are on par with what I would consider to be the other options in the same space.
  • Hip belt is too thin and doesn’t provide enough support for a heavy load on a longer walk.
  • Boxy design optimizes useable space but leaves bag feeling unwieldy on your back when hiking.
  • Front tripod attachment system is fiddly and too time consuming

 

Conclusion

The original Kiboko packs from Gura Gear really raised the bar when it comes to ease of carrying super telephoto lenses.  The Bataflae takes the unique opening system and expands on the idea by allowing the whole front panel to open and this extends the bag’s potential usage to a number of other types of photography.  Whilst I still find the Bataflae to be uncomfortable to hike with for any great distance, it remains the only pack on the market that can easily carry two super telephoto lenses and give quick and easy access to them.  It is, as the bag was designed for, a near perfect safari pack.  For the ultimate setup you could use the 32L version with a 600mm on one side and a 200-400 on the other side, both of which can be accessed quickly with no fuss.  If you like the materials and build of this pack, but don’t plan on carrying and big glass, take a look at the review of the Gura Gear Uinta.  The Uinta is a very comfortable pack to hike with where the Bataflae is more suited to air travel and vehicle based photo trips.

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Purchasing the Bataflae packs

My preference if I can is always to deal directly with manufacturers of products so I would highly recommend buying directly from Gura Gear. That way if you ever experience any issue with the product you can deal with it far more easily.  If you have to, you can also purchase it from Amazon and B&H Photo as well though.

Direct Purchase Links – Gura Gear

Gura Gear – Gura Gear Bataflae 18L

Gura Gear – Gura Gear Bataflae 26L

Gura Gear – Gura Gear Bataflae 32L

Amazon

Amazon – Bataflae 18L Grey

Amazon – Bataflae 26L Grey

Amazon – Bataflae 32L Grey

Amazon – Bataflae 18L Tan

Amazon – Bataflae 26L Tan

Amazon – Bataflae 32L Tan

Amazon – Bataflae 18L Black

Amazon – Bataflae 26L Black

Amazon – Bataflae 32L Black

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