Shimoda Core Unit Camera Inserts – Which One Is Perfect For You?

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The Shimoda Core Units are designed to be paired with the Shimoda Explore V2 backpack, the Shimoda Action X V2 backpack, the Shimoda Urban Explore backpack, the Shimoda Carry-On Roller, or the DV roller. In this post, we’ll closely examine every size to help you determine which one would be right for you. Of course, being cubic padded camera cases, nothing stops you from using these to convert other types of bags into camera bags. The photos and dimensions in this guide will also help people with that choice.

My Sony 600mm f/4 in an XXL Core Unit

Shimoda Designs has offered Shutter Muse readers a 10% discount on anything purchased through their online stores. US, Canadian, UK, French, or German residents should use the discount code ShutterMuse10 after clicking here to access the store. Australian readers should use the same code on the local Shimoda distributor’s site, Maxxum, instead.

Core Unit Construction

Over the years, I have amassed a vast collection of camera inserts from various manufacturers. The Shimoda Design Core Units stand out from the crowd because of the bright color and the considerably different direction they have taken with the construction.

While most camera inserts from brands such as F-Stop, Lowepro, and Think Tank Photo are relatively soft and lightweight, Shimoda has gone in the opposite direction. Each Shimoda Core Unit features an internal frame, with the side panels and internal dividers having good rigidity.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the rigidity of the Shimoda Core Units gives shape and rigidity to the Explore and Action X backpacks themselves. Secondly, by using a tougher construction on the Core Unit walls and dividers, those walls and dividers can be much thinner than the padding on most other camera inserts. And they do this while maintaining plenty of protection for the gear stored within. The result is Shimoda Core Units offer more protection than other camera inserts, and less of a bag’s internal volume is consumed by thick padding.

Small and Large Mirrorless Core Units.

One thing to be aware of is that you have to take the time to customize the layout of the Core Units to your gear. With camera inserts that use thicker, more flexible dividers, each slot you create has a certain amount of “give” to it. If a slot is too small for a lens, you can squeeze it in, and the padding will flex to accommodate it.

That’s not the case with the Shimoda Core Units. The dividers are covered in a soft material but are not as soft as you might expect. This means that it’s hard to squeeze a larger lens into a too-small hole. It also means that a lens placed in a too-big hole will tend to rattle around more than in softer camera inserts. The best way to use these units is to take the time to customize them to your kit carefully.

Core Unit Covers

Every Shimoda Core Unit comes in a lightweight nylon zippered cover. If you use your Unit to store gear in your closet at home, the cover is excellent for keeping the dust off your equipment. Alternatively, you can use the cover as a packing cube while traveling, either in your checked duffle or your Shimoda bag.

Finally, the cover is also helpful if you have a Core Unit in your bag with a shallower depth than the bag itself. Shimoda’s bags are designed to have a depth to match specific Core Units. But it is still possible to use a shallower Core Unit. When you do this, there will be extra space within the bag. Without the cover over the Core Unit, your cameras and lenses can move around too much and potentially fall into the bag’s main section.

Shimoda Core Unit Dimensions

Below is a list of dimensions and specifications for all current models of the Shimoda Core Unit.

Standard Core Units

Shimoda Core UnitWidth InternalHeight InternalDepth InternalWidth ExternalHeight ExternalDepth ExternalWeight
Small Mirrorless8.7in / 22cm10.6in / 27cm4.7in / 12cm9.4in / 24cm11.4in / 29cm5.1in / 13cm1lbs / 0.49kg
Medium Mirrorless10.6in / 27cm10.6in / 27cm4.7in / 12cm11.4in / 29cm11.4in / 29cm5.1in / 13cm1.1lbs / 0.5kg
Large Mirrorless10.6in / 27cm14.6in / 37cm4.7in / 12cm11.4in / 29cm15.4in / 39cm5.1in / 13cm1.7lbs / 0.77kg
Small DSLR10.6in / 27cm4.1in / 10.5cm6.3in / 16cm11.4in / 29cm4.7in / 12cm6.7in / 17cm0.58lb / 0.29kg
Medium DSLR V210.6in / 27cm10.6in / 27cm6.7in / 17cm11.4in / 29cm11.4in / 29cm7in / 18cm1.3lbs / 0.6kg
Large DSLR V310.6in / 27cm15.7″ / 40cm6.7in / 17cm11.4″ / 29cm16.5in / 42cm7in / 18cm2.2lbs / 1.02kg
Large DV V211.4″ / 29cm15.7″ / 40cm7.9in / 20cm12.2″ / 31cm16.5in / 42cm8.3″ / 21cm2.6lbs / 1.2kg
Extra-Large DV V211.4″ / 29cm18.9″ / 48cm7.9in / 20cm12.2″ / 31cm19.7″ / 50cm8.3″ / 21cm3.1lbs / 1.39kg
Extra-Extra-Large DV11.4″ / 29cm21.7″ / 55cm7.9in / 20cm12.2″ / 31cm22.5″ / 57cm8.3″ / 21cm2.9lbs / 1.33kg

Urban Explore Core Units

Shimoda’s Urban Explore backpacks come with bespoke Core Units. These Core Units are unavailable for separate purchases, so Shimoda does not list their weights.

UE Core UnitWidthHeightDepth
Urban Explore 207.9″ / 20cm10.6″ / 27cm5.1″/ 13cm
Urban Explore 259″ / 23cm10.6″ / 27cm5.1″ / 13cm
Urban Explore 3010.2″ / 26cm13″ / 33cm5.1″ / 13cm

Deprecated Core Unit Dimensions

The following specifications are for Core Unit sizes that are no longer manufactured. I include them for existing owners who want to compare what they own to other available sizes.

Old Core Unit ModelWidth InternalHeight InternalDepth InternalWidth ExternalHeight ExternalDepth ExternalWeight
Large DSLR V210.6in / 27cm14.6in / 37cm6.7in / 17cm11.4in / 29cm15.4in / 39cm7in / 18cm1.8lbs / 0.8kg
Large DV10.6in / 27cm14.6in / 37cm7.9in / 20cm11.4in / 29cm15.4in / 39cm8.2in / 21cm1.9lbs / 0.9kg
Extra-Large DV10.6in / 27cm18.1in / 46cm7.9in / 20cm11.4in / 29cm18.9in / 48cm8.2in / 21cm2.6lbs / 1.2kg

Core Unit Depths Explained

Shimoda splits up their Core Unit range using both depth and size. While options are always good, I think they confused things when they chose the nomenclature for the Core Unit depths. The available depths are Mirrorless, DSLR, and DV. Despite its name, the Mirrorless Core Units can still be used with a DSLR. You do not necessarily need to use a DSLR Core Unit if you put a DSLR in it! As I said. Confusing.

So, the Mirrorless depth Core Units can be used with a mirrorless camera or a DSLR. You only need to step up to the deeper DSLR depth if you use a gripped mirrorless body, a gripped DSLR, or a pro-sized camera like the Nikon Z9 or Canon R3, or if you want to carry a lens that is wider than a camera is tall.

For example, you might be using a Sony mirrorless camera with a Sony 200-600mm lens. The body will fit just fine in any mirrorless depth Core Unit, but the 200-600mm lens hood is too tall for the Mirrorless Core Units. You must switch to the DSLR Core Unit depth to accommodate it. The same applies to users of large super-telephoto lenses, such as a 400mm f/2.8 or a 600mm f/4. You will need to use the deepest DV depth Core Units to accommodate the large diameter of the super-telephoto lens hoods.

Core Unit Depth Summary

  • Mirrorless Core Units – For mirrorless cameras or DSLRs
  • DSLR Core Units – For gripped mirrorless cameras, gripped DSLRs or pro-sized DSLRs/Mirrorless (Canon R3, Nikon Z9 etc)
  • DV Core Units – For any camera with a super-telephoto lens such as a 200-400mm f/4, 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4, 600mm f/4, 800mm f/5.6 or 1200mm f/8.
shimoda core unit
DV, DSLR, and Mirrorless Core Unit depths compared.

Core Unit Sizes Explained

Once you have figured out which depth of Shimoda Core Unit you will need, you can pick the size. Not all depths have all sizes available. It would be pointless to have a Small DV, for example. Mirrorless is available in small, medium, and large. DSLR is available in small, medium, and large. DV is available in large, extra-large, and extra-extra-large. Slightly confusing is that the Large Mirrorless Core Unit is not as long as the Large DSLR Core Unit so pay. attention to the dimensions in the specification table.

Make sure you follow the guidelines in the next section about which Core Units fit into which bags. I recommend not buying a larger unit than the amount of camera gear you plan to put in it. That might sound obvious, but sometimes people justify it by saying they can always fill spare space in the Core Unit with non-photographic items.

All the Shimoda bags have excellent organization pockets for your other gear on the top of the pack. The larger the Core Unit you put in the bag, the less you can efficiently use that organization. Trust me on this one. The Shimoda bags work best when you only put camera gear in the Core Unit and all your other equipment in the front pockets or top section.

Which Core Units Fit Which Shimoda Bags?

Shimoda’s backpacks and roller bags are all compatible with the Core Unit system. Below you will find a list of all the bags and which Core Units will fit within them.

Explore Series

Small Mirrorless Core Unit in an Explore 25.

Before choosing a Core Unit for your Explore backpack, I recommend you read through our in-depth Shimoda Design Explore v2 backpack review. There is a lot of helpful advice that might influence your decision.

Core Units Compatible With Explore Original

  • Explore 30 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR
  • Explore 40 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR
  • Explore 60 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR

Core Units Compatible With Explore v2

  • Explore 25 v2 – Small Mirrorless
  • Explore 30 v2 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless
  • Explore 35 v2 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Small DSLR / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR

Action X Series

Action X70 HD with XL DV Core Unit inside

I recommend reading our related Action X reviews before choosing a Core Unit for your Action X backpack. Thoughts on the 25L, 30L, 40L, and 50L sizes are covered in our Action X v2 review. With a slightly different set of features, I decided to cover the Action X70 HD in its own review.

Core Units Compatible With Action X Original

  • Action X30 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless
  • Action X50 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR
  • Action X70 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR / Large DV / Extra Large DV

Core Units Compatible With Action X V2

  • Action X25 v2 – Small Mirrorless
  • Action X30 v2 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless
  • Action X40 v2 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR
  • Action X50 v2 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR
  • Action X70 HD – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR / Large DV / Extra-Large DV / Extra-Extra-Large DV
xxl core unit top access
The massive XXL DV Core Unit only fits in the Action X70 HD and allows top access to a super-telephoto lens.

Urban Explore Series

Shimoda Urban Explore with its included Core Unit

The Shimoda Urban Explore backpack is available in three sizes: UE20, UE25 and UE30. Unlike the Shimoda Explore and Action X series, the Urban Explore backpacks have a removable padded camera cube explicitly designed for those bags. Buying the Urban Explore backpacks in a “shell only” format is not possible. Since they come with their own custom-fit Core Units, Shimoda doesn’t advertise using any standard Core Units in the Urban Explore backpacks. Still, it is technically possible in the two larger sizes, so I include the details for completeness, although I fully expect this to be an outlying use case. For more details on Urban Explore bag, check out my review.

  • Urban Explore 20 – Too narrow to hold any Core Unit other than the custom one it comes with.
  • Urban Explore 25 – Fits the Small Mirrorless Core Unit, although it’s almost identical in size to the unit that comes with the bag, so I can’t see why anyone would do this.
  • Urban Explore 30 – S, M, and L Mirrorless Core Units will fit in this bag. There is some overlap with the bag’s included Core Unit.

Shimoda Roller Bags

Compatible Core Units

  • Carry-On Roller v1 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR
  • Carry-On Roller v2 – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR
  • DV Roller – Small Mirrorless / Medium Mirrorless / Large Mirrorless / Medium DSLR / Large DSLR / Large DV / Extra Large DV

Where to Buy + Save 10%

Shimoda Designs has offered Shutter Muse readers a 10% discount on anything purchased through their online stores. US, Canadian, UK, French, or German residents should use the discount code ShutterMuse10 after clicking here to access the store. Australian readers should use the same code on the local Shimoda distributor’s site, Maxxum, instead.

I recommend shopping directly with Shimoda, if you can, to take advantage of that 10% discount. However, using one of our other links is always appreciated if you can’t do that. Shimoda doesn’t ship directly to Canada, so fellow Canadians should buy from B&H Photo using the links below to take advantage of their free shipping and easy pre-paid duties.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Core Unit for the Sony 200-600mm Lens?

This is a popular question, so I’m answering it with its own sub-heading to make it easier to find. Users of the Sony 200-600mm lens will need a Large Mirrorless Core Unit, a Large DSLR Core Unit, a Large DV Core Unit or the XL DV Core Unit. To be very clear, the Sony 200-600mm lens does not fit in any of the medium-sized Core Units, even if you remove the camera body.

I suspect the choice will always be between the large Mirrorless and Large DSLR Core Units. Although the lens does fit in the DV units, that would limit the pack choice to the Action X 70 HD or the DV Roller. Also, the Sony 200-600mm lens is swimming in the DV units, so there is no real need to use that combination unless you have another larger piece of gear that does need the DV depth.

Sony 200-600mm with the Large DSLR v3. Note how this Unit is clearly a little longer than the Large Mirrorless Unit, and a better fit with this lens.

When choosing between the Large Mirrorless and Large DSLR Core Units, I would always recommend the Large DSLR Core Unit for the Sony 200-600mm. When the V3 version of the Large DSLR Core Unit was launched, its length was slightly increased to fit the Sony 200-600mm lens better. The Large Mirrorless Core Unit length was not increased and remains a tight fit. Check my guide to camera bags and accessories for the Sony 200-600mm G lens for more information.

Which Core Unit for the Nikon Z 600mm f/6.3 Lens?

The Nikon Z 600mm f/6.3 lens is one of my all-time favorite super-telephoto lenses. The weight-to-image quality ratio is unmatched and addictive. Of course, when I got mine, I tried all the different Shimoda Core Units to figure out the best option. The Z 600mm f/6.3 lens is too long to fit in a Medium Core Unit. This means you need to choose a Large Mirrorless Core Unit or a Large DSLR Core Unit.

The Large DSLR Core Unit (V3 and above) is slightly longer than the Large Mirrorless Core Unit. This does deliver a slight functional difference. If you use a shorter third-party Zemlin lens hood with your Z 600mm f/6.3, you can leave it attached to your lens in the forward-facing shooting position if you opt for the Large DSLR Core Unit. The Large DSLR Core Unit will also accommodate a gripped or pro-sized body, which the Mirrorless Core Unit will not.

Choosing the Large DSLR Core Unit means the smallest pack you can choose is the Action X40 V2 or Explore 35 V2. If you choose the Large Mirrorless Core Unit, you can also use the Urban Explore 30, Explore 30 V2, and Action X30 V2. Of course, you could opt for even bigger Core Units or bags like the X50 of X70HD, but given the lens’ design ethos is “small and light,” I don’t see the point in using one of those much larger options. Check out my guide to Nikon Z 600mm f/6.3 compatible camera bags and accessories for more info.

Which Core Unit for the Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 Lens?

The Nikon Z 400mm f/4.5 fits the Large Mirrorless Core Unit well. It fits comfortably with a camera body attached, and you can choose to leave the lens hood in the forward-facing shooting position to minimize setup time. Pairing the Z 400mm f/4.5 with this Core Unit means choosing the Action X30 V2 or the Explore V2 backpacks. I believe this to be the best solution for this lens unless you want to use a pro-sized or gripped body, in which case you have to move up to the Large DSLR Core Unit for the added depth, and, in turn, that means choosing from the Action X40 V2 or Explore 35 V2.

You can also opt for the Medium Mirrorless Core Unit. However, there isn’t enough room to leave the camera attached, so I don’t see this being an optimal setup. Using the Medium Core Unit doesn’t allow you to choose a smaller backpack since the Action X25 V2 and Explore 25 V2 are incompatible, limiting the reasons for making this sub-optimal choice.

Technically, you can also fit the Z 400mm f/4.5 in the Small Mirrorless Core Unit, which would allow you to use the Action X25 V2 or Explore 25 V2. However, the lens takes up the majority of the Core Unit’s space, only allowing enough room for a camera alongside it. Few people only travel with a 400mm prime lens and a camera. At a minimum, I would expect users of this lens to also want to carry a standard zoom like the 24-120mm, and that’s just not possible in the Small Core Unit.

Which Core Unit for the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 Lens?

Nikon z 800mm core unit
The Nikon Z800mm f/6.3 lens with Large and XL DV Core Units.

The Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 lens will fit into the v3 model of the Large DSLR Core Unit or the v2 model of the Large DV Core Unit. It will not fit into earlier versions of either of those Core Units. When placed in the Large DSLR Core Unit V3, a very small amount of the lens hood protrudes above the edge of the padded cube. However, this isn’t noticeable when wearing the pack as it gets absorbed into the padding of the laptop compartment. In the Large DV Core Unit v2, there is no protruding.

For a better fit in the Large DSLR Core Unit, you can use the lower profile third-party lens hood for the Z 800mm, made by Zemlin Photo. I used one and reviewed it here, and it’s a worthy upgrade. Using the Large DSLR Core Unit means you can choose between the Explore 35 v2, Action X40 v2, Action X50 v2, or Action X70 HD packs. Choosing the deeper Large DV Core Unit means you can only select the Action X70 HD.

You must step up to the XL DV Core Unit to keep a camera mounted to the Z 800mm lens. Again, choosing a DV depth Core Unit means moving up to the Action X70 HD pack. This is a big pack and may be more than some people want. Check my X70 HD review here for all the details. Choosing the Action X70 HD does also give you the option to choose an XXL DV Core Unit. The Z 800mm lens fits into the XXL DV with a body attached and the lens hood in place.

Can You Use Third-Party F-Stop ICUs in Shimoda Bags?

F-Stop ICU options

From a sizing standpoint, you could easily use third-party camera inserts in Shimoda bags. In particular, there is a close correlation between the sizing of the Shimoda Core Units and the F-Stop ICUs or Think Tank Stash Masters. First, determine which Core Unit would be ideal and then compare the measurements with the F-Stop or Think Tank cubes range. My F-Stop ICU guides and Think Tank Stash Master guides have all the dimensions you need.

Using a third-party camera cube might be useful if you come from using a different brand of camera bag to a Shimoda bag and want to save money. In that case, you can buy the Shimoda backpack shell and use your existing camera insert. The main problem is the lack of side zippers on most camera inserts from other manufacturers. If you want to use the side access hatch on your Shimoda backpack, you will need to stick to using Shimoda Core Units.

Will the New Wider v2 DV Core Units Fit in the Original Action X70?

The v2 versions of the DV Core Units expanded their width from 11.4″ to 12.2″. Some original Action X70 HD owners wonder whether these new units will fit in their bags. I tested this myself since I have both the original Action X70 and the newer Action X70 HD. I can confirm that the new v2 DV Core Units fit the original Action X70.

Can You Fit a 600mm f/4 Lens in a Shimoda Core Unit?

Yes, you can fit a 600mm f/4 lens in either the XL DV Core Unit if you detach the camera body or, if you want to leave the camera body mounted to the lens, you can get the XXL DV Core Unit. This works for the Canon RF 600mm f/4, Nikon Z 600mm f/4, and Sony 600mm f/4 GM. Choosing the XXL DV Core Unit gives you the option of top access to your 600mm lens with a camera attached.

Does the XXL DV Core Unit Fit in the DV Roller? Or Any Other Roller?

XXL Core Unit in a Pelican 1606 AIR roller

Shimoda’s largest roller bag is the DV Roller, designed for the XL DV Core Unit. The XXL DV Core Unit does not fit in the Shimoda DV Roller. If you want a roller bag for the XXL DV Core Unit, buy the Pelican 1606 AIR roller. It’s a perfect fit.

Photo of author
Professional photographer based in Yukon, Canada, and founder of Shutter Muse. His editorial work has been featured in publications all over the world, and his commercial clients include brands such as Nike, Apple, Adobe and Red Bull.

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7 thoughts on “Shimoda Core Unit Camera Inserts – Which One Is Perfect For You?”

  1. Hello
    Does anyone know if shimoda’s core xl dv3 can fit a Sony 600 F4 from what I can see, there should be 1 cm left, but is it enough if there is a hood on 🧐

    • Yes, I believe that fits. If you want 100% confirmation, shoot them a message. Ian is very good with stuff like that.

  2. Hi Dan, love your great reviews! I ordered my action x40 yesterday. Do you a best-practice or can share a picture on a good setup for the DSLR medium core unit for Sony‘s Holy Trinity (one lens is always mounted on a 7rIII)? I could not find any inspiration on this so far… Cheers! Tim

  3. It would be great to read about the combination of core units that pack up the explore v2.

    For example, the explore v2 35L comes with a medium DSLR core unit, but can I swap it out for two small mirrorless, or 1 medium and 1 small mirrorless ?

  4. Hi Dan and thank you for all your articles about the Shimoda bags (and all the other bags), they are the best on the internet in my opinion.

    I have a question about the Large Mirrorless Core Unit, if you don’t mind. The official specs say 12cm for the internal depth, but how much leeway there is in terms of depth if, for example I wanted to fit a Sony A1 body vertically, which is roughly 13cm? Is there a bit of space between the top of the core unit and the laptop compartment to fit something that is a bit taller, or is everything pretty much tight (also considering a latop in the sleeve that may invade that extra space a bit).

    Looking at the internal dimensions specs of the Explore 30L and comparing it to the Large Mirrorless Unit, it looks like there should be a fair amount of extra space, but it’s hard to know for sure.

    Thanks in advance!

    • There is some leeway because the laptop sleeve’s padding is pretty thick and squishy. I think you’ll be fine with a vertical a1.

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