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

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Core Unit Construction

Over the years, I have amassed a huge collection of camera inserts from a wide range of manufacturers. The Shimoda Design Core Units stand out from the crowd, not just because of the bright colour, but also the considerably different direction they have taken with the construction.

While most camera inserts from the likes of F-Stop, Lowepro and MindShift Gear are relatively soft and lightweight, Shimoda has gone in the opposite direction. Each Core Unit features an internal frame, with the side panels and internal dividers having a good amount of rigidity.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the rigidity of the Shimoda Core Units gives shape and rigidity to the 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 still maintaining plenty of protection for the gear stored within. In fact, I would say that the Core Units offer much more protection than most other camera inserts. With a thinner construction, less of the bag’s internal volume is taken up by soft padding, giving you more space for gear. In short, they are tougher and make a more efficient use space.

One thing to be aware of is that you have to take the time to really customize the layout of the Core Units to your gear. With camera inserts that have thicker, more flexible dividers, each slot that you create has a certain amount of “give” to it. You can make a lens slot a little too small, and still squeeze a larger lens into it.

Small and Large Mirrorless Core Units.

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

Core Unit Covers

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

Finally, the cover is also useful if you are a Core Unit in your bag that has 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, and without the cover over the Core Unit, your cameras and lenses will be able to move around too much and potentially fall out into the bag’s main section.

Core Unit Depths

Shimoda splits up their Core Unit range using both depth and size. While options are always good, I do 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, though, the Mirrorless Core Units can still be used with a DSLR. You do not necessarily need to use a DSLR Core Unit if you are putting DSLR in it! Like 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 are using a gripped mirrorless body, a gripped DSLR or a pro-sized camera like the Nikon D6 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 the Sony 200-600mm lens. The body will fit just fine in any of the mirrorless depth Core Units, but, the lens hood of the 200-600 is too tall. So in that case you would need to switch to the DSLR depth to accommodate this. For users of large super-telephoto lenses such as a 400mm f/2.8 or a 600mm f/4, the same is true. But you will need to use the deepest DV depth Units to accommodate the large diameter of the telephoto lens hoods.

Core Unit Depth Summary

  • Mirrorless Core Units – Mirrorless cameras or DSLRs
  • DSLR Core Units – Gripped mirrorless cameras, gripped DSLRs or pro-sized DSLRs/Mirrorless (Canon R3 etc)
  • DV Core Units – These do not fit in the Explore backpacks
shimoda core unit
DV, DSLR, Mirrorless.

Core Unit Sizes

Once you have figured out which depth of Core Unit you are going to 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 and extra-large.

Make sure you follow the guidelines in the next section about which Core Units fit into which bags. I recommend that you do not buy a Unit that is larger 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.

The thing is, all the Shimoda bags have excellent organization pockets for your other gear in the top of the bag. The larger the Core Unit you put in the bag, the less you are able to make efficient use of 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 gear in the front pockets or top section.

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 to use either 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 almost always be between the large Mirrorless and DSLR Core Units. Although the lens does fit in the DV units, that would limit the pack choice to the Action X bags as DV units don’t fit in the Explore backpacks. Also, the Sony 200-600mm lens is really 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.

As you can see from the photos, placing this lens in the Large Mirrorless Core Unit does leave a small amount of the lens hood protruding above the edge of the unit. In my testing, I determined that it was not possible to feel this protrusion on your back because the thickly padded laptop sleeve in both the Explore and Action X packs easily absorbs that slight bulge. This leaves you free to choose either Unit based on the depth of pack you are using.

Which Core Units Fit Which Shimoda Bags?

Action X70 (left) and Explore 35 (right).

All of Shimoda’s backpacks and roller bags are 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 take a read through our in-depth Shimoda Design Explore backpack review. There is a lot of useful advice in there that might influence your decision.

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

Explore v2

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

Action X Series

  • 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

Roller Bags

  • 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

Can You Use Third-Party Camera Inserts in Shimoda Bags?

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. All you would have to do is figure out which Core Unit would be ideal, and then compare the measurements with ICU measurements.

This might be useful if you are coming from an F-Stop bag and looking to save some money. In that case, you could buy the Shimoda shell and use the F-Stop camera insert. The main problem with this is the lack of side zippers on the F-Stop ICUs, and, in fact, most other camera inserts from any manufacturer. Even if you could find one with a zipper, such as those from WANDRD, the zippers are unlikely to line up. In short, if you want to use the side opening of your Shimoda bag, stick to the Shimoda Core Units.

Where to Buy

If at all possible, I always recommend buying directly from Shimoda Designs. For one thing, you’ll be able to get a 10% discount (detailed below). For another, it’ll be far easier to deal directly with them should you ever have any problems with your gear.

Deal – Save 10%

Shimoda Designs has offered Shutter Muse readers a 10% discount on anything purchased in their online store. Simply use the discount code ShutterMuse10 after clicking here to access the store. They do offer international shipping, so this code should be useful for everyone.

Photo of author

Dan Carr

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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