Billingham 307

Price: Around £275

Every Billingham bag is instantly recognisable, and the 307 displays the same traditional styling consistent throughout the Billingham range. It may be the most expensive bag in the group by a
long way, but the 307 is made to a high standard, with an exterior made of durable FibreNyte – a lightweight synthetic alternative to canvas. The bag can be carried comfortably using the padded shoulder strap or the large top handle, with the top flap secured by a quick-access buckle.

A top zip acts as a secondary seal, and easily glides open. Inside is space for a DSLR with lens attached, and a further four lens or flash units within the well padded dividers. However, there is no dedicated pocket for small accessories, or for a laptop/tablet.

Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Kata ReportIT 20 PL

Price: From around £100

The 20 PL is the mid-sized version of three Kata ReportIT bags that is wide enough to store up to a 12in laptop. Its main compartment has thick padding in bright yellow, which is designed to make kit easier to find. There is space for a large SLR with lens attached, plus an additional SLR camera body and four extra lenses. The bag is lightweight and made from a durable rip-stop material.

Access to the main compartment is via the top zip or by lifting the flap, which can be secured with concealable Velcro. The bag lacks memory card pockets, and is boxy rather than slimline, but the shoulder strap is clipped to an angled loop so the bag remains close to the body. The dense rubber-grip padding of the strap helps to ease the load somewhat.

Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Vanguard Heralder 33

Price: From around £110

The 33 is the middle of three sizes in the Vanguard Heralder range, with the larger 38 being awarded five stars in AP 15 October 2011. The Heralder 33 arguably packs in the most features of the bags in this group, including an easy-to-use fold-away tripod cradle. The main compartment can be zipped shut, but there is quick access via the top zip, which features a neat magnetic security tab.

Inside, both the laptop case and camera kit compartment are removable, which can transform the bag into an everyday satchel. Included dividers create up to eight secure sections in the camera compartment that are deep enough for long lenses. High-quality dedicated pockets can store accessories such as memory cards, and a rain cover is included. We like the curved, grippy and well-padded shoulder strap. It may not be the most stylish, but the Vanguard Heralder 33 is top notch.

Score: 5 out of 5 stars – Best in group

Lowepro Pro Messenger 160 AW

Price: From around £139

Combining the traditional canvas style of Billingham-type bags with the modern touches of other leading brands, the Lowepro Pro Messenger 160 AW is both stylish and functional. It is weighty and durable, but also comfortable to hold thanks to a well-padded shoulder strap and neat top handle. The main flap can be closed by Velcro or a silent magnet, and in both cases access is quick.

The 160 AW is the smallest of three bags in the range, and holds a consumer SLR with lens and two extra lenses or flash units. Larger versions are simply wider, meaning more lenses or larger SLRs can be stored. The bag has a well-fitted rain cover.

Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Think Tank Retrospective 50

Price: Around £190

Like the Lowepro Pro Messenger 160 AW, the Think Tank Retrospective 50 has a stylish canvas exterior that hides a modern and functional interior. It is a deep bag with space for a pro DSLR with lens and up to six additional lenses. There is also space for most 15in laptops, and small pockets for accessories such as memory cards. Access to the bag via the top flap is quick. Its Velcro fasteners can be ‘silenced’ (hidden), although doing so makes the flap unsecure.

The rain cover is initially confusing to use, and there is no rear handle to slot over an airport trolley – such as that found in the Lowepro and Vanguard bags. Otherwise, this is a comfortable and durable bag.  

Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Manfrotto Stile Unica V

Price: From around £55

Despite its low price point, the Manfrotto Stile Unica V offers many of the features found in the pricier bags of this group, such as a top zip that provides direct access to the main compartment. Otherwise, the bag is accessed via a rather oversized, and fiddly, buckle.

Inside the bag is space for a 15in laptop, but just two dividers and a large open space for other everyday items make for a disappointing set-up for camera kit. Expect to fit a DSLR with lens attached, but little else securely. Within the bag is a neat tripod compartment that can be opened out to extend the size of the main compartment if it is not needed. Padding is sufficient rather than ample, although the shoulder strap has a well-padded cushion. The bag does not include a rain cover.

Score: 4 out of 5 stars – Best budget bag