Photographers and videographers alike are plagued with the burden of carrying equipment, it’s really just part of the job. Whether you’re a photographer who wants to have all your flashes ready in a jiffy, or a videographer who has multiple systems and multiple lenses; you’ll eventually have to move your gear from point A to point B.
Backpacks have always been the way to go for me, they’re usually not very bulky, have more space, and are not restricted to any specific dimensions. However, as someone who travels a lot, I can find myself lugging a 25+ kilos backpack around airports with kilometers of walking at a time (thanks, Madrid). So it finally happened, I caved in and switched to the Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Switch-55. (Amazon | B&H)
The Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader is a well crafted rolling backpack hybrid that has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a roller nowadays. It comfortably fits two DSLR/Mirrorless bodies alongside a wide variety of accessories, lenses, charges, etc. In addition, you can store a 15-inch laptop and a tablet. It’s worth mentioning that the laptop pouch is kind of tight. My MacBook fits in there perfectly. Thicker laptop owners should double-check. If you own a gaming laptop it’s probably a bust here, especially considering the size of their power supply. The wheels are incredibly sturdy and they roll smoothly. So much so, that when you lie the bag down a decent push is enough to get it rolling lying down. Coming around to the outside-most pocket, we get to the key selling point of the roller.
It turns into a backpack!
The Reloader has a few latches on the top and sides of the bag. Using those you can take the straps out from their pockets and turn the roller into a backpack in a very short time. There’s a couple of things to take note of though. First, the bag is a variation of the roller, so it has the same boxy form factor with and without the backpack straps. This essentially means that the straps are permanently stitched to the bag. On the one hand, you can be confident that the straps can take the weight (its sewed in there REAL good). On the other, you lose the pocket in the front, and they’re really just stuffed inside the bag so it does cause a little bulge when the bag is stored.
Rollers are fantastic for getting around, especially in airports. Out in the field, though, it’s a mixed experience. Having the ability to switch into backpack mode essentially means that rough terrains are not an obstacle for this roller. It’s large in volume and it’s comfortable to lug with a very soft handle on the top. In addition to the top handle, you also have a handle on the bottom which is essential for bags like these! The first time you put the roller in a trunk, You’ll say thank you. The only thing I would point out is that the handle is more like a slit so you can’t grab it from the top (if it’s laying down, and you’d want to pull it towards you, for example).
The bag sports a great texture on the outside with a professional look and a water repellent fabric. The handle is long and sturdy and is built of three sections. On the side of the bag, you have a pocket to store a tripod. I would not use it for huge tripods though. The bag isn’t too tall itself, so there isn’t a lot of height to support larger tripods. I did store my Zhiyun crane 2 on it and it held tightly in place.
On the other side of the bag, you have a side handle, and a built-in TSA approved lock. Lastly, for my favorite touch on the bag, the super bold embossed Manfrotto logo. I don’t know why I feel the need to tell you about it, but when I’m sitting next to the bag, I have a tendency to fidget with it, I love it!
Inside the bag
Opening the bag, you’re greeted by two straps on the sides that limit the bag from flapping entirely open. The straps hold the lid at about 130 degrees angle. Even with a laptop and a tablet inside the lid, it held up well! I have to be honest though, when I opened the bag, I was momentarily disappointed that the top handle of the bag protrudes into the bag and takes a bit from the internal space. I thought this would take away from the usable capacity of the bag.
I started the test in the same way I test all bags: can you place a 70-200mm “standing up” in it? The answer is unfortunately no. It kinda makes sense with a bag that needs to adhere to carry-on limits, but one can still hope. However! The bag does redeem itself when it comes to space. There is deceptively more space than it seems. Check out all the gear I got in there!
- Blackmagic Pocket 4K
- Sony A7 III
- Sony 70-200mm f/2.8
- Canon 100mm f/2.8 L
- Sigma 24mm f/1.4
- Samyang 14mm Cine Mark II
- Canon 85mm f/1.8 (with Sigma MC-11)
- Sony 24-70mm f/2.8
- Olympus 25mm f/1.2 Zuiko
- Panasonic Leica 12mm 1.4
- Atomos Ninja V w/ SSD
- A MacBook (and charger)
- An iPad Mini
- 12 x NP-F570
- 3 x NP-F970
- 4x Sony A7 III batteries
- Omnicharge 20
- 2 x hard drives
- 3 x Lumee lights
And a BUNCH of other stuff like cables, accessories, cards, and things that don’t look good in a top shot.
What I’m trying to say is, there’s a lot of space in here. I think for most people it would be more than sufficient.
Is this bag good for traveling?
If you’re an avid traveler and you’ve been on the search for a new bag, you need not look further. Even the most comfortable bag is a nightmare when it packs 30kg of gear. The fact that this bag can switch between a roller and a backpack is huge. No matter how comfortable your previous backpack is, if you have to put 25 kilos inside, you’d feel the weight.
The bag fits snugly into overhead bins, and its compact exterior size does not arouse any unnecessary attention when checking in.
Let’s talk about the location of the straps. There are two types of rolling backpacks, those where the straps are on the handle side, and those where the straps are on the external zipper side. For this roller, Manfrotto opted for the zipper side. For me, this is a much better option as the case has some curves and padding against my back. The handle side usually means a flat surface which takes a toll on your back.
No rolling bags are super-comfy when it comes to making them a backpack. However, using the straps for short distances, while using the wheels for longer stretches, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s a spacious reliable bag that is compact and easy to fly with.
Value for money
The bag currently retails for $389 on B&H or Amazon, which is fairly comparable to the ThinkTank Airport Security at $420. But the ThinkTank does not have the added bonus of turning into a backpack. If you’re looking for a roller, but hesitant because you’re used to a backpack, this might just be your next backpack.