Joanne Mead investigates the KATA range of backpacks and puts the HB-205 to the test.
After a recent upgrade to a Canon EOS 5D with grip, I found my existing backpack was no longer deep enough to give maximal protection. The main compartments of many backpacks are only about five inches in depth; add a grip to many DSLRs and the total height exceeds this. The other issue is that heavy cameras and lenses place greater strain on the shoulders and back; so not only does the camera backpack need to be bigger, but a fully adjustable harness system with a waist belt becomes essential for good weight distribution.
There were a number of characteristics to consider when choosing my replacement pack:
- Depth must be at least six inches to accommodate the EOS 5D plus grip.
- Harness must be adjustable to suit my needs and must give good weight distribution through the back and hips.
- Build quality adequate to give adequate protection in terms of padding and weather resistance.
- Digital friendly – recently the lining materials of camera bags have been made softer to reduce the risk of scratching the LCD monitor on the rear of a DSLR. Good bags are also anti-static – this reduces the attraction for dust and fluff.
- The bag must accommodate my DSLR, four lenses, flash and accessories that I use regularly.
Focus-on-Imaging provided an ideal opportunity to evaluate the bags available on the market and make my purchase at a good price. After some deliberation, comparing the various models, I selected the KATA HB-205 backpack. It was big enough to suit my requirements, had sufficient pockets to hold my accessories and the harness was excellent. KATA have an established reputation for making robust storage cases with clever and original designs.
The HB-205 backpack
The HB-205 is the smaller of two backpacks designed for photographers who need to carry their kit comfortably in all weathers. Both are constructed using tough Supernylon and are designed to be extremely durable to abrasion. Both also employ KATA Thermo-shield technology to protect the contents from the elements. Both bags have tough YKK zippers with securely attached toggles.
The bag is supplied with a detachable tripod holder for front-mounting, though a small tripod may be mounted on the side using one of the Thermo-Shield pockets. The structure of the bag is tough and well padded to give maximum protection to the kit inside. The padding is soft, anti-scratch and anti-static and is covered in KATA’s patented yelloop material. The bright yellow colour is designed to make it easier to find accessories in poor light. Adjustable dividers are provided, but if more are required, a Modi-vers kit can be purchased to make additional custom dividers. Two mesh pouches that can be attached to the yelloop lining are supplied to store small items. A third mesh pouch holds the double-sided all-weather cover that can be used to protect the pack and its contents from both rain (black side outermost) and heat (silver side outermost).
In addition, the pack comes with two camera straps that can be used to attach a camera to the shoulder straps and avoid the weight on the neck. There is also a camera strap extension that converts the camera straps into a conventional strap. Lastly there are two further straps for securing a tripod to the pack.
Inside the lid of the main compartment, there is a zippered compartment for small accessories. One large and two smaller zippered compartments are on the outside of the lid, all with deep rain flaps. The bottom of the lid is really hard to give maximum protection to the kit inside.
To the rear of the pack is the well-padded harness and lumbar support. The harness straps are broad and contoured to make for good weight distribution. There’s a sternum strap and a well-padded and easily adjustable waist belt. This allows for much of the weight of pack to be distributed through the hips rather than bearing heavily on the shoulders and back. Incorporated into the design is storage for the harness when not in use. The pack is also compatible with the KATA InsertTtrolley. This allows the pack to be pulled along rather than worn on the back.
The HB-205 lacks the top access and the laptop compartment of the HB207, but otherwise the bags are very similar.
Putting it to the test
The HB-205 easily swallowed my 5D with grip and 70-200 f/2.8 attached, 17-40L, 24-105 L, 2x extender, 1.4x extender, 25mm extension tube, 100mm macro, anglefinder C, ST-E2 controller, , MR14EX ringflash, filters, 580EX flash (housed in large front pocket along with my Sekonic exposure meter); batteries and memory cards were stored in the two smaller front pockets. The smaller zooms and macro lens all fitted into the pack with ease and went in end-on. The lens hoods for the wide-angle zooms were not stored attached to the lens, but were simply allowed to sit loose on top.
Now filled, the pack was definitely heavy to lift, weighing in at more than 10kg. However, once on my back with the harness correctly adjusted, there was no feeling of being heavily laden. The waist belt well-designed, highly adjustable and is effective in distributing the weight and reducing the load on the shoulder. Walks on different terrain showed the pack was comfortable and did not affect balance on uneven ground. The pack was held firmly in place.
The pack must be removed from the shoulders and the main compartment opened to remove the 5D with the 70-200 attached. While this may seem a disadvantage to some, once the zips have loosened up, it isn’t really a problem unless in a very confined situation. The mesh pouches are good for holding items securely that do not have their own padded compartment. An alternative to using these is to purchase a Modi-vers kit and use this more make additional dividers. The kit is simple and allows the user to create additional dividers of the exact length required. It requires nothing more than a pair of scissors to cut the required length and there are Velcro endpieces that fixes the divider in place. The Modi-Vers kit is covered in the same material and matches perfectly.
I chose not to utilise the camera straps. The snaphooks are stiff and with a heavy camera/lens combination they were not convenient for me to use. I prefer to have weight-reduction camera straps attached to my cameras. For larger tripods like the Gitzo Explorer, it is necessary to use the front-mounted tripod holder and at least one of the accessory tripod straps supplied. The tripod holder clips securely to two nylon webbing loops on the front of the pack. Two feet of the tripod fit into the holder while the third leg rests in front. There are plenty of points to pass the supplied tripod straps through, and then simply fasten the buckle.
Even the supplied rain cover is carefully designed. It is black on one side and silver on the other, so not only can it be used to protect the bag from rain, but the cover can also be used in hot weather to help reflect the sunlight and keep the kit inside cool. This design is simple, but it’s very easy to use and very effective.
The Kata HB-205 backpack has proved to be a good purchase. Well designed, good capacity and very comfortable. It surpasses similar sized bags from competitor companies. The whole thing is robust and has a quality feel. The protection it gives is beyond doubt. The normal selling price from major suppliers is just under £170. Not a cheap option, but worth every penny.
Can hold a pro-sized DSLR, lenses and accessories with ease.
Solid build quality with good internal padding and strong zips.
Great harness for good weight distribution and there’s plenty of adjustment.
Not a cheap option.
Limited availability on the High Street