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Vanguard Skyborne 51 Camera Bag Review

Vanguard Skyborne 51 Camera Bag Review - If you are looking for a multi-purpose backpack, could the Skyborne 51 be the one? David Clapp finds out.

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Vanguard Skyborne 51 Camera Bag in Bags, Cases and Straps

 Skyborne 51 bag
David Clapp introduces the Skyborne series - a new backpack from Vanguard aimed across the board to inspire landscape photographers, city shooters and travel photographers alike.

We all have at least one camera bag; I will own up to having far more than most, but it's been a learning curve. It's hard to find a bag that caters for all photographic scenarios, so it's enlightening to see Vanguard attempt to tackle this complex problem.

The Skyborne 51 here is far from compact. It's not designed to be a straightforward daypack, it's all about versatility and options. Will it satisfy everyone? Of course not. What it is designed to do is span across the field, so no matter what your shooting style is, it has something that will be agreeable.

Skyborne 51 bag
Vanguard Skyborne 51 camera bag

Vanguard Skyborne 51: Build

The first thing that grabs your attention is the weight. Lifting it up, you expect the backpack to be far heavier than initially expect. It is made of modern fabrics, that won't compromise durability. Stitching and build is exceptionally good, with a solid feel.

The rear harness system is beautifully well thought out. The shoulder straps, belt and lumber support are extremely generous. The material is soft, well padded and immediately feels great on the back and shoulders. Clasps and webbing are also solid and robust, with a wonderful attention to detail, like Velcro tabs, so that stray strapping can be folded and secured back on itself.

Skyborne 51 back of bag
     Back of the Skyborne 51

Attention to detail makes this bag stand out, like a dedicated and removable mobile phone pocket that can be attached to your belt if you prefer. It's not big enough for an iPhone, but it will suit all smaller and more conventional phones or GPS devices.

Skyborne 51 strap and belt
Clasps are solid and robust
Skyborne 51 phone holder
Skyborne 51 phone holder

Vanguard Skyborne 51: Storage

It doesn't appear that obvious at first, but the bag can discretely house a 15in Laptop on the front pocket. The bag comes with a laptop carry case as standard, which is a great addition when back home, where this can be used for everyday use.

The computer bag also has a zip compartment on the back for magazines or other documents, as well as loops to attach a separate strap. The great thing is it's understated, exactly what is needed, especially in busier city environments.

Skyborne 51 bag - laptop space
Space for a 15" Laptop in the front pocket
Skyborne 51 bag - laptop case
Laptop carry case

Skyborne 51 bag top pocket
Upper section of the Skyborne 51

The upper part of the back is designed to store anything you fancy. If you carry clothing, food, water etc. when shooting, you will know what a pain this can be. The Skyborne 51 has been designed to accommodate all manner of options. Use this space for additional kit too, perhaps a smaller bag with another camera body.

Access to these 'decks' are from the back of the rucksack. A robust zip allows the area to be pulled wide apart, so it's easy to get gear in and out. It also means the bag doesn't have to lie flat on the ground to grab a waterproof.

The main thing is the Vanguard Skyborne 51 is all about versatility. If you want a far more compact, stripped down backpack, this space may seem a little obsolete, but as a hold all, it's extremely useful space.

Now to camera storage. The large D shaped panel unzips from the back yet again. This is where the loading begins. It is designed to take a number of lenses and camera bodies, with the interior capable of holding a long lens, centralised between the middle inserts.

Here's the gear I fitted in the Skyborne 51 bag:
  • Canon EOS 5D MkII DSLR body
  • Canon EOS 5D MKI DSLR body
  • Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM lens
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/4LL IS USM lens
  • Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens
  • Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L MkII lens
Skyborne 51
The space inside the Skyborne 51
Skyborne 51 with kit in it
Skyborne 51 with kit in it

With better rearrangement, it would be possible to carry even more. The great thing is having the weight at the lower end of the backpack means you have a far more comfortable experience carrying it.

Swing the bag around on one shoulder and unzip the side flap to get instant access to the camera without the usual laboured 'bag off, onto the floor' approach. This means quicker shooting and greater safety, especially in a city environment.

Skyborne 51 side zip
Side flap on the Skyborne 51

Notice the zip pocket, the flash card access (does anyone actually use these?) and the magnetic zip locks, a wonderful feature I am particularly fond of throughout the entire Vanguard range.

Vanguard Skyborne 51: Verdict

The clever design, fabrics and attention to detail certainly makes a strong pull in Vanguard's direction. The bag is a great contender in many ways, but as it tries to satisfy a broad audience of consumers, its purpose becomes a little diluted. Other bags in the fold, like the award winning Vanguard Uprise Messenger, are distinctive and super-slick. The Skyborne 51 leaves me scratching my head a little too often. Is it a travel bag, is it a outdoor bag? Then again, does it matter what it is?

The Skyborne 51 is a good design, which attempts to cover all consumer needs in one. The bag is certainly comfortable to wear, generously padded and shows great attention to detail. Where it divides its target audience is the ergonomics. If you need the extra upper space, then you will find your card in the machine very quickly, but it is this aspect and speed of access to the inner compartments that could be the deciding factor for many.

Vanguard Skyborne 51: Pros

Excellent harness - The harness system is super comfortable, just like the lumber support and the belt
Roomy and full of space
Airport friendly if you don't use the additional laptop case supplied

Vanguard Skyborne 51: Cons

Dividers won't easily arrange when customising the dividers to fit your gear
Side access is hard to get a camera with battery pack attached, or a pro DSLR in and out
Lumber support and belt system become a hindrance when accessing equipment from the back
Size maybe a problem if you have a smaller frame


Vanguard Skyborne 51: Specification

Contact www.vanguardworld.com
Size (exterior) 370mm x 360mm x 560mm
Camera compartment inner dimensions 320mm x 160mm x 270mm
Weight 6.06lbs

The Vanguard Skyborne 51 Camera Bag costs around £189 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Vanguard Skyborne 51

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20 Mar 2011 5:06PM
Re the Vanguard Skybourne 51.

I think the piping/stitching on the mobile phone holder needs looking at (see bottom left corner of the holder) either that or get better staff in the quality control dept.

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