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Vanguard UP-Rise Messenger 38 Photo Review

David Clapp takes the Vanguard Uprise Messenger bag to Lisbon to put it to the test.

|  Vanguard Vanguard UP-Rise Messenger 38 Photo Bag in Bags, Cases and Straps
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Words and images by David Clapp.

A new concept in photography for me, the new reporter style bag from Vanguard. With a week in Lisbon shooting stock photography, the new Vanguard Uprise Messenger bag became a camera bag, airport carry-on and even a man-bag. Meet the most versatile addition to my photography kit.

Vanguard Uprise Messenger bag

Vanguard UP-Rise Messenger 38 Photo Bag Review
As I write this review in an internet café in Portugal, sat next to me on the chair is the latest offering from Vanguard, the Up-Rise Messenger 38 Photo Bag priced at £89.99. It’s an over the shoulder ‘reporter’ style bag that is not only a discrete and lightweight city camera bag, but also my new ‘man-bag’. This allows me to compliment my life in a new way. For the first time, my camera bag is no longer just a camera bag; it has new additional purpose - to carry my mobile office anywhere I please. With tardis-like qualities, clever, well designed ergonomics and a solid construction, is this the perfect bag for the shooter / traveller / computer user on the move?

The Uprise Messenger Series has just won a TIPA award.

A shift in thinking
Let’s sort something out right from the start. If you can carry no less than six lenses and two pro camera bodies, then read no further. Reporter style shoulder bags are not designed to haul, they are designed to enable. Think low weight - one smaller camera body and three lenses as a maximum. A few accessories too and you are on the limit; a notebook or lightweight 13in laptop, phone, maps, pens, keys and cables will be enough. Remember, the camera is not the focus of the bag, your working versatility is the priority. Reach, shoot and store - this is the Uprise's method statement.

If this reactionary street / travel shooting style feels like an alien concept, then your photography instincts might have begun (just like mine) far from the city. For those who shoot in the metropolis, their requirements are very different from the field. The bulky, blocky nature backpack is a complete bore when surrounded by steel and concrete; unstylish, obvious and slow to work with, taking the bag on and off your back all day. You look heavy, you look obvious and feel like a target. I know that's how I used to feel until this Uprise Messenger review forced me to change my urban approach.

The Vanguard Uprise Messenger keeps your camera gear around you at all times when working in public places.
Fast moving city work - the Vanguard Uprise Messenger keeps your camera gear around you at all times when working in public places.
So how much kit is too much? Well, my usual photo day bag contains far too much for a reporter style bag - six quality lenses covering 14-280mm, a pro 21Mp body, filters, batteries, pano head and no room for anything else. When I first received the Uprise for this review, I took it to Berlin. I packed way too much camera kit into it and subsequently suffered. This trip to Portugal had me seriously rethink an average day, so I repacked - Canon 5D Mk II, 24mm TS-E Mk II, 24-105mm f/4L, 70-200mm f/4L IS and the all important 1.4xII, all polarisers, no filters, nothing else except my 320Gb USB backup drive and my iPhone.

At first I was sure I had left myself a little under armed, but as I began to shoot the city streets, I realised I had everything I needed, plus a few noticeable omissions. Gone were the aching shoulders and spent legs. I had communication, email and internet on the move, thanks to the iPhone, and even with my Alta Pro tripod slung over the other shoulder in a tripod bag, I felt lightweight and low key. Why had I not considered this approach before?

Features List

Have a look at the brilliant thinking that has gone into this dual purpose bag, making it so versatile and adaptable to photographers and computer users alike. Materials are all good quality nylons and fabrics, high durability black exterior, with soft orange inner. Velcro fixing strips are a little flimsy but the internal straps and zips are also sturdy. All seams have superb stitching and the bag oozes a comfortable and quality feel.

Shoulder Strap - Removable and lengthy shoulder strap with detachable shoulder padding. Spring loaded clips are omni pivot, so the strap never twists and tangles.

Access Flap - The main access flap secures with generous velcro and has its own front storage pocket.

Access to the interior can also be made through an upper zip that extends right across the top of the bag. The bag does not have to be fully opened to access the contents.

It also has an adjustable safety clasp to ‘lock’ the whole bag whilst in transit.

Strong handle for carrying as a conventional bag.

This zip also has a great feature; a magnetic anti theft lock to stop roaming hands tugging or pulling it open on the bus or underground.

Concealed side pocket on the opening flap, handy for storing quick access items like a map or paperwork..

Excellent rear pocket for keeping more sensitive documents like passports or driving license. This keeps the access zip against your body.

Pockets Galore...
Front Pockets - Two A5 size front pockets, one which has pen storage for about six ballpoints or equivalent. The right hand side pocket has a soft orange fabric interior for more delicate items that could be scratched easily, like a Blackberry or PDA.

Dedicated moblie phone pocket...

Zipped Mesh Pocket. Store your keys, iPhone, USB Hard Drive (seen here), wallet, cash cards without fear of them falling out.

Main Bag...

Inside are a 5D Mk II, 24mm TSE-Mk II, Olympus 35mm f/2.8 Shift, Contax 35-70mm f/3.4, Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, 1.4xII, peripherals and a 13"Mac Book Pro.

It's a little bit on the weighty side but manageable for shorter city trips.

With the camera removed, the central slot works well to accommodate a 5D Mk II and 70-200mm f/4L IS attached. It can even take the 1.4xII included and just about shut.

With the insert removed...

Your system fits into a segmented insert that is completely removable, making this reporter bag entirely dual purpose. With the insert removed, this space becomes another large A4+ size pocket.

It's a great system, and this insert gets stored in my hold luggage.

Now there is even more space for books and other items. The main space is bigger than A4 size and the space is perfect for lots of smaller items or one large item.

Notice the laptop is still in a seperate purpose made space, so there is no compromise.

Messenger at work

When shooting in a city environment, removing a backpack, placing it at your feet and opening the entire bag contents to the public is daunting. Having access in and out of your bag without this fear, feels far safer. Yet with this working method, comes a compromise; working space. Changing lenses with the Messenger around your neck gets a little difficult inside the camera bag space, unlike having a backpack on the floor. Fill the contents with too many lenses and it becomes very difficult, as there isn’t an available ‘free slot’ to work in. Lenses can get clanged and caps lost down the gaps, which can get frustrating, but with some planning and frugal gear selection, it’s easy to overcome.

Switching the bag from shoulder to shoulder and working ambidextrously with the Messenger is not a problem either. It’s quite important to do this regularly to distribute the load from side to side throughout the day, to save your shoulder muscles and stop any repetitive strain. It is also necessary to rest entirely with the bag on the floor, more frequently than when using a backpack where the load is distributed continually. It is this necessity that divides some users of this bag style, but I believe certain tools are best for certain jobs. I will always continue to use backpacks in every shooting situation other than the city, but where equipment safety and discretion is paramount, there is nothing to touch the Messenger. It makes you use your gear methodically, stops you carry too much and give space for those city and communication extras.

The discrete unisex design of the Messenger makes the contents confusing to the untrained eye. Is it just a regular city satchel? Is it just a laptop bag or is it a camera bag? It is of course all three of those things, but it certainly doesn’t scream out ‘expensive equipment inside’ like backpacks and other obvious branded photo bags. Only one modern logo on the outside, that's it. Black is a great choice and although boring, it is understated, blending in well with all manner of daily luggage. Open the main flap and its a different story (a less vibrant colour would surely be better) but this is Vanguard’s company colour scheme. Lets keep some style.

Fabulous stretchy fabric to fit over your hold luggage handle at the airport.
Easily fits into the luggage rack, so no worries about airport carry-on sizing.

As a ‘Man-Bag’, using the Messenger for everyday use...
During this trip to Lisbon, volcanic disaster had me spending more time without my camera than with. After realising that my computer was going to be the focus of the coming week, I was able to change the inner contents to suit my needs. Out went the camera bag insert and in went my 13in Mac Book Pro, mains charger, iPhone, headphones, leads, USB cables, a USB mouse, a 320gb USB hard drive, a U20 iUP-13200 recharging power block, flight documents, passports, food, drink, and sunglasses. Name any other camera bag that can cover a complete change in contents this easily and make you feel very comfortable wearing it?

My partner, Rachel, just loves this bag for exactly this reason. We have struggled to find her a bag that we could both use abroad, as it needs to be dual purpose. Rachel can use the Messenger for in-flight hand luggage on route to our destination whilst I transit my camera gear in my beloved Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2. The passports, flight documents etc. are all very quick to access and she can also carry any extra lenses or gear that is too precious to put in the hold. Once at our destination, she uses a very small shoulder bag throughout the day. The Think Tank becomes my equipment storage and lockable safe. Install the camera bag insert and it becomes my city shooting bag. What an unbeatable system. This trip has proved to me how useful this combo is and I look forward to using it again on future trips.

Clapparazzi - I certainly grew to love not only the bag but the whole concept.
Final Thoughts
I only have one complaint about the Uprise Messenger - the Velcro strips that are used inside the insert. Other bag systems use Velcro with far greater strength and I found that the partitions came apart a little too easily. As with all camera bags I have owned, 50% of these partitions end up being removed anyway, but some of the Messenger partitions are just too soft and seem to have little purpose for me. The great thing is, once you have designed the interior spacing to suit your camera gear, the Messenger's exterior shape will naturally keep the divisions in place. If you use heavy lenses like me, it is wise to take out your gear and repress the Velcro back together now and again. Sadly after time, I can see the Velcro losing its grip, which could mean I am looking for a replacement or a Mk II from Vanguard sooner than I would like.

None the less, this bag has impressed the hell out of me. Its the only camera bag that I can use for literally everything technological I do. Whereas all my other bags sit redundant when they are not out in the field, I am reaching for the Messenger again and again, changing it to suit my day. Whether I am carrying camera equipment on city shoots abroad, working in internet cafés, DJ-ing, or just taking my laptop around a friends house, the Uprise Messenger is there. It’s low key, stylish, full of space and feels superb around the body. Yet again it's pitched affordable at the right audience; youthful fast pace digital photographers, who cant define what it is they like more; using clever technology, travelling or just hanging out, but certainly not sweating through another clumsy photo work out. Whichever way you look at it the Messenger is about the marriage of style, speed, technology and purpose. After a full two months of use, in a variety of situations, I can’t recommend it enough. Another winner from the award winning team at Vanguard.

The Vanguard UP-Rise Messenger 38 Photo Bag is priced at £89.99.


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