Review: Billingham Hadley One, a versatile and customisable system bag
The name Billingham is synonymous with quality photographic bags. They’re a bit like Barbour jackets — highly desirable, rather expensive, last for decades and look better when they’re scuffed up a bit. The bags, too, are made in England and there is actually a Mr. Billingham. You are unlikely to meet Signor Manfrotto, a Moko ONA or a Mr. Lowe-Pro. But you can certainly greet Harry Billingham at a number of photo exhibitions. And by all accounts he’s a stickler for quality and attention to detail. When your name‘s attached to the product, you do tend to try harder.
It all started with the fishing bag concept. Angling gear made the basis of good makeshift camera system bags and was adopted by photographers after the war when there was a dearth of suitable canvas camera gear to be had. In 1973 Billingham came up with the idea of turning the traditional canvas bag into a proper camera holdall, complete with professional protection for the expensive gear. Now the company produces a mind-boggling range of bags of all shapes and sizes, not just for cameras but also for laptops and tablets and general luggage for travel.
Above: The Hadley One also comes in black with black leather and traditional khaki with chocolate leather
The Hadley range is one of the most popular, especially with many of my friends in the Leica world. And now the Hadley Digital, Hadley Small, Hadley Pro and Hadley Large have been joined by the Hadley One which slots in between the Pro and the Large. The One majors on versatility and is better suited to today’s larger mirrorless cameras. I’ve had the chance to use a One and some accessories over the past weeks.
Billingham sent the Hadley One in Sage FibreNyte fabric with chocolate leather trim. In addition to the standard half-width interior, the test rig came with a second half-widther and a full-width “bucket” familiar from other bags including the Hadley Pro and Hadley Small. They also threw in a leather shoulder protector to fit around the strap. All very systemish, something of which I thoroughly approve.
Attention to detail
FibreNyte is a material which I invariably choose over the more traditional canvas. FibreNyte is lighter, has a slightly smoother texture and is more resistant to moisture. It wears just as well as far as I can tell. [Note: I am told by Billingham that FibreNyte is similar to the canvas, with waterproof membrane, in terms of water resistance. However, it is more fade resistant than canvas] As we have come to expect from all Billingham products, the workmanship is of a very high order and the leather trim and solid brass buckles and fixings are beyond reproach. This is English craftsmanship at its best.
The bag has a reinforced carrying handle, now with leather detail. I think all similar bags should have a handle in addition to a shoulder strap. This handle is a step up from the canvas-only version on the Hadley Pro and is more comfortable to grip. I’d even welcome one of these handles on the Hadley Small.
The Hadley One feature two copious front pockets with press-studded flaps, similar but larger than those on the smaller Hadleys. You can get a load of stuff in there but there is no zip protection so you need to ensure nothing falls out. There are, however, two pen slots at either end of the bag, outboard of the front pockets. I’d welcome more organiser pockets but that isn’t Billingham’s style.
Unlike even the Hadley Pro, the One has a tailored padded laptop slot inside the main compartment, suitable for a MacBook, 13in MacBook Pro or similar. On the back of the bag there is a full-width zippered pocket for papers, books or a tablet computer. The zip is weather protected by a leather flap.
Finally, there is a strap across the back of the bag to fit over the handle of wheeled luggage. This is a feature I have often missed on other Billingham bags and it is another good reason to choose the One over the Hadley Pro.
With the one half-width insert installed, the bag, including strap, weighs 1.38kg. I'll leave you to add in the weight of your favourite gear. By comparison, the Hadley Pro weighs 238g less and offers 6 litres of internal space to the 8.75 litres of the Hadley One.
The main compartment of the Billingham One is unpadded, except for the integral laptop sleeve which is not removable. A variety of padded inserts for camera gear is available and, to accommodate them, the bag has three press studs on either side, three of them on the outside of the laptop sleeve. These studs offer a level of versatility in fixing inserts that the Hadley Pro lacks — in the Pro there is just one stud on one side which links to the stud fixing on the single, full-width compartment. The Hadley Small is similar.
The heart of the system, though, is the range of padded inserts or, as Billingham used to style them, “buckets”. Since the choice of bucket is closely linked to the use you intend for the bag, I’ll cover them later.
I own both the Hadley Pro and Hadley Small so I am very familiar with using these bags under a variety of conditions. While I still love the Hadley Small as a day bag, the Hadley One has now supplanted the Hadley Pro in my affections for when I want to transport more equipment — or, perhaps, modest camera gear but a weekend change of clothes.
The One is much more of a system bag than the smaller Hadleys. There are two types of padded insert available — a full-width bucket similar in concept to those found in the Hadley Small and Hadley Pro, and a half-width insert. The bag is supplied with just one half-width bucket, which comes as something of a surprise to owners of the smaller bags in the range who are used to getting a full-width insert as standard.
The half-width unit, which has one divider to keep equipment separated, can be mounted at either end of the bag or in the middle. You don’t get this flexibility with the smaller Hadleys. If your camera load is small, you thus have a large unpadded area available for other things. If the camera is heavy and the other items light, a central position keeps things in balance. A second half-width insert can be fitted to sit side by side or you can opt for a full-width unit similar to those found in the other Hadleys. If you have a Hadley Pro you can even mount its padded inserts into the larger area in the One, thus creating wriggle room for other stuff.
This ability to customise the interior is one of the most impressive aspects of the Hadley One, even allowing for the fact that you get only the one half-size compartment. If you want a second or a full-width insert you will have to dig deeper in your pocket.
While the Hadley One isn’t much larger than the Pro in terms of length and height (see table), the One has the big advantage of being 40mm wider on the inside. This make a surprising difference when dealing with DSLR-style cameras such as the SL and, even, the T or M when a viewfinder is attached. The Pro (and certainly the Small) are too narrow for taller cameras which cause the bag to bulge if you can squeeze them in. Even if they do go in, it is a struggle and there’s a constant risk that the tighter compartment will dislodge an external viewfinder.
The added width of the insert in the One is far more suited to modern cameras, especially those with a viewfinder bump or external viewfinder, than the Hadley Pro. I tried it with the M10 and a bulky Noctilux and it slips in without a struggle — either sideways or vertically. Similarly, the One is one of the few bags I’ve tried where I can store the Leica T with viewfinder attached without the risk of the EVF pulling free. It is also a good fit for the SL and and M lenses.
For owners of SL system lenses such as the 24-90mm, however, the half-length bucket is rather compromised. I don’t have the 24-90mm or the 50mm SL lenses available, but I suspect the camera and lens would fit in lens-downwards. It’s something you need to try. There is certainly enough width for the body and that’s the important thing.
For longer lenses, however, you would need to buy the full-width insert and I suppose having two half-width and one full-width insert is the ideal for maximum flexibility.
The padded laptop sleeve inside the main compartment is another welcome addition on the Hadley One. Together with the rear zip pocket, which it shares with the Hadley Pro, the range of storage for laptops and tablets is extended. Finally, the addition of a rear strap to slip over the handle of wheeled luggage is something I’ve been asking for since I got my first Hadley. It is so sensible and it is a feature I always missed with the Hadley Pro and Hadley Small.
The substantial canvas carrying strap is a wide 5cm and is fully adjustable. It is 1.5cm wider than the strap on the Hadley Pro and this brings added comfort, event without the optional shoulder pad. The leather end connectors feature the same brass-pillar fittings found on all Billingham bags, thus enabling the strap to be quickly detached (the strap on the Hadley Pro is not detachable). In common with all such straps, there is a tendency to twisting and it is occasionally necessary to sort this out before use.
The optional shoulder protector definitely adds to comfort when the bag is fully loaded. However, it has a tendency to slide along the strap and must constantly be adjusted to fit over the shoulder. This is a fault common to other Billingham bags I have tried, including the Hadley Pro and Hadley Small. Some method of fixing the shoulder pad in place on the strap would be a welcome improvement.
As with all Billingham camera bags, the top flap is tailored to fit closely over the interior to offer excellent weather protection. It also covers the two front pockets to ensure maximum protection for contents.
Although slightly larger (in particular wider, which, for me is the biggest attraction) than the Hadley Pro, this Hadley One is a wise choice as an all-round convenient system bag. The bag exudes the level of quality and attention to detail that Billingham is noted for. The padded laptop sleeve is a welcome addition and the camera protection system is highly configurable for individual preference. The ability to use a half-size insert in three different positions within the bag is extremely practical And the outer zipped tablet pocket and wheeled luggage retaining strap add to the bag's convenience and practicality. In my opinion, the Hadley One is a more practical system bag than the Hadley Pro, despite the extra bulk.