Review: Billlingham Hadley Small Pro
The Hadley Small has always been my favourite camera bag for its combination of size, quality and convenience. It is big enough for a mirrorless or rangefinder camera and a couple of lenses, or two bodies and two lenses. It’s just right for use as a day bag, too. However, there were several ways in which I could have improved the design.
The Hadley Pro, while larger, showed the way with its top carrying handle — a beneficial addition for a day bag which doubles as a briefcase — and a zippered back pocket. Then came the more recent Hadley One, even bigger than the Hadley Pro but with more bells and whistles. In addition to a new zippered rear pocket, the Hadley One has a fabric strap across the back to enable it to fit over the handle of wheeled luggage. It also introduced a quickly detachable strap, allowing the bag to be carried by hand.
Finally, we come to the new Hadley Small Pro, Billingham’s incremental update to the Hadley Small. I was delighted to find that all the improvements of the Hadley One have been incorporated in my favourite small bag — detachable straps, carrying handle, zippered rear pocket and a luggage strap across the back.
When Billingham sent the new bag for review, I instantly fell in love with it. Here was my old familiar Hadley Small wrought anew, complete with almost everything on my wish-list.
Billingham is synonymous with quality in camera bags. It’s products tend to be used by professionals and discerning amateurs and, while they aren’t the cheapest around, they last for decades as I can personally attest.
Two fabrics to choose from
The Hadley Small Pro, in common with other bags in the range, comes in two alternative fabrics — the traditional canvas and the synthetic “FibreNyte”. There is no difference in wearability, nor in proofing since both materials are bonded with butyl rubber for weather resistance. There are two layers of fabric with the rubber membrane inside. These bags never need reproofing.
The sole difference is in long-term colour fastness and a slight difference in weight -- FibreNyte is slightly lighter. In the past, I have usually opted for FibreNyte, but when Billingham asked me which material I would prefer for the Hadley Small Pro review bag, I decided to go for canvas. I am glad that I did.
I can compare the new bag directly with my old FibreNyte Hadley Pro, and I think I prefer the more natural, more matte finish of the canvas. It’s a minimal difference, but the canvas looks somehow purer now I can see bothside by side. The colour is more likely to fade over time, whereas the FibreNyte material is more colourfast. However, I do rather like this ageing process.
The primary construction material is complemented by high-quality leather trimmings — for the buckle straps, the edging of the top flap and the underside of the new grab handle. The third component of the bag is brass — buckles and, in the case of the new design, shoulder-strap fittings. The two straps securing the top flap to the front of the bag have been narrowed slightly in comparison with those on the old Hadley Small; this has been done for aesthetic reasons, and I approve. It has no effect on functionality.
The two large pockets on the front of the bag are secured by press-studded flaps and can be increased or decreased in size by press-stud adjusters at the sides. With the press-stud closed, the narrow gap created is intended for pens. The top flap has deep side skirts to ensure waterproofing.
Everything about this bag is of a very high standard, and the craftsmanship is exquisite. Billinghams are made in England, in the West Midlands, and every product receives individual attention. Indeed, inside every bag is a coded label to identify the machinist responsible. Harry Billingham and his team take full ownership and responsibility, not that I have ever had cause to complain.
In common with other bags in the Billingham range, the Hadley Small Pro has a removable padded interior, which Billingham call “the bucket”. This is fashioned from a thick, soft material, designed to be especially kind to your expensive equipment. Included is one divider set with two small and two large dividers. You can buy more, or even add an additional insert so you can keep two sets of gear ready packed to slip into the bag at the start of the day.
The Hadley Small Pro has now become an extremely versatile bag. The robust carrying handle, with the soft leather underside, is very comfortable, enabling the bag to be used as a small briefcase or overnighter. Moreover, the detachable strap is a significant advantage on such occasions. With the added rear pocket, which is useful for passport and tickets, and the trolley strap, the Hadley Small Pro now makes a great carry-on airline bag. While the rear pocket is not big enough for an iPad — in fact, it is quite tight and suitable only for papers or a notebook — it is possible to slip a 9.7in iPad Pro into the inside of the bag next to the camera insert (which is secured to the bag with one press-stud at the front as you can see in the photograph below).
Without the insert, the Hadley Small Pro has a capacity of 3.5 litres. The front “dump” pockets swallow of 0.5 to 0.75 litres of accessories, depending on whether or not the side press-studs are secured. The bag, with insert and shoulder strap, weights 950g (2.09lb) while without the strap it is only 800g (1.76lb).
A detachable shoulder pad is available at extra cost and is handy if you habitually carry heavy gear. Frankly, though, it is less necessary than it is on the larger Hadley Pro or Hadley One bags. The review bag was supplied with the shoulder pad and I find it very comfortable and capable of spreading the load effectively. As with all Billingham shoulder pads, however, it has a tendency to slide up and down the strap and it is constantly necessary to push it into place. It would be good if the manufacturer could devise a way of securing the pad in the optimum position on the strap.
Billingham states are that the Hadley Small Pro can handle two rangefinder cameras with lenses attached, a premium mirrorless camera (such as Fuji X-Pro2, Lumix G9/GH5 or Olympus OM-D E-M1) with two or three lenses or, even, a mid-sized DSLR without a battery grip.
After years of using the original Hadley Small, I was at home with the Hadley Small Pro immediately. Opening and closing the buckles with one-hand soon becomes second nature, although the strap eyelets are pretty tight to start with. They soon wear in, and the review bag was well seasoned after a couple of weeks’ use.
I haven’t had much reason to remove the carrying strap although the ability to do so is appreciated. I imagine it could be beneficial when travelling. I also like the new rear pocket with its weatherproof zip, although I was disappointed to find that it is so tight, especially when the bag is loaded with gear. I doubt that it would take even an iPad mini and is really only suitable for very thin items. Again, when travelling the new rear trolley strap is going to be invaluable. The absence of such a strap was one of the most significant problems with the Hadley Small and the old Hadley Pro.
I will buy the Hadley Small Pro because it is ideal for my purposes. It’s a bag I can carry around most days. It is large enough for my usual mirrorless gear (except large zoom lenses) and is light enough, even when full, not to be a burden. Shamelessly, I confess to also owning the Hadley Pro and Hadley One, two bags which are incrementally larger than the Hadley Small Pro and are suitable for times when I need to carry more gear or when I want to have a larger overnight bag. In this respect, the Hadley One makes an ideal travel bag and the modular construction of its interior means that you can carry a protected camera as well as overnight clothes. Faced with buying new Billinghams now, I would probably opt for the Hadley Small Pro and the Hadley One, missing out the intermediate Hadley Pro, since I think these two bags give the best of all worlds.
Below: The bag comes in a wide range of colours and trims, depending on whether or not you choose canvas or FibreNyte. See the Billingham website (linked below) for full details
If you already own the Hadley Small, is it worth upgrading? I think this is the time to bite the bullet and do just that. The Hadley Small Pro offers much in added convenience and practicality, and it is definitely worth the upgrade.
When it comes to camera bags, I seldom look further than Billingham. I do sometimes eye bags with lots of small compartments and pen organisers, but I always come back to the simplicity and known quality of Billingham. There are some beautiful leather bags on the market, many with similar features to the Billingham range, but I am always put off by the additional weight. For what they are, Billingham bags are light and relatively unobtrusive, not shouting that they contain expensive gear.
The one unticked item on my wish-list is for Billingham to incorporate one or two plastic or metal D rings inside every bag. These enable valuable items, such as keys or a wallet, to be anchored firmly at the end of a strap. I’m used to this with my Tom Bihn backpack (which, incidentally, perfectly accommodates the camera insert from the Billingham Hadley Small or Small pro), and it would overcome my one reservation — those small items can easily fall out of the front pockets when you are adding or removing stuff.
The Hadley Small Pro comes highly recommended here at Macfilos. It’s not cheap, all of £200 (including 20% VAT), but, in our opinion, worth every penny.
Billingham bags are available at retailers including Red Dot Cameras here in London.
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