The F-Stop (s) right here

25th Jan 2012

The title’s not meant to sound rude, but somehow it does, well it does to me. Perhaps it’s just my schoolboy humour!

F-stop is actually a Camera bag manufacturer from North America – “Not another camera bag manufacturer” I hear you moan, well no, not exactly. F-stop cater more for the photographer who find themselves outdoors, up mountains, on rivers, skiing, hiking, operating in harsh environments, having said that their bags are so well made they wouldn’t be out of place next to Anna Wintour at a Vogue photo shoot.

I first became aware of F-stop about two years ago when I saw a piece about them on the web. I have to admit to having a bit of a bag fetish, not perhaps a fetish, more of a "quest" yes that’s a good description. I'm on a Quest to find the ultimate camera bag, a bag that until now only exists in my restless dreams.

F-stop have been shipping their bags from the USA for quite a while now and from a warehouse in Europe since summer 2011, but call me old fashioned if you will but I like to “try before I buy” I like to pick the bag up, have a good old “fettle” with it, pop it on my back, fill it with my camera gear and decide “is it going to work for me” The reason F-stop are unique is that unlike most camera bags, they come as a shell outer only and then you buy an ICU (Internal Camera Unit – which come in many different shapes and sizes) which suits your individual needs. Another great advantage to the F-stop system is that, unlike most conventional back-packs, it’s the back of the pack that opens, not the front, so when you put your pack down to take out a piece of gear and the ground is wet, your back support isn’t soaking wet for the rest of the day!

The concept of the ICU is an inspirational way of thinking and totally revolutionises the way I “pack-in” my kit. Usually I carry a conventional “back-pack” style camera bag with either a little or a lot of kit in it. On my chest I carry a smaller Ruc-sac full of rigging gear, harness etc, as well as a rope. I haven’t seen my feet on a walk-in in years! The point I’m trying to make is however much, or little camera gear I’m carrying, there’s still not enough room in the camera bag for all my other essentials – until I got my F-stop Tilopa BC.

As there "were" no shops in the UK selling the stuff I didn’t get the chance so carried on “making do” then just before Xmas I got and email from Druid Orion MD at F-stop telling me, well I’ll let Druid tell you “The trip (to the UK) and the people were so good in fact, that f-stop decided to setup an office to better service UK. I am happy to introduce Henry Iddon” Yep after spending some time here in the UK and sinking a few bevies with us Brits Druid decided to “up the anti”

A couple of days later Henry emailed me and after a few back and fourth’s we arranged to meet at the Outdoor Show in January, where F-stop would be exhibiting, which meant I could get my sticky little mitts on their complete range – bring it on. When I arrived Henry introduced me to the guys at Paramo (an outdoor range of clothing) who were so inspired by the F-stop range that they now stock it in their Covent Garden shop - so if your old fashioned like me, go "try before you buy"

I was most interested in the Tilopa BC (Back Country) a 48L back pack style bag or as F-sop like to say “The Tilopa BC has everything you need to crossover from a gear intensive day shoot or a night in the backcountry. 48-liter capacity, added reinforcements and the ability to carry the tools of most any sport make this our all-‘rounder” So to cut a long story short, Henry and I met up at the show, I tried the pack of my dreams on, it seemed ideal for all my immediate needs, I bought one along with 3 ICU’s (small, med and large) and left for Italy almost immediately.

My trip to Cogne in the Aosta valley of Italy was going to predominantly consist of Ice climbing and some big back-country walking to get to the ice falls – for this trip I wasn’t going to need a huge amount of camera gear, in fact I was trying out a completely new system (to me) the Lumix GH1 and the incredible 7-14mm / f4, as well as the 14-140mm / f4-5.8. I was also packing a couple of Nikon SB800’s (which work in manual mode with this camera) and 3 pocket wizard triggers, as well as a couple of mini tripods, cleaning cloths and spare 16gig SD cards, all this fitted neatly into the small ICU which meant the rest of the space in the pack could be taken up with essentials like food, thin silk weight gloves, soft shell gloves, a knife and a spare hat (top pocket) an insulated down jacket, base layer, water, harness, Karabiners, tape slings and Crampons (inside the main compartment) as well as a spare waterproof (front pocket) On the outside I was able to fix my Grivel Ice axes to the front via a couple of Bungee loops (I’d really like to see a couple of integral tape loop’s specifically for attaching axes in the future, like the ones on climbing back packs) and to round things off, a 60m rope was easily strapped to the side via two straps. I could have carried more gear if I’d needed to!

Day one of the trip consisted of an easy walk-in, followed by climbing a 5 pitch, 250m Ice fall, O yeah and taking photo’s of course! The pack handled perfectly, just like I would have expected a climbing pack too.

I found it exceptionally comfortable to walk and climb in, and when I came to a hanging belay I just hooked it on to the belay via the handle on the backside and still had access to the inside and my cameras.

Over the last few days I’ve worked in all kinds of scenarios, from deep powder to running water and my Tilopa BC has been just about as good as it could be. If I could find a fault and I’m really “nit picking” here, it would be the “chest strap” is too small for anyone with a large chest (I’m 46inches and its pretty tight in just a T-shirt, add in various layers of winter clothing and a Down jacket and its just about impossible to fasten – Just add another couple of inches guys and it would make it my dream pack – Go F-stop (F for Fantasy)

I’ll put up a more technical review of the pack when I get back to the UK in a couple of weeks and in the meantime if you want to have a look for yourself you can at F-stops website here.