Okay, so I'm going to start with the obvious; at £495 this isn't a cheap bag. The most similar bag I own (the Peak Design everyday messenger) is half the price. If you're the type of person to buy your jeans at Asda, turn and run now, this isn’t for you.
the stress points and a lifetime warranty. Take note Sony, this will almost certainly outlast everything I ever put in it.
There's no two ways about it, the Hawkesmill St James Street bag is beautiful. The full grain leather oozes quality and the riveted pressure points keep everything feeling secure. This is a bag that doesn't look like a camera bag but rather the sort of bag you'd find on a well heeled gentleman on St James Street or on the shoulder of a fashionable Parisian walking around the Champs Elysee. Actually, I took this bag with me on a trip to Paris and it fitted in perfectly!
How much can it fit?
One of the most important things to figure out when picking a camera bag is what you want to carry in it. In the past 10 years I’ve amassed a collection of 7 different camera bags that I use on a regular basis. Mad I know but they each serve a different purpose and each bring something else to the table.
I use this bag predominantly when I’m not on a paid assignment. To me it’s the bag I take to meetings or use when I’m out and about in London. Showing up to a meeting with this feels professional and it's garnered many compliments. It swallows my travel take-anywhere kit perfectly without being overstuffed or feeling too heavy. I recently took it on a weekend in Paris and it fitted my walkabout gear plus overnight clothes and washkit perfectly.
It’s probably big enough to fit a natural light shooter's wedding gear or enough for a simple e-shoot but it’s not the sort of bag you can fit light stands in. Also bearing in mind just how gorgeous it is, you’re not going to want to take it on shoots where it’s going to get thrown around or left in the mud. Leave that to a Manfrotto or Peak Design.
My day to day carry:
- Macbook Pro 13”
- Sony A9
- Lecia 50mm Sumilux
- Sony Zeiss 35mm F/1.4
- Zeiss Batis 85mm
- Macbook Pro 13”
- iPad Mini 5
- 2x Sony A9
- 24-70 F/2.8
- 35 F/1.4
- 70-200 F/2.8
- Leica 50mm Sumilux
- 2x Godox TT350
- Triggers, cables etc etc
What's it missing?
So the one thing you may have noticed missing from my list of carry and in my opinion the biggest downfall of this bag is the lack of a water bottle pouch or any way of fitting a bottle. The only way I've found of carrying a reusable bottle is either inside and sacrificing some space or clipping it onto that sumptuous strap with a carabiner.
One of my favourite things about this bag is how the design details have been thought out. Take the opening straps. They look like the kind of buckle you’d find on an ordinary shoulder bag which can be a faff to open. Hawksmore have iterated on the design though, keeping the aesthetics but adding a quick release pin so you can get to your gear in an instant.
The two large pouches on the front easily swallow all your accessories, batteries etc without having to dig into the main compartment. It's a
simple thing but all of the dividers have velcro all the way along as well. What that means is that you can customise the inside to your heart's content. Use all the spare dividers you've accumulated over the yeas and go to town. One of the things which drives me mad about some of my Manfrotto bags is how some of the dividers have a nylon surface which prevents you sticking other dividers to it. It's a simple thing but makes the bag a lot more customisable and user friendly.
Peak Design Everyday Messanger vs St James Street
The Peak Design Everyday messenger is probably the most similar bag to this that I own. Both are roughly the same size and take almost exactly the same amount of gear. Both have 3 internal segments and both swallow a 13 Macbook Pro.
That’s where the differences end though. It’s as if you gave the same basic specs for a bag to both Rolls Royce and Tesla. The Hawkesmill bag is all about quality, timeless design. If Hawkesmill are still around in 100 years time I bet the St James Street bag will look pretty much identical. It’s a bag to last the test of time. The Peak Design on the other hand is all about technology and reinventing the camera bag. There’s no doubting the dividers are cleverer with their FlexFold technology and all the mini pouches make organisation easier but there’s already a V2 out and it looks like a very different bag to the V1. The Peak Design is more Mission Impossible, the Hawkesmill, Kingsmen.
Would I recommend the St James Street Bag?
After 6 months of use it’s a resounding yes from me. It’s not the bag I take to weddings but if you see me on the street or in a meeting it’s the bag I’ll probably be carrying. Having been to 4 different countries it’s showing hardly any signs of wear and if anything looks better then when it was brand new. Backed by Hawkesmill’s lifetime warranty I’m really hoping this will still be my day to day bag in 10 years time and that’s not something I can say of any of my other camera bags.
Should you buy the bag?
Well that’s a more difficult question and fundamentally one only you can answer. If you’ve got the budget and are looking for a stylish bag, which you can carry around without ‘looking like a photographer’ then this is one of the best out there. It might not be the most high tech or carry the most stuff but it’s a bag you can be proud of and that you’ll be carrying for a while. It’s the perfect size for me as an everyday carry.