Billingham Hadley Large review

Okay, I know it's another camera bag review - but believe me when I say it: This bag has changed the way I shoot!
Let me explain:
Like most photographers, I have collected loads of camera bags over the years - a quick look at my last few posts will show my beloved Billingham 550 ( as well as the Think Tank Skin Set ( ) - my preferred method of carrying my main kit while on a wedding, location or event shoot. However, I've always had a problem with which bag to carry my everyday kit in. As my other bags allow me to carry a lot of kit - I, therefore, carry a lot of kit in them! There's always a perfectly good reason to fill the space with more batteries, lenses or whatever, but it means I end up carrying too much with me. I tell myself that it's better to have EVERYTHING with me "just in case"but the fact of the matter is I don't need to carry 2 DSLR bodies, half-a-dozen lenses and a couple of speedlites if I'm going to meet a client, do some shopping or pick up the kids from school. Admittedly, it worked out for me once on a day trip to Newcastle, which resulted in a shoot with TV's Ross Kemp (and even then, I didn't need everything I had with me), but as a general rule - I pack too much. As I get a wee bit older, and with a bad back, I also have to admit that my days of carrying my 550 around the world are over (what I actually mean is that my wife tells me!) and I need to find a 'sensible' solution. So, I needed to find a bag which would allow me to carry a non-gripped DSLR body with lens attached (usually a Canon EOS 7D with Sigma 20-40 f2.8 or 40D with a Sigma 17-70 f2.8) a couple of my favourite prime lenses (Rokinon 8mm fisheye and either a 50mm f1.8 or my absolute favourite portrait lens - my 85mm f1.4) a Canon 580EXII speedlite (or a Yongnuo 560II - same size and power and a great flash, but that's another story) and, crucially, my iPad (everything I do is based around this: from a portable portfolio and quick editing tool for Tweeting a photo or two at a wedding to creating new contracts and taking card payments, so it MUST fit in my new bag). It has to be a shoulder bag to allow fast access to my camera if I need it in a hurry - backpacks are easier to carry for a distance but a pain in the backside to work out of, in my opinion. After looking around I narrowed it down to either a Think Tank Retro 7 or a Billingham Hadley Large, both comparable in terms of build quality - opting for the latter due to a couple of factors: I felt that the Retro would allow me to carry more than I wanted to (and I could attach some of my Skin Set pouches to it, so it's best to remove temptation) and the Billingham is waterproof without the need for an additional cover. Don't get me wrong, the Think Tank rain-covers are great pieces of kit, but if I need to grab my camera I want to get it without a lot of hassle. So, a Hadley Large it had to be - there is a 'Pro' version which has a great top handle, but it's a bit smaller and might be a bit tight for the iPad from what I could see, so I gave up a handle for easier access to my 'mobile office' (in use, it's just as easy to grab a handful of strap and lift it as you would with a handle) and the legendary Billingham build quality goes without saying.

 All nice and new

The webbing strap is attached with stitching and the leather adds more strength to the package. Some photographers like to add one of the optional padded straps but I feel it's comfortable enough as it is.

The everyday kit - 7D and 20-40 attached with the 50mm and 8mm lenses (I stack these on one side of the bag, Billingham supply a couple of long dividers for either side of your camera and 2 smaller ones to allow you to place items on top of each other). Spare battery, cards, business cards, lens cloth and ipad connector cable fit easily into the two front pouches.

Notice the Rokinon sits on top of the portrait lens (50mm or 85mm) with a padded divider between them and there's space next to the speedlite for a rocket blower, so there's a lot of room in quite a small package. The Hadley large is a surprisingly deep bag though, so the camera tends to sit well down inside it - a 70-200 f4 L lens can replace the speedlite or the 2 primes if required AND you can leave the lens hood in place! The actual compartment where your kit sits is removable and attaches via a single stud at the front, leaving space at the rear for an iPad. This does make the bag a bit more 'rigid' at the rear and you lose the natural way a Billingham 'moulds' itself around you as you carry it, but I can live with that - it's still very comfortable to carry. Part of the reason why it's so comfortable is due to the bags' narrow profile, which means the weight sits closer to your boy and helps it to feel lighter than it is - this bag is not designed for 'gripped' DSLR's or larger bodies like the EOD 1D series.

Much narrower profile than the 550.

After using the Hadley for a few weeks I found that not only was it easier to carry around, but I was also taking more shots when I was out and about. This was due to the ease with which I could access my kit  - the buckles are there pretty much for show as you just pull the leather tabs along the two brass studs until the point where the aperture widens and out it pops. A very simple system but ideal for what I want. It's easy enough to fold the lid back between the bag and your body while shooting, but I'm not a fan of it personally - if I need to grab something, it's easy enough to get at as it is.

 The lid folds round the entire opening for the main compartment and pouches, so your kit is safe from rain too - something I can personally vouch for after a recent family trip to Disneyland Paris, it rained almost every day! For the trip, I had agreed with Mrs KSG that I would only take one camera and a couple of lenses, so the Hadley was perfect. There was enough space to pack spare batteries and chargers as well as passports and a couple of magazines without the bag getting too big or uncomfortable and the non-essentials could be left in the hotel room when we were out and about. 

Fully packed for travelling - still comfortable to carry for short distances.

After almost a week of being out from 0800hrs until after 2200hrs, whether we were walking round the park, going on rides or on a day-trip round Paris getting on and off buses and boats, I never felt the Hadley being uncomfortable and, as my essentials were with me, I could grab a quick shot and move on without causing too much disruption to the family - which, I find, also reduces any ear ache normally associated with such trips...
Normally, I just throw the strap over one shoulder for a short distance, but I find that if I'm out for any time it's comfier to wear it as a messenger bag. This way, it's easy to move it to the front to grab your camera, change lens/ battery etc. and then slide out of the way when you're shooting.

All in all, this bag has totally changed the way I operate daily: It's big enough for a basic kit and an iPad and you can pack one or two wee extras for a short trip if you need to, without it getting too much to handle. It deals with the great Scottish (and French) weather with no problems and keeps your kit dry and protected from daily knocks and bumps.
No, it won't let you carry all your kit for a wedding or fashion shoot, but it's not meant to - if you need that there's always the 550, 555 or 445. Build quality from Billingham, as always, is excellent and like it's big brother, the 550, it looks the part anywhere you go.

 Billingham's Hadley range include several different sizes and colours to suit a variety of needs and tastes and are well worth a look. Yes, they cost a bit more than some others, but they are built to last.
This is a completely independent review of a piece of kit which I have invested my own money in.


  1. A great review from a good camera bag brand. As a camera bag seller this kind of review helps us generate sales. Thank for this in detail review.

    camera bags and Laptop Bags


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