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Billingham Bags

There are Camera Bags and there are Billinghams

By Allan Weitz

If you are thinking about purchasing a Billingham bag I'm going to give you a piece of advice. Before you fork over the cash, make sure the bag you choose is truly the bag you want. The reason I'm making this public service announcement is because if you do buy a Billingham bag, you're going to be living with it for an awfully long time.

If you've ever picked up a Billingham bag you understand what I'm talking about. There are bags, and there are Billingham bags. And if you're into fine English craftsmanship, we're talking bag heaven. Billinghams are constructed from the finest waterproof canvas, brass rivets, and English leather trim. The stitching is tight, and like your favorite pair of jeans, they get better with age. The big difference is that you probably won't be wearing the same pair of jeans for a quarter of a century from now, while your Billingham bag will still be at your side.

Started back in 1973, Billingham was and continues to be a privately-owned, family operation located in Brierley Hill, which according to the Billingham website "is rather hilly". My guess is it's also "rather trout streamy", as they started out making fishing bags. It wasn't long before they started receiving a noticeable amount of orders for bags from New York photographers.

Martin Billingham, an avid photographer in his own right, connected the dots, and within the year was in the camera bag business. Their original design is still in production, along with about 20-or-so shoulder bags and smaller pouches, which are available, as all proper English bags should be, in khaki, sage, or black. And in case you're curious, Martin Billingham can still be found most mornings puttering around the leather shop as he did in the early days it's in his blood.

Keeping nasty weather (a.k.a. English sunshine) out of the bag remains a priority in the construction of all Billinghams. The canvas is waterproof, and all overlapping seams are bound with waterproof tape, which in turn are sewn with cotton threads which are designed to swell when wet to further block moisture from entering the interior compartments of the bag.

The interiors of most Billinghams are lined with soft, non-absorbent, closed-cell foam material called 'Superflex', which insures a decent degree of 'bang' protection for your camera gear. The material that lines the Superflex cell foam consists of a smooth anti-fray material designed not to 'wick' or shed excess fibers that ultimately end up in your cameras mirror box or imaging sensor, not to mention the hard-to-get-at inner lens elements of your expensive zoom lens.

Access to the main compartment and side pouches is via Billingham's 'QRC' (Quick Release Closure) system, which utilizes solid, hand polished, brass clog bolts for ready access to your gear. The leather - top-grain only - is hand-selected, hand-dyed, and hand-polished with paraffin.

One of the more popular Billingham bags over the years has been the 225 shoulder bag, which as you might have guessed is available in black (real popular here in the Big Apple), sage, and khaki. Large enough to accommodate an SLR with a motordrive (or full-size DSLR) and three lenses, the 225 can also handle a small laptop or A4-sized file folders. An ample shoulder strap or hand straps enable you to get your gear around town safely and securely. This style bag is also available in 2 larger sizes (335 & 445), which are yet more capacious than the 225.

A complete inventory of Billingham bags (not to mention the newly revised Billingham Photo Vest) can be found on the B&H website. And remember; choose wisely because you're about to enter a long-term relationship.

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