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Kata 3in1 Backpack / Sling Pack Review


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Kata 3N1-20 Sling-Backpack Review

Reviewed by Ron Risman, September 2008

The Kata 3N1 Sling-Backpack, part of Kata's DPS (Digital Photo Series), features a unique TST RIB structural protection for a digital SLR with battery pack & mid-range zoom lens attached as well as 3-4 lenses, flash, and other personal gear.

The unique 3N1 design makes this the first bag that can be used as a sling bag for either right- or left- handed or as a full-function backpack.  The 3N1 is available in three sizes:

Dimensions:

  • 3N1-10: Size: 6.5"D x 8.7"W x 16.1"H, 2.6lbs
    Designed to fit a digital SLR with a mid-range zoom lens attached and 1-2 extra lenses with accessories

  • 3N1-20: Size: 7.5"D x 9.3"w x 17.3"H, 2.9lbs
    Designed to fit a digital SLR with a mid-range zoom lens attached and 3-4 extra lenses with accessories

  • 3N1-30: Size: 7.5"D x 12.6"W x 17.7"H, 2.9lbs
    Designed to fit a digital SLR with a long-range zoom lens attached and 5-6 extra lenses with accessories

Introduction

For the past few years I have been using the Lowepro CompuTrekker AW backpack to carry all of my photography gear (see chart below).  I love the CompuTrekker AW and it has served me well, as it is able to fit and carry whatever I seem to throw in it, including my Dell 15.4" laptop and tripod.  The downside is that the CompuTrekker is just too large to use out in the field.  The Kata 3N1 on the other hand is perfect for daily trips, photo walks, or hiking.  I found a new friend, the Kata 3N1.

Review

I was thrilled when the KATA 3N1-20 arrived at the door.  I spent no time opening the package, setting up the bag and taking some product shots in various configurations.  This is the first thing I do before using a product as I want to be able to show you what the product looks like before life happens to it.  I am actually very careful with my gear so this typically isn't a problem - but better safe than sorry.

Since the Kata 3n1 can be worn three different ways I spent a few minutes looking over the instructions.  This helped me to fully understand how to wear it.  As the name implies, the Kata 3N1 is no ordinary photo bag.  You can wear it as a left-sling, a right-sling, or as a backpack.  Actually, when wearing it as a backpack you can choose a 4th configuration - crisscrossing the straps in front of you (X), which allows you to quickly convert it to a sling bag just by unlatching one of the straps.  This provides added comfort for longer periods while still offering the convenience of front access by switching it to the swing layout.

I spent about 10-15 minutes trying on the different configurations and walking around the office before feeling ready to load the bag up with gear.  Empty, the Kata 3n1 only weighs 2.9lbs so this was not a test of comfort and feel, just a way for me to get used to the layouts before weighing it down with gear.

Load it up!

The next step in the testing process was to open up my current Lowepro Trekker AW case that currently houses all my camera gear to see how much of it would fit into the Kata 3N1-20. Since the bag is about 4" smaller (width) I knew there would be some tradeoffs, but I needed to dive right in to find out what they would be.  Since the Kata 3N1 is small enough to be my day case I felt I didn't need to worry about fitting things I wouldn't need out in the field, such as battery chargers and cables.  The Lowepro CompuTrekker AW holds everything I need but it is just to cumbersome and heavy to wear while shooting.

The table below shows the items that I was able to fit into the Kata 3N1, compared to the larger Lowepro CompuTrekker AW.  Aside from a few extra accessories the Kata Bag held even with its smaller dimensions.

Accessory Kata 3N1 Lowepro CompuTrekker AW
Canon EOS Rebel XT Yes (Top compartment) Yes
Sigma 10-20mm HSM Lens Yes (on Rebel XT body) Yes
Canon EOS Rebel XTi Yes (Side sling compartment)_ Yes
Canon EOS EF 28-200mm Zoom Yes (on Rebel XTi Body) Yes
Canon HG10 AVCHD Camcorder Yes (inside upper right) Yes
Canon 430EX Flash Yes (inside bottom) Yes
Canon 50mm F/1.8 Lens Yes (swap with 18-55mm when needed, inside compartment) Yes
Canon EF-S 18-55mm Lens Yes (swap with 50mm when needed, inside compartment) Yes
Lensbaby 2.0 Yes (side pocket) Yes
Cokin Filters Yes (inside compartment) Yes
RF Remote Yes (side accessory pocket) Yes
ExpoDisc White Balance Filter Yes (inside compartment) Yes
Folding Disc Reflector Yes (inside - laying on top) Yes
Li-Ion Battery Charger No* Yes
Trek-Pod Mini Tripod No* Yes
Cables (USB / HDMI) No* Yes
Pec*Pad Cleaning Solution & Pads No* Yes
Dell Inspiron 6000 Laptop No Yes

* These items would easily fit depending on what gear is important to you.  If you are not traveling with two bodies and 3 or 4 lenses there would be plenty of space for the items marked with an asterisk (*).

As you can see from the list above, despite the Kata's 3N1-20 smaller size (compared to the Lowerpro CompuTrekker AW), the bag is very capable of carrying a day's worth of gear.  I was easily able to fit a Canon HG10 AVCHD camcorder, Two Canon Rebel D-SLR's, four lenses (18-200, 10-20mm, 50mm or 18-55mm lens, Lensbaby), external flash unit (Canon 430EX), RF Remote control, a folding pop-open reflector, Cokin filters, White Balance filter, extra batteries and memory cards.  If I were traveling for more than a day, I would most likely swap out one of the lenses to make room for one of the Canon battery chargers.  It is possible I would be able to find room for it even without swapping, but with the configuration above, the bag isn't overloaded, but it's tight.

One of the BIG differences between my Lowepro CompuTrekker AW and the new KATA 3n1 is the fact that I can comfortably wear the Kata 3n1 Backpack / Sling all day while out in the field. The Lowepro backpack I only use for traveling to and from a shoot or when flying because of its larger size.

A big advantage to the 3N1's Backpack / Sling design, at least for me, is the ability to switch from one to the other.  A sling is less comfortable over longer periods as the strap crosses your chest (much like a seat-belt), but for short periods a sling provides for easy in/out camera access.  If I plan to do a lot of walking I'll wear the Kata 3N1 as a backpack, which is more comfortable over longer periods. If I plan to take a shot here and there or if the weather is less than ideal then I would wear it in sling mode as this would allow access to the camera without removing the bag each time.  Even when the sling mode gets a bit heavy on your shoulder you can easily switch it to the opposite shoulder just by switching to the right or left handed strap.  The flexibility of this bag is what makes it unique.

Backpack today, Sling bag tomorrow!
Prior to reviewing the Kata 3N1 I had always envied those that had a sling bag, but after spending hours wearing this case both as a sling bag and a backpack, I must admit that I prefer wearing it as a backpack most of the time. I am not usually in a situation where I need to keep taking the camera in and out of the case. I typically remove the camera, put the strap around my neck, and keep it there until I'm done shooting. Having the backpack with me makes it convenient to switch bodies or lenses as needed. If the bag was in sling mode it would actually be quite awkward as I already have a camera around my neck which would interfere with the sling operation.

During ski season (snow) I would use the sling option instead as it would allow me to quickly remove the camera for shots on the slope and back again when the going gets tough or when I'm ready to get back on the chairlift. I'd just swing the sling to the front and would be good to go.

Case Design
The Kata 3N1 features KATA's TST RIB structured protection and should keep your gear safe from shocks and bumps even in rough conditions. The bag is not waterproof but a rain sleeve is included to help insure that the case and your gear stays dry in inclement weather. 2 large center buckles and 2 smaller bottom buckles help to keep the bag fit and snug, though they must be un-buckled in order to unzip and open up either the side or front pockets. The top compartment is fairly large and can easily hold a mid-size DSLR with a standard- or short-length zoom lens but it would be nice to have some sewn in velcro strips in order to accomodate a divider when needed. The top compartment does feature two fabric pockets that can accomodate your mobile phone, memory cards, or extra batteries.

My biggest complaint with the case design is how tight access is to the upper middle compartments.  This is caused by the rear side buckles which reduce the size of the flap at the mid section of the case.  To get gear into these compartments you'll need to flex the top of the bag a bit to create an opening wide enough to slide things into these compartments. It is definitely tight, but doable.



Another issue I had was when trying to close the side zippered pocket while in Sling Mode.  The strap that holds the bag around your shoulder pulls at the opening of the unzippered pocket, creating a bend in the zipper, which ultimately requires you to pull the sections together using both hands while zippering the side compartment back up (See photo on right).  With practice I have been able to make this an easier task than it was the first few days of my review, but the unzipped corners on each side should have a better support system in order to keep the zipper 'track' inline.

Review Summary

While there are some slight design changes I would recommend to Kata, overall the Kata 3N1 is a home run. Kata sent the mid-sized model (3N1-20) for me to review and, for me, it was the best choice. The larger bag would have held more of my gear, but I would not have wanted to lug it on my back. The smaller bag would be even more convenient to carry all day, but at the expensive of having to leave some camera gear behind. The mid-size bag holds everything I need for a daily trek, while being comfortable enough to wear all day. Of course, you would want to decide on which case is best for you, based on the cameras and lenses you own.

The Kata 3N1 also includes a rain cover that fits in its own pouch when not in use and expands over the entire bag when needed. When not in use I found it convenient as extra protection between a lens and the body of the case. Speaking of protection, the Kata 3N1 features Kata's TST RIB structured protection designed to protect your gear from unwanted shock.

Retail and Street Price
At at price of $149.95 (street prices from $99.95) the Kata 3N1-20 is highly recommended and I consider it a great value. The closest competition to this bag would be the Lowepro SlingShot 200 AW ($89-$99), but unlike the Kata 3N1 does not offer the backpack mode or the ability to switch to your left or right side.

Modi-Vers Compatible
The Kata 3N1 bags are also Modi-Vers compatible. The Modi-Vers is a customizable divider system that can be cut to fit whatever size you need to keep your gear snug. I did not try the Modi-Vers system, but it actually sounds like it could allow for more room inside the 3N1-20 that I reviewed here, by allowing some smaller "dead" space to fit things like a battery charger.

Complies with Airline Regulations
The Kata 3N1 bags comply with most airline regulations for carry-on luggage, though regulations are constantly changing. I have never had a problem carrying the rather large Lowepro CompuTrekker so I don't imagine there ever being a problem traveling the the Kata 3N1 bags unless they ban bags all together.

Insertrolley Compatible
This bag is also compatible with the Kata Insertrolley, a system that allows you to either use the trolley separately or with several cases at once. Just slide the trolley through the integrated sleeve on the rear of the bag for secure and easy mobility. Again, this is not a product that I have reviewed here. The description comes directly from the Kata-Bags.com web site.

Additional Photographs

Where to Buy
The Kata 3N1-20 reviewed here is available from Amazon.com for only $99.90 at this time (9/2/2008). This is a savings of $49.10 off the list price. Please use the link to check the latest price. Your purchase from this link helps to support our site and will also save you money in the process.

For additional information check out Kata-Bags.com web site.

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