Today, I want to introduce you to the Billingham Hadley Small Pro. The Hadley Small was my very first Billingham bag, so here's why the successor has piqued my interest...
What can one say about a bag, especially from a man's perspective? Probably not much, and if anything, it would be technical details. However, when it comes to Billingham bags, I can't help but get excited. I love Billingham camera bags! Consider this a kind of spoiler alert and a little warning. 😉
The Billingham Hadley Small Pro is no exception!
For those who know me or have been following this blog and/or our YouTube channel for a while, this statement won't be the first time you've heard it from me. I've been using Billingham bags for many years now. I got my first Billingham bag in 2012. With 11 years as a Billingham user, I'm more of a "young Padawan" among Billingham users because one thing is certain: these bags are durable!
There are many users who have been using their Billingham bags since the early 1970s.
Before I dive in, a disclaimer: Billingham provided me with this bag free of charge upon my request. I am not receiving any money for this review, and I have not been told what to say or not to say. As always, you will get my own honest opinion here.
Now that's settled, let's get started.
Why choose Billingham?
I use my Billingham bags daily. They accompany me during leisure time, professional photo/video shoots, and even in my non-photographic/videographic work. In essence, I don't leave the house without a Billingham.
My camera bag needs to withstand rain, dust, cold, and heat while consistently providing the best possible protection for my equipment. Often, I find myself navigating through narrow and crowded streets, and sometimes even in areas where one must be cautious of thefts and pickpocketing. An inconspicuous bag that doesn't scream "camera gear" and has reliable closures is of great advantage in such situations. At the same time, I carry my Billingham bags even when I'm dressed in a suit with a tie and vest, so they should be classic and unobtrusive. I may need to pass through multiple security checks in a day and quickly access my equipment for special inspections. Since the bag is always with me, it shouldn't be too heavy (in terms of its own weight). Each of these requirements is probably met by some manufacturers individually, but when combined together to suit my personal needs, only a Billingham fulfills them.
With every Billingham bag I own (yes, there are several 🙈), I know that impacts, rain, dust, and more pose no threat. I can even place my Billingham in a puddle, and my equipment remains dry. The materials Billingham chooses are excellent. The "FibreNyte," coupled with Billingham's three-layer construction and padding, is easy to clean and, at the same time, highly reliable. The materials are all lightweight, without compromising on protection, making the overall weight of a Billingham bag relatively low.
The fact that Billingham intentionally avoids a rigid structure for its bags suits me perfectly, allowing the bag to conform to the body. As a tall and somewhat robust (positively put) individual, I sometimes fear in confined spaces in cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc., that I might knock over half the furniture when turning around. While I could achieve this with a Billingham bag if I tried, thanks to my good body control and the way the bags snugly fit against me, it's easier for me to move more like an elf than an elephant. ;)
Billingham's closure system for the Hadleys, Eventers, 7 series, 5 series, and S-Series is as simple as it is ingenious and secure. Zippers are, of course, secure as well, but zippers on my gear are a bit of a concern for me. As a user, the system is very easy, quick, and, most importantly, almost noiseless to open and close. Naturally, no system truly offers 100% protection against a "skilled" pickpocket. One must be aware that no system is completely secure without a certain level of user attention. I've never had anything stolen from my Billingham bags. Opening and securely closing the bags is genuinely straightforward, silent, and can be done quickly and securely with one hand.
One can certainly debate the look of the bags, or perhaps not. Some like it, and others don't. It's as simple as that.
I feel well-prepared and dressed for both a suit and shorts with flip-flops when I have a Billingham bag.
Customer service is the icing on the cake.
For all these reasons, I've been a loyal Billingham user for 11 years now, and since my first Billingham, the Hadley Small, I've never felt that my gear wasn't perfectly protected.
Why choose this Billingham Hadley Small Pro?
I already published a blog post about this when the Small Pro was released (2018).
In essence, my opinion hasn't changed much. Back then and now, I found the improvements excellent and very desirable, but they alone weren't enough to justify the expense for me at the time.
Today, things look a bit different. First and foremost, the least important reason: I love the color combination "Sage FibreNyte/Black Leather." This color combination is relatively new, and I was immediately impressed.
As I mentioned above, the Billingham is not only my first Billingham but, most importantly, my most frequently used Billingham in (photo) everyday life. It's large enough to accommodate my smaller equipment for the entire day, but it doesn't add too much bulk, compared to, for example, the Billingham Hadley Pro 2020.
When I leave the house without a specific photographic purpose, it provides more than enough space for my M-camera with one lens and all the other stuff you need on the go: wallet, keys, sunglasses, glasses, and so on.
When I set out deliberately to explore the city, it offers room for an M-camera with a lens and up to 4 additional lenses. If I plan to shoot a YouTube video on the go, I can even pack my small action camera with extra batteries. Glasses, wallet, and sunglasses may need to be stored differently in that case. ;)
But even with my digital M-camera and my analog M-camera, each with one lens and an extra piece of glass, plus the ActionCam and accessories, I manage well with the bag.
I can handle all of that very well with my Billingham Small. It's not about the space it offers. It's rather the rear trolley strap, the detachable shoulder strap, the top carry handle on the bag, and the document pocket on the back of the bag that I wouldn't want to be without now. I travel a lot by plane and almost exclusively use a small carry-on suitcase. I almost never check luggage, which is possible without violating the airline's baggage rules.
But, of course, I don't have space in the suitcase to fit an extra bag for use at my destination. My (photo) bag is, therefore, part of my carry-on. Since I don't like carrying a shoulder bag with my suit, I prefer to transport the bag by attaching it to the handle of the suitcase using the strap. The top handle on the bag allows me to quickly and easily detach it or carry the bag in my hand, not hanging on my shoulder.
With my M-camera and one of the combinations mentioned above, things work quite well. However, once more equipment is involved, I naturally have to switch to the Pro 2020 because I also need a few things quickly and readily accessible for my (non-photo/video) work. It can get a bit tight with the Small Pro when there's more gear to carry. But I can squeeze an iPad (10.2") in there at the back.
Sometimes, the Pro 2020 seems too large for me on-site. When I'm traveling, the storage space is great, and I can easily fit everything in. However, on-site, I rarely have so many lenses or cameras with me to make the Pro 2020 worth it, and that's where the Hadley Small Pro is perfect.
So, to sum it up: the Hadley Small Pro is an excellent bag for anyone (traveler) who wants their equipment perfectly protected without the bag getting in the way and who also wants to look incredibly good. ;) For smaller systems like the M-system with a few additional lenses, the Small Pro performs exceptionally well. As always, I can confidently recommend it. Even if the look is a matter of taste, the quality of the bag in terms of protecting the equipment and its durability is a factor that cannot be argued away. At €299, this bag is not cheap, but considering the cost of the equipment one might be carrying and the fact that a Billingham bag easily lasts 20-30 years, these costs seem to me more like a good investment.
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