By Meg Lynch
Since purchasing my first DLSR two years ago, I’ve been on the hunt for my perfect camera bag. There’s a plethora of sleek, black options available that seem to focus on cramming more compartments and pockets in than their competitors, but not so many that cater to photographers looking for a feminine touch. In fact I was losing hope with my hunt until I came across the line of camera bags from a company called Jo Totes. I recently had the chance to spend some time with their Rose camera bag, and I really think I’ve found the perfect solution if you’re as worried about protecting your gear as you are with how it looks. More photos and more of my thoughts after the jump.
Jo Totes doesn’t have an expansive line of bags just yet, but their current offerings, namely the Rose handbag, come in a variety of stylish colors for every taste. In fact their gorgeous teal version, pictured above, is what first caught my eye. Fashioned out of faux-leather, the bag will also appeal to those who don’t feel an animal has to die just to protect their camera gear. And even though it’s not genuine leather, the bag is still very soft to the touch and seems easy to wipe clean. I also love the rosette detail, for which the bag gets its name, and the pleated side detailing.
What’s nice about the Rose bag is that it’s flexible enough to be used for carrying other stuff when you don’t need your camera. For those times the matching handles allow you to use it as a shoulder bag, but it includes a removable over-the-shoulder strap for those who prefer a cross body bag. I find it’s far easier to use your camera, and swap lenses, when the bag is slung over your body, so for me that’s the way to go. And I really like that the strap attaches to a set of stainless steel loops which just look like decorative detailing when they’re not in use.
The over-the-shoulder strap is also adjustable and can cater to where ever you’d like the bag to sit. Even if you happen to be a bit taller.
Like I said, while I like carrying the Rose as a fashionable shoulder bag in certain situations, when you’re shooting outside and need reasonably quick access to lenses, flashes and other accessories, having the bag slung across my body proved to be quite useful. And very comfortable.
But most people interested in the Jo Totes Rose bag will be interested in the stylish detailing as much as the functionality. So the front of the bag features a three inch diameter rosette, made of the same faux-leather material as the rest of the bag, sitting atop pleated detailing that stripes across the bag.
But the pleated detailing isn’t just for aesthetics. It’s actually quite functional, doubling as a loop for slipping over the pop-up handle of a rolling suitcase, making the bag easier to travel with.
On the opposite side you’ll find a slim zippered pocket which works perfectly for stashing away small items.
While it’s not overly spacious, it’s big enough for holding and having easy access to lens cloths, boarding passes and even a smaller-sized wallet. And since this is the side of the bag that will be against your body when carried, it’s kind of protected as well.
Thanks to what they refer to as a “smooth pull zippper”, the bag opens very wide allowing easy access to everything inside. And as you can see, on the inside you’ll find a stylish black and white houndstooth pattern lining the bag. While it looks great, I did occasionally find it a bit distracting when hunting for items when the bag was full. There’s also a couple strips of black velcro, the soft side, running around the inside of the bag which allows you to install padded panels creating customized compartments for camera gear.
And if you do find yourself constantly going in and out of the Rose bag while out shooting, you don’t have to zip it open and close every time. A set of magnetic buttons provide a quick way to seal the bag or gain access in an instant. And when the bag’s not packed particularly full, the buttons also help make it feel more compact when it’s zipped shut and you’ve clasped them together.
The only dedicated pocket you’ll find inside the bag is one for your cellphone. Otherwise the Rose can serve as more of a catch-all bag when the velcro panels are removed, which is great since it allows the bag to be used for more than just holding photography gear.
But when used for carrying a big DSLR and its entourage of accessories, those velcro panels, which feature a matching houndstooth pattern, basically allow you to easily customize the interior of the bag to any camera, lens or combination of accessories. And while it might not look like it in the photos, the Rose also features a bit of extra padding all the way around so you don’t have to worry about your stuff getting broken should the bag get bumped. I won’t go as far as to say I’d be comfortable checking the bag before a flight if it was full of expensive gear, but I wouldn’t worry if it was stashed up in an overhead bin.
It’s unfortunate that this type of bag isn’t widely available in camera shops across the country, at least not yet, because I think it’s a great alternative to the admittedly drab and boring solutions most places carry. Unless you’re trying to show off that you’re hauling around a bunch of expensive camera gear, I feel that camera bags in general could use an extra dose of style, and a lot of companies could take a few hints from what Jo Totes has created with their Rose bag. Most people would be hard pressed to tell there’s even a camera in there, and the fact that you can use it as an every day carry-all bag too makes the reasonable $89 price tag even more enticing.
I know buying a camera bag is a very personal thing, and being able to try one out in person to see if it fits your needs is an important part of the process. I’ve been there. But if you’re willing to forego a never-ending maze of pockets and zippered pouches for something that works well, looks even better and is extremely flexible, I think you should take a few seconds to visit the Jo Totes site and check out their offerings.
+ Beautifully made with subtle detailing that makes it stand out in a market dominated by boring black nylon.
+ Made from animal-friendly faux leather material which looks like the real thing, but is easier to care for.
+ Very reasonably priced given how well-made the bag feels.
+ Comes in a variety of bold colors to suit anyone’s tastes.
+ Can be carried as an over-the-shoulder bag or slung across the body with an included strap.
+ Doesn’t advertise the fact you might be carrying an extremely expensive DSLR camera and accessories.
+ Use of velcro panels allows the bag to be customized to anyone’s needs, or completely removed and used as a regular catch-all bag.
– Black and white houndstooth pattern on the inside can be a bit distracting when hunting for smaller items.
– No matter how flexible and easy to use it is, velcro can still be annoying.
– Though padded, it’s probably not something I’d be willing to check at an airport if it was full of expensive & breakable gear.
– A few more dedicated pockets for smaller items would be appreciated.
Jo Totes Rose Camera Bag – $89
If you have any questions about the Jo Totes camera bags you’d like answered, please feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll try to respond to them as best I can.