Most camera bags are either accessible or comfortable, but never both, it seems. A two-strap backpack offers comfort, but you can’t get to your gear without taking it off. A sling-style bag, on the other hand, is easier to access, but puts all the weight on one shoulder. In our Lowepro Flipside AW 400 II review, we found the solution to this age-old compromise: a rear-access panel and a waist belt lets you flip the bag forward to swap out gear quickly, without putting the bag down on dirty ground.
The Flipside series has been around for over a decade (the company claims it’s the world’s number-one photo backpack), but Lowepro recently updated the Flipside AW 400 with a slimmer design, a laptop sleeve, and a tablet pocket, among other enhancements. The original Flipside AW 400 was this writer’s go-to camera bag, with plenty of room for two camera bodies, lenses, and accessories. It offered enough comfort to get through shooting an entire wedding, and the quick-access design allowed for a more efficient workflow.
While the older design is still a favorite, the lack of a laptop sleeve has always been a sore, especially when it’s used as a regular travel bag. The new version, therefore, is a welcomed change.
Flexible design, with lots of room
Unlike camera backpacks that open on the front, the Flipside AW 400 II’s main opening is on the back — hence the name. This design allows for quick access when the bag is swiveled to the front (using the waist belt), but it also provides security when it’s worn on your back; it’s harder for thieves to get into, and helps prevent things from falling out if it’s not zipped up completely.
Whatever your gear consists of, the Flipside AW 400 II can fit a lot.
The back panel opens slightly wider than before, thanks to a slimmer design. That small difference makes it easier to access gear at the bottom of the bag when it’s flipped around toward your front. Inside is a roomy, custom configurable space to arrange your gear. By default, the camera sits at the top of the bag with a lens attached, while padded dividers arrange additional lenses, flash units, and other larger items. But you can move things around to better suit your setup.
Larger cameras should fit snugly within the designated compartment, but you may find some wiggle room if you use a crop-sensor DSLR or mirrorless camera. You can tuck a camera strap to the side of the camera to keep it from wiggling, or rest the included zippered pouch on top of the camera so that it doesn’t bounce around. You can also angle the dividers to conform to the shape of your camera.
Here’s our equipment the Flipside AW 400 II was able to fit: Along with a DSLR and attached lens, it accommodated a second camera body, four more lenses, a flash, and a set of flash gels and grids.
Of course, not all setups will be the same — large lenses will take up more room, so you may not be able to bring as many or you’d need to sacrifice a second camera body. But whatever your gear consists of, the Flipside AW 400 II can fit a lot.
On the inside part of the flap is a sleeve that accommodates a 15-inch laptop; three mesh pockets for SD cards; and a large, zippered pocket for things like filters and batteries. Our MacBook Pro fit snugly inside the sleeve, but we wish Lowepro had put some padding between laptop and camera gear. On the outside, however, the back is nicely padded between camera bag and human body.
The front has a large pocket for a 10-inch tablet or small accessories. It can also expand to fit a small sweatshirt. There are also small pockers, pen slots, and a key ring. There is a mesh pocket on each side of the bag that can hold a water bottle or something of similar size. At the bottom of the bag you’ll find an included all-weather cover that pulls out and over the front and sides of the bag.
There are plenty of straps for holding things that can’t fit inside the compartments and pockets. Tripod straps pull out from hidden pockets at the top and bottom of the bag; we like that they can be easily tucked away when not needed.
It held our tripod securely without making annoying rattles, and the centered design helps make sure the tripod doesn’t throw the bag (and you) off balance. Two more straps let you secure a rolled-up lightweight jacket, but you can get pretty creative with what you decide to haul.
Comfort and access
Never underestimate a good waist belt. While using the Flipside AW 400 II, the well-padded waist belt rests a majority of the bag’s weight on the hips instead of the back and shoulders. You might think it would get in the way, but if you are carrying a DSLR with six lenses and accessories for a long period of time, resting that weight on the hips makes a big difference.
Hillary Grigonis/Digital Trends
The waist belt is also a key component to the Flipside AW 400 II’s unique quick-access design, along with the rear opening. If you need to swap lenses or grab an accessory from the main compartment, you simply remove the should straps and swing the bag from your back and to the front, with the waist belt buckled. The belt is sturdy enough that you can let go, and dangles in front of you like a small workstation. No, it’s not as convenient as a shoulder bag, but it’s far more efficient than a typical camera backpack because nothing ever leaves your possession.
When the bag is swiveled around, there are pull straps for adjusting how the bag “sits.” If the bag leans too far forward, tightening the straps allows the bag to position parallel to the ground, so that your gear doesn’t tumble out.
The laptop sleeve is handy, but it lowers the comfort level when bringing a computer along.
The shoulder straps on the Flipside AW 400 II are thick and comfortable. The padding in the straps isn’t as thick as the first version — a sacrifice to reach a slimmer design. While the bag is still one of the more comfortable bags we’ve tried, we prefer the straps in the older version. A chest strap helps keep the shoulder straps in place, but the clips can be removed for wearers who don’t care for them.
The rear panel has two cushions to help the bag contour to the shape of the back of the body, with a lower padded panel and one near the shoulders. Again, the slimmer design feels just a bit less endowed in the padding department.
This reviewer wore the Flipside AW 400 II for several hours while shooting a wedding, and then took the bag on a three-day trip that involved shooting throughout most of the day, with short breaks in between. On both occasions, at the end of the shoot, we had minimal back pain from carrying the weight of the bag, which is incredible considering the length of time.
If you do carry a computer, it makes the back more rigid and doesn’t distribute the weight as well. The laptop sleeve is fine for tasks like packing a laptop through the airport, but we would leave it behind for hiking or longer shoots, like weddings. We wish Lowepro placed the sleeve on the front of bag, which would have made it slightly more comfortable.
Besides the AW 400 II, the Lowepro Flipside II series comes in other sizes to match the amount of gear you carry. The Flipside 200 AW II starts out the series at about $100, and can accommodate a small DSLR or mirrorless camera and two-to-three lenses. The Flipside 300 AW II ($120) moves up to a standard-sized DSLR and a 10-inch tablet. The largest, the Flipside 500 AW II, accommodates a 400mm lens attached to a DSLR, along with four-to-six lenses and an extra camera body, as well as a laptop, tablet, and small accessories.
The Flipside AW 400 has always been a favorite because of the comfortable design and the quick access. A sling bag is fine when you only need a lens or two, but when you need to bring a lot gear, this bag has the room and keeps aches at bay. Its rear quick-access design makes lens swaps easy.
The newer Flipside AW 400 II continues the tradition of comfort and convenience, but we wish the shoulder padding were as thick as the previous version. The laptop sleeve is handy, but the location at the back of the bag lowers the comfort level when bringing a computer along. We wouldn’t choose the Flipside AW 400 II if you need to carry a laptop around for hours.
But for long photo shoots that require gear kits with half a dozen lenses, accessories, and a tripod, the Flipside 400 AW II is an excellent blend of organization, accessibility, and comfort.