|Lowepro Nova Series Camera
by Jim McGee
I'll admit I started this particular equipment test with a bias. Lowepro sent us two bags from their Nova series, a Nova 2 and a Nova 4. The Novas are Lowepro's best selling bags and they've been in their lineup a long time. I have an old Nova 2 that has more miles than most frequent fliers. For quite a while now I've thought of it as the ideal bag when traveling light. For the sake of clarity let me define "traveling light".
Lowepro says the Nova 2 will hold and SLR with a lens attached and two to three additional lenses and some accessories tucked into the front pocket. Experience has taught me how to pack this bag with an SLR with a lens attached, two primes and a tele-converter in one inside pocket and a 70-300mm zoom in the other. A flash goes into the front pocket along with filters, film, a cable release, step rings, etc. crammed into the small component pockets. More film and lens shades go into the stretchy side pockets. Into the back pocket goes a Lumiquest pocket bounce and a small Photoflex LiteDisc. More filters go into the transparent pocket in the flap. In a pinch the flash can be moved to an outside mesh pocket and a spare body carried in the front pocket. You could say I'm carrying a little more in the bag than Lowpro advertised. But somehow I don't think I'm all that unusual.
On the upside that old Nova 2 has been through all kinds of vile weather and never leaked unless I was really getting soaked. If that happened I'd put a small trash bag around it and solve the problem. The ripstop exterior looks virtually new. There are is very little in the way of rub or wear marks, even on the bottom. The seams and stitching are all in good shape, and the handle and shoulder strap that carried all that extra weight are I good condition. Keep in mind this bag has not been treated gently.
So you see I was inclined to look favorably on the redesigned Nova series bags based on a long and happy experience with the previous version.
The new bags are better looking. They've been restyled with a more contemporary look and one of the first things I noticed was that the shoulder strap has been improved. The old version had a non-slip strap but it wasn't padded very well. The new Novas feature an improved strap with more padding and 'D' ring attachments that allow you to change straps if you feel you need even more padding.
The basic design and layout is unchanged. There are three large inside pockets. The dividers attach with hook and loop strips to the sides and have "ears" on the top to cradle an SLR with an attached lens in the center pocket. The top part of the flap that closes over the internal compartment has a plastic coated mesh pocket that closes with a zipper. There's a large front pouch with a zippered plastic mesh pocket and several inside pouches. On the back of the bag is another thin zippered pouch that is ideal for manuals or flash bouncers. New with the new design is a zippered pocket in the front of the flap. Separate film pouches are no longer included with the Novas.
Step up to the larger bags in the series and the basic design is the same. The main difference is that interior volume and the number of dividers increases. Move down the series to the smaller Nova bags and the same is true. The main difference is that the interior volume decreases.
All the Novas are made from water-resistant 600D TXP ballistic nylon, which is nothing short of amazing in its ability to wear like iron and shed dirt and moisture. You can expect that the exterior of your Nova will look as good five years from now as it does today. The back of the bag now has a padded DryFlo mesh panel where the bag will contact your body if you're using the optional waist belt with your Nova. The DryFlo panel is designed to wick moisture away from your skin, making the bag more comfortable on all day hikes. Zippers are heavy duty, self healing zippers so that if you overload the bag like I do an pop a zipper you can fix it in a jiffy.
As part of the redesign Lowepro has included an integral rain cover that is stored in the front pouch. This cover pulls out of a zippered pocket to cover the top, front, sides, and bottom of the bag. The back is left open.
In short these are great bags. They hold up well, take an amazing amount of abuse, are reasonably priced, do a great job protecting you equipment, and look good doing it.
First of all I miss the film pouch. I don't use it all the time but it was a handy thing to have. But that's minor compared to the change in the design of the front pocket.
The old bag had what Lowepro called a no-drop pocket. It opens wide and allows you to cram a ton of stuff into that front pocket including a flash or even a spare camera body. You can do that because the zippers continue all the way down into the corners of the pocket. On the bag the pocket itself is much smaller on both the Nova 2 and Nova 4. The zippers don't extend all the way down and the rain cover is stored up inside the flap, which further crowds the interior of the front pocket (see photos). Making it seem still more cramped is the fact that the inside pouches are now flush instead of roomy as they were in the previous design. So you can forget about using them for things like a cable release.
One of the great features of these bags is that when working you can leave the top zipper undone and the zippers for the front pouch partially open and just keep the bag secured with the single front snap closure. That allows you to open the bag and fish out your gear with one hand by feel, without the necessity of looking into the bag.
On the new design the utility of that single closure has been drastically reduced. It's now a fixed non-adjustable strap, where the old design had a long adjustable strap. That allowed you to overload the front pocket, or load a lens with a long tele-photo, (such as the 80-400VR or Canon 100-400IS) and still close the top securely. The short fixed strap means you can't with the new design.
To make up for some of the lost room inside the pouch a zippered pocket has been added on the outside of the flap. But the disadvantage of that pocket is that you have to go through a zipper to get into it and anything in the pocket has no protection and is located in a place where it will constantly get banged.
A better place for the rain cover would have been the bottom of the bag or even a zippered pouch on the back of the bag under the waist straps. For me the changes in the front closure and front pocket design really take something away from the utility of a great series of bags.