Chrome has got one stellar reputation for building messenger bags, backpacks, packs and bags with ridiculously tough construction that lasts. Chrome is a skilled veteran bag maker, that much we know of. Chrome recently released a series of three new camera bags under the Niko name comprised out of a small sized sling, a medium sized messenger bag and the biggest and baddest of them all - the Niko Camera Pack. Oh, don't mind the sliced up Niko pack above... Last we reviewed one of Chrome's packs, the Bravo rolltop laptop backpack, we came away thoroughly impressed by the overall quality and ingenuity behind its thoughtful construction geared for cyclists who think owning a car is out of the question. Need to carry your camera gear around in comfort no matter what the weather is like outside? Our review could help point you in the right direction.
Chrome's Niko Camera Pack is One of the better designed camera backpacks of today
At first I wasn't very fond of the Niko's style and thought it was very basic and bland. But the more I used it and spent time with it, I realized that its got a professional aspect and inconspicuous stealthy styling that I think is very fitting for a camera bag. It hides its camera bag identity very well unless of course you strap on a tripod, which you totally can by the way. The Niko Camera Pack isn't exclusive to DSLR cameras, it can also adapt to store video equipment. Although it's safe to say that most consumers already use DSLR cameras to shoot video anyway.
It retails for $180, and by today's standards Chrome's Niko Camera Pack is competitively priced and even rocks a better looking design than most of the camera backpacks you'd find from top names with the same gear capacity capabilities. By comparison, camera backpacks from Think Tank and Lowepro are poorly styled and are just plain ugly, and lack the same urban adrenaline Chrome's Niko Camera Pack presents. Unless however, you consider Incase's beautifully designed DSLR Pro Pack. It roughly has the same large volume capacity as the Niko Camera Pack, but it also lacks the durability and weatherproofing.
If you think you'll find me listing a list of negatives about the Niko Camera Pack you'd be disappointed; because it's really hard to fault this pack. Certainly there are those camera mogul brands out there like Think Tank and Lowepro, but I honestly think Chrome has got it right from a backpack stand point and the camera gear carrier part of it has fallen into place quite nicely I should say.
Build quality is without a shadow of a doubt excellent. There's a mixture of metal and strong nylon plastic hardware throughout including the ever so easy to use metal shoulder strap adjustment cam lock buckles. Nothing too surprising here as far as Chrome bags are concerned. The Niko Camera Pack's exterior shell is made using a weatherproof denier nylon, a material known for its strength and durability and is widely used for quality camera bags.
In fact, this entire pack is fully weather resistant, the first important feature you should look for and that is a must in camera bags. Your gear is crucial and very expensive, and not everyone is fortunate enough to own fully weather sealed camera bodies and lenses. Other gear like external flashes aren't weather sealed as far as I'm aware - not to mention your laptop, tablet and headphones. The interior is fully protected using military grade trapuline liner to keep moister out.
You'll find two zippered compartments on this bag which are separated into two individual modules. The "top-loader" compartment is like the lid of the Niko Camera Pack, and it's designed deep and wide enough to store anything from an iPad mini to a pair of folded over-ear headphones - or both at once with plenty of room to spare good for a small portable speaker like the JBL Flip - or one rolled-up medium to large sized windbreaker I'd say. This top-loaded compartment is set at an sloping angle, so larger things would fit towards the back side.
The laptop compartment is hidden amongst the black interior, and is also accessible thru the top opening where you could slide in your 15-inch, 13-inch or 11-inch Retina/MacBook Pro/Air. One thing to note is that this compartment sits closest to the back of the pack where it's well padded, but opposite to it, there's no real padding added to the thin wall separating the large camera gear from the laptop compartment.
Little things like memory cards and spare batteries can be organized and tucked inside the interior mesh pocket. Generally your small essential items such as your phone and laptop accessories would go into this top compartment.
Little did I know, you could access your camera gear compartment thru the top opening where you can unzip the floor in order to gain access to the bottom portion of the pack. I don't see much use for this if you've got things taking up space in the top compartment. Moving items just to unzip the floor doesn't make much sense. It's a welcome option nonetheless.
Something that I found surprising is that there aren't any exterior pockets to be found on this camera bag which is also why it looks like a black block. Accessing the main camera compartment can be done in two different ways. Before you can fully unzip and flip open the camera compartment flap, you'll have to unclip both of the straps. The entire flap opens up very wide giving you full unobstructed access to the corrugated interior.
The second option is great if you don't need to gain full access to all of your gears. Alternatively, you can also set up a left/right quick access configuration to the side of the main camera compartment using the dual zippers without having to unclip the plastic straps which are designed specifically for this configuration as well as added security.
The interior camera compartment is pre-configured to fit three wide angle/prime lenses in the middle with two long side spaces for telephoto lenses. It isn't the ideal setup for a DSLR body with an attached lens, but you would of course want to rearrange these padded interior dividers to fit your desired camera gear setup that you feel most comfortable working with. While there are a number of possibilities, Chrome suggests you can fit in a DSLR body with a standard 18-55mm lens as well as a 55-300mm telephoto lens comfortably with room to spare for a flash or two. As anyone with past experience would know, customizing the interior dividers to perfectly fit your liking isn't an easy job. Some might even say it requires being good at playing Tetris.
Should you need to carry a full arsenal of lenses, you could easily fit in any medium to full frame DSLR including one with a battery grip attached to it and still have room for an arrangement of 4 prime lenses or 3 telephoto zoom lenses. A D7100 body with a short 40mm lens or a longer 18-105mm lens attached to it fits in nicely after rearranging the pre-configured interior dividers. There's also plenty of soft interior lining and padding to protect your camera gear as you would expect. The one thing that Chrome lacks is having not included additional dividers to help customize the interior even more because the two long shallow dividers aren't very helpful.
Chrome claims to have designed this pack for street photographers, and while I can see the urban design in it, I honestly cannot see the usefulness of that as oppose to using a shoulder bag with an easier to use flap opening. Having two zippers does let you open one side of the camera compartment if you want to reach in for your camera quicker, but it doesn't feel as intuitive to unzip the heavy weather-resistant zipper. I would have loved it if Chrome integrated a Velcro side flap opening for quicker camera access complete with Velcro silencers similar to how Think Tank does it.
While the Niko Camera Pack is relatively flat and with no exterior pockets to store little goodies, the interior camera compartment flap is riddled with two rows of a zippered grid featuring little organized "fish net" pockets where you can put in your batteries, memory cards and filters. A larger middle Velcro secured pocket can store things like cables and even a small light reflector.
You can attach a rather large tripod onto the back using the two Velcro straps intended for either tripod, cardboard photo print tubes or skateboard harnessing. Works like a charm.
Without any gear, the Niko Camera Pack weighs 3.4 pounds (1.5kg) which atributes to its durable materials. It measures 18" tall by 11" wide at a depth of 8", and has a 23L volume capacity on paper. It isn't any bigger nor smaller than a typical backpack, only that it was obviously designed as a camera gear transporter. Carrying all of your gear inside the Niko Camera Pack feels like a small drop in the ocean because of how comfortable it is when strapped on top of you back. The shoulder straps are lightly padded, yet have enough support that's required to properly sit the backpack on your person.
Typical with Chrome backpacks, the Niko Camera Pack features a lovely padded arrangement made out of EVA foam with vented channels that help circulate air trapped against your back so you sweat less. Aside from that, it makes the backpack a lot more comfy and supportive against your back. I'd say it's the most comfortable camera backpack I've tested so far.
But there is one little nuisance that I've found. And I know I've mentioned I won't be noting down negatives about this pack because it's just so damn good, but I would like to note that I really hated the positioning of the sternum strap. If you're like me, you like wearing your pack down low. And that means the sternum (chest area) strap sits high right near your neck and it literally chokes you when the bag is filled with gear. It's positioned way too high for me to personally use it unless I wear the pack a lot tighter above my usual comfort zone, and that's a shame. Adjusting this is a matter of simply tightening the shoulder straps which will bring the Niko Camera Pack up higher against your back. With that being said, it's still the most comfortable camera backpack I've used.
The Niko Camera Pack does what it was designed for and does it handsomely well
All in all Chrome's Niko Camera Pack is one outstanding, well put together backpack that can protect and carry loads of camera gear including a 15-inch MacBook Pro comfortably and in urban-focused, stealthy style. And like all Chrome bags, the Niko Camera Pack is covered by a lifetime guarantee warranting the construction against any defects so long as they weren't caused by reasonable wear and tear. The Niko Camera Pack offers a compelling proposition to any pro and novice photographer alike looking to get out there rain or shine, and armed to the teeth with the right equipment. The $180 price is steep, but not steep enough to refrain from highly recommending it.
But if you want to travel light and need ultra-quick access to your camera as if it were holstered on your belt, I'd look into going with a shoulder bag such as the Think Tank Retrospective series if you like a clean and functional contemporary design. Chrome doesn't quite have the right type of shoulder bag I can recommend instead of the Retrospective series or even some of Lowepro's shoulder bag offerings I'm afraid.