ONA The Berlin

Last updated March 12, 2014

Introduction

ONA primarily makes higher-end camera shoulder bags, messenger bags and backpacks but they also offer a variety of small goods. One such item is The Roma - which is a camera insert and bag organizer. We reviewed The Roma about a year ago. This time, we've got something very special for you. This review coincides with the worldwide release of this bag!

First, a little background. ONA has had a relationship with Leica since they were founded in June 2010. Their bags were sold in the very first Leica Store in Washington DC that opened in April 2012, and ONA bags are now sold in every Leica Store in the United States: New York, Miami and Los Angeles. They've collaborated with Leica at various events in New York City and were a co-sponsor for an event at Art Basel Miami in December of 2013. They were approached in early 2013 about creating a bag specifically for the M-System to celebrate 100 years of Leica photography; and had design input and production feedback from the team at Leica as they worked on the bag. This collaboration really shows and we'll delve into that below. The bag is described, in a nutshell, thusly:

The Berlin is a limited edition ONA bag designed for the Leica M-System. It is handcrafted with full-grain leather that will develop a rich patina over time. The signature Leica red interior is fully customizable, padded with premium closed-cell foam, and can accommodate one Leica M-System camera, two to three lenses, an iPad and small personal items. The Berlin also features a zipped organizer pocket, a convenient removable top-grab handle, antique brass buckles, red rivet accents, and a streamlined back pocket.

There are few other companies out there that have as much social media "buzz" as ONA. In fact, we can name only one - Think Tank Photo. So if you're a regular in certain Facebook, Google+ and Twitter circles you've probably seen at least one of their posts or (re)tweets. They're very active and likewise, very responsive to customers. In fact, they talk about them on their blog, Facebook and Twitter pages. They're a small, nimble company doing all the right things in the modern photography ecosphere. So, kudos to ONA for that.

Packaging

The Berlin comes shipped in a regular brown shipping box, but the contents are packaged very nicely. Snug in the box, there's no dead space. The Berlin itself is contained in a plastic bag, which is then neatly wrapped in a custom fabric bag. Also in the box is a small card...


...Which reads as follows:

THANK YOU FOR YOUR PURCHASE.

Marked by refined elegance and superior craftsmanship, your new ONA bag or accessory is designed to complement your life and your style. Whether you're photographing an afternoon at the park or a holiday on the Amalfi Coast, an exquisite wedding ceremony or an evening with friends, your new ONA bag or accessory promises to add a wealth of charm to the experience. We thank you for your purchase and hope that you enjoy using it as much as we enjoyed creating it.

There you have it. Nothing more, nothing less (nor is it needed). Efficient, relatively green packaging that's a little nicer than you might expect - yet not over the top. We'd rather pay for quality products than ritzy packaging any day. ONA has found a nice balance here and made the most basic, elegant.

Specifications

The specifications for the bag (via ONA) are:

  • Handcrafted with premium leather in "Vintage Bourbon" color
  • Signature Leica red accents (rivets) and interior
  • Four full-sized exterior pockets (front, back and sides)
  • Front pocket is zippered and has organizer features
  • Double-snap closure front flap with adjustable buckles
  • Room for a Leica M body with 2-3 lenses and a tablet
  • Detachable carry handle and strap
  • Exterior dimensions: 12.5"L X 10"H X 4.5"D
  • Interior dimensions: 11"L x 8.5"H x 3.5"D
  • Weight: 3.1lbs (1.4kg)

The Bag

The bag itself is a beautiful brown leather (which they call "Vintage Bourbon") that feels soft and supple, and has a nice thickness to it - and goes without saying, smells divine. The finish is fairly regular, but promises to break in and patina quite nicely. The cuts and stitching of the leather are precise and clean. All metal hardware is made of brass with an antiqued finish; none of the edges are sharp. The first hint that this is a special, Leica-oriented bag are seen on two of the rivets. The first on the strap of the front flap and the second on the shoulder strap... They're the signature Leica red. A subtle, but nice touch. The only branding or other identification is the embossed "ONA" logo on either side of the bag. Again, very subtle.

The flap is opened by depressing two snap-release buckles. They are adjustable on the leather straps to allow for more or less gear within the bag. Those that like to travel lean as well as chronic overstuffers each have an additional hole to adjust the flap to their liking. Once released and opened, the flap folds away like a typical messenger bag, revealing the plush interior. There are two wings on either end of the bag which will protect the contents from prying fingers or light rain and dust. Now you can also see the next clues of this bag's Leica-inspired origins. The fabrics are also in the signature Leica red. The underside/top of the flap in canvas, as well as the padded interior - which is completely covered in Velcro-friendly microfiber. This is great to see (as some bags only offer certain areas to which you can attach your dividers) as it allows for infinite customization. The padding is closed-cell foam and just the right thickness. It's not super-thick and bulky like some bags (e.g. Crumpler or Kata) yet not too thin or even non-existent (e.g. Domke) either.


ONA provides four matching dividers. Three are small, short ones for the main compartment, allowing for lenses and your camera body to be positioned precisely. The fourth and larger one is the size of the bag and forms a double wall in the back. This allows you to store a tablet such as an iPad - and is the intended purpose. If you don't wish to carry one, this divider is completely removable. Though it does provide a nice space that's secured inside the bag for thin items like SD card wallets, paperwork, manuals and cables.

Depending on how you lay out the interior, you can carry a body with or without a lens and two to three (even four; see below) additional lenses. This bag isn't meant to carry a great deal of gear, nor should you try to. It will however carry all the essentials for a day out in the city or when traveling.


Moving towards the front of the bag, you'll find a zippered pocket with organizer features. It's nearly the full size of the bag itself and contains two larger pockets, made of red canvas with leather piping for things like a cell phone, light meter or film and cables. There are also two smaller pockets of leather which will hold SD cards or batteries, cleanly and snugly. Finally, there are three pen loops, to always keep them handy - they fit a Sharpie snugly. The rest of this large pocket can hold your other items.


On the back side of the bag is another great feature, and frankly something we wish a lot of other bags had... Namely a large pocket in which you can stash your travel documents for quick access. This way you don't have to open and dig through the rest of the bag (which on some can be a tedious process - especially if you're an overstuffer). We might wish it were zipped, albeit only for additional security. However, in a stroke of style and genius, there's a hidden magnetic latch on this pocket! Easy to open and stash or retrieve its contents - let go and it'll snap closed by itself. Simple, invisible, wonderful.


On each end of the bag is a full (unpadded) leather pocket. They're open on top for quick access. While you won't be able to stuff a lot in there, they're great for batteries, cables, earbuds, glasses - or provided it's not too large or bulky, a cell phone. Things you might need quick or regular access to. They should break in (and stretch) nicely with regular use.

The bag is provided with a matching leather shoulder strap, which is adjustable for length on one side - which is quite long indeed, should you need it. It is non-removable. The leather is both thick and wide, and won't dig into your shoulder. To further that goal, there's a gently padded shoulder pad (which is free to move along the strap) with an anti-slip pad underneath. It too is non-removable. There are no sharp corners, stiff stitching or anything else that might irritate you while wearing something like say, a T-shirt. As mentioned earlier, there's a subtle red rivet on the shoulder pad as a cue to the bag's lineage and design.


There's also a detachable grab handle provided, which makes picking up the bag quick and easy, without relying on the shoulder strap. You can also use this grab handle as a loop to slide over your roll-on luggage's own handle for easy, effortless airport navigation. If you prefer to shave off a little bit of weight or go for a cleaner look around town - simply remove it via the two beefy clips on each end. A really nice option to have and we're glad ONA provided this. Between the grab handle and the easy-access back pocket, It makes The Berlin much more travel-friendly than most bags.



The last part of the bag, the bottom - is smooth leather. No rivets, no little feet (which are of questionable use anyway). This is a fine, upscale leather bag after all. Just pay attention when you put it down somewhere (like the ground or a table that might be wet or dirty). You wouldn't want to soak or otherwise damage the leather. Cleaning the bag can be done with a slightly damp rag or better yet, leather conditioner. In fact, a quick coat of impregnating/waterproofing spray might be a good idea if you expect frequent questionable weather.

In Practice


Finally the time came to load up the bag and put it to work. With careful planning in how you layout the dividers, you can actually fit a camera body and four lenses. While we try to keep it light with a three-lens spread of 28-50-90mm most of the time, it's nice to be able to throw one more - a 21mm - into the mix. So that's what we went with! We fit an M body, Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8 Ultron (with finder), Summilux-M 28mm f/2 ASPH (with stock hood), Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH and Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 lens in the main compartment. There's room to swap in a Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH if we chose to (which is as often as possible actually).

Also stuffed into the bag are lens tissues, cleaning solution and a brush, two spare batteries, a Think Tank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket (SD card holder), one Sharpie and one regular pen, a notepad, business cards, cellphone, glasses (in a case), earbuds and phone charger/USB cable. Even with all the goods stashed, we were able to easily tighten up the front straps a notch - and remove the grab handle - for a super-svelte around town setup. Put the grab handle back on and toss travel documents and a passport in back and you're off to the airport. Easy peasy.


"If it fits, it ships…" - USPS


Even loaded up, the bag is still very easy to carry. We're tipping the scale at just about 8lbs (3.6kg) with the gear mentioned above.

Working out of the bag is very easy as well. We laid it out with the camera facing downwards, so any length/width lens can remain fitted. With the camera around our neck (or in the hand), access to the other lenses is quick - they're held snugly in place and absolutely safe. The only lens this layout won't accommodate nicely is a 135mm; not that it can't - but we'd prefer a different layout to avoid any chance of contact/abrasion… As it will stick out beyond the ends of the dividers.

The Berlin reminds us of one of our other favorite bags - the Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5. But it's just a bit roomier, a bit stiffer with better padding (that's much more Velcro friendly for a better layout; something sorely lacking in the Retro 5) and of course, much more upscale.

Verdict

This bag is smartly designed, and specifically tailored for the Leica M (or other small camera) system - which shows. It is understated and elegant, not at all garish or over the top. The construction is clean with smooth cuts and exemplary stitching, with no exposed edges except on the straps, which are dressed. The hardware is all beefy brass with a toned-down, good looking and rugged antique finish. The zippered compartment is smooth to operate, and features a hand and gear friendly (non-marring) nylon zipper with a leather pull. The organizer features are excellent. Various other pockets are nice additions and both well-sized and situated.

Overall, the bag isn't too large nor too small - a very nice balance was struck (in our opinion) and able to carry a well-appointed kit for most situations. You won't be hauling all of your lenses nor will you be forced to choose between only a couple. While the height is dictated by the ability to carry a tablet, it doesn't make the bag overly deep, should you choose not to carry one. In fact, the way we laid out our bag, the height was just about perfect.

To sum up The Berlin by ONA... This is a nice bag, without doubt. From design to materials and construction - it's the perfect size with great design features, easily able to handle situations like traveling around town or the globe. The upscale leather is classy, the plush interior lovely. The understated good looks won't slap you in the face and blend right in anywhere. It should also break in quite nicely over time, which is a good thing as The Berlin seems like it will last a lifetime.

You can purchase The Berlin for $369 USD at ONA directly or though any U.S. Leica Store, such as Leica Store Miami.

Additional Images

The sell sheet with an overview of The Berlin:

Product Video

A snazzy promo video for the bag, featuring photographer Mark Mann from ONA:

Behind the Scenes

Check out the post on ONA's blog called "The Berlin: ONA x Leica Collaboration Bag" for a nice behind the scenes view of how this bag is made: