Wotancraft Avenger (City Explorer 005)
Last updated November 30, 2014
This is a full review of the "Avenger" camera bag, which is part of the City Explorer line by Wotancraft Atelier. You might be asking yourself - who? They're relatively small; four people in fact - and located in Taiwan. Their name is a bit misleading but entirely international. "Wotan" is German for Odin - the Norse god and "Atelier" is French for workshop. True to the name, each product that they offer is handmade by the artisans themselves.
They actually make a variety of products, but the camera bags encompass two lines - City Explorer and Urban Classic - and they also make several accessories for them. What they all have in common is a similar sense of style - which is vintage, leathery and entirely WWII era. Think of a comfortable old bomber jacket and cross it with an ammo pack and you'll get an idea of what to expect. The materials are primarily leather and waxed canvas, coming in a "military spectrum" of colors (that is grey and brown). They are all of a high quality. The leather is soft and supple, the canvas tightly woven and water resistant.
Another thing that all Wotancraft Atelier camera bags all have in common (especially as you go up in size) is that they have more features and smart design elements packed in per square inch than you can shake a stick at. It almost seems that every time you check out the bag, you discover something new. They're all really well thought out, and it shows.
Note that in mid-2014, Wotancraft Atelier made some changes to their bags; notably adding a lightweight insert and improved W.A.L. canvas. This review covers these changes as they apply to the Avenger (City Explorer 005) camera bag. See the linked article for a more in-depth look at the specific changes.
The Avenger is sized right in between the Scout and the Ranger bags (see links for our full review of each!). That is, it is a mid-sized bag - and offers features from both the smaller Scout and larger Ranger.
The specifications (via Wotancraft) for the bag are:
- Capacity : Two basic SLR bodies, three lenses and accessories
- Size (Exterior) : 35(W) x 16(D) x 26(H) cm
- Size (Interior) : 29(W) x 11(D) x 22(H) cm
- Strap Length : 90~130 cm
- Notebook Compartment Inner Dimensions : 12" Laptop, 13" MacBook Air/MacBook Pro Retina
- Outer Bag Fabric : Vegetable tanned leather (sheepskin front flap, cowhide straps)
W.A.L (Wear resistant, Abrasion resistant, Lightweight) canvas
- Inner Bag Fabric : Lightweight fabric, high-density foam padding, four microfiber dividers
- Weight : 1.125(Outer Bag); 0.41(Inner Bag); 0.255(Strap) kg
The bag itself isn't tossed into a plastic bag for shipping. Oh no. It has its own "cotton dustproof bag" tied together with black rope. There is nothing cheap feeling here and you just get the distinct impression that you're unveiling a high-end leather good. From the initial unboxing to exploring the bag itself and its many features, subtle touches and smart design elements, the excitement level remains high. The smell of leather permeates the air. Rather than a large logo - medallion or silk screened on - there's instead a discreet, embossed leather tag sewn onto the bag. Going into this, we're already impressed. It's just a cool looking bag with nice, eco-friendly packaging. The style might not be everyone's cup of tea - there's clearly a WWII aesthetic happening... From the name to the color scheme to the overall design and individual touches.
The dustproof bag is heavy duty and can be used on its own as a sort of tote or storage bag; though it lacks proper handles (which they used to have) you can use the rope. Either way, it makes the typical plastic bag found wrapped around most camera bags appear simply bourgeois by comparison.
Looking at the front and back sides of the Avenger, you can clearly see the military/WWII inspired design aesthetic. It looks pretty much unlike any other camera bag on the market, especially with the straps curiously going through the main flap (more on this later). The canvas has changed as of mid-2014 as compared to the previous "paraffin-infused" canvas. It is now much lighter, less waxy looking and feels more like canvas. Wotancraft Atelier calls it W.A.L. canvas, standing for its three main virtues; water resistant, abrasion resistant and lightweight. Whatever you choose to call it, it's a handsome, rugged material that is indeed lightweight. It is also most definitely water resistant, as we tested it! The leather is brown and distressed/antiqued looking, and remains unchanged for the update.
If we had one "negative" going into this review (and honestly, it's the only gripe, period) - it's the fact that there's no zippered pocket on the back of the bag. We like this feature, such as found on Think Tank Photo "Retrospective" bags, because it's the easiest, fastest and most reasonably secure place to stash travel documents such as a passport and boarding card. Like the Ranger however, there is a large zippered pocket located right under the main flap (which can be moved out of the way easily, for the most part). We checked, and both a U.S. passport as well as the slightly wider E.U. passports just fit.
Each side of the bag features a decently sized pocket - large enough for an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport or Sekonic L-208S light meter for example. Or you can use them to stash things like batteries, lens caps, etc. Anything you need quick access to. They're not padded - but they are water resistant due to the W.A.L. canvas. They're closed with a snap. Above the pocket, you can see the wide leather trim/reinforcement to which a heavy-duty D-ring is looped, sewn in and riveted for good measure. In between the two is a small leather loop for lashing accessories.
With a Leica M9 in the shot for scale, you can see that the Avenger appears to be a roomy bag indeed. Seemingly a bit on the tall side, it's actually the perfect height for Leica (and other) rangefinder gear. You can stand a body (with lens mounted) vertically in the middle - which is the precise height of the two main dividers. This leaves you with a bit more room - 6.4cm (2.5") above to put things like a lightweight jacket, snacks or other things as you might when traveling. You could of course also put the camera in with the lens facing downwards, resting on the flaps - useful if you have a large and/or long lens mounted - or so you can store another at the bottom.
Depending on how you lay out your bag - you can either store a lens to either side of the camera - or using the other two other dividers provided and placing them at a 45º diagonal (as in the picture below) which allows you to store two small-medium sized lenses on either side. Or you could just do this on one side, leaving room for something like a Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH lens on the other (which is how we like to roll). The possibilities are really only limited to your imagination, and everyone's needs are different. You could even stash three bodies (with lenses mounted) vertically if you wanted to, using only two dividers.
If you prefer the mirrorless option, you could fit a tricked out Fujifilm X-T1 system in the Avenger. For example, a Fujifilm X-T1 with optional Vertical Battery Grip fitted, lens mounted - could lay lens-down in the middle - with a lens to either side. If you happened to choose the 10-24mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms for example, you'd have a camera body and every focal length from 10mm to 200mm covered - with room for all the "stuff" like batteries, SD cards, flash, filters and more.
Unsnapping the straps and opening the main flap reveals a large zippered pocket that spans the width of the bag. Great for storing thinner items, such as travel documents, batteries, SD cards and things you need quick access to. It's not padded, but it is water resistant thanks to the W.A.L. canvas. It doesn't secure to the bag in any way, so it's quickly moved out of the way to gain access to...
...Two more, medium-sized pockets. They have not one, but two zippers each. This way you can open them like regular pockets with the flap opened up - but also from the sides of the bag when the flap is closed! This is such a simple idea, but also incredibly useful. Furthermore, to prevent accidental opening of the zippers, each pull has a leather tab with a snap on it - which can be snapped closed and secured to the bag. Brilliant thinking and design on both these aspects. They too are not padded, but are water resistant, again thanks to the W.A.L. canvas.
Taking a step back now, and opening up the top flap of the bag - reveals another hidden feature. The top flap can be folded in half and held in such a position by four hidden magnets! They're sewn into place inside the flap and have a strong attraction. They shouldn't come apart and frustrate you during normal use. This allows you quick access without having the bag wide open. It also serves another purpose...
...To take advantage of a great feature that the Avenger shares with its big brother, the Ranger. You may have noticed that the bag's two straps run through the top flap. Well, this is why... You can slide the main flap up alongside these straps, and with the inside flap folded in half (and held that way, thanks to the magnets) - you can gain fast, easy and full access to the bag's contents! When you're done grabbing what you need, just pull down on the outside flap and the bag's closed up again. This is great for frequent access, perhaps in bad weather - without having to unzip things, snap open straps and what-not.
If you do not wish to have such easy access to the contents, say for example - if you're roaming the back alleys or bustling streets... You can zip up the top of the bag and also adjust the main bag straps a little tighter, which hinders its easy sliding. Or, loosen them up a fair amount and be able to securely store a light jacket or tripod - safely lashed to the top of the bag!
Obviously, you can open the top flap completely, whether or not it's folded in half. Being soft and pliable, it folds completely open against the back of the bag - giving you full, free access to the roomy interior. This is fantastic, as it allows you to comfortable work out of your bag, and also makes lens changes a lot easier when you don't have to fight with your bag. You could easily leave it wide open this way and shoot comfortably as the flaps, etc. are also thin. In fact, if you really wanted to - you could fold both the top of the bag and the bag's main flap/straps inside the bag (between the outside and insert) to make them virtually disappear!
One note about the main bag zipper... Rather than have one zipper that goes around the entire outside, it's fitted with two, that zip together in the middle. If you leave a little space between them, a leather tab from the inside can be folded out between them, as seen above. Why? Another feature, of course! When you pull up and back on the tab, it pulls the two zippers open - speeding access to the inside of the bag. Even when the bag (especially the zippers) are new - the action is fairly fast and smooth... It will only get better as it breaks in.
Unlike the Ranger, which has pen loops and elastic sub-pockets in the larger, rear pocket - the Avenger has one specifically made for only a laptop/tablet, which is padded completely. While you can stash a laptop in the Ranger, along with your pens, notepads and other things - it is a shared space between the items and not quite as padded. The Avenger has a smartly designed flap which allows it to be cleanly tucked in and out of the way, should you choose to do so for faster access.
Our favorite thing about this laptop pocket? It fits our travel laptop of choice - a 13" Apple MacBook Air! Because of this, and the fact that the Avenger is a bit smaller in overall size, and correspondingly lighter in weight - it may just become our new personal favorite as a travel bag! Surprisingly it can even hold up to a 13" MacBook Pro Retina.
The other pocket is up front, non-padded, zips up with a small flap - and is fairly smaller overall - smaller than the pocket on the flap just outside. Useful for things you want to keep secure and/or dry - such as your wallet or cell phone. As you can see, the flap does not tuck into the pocket, unlike most other flaps on this bag. The reason for this is to cover all parts of the zipper, to protect your gear. Of course, you can also stash a variety of larger, flat items in between the bag and insert as well - such as magazines and paperwork.
That covers the main parts of the bag. But wait - there's more! It wouldn't be a Wotancraft Atelier bag if it didn't come with lots of trick design ideas and features, and the Avenger does not disappoint. As the saying goes, "it's the little things" and there are plenty to discover.
For example, the "snap loops" for the side pockets. Normally, you'd have to push the outer side of a snap against the other half on the bag to close it. This is sometimes frustrating. What Wotancraft Atelier has done, is they used leather to make a sort of snap loop on the outside of the pocket - and as you can see in the picture above - leaves room for a finger behind it. This helps to align the snaps halves and make snapping it closed a breeze!
Each new Wotancraft Atelier bag comes with their signature "military ordnance tag" which reads in big, bold letters - "REMOVE BEFORE ADVENTURE." Prior to the mid-2014 changes, only certain bags came with this. Also attached is a leather logo tag. Both are fastened via a large, round split ring and heavy duty clip - for use as a keychain, if you'd like.
The shoulder strap, as mentioned - can be adjusted on each side (so as to keep the shoulder pad centered) from 90-130cm. On each end is some serious, all-metal hardware. Heavy-duty, smooth-working clips attach securely to each side of the bag, and swivel a full 360º around. Should the strap ever twist around, it's super easy to fix.
The bag's straps snap closed with a single snap, which is hidden behind them. At a casual glance, the straps appear to be a belt and buckle, but that can be slow and tedious. The belt is functional however, and the straps can be adjusted as-needed, depending on how much gear you've packed. This keeps the bag as tight and compact as possible - or as mentioned earlier, allows you to loosen them up to stow a lightweight jacket on top. Smart.
Looking a bit further out at the outside corner, you can see how the bag's straps run through the top flap to allow the slide-up access that we mentioned earlier. You can also see the neat, layered appearance of the flaps in general, the clean and precise stitching and the heavy-duty hardware used. Notice how even the pass-through hole for the strap is sewn for reinforcement. There's a leather patch underneath the flap as well, ensuring it can take plenty of use and abuse.
Looking under the first flap at the inside corner, you can get a better view of the two medium-sized, double-zippered pockets under the inside flap. Located on the bottom, you can see the snap on a leather tab for the bag's two main straps. By locating the inside half of the snap on a leather tab, it's easier to align and snap them closed (much like the side pocket snaps).
Upon closer inspection, notice how each zipper pull secures with a small, additional snap to prevent accidental opening. You'll notice that there is one in the middle of the bag and one to the side (where it can be accessed when the bag secured). You can also get a better view of the main bag snap here.
Finally, the last feature we'd like to mention is the hand carrying strap. Made of the same leather as used elsewhere on the bag, it's nicely finished and robust. It sits flush against the bag's flap so as to be out of the way as much as possible, but if you don't care for it - it can be removed. There's a screw stud at each end that can be undone, opening the strap ends to facilitate this. Though honestly, unless you're trying for the cleanest look or lightest weight possible - leave it on. It's totally out of the way and very useful to have when you need it.
In the picture above you can also see the Wotancraft logo on a leather patch, which is sewn onto the back of the bag - and thus very discreet. This is the only logo or branding visible on the outside of the bag, which is both tasteful and welcome. Between this and the overall look of the bag, really, one would be hard-pressed to see this as a camera bag. And that's a Good Thing(TM). Kudos to Wotancraft Atelier.
Some final notes. There are four loops on the bag - one above each of the two side pockets and two on the bottom of the bag - which you can use to attach accessories, or lash additional bulky items such as a tripod (to the bottom) of the bag. All hardware, such as rings, snaps, buckles and clips are finished in the same antiqued metal. It is extremely heavy duty. All zippers are metal, robust and have leather pulls. They'll wear in wonderfully and should provide years of trouble-free service. The shoulder strap adjusts on both ends, from 90-130cm, and includes a wide, shaped pad. It's leather on one side, and a non-slip, rough, rubbery material on the other. It has two D-rings for attaching accessories, or perhaps keys. Finally the outside bottom corners are wrapped in leather - to provide hard-wearing abrasion resistance and, well, good looks.
Previously, all Wotancraft City Explorer bags only offered the option of a waterproof insert. A killer feature of the bags, without a doubt. As part of the mid-2014 updates, a new option is offered - and called the lightweight insert. Essentially the same high-density foam padding, only without the outer waterproof shell.
|Lightweight insert||Waterproof insert|
You can't go wrong with either option. There's something very reassuring about the waterproof insert, knowing that you can travel anywhere, under practically any conditions - and know that your gear is safe and dry inside. Trekking through a wet rainforest? In the cold, blowing snow? Even a dusty, dry desert... You're covered. You could even go out on a boat or kayak and know that if your bag fell overboard, the contents would not only stay dry - but the bag would float! Of course, this option comes at a (surprisingly) small price; it's a bit heavier than the lightweight insert (thus the name) but also a bit stiffer, overall. It feels a tad bulkier inside the bag.
For most of us, and most situations, the lightweight insert is the way to go. As the name implies, it's light in weight yet still provides ample protection via high-density (and low thickness) foam padding. It's basically the innards of the waterproof insert, sans the hovercraft-grade material with seam-sealed construction and waterproof zippers. Overall, it's soft and cushioned. The top opens via two flaps. Why two? Two reasons come to mind. The first, so that you can fold each half in between the bag and insert for wide-open access to your gear. The second, so that you could close it up for up-top padding, for the ultimate protection. If you have only a little bit of kit, you can fold one flap over the other for an even thinner bag profile!
One thing both inserts have in common is the interior. It is a super-plush microfiber interior that's wall-to-wall, as are the dividers - ensuring that you can layout your bag however you see fit. Some of the competition, such as the aforementioned Think Tank Photo "Retrospective" bags, utilize a smooth nylon material on some of the walls and dividers, which really limits your options. And a note on the Velcro... It's some seriously grippy stuff. Seemingly more than usual. If you place a divider, rest assured - it's not going anywhere.
Of course, should you decide to only have the camera around your neck for the day - you can remove either insert completely and be left with an incredible useful shoulder bag to hold your jacket, lunch, or... Diapers.
Wotancraft Atelier's Avenger bag might just be the perfect (or darn close) travel bag. It holds more than the Scout and offers more features - yet isn't as large as the Ranger - which can hold everything and the kitchen sink. We've traveled extensively with the latter, and it has never failed us in any way. Though it did encourage overpacking of gear, and when fully loaded that way - can end up on the heavy side. There's also the fact that once you got to your destination and perhaps pared back some of that gear... You were still left with a large bag. The Avenger fits precisely in the middle; the so-called "goldilock zone" to borrow a popular vernacular.
As with all other Wotancraft Atelier bags, the Avenger is constructed beautifully and precisely (by hand!) of top-notch, premium materials. Nothing is crooked, or doesn't work as expected. Even the seams are spot-on perfect, without a stray thread to be found anywhere. The newly updated W.A.L. canvas of the bag is a smart refresh - offering the same (if not better) performance than the previous material, with less weight and less waxy a look. Then there's the leather. It's made to look distressed and antique, but is soft and supple. We would advise you to add additional waterproofing treatment (such as leather protectant or plain conditioner) however. Just like a pair of fine shoes, you want it to stay nice. Taken altogether, the smell that emanates from the bag is intoxicating.
We've tested several Wotancraft Atelier bags over the last couple of years - from all-out downpours, tropical heat to frigid snow - as well as the rigors of international travel and have never had any issues. These folks stand behind their products and are quick to answer emails, should you have any questions or concerns. The materials and workmanship are simply top-notch in every way. Therefore...
We highly recommend the Avenger by Wotancraft Atelier!
You can purchase your new Avenger bag with either the lightweight insert for $449 USD or the waterproof insert for $489 USD directly from Wotancraft Atelier directly or through one of their many dealers.