Wotancraft Messenger (City Explorer)
Last updated December 8, 2016
This is a full review of the "Messenger" camera bag 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. Unlike the former, which is more utilitarian and has a decidedly WWII aesthetic, the latter is more upscale - made entirely of black and/or brown leathers with royal purple velveteen interiors. True to the definition below, the black leather of the Urban Classic line has a rich black color that's highly grained with a glossy sheen. In the photos below, we kept the exposure a bit on the bright side so that you can see all of the details and texture of the leather.
The Messenger is among the smallest of the bags in the Wotancraft lines, even smaller than the Scout, as it is designed as a nimble photojournalist's bag. One you'd choose when heading out with a camera and two (or three) lenses. Throw in a cell phone and wallet, perhaps - and you're done. If you're a chronic over-packer or just want to hit the town unencumbered, this bag is the one you want. Being of the City Explorer line, it's primarily constructed of tough, durable canvas and leather - able to withstand just about anything.
The specifications (via Wotancraft) for the bag are:
- Capacity : 1 APS-C DSLR or mirrorless camera body, 2 lenses and accessories
- Size (Exterior) : 39(W) x 12(D) x 23(H) cm
- Size (Interior) : 26(W) x 10(D) x 19(H) cm
- Strap Length : 100~112 cm
- Outer Bag Material : W.A.L composite waxed canvas
- Inner Bag Fabric : Microfiber with three dividers
- Weight : ± 1.3 kg
The bag itself isn't tossed into a plastic bag for shipping. Oh no. It has its own black "cotton dustproof bag" to match the charcoal black of the bag. 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. 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.
The bag is made primarily of their W.A.L. canvas, standing for its three main virtues; water resistant, abrasion resistant and lightweight. Having tested several of their bags in this material, it's definitely true. This is some seriously robust material. The main flap is made from a rather thick flap of cowhide leather, in black. As it is new, it's fairly stiff - but with use will soften up and break-in considerably. It covers the entire top of the bag and then some (on the ends) which will provide plenty of cover against the elements.
Looking at the bag from the front - you'll note that it's a clean, simple, messenger style bag. There's nothing that particularly jumps out, giving away that it's a camera bag. There's nothing that would catch on clothing - either yours or someone elses's in a crowd.
This simple, yet elegant closure is the only way of securing the flap closed on the bag. It can be handled one-handed easily. When new, it's a bit difficult to properly catch, but it quickly and continually breaks in, making it a breeze. While it's not the most secure method, it aligns with the intended design; fast access for shooting on the go. It's more than secure enough to ensure it doesn't open accidentally, certainly.
The "killer feature" of the bag, if you will, is what they call the "zipperless closure system" and works as advertised... The leather flap lifts up, which in turn lifts up the inside flap of W.A.L. canvas (they're snapped together). Two pairs of strong magnets (which are featured on their other bags as well) pull apart and the main compartment is open for business. If you choose to, you can fold the outer leather flap down between the bag and your body and just work with the inside flap - great for working out of the bag on the go. Here's a shot of the dual flap design from the inside:
And here's a closeup of the magnets that keep the inside closed up. No zippers to slow you down, get in the way or mar equipment when quickly accessed. Don't worry about it not being secure, as the outside strap will securely close up the bag.
A better look at the front pocket gives you an idea of the size; the depth is rather shallow, however. You can stash a phone or wallet here, lens caps or SD cards and maybe a battery - but not much more.
Looking at the back, you can see an exterior pocket that runs the width of the bag. It doesn't have a closure of any sort, for fast access. If this were a larger bag, I'd probably want to see a more "travel friendly" pocket; one with a secure zipper, perhaps. But it's a bag made to be used in the field by photojournalists, therefore this pocket is for things like a field journal, where quick access is key.
In this more direct look at the rear of the bag, you'll note the Wotancraft logo, displayed discretely on a small leather tag. Its embossed, "black on black" look is most welcome as it won't attract attention and when the bag is worn, isn't even visible.
The bottom of the bag is fairly straightforward and essentially featureless, but it sports the same heavy duty black cowhide leather as the flap.
The inside of the bag can be configured however you'd like using the four provided dividers. Two have a flap that folds over, and one does not. This readily supports your typical "camera w/lens facing down" configurations, among others. Depending on the lens mounted and size of another - you can stack them here. The bag is deep enough for two fairly normal lenses. If you places the dividers more or less centered, you can easily stash two more; one on either side.
The dividers are made of a truly soft, plush microfiber materials that's extremely Velcro friendly. It has a tenacious grip, despite only having the "hook" side strips going across the inside, horizontally.
While the inside of the bag is roomy enough for gear, it includes a nice, padded pocket in the back - that's the full height and width of the bag. It's designed to hold a 9.5" Apple iPad (or similarly sized tablet). It slides in and out with ease, and you can be confident that it's protected nicely within.
These beefy buckles with reinforced leather pads are where the shoulder strap attach to the bag. There's absolutely no fear of failure here (or with the strap) as both are very robust.
The strap is a fairly standard Wotancraft style; adjustable from 100-112cm with a beefy, non-slip shoulder pad. The hardware is impressive and finished with an antiqued look.
In this closer detail of the strap's shoulder pad edge, you can get a sense of the quality in workmanship. Not a loose thread or crooked stitch anywhere. The rubbery, grippy material used on the underside of the shoulder pad (and found on all their straps) is really quite nice and the bag doesn't slip off your shoulder.
Here, you can get a sense of scale of this bag. It's designed to comfortably hold a camera with lens, along with two others to the side - if the gear is small, such as a Leica system. Naturally, larger systems will cut that number down to a camera and lens and maybe one additional lens. It really comes down to how you layout the bag with the included dividers.
The configuration is flexible but definitely does force you to make some hard decisions on lenses to bring along. This is not a bad thing! For the main compartment, access was super easy thanks to the magnetic closure of the main flap. This was much appreciated when out shooting. There's not too much else to add as far as actual use, really - the only other main features are pockets front and rear. The bag performed wonderfully and "does what it says on the tin." A great bag to grab for those jaunts where you don't want to be bogged down.
Made primarily from thick, heavy cowhide leather and W.A.L. canvas, this bag will break in beautifully, take heavy wear in stride and become a trusted companion. The details are well thought out and the craftsmanship such that there is not a single stray thread, crooked seam or other blemish to be found anywhere. This bag should easily last a lifetime, if not a couple - and rest assured that should the materials or workmanship fail, it's backed up by a three year warranty.
This bag is just what the doctor ordered to cure us of our heavy bag carrying ways and we highly recommend the Wotancraft Messenger! You can pick yours up from the Wotancraft Atelier website!