Wotancraft Ranger (City Explorer 002)

Last updated October 15, 2012


The outside might get wet - but not the inside!

Introduction

This is a full review of the "Ranger" 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 versions of a holster. 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 paraffin-infused canvas, with a variety of colors for both - mostly in the "military spectrum" (that is olive greens, browns and greys). They are all of a high quality. The leather is soft and supple, the canvas tightly woven and surprisingly heavy.

That high-end feeling comes at a bit of a price however. The price of this bag is $449 and is available in a NavyGrey/DarkBrown or the one reviewed here - ArmyGreen/RussetBrown combination (notice the military influence). Follow along as we show you why it's very much worth considering.

Specifications

The specifications (via Wotancraft) for the bag are:

  • Capacity : Pro SLRs X2, Lenses X2, Pro Flash X1, Accessories
  • Size (Exterior) : 40(W)X 18(D)X 30(H) cm
  • Size (Interior) : 35(W)X 15(D)X 24(H) cm
  • Strap Length : 90~130 cm
  • Notebook Compartment Inner Dimensions : 13″ Wide Screen
  • Outer Bag Fabric : Premium Genuine Leather, WXC-901 Waxed Canvas, High-Strength Metal Buckle, YKK Zippers
  • Inner Bag Fabric : Waterproof Mesh Fabric, High-Density Foam Lining, Flexible Microfiber, YKK Waterproof Zipper
  • Weight : 1.43(Outer Bag); 0.52(Inner Bag); 0.29(Strap) kg

The Bag

The bag itself isn't tossed into a plastic bag for shipping. Oh no. It has its own "cotton dustproof bag" tied together with strings. 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 a discreet, embossed leather tag sewn onto the back. 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. In fact, it would blend right in:


Camera bags tend to fall into one of three camps. One example is the very basic canvas layout of a classic Domke bag (with a padded insert - more on this later). Another is the typical highly-engineered, acutely designed bag that screams "camera bag." With all sorts of pockets and compartments and vast expanses of Velcro within. Finally there's the "high end" design of bags like Fogg or Billingham. Nice, quality bags no doubt - but rather "stuffy" and proper... A gentleman's bag you could say.

The Wotancraft bags encompass parts of all three. First, there's the sort of casualness of the Domke style canvas bags. Loose in form, comfortable - like an old pair of jeans. Inside is the more rigid insert with all the Velcro goodness you might need. But unlike the Domke, and more like the Lowe Pro "Dryzone" bags... The innermost vault is completely waterproof! It's nicely padded and entirely covered in soft micro Velcro inside, to which you can attach your dividers (four are provided). Finally, the bag features leather trim and touches that are high-end like Billingham, but not so staid and formal. More "worn" and broken in - distressed. And this is new! It will only become more "yours" with use.

A quick word on the size of the Ranger. It's a large bag - in fact, it's Wotancraft's largest City Explorer bag. At first glance you might think that it's way too large for your average rangefinder system. Yes and no. This is clearly a bag that you'd use primarily for travel, remote assignments or other gear-heavy situations. For this it's perfect. You can transport a well-equipped setup, a notebook such as the Apple 13" MacBook Air and all the trimmings - filters, film, batteries, etc. If your needs are simpler or you desire a more lightweight, svelte form - remove the waterproof insert and replace it with something lighter, like those from Domke or Artisan & Artist.


More on the waterproof insert and the bag itself. As you can see in the photo above, the insert is wet. We tested it with a good, repeated dousing from a hose. Checking the interior - not a drop of water to be found. In the images down below you can see the rest of the bag is soaked (complete with pools of water). During a rainstorm with frequent heavy downpours, the entire bag was exposed to the weather. While the leather got wet, the underlying paraffin-infused canvas shed water like a duck. And that's before it even got near the waterproof insert! Needless to say, anything zipped inside of the bag (especially the insert) is quite safe. Ideal for travel to potentially hazardous locations - from the jungle or desert to the beach and beyond on the open water.

You may come across an earlier "Mark I" version of the waterproof insert - whereas we're showing the latest or "Mark II" version here. The guys at Wotancraft are always keen to improve their product and this is one such example. The difference is essentially in the seams - the Mark II version is more sealed, being truly waterproof.

With some creative positioning of the four included dividers we were able to set up the bag with three main compartments. The first to hold four average M lenses (Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH, Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 and Tele-Elmar-M 135mm f/4), the second a body (with lens mounted) and the third compartment still free. In there you could stash another body with lens, film, a P&S and your phone or whatever else. If the bag were 2" (~5cm) lower it would be perfect - being able to hold an M body on end snuggly. But alas, to fit that notebook you need the height. C'est la vie. In any event, plenty of room for a robust setup that you'd need in a remote location without feeling crowded and overstuffed.

The bag has two small pockets on the outside, one on each end - which are a bit more exposed. A Sekonic L-308S light meter fits perfectly (and what we used one of them for, tying the lanyard through the unique leather loop for the snap button). Under the leather flap are two more, medium sized snap closure pockets and one large zipped pocket. You can fit an iPad into the latter. It's worth pointing out two cool features here. To get to your camera, you don't have to open or unzip anything if you don't want to. Just pull back on the leather flap (which rides up along the straps) to allow you to reach in and grab it at a moment's notice! If you prefer a bit more security, you can zip up the canvas flap of the bag... Either halfway, as it has magnets to hold it this position neatly - or you can zip it up completely leaving just a leather tab sticking out. One pull on the tab and the zippers part and the flap opens! Or, go for broke and zip up the waterproof insert as well... In which case nothing is getting in - or out.


Inside the bag, behind the waterproof insert is the space for your notebook as well as several sewn pockets for pens, a mini flashlight, pad of paper or lens tissue, cables and what-have-you. Made from a super soft cloth, it's very plush. Finally, on the inside, top part of the waterproof insert (which folds over, sitting vertically within the bag) is more Velcro which holds onto a two-compartment "netted" pouch. You can use this for filters, caps, adapters or whatever else you'd like.

In addition to the lenses mentioned above, the body with lens and light meter - we were able to additionally pack in an Apple 13" MacBook Air and charger, cleaning kit (brush, tissue and fluid), microfiber (on an outside loop), extra batteries and SD cards, several filters (color and Leica Universal Polarizer M), half a dozen rolls of film along with an M7 fitted with the Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH, a pen and pad, cell phone (and charger), travel documents and even a light snack and a magazine. This bag makes the ultimate road warrior or international traveller's companion. Fully packed like this it's not all that heavy - but we wouldn't want to carry it around all day either (maybe scale back a couple of lenses for that). Nevertheless, it was very comfortable and conformed well to the body. The guys at Wotancraft Atelier are working on accessory straps that turn the bag into a backpack.

One feature is a set of leather straps on the bottom of the bag, with which you can lash a tripod, jacket or other bulky item to the bag. A great thing to have, no doubt - but don't drag the bag across a good table! The buckles and hardware are somewhat sharp, and most definitely will scratch and gouge your good furniture and countertops. We're going to tie two leather shoestrings around the strap/buckle area (as bumpers) to prevent any... Issues. A nail file to the edges of the buckle roller ends might also do the trick. Otherwise, they work as designed and can add some valuable capacity. We mentioned this to the guys at Wotancraft and they promised to look into addressing this. Now that is classy customer support!

The Verdict

It's hard not to gush about it a bit, but this is one cool bag... Clearly on the large side but perfect for travel with all of your important stuff. Packed well you could grab it, a toothbrush and a towel (always travel with a towel) and be covered for anything, anywhere. The WWII era styling, high-end materials and excellent hand craftsmanship make for a "lifetime bag" and we have to say, we look forward to many years of breaking this lovely bag in on our travels around the globe. We'll update the review after we get back from Machu Picchu...

In Action

The bag in action - in this case, getting righteously drenched during a steady (if not heavy at times) rainstorm. The contents remained dry however!


The wide shoulder strap is heavy duty, comfortable to wear with light padding and non-slip.

The leather flap straps attach with two hidden snaps on each one and are adjustable in length.

The shoulder strap is adjustable on each end and attaches with heavy duty swivel clip hardware.

Under the flap are two open pockets with snaps and one zippered pocket (it can fit an iPad).

The canvas sheds water quite readily, but the leather gets a little damp. No worries inside though.

Four sewn-in magnets click together to hold the flap half-closed for increased security and protection.

A Closer Look

A closer look at the details on this bag under studio lighting. Here you can see the most accurate representation of the colors on both the leather and canvas materials. The workmanship on the bag is top notch - not a stray thread to be found anywhere.

Further Research

Wotancraft Atelier wotancraft.com
Wotancraft's Traveler's Notebook and City Explorer Camera Bag Review - Part 1 scription.typepad.com
Wotancraft's Traveler's Notebook and City Explorer Camera Bag Review - Part 2 scription.typepad.com
Bagged Another Bag! (Review of the Scout) fuzzyeyeballs.com
Wotancraft - City Explorer 002 Ranger aperturepriority.co.nz
Wotancraft Camera Bags group flickr.com