Wotancraft Scout (City Explorer 006)

Last updated September 2, 2013

Introduction

This is a full review of the "Scout" 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 - this bag runs $209 and is available in a ArmyGreen/RussetBrown or as the one reviewed here - a NavyGrey/DarkBrown combination (notice the military influence).

We were determined to give this bag a thorough, real-world testing. So we packed it to the gills with a quite decent load of gear and even fit an Apple 13" MacBook Air (yes it fit; see below), phone, chargers for both, an outlet converter and more - and hauled it to, from and around Europe for a while. Follow along as we show you why it's very much worth considering.

   

Specifications

The specifications (via Wotancraft) for the bag are:

  • Capacity : EVIL X1, Lenses X4, Accessories or DSLR X1, Lens X1, Flash X1, Accessories
  • Size (Exterior) : 33(W)X 14(D)X 23(H) cm
  • Size (Interior) : 30(W)X 10(D)X 20(H) cm
  • Strap Length : 90~130 cm
  • Notebook Compartment Inner Dimensions : iPad or 10" Notebook
  • 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 : 0.81(Outer Bag); 0.43(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.


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 Scout. It's a medium-sized bag - in fact, it's Wotancraft's smallest "true" City Explorer bag (the smaller ones are more for camera-only or really small systems). For a typical out-and-about set of gear, it's about the perfect size - similar to the Think Tank Photo "Retrospective 5" actually... Both in terms of overall size and capacity. In fact, this bag can hold a little more because of the bit of extra height and all Velcro-friendly interior (allowing more stacking and better divider organization). This is a bag that you can grab and go, filled with your core kit, regardless of weather conditions. For this it's perfect. You can transport a decently-equipped setup, plus an iPad or 10" notebook and accessories - 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, Artisan & Artist or the Ona "The Roma". The size of the latter is a nearly perfect fit that's far lighter and more flexible than the provided waterproof insert.



More on the waterproof insert and the bag itself. As you can see in the photo above (from the Wotancraft Ranger (City Explorer 002) review) 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 (small) main compartments. The first to hold a Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8 Ultron, 58mm ND filter and 21/25mm finder. The second a body and shorter lens (an M9 in a half-case with a Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH is a perfect fit) and in the third compartment we stashed two average M lenses (Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH, Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH, Elmarit-M 90mm f/2.8 or Tele-Elmar-M 135mm f/4) for example. If the bag were 1" (~2.5cm) lower it would be perfect - being able to hold an M body on end snuggly. But alas, to fit that iPad or notebook, you need every bit of that height. Because of this, if you really wanted to - you could stash two more lenses (one on either side) atop the others, if contained in pouches like the Micro Lens Pouch. This would make the bag fairly heavy, fully stuffed and compromise the ability to work out of it without a lot of on-the-fly juggling though. But it can be done.


The bag has two small pockets on the outside, one on each end - they have no flap or closure. In practice, these pockets were only usable to hold a battery (or two) or maybe a pair of earbuds on one side, your smartphone on the other. The access to one is hindered by a leather flap and ring located just above (which is used to attach additional stuff). Once these break in and stretch a little, they should work much better. Under the main flap are two more, medium sized (two-) snap closure pockets. These are the primary (and only) location for you to put all your accessories. The snaps are actually rather ingenious; attached to the bag with the leather strap (as seen in the above picture) allows you to slip a finger behind when snapping it closed, which is easy and efficient... You don't have to push against the bag trying to get it to snap (which we all know, can be hard at times).



To get to your camera, you don't have to unzip the outer canvas flap if you don't want to. Just pull back on it (which has a leather tab you can leave sticking out) to allow you to reach in and grab it at a moment's notice. One pull on the tab and the zippers part and the flap opens! The zipper will take some frequent use to wear and break in, making this easier over time. Or, you can go for broke and zip up the waterproof insert as well... In which case nothing is getting in - or out.



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 see-through pouch. You can use this for filters (up to 52mm), caps, adapters or whatever else you'd like... As long as they're not too large in diameter or too thick.

The inside of the bag is made from a super soft microfiber cloth, and it's very plush. In the back (behind the waterproof insert) is the pocket for your iPad/notebook. It's rated to fit up to a 10" notebook, but we found that we were able to fit an Apple 13" MacBook Air with no room to spare, quite literally - by foregoing the pocket and slipping it in between the waterproof insert and the bag itself. Being that this is our go-to travel notebook - it meant not taking a larger bag! The waterproof insert really has little give, and this made the bag rather taught as a result. It's also worth pointing out that neither area is located within the waterproof insert! This means that your iPad/notebook is not as protected as the rest of your gear. With the extra breathing room above the lens compartments to the side, we could easily fit the charger and outlet adapter, packed in a Micro Lens Pouch. If you're traveling and size is key, this bag can hold it all if necessary, with a little careful packing. On the opposite, front side of the bag is a medium sized, zippered pocket for small, non-bulky items (e.g. cable release, lens tissue, SD cards, etc. Both the front and back pockets are covered with a flap of the same fabric. A nice touch, and in case of the front zipper - prevents abrasion on the waterproof insert.



One the outside of the bag, the fabric is paraffin-infused canvas with leather straps, reinforcements and accents. The main flap closure straps are riveted to the bag as well as sewn, to provide extra strength and security. The hardware such as D-rings, clasps, etc. are all very heavy duty. The clasps at the ends of the strap rotate, making un-twisting it a cinch, and the shoulder pad is leather-wrapped light padding with a non-skid rubber surface underneath. All visible leather work and stitches are robust, straight and clean. There's not a stray thread to be found anywhere.

With (all but two of) the lenses mentioned above, the body with lens, Apple 13" MacBook Air and charger, cleaning kit (brush, tissue and fluid), microfiber (on an outside loop), three batteries, charger and plug, a half dozen SD cards, a couple of filters, viewfinder, a pen and pad, iPhone, earbuds and charger - it all fit. Fully packed like this it's not too heavy, but it is very dense - not something we would want to carry around all day (maybe scale back a lens or two and/or remove the notebook for that). Nevertheless, it was very comfortable and conformed well to the body - allowing us to carry all this gear for remote shooting over the shoulder. It fits under airline seats with aplomb.


Not everything was great in our (travel scenario) experience however. The aforementioned end pockets are rather tight, open and hard to access on one side. There's no outside pocket - larger and zippered - which we would have loved to have. This would afford you a place to stash travel documents and passport or a magazine without having to open the bag. There's also no (short) carrying handle on the bag. The only way to pick it up is by the long shoulder strap, which isn't always convenient. Finally, the main closure method of the bag involves slipping holes on the two leather straps over swollen pegs (attached to short leather straps on the bag). You certainly don't need to fasten these, let alone all the time. But in a travel scenario or in between locations you probably do, and until the holes/slot in the straps are broken in (and especially on a very stuffed bag) it's a challenge to accomplish one-handed (though you'll get the hang of it quickly enough). For working out of, this bag is better suited to a smaller selection of gear so as not to get too cramped - or as we used it, a means to transport everything necessary and upon arrival at the destination, pare down the contents for actual use (and have a bag that's svelte and mobile as a result).

The Verdict

If you're looking for a travel-friendly bag, the Scout may not be your best choice unless small size is the overriding and biggest concern. The lack of a zippered outer pocket and carrying handle make it less than ideal and there's very little extra room for sundries. While It can be done (as we did) we might suggest the Wotancraft Ranger (City Explorer 002) as a better solution. It's large enough to pack anything you might need, including a notebook, without being cramped and tight - and offers the features mentioned above that are lacking in the Scout.

This is however, a very cool "everyday" kind of bag - and really its main purpose. You could take a well-rounded kit out and about, regardless of weather conditions - this is what it's all about. If you don't go crazy and overstuff it like we did (both to test and travel with), it's easy to work out of. The materials, as with all Wotancraft bags, are top-notch and in case of the canvas, rather unique. Easily able to not only shed your typical rain shower... But when things get really nasty, you can zip up the waterproof insert and practically use the bag as a floatation device, your gear safe and secure. The workmanship is absolutely top quality throughout. There isn't a stray thread, loose seam or crooked cut to be found anywhere. We really look forward to using, abusing and breaking in this bag most thoroughly... Where it should really come into its own and promises to be a long-term companion.

We can highly recommend this bag... If the style works for you, rest assured that the materials, fit, finish and performance inside will impress as well.

Further Research

Wotancraft Ranger (City Explorer 002) review lavidaleica.com
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