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Billingham Hadley One review

Billingham's classic shoulder bag gets a makeover for the modern-day photographer

Our Verdict

It's not cheap, and to get the best out of it you might want to add a couple of accessories, but it's great to see a classic design improved in a number of useful ways.

For

  • Excellent craftsmanship
  • Plenty of storage space
  • Thick padding between compartments

Against

  • Not cheap for a shoulder bag
  • Removable insert only half-width

It’s difficult to imagine a camera bag more classic, and quintessentially British, than the Billingham Hadley Pro. 

The model continues to be manufactured in Britain and has been the company’s bestselling bag for some time, but today it’s just one option in a populated lineup of shoulder bags and rucksacks. 

So, with an outer appearance that’s strikingly similar to the Hadley Pro, how exactly does the new Hadley One justify its existence? 

KEY SPECS

• Shoulder bag
• 13in laptop compartment
• Removable shoulder strap
• Removable half-length insert
• Rear zippered pocket 

Features

First, the model is slightly larger than the Hadley Pro, and designed for either a mid-sized DSLR and lens combination, or alternatively a mirrorless setup. So, it seems ideal for users of camera such as the Nikon D500, Canon EOS 6D Mark II or Panasonic Lumix GH5, perhaps with an extra lens or two or peripheral items.

Also, whereas the Hadley Pro features a full-size removable insert that allows the bag to be alternated between a camera bag and a standard shoulder bag, the Hadley One arrives with a half-width insert that buttons into either in the middle of the bag or on either side. 

This also means that, when in the latter configuration, you can also pop an additional one inside to create two compartments, although this would come at an extra cost. [Update: Billingham now offers a full-size insert for the bag]

The bag has many of the same classic touches as the Hadley Pro

Another key point of difference is that the Hadley One sports a compartment that will happily swallow a 13in laptop, something the Hadley Pro lacks. A zippered pocket for documents has been has also been designed into the back of the bag, and this is finished with a thick, leather strip to make it weather resistant. 

The company has made the bag available in three separate colour combinations: Sage & Chocolate, All-Black, and the model on test, Khaki & Chocolate. Billingham has also made available a number of accessories alongside, such as the additional insert mentioned above and various shoulder pads.

Design and handling

As we’d expect from a camera bag at this price, Billingham has crafted it to exacting standards. 

Weather-resistant FibreNyte canvas has been used for the main exterior of the bag, and this has been completed by leather pads and smaller leather details throughout. 

The grab handle at the top of the bag has also been redesigned; in use, this feels extraordinarily sturdy, with a tightly wound top and comfortable leather bottom.

The bag comes in three finishes, with the Khaki & Chocolate option likely to be the most popular

  

The main strap is constructed from shuttle-woven spun polyester, with brass fittings and smart leather ends. The strap can also be completely removed from the bag if not required, although you can also fold it under the lid to keep it out of the way. 

This is useful when carrying the bag by hand or transporting it on another piece of luggage. A luggage strap is also provided at the rear, which allows the bag to loop around the handle of rolling luggage. 

The front of the bag is fashioned in a very similar way to the Hadley Pro, with the same straps and buckles. The straps are somewhat deceptive, as it’s through the Quick Release System that you’re more likely to open and close the bag rather than how it appears.

You just pull the top of the strap off the lid rather than undo the buckles, and lift the lid up, leaving the strap attached to the buckle at all times.

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This might seem somewhat fiddly at first, but it soon becomes effortless. It’s a fairly good compromise between accessibility, style and security, although you can lift the side of the lid up with this locked place, which makes it somewhat less secure. 

For that reason, you may want to adjust the strap so that the lid folds down further over the front of the bag, as this will make it harder to pull up and to the side.

The two pockets on the front are fairly spacious and are closed quite simply with their own button, and this is the same principle on which the internal removable compartment is clicked into and out of place. 

Whether you have the compartment at the side or in the middle of the chamber, it buttons in quite simply, while the flap at the top provides additional protection. This is all lined with a soft fabric for additional protection too.

There's space for a DSLR/lens combination, as well as a laptop, but some may prefer a full-width insert

The decision to provide a compartment that only occupies part of the bag may split opinion. Some users will no doubt welcome the flexibility this offers, in that it can be positioned anywhere in the bag or removed, leaving the remainder free. Others, however, may prefer that level of padding throughout the bag at all times, which is only attainable with an additional compartment.  

The laptop compartment at the rear of the internal chamber has a reassuringly thick divider, and together with the rear of the bag this is very well protected. I had no issue slipping my laptop in here without a separate sleeve.

Being somewhat broader than the average shoulder bag, it's perhaps better for slightly taller photographers, as they may find it a little easier to carry around. The bag hangs well on the shoulder, and although we had one of the optional shoulder straps in place for this review, it's comfortable without one of these.

Verdict

Taking the original Hadley Pro as its inspiration and making it fit for the modern photographer’s needs certainly sounds like winning formula, the Hadley One certainly has a lot going for it to make it just as desirable a bag as the original. 

The key thing is that everything to love about the Pro is still there, from the overall design and craftsmanship to the ease with which you can get at the contents. Its size may rule it out for those with only a modest camera and lens setup, but if you plan on adding some kit in the near future you may appreciate this growing space.  

It's likely many photographers would want to add the additional compartment, and if you go for one of the shoulder pads this will also be an additional expense. So, what begin as a pricey bag can end up being a particularly pricey one if you want to get the most out of it. Still, if this isn't an issue, you love the design and want a bag that will hold all the kit you're likely to need for everyday shooting, the Hadley One will probably tick the right boxes for you.