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Billingham Eventer MKII review

The Billingham Eventer MKII is a lovely bag. Just don’t look at the price

Billingham Eventer MKII
(Image: © Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

Digital Camera World Verdict

The Billingham Eventer MKII has a hand-crafted, heritage look that’s just beautiful to look at and beautifully put together too. It’s tall, briefcase style dimensions make it easy to carry and pack away, but while it does allow for longer lenses it means you’ll probably have to double-stack a lot of your kit. Despite its many clever design touches, the Eventer MKII lacks smaller compartments and pockets for cables, cards and batteries, and it’s a little narrow for a pro DSLR or a camera with a grip fitted. And then, of course, there’s the price.

Pros

  • +

    Beautiful design and materials

  • +

    Hand-crafted finish

  • +

    Massive front pockets

  • +

    Slick and simple to use

Cons

  • -

    Tall cameras will be a squeeze

  • -

    No custom stowage for small items

  • -

    The price!

The Billingham Eventer MKII is an improved version of the company’s previous Eventer bag (now discontinued). It’s a tall, messenger-style bag that’s slim enough to carry painlessly on your shoulder and jam in a tight space in a luggage rack, but still very capacious.

As Billingham bags go, it’s in the middle to top end in terms of size, and right at the top for price. Billingham is a luxury, hand-crafted brand and the quality shows right away – but of course quality doesn’t come cheap. So however good the Eventer MKII might be (and it is very good), that will limit its audience.

Specifications

External dimensions (W x D x H): 400mm x 180mm x 350mm (inc. top handle)
Internal dimensions (W x D x H): 340mm x 120mm x 260mm
Weight (inc Shoulder Pad and Padded Insert): 1.83kg
Main compartment capacity: 9 litres
Front pockets (x2) capacity: 1.5 litres per pocket
Included accessories: SP50 Shoulder Pad, Removable, padded insert featuring a laptop slip compartment, Divider set (2x horizontal 2x vertical), Eventer MKII Front Straps
Optional accessories: Leather luggage tally

Key features

The Billingham Eventer MKII has a removable padded insert with enough room for a couple of cameras and 3-6 lenses, depending on their size. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

Billingham bags aren’t packed with gadgets, but they do come with a number of clever design features which you come to appreciate. 

You also get a choice of five color schemes:

• Khaki Canvas/Tan Leather
• Navy Canvas/Chocolate Leather
• Sage FibreNyte/Chocolate Leather
• Black FibreNyte/Black Leather
• Khaki FibreNyte/Chocolate Leather

We tested the traditional Khaki Canvas/Tan Leather version. This is one of two canvas options (the other is Navy/Chocolate), and the rest use Billingham’s man-made FibreNyte material.

One of the Billingham quirks is the leather straps holding down the top cover and, on this bag, closing the expanding front compartments. If you think you know how straps and buckles work, think again. The buckles on these are simply to adjust the length – you release the strap by sliding a stud into an hole punched in the leather at the top end of the straps.

The main compartment has a cover with a zipper, but this can be folded back out of the way for faster access. Inside is a full size padded insert with two vertical and two horizontal dividers and a padded 14-inch laptop sleeve sewn into the back. You can remove this insert completely and use the Eventer MKII as a general purpose shoulder/messenger bag if you want to.

That’s pretty much it for the main compartment. There are no secret pockets, tiny cubby-holes for smaller items or flaps hiding memory cards or cables.

On the back the Billingham Eventer MKII has a zip-up document sleeve big enough for an A4/letter size notebook. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

Round the back is a document wallet big enough for A4/letter-sized documents and with space to take a notebook, not just a few sheets.

Round the front are two deceptively large expanding pockets (each has a capacity of 15 litres). These don’t have zippers, or even the press-studs found on other Billingham bags. Instead, they’re held shut by an unusual double-deck strap system on the front of the bag.

Build and handling

The Eventer MKII's padded insert has a stitched in sleeve for a 14-inch laptop. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

The front pockets are deceptive, with a huge 1.5 litre capacity each – more than enough to swallow up laptop chargers, filter holders, hard drives and power banks. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

From photographs, Billingham bags don’t have the sharp,  tailored edges of mainstream camera bags and look comparatively loosely made, even ‘floppy’. In the flesh, they are very different. 

The canvas outer has a softer, more flexible feel than regular camera bags and is both more comfortable and easier to handle – the top cover folds out of the way without any fuss and doesn’t have the annoying bulk and springiness of regular camera bag lids.

The padded internal compartment fits snugly within the bag and its lining and its dividers have just the right thickness and resilience, though the velcro grips hard, so it you do need to move the dividers around, you can expect them to put up a bit of a fight.

The lack of zippers on the front compartments is a little unnerving if you use them for expensive bits and pieces like batteries, chargers or memory card wallets – and there’s nowhere else in particular to store these – but the front flap closes over them with a good deal of overlap, so we’re probably worrying about nothing.

Design and usability

The unusual design of Billingham's strap fixings takes a little getting used to, and on the Eventer MKII they are doubled up, with the lower strap used to secure the expanding front pockets and the upper strap to close the top cover. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

Underneath the top flap is another lid that secures the main compartment with a weatherproof zipper – but this cover can be unzipped and folded back out of the way for easier access to your kit. (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

The material of the dividers means that camera kit slides in and out smoothly without snagging, the strongly engineered leather base means the Eventer MKII stands up nicely on its own, tall though it is, and the foldaway top cover is a nice touch for those times when you need to keep dipping into the bag for different bits of kit.

If you do load the Eventer MKII up with everything it can possibly carry, some items inevitably get compressed, so it’s a little less easy to slide out your laptop or drag your notebook out of the rear compartment, but you can adjust the straps to allow for the extra thickness, and the Billingham copes much better with ‘overstuffing’ than most bags we’ve tried.

And we have to talk about the capacity of the two expanding front pockets. When they’re empty and folded flat they don’t look much, but when you start putting stuff into them they just swallow it up... and swallow it up. They are pretty amazing. One time we had a last minute panic and thought we ought to pack our DJI Mini too – and both the drone and controller went in ONE of these front pockets and barely caused a bulge. 

Verdict

(Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)

The Billingham Eventer MKII is not for everyone. The price alone puts it out of reach of most photographers and sparked a bit of a debate in the DCW offices, too.

The design has its limitations as well. We wouldn’t like to try to get a tall camera like a Nikon Z9 in this bag, or a EOS-1D X Mark III or our Sony A7R II with grip fitted. But for mid-size DSLRs and mirrorless cameras it’s great, and the height of the bag is perfect for telephotos.

But it would be better to get some kind of compartmented stowage for smaller items, even if it was a secondary insert with little flaps and pockets and sleeves. 

But even saying all that, the quality and feel of the Eventer MKII is just first rate. The materials are wonderful, the hand-crafted finish is in a class of its own, and while on paper it’s hard to see what’s so special about it, it all comes together when you use it. 

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Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.