Have you ever dropped your camera bag while on an important paid commission? If so then the Manfrotto Pro Light Flexloader L camera backpack is aimed at you. A professional camera bag designed to be versatile enough for all kinds of professional photographers and filmmakers, its headline act is its use of Manfrotto’s new M-Guard dividers that boast lab-tested shock absorption properties.
Add a laptop sleeve, an adjustable harness system and room for everything from drones to tripods to gimbals and the Flexloader is about as comprehensive a camera bag as you’ll find. However, it’s a big investment – both in terms of price and weight – and it’s not quite as versatile as it’s made out to be. Here’s all you need to know about the Manfrotto Pro Light Flexloader.
Dimensions: 56 x 36 x 35 cm/22 x 14.2 x 13.8 inches
Weight: 3 kg/6.6 lbs
Capacity: 26.5 litres
Waterproofing: Water repellent
Pockets: 15-inch laptop, accessories compartment, main compartment, rain cover, stuff zone, 2x water bottle
The Flexloader is the flagship product in Manfrotto’s Pro Light Collection. It’s a front loader, with a huge 26x15x47cm/26x15x47-inch area for storing up to eight lenses. The dividers inside can be customised to fit your gear and the section opens in such a way that it’s easy to extract your camera from the top.
The most obvious unusual features on the Flexloader are its considerable backpack straps and EVA foam back panel. It works surprisingly well. Behind that is a large U-shaped compartment to store a laptop up to a maximum size of 14 inches, along with a tablet. There’s also another similarly-sized compartment between the laptop sleeve and the main compartment, which reveals itself only if you extend the bag by using its wraparound zip.
There are lots of other useful design flourishes; three grab handles, a built-in rain cover, two pouches for water bottles, some optional tripod straps, and a TSA padlock that hides behind a flat at the top of the bag and can be used to lock the main compartment. However, that last design flourish in one important way proves to be a feature too far…
Build and handling
The Flexloader is advertised as being perfect cabin luggage, but sadly that’s not going to happen. Its external measurements are 56 x 36 x 35 cm/22 x 14.2 x 13.8 inches. That makes it too big for British Airways, which limits cabin bags to 56 x 45 x 25cm / 22 x 18 x 10 inches. Ditto for easyJet (56 x 45 x 25 cm/22 x 17.7 x 9.8 inches) and American Airlines (56 x 36 x 23 cm/22 x 14 x 9 inches). Basically, Flexloader is way too deep to be used as carry on luggage on most airlines.
Even to the eye it’s very bulky. At 3 kg/6.6 lbs it’s also relatively heavy when completely empty. That makes its adjustable, slightly tilted and very comfortable backpack straps an integral part of the Flexloader since its users are likely to be loaded down with gear. It’s basically the same arrangement you’ll find on proper backpacking rucksacks, with three different heights available to adjust to your height. The adjustments are made using clips, which effectively means that the backpack straps – which boast lots of padding and have a sternum strap – can be entirely removed. Meanwhile, the waist belt – which had a webbing pocket on the right-hand side – pivots, which adds more comfort when hiking. Sadly it can’t be removed, but it can be tucked away behind the EVA foam back.
The Flexloader is a bit of a squeeze. Yes, you can get a 15-inch laptop into its own compartment, but you have to shove it in, and extracting it from a full bag isn’t particularly easy. That's unless you unfurl the expansion zip, thus increasing the depth of the Flexloader even further.
Frontloaders like the Flexloader aren’t always ideal. In dry conditions or when used inside it’s fine to lay the Flexloader on the floor to extract camera gear. However, in bad weather you have to get the backpack straps wet and dirty – and thus yourself, when you put it on your back seconds later.
The Flexloader’s main storage zone is extremely space-efficient, with lots of depth (not surprisingly) and an incredible amount of room for storing gear. At the bottom of the bag there’s a small gear grab-bag for filters and cables. We’re not convinced that’s necessary – it just adds bulk.
What we did discover while using the Flexloader is that the entire main compartment’s floor can be removed. Attached mainly by Velcro, it can be ripped out, effectively joining it to the mid section to create a rather roomy bag that could be used for non-photographic trips away (and thus checked in when flying). Which makes it doubly annoying that the waist belt can’t be removed.
Flexloader is big and it’s heavy – and that’s before you’ve even begun filling it with up to eight lenses. Sure, it’s aimed at professional photographers and videographers, but it’s a huge shame that it won’t be going on flights as carry-on luggage despite Manfrotto’s claims. That limits Flexloader to being used domestically on road-trips, for which it excels. The laptop sleeve is tight, largely because of the hefty depth of the EVA foam back, but the backpack straps are excellent and the Flexloader is comfortable to carry for a long period.