The best thing since the invention of the backpack: Vested Interest’s photographic vests…
Most photographers will over time upgrade their gear and add new equipment and with it will come the needs of new photographic bags. Miniaturisation has brought a lot of benefits to weight and size but it has been much slower for image quality and a lot of shooters will upgrade to bigger and heavier camera. Soon carrying equipment in the field becomes a headache to get both comfort and accessibility.
I have been a long time user of Lowepro bags which offer a great range of products and lately has brought a bit of fashion in their range with sport bags in orange and electric blue colour (yes most photographic bags are if practical for the photographer rather dull for the eyes). I particularly like their Flipside range of backpack which offers discretion and security for your gear (in particular the ability to change lenses without having to put down the bag) which is great for travelling, also it offers various sizes with capacity up to 500 f/4 lenses.
But until recently I was not satisfied with my experience for shooting in the field and I started to look around for alternatives and I came across Vested Interest a small US company, division of a parachute manufacturer, which designs a few photographic vests. I’ve been using a grey Magnum and a green Khumbu versions of the vest, both including some modifications suggested by Art Morris. I mentioned it in a previous post but I wanted to report my experience since I bought them about 3 months ago.
The Magnum version has 2 large front pockets which can hold a pro body or two large pro lenses (24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8), with small pockets (well these pockets are small by comparisons… these could well be “standard size” pockets on other branded vests) to hold accessories (I typically use them for spare batteries and memory card wallet) . There are also two upper pockets which you can use to carry smart phones, pen, etc. I typically use them to carry 1.4x and 2.0x TC in one pocket and 3 extension tubes in the other. On the sides are two detachable lens pockets which will old big pro lenses like 70-200/2.8, 100-400 or even a 400/5.6, including of hood and tripod collar. Finally on the back of the vest is a large bottom pocket which can hold another big lens with spare space. In my experience it is good to balance well the weight between the back and the front of the vest. The pockets are well padded to protect your equipment and I opted for the optional zipper rather than the more noisy velcro. While it is not rated waterproof, I saw myself caught in a storm in Malaysia (those who experienced tropical thunderstorms know how much water can fall in a few minutes) with very little protection and after 15’ of this treatment water did not enter in any of the pockets (incidentally, I was carrying my passport in an external pocket and it got completely soaked… ). This is not a recommended use, but my experience showed me that I can trust the vest to protect my gear reasonably well from the elements. The pockets are sewn on a mesh jacket which is quite comfortable for warm and humid climate, it is also very adjustable so it can be easily worn with thicker clothes in cold regions. Inside the mesh jacket are two large pockets which easily hold an iPad or iPad mini (the full size iPad extend a little bit from the pocket) and it can be equipped with an optional padded belt to distribute the weight (all my vests have the belt and I find it really good). Another point to note is the extra padding on the shoulders which both makes carrying the weight of the vest more comfortable on the shoulder and add cushion when carrying a tripod with camera on the shoulders, also there is a padded collar distributing the weight.
As you can see in the picture above, while I am comfortable with the vest, it is not looking particularly fashionable. But it does what it is supposed to do and that’s what matters to me. Note though that it might not be super “fashion” it is none the less custom made to your measurement which you need to provide on the order form, I can testify that the fit is just perfect. I have used the vest while travelling by plane together with a backpack that holds my gear for the flight (I am now using a Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW) and it is still comfortable to wear the vest and the backpack (the back pockets of the vest being quite low leaving plenty of room on your back for the backpack). This gives me the option to unload my bag into the vest in case anyone asks to weight my backpack :-). However one thing I noted is while in the past I was nearly never checked at the custom when going thru the “Nothing to Declare” section, I tend to be asked more often with the vest.
I am also using a Khumbu version of the vest, this time in green colour with a black mesh base (apparently the green mesh is more difficult to get so I settled for black which is quite nice too) and it allows me to carry a 500 f/4 with body mounted. Actually it should hold easily a 600 f/4 with body as I am often packing the lens, the 2x TC and the camera (it’s about the length of a 600 f/4) and I guess a 800/5.6 should fit easily as well but I am unsure if it would fit with the body attached. On the sides of the main back pockets are two smaller lens pockets (again that’s relative, they can easily hold lenses up to a 400/5.6 in length and 70-200/2.8 in thickness including the lens collar and a Wimberley plate). The front of the Khumbu is the same as on the Magnum vest.
Note the red strap on the back which serves as handle to securely carry the vest. Also there is an optional pad rolled under the vest (also available with the Magnum version) that you can use when kneeling or lying down on wet or dirty terrain, I’ve asked mines to be made with a double layer of stuff to ensure reasonable water protection.
There is no denial that these vests are pricey, but quite frankly I have not seen anything even approaching the comfort and convenience of these vests at least when it comes to nature photography.
(Thanks to my daughter for the photo with the Khumbu, you’ll note also the use of the Blackrapid strap for the second body which goes very very well with both vests and my now favourite hats for photography from Tilley)