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Tom Bihn Camera I-O Bag Review

on July 9, 2012 11:00 am

I’ve owned and used several Tom Bihn Bags over the years, starting with an Empire Builder laptop bag that my husband is still using after 8 or 9 years now.  My favorite purse is the Little Swift knitting bag, and we also own wallets, Cafe Bags, a Breve iPad case, and more.  I know the quality of Tom Bihn Bags, so I was very interested when I heard that they were offering a new camera bag, the Camera I-O.  I was very happy to be selected to give the bag a closer look when Tom Bihn offered one to The Gadgeteer.

All photos in this review can be clicked for an enlargement.

If you’ve owned Brain Cell inserts for Tom Bihn laptop bags, you’ll recognize the shape of the Camera I-O.  You can use the camera bag inside a larger laptop bag, if desired.  The name, Camera I-O, means Insert-Outsert.  Outsert, of course means that you can use it as a standalone bag.  Our bigger Tom Bihn bags are in use for other things, so I’ll use the Camera I-O as a standalone bag.

The Camera I-O measures 14″ x 11.75″ x 3.75″ and weighs 20 ounces.  The exterior is 1000 denier Cordura on the bottom and the sides and a custom-made Durastretch 520Q nylon/Cordura/Lycra blend for stretch needed for the lamination/molding process.  The body is padded with a 0.25″ closed foam padding.  Black is the only exterior color choice.

The bag has two grab handles sewn at the top.  The straps seem to be made of the same woven Cordura used for the sides and bottom.  The grab handles are padded with Poron foam.

Several belting strips are sewn at various places on the bag.  There are strips under the grab handles with loops at the ends.  Another long strap is sewn along the sides and around the bottom.  These straps are sewn to the bag at various intervals to form loops.  These loops are used as attachment points for other Tom Bihn accessories.  The loops under the grab handles are similar to straps on Brain Cells that are used to attach them to the interior of a bigger bag.

In the top photo, you’ll notice a shoulder strap attachment point.  It’s made of a thick, heavy-duty black plastic.

The interior is lined with a light grey brushed tricot.  This fabric serves as the “loop” part for Velcro attachment.  The top is covered by two flaps that secure with Velcro pieces.  Using smaller pieces instead of one long strip makes opening the flaps much quieter than you’d expect with Velcro.

The Camera I-O comes with two small and two large removable and repositionable dividers made of 500 denier Cordura with 0.25″ closed cell foam padding.  Using these, it’s very easy to divide the interior of the bag to hold your camera and gear and to keep them from banging together.  The black strips are the hook side of the Velcro pair.  They grab the tricot interior very securely.  In fact, it can be a bit of a pain while you’re trying out configurations to find what works best with your gear.

A shoulder strap is an optional purchase.  Two are available: the standard strap for $10 or the Absolute Shoulder Strap for $30.  I received the Absolute Strap.  I’ve used these on our laptop bags and our huge camera bag.  The straps are made by OP/TECH USA exclusively for Tom Bihn.  They have the straps customized with made-in-the-USA nylon webbing (more durable than standard polypropylene webbing) and double-coated metal snaphooks.  The strap adjusts from 20″ to 52″.  Tom Bihn says “combining a soft, durable neoprene pad with comfortable stretch backing to make bags feel 50% lighter and 100% more comfortable, it’s the ideal shoulder strap for those who carry heavy loads or simply want the most comfortable strap available. ”

In the top photo, the top of the strap looks blue, but it’s black.  (I lightened the photo to make details more visible, and it resulted in the blue appearance.)  The middle photo shows the non-slip back of the neoprene pad.  This strap is very comfortable, and sturdy, too.  We finally had to buy a replacement for Butch’s 15-pound Empire Builder after about 6-7 years of use.

I also received two Tripod – Lighting Kit Quivers.  I received one each of the 360mm and the 520 mm Quivers.  These circular bags have a 1050 denier US-made high-tenacity Ballistic nylon body, with the addition of a drawstring cuff made of Nylon/Dyneema Ripstop fabric.  The sides of the Quivers are unpadded, but the bottom has the 0.25″ padding used in the bag.

One side of the bag has a belting strip with the sewn-in loops.  There are two plastic clips in the loops, and there are two shoulder strap attachment points at the top and bottom of the tube.  The top image shows the Dyneema cuff flipped up to expose the top strap attachment point.

My lighting gear is huge:  tall, with large metal reflectors, and 4′ wide umbrellas.  There’s no way the two rigs would fit in either of the Quivers.  I didn’t think my huge Manfrotto tripod would fit either.  You can see it with the larger Quiver.  I found that I could fit the legs inside if I flipped up the drawstring cuff.  I could cinch the cuff around the post under the tripod’s head and could carry the tripod with the head hanging out.

The Camera I-O isn’t big enough to hold my two cameras and all their associated gear.  However, the bag should be a good travel bag for one camera and some accessories.  These photos show what I want to carry in the Camera I-O.  The top photo shows a lens (in the felt bag), a rubber air rocket for cleaning, baggies of lens caps, body caps, and the like, a battery charger, my Nikon SB-400 flash in its pouch, and a pouch of filters.  The bottom picture shows my Nikon D3100 camera with a lens and a camera strap attached.

Here, I’ve inserted the two big dividers in the sides of the bag.  It’s hard to see, but there is room under each of these dividers.  Any gear you store in the dividers will be suspended above the bottom of the bag and protected from drops.

I’ve put the lens inside the left compartment.  I have room to put the rubber air blower above it.  I’ve put the baggies of accessories in the bottom of the bag between the dividers.

The right compartment has the filter case and charger in the bottom.

I had room to put the flash unit above them.

Even loaded up, I could still close the flaps over the side compartments.  I suspended one of the small dividers above the baggies in the center compartment.  I was able to easily fit my D3100 in the center.

I normally keep my Nikon cameras in holsters, like the one on my D3100, above.

By squeezing the side compartments over a bit, I was able to fit the holster case inside the center compartment.  It’s resting on the small divider seen in an earlier picture, so the camera lens is suspended above the bag’s bottom.

Using the plastic clips on the side of the larger Quiver and the strap sewn on the bottom of the Camera I-O, I’m able to bring along my tripod.  It’s heavy with the bag loaded up and the giant tripod hanging on the bottom, but it’s better than having to use a second shoulder strap for the tripod.  It’s a moot point for me, anyway, because my 6’2″ husband carries the camera equipment.  ;)  That’s him with the Camera I-O and Quiver.

The box also contained a little gear pouch.  It’s marked FOT (Friend of Tom).  I can’t find it on the website, so it may be a freebie for some purchases.  It’s similar to their other small gear pouches, but it seems to be made of microsuede.  It’s blue on the front and black on the back, with a black binding, zipper, and a clip to attach it to the interior rings inside some Tom Bihn bags.  It measures about 5.25″ X 7″.  It’s a great size for storing lens caps, SD cards, small cables, and the like.

I was able to fit a surprising amount of gear into the Camera I-O bag.  It can’t hold all my equipment, but it will make a great day bag when I want to take along one camera and two lenses or one lens and a flash.  I’m used to a bag with a squarish profile, and I was a bit worried that the bag would be too narrow for my camera.  The D3100 did fit, but it filled up the width.  There is padding in the sides of the bag to protect the camera from bumps, though.  I also liked that I could fit in the holster, too, for a little extra protection for the camera.

Everything was accessible by simply lifting a compartment flap, or by loosening one side of the small divider.  The light gray interior made it a bit easier to find what I was looking for.

I never dreamed I’d be able to carry my tripod in either of those Quivers.  It may not be proper usage to flip up that cuff like I did, but the Quiver is beautifully finished, so there are no raw edges or rough seams under the cuff.  The attachment strap along the bottom of the I-O was perfect for attaching the tripod.  It’s so long, I’m not sure it would be comfortable to carry with the Quiver on the side of the bag, so it was nice to have some options.  If you have a smaller tripod, you could even attach multiple Quivers to the bag to carry some lighting gear, too.

I like Tom Bihn’s Camera I-O.  It’s a nice size for a day bag, but it’s sturdy and protective enough to use as your only bag.  You can easily configure the interior to fit your gear, and just as easily changed for a different collection of gear.  Attaching the optional Quivers makes it easy to take along a tripod.  You’re only limited by your equipment and the strength of the person toting the gear!

 

Product Information

Price:$110 for Camera I-O; $30 for the Absolute Strap; $40-$45 for the Quivers, depending on size
Manufacturer:Tom Bihn
Pros:
  • Can use it as a standalone bag or inside a bigger Tom Bihn bag
  • Interior is configurable to fit your gear
  • Straps allow you to carry your tripod or lighting gear in optional Quivers
  • Padded
  • Has grab handles and can use an optional shoulder strap
Cons:
  • Narrow profile may not fit all cameras

Comments

  1. 1
    Bob DeLoyd says:

    Wow what a wonderful write up Janet! My camera bag needs are a little less ambitious then yours. I need something that I can fit a smaller camera in and drop that into my backpack when I’m on the go. I’ll check their website. Any suggestions?
    Janet, you make your poor husband carry around all your equipment! Oh, the humanity! :P

  2. 2
    Janet Cloninger says:

    Bob, isn’t that what men are for – to carry the bags? ;) Besides, I’m only 5 feet tall (if I round up that extra quarter inch), and bags tend to drag on the ground behind me. :D Butch would never risk his cameras!

    Tom Bihn doesn’t have any other camera-specific bags, but they do have several smaller gear pouches. I’ve used a small neoprene camera pouch from Built NY for my little Canon point-and-shoot camera. I used the little Soft Shell Camera Case Compact. It will protect from scratches and little dings, but probably won’t protect it from crushing blows. I can’t gat a static link to the search results, but the home page is http://www.builtny.com/

    And thanks for the kind words, Bob!

  3. 3

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