We spend thousands of dollars on cameras, optics, microphones, memory cards, rigs, computers, hard drives and tripods. We look at the latest from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Phase One, Hasselblad and Panasonic and can’t wait to spend our dollars on the equipment and yet, increasingly, we carry around these thousands of dollars in frightening ways. I’ve seen cardboard boxes, tote bags and in extreme cases, plastic grocery bags. Sure, we get rollers and backpacks but we turn our noses up at the price when it goes above $100 or $200. “Why would I spend $150 on a bag?” I hear regularly. Why? Because it’s the only thing that stands between us and our livelihood of technological wonders. The world is harsh, unforgiving and it’s what we face daily. A good bag is important. And it’s about time there was a bag series out there that acted like it.

Lowepro’s Echelon series doesn’t just act the part, it walks the walk. It is that bag set that you not only want, but deserve for all the hours of toil you put into your craft. It’s time to treat yourself and your equipment, dammit.

It’s time to not only just get to your destination, it’s time to fucking arrive.

 

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The Echelon series is the first camera bag line that actually steps into the batter’s box, stares down the line and knocks it out of the park. This isn’t a bag you necessarily need, but you sure as hell deserve it. Built with the highest-end materials Lowepro could muster, the leather, metal and beautifully sewn nylon is a tip of the hat to photographers who have experienced success and who want to show it.

Echelon is made up of three bags: the Brief, the Attaché and the Roller.

The Brief is, as you probably guessed by the name, briefcase-sized and briefcase by design. It’s not a hard briefcase like you will see on Wall Street, but a sewn nylon soft case. The handles are soft black leather as is the lip of the front zippered pouch. The included sling is made of a tough yet soft seatbelt-like material that just feels much nicer than what you find on most slings for bags in this industry. The zipper is incredibly heavy duty, made of metal and a rubberized plastic.

 

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Inside the brief are three large pockets that sit at either end of laptop pouch that fits up to a 15 inch machine. There is a secondary pouch that is designed for tablets. This whole six pocket, laptop holding setup is removeable, if you would rather pack something else in the bag. There is also a small insert at the front for holding pens, papers and business cards. It is also removable. The Brief will retail for $340.

 

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The Attaché is the equivalent to what we normally see in a medium sized sling bag or backpack, but the design is relatively unique to this industry. There are two “wings” on each end of the zipper that snap into the sides of the bag, and pop out when you need to reach the interior. It’s a design I’ve seen on higher-end luggage, which is the kind of thing Lowepro was going for in these designs. The handle is a mix of soft black leather and that same seatbelt material we saw on the Brief, as is the removable sling which is basically the same as what we saw on the Brief as well.

 

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The interior of the Attaché has a Velcro insert that holds a body and several lenses as well as two side pockets on either end of the bag for miscellaneous items. Because of the form factor of this bag, I found it a bit odd for carrying camera gear. However, what it is perfectly suited for is being an overnight bag. I tend to have short trips up and down California that put me in hotels for a night or two, and the Attaché is the perfect size a few changes of clothes and toiletries. It also has a laptop sleeve that will hold up to a 17 inch laptop. The Attaché will retail for $420.

 

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My favorite bag in this series, hands down, is the roller, a product that is not only beautiful to look at, but is likely the strongest, most durable roller on the market. What makes it worthy of that moniker? Firstly we need to look a the other rollers Lowepro makes. Unlike some other bags on the market, Lowepro’s rollers all have an interior tub system made up of interlocking thick plastic pieces that fit in between the walls of the bag and the inserts on the interior. I like this, because the idea of not having a hard protective casing around my equipment while I travel bothers me. The Echelon Roller takes that protection to another level. That tub system is normally made up of, as mentioned, interlocking pieces. This is because it is expensive to do a single formed tub, but that expense was disregarded in Echelon. Echelon is one single formed tub. That single piece interior is incredibly tough, tougher than anything I’ve ever encountered in my years in this industry. This bag will protect your gear. End of story.

 

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The extending handle on the Roller is also a marvel: beautifully shined metal leading up to a leather wrapped handle and metal push. Again, Lowepro sets a new high point, as this is the best handle for a roller I’ve ever seen, both in the camera industry and across luggage brands.

Anyone seeing the inside of this bag will likely utter a single word: “Wow.” The lips of the main, larger inserts are lined with black leather and the included pouches for accessories also have leather accents. Lowepro’s trademark inserts also take the pain out of Velcro, folding in to make moving them around inside the bag easy instead of having them stick to anything they touch. They are also sturdier, with a stiff core that prevents bending and keeps gear snugly in place. Lowepro also designed a specific insert that will cradle your favorite camera and lens combo gently in a cup of luxury. Your gear does a lot for you. It deserves this.

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The rear of both the Brief and the Attaché has a zipper at the bottom that, when opened, allows them to be slung over the handle of the roller and held together. At the top of this little open pocket is a small, powerful magnet that keeps the fabrics held together in aesthetically pleasing way. And that’s the only point of the magnet. It’s not necessary, but appreciated.

It’s beautiful little things like that magnet that you will find all over these bags. A hint of leather here, metal there, conscious efforts at beauty and function in every possible place, reminders that the bag is more than just a bag. It’s a rare thing in this industry to find something like this. We usually depend on Leica or Hasselblad for luxurious offerings, and they are normally far outside our reach. Though the Lowepro Echelon series is expensive, the roller is only $800, a price that many find to be a going rate in the broader luggage industry, and downright cheap in the luxury luggage world. In the camera industry, it’s not actually that expensive, especially considering how much we spend on the rest of our equipment. And, quite honestly, it’s worth it.

The biggest test that the Echelon series passed, in my opinion, was that in the past few weeks they have been in my possession, across multiple shoots and miles traveled, not a single bag is showing signs of wear. Not a single thread has frayed. Not a single piece of any of the bags has shown age. They look exactly as they did when I pulled them out of the box. This is yet another first, as I will usually experience my first frayed thread by day two of any bag. Again, impressive.

 

Pros:

  •  The best build quality in any bags I have seen, let alone ever reviewed
  • Completely customizable to whatever you need each bag to do
  • The bags compliment each other and work together aesthetically and practically

Cons:

  •  Due to the materials used, the bags are heavier when empty than we expected

 

There was a period of time about two years ago where I thought Lowepro had forgotten who they were, who we as photographers were, and as a result was headed to the big bag shop in the sky. Today, with the recent bags they have released, what I have seen coming down the pipe, and especially with the Echelon series, my faith in the storied camera bag manufacturer has been restored. They take the prize for simply the absolute best bags you can get for your camera, with the closest competition light years away. For now, Lowepro stands alone on this precipice of excellence.

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We give the Lowepro Echelon Series a perfect 5 out of 5 stars, a first-time for this reviewer, for absolutely impeccable design in both form and function.