Review: ONA’s The Prince Street Messenger Bag

IMG_0525I own a lot of bags. Far too many, in fact, but I’m always looking for something that serves me more efficiently than what I have. Up until now, I have been using my Chrome Industries Niko Messenger sling for just about everything photography related. Around town, however, the Chrome is a bit bigger than I really need and the sling configuration has all of the inconveniences of a backpack rather than a true messenger-style bag. It’s comfortable, holds a lot and swings around for access without removal, but I need to constantly remove it when on mass transit (because I’m not an arrogant douche or an oblivious nitwit) and is just bigger than I need around town.

For weeks, I considered either the Billingham Hadley Pro or Domke F-803. I wanted a bag that gave me easy access to my camera that’s low profile and rainproof. Then I discovered ONA’s “The Prince Street” (TPS) messenger bag. Being bigger than the Domke and with an arguably better latching system than the Billingham, it’s advertised to accommodate either a full-sized iPad, 10” iPad Pro or 12” MacBook, along with a full-sized dSLR or mirrorless ILC with up to 3 lenses. Their standard models all use waxed cotton canvas with leather trim for effective waterproofing and durability. Fully aware that ONA hasn’t been around long enough to have earned a reputation like either Billingham or Domke, I took a chance and bought the ONA bag, directly from their site, and waited patiently for it to arrive.

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A lifetime guarantee for the original owner is included with every bag they sell, but they don’t yet have generations of owners who’ve tested that promise. Despite that, it’s reassuring and only adds value.

Unboxing day! It was packaged well, like any other high-end leather good, double boxed and in it’s own cloth bag. Very tasteful and an expected touch for the price range. Sadly, it was then I noticed the first problem: I had ordered the “100cameras” special edition, which afforded me the black and brown colorway and a leather placard sewn into the flap recognizing it as such, but more importantly it’s supposed to make a donation to the 100cameras charity. My bag only has the standard placard. I tried, and hopefully the proceeds from my purchase get where they’re supposed to go, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated.

ONA offers sizes ranging from single camera models up to accommodating 15” laptops. Their standard material offering uses waxed cotton canvas with leather trim for effective waterproofing and durability. Nylon is offered for less while leather is offered for more.

On the exterior, there’s very little in outwardly visible branding, a feature I greatly respect. I already paid for the bag so I shouldn’t have to commit to free advertising. Their name is stamped into the leather at the base of each end of the shoulder strap and onto a placard under the main flap. The leather features look and feel of excellent quality, being soft and supple in the shoulder pad yet thick and sturdy in the handle. Despite this, all of the leather is finished to match throughout. The waxed canvas was well waxed, though slightly overwaxed in some limited locations, and had that reassuring smell of waterproofiness. The brass hardware has a rustic patina that gives it a used and “lived in” look. The only oversight is a lack of feet or other protection for the bottom of the bag, but the known durability and waterproofing ability of waxed canvas will at least keep items inside protected from water should you choose to set your bag down in a puddle. 

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Like all waxed cotton goods, the more your handle it, the more often you’ll have to reapply wax to it. If you use it daily, expect to rewax it annually. Also, keep it away from sources of heat as the wax will melt and reduce its effectiveness.

Immediately I rearranged the interior for my needs. The inner lining is light grey material with a very soft, hook and loop compatible, felt-like pile covering very thick padding that’s also very rigid. Excellent for finding stuff at the bottom of the bag. The dividers have hook and loop tabs and they hold their shape when bent, prefect for fine tuning your layout. A clever design choice was the use of a padded divider to create a slot for tablets and small laptops that’s removable, returning nearly 2cm of interior depth if you don’t need the slot. Other than the dividers, there’s no other hook and loop fasteners used throughout, a feature I demand of all my bags, due to the insufferable sound it makes when opening. 

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Inside my ONA The Prince Street Bag: Fujifilm X-T2, Fujifilm XF 18mm ƒ/2, Fujifilm XF 23mm ƒ/1.4, Fujifilm XF 35mm ƒ/1.4, Fujifilm XF 10-24mm ƒ/4 OIS, 10.5″ iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, Moleskine notepad, spare W126S battery, Mophie PowerStation 5x, 1m micro USB cable, circular polarizer, B+W 62mm ND filter 806, filter adapters, white balance cards, LensPen, microfiber rag.

The flap straps are also adjustable via handsome brass buckles with spring loaded tabs hidden behind them for fast access to the interior of the bag. In addition, brass rivets are used to help secure the straps to the flap and the latch retainers to the pleated welt pockets. All rivets are backed with a second layer of canvas, protecting your gear from scratches. The main flap is also the only flap as the exterior welt pockets are covered by it when closed, reducing the “fiddliness” of use overall. On the rear is an unprotected document pocket with hidden magnetic closure. There’s a well made shoulder strap that’s adjustable, but not removable, made with a seatbelt nylon weave that’s non-irritating and a leather shoulder pad. Because of certain design choices, if shortened beyond a certain point it’ll force the shoulder pad into a location that makes it unusable, not ideal for exceptionally short users. There’s a leather and brass handle that’s removable and that’s where my next problem was encountered.

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Two pleated pockets in the front, document pocket in the back and a fully reconfigurable main compartment gives owners all of the options they need and none they don’t.

After packing my bag with camera, lenses and iPad Pro, I took it out on its first adventure to Caffe Umbria to have some coffee and process some photos through Lightroom. When I got home and set the bag down, I noticed the handle looked like it had come undone. Instead, the lobster clip at one end had come apart completely, the hardware now homeless on the streets of Seattle, somewhere in Pioneer Square. Empowered by the lifetime guarantee that comes with every ONA bag, I emailed them, with photos, to begin a resolution to my situation. They replied quickly and courteously, resolving the problem by shipping me a replacement handle.

A week later my new handle arrived and now another problem. The leather color and hardware didn’t match. I shot off another email, again with photos, and like last time it was quick and painless. My only complaint was having to wait about 2 weeks for the issue to finally be resolved, though shipping times are no fault of theirs. Thankfully, I can report the new handle’s hardware has remained intact for over a month now.

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Reporting on rain protection, I recently used this bag during a rain storm at the Brown’s Point lighthouse in Pierce County, WA. Standing in the wind and rain on the Puget Sound shoreline, the bag managed to stay completely dry within while most water rolled easily off the exterior and the shell never became damp.

One thing I’d change: ONA should offer dividers with flaps so items like lenses can be stacked atop each other safely.

ONA has managed to make a great line of bags. Granted, I haven’t used them all with my experience limited to my TPS, but the same general design is shared across their lineup. It has classic messenger bag styling and even uses classic materials, but it’s effective in its job and looks great in any setting, from urban to rural and all points in between. They offer many different materials and colorways to suit both business or casual dress. More importantly, it will protect your camera gear from itself and from the rain. At $279 for The Prince Street in waxed canvas, it’s quite good value as it will probably outlive the cameras you’re protecting with it.

Order yours here: ONA The Prince Street in Black Waxed Canvas or directly from ONABags.com

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