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Reviews > Cameras > Photography Accessories > M Rock Camera Bags > Test Report by Jeff Ruhle

M-ROCK CAMERA BAGS
TEST SERIES BY JEFF RUHLE
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - June 23, 2009
FIELD REPORT - September 28, 2009
LONG TERM REPORT - November 23, 2009

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Jeff Ruhle
EMAIL: jjruhle@madski.com
AGE: 22
LOCATION: Waterville, Maine, USA
GENDER: m
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.90 m)
WEIGHT: 175 lb (79.40 kg)

I developed a love for backpacking while spending the semester abroad in New Zealand. I enjoy playing games and seeing how little I can pack to keep my pack light, however, I always pack a lot of food. My favorite terrain is steep, rugged, alpine terrain with more vertical and less horizontal. Living in New England, I find a lot of this terrain since the trail makers don't seem to make many switchbacks. I also am highly involved with a large number of other outdoor activities like skiing, kayaking, climbing, and biking. Generally, I like to push my comfort zone.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: M-ROCK
IMAGE 1
The Niagara, Yellowstone, and Ozark. Modular Belt below.

Year of Manufacture: 2009
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.m-rock.com
MSRP: US$24 for the Modular Belt 530, US$43.20 for the Yellowstone 511, US$27.20 for the Niagara 506, and US$25.60 for the Ozark 505
Listed Weight: Not Listed
Measured Weight: 6.5 oz (184 g) for the Modular Belt 530, 16.7 oz (473 g)/23.2 oz (658 g) with/without the shoulder straps for the Yellowstone 511, 7.9 oz (224 g)/10 oz (283 g) with/without the shoulder straps for the Niagara 506, 6.85 oz (194 g)/9 oz (255 g) with/without the shoulder straps for the Ozark 505
Colors Available: Black, Black with Navy, Black with Red, Black with Sage
Color Tested: Black with Sage

Other details: (from manufacturer's website)
Interior Measurement of Yellowstone 511: H- 7 x D- 4.5 x W- 6.75 inches (17.5 x 11.25 x 16.8 cm)
Interior Measurement of Niagara 506: H- 6.25 x D- 3 x W- 4 inches (15.5 x 7.5 x 10 cm)
Interior Measurement of Ozark 506: H- 4 x D- 3 x W- 4.5 inches (10 x 7.5 x 11.25 cm)

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

IMAGE 5
Included shoulder straps
The M-ROCK camera bags (herein referred to as the bags) come in very simplistic packaging. Each piece was in its own plastic bag which was taped shut. A small cardboard tag and the included shoulder straps were attached to the bag with those nylon connectors common in clothing.

After removing all the packaging, the bags were fairly impressive. They are very tough looking, with durable nylon outer surfaces and soft, fuzzy insides. The sides are lined with closed cell foam to provide protection for the delicate camera parts. Each bag contains a storm jacket balled up in the front pocket and a lens cloth attached via bungee to the top-inside pocket. A very sturdy feeling, padded handle is attached to the top of each of the bags. In general, there seems to be a lot of bells and whistles to these bags in addition to plenty of promised (and apparent) protection.

IMAGE 2
Inside of the Yellowstone
The Yellowstone 511 is the largest of the three, shaped for a D-SLR camera with up to a 4 inch (102 mm) lens. It has a front flap (with a small pocket) and large front pocket, however, the zipper runs around the back to open the top away from the user's body. Inside there are two strips secured by hook and loop pads to the sides of the case. These are to keep the weight of the body from resting on the lens. There are several plastic loops and connectors on each side of the bag to support the different module and strap configurations. It comes with two large shoulder straps that can be attached to carry the bag in a backpack fashion.

The Niagara 506 is the second largest, followed closely by the Ozark 505. They seem like smaller, different sized versions of the Yellowstone. They have the same outer/inner fabrics, padding, and connectors for the modular configuration. These bags, however, only come with 1 shoulder strap each.

The Modular Belt 530 is fairly simple. It has a large buckle (so as not to get caught in whatever layers you are wearing) and a mesh, padded back pad. Underneath the belt loop of the Yellowstone 511 is a hook and loop strip that mates with a hook and loop strip on the belt to keep it from sliding around. When
IMAGE 3
Inside of the Ozark
these are in place, they are so effective that they are almost a nuisance to get undone. The belt also has two small zippered pockets where you can connect to two smaller bags, although if there is a bag in place the pocket is not accessible.

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

There are not really any instructions included with these bags. The tags include pictures showing the different ways you can hook up the modular system, but it leaves it to the user to figure out how to do this. It did not take me long to figure out, but brief instructions might be helpful.

TRYING IT OUT

IMAGE 4
Inside of the Niagara
Initially, I strapped these on at about the same place that the hip strap on my backpack would rest. This proved to be very awkward. The belt is connected to the Yellowstone pack below where the main body of the camera rests. This makes it very top heavy and it tends to pull away from my body. This means the bottom of the bag is resting on my behind and as I walk, it bounces around.

Looking for an alternate way to rig the system, I realized that you could use the two included shoulder straps in combination with the belt to create a backpack-like system out of the three bags. The shoulder straps provide more support for the top of the bag, keeping it from pulling out while the belt prevents it from swinging about. This works very well for me, and is probably how I will use this system the majority of the time. However, if I have my backpack on, this configuration is not going to be possible.

SUMMARY

I commend M-ROCK for thinking out of the box and creating a belt camera system that appears to be very durable, protective, and rich with features. However, there are still some wearability problems that need to be smoothed out with the belt.

All things considered, I believe the reasonable price and ultimate customization of these bags makes them a great deal. At the very least, they can be used like most other camera bags, but it has the added modular and belt functionality.

This concludes my Initial Report. In two months, approximately late August, I will report my experiences with the bags to date. Please come back then to read those results.

IMAGE 6
Backs of the cases
IMAGE 7
Sides of the cases


FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

The first trip into the field with this camera bag system was in West Milford, NJ, on a day hike to Terrace Pond. Starting out the wonderful day in July, it was sunny, very humid, and just under 90 F (32 C). The trail was very rocky and steep, with large mud puddles is several sections. Once we arrived at the pond, a thunderstorm moved in and it rained for about 45 minutes before becoming sunny once again. The whole hike was about 4 miles (6.4 km) round trip.

The second trip was to New York City at the end of July. The weather was sunny with the temperature around 85 F (about 29.4 C). There was a significant amount of distance covered.

The final trip which will be discussed was in late September on the Mahoosuc Notch and Old Speck sections of the Appalachian Trail. It was a two and a half day backpacking trip. The weather was sunny and unusually warm for this time of year, in the upper 70s (around 25 C) during the day.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Fit:
As I quickly discovered during the first trip to Terrace Pond, wearing this as a hip belt does not work well for me. As mentioned above in the initial report, when I walk the bottom of the Yellowstone bag hits my rump causing it to bounce all over. Wearing it with both the belt and shoulder straps, as described in the initial report, was super comfortable but mutually exclusive with a backpack (since both occupy the same space on your back).

In fact, wearing the system with a back pack is problematic to begin with. For me, most full sized backpacks come down far enough that there is no room for the camera system in the back. You can swing the camera bags around to the front, but I found this to be very awkward and uncomfortable as well. Finally, during my trip this past weekend, I used the belt to attach the system to my backpack directly. This was done by securing the hip strap around the lower half of the pack rather than securing it around my waist. This improved the comfort problem but the accessibility took a hit, as I now had to ask a friend or remove the pack completely to get the camera out. In addition, you look completely ridiculous and get a lot of weird looks when walking in crowded places, like New York City.

The other issue I had was more of a personal issue. I have a 32 inch (0.81 m) waist, so when all three modules are attached to the belt, the two smaller ones start to wrap around the side of my hips. This causes them to stick out so that the natural swing of my arms is impeded. This can be solved by attaching the smaller modules to the Yellowstone bag, but this decreases the stability of the system.

Quality of Construction:
There is really nothing negative that I can say in this category. These bags are virtually bombproof, and not nearly as heavy as you would expect from something so sturdy. As of the date this report was written, the bags barely show any signs of wear, other than a little dirt here and there.

Unfortunately, during the trip to Terrace Pond where it rained, I had put the bags inside my water repellent backpack while going for a swim, so I have not had a chance to test the included weather jackets. Although, on second thought, I may do a dummy test first before risking my camera.

Performance:
Again, there is very little negative that I can say about the performance of this system. There are far more features and pockets than most people will ever use. There is plenty of stash space for extra memory cards and batteries. The bags and belt can be configured in so many different ways, I am still trying them all out.

The only problem I found is that there is a hard plastic cuff covering the zippered opening on the smaller bags. These cuffs make it difficult to unzip these cases sometimes. It is not a serious problem and in reality it is probably just trading protection for accessibility.

Customer Service:
Luckily I have not had a problem with these bags, so I have yet to get in contact with the customer service!

SUMMARY

Things I Like:
-Unbelievably durable
-Relatively light weight
-Packed with features
-Included weather jackets

Things I Don't Like:
-Uncomfortable and awkward to wear as a hip belt
-Small waist leads to the side bags wrapping around slightly

This concludes my Field Report. Please check back in two months' time for my Long Term Report. Thanks to Michael Rockwell from M-ROCK and BackpackGearTest.org for this testing opportunity.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

Figure A
Figure A
I continued to take this camera system on most of my day hikes and other more tourist-type trips. As I mentioned above, it does not fit well with larger backpacks, so I did not take it on any longer trips. The temperature has ranged from around freezing (0 C or 32 F) to 70 F (21 C). These trips were primarily in New England, with a few recent ones in Colorado. As I do not like to gamble with my camera, I do not take it on days where there is a chance of rain.

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Other than the observations that I made in the Field Report, there are only a few other things that I have to mention. I have also taken several pictures of myself wearing the system to illustrate the fit that I am describing.

Figure B
Figure B
The main thing that I found I do not like about the case, since the Field Review, is the straps that are provided with the case. They all have pads, but the adjustable part of the strap is made from a very rough synthetic material. This causes two problems. First, if it ends up rubbing on my skin, it can make it raw quickly. Though, this can be quickly solved by adjusting the pads. Second, it makes it very hard to tighten the straps while there is even the slightest pressure on them (in other words, when I am wearing it).

Figure C
Figure C
Now for the pictures illustrating the fit. I found the most comfortable configuration to be using both the modular belt and the shoulder straps. This allows me to use the system as a backpack with a hip belt. The reason I like this configuration is that it is the most stable I found. All the others seem to have some degree of wobble while I walk. This is demonstrated in Figure A

Also illustrated is the way the camera hangs down and rests on my rear (Figure B). In addition, how the side modules stick out and impede the natural swing of my arms while walking (Figure C).

SUMMARY

IMAGE 4
Figure D
Things I Like:
-Unbelievably durable
-Relatively light weight
-Packed with features
-Included weather jackets
-Tons of storage space.

Things I Don't Like:
-Uncomfortable and awkward to wear as a hip belt
-Small waist leads to the side bags wrapping around slightly
-Rough synthetic straps can be irritating and hard to tighten.

I would like to thank BackpackGearTest and M-ROCK for allowing me to take part in this test. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the email address listed in my information above.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

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