The quest for the ultimate camera bag is a lifelong journey filled with the occasional mistakes, great rare finds and excitement for the purchase of a bag that just may be the holy grail. I’ve been searching for the ultimate Leica M bag for the last 21 years and I believe I may have found it. Not only that, top reviewer Steve Huff is of similar opinion.
Some 6 months ago, when in Singapore I was given a bag for my birthday present. Good friend Jonathan obtained a rare, hard to find bag called the Wotancraft 'Ryker' Urban Classic 001. ‘What a bag, and what a name!’ I thought to myself. My immediate impression was that a god from above had been reading my mind and finally created the bag I’ve been searching for all these years. So without giving too much away, let me break it down for you……
What about this brand – Wotan…..what?
Wotancraft is the brainchild of James Chang, who started to design the ultimate camera bag for his own use back in 2007. The name “Wotancraft” came from “Wotan”, which is the Old High German form of “Odin” who is a major god in Germanic mythology and is associated with victory, wisdom and magic. James strongly believed that careful craftsmanship is far better than mass factory production and he had a vision to transform the brand into a powerful one that achieves mythical status through the highest quality standard. They also happen to make a variety of camera bags, cases, and beautiful watch straps and satchel bags.
Design, size and weight
Part of the reason I haven’t found the ultimate M bag is because they’re all either too boxy, too hard, too soft, too heavy, too old fashioned, or too pretentious. They usually also lack enough zippered compartments for storing small and important objects like memory cards, wallet and passport. Not the Wotancraft Ryker!
The bag is the perfect size for those looking for something smaller than A4 but fits the daily needs of a photographer on the move. Exterior dimensions of 11.4 (W) x 5.5 (D) x 8.7 (H) and weighs 1.23kgs, which is a little on the heavy size compared to canvas bags but quite normal for a leather bag.
The design is simple and effective. It’s a beautiful, clean looking bag with a balance between a classic and contemporary look. It’s very classy and luxurious, yet doesn’t look like a typical camera bag. The flap connected to the back covers the entire front of the bag, held in place by magnets as well as a leather safety strip going across the bag’s width. If you prefer a cleaner look the flap can sit over the leather strip for a cleaner look, held in place by the magnets. What I love most is that there is no Velcro used for holding the flap or compartments in place, making the bag silent in operation, considering the zips are opened carefully of course.
The main compartment is excellent. It is lined with a high quality purple velvet material that is luxurious and soft to the touch, as well as having the typical separators that can be moved and held in place by Velcro. On top of that, the entire main compartment is lined by a zip that secures the whole section. Combined with the flap held in place by the magnets and leather strip, your valuable equipment isn’t going anywhere. Funny enough Steve mentioned in his article that he had an issue in the car where the bag went flying and the camera was held in place due to the zippered compartment – well I had the same experience and my gear was unharmed.
There is a front zippered pocket that spans the width of the bag and on top of that is an open pocket for those not-so-important things. Lastly, there is another zippered compartment spanning the width of the back of the bag which is very handy for those thinner objects you’ll need to access more regularly.
Build Quality and Reliability/Longevity
A great designed bag is no good without quality craftsmanship holding it all together and the Ryker comes up winning. The entire bag is handmade, and as a result, the stitching quality is faultless, comparing well against the best luxury brands available. You can see and feel that the stitching isn’t just well stitched, it’s a high quality thread that instils confidence in the user because the bag feels so well put together.
The material used in the construction of the bag is all of the highest quality. The leather used is the same type of luxurious leather that Prada, Gucci, LV, etc. uses in their leather bags. It is matched together with a microfibre lining for maximum comfort and durability. Wotancraft used a full grain buffalo leather that went through an extensive vegetable tan process. The leather will develop a nice patina with increased use and look better with age.
All Wotancraft bags are hand made by the leather artisans from Wotancraft Atelier. And without the right material, they will not start production. Every single step is painstakingly quality controlled to ensure the highest quality. Factor all these together, the Ryker is the best leather camera bag I have ever seen in the market with the highest quality in every aspect of the bag, far above all other brands available.
The hardware used is made from high grade stainless steel to ensure strength and durability in holding up the bag. Even the zippers are of very high quality with large teeth and a smooth operation in use. Over the past 6 months I’ve never had any issue with the bag. The zip has never caught on anything, and the bag still looks great despite me using it daily and throwing it around, literally.
Thanks to the thick, non-slip shoulder pad, the bag is comfortable around the shoulder and the weight balances nicely without too much swing off the hip. Due to it not being to wide, it’s good to use in any environment and doesn’t scream “I’m carrying a camera”…..let alone a ‘Leica’. The leather is so nice that on the plane I often find myself fondling the bag and brushing my hands over the leather like a child and his first ‘blanky’.
Unlike a lot of other ‘vintage-inspired’ bags in the marketplace, this bag is not boxy, and this definitely helps with being a comfortable bag to wear, not just to carry. The fact the iPad compartment is inside the bag and not in the rear zippered compartment means the layer pressed against your hip is soft, considering you don’t store too many hard objects there.
For a bag of this size it can fit a considerable amount of gear – so much so that on one occasion I regretted filling it up so much due to the weight being a burden over an entire day’s use. On a daily basis I carry my Leica M with Summicron 35mm, a Nikon speedlight, off-shoe cable, wallet, Blackberry, iPhone, iPad mini, memory cards, Sony SD WiFi reader, and often a bottle of water…..and this is being quite conservative.
The iPad compartment can easy fit either an iPad Air or other full size iPad, or an iPad mini, including cases on either. It’s nicely tucked away with a protective Velcro flap so it doesn’t rub against the other equipment inside the main compartment. To me, this is what really makes this bag stand out from the rest.
The Ryker is a little larger than the famous Domke F5XB, which I’ve owned for around 15 years and while it’s a great size, the lack of pockets has always been an issue. The Domke is a thick weave canvas bag, so in terms of quality it’s up to you to decide if you prefer leather to canvas, but I’ll tell you one thing – the Ryker is put together with better quality and the combination of leathers, soft and hard, really add to the quality feel.
The other bag under A4 size than competes with the Ryker is the Billingham Hadley small, which is almost identical in dimensions and is made from a fine weave of high quality canvas and is very well known among the Leica Community. The problem with that is that it screams “Leica Inside!” For those city dwellers looking to get noticed for being a Leica user, this is a good thing, but to me, it’s not my style or preference. Billingham’s quality is known to be the very best and up until now, it was.
From a layout and design point of view the Hadley is distinctly known by the two leather strips holding the front top flap down. The top flap covers the sides which makes it better protected against the elements and prevents items from falling out between gaps in the cover. Unfortunately, there are no zips anywhere on this bag. It has two front pockets with buttons, but with no zip small items can fall out – not easily, but it’s possible. I always preferred the larger A4 sized Hadley Pro Which I owned) because it at least had one large zippered compartment on the back of the bag.
What could be improved?
This is really a tough one. Normally I’d spend a good hour listing all the improvements that could be made with the best bags on the market, but the Ryker was so well thought out before production and you can tell it was designed by a photographer who knows what they’re doing……but having said that there are a couple of things that could be improved:
- While the leather is thick and of impeccable quality, that comes at the expense of using relatively heavy leather, and I’d love to shave off another 300-500grams if possible. I know this sounds obvious, but the more you put into this bag, the more the weight becomes noticeable.
- The main strap is of a very fine heavy-duty leather but I feel it may not need to be so rigid. The strap is important but I feel the choice of leather may be a little overkill. Having said that though, I’ve never felt it being uncomfortable.
- I would prefer the front flap to overlap on the sides as well, similar to the Billingham design. This helps to ensure that water and dust falling from above does not enter the bag. Having a zippered main compartment does prevent this but an overhang design would be nice.
- Some of you may be concerned with the magnets, but I have had no issues with the magnets affecting any of my electronic equipment in the 6 months of use. Having said that, I’d probably remove them in future designs, especially considering the leather strip holds the flap firmly in place.
- I would also look for a lighter alternative to the heavy-duty strap end connectors. While they’re beautiful and work so well with the bag, they do contribute to the weight of the bag.
- Lastly I'd love to small loops part of the zip-ends so you can attach a lock to secure the equipment from unwanted hands. It's not the usual features on such bags but I'd still love to see it added.
Who would it suit?
If you’re after a small unobtrusive camera bag with style, quality, great layout and zippered compartments, the Ryker really has no competition. Not only is it great for a Leica kit, but it’s suitable for any mirrorless camera kit plus a whole lot of extras.
At a price of US$379, it may sound a bit pricey compared to alternatives in the marketplace, but if you truly value quality that matches your equipment and photography, go spoil yourself with the Wotancraft Ryker. It has more quality and less hype than any bag I’ve ever owned and I feel privileged to have one.
If you're interested in buying one of these beautiful bags or any other of Wotencraft's fine products contact:
They are the exclusive distributor for Artisan Obscura, Barton1972, Cub&Co, Eddycam, Komaru, Oberwerth and Wotancraft products in South-East Asia.