Wedding Photographer

The Cecilia Mercator & Tharp - Camera Bag Review

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INTRODUCTION

Over the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve had the privilege of testing, reviewing, and owning way more camera bags than I should. The equipment room in my studio at one point looked more like I imagine a Kardashian bag closet would look rather than a photographer’s gear room. I actually started selling off some of the ones that I either didn’t use anymore or have found others over time that I simply like better. It’s not so much that I have a thing for camera bags, it’s more of a problem that I have with saying no when companies reach out and ask if I want to test out and review their new products. Good companies, like Cecilia, that I know make quality products.

 
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A bit of a backstory, I was initially introduced to the Cecilia product line through a photographer friend before they even had any bag designs completed. In fact, I believe they had just started designing a few concept ideas but nothing more than that. I did some research on the company and then reached out to the owner to introduce myself and ask if they would be willing to send me a few products to test and review. You can click HERE to read more about the products I tested and what I thought. If not, let’s just say I was more than impressed. Not only with the Alpaca Wool camera straps that had been their original product that caught my eye, but also a few of the others that I normally would have passed on. Products that both my wife and I are still using today.

I spoke to the owner and founder, Michael Fleisch, at the time and he had mentioned a few camera bag concepts he was currently working on. When he explained the concept and what he had in mind I had just started using backpacks again, something I had gotten away from for years. Hearing that a backpack and messenger bag were in the works I was really hoping to hear back from him once he had the bags ready to go. Well, luckily I did, and here we are.

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REVIEW PROCESS

So, as I started putting this review together, it dawned on me that I really should explain my process for bag reviews. If you were to go through all my gear reviews, where I also throw bag reviews, you won’t find me trashing any bags or writing negative reviews. I don’t just write up positive reviews for every camera bag or accessory that comes my way. I learned early on when I started doing these that I simply don’t want to waste my time testing out a bad product any longer once I know it’s one that I won’t ever use or that I’m disappointed in. If a product comes my way, outside of actual camera gear, that I don’t like or recommend I send it back and give the company my honest feedback directly in the hopes that they make the changes I suggest. You can see all of my gear reviews HERE.

Depending on the job, or project, I tend to switch things up a lot when it comes to the accessories I use with my camera gear. I tend to either use a messenger bag, backpack style camera bag, single camera strap, or one of my Holdfast Moneymakers. Besides the bags that I’ve been sent to test and review, I have plenty that I’ve bought as well for either myself or my wife. Some have stayed and some have been quickly sent back.

I basically carry a camera with me at all times, even when it’s just between home and the studio. I’ve been like that ever since I purchased my first camera and don’t see myself changing anytime soon. I use a couple of different backpack style bags as work bags, carrying my 15” MBP, iPad Pro, Leica M10P, along with a number of other items. I typically don’t use those for shooting, I like to keep them looking nice since I meet with clients at the studio. I have a few different bags that I like to use while shooting, messenger bags and backpacks, and some that I use just for carrying gear from one place to another such as airport rollers and Pelican cases.

Since a lot of my weddings can involve a lot of hiking in the mountains or on large farm properties, to jumping from Uber to Uber in a big city, having options to choose from before each job is definitely something I can appreciate. Believe it or not, I have about 3 different backpack style bags that I use and beat up pretty good, 3 or 4 different messenger bags, and different camera straps for each camera that I shoot with. So, even though I have way more bags than I should, it’s often surprising to other photographers when they see how beat up most of them are.

 
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One thing about having the unique opportunity to test products like camera bags is that I get to try out all the different styles, pocket configurations, and material that each company uses. This has definitely helped give me a good idea of what I personally like, don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. I’ve tried some that have had stitching start to come loose within weeks, some that simply aren’t comfortable to wear whatsoever, and others that I thought were great products right out of the box that turned out to be poor quality and not be able to take a beating. I can honestly say that camera bags are probably one of the toughest products to review because it’s such an over-saturated market and it’s a lot like reviewing a pair of jeans. Personal taste and style play a big role in choosing a camera bag, but just like jeans, you don’t want them falling apart after you wash them a few times. Basically, I’m going to tell you what I like and dislike about the two Cecilia bags I have and let you know some of my thoughts. I’ll keep it short and sweet since you can see by the photos what they look like and if these style bags are something you would be interested in or not.


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The Mercator is the 16L backpack camera bag that comes in a black and brown leather as well as the cotton canvas that was sent to me. Cecilia also offers a slightly smaller 14L design called the Humboldt which comes in the same options. While the look and design on the outside is quite simple, the inside is quite perfect. The 16L that I have holds a 15” laptop with a leather strap that snaps in place to keep it from accidentally sliding out. There’s just enough pockets and room to hold all the gear that I’ve ever needed to put in any backpack camera bag.

PROS

  • Weight: It’s extremely lightweight

  • Comfortable. Even with its very basic shoulder strap design, it’s more comfortable than most that have tried to get fancy with the design.

  • Impressive pocket design. Some bags have way too many, others not enough, the inside design and pocket layout is done nicely.

  • Holds its form well.

  • Easy to access and hide rain cover.

  • Well made tripod or light stand pocket and strap.

CONS

  • Not the sexiest looking backpack design, it’s quite simple and plain looking.

  • Personally not a fan of the one and only cotton canvas color, but being that this is the first line introduction to a bag line from Cecilia I’m sure there will be more colors soon. Although, I don’t know for sure.

  • The provided strap to hold a tripod or light stand is located inside a pocket. As you’ll see in the photos below, the pocket needs to be open when using the strap.

  • Price is $398 for the canvas and $498 for the leather.


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The Tharp is the 8L Cecilia messenger style bag, which also comes in a 12L named the Lambert, in the same two leather colors and cotton canvas color. The Tharp and Lambert are like most messenger bags with a few unique characteristics. While ONA messenger bags use straps and buckles to close the top flap and ThinkTank uses velcro, Cecilia went with magnets strong enough to hold it closed. The EVA foam padding is also a nice feature, not only as extra protection for the gear inside, but also comfort.

PROS

  • Weight: Light weight just like the backpack.

  • Comfortable with a well padded strap.

  • Sturdy and holds form really good compared to other messenger bags.

  • Seems to be quite durable.

  • Pocket design, just like the backpack is the best I’ve seen.

  • Price is $149 for the canvas and $249 for the leather. A good price for one of the best made messenger bags I’ve used.

CONS

  • No short strap for picking up, only the long shoulder strap.

  • Same as with the backpack models, I’m not a fan of canvas color.

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WPPI 2019 - Workshop & Photowalk

Jay Cassario Leica wedding photographer

Once again I’ll be heading back to the city that never sleeps for the once a year wedding photography event known as WPPI representing Leica Camera USA. This will be the third consecutive year that I’ll be teaching a workshop followed by a complimentary dinner, but it sold out before I had a chance to really even promote it.

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However, due to the workshop filling up so fast, I was asked to fly in a few days early and do a photowalk. Photowalks are a popular thing at WPPI and even though I’ve never attended one myself, I’ll basically be able to run it the way that I feel a photowalk should be run. WPPI will be providing models and we’ll be heading out onto the strip during the last couple hours of light. Just the way I like it.

I don’t know the total headcount yet for the photowalk, but this the first time that I’m promoting it so I would think that there are plenty of spots available. If you’re interested in joining me, you’ll have the opportunity to get your hands on one of the Leica camera/lens combos available free of charge to shoot with as well. Here is the link to register: https://photo.a2zinc.net/WPPI2019/Public/SessionDetails.aspx?FromPage=Speakers.aspx&SessionID=6988&nav=true&Role=U%27


WPPI 2018 Workshop Crew - Click on image to see the blog post!

WPPI 2018 Workshop Crew - Click on image to see the blog post!

A Look Back - Favorite Wedding Photos From 2018

A handful of my favorite wedding and engagement photos from 2018. Click on the image below to be taken to the blog post on the Twisted Oaks website.

WPPI 2018 - Leica Camera Workshop

Last year during WPPI, I gave an hour-long lecture for Leica during a sit-down dinner that they treated everyone to. We had a great turn-out and everyone that attended really liked how it was done differently than all the other WPPI lectures or classes. This year, we decided to step things up a little and rather than just a lecture we would host a complimentary workshop out at the Springs Preserve. I loved that Leica was willing to switch things up this year and let me take a group of photographers out off the strip away from all the chaos and walk them through how I shoot an engagement session. We tried to do the shoot out at Red Rock Canyon where I had shot the day before but ultimately decided against it due to the permits and longer drive. Springs Preserve turned out to be the perfect spot for what I had in mind and was only a 15-minute drive from the Leica Store in Ceasars Palace.

Leica Workshop

A couple months before WPPI, just as I started planning for this workshop, I found out my good friend Mark Condon from Australia was coming over to the states to attend the expo along with his wife. Not only is he the creator of the popular website SHOTKIT, but he's also a pretty talented wedding photographer himself. After a little persuading, I was able to talk them into being the models for my workshop. 

Demonstrating creative use of harsh light and dark shadows

Demonstrating creative use of harsh light and dark shadows

We had 15 attendees show up which turned out to be the perfect head count for a workshop like this. I couldn't have asked for a better group of photographers, all asking questions and taking in everything I showed them. I went through everything from building client relationships, to posing, to shooting techniques and using natural light in creative ways. I also did things a little differently than I normally do at workshops and I let the attendees shoot a good amount. I would go through a few things, work with Mark and Elissa, then back out and let someone else lead. Overall, it was an awesome workshop and afterward, Leica treated everyone to a dinner while I went over some of my shots and post production. 

Photo by: Phil Cuenco

Photo by: Phil Cuenco

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Photo by: Phil Cuenco

Photo by: Phil Cuenco

I had a great time teaching this workshop and I'm hoping to do something similar again next year. A big thanks to Leica Camera USA for hosting the event, to Mark and Elissa for modeling, my good friends Bud Johnson and Jason Vinson for helping out, and John Kreidler and Phil Cuenco from Leica for helping me put everything together. 

Photo by: Bud Johnson

Photo by: Bud Johnson

Photo by: Bud Johnson

Photo by: Bud Johnson

Here are a handful of shots from the workshop. I only took a handful, so I'm glad that Bud and Jason took a few as well when I wasn't shooting. If you're interested in attending one of my workshops, I'll be teaching one in LA from April 20-22nd, here is the link to check it out - Leica Wedding Intensive.

Photo by: Jason Vinson

Photo by: Jason Vinson

Photo by: Jason Vinson

Photo by: Jason Vinson

Photo by: Jason Vinson

Photo by: Jason Vinson

SHOTS I TOOK WHILE TEACHING...



 
 

WPPI - Complimentary Workshop On Creative Portraiture

Click on the image to see more details! The workshop is already more than half-way filled up with only 8 spots remaining. If you're coming out to WPPI, this will be a great way to get out shooting, off the strip with complimentary Leica loans if you want to test out some of their latest gear.