I have been using the Kelly Moore “Kelly Boy” camera bag since my girlfriend gave it to me as a gift for Christmas a year ago. In that time I have used the bag a lot. I have carried it casually on social gatherings, shot three weddings with it, and made it my main camera bag. I’ll say it clearly right at the outset, it is my favourite camera bag, and the one I would reach for in most portrait shooting situations. Does that mean I think it is without faults, no! No camera bag is without faults, in fact, I suspect it is impossible for a bag designer to make a perfect camera bag, that is why most keen photographers have a few different designs for different situations. Personally I have a Lowepro camera rucksack, which I chose to take on holiday, but for shooting weddings, it had to be the “Kelly Boy”.
Firstly, the unique selling point of the “Kelly Boy” bag is its appearance. This is a man bag for your camera. It resembles nothing so much as a stylish courier bag or business bag. No one would look at it and think, camera geek, and in fact that is true of all of the Kelly Moore designs. This is its strength and its weakness of course:
Strength because it looks great and you can’t help but feel relaxed about using it at a wedding or social gathering as it looks cool and fits in well.
Weakness because in some ways it places style above function.
OK, so you get that I like how this bag looks, well what else do I like about it? The main thing is the top cover which folds completely back to hang down out of the way of the main compartment allowing you full and unrestricted access to your camera and lenses. In use at a photoshoot this is pretty much the exclusive way I use the bag. You simply reach down and grab the next lens as you chat with your subject without breaking stride or flow, this is priceless in portraiture. As long as you can limit yourself to the camera and three spare lenses, or in my case, the camera, attached lens, two spare lenses and a flashgun, the bag is perfect for being convenient and unobtrusive in use. The front pockets zip up easily and hold enough essentials for a shoot, like cards, batteries, and in my case, my pocket wizards. So in summary this always holds what I need for a portrait shoot, and I can’t ask more than that in a convenient and stylish package. I usually try to have a larger bag handy with my other lenses and bodies somewhere nearby, like in the car, as a base-store, but work from the “Kelly Boy” once I have chosen the lenses for my needs.
On the negative side, I couldn’t live without a good photo-rucksack as they have many of the features that I find missing in the Kelly Boy bag. Padding is an important missing feature for me, the Kelly Boy compartments can be resized with velcro tabs as in so many camera bags, but they are simply cards covered in the man-made leather style material the bag is made from. They are in short, useful dividers but not padded or particularly protective; thankfully most modern kit is fairly sturdy and doesn’t need extensive padding to stop gentle bumping in normal-photo-session use, so this is a problem but not a major one in practice. It is worth noting that I have seen photos of the “Kelly Boy” bag with a more padded interior, so I am not sure whether there are more padded versions available. It would be worth checking with Kelly Moore about this if you are planning a purchase and this worries you. The more serious issue I have, is that the flap is held down by two unobtrusive magnets which are great in normal use, but let the top pop up too easily if you have picked the bag up at an awkward angle, say from your car boot for example; it is possible to have a lens slip out with potentially damaging consequenses. (This did happen to me, and now I’m super careful about it). I would like to see Kelly put an internal cover on the bag to hold things safely in the compartments during travel, but which could be easily removed in use. Another worry for me in the rainy West of Scotland is the gap left on either side of the flap when closed which can let rain in. I have been caught in a few rain showers and I have been forcibly holding these as tightly covered as I can to minimise ingress, but a nylon rain cover, or a fold out flap on the main cover to deflect rain if caught out would help. Of course I would never take the Kelly Boy out deliberately in the rain, but the reality is that you can get caught out!
The bag has the now obligatory slot behind the camera and lens compartments for a laptop or similar. I have no strong feelings about this, but I can’t imagine that I would use this bag to hold a laptop. The bag is all about casual and handy support of camera and lenses in my view, and with my 5dMK2, 3 lenses and a laptop, this would be an unpleasant beast to carry casually; certainly it doesn’t take up much space in the “Kelly Boy”, and so I don’t think it has cut down on spaces for the main purpose of the bag.
So my summary, if you are a guy, and you want a stylish bag to carry your camera that lets you access your stuff with casual ease, then this is your bag. There are other messenger style bags available, but this is beautifully finished and looks special with it’s detailing and designed appearance. If Kelly Moore was to make improvements to the bag to address my minor concerns, then I would probably want to buy a new one, and that is about as good an endorsement of my experience with the Kelly Boy bag as I can give.
This is a great bag, and I’m happy to endorse it with the minor but important provisos that I have listed.
You will also enjoy Kelly Moore’s excellent website:
Note: My girlfriend bought herself the Kelly Moore B-Hobo at the same time, and might add a guest review of her own shortly?
(She also supplied the photos of the bag on me)