Custom made Internal Camera Unit

If you have read my Clik Elite post, you are probably aware that I prefer sturdy camera backpacks that balance load ergonomically. The Clik Elite met my requirements in that area, but fell short in others. One of the greatest shortcomings was the lack of a laptop unit. I also own a Kata Bumblebee PL-220 which carries every single lens and accessory I own, including a laptop. This is a great backpack for use within the city, and when I am moving around in a car. It falls short for hikes and travel because it does not carry load very well.

The internet introduced me to the F-stop series of bags. I was initially not very sold on the idea of a bag inside a backpack. If you have not heard of the F-stop mountain series, I suggest you start by watching this video:

Th video made me fall in love with the bells and whistles of the F-stop mountain series bags. I researched a lot about their Loka and Tilopa models in the mountain series. These two models seemed the right size for me. The F-stop Guru is their most popular model, but my investigation revealed that it is not a very big bag. I need something that can hold a jacket and some other small stuff outside of the camera compartment. Actual reviews from users of the product always gives you a better idea than marketing material.

At the heart of the F-stop mountain series is the Internal Camera Unit system. This is essentially the bag where you store your camera gear. F-stop makes the ICUs in different sizes. This is great, because you can choose an ICU that best contains your gear. You are not constrained to one size.

Everything about the F-stop mountain series sounded great, and subsequent to much deliberation I was ready to buy a F-stop Loka. This was not an easy decision, because the F-stop bags are expensive. To add to that, their ICUs cost extra, and they probably have the most expensive shipping cost amongst online retailers. After much analysis-paralysis, all the great things I read about the mountain series prompted me to go for it. However, there was one small problem. F-stop has production issues, and their bags are almost always back-ordered. I wanted to coincide my purchase with a visit to the United States, and waiting was not an option for me. I had to drop the idea of purchasing an F-stop bag which actually saved me $378.00 or 24,000INR in today’s conversion.

The money saved by not buying an F-stop bag did not solve my problems though. I still needed a camera bag. When I re-visited the concept of a bag inside a backpack, I felt that that was the way to go. I made another unsuccessful attempt at buying a Clik Elite Contrejour, but I cancelled my order because I could not bring myself to spend $305 after I was out of the charms of the Clik Elites and F-stops. And yea, I am also fickle minded like that. I am also a DIY kinda guy. So I directed all my energies to finding a regular backpack into which I could fit an F-stop ICU. It was a really hard search, but in the end I found two great packs.

Deuter ACT Trail 32



Kelty Flyway 43 Kelty Flyway 43

Both these bags have a front access system that is called ‘panel loading’ in the world of backpacks. I learnt this, and a lot of other information from Jack Brauer’s post. After acquiring these bags (they serve me as everyday/travel packs as well), my next target was to have a custom ICU built. This wasn’t an easy task either. Yea, there are bag makers, but not all of them can translate requirements into a quality finished product. It takes special expertise to make a camera bag with the foam padded inserts and all.



custom made camera gear keeper custom made camera gear keeper

interior with padded foams

This is the interior of the bag. Contains partitions made of soft material and velcro. Can me adjusted to taste.

A front stash pocket on the inside, with zippers.

A front stash pocket on the inside, with zippers.

I worked on the shortcomings of the previous version of the bag. This time, I picked materials myself. The quality of materials available in Bangalore is close to (but not the same as)  what is used in big name international brands. But you have to search for the right shops, and those shops must be willing to provide you with the material in small quantities. That is generally not the case because most vendors deal with bulk orders only.

I worked with a different tailor this time. He was extremely cooperative.  The quality of his work is top class. Because I could work closely with him, I was able to get the exact fit I wanted. Here is the camera unit inside the Deuter ACT Trail 32L backpack:

The custom made camera compartment fits perfectly inside the Deuter backpack.

The custom made camera compartment fits perfectly inside the Deuter backpack.

With pro Canon gear inside the Deuter ACT Trail.

With pro Canon gear inside the Deuter ACT Trail.

Space for personal items in the deuter.

With the camera compartment inserted, I get ample space on top of the Deuter bag. This is how I wanted it to be.

Here is the gear I can hold in the bag:

The camera compartment is very spacious.

The camera compartment is very spacious.

  • Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS Mark II or Canon 100-400L. (Canon 100-400L shown here).
  • Canon 24mm TS-E or Canon 17-40L or Canon 24-70 f/2.8 Mark II (Canon 24mm TSE and Canon 17-40L shown here).
  • Canon 5D Mark III with Promedia L Bracket.
  • Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro.
  • Lee filters in a Clik Elite filter pouch (beneath the 100mm lens in this picture).

Even with all this gear, I have space for more. In the picture the lenses fit lose inside the compartment but I have packed them that way only for demonstration.

I can even carry the bag over my shoulder.

I can carry the compartment unit alone.

I can carry the compartment unit alone.

As a sling bag.

The bag worn as a sling over one shoulder with the belt I got made. Photo by Niranj V.

Here, I have worn the Deuter with gear inside.

Camera unit inside the Deuter ACT Trail and over my back.

Camera unit inside the Deuter ACT Trail and over my back. Photo by Niranj V.

I am pleased with the outcome of my little project. It all boils down to good workmanship and material. I dub this bag, “The Gear Keeper (TGK).” If you are interested in a similar bag, drop me a note. I am willing to get bulk quantities of this bag made if I get the right quorum of interested photographers. My email:

If you need tips on what gear to carry on a camping trip, check out this page.

You can read about the previous (beta) incarnation of the bag in the next page.

Pages: 1 2

One Response to Custom made Internal Camera Unit
  1. vikram Reply

    Hi Pratap,
    Been spending a lot of time researching and looking for a bag that could carry all the camera equipment (similar to yours) along with a hydration bladder and some light clothing like a jacket etc. Found the f-stop to be quite a match , however they really seem to be in trouble with their production etc. Thats when i came across your post here. (Not sure how old). Wondering if you did get around to making to making this specialised gear bag in bulk. Would love to get one if you did. Look froward to hearing from you. Regards vikram

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *