What’s in a name? Well, Pelican is pretty much synonymous with ultra tough cases designed to protect all manner of gear from the abuse of rough handling, as well as dirty, dusty, or wet conditions. When it came time for them to name their new backpacks, they tried to squeeze every detail about the product into the name. Hence, we have the Pelican S115 Sport Elite Laptop/Camera Pro Pack.
Photo backpacks with laptop storage are not new. But rather than a foam and nylon sleeve, the S115 combines a Slim Pelican case for laptops with the utility of a rolling camera bag (sans wheels), all in a tidy backpack that is TSA-approved for carry on. On the front, a hard plate familiar to Pelican fans protects your expensive gear from the occasional harsh blow. There are two zippered pockets on one side for larger, less fragile items, and the opposite side has another pocket best suited for flat items, since the little pocket below it contains one of two straps for attaching a tripod. Inside, a bright yellow interior is equipped with two long dividers, and six small ones, easily configurable with velcro. A thin panel with a sleeve for documents can attach via velcro to keep your camera gear in place and covered, or it can stay attached to the lid, which has three mesh pockets of varying sizes for smaller items like batteries, memory cards, and filters. A water and dust-resistance zipper runs around the main compartment, and all zipper pulls were simple knotted nylon cord with what looked like shrink tubing, but easy to grasp.
It’s not just a camera case though. Pelican put some effort into the backpack and laptop parts too. The straps are nicely padded, and adjust at the top and bottom. In addition to the removable waist strap (which isn’t padded), there’s a height-adjustable sternum strap. Large mesh and foam pads provide comfort and airflow, but this isn’t an all-day hiking pack, and most users would probably never wear it for more than an hour or two at a time. If you’ve got a 17″ Apple® or 15″ Ultrabook™ laptop, the built in Pelican Slim case provides their crush-proof, watertight protection, along with the additional security of padlock options. They even included little removable bumpers to keep your laptop in place. It’s not quite deep enough for a standard 15.6″ laptop, as they’re just a bit too thick.
On paper, this is probably my ideal camera bag, capable of carrying two bodies,3-4 lenses, and a pair of flashes, which is my usual kit for weddings and portraits. For wildlife and scenic work, I could swap the flashes and mid-range zoom for a compact telephoto, and have all the necessary gear to get some great photos. Unfortunately, I can’t pack it quite the way I’ve packed every other backpack and camera bag I’ve ever owned. A Canon 17-40 L series lens just barely fits standing upright. A 24-70 f2.8 and 24-105 are too tall. Yes, Pelican shows them laying flat in the pack. And that’s certainly doable, but just like some people choose Nikon over Canon, we all have our personal preferences. When I went to place a camera body into the pack, I realized it’s not deep enough to accommodate one with the vertical grip installed. In the end, I fit everything in, but it’s not my ideal, since I like to have everything easily accessible.
Once I got over my initial resistance to change, I realized this is a pretty sweet backpack. Having to attach the grips back to the cameras before I could start shooting was an inconvenience, but only a minor one. With a little trial and error, I’m sure I’ll get everything packed so it’s safe, yet accessible. As I mentioned, I have a rolling bag for most work, and until recently, I had a dedicated photo backpack as well. The S115 could reasonably take the place of both, as it offers a bit more protection than the softer backpacks, and nearly the ease of transport a roller provides.
If you’re like me and prefer to set your camera bag down and work right out of it, this is a great backpack, as long as you don’t mind having to remove your grip(s) when traveling. Thanks to the backpack design, it’s certainly more versatile than a regular, hard Pelican case, and seems more secure than a soft backpack. Since my current laptop doesn’t fit, that ended up being a bit of wasted space for me, but if my laptop was vital to my photography, I’d have upgraded it by now. If Pelican makes this deeper, without the laptop case, I’ll be the first in line for that model. www.pelican.com
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the Pelican S115 Sport Elite Laptop/Camera Pro Pack for free from Pelican, in consideration for review publication.