When it comes to camera bags, I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done here at The Phoblographer. We’ve arguably reviewed the most camera bags of any publication. And our team comes in a variety of body shapes, plus we’re of different genders.
I’ve been reviewing Manfrotto bags for a long time, and they always seem to do something that doesn’t get it quite right. That’s what I experienced with the Manfrotto Advanced Active III for the most part. I purposely held off on writing this for a month. Why? I wanted to sit with my feelings on it and step away from the experience. But after some time away, I still feel the same.
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Too Long; Didn’t Read
The Manfrotto Advanced Active III could’ve been better with the addition of a few things like a waist strap and better side pockets. In our meeting with Manfrotto, they told us it didn’t need a waist strap. But, we found this to be a poor understanding of the modern photographer.
Pros and Cons
- It’s all black.
- A decent amount of pockets and compartmentalization
- It can hold a surprising amount of gear, just not in the camera section.
- For what this bag is, it’s comfortable but could’ve been made so much more so.
- It was only around $ 109.
- I wish there were a canvas and leather version of this bag. I understand that can be too heavy, so I’d settle for treated hemp.
- It really needed a waist strap.
- The side pockets feel restricted.
- I don’t quite understand how the top compartment is so huge yet the camera compartment is so small.
- I think all backpacks these days should have a roll-top standard. It lets a photographer expand the capabilities of the backpack.
In the grand scheme of things, the Manfrotto Advanced Active III is not reinventing the wheel. Everything that we’ve seen from this camera bag we’ve seen from others. So what makes it stand out? Manfrotto’s padding is quite good and has gotten better. But this is across the entire latest refresh of products.
We stuffed the Manfrotto Advanced Active III with:
- Sony a7r III
- Tamron 17-28mm f2.8
- Tamron 70-300mm FE
- MacBook Pro 2015
- Filson mask
The tech specs for this bag are borrowed from the Adorama listing.
The Advanced Compact, Active, Befree, Gear, Fast, and Travel backpacks offer a variety of backpacks that differ in overall capacity, designated compartments for camera gear and personal items, and various options for access points to the gear compartments that complement the needs of every creator with any kind of on-the-go workflow.
• Black Microinjection 3D Logo: Characteristic feel of the Manfrotto Bag collections’ new sleek and minimalist design
• Gray Hypalon Pullers: Durable lightweight accents for the main gear compartment access
• Gray Functional Details
• Total Black Polyester Fabric: Characteristic feel of the Manfrotto Bag collections’ new sleek and minimalist design
• Manfrotto Branded Lining
• M-Guard Dividers – Improved Protection
• Harmonized Harness System with Chest Strap
The Manfrotto Advanced Active III is a fascinating bag. First off, if you’ve ever wanted a camera bag that doesn’t look like it’s a camera bag, this is probably one of if not the best options on the market. When you look at it, you wouldn’t at all think it’s a camera bag. It’s also got a very plain, nondescript look.
The low profile of the bag mostly permeates through the rest of the design. Manfrotto’s big logo, red tabs, and structured back pad make things look a bit different.
On the side of the bag, there isn’t much in the way of pockets. Quite honestly, you can forget about bringing a tripod with this bag. In my opinion, Manfrotto took the support strap to hold a tripod and put it on the wrong side.
The pocket below isn’t very expandable. However, the pocket on the other side is easily expandable enough to accommodate a tripod. I even tried one of Manfrotto’s BeFree tripods with the Manfrotto Advanced Active III. But still, it felt a bit disappointing.
Inside the bag there are two main pockets. The top section can hold a fair amount of random stuff. I put books, toiletries, headphones, chargers, and more up there. There are two major sections, for what it’s worth.
The back section can hold a Macbook Pro. I stowed a 13-inch variant in there.
Now here’s the important section: the bottom. This is where you’ll store your camera gear. As you can see, you’re not putting a whole lot in there at all.
And here is the top front pocket.
Despite my qualms with the ergonomics and design, the Manfrotto Advanced Active III is built very well. It survived rainfall with no issues. It also survived being trucked onto Amtrack, two Golden Retrievers, a few photos walks, etc.
I’m positive this bag can survive everything a photographer can reasonably throw at it. But at the same time there are some oddities. For example, why is the camera compartment so small? Why is the other section so large? And if this section is so large and accommodating, why wasn’t there a wrist strap built into the bag?
Will a travel photographer be happy with the build? I think so. The Manfrotto Advanced Active III is small enough to handle and comply with any TSA requirements. You’ll be able to slip it under the seat in front of you with ease. That also means that a journalist might also be okay with it.
But at the same time, I wouldn’t want this camera bag on my back for a really extended period. Specifically, I wouldn’t want this bag packed to full capacity and on my back for a while.
In early December, I went to a few local states to visit some friends after getting my booster shot. I brought this bag and a giant duffel along with a tote for some gifts. My electronics went into the Manfrotto Advanced Active III while my clothing went into the duffel.
All in all, walking around Penn Station could’ve been much more comfortable. Typically, I wouldn’t bring a bag like the Manfrotto Advanced Active III. Instead, I’d reach for something from WANDRD, Tenba, or Thule with a waist and sternum strap.
I can’t emphasize how incredibly important those are for photographers. A red flag immediately went up in my head when Manfrotto’s reps told me that this bag didn’t need a waist strap. In fact, the opposite is true. This bag could’ve been made almost perfect if they just added a waist strap and better side pockets.
Ease of Use
As far as actual use goes, the Manfrotto Advanced Active III is pretty straightforward. The camera compartment has dividers and lots of different ways to configure them. In fact, I’d say that Manfrotto probably makes the best dividers on the market.
If you’re on the go, then the Manfrotto Advanced Active III doesn’t really give you a whole lot of quick access. With a waist strap, you’d easily be able to undo a shoulder strap, swing the bag around, and change gear. But you can’t in this case.
You have to physically take the bag off to change lenses. Granted, I didn’t do that often. But it’s still absolutely a pain.
During my time reviewing this bag, I truly wondered who it would be for. I concluded that the photographer who brought a little gear and wanted to bring a lot of other stuff potentially might like this bag.
But then I also thought that said audience would want better side pockets and a waist strap. We’ve got two women on staff, and all of them would love a waist strap. At least it has adjustable sternum straps.
- The feeling of disappointment when I put the Manfrotto Advanced Active III on vs a whole range of much more capable camera bags that I’d gladly pay more for.
The Manfrotto Advanced Active III isn’t a perfect bag. And personally speaking, I’m just not sure who it’s designed for. As a hobbyist, I’d still reach for a Tenba, Gura Gear, or Billingham bag instead.
As a professional, I’d totally reach for Tenba, WANDRD, or Thule to accommodate my gear. I truly wish that this smaller bag had a larger camera section, waist strap, and rolltop functionality to expand the top section when needed. But again, I think every camera bag backpack should have this.
The Manfrotto Advanced Active III receives *** out of ***** stars. Want one? Check out Adorama for the latest.