ONA Berlin II shoulder bag review

ONA Title
The ONA Berlin II Bag Review - Celebrating 100 years of Leica Photography by Louis Ferreira (http://500px.com/LouisFerreira):

ONA approached Leica Rumors a few weeks ago about doing a bag review of their black Berlin II, which I jumped at, because it was on my short list of bags to consider when I outgrew my Leica branded Billingham bag. Sadly it was unavailable when I was looking to purchase and I settled for the very functional Artisan & Artis ACAM 1000. Doing a bag review is a first for me and I am going to do my best to cover any detail that might interest you so feel free to ask questions in the comment section.

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This is one of the many items created to celebrate Leica's 100th anniversary of photography and I am sure many of you want to collect them all. The only leather bags I have owned, for comparison, were high quality laptop bags for work and the ONA is a step above them in quality. The ONA Berlin II is made of very thick full-grain leather that is soft to the touch. The stitching is well done and should hold up for years to come. I think this bag is going to look much better as it ages because it is almost too perfect out of the box.

ONA 2
I asked ONA about weather durability because the bag has flaps to help keep water out. They assured me the Berlin II should be pretty weather resistant however, they did warn that it should only be air dried and, if the bag is drenched, leather soap should be applied.

ONA 3
The Berlin II is a little on the heavy side, but comfortable to carry all day due to its long, adjustable, soft and well-padded all leather shoulder strap. I am 6'5 and can easily wear the shoulder strap across my body messenger-bag style with plenty of slack. This bag should fit anyone comfortably.

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I am not a fan of the latches ONA decided to use on the Berlin II, but they are very well made. I prefer silent latching mechanisms. The bag is deep enough to leave the latches unclipped when you are walking around, but there will be a metal on metal sound from the two pieces making contact. The latches they chose are stylish, but I'd rather something stealthy.

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The Berlin II utilizes a modular velcro padding system, like many other bag makers, that allows for a lot of configurability. I was able to fit two bodies with a lens on them, but it was a little tight. There is also a front zipper pocket to carry accessories and two side pockets that I think work well for most cell phones. I tried my iPhone 6 Plus in them with a leather case on and it fit, but was tight. The 6s is supposed to be a little bigger so it may not fit without the pockets loosening a little, which ONA says they should with time, but the bag was designed before these phones were available.

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Overall, if you're looking for a leather camera bag, the ONA Berlin II should be at the top of your list and it has the benefit of being a Leica centennial bag too. I generally prefer black bags but, in this case, I think I might prefer this bag in brown. I'm going to continue using this bag as my primary bag for a while and if I come up with anything to add you will find it here or in the comments. The Black ONA Berlin II is currently available on their site or if you are looking for something a little bigger check out their homepage.

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  • ck_dexter_haven

    Who will be the first to insist it’s necessary to put black tape over the red dot?

    • MJr

      Probably my autistic side. It would drive me nuts.

  • Jeff Bridges

    For the price of these bags I hope they pay their emoployees well, since they are made in the Dominican Republic. I’ll stick with bags made in the USA.

    • ONA

      Hi Jeff! While our bags are indeed manufactured in the DR, they are handcrafted, and that is never a cheap endeavor! All of our bags feature full-grain leather (mostly Italian), and our waxed canvas is sourced from a storied American company.

      We completely respect your desire to purchase “made in the USA” bags, but please don’t discount ours out-of-hand just because ours aren’t made Stateside!

      All that said, please keep the comments and feedback coming — every bit is taken into consideration by our design team and senior management. Thank you!

      • Ben Woodard

        1) Pantone color of the red rivet doesn’t match Leica Red

        2) The shoulder pad should have enough space to move the buckle through it so that you can adjust the strap to shorter lengths.

        3) The pen loops should be on the zipper closed side of the front pocket. It is hard to get them in and out when they are underneath the zipper pull on the fully open side. They are the most frequently grabbed for item.

        4) The pockets in the front could be wider. The items that I want to store in there. are: moleskine notebook, color checker passport, and filters in their cases. I’d get rid of the SD card slot and make the two pockets just a bit wider and everything would be fine. The SD card isn’t big enough for a card in a case and these days carrying a 2nd SD card isn’t as necessary since they are way over 64G.

        5) The side pockets need to have enough space in them to put a water bottle, an umbrella or someone else said a flash in them without intruding on the internal volume.

        6) I would love a clear slot for a few business cards next to your logo under the lid. That way someone could open the bag and see whose it is and I can quickly grab a card to hand someone.

        7) maybe put some brass feet on the bottom corners. The place that is showing the most wear on my bad are these bottom corners.
        Other than that it is a great bag.

      • Jeff Bridges

        “but please don’t discount ours out-of-hand just because ours aren’t made Stateside!”

        I will discount them if they are made in countries that have extremely low wages, and the product cost $399.
        The materials may be sourced from good places.
        But being handcrafted in a poor country while having a high retail price shows poor ethical decisions in a company.

        Comparable Billingham bags are made in England, and have a lower cost than Ona.
        Not to mention Domke bags which are made in America and cost even less.
        Their materials may cost less than leather, I do not know though as I’m not in that business.
        However in the DR, factory wages are around $1 an hour.
        It’s not a bag, or company, for me.

        • ONA

          Just to be clear, our manufacturer is also an American company, even though the manufacturing facilities themselves are located in the DR.

          Calling the DR a “poor country” and saying that our high retail prices show “poor ethical decisions” doesn’t quite jive with us, but to each his own! If you’d like to learn more about how we actually manufacture rather than lumping us into a general category, feel free to email us! 🙂 You can reach us anytime at press@onabags.com.

          And yes, Billingham and Domke (and a few others) make great bags as well. Different strokes for different folks. 🙂

          • John Armstrong-Millar

            This has put me right off buying one of your bags.

  • Sagi Kortler

    I have the ONA prince street leather bag.
    The quality is great and it looks great but there are three major downsides:
    1. The front pockets are not wide enough
    2. It’s not really weather protected as leather and water don’t really mix but more than that, it’s open from the sides and those flaps really don’t do it…
    3. And the biggest problem of it all which is true to all leather bags – It is TOO HEAVY!!!
    I bought it as a cool bag for traveling for my last trip and ended leaving it behind and taking my old Domke instead…

  • Ben Woodard

    I have this bag. I have to disagree with this review. The bag has several flaws.
    1) The pockets on the sides are too small to put standard items in them. They should be big enough to take a water bottle or an umbrella without intruding on the inner volume.
    2) The front pocket has dividers which seem to be random. They are not sized for things like filters or notepads or color checker charts.
    3) The pen / pencil loops are on the wrong side of the zipper. You can’t put pens in or take them out easily because the zipper pull is in the way.
    4) For at least some people the strap is way too long making the shoulder pad impossible to position properly without modification.

    It would s a good start but it needs refinement to be a great bag.

    • “1) The pockets on the sides are too small to put standard items in them. They should be big enough to take a water bottle or an umbrella without intruding on the inner volume.”

      This. A camera bag side pocket needs to fit a flash or water bottle or umbrella.

      I own the Brixton – it’s the same, though I can squeeze an umbrella in it.

      Beautiful quality and craftsmanship, this is my only complaint.

    • The bag is really meant for someone that’s looking to carry a minimal amount of gear. If these features were added the bag would be bigger. I like keeping it small and light. I’m also not a fan of the front pocket, but a lot of the design seems to be to keep things small. I’ll try the strap on my daughter and let you know. She’s about 4ft, but I definitely appreciate a longer strap. I’m tired of letting straps out all the way and still having the bag ride high on my waste.

      • Ben Woodard

        I disagree with that. Right now the side pockets use material adding weight but are essentially ornamental. If they added just a tiny bit more material they would greatly increase the utility with a minimal amount of additional weight.

        The other problems that I mentioned are just changing the internal stitching inside the front pocket and would not add any additional weight.

        • The bag is very tight with no real wiggle room. It would most definitely add weight and make the bag bigger.

          I tried sizing the strap down and was able to size it to fit someone 5ft tall wearing it messenger bag style. She found it comfortable and useable at this size. It’s not really a shoulder bag so I would say this is a very versatile strap compared to others I have worn.

          • Ben Woodard

            Moving the pen loops over from the front zipper fully open side to the front zipper closed side doesn’t add any space or weight.

            Adding more space in the side pockets would add a little more weight but it would take a pocket that really isn’t usable right now (dead weight) and make it something useful.

            The problem with the strap is not exactly the length. It is that the shoulder pad doesn’t allow the buckle through it. Therefore if you need or want to shorten the strap you can only take it as far as the shoulder pad. Depending on where you want to place the bag, this can be a limitation. I’m 5’7″ and like my bag to sit in the small of my back. I had to modify the length of the strap. If the pad was removable or if it had just a bit more space in the gap for the strap, I could have avoided this problem.

            They also didn’t get the right “leica red” pantone color on the red rivet.

            I admit I’m fussy about details. When you pay this much for a bag, I think that they should get the details like this right. That is what I like about Leica Cameras, they get almost all of the details right.

  • Steven Bleistein

    I had purchased this bag and then returned it. Some QC issues–stitching not straight and the red dot rivet was not aligned with the silver one below it. Small gripe, but for the price I expect better. Also, the bag is quite heavy empty. A lot to lug around already before putting in your gear. In addition, while it may accommodate an M240, I could not fit my M3 with a Summicron 50mm lens and Leicameter attached no matter how I tried to orient the camera in the bag. Shame on you ONA! How can you design a classic M carrier that cannot handle the patriarch of the M family line with its standard set-up? Presumbably, the M4 and M2 will have similar problems. With a 35mm lens or one of the collapsable ones, they might fit sideways, but still…In the end, I purchased a Artisan Artist RR04. Much happier with that, and for about half the price.

    • ONA

      Hmm we’re sorry to hear about those QC issues you mentioned! Did you purchase directly from onabags.com, or from on one of our retail partners?

      If you have any questions, let us know! customercare@onabags.com will get you to our Customer Service team.

      • Steven Bleistein

        Bought from Amazon Japan. I believe the seller was ONA Japan, not a marketplace reseller.

  • James Donahue

    My Tamrac @59.95 Will do the same job. Carry my Stuff.

  • g.s.marryat

    A disappointing review. There are several references to size and a suggestion it is quite heavy. All of which would have benefited by providing the dimensions of the bag, the pocket sizes, and its weight. The price should have been provided, and perhaps a few comparisons made with broadly similar and comparable (price-point or function) bags. The photo angles did not include side or back views, and again its difficult to gauge its size. This review barely said anything, and I will need to go elsewhere to obtain basic information about this bag.

    • Sorry, but I linked to ONA so you can get their measurements. I personally don’t find measurements helpful because they can be deceptive. What fits in the bag is far more helpful in my opinion. This bag is flat leather on the back so there’s nothing to photograph there and the side pockets are visible in the photo and discribed as only barely fitting an iPhone 6 Plus. There’s a small zippered area in the front, but it’s almost impossible to photograph because it really doesn’t open beyond being able to put small objects in the bag. As for comparison shots I have two other bags, but if you have never seen them in person they wouldn’t be helpful so the camera is really a better frame of reference for size than a bag you probably haven’t seen before.

  • SamsungR&D

    Upcoming Leica FF ILC was developed by Samsung, externals and UI by Leica. Lenses also by Samsung! We don’t do bags, though. 😉

  • Michael Clark

    I purchased this ONA Berlin II Bag Black from the Leica Boutique store in Richmond two days ago as a carry around bag for my M system (2 bodies, 2 lenses, flash, batteries, iPad). It’s a nice bag for that. Now a lot is being said here pro and con, mostly con’s and I don’t know why. There are scores of camera bags out there. If you don’t like one choose another. I have used a cheap canvas surplus shoulder bag with some old socks as lens pouches to the Schedoni leather messenger bag, depending on the need, location, etc. This bag does what it should, looks good, and has a good price point. As a working photojournalist such bags as the ONA Berlin II serve the purpose for which it was designed and needn’t be knocked simply because a bunch of amateur hobby photographers who couldn’t afford or even know how to use a Leica M can’t help but complain about something they know little about for a camera system that will remain forever out of their reach.
    In other words, quit whinging and whining, and go buy something that works for you instead.

  • Tapper

    IMO Billinghams are still the most logically designed bags. I own a Hadley Small, and love the combination of silent latches, rainproofness, and light weight materials. And still very good looking. Leather bags are pretty and feel nice, but they are also heavy, and IMO defeat the purpose of using smaller cameras.

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