Review: Tenba Cooper 15 luxury canvas and leather camera bag

I love heirloom items. Things that are made beautifully and made to last. Things that you want to show off, that you will use for decades, that you can pass down to your kids. In the camera bag world, functionality reigns so while the market has plenty of tough and well-made bags, elegant style often takes a back seat. That's why when I saw the new Cooper Collection from Tenba, the selection of bags stood out. 

"Everything you love about Tenba's rugged durability can be found here, wrapped up in a beautifully refined package, right down to the hand-riveted leather zipper pulls. Welcome to a world with redefined luxury and craftsmanship." Yes, please! 

A winner, but not for everyone

Tenba Cooper Collection has four bag sizes, the Cooper 8, Cooper 13 Slim, Cooper 13, and Cooper 15. As someone who travels with a 15" laptop and Canon DSLRs, the largest bag, the Cooper 15 seemed most fitting for what I need when I am carrying gear from place to place. 

The moment I opened the box and smelled the (admittedly completely intoxicating) fragrance of leather and felt the smooth canvas, I realized something: this bag is not for me. This is an amazing bag, there's no two ways about it. But it has a certain target audience, and I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I am not it. 

The Cooper bag is gorgeous, and I'm an animal photographer. I work in dirt, mud and wet sand. Even on my cleaner shoots in urban settings, I'm working with dogs who slobber and shed, or am dropping my bag on dirty surfaces while I photograph some city critter. The bag features a waterproof, full-grain leather base panel that is also abrasion resistant, so it has some protection for wet or dirty surfaces. But still, this is not a bag that should endure the kind of abuse I put my gear through. It might be different if this were tan waxed canvas that looks good with some scratches and stains. But this is ultimately a bag for an urbanite. I can see street photographers, photojournalists working in urban areas, travel photographers, or photographers doing on-location shoots for portraits loving this bag. But not necessarily wildlife photographers. 

Also, this bag is an odd mix of too large and too small for me. It barely fits my usual city walk-around kit of my Canon 1D X, a prime lens, my Olympus OM-D E-M5 with two small lenses, extra cards, batteries, lens wipes and other accessories, and my laptop with charger. So the inside is a little small for my gear of choice. Yet when I put it on, the bag looks huge on my 5'2" frame. I couldn't get it to sit comfortably on me, nor in a way that didn't make me look like a turtle with a low-slung (but gorgeously made) shell. 

While I am not the target audience for this bag, a dear friend of mine is. So I handed the Cooper 15 over to my stylish buddy Erick, who has impeccable taste and high standards (and who photographs people in clean settings).  He put the bag to the test for three months, and it came through with flying colors. 

Erick's Review

I understand that Jaymi doesn't think much of the Tenba Cooper 15 as a wildlife photographer's camera bag. Fair enough, the Tenba may not be ideal for a real jungle. But I think it's a fantastic camera bag for the urban jungle. Here's why: 

  • I have a rangefinder/mirrorless, three lens camera system, and the Cooper 15 can easily carry both of my main cameras (lenses attached) and another lens, plus a lot more when I travel. It's now my go-to travel camera bag. It's much more limited with the larger bodies and lenses of a DSLR system. It can, however, carry a Canon 5D Mark III with the 24-105mm on the camera, and two other lenses. 
  • There are pockets for days on this bag for accessories. In addition to the cameras and lenses, it'll hold an iPad Pro 9.7, a 13-inch Macbook Air, chargers and cables for the cameras, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, filters for the lenses and a mini tripod. 
  • The design is stylish but understated. The graphite-colored canvas and leather is of high quality and is likely to age well. It doesn't scream out as a camera bag, and when it gets noticed, people appreciate the aesthetic. It also comes with a nice weather cover (the WeatherWrap) for those times it's caught outside in the rain or snow. 
  • It has a double zipper cover system that makes things both convenient and secure. There's a zipper on top of the main cover flap, and then under that, another zipper over the main bag compartment. With the zippers open, this allows you to pull out a camera without the need to flip open the main flap. But if the main bag compartment zipper is closed, it makes it harder for someone to swipe something out of the main compartment, which can be a real concern when traveling. 
  • It can be carried either over the shoulder or by a leather handle (when both of the cover zippers are open). It also has a luggage slot on the back so you can slide it onto the handle of a rolling luggage bag. Even when fully packed, it's nicely balanced, so you can carry it for long periods even when weighted down. Those options make trudging across an airport or exploring the city streets a lot more comfortable. 

These are the high points that stood out to Erick during testing, and in fact, he had nothing negative to say about the Cooper 15 at all. We both agree that for photographers who want to carry just a few pieces of gear for walk-around photography, indoor shoots, or low-key outdoor shoots, and for those who want to prove they have good taste as well as enjoy an incredibly functional bag, then the Tenba Cooper Collection is one to seriously consider. 

You can get more details on the specifics of this and the other bags in the Cooper Collection on Tenba's website. 

For the record, the Timbuk2 Espionage backpack still reigns supreme as my go-to city and travel bag. It doesn't look like a camera bag, which is always a bonus when in the city, holds a 15" laptop, and is really flexible for fitting gear and other necessities. For wildlife work, I use the Mindshift Gear BackLight 26L backpack for short hikes and the Tamrac Expedition 8x backpack for bigger outings when I need to bring my 500mm lens along. I adore these three backpacks. The perfect messenger-style bag for an animal photographer -- one that is beautiful but can be rugged without causing me guilt and anxiety for beating it up -- I have yet to find. I'll take recommendations in the comments!