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The Billingham 225 review

When I switched from a DSLR set to the Leica M9, my Billingham 335 was way too big. I bought the Hadley Digital for day trips and the Billingham Hadley Small for my wedding assignments. But in the years, my gear list expanded. I bought more lenses, but I also found that for very long weddings (10 hours plus) I needed extra space for items like a clean shirt, some food, a dry pair of socks and maybe even a compact merino sweater. The Hadley Small was (as the name already says) too small for this.

Most photo bags are still designed to be used with DSLR cameras and DSLR lenses…

Most photo bags are still designed to be used with DSLR cameras and DSLR lenses. Fitting a rangefinder kit in such a bag is a pain, not because it doesn’t fit, but because the small rangefinder lenses will ‘drown’ in those deep pockets. Bags that are designed for rangefinder kits are generally too small for what I need. Luckily, there’s an exception and it’s called the Billingham 225.

Here the 225 with 2 M bodies and six lenses. Very, very good accessibility.

Here the 225 with 2 M bodies and six lenses. Very, very good accessibility.

With an internal height of 19 centimeters, the Billingham 225 is just perfect for a rangefinder camera kit. If you bring a lot of lenses, you might need to stack a few, but if you don’t, you can store approximately 4 lenses plus two camera’s with a lens attached. The best news is that you can easily grab those lenses and that you can see which lens you’re grabbing. Sounds weird, but in a deep bag, you can’t see anything.

The best news is that you can easily grab those lenses and that you can see which lens you’re grabbing…

But let’s get to the basics first. The 225 is made of very durable canvas with a butyl rubber fabric inside. Long story short, it feels a lot better than every nylon bag I’ve used and it’s far more waterproof than all these bags, without having to use the awkward rain cover that are usually provided with nylon bags. Unlike the Hadley series, the 225 is more boxy, which makes it a little heavier to carry (more weight further away from your body) but makes it a lot easier to place on the floor without tipping it over. Brass feet keep the bottom of your bag tidy, dry and new.

And here with 1 M and 1 SL and 6 lenses. Note the tuck top cover that can be tucked away. Very handy.

And here with 1 M and 1 SL and 6 lenses. Note the tuck top cover that can be tucked away. Very handy.

Next, there are a number of ways to carry the bag: with the padded shoulder strap, or with the hand grip, which works with closed and open top cover. Under the top cover you’ll find two zippered compartments. The cover of the big camera compartment can be tucked away on the sides of the bag, providing very quick access to the content of your bag. Brilliant!

The smaller (but still quite big) non-camera compartment is why I chose this bag to be my wedding workhorse…

The smaller (but still quite big) non-camera compartment is why I chose this bag to be my wedding workhorse. This is where all the accessories go: batteries, SD-cards, maybe a charger, a powerbank, some food, dry socks, a very small wind jacket, a small bottle with water. You can fit a lot of stuff in this pocket. And there’s more: two smaller, non-zippered pockets fit my wallet, a phone, more food, a backup hard disk and my keys. Finally, there’s a zippered pocket on the back of the bag, where you can slide in an iPad, or a small laptop.

In this compartment I can fit all my stuff that I need for a full day of shooting, including some food and clothes.

In this compartment I can fit all my stuff that I need for a full day of shooting, including some food and clothes.

Under the top cover, you could store a small tripod, but this limits access to the bag, so I’d only do this if I could store the tripod somewhere at the place where I’d be working.

I did some tweaking and tuning to get my 225 ‘rangefinder ready’…

I did some tweaking and tuning to get my 225 ‘rangefinder ready’. The Billingham 225 comes with a Superflex 9-15 insert and a Superflex Flap. Now that deserves some explanation. The ‘flap’ is just a divider than can be attached anywhere in the bag, but the Superflex insert is something else. It’s a flexible, pre-shaped box with two compartments that provides stiffness to the bag and superb protection for your lenses. The good thing is that there are a lot of different Superflex inserts to choose from. Here’s a clear overview of them.

The back compartment can be used for an iPad or some other flat things. It doesn't fit A4 sized documents.

The back compartment can be used for an iPad or some other flat things. It doesn’t fit A4 sized documents.

Instead of the single Superflex 9-15 and the flap, I ordered two 6-12 inserts for my 225. This has two major advantages. First, because of the lower height (12 centimeters vs 15 centimeters) it is easier to grab a small rangefinder lens. Second, because the bag is big enough to accommodate the 15cm inserts, this provides me with a few extra centimeters between the insert and the top of the bag. The result: I can easily stick a lens in the insert with a camera attached and still close the zipper of the bag. Perfect!

I can easily stick a lens in the insert with a camera attached and still close the zipper of the bag. Perfect!

Another good thing about the 6-12 inserts is that there’s a big and small lens pocket in each insert. In the big pocket I can fit a Noctilux or CV 35/1.2 and in the small pocket I can fit any medium Leica rangefinder lens. If you don’t like the inserts, you can either order a different type of insert, or choose from one of the many, many dividers, flaps and other inserts that Billingham sells.

Billingham 225 review

Here’s what I usually bring in my 225 on a wedding:

  1. Bottle of water.
  2. My wallet. I often have to pay for the couple when they decide to have a coffee somewhere. If they’re nice, I don’t put it on the bill.
  3. Power cord.
  4. Leica SL charger. The SL is a hungry beast.
  5. Powerbank for iPhone.
  6. Utensils kit: a few pills (allergy, pain, etc), tooth picks, other small but very useful stuff.
  7. Air blow thing.
  8. Deodorant. I have very, very long working days.
  9. Gum. I like to attract new customers, not repel them.
  10. Extra SD-cards.
  11. Power cord for iPhone.
  12. Some extra lens covers for both the M and SL.
  13. More SD-cards.
  14. Leica M240 with CV35/1.2
  15. SL batteries
  16. M batteries.
  17. Lacie HD back-up with current work.
  18. Leica SL with 50/0.95 Noctilux.
  19. Leica Summicron-R 90/2 with Novoflex adapter.
  20. CV 21/4. It’s so tiny!
  21. EVF for M240.
  22. Leica 28/2.8 Elmarit. Brilliant lens.
  23. Leica 50/2 Summicron. Best lens ever.

Billinghams are tough and the 5-series (225 is the smallest in this series) is no exception. For my Canon gear I once owned the 335, which I gave to a friend of mine. He’s a professional too and has hundreds of short assignments every year. That means he’s using this bag every single day and that it is packed, unpacked, thrown in a trunk, carried on the shoulder, strapped on a bike every, every day. The bag is about eight years old now and it still looks perfectly fine. No holes, no broken zippers, not even a single sewn has come loose. Yes, it isn’t cheap, but it lasts a lifetime.

Yes, it isn’t cheap, but it lasts a lifetime…

The front pockets fit a small bottle of water and your wallet.

The front pockets fit a small bottle of water and your wallet.

If you carry a lot of rangefinder gear, but also need enough space for other stuff and you want to look sharp and professional, the Billingham 225 is probably the best bag you can buy. I’ve shot more than hundred weddings with this bag and many other assignments and working with this bag is an absolute joy, simply because it works so well with a rangefinder kit.

Highly, highly recommended.