Function: Padded camera case, designed for use by itself, or inside select Tom Bihn bags.
Developer: Tom Bihn.
Requirements: For internal use, Tom Bihn Brain Bag, Super Ego, Ego, Empire Builder, ID, or Aeronaut bags.
In November 2011, I embarked upon a secret mission to east Africa. I used a legitimate trip to adopt our family’s third child as my cover. The mission? To field test a classified piece of gear, suitable for secret agents and civilian travelers alike. The gear was an unannounced product from Tom Bihn, and last month, the good folks there decided to lift the veil of secrecy. The Camera I-O was revealed to the world, and the best part is that it won’t cost you “one miiiiiiiillion dollars” to obtain it.
The Camera I-O
The Camera I-O was originally designated the “Camera Insert,” and the vision was to have it ride in one of the two main compartments of the go-everywhere, do-everything Brain Bag backpack. As a fan of the Brain Bag, I contacted the company about testing the I-O. (While the case was unannounced, the company had teased it on their blog.) Not only were they happy to have me test the I-O, but they also sent me a new Brain Bag as well, because my old 2002 version did not have the proper hook-ups so the I-O could be secured in place. It doesn’t simply slip down into the compartment, though that is an option should a user desire it. So off to Rwanda we went, new and old Brain Bags in service.
2002 Brain Bag on left, 2011 version on right, in Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport.
As time and testing progressed, however, Tom Bihn realized they had more than just an insert for a single bag on their hands. They had developed a product that could fit a good number of their bags, as well as standing on its own. The Camera I-O is fully capable of being used by itself, independent of another bag. You can, of course, use it in any non-Tom Bihn bag that’s big enough to accommodate it, though the company does offer a word of warning, which I endorse: while the Camera I-O is a padded case, you probably don’t want to put your camera equipment in it, then put it in a bag you’re going to check with an airline. It’s intended for use in carry-on bags. The Camera I-O comes with two padded handles, but if you think you’d want to use it by itself, be sure to grab the optional Standard or Absolute Shoulder Straps for hands-free carrying.
The clips inside the back compartment of the 2011 Brain Bag, holding the Camera I-O secure.
The Camera I-O comes in any color you desire, so long as it’s black. The front and back are made of closed-cell foam laminated to an exterior of Durastretch 520Q, itself a blend of nylon, Cordura, and Lycra. (Trust me, it looks way better than that sounds.) In contrast, the sides and bottom are 1000 denier Cordura. It comes with four padded dividers, so you can configure the interior to suit your needs. For myself, I hauled my Canon 400D (a.k.a. Digital Rebel XTi) with a Sigma 24–70mm lens attached, a 50mm Canon prime lens, a Canon Speedlite flash, Energizer battery charger for the NiMH batteries in the Speedlite, various extra batteries for the 400D, and there’s still plenty of room in the case. This additional room came in handy for the travel days on either end of our trip, since I didn’t need to access the camera readily during that time, and the I-O was filled to the gills with whatever I could squeeze in there. As an amateur photographer, this comprised the bulk of my photography gear. The only thing I didn’t bring was the kit lens that originally came with my dSLR.
I set up the dividers so that my camera with the zoom lens attached would fit in the middle. On one side went the Speedlite, with a divider on top of it so I could place the battery charger and extra batteries in that compartment. On the other side of the camera went the prime lens, again with a divider on top so other gear could fill the space. As I said, I don’t bring a lot of gear to the table to begin with, and everything is quite cozy. Photographers with more items shouldn’t have a problem arranging the dividers in a format that works for them.
My Canon dSLR rests in the middle of the above configuration.
The I-O’s lid consists of two flaps of cell-foam padded, 500 denier Cordura. The flaps attach to the top of the interior via Velcro, so they are fully removable. The top of one flap and the bottom of the other have opposing sides of Velcro attached, to keep them closed when you want. The top flaps allowed easy access for when I wanted to get the camera out (if I didn’t already have it out). My only complaint about the flaps would be to stiffen them up. The Brain Bag was a daily hauler in Rwanda, and the Camera I-O was not the only thing in that compartment. Over time, the flaps have sunk in some, and what has been riding on top has not been heavy.
The bottom and top of the two flaps, showing the Velcro arrangement.
If you have a tripod or lighting gear, an optional accessory for the Camera I-O is Tom Bihn’s Tripod-Lighting Kit Quivers. These can attach to the sides or bottom of the I-O if it’s being used as a standalone case, or secured to the exterior of the Brain Bag if the I-O is in insert mode. The Quivers weren’t ready for testing at the time I had the I-O, so I cannot speak to any experience with them. I mention them only so readers are fully informed of their options.
The Tom Bihn Brain Bag and Camera I-O: a great combination.
Like all Tom Bihn items, the Camera I-O is made in the US, and is of the same high quality we’ve come to expect from the company. Overall, I’m very happy with the Camera I-O. For hauling around a single camera with a couple of lenses and a flash, plus battery chargers and cables, it’s a great piece of kit.