F-STOP AJNA 40L REVIEW
CAMERA BACKPACK WITH PRO-LARGE ICU
Tested by Adam Lievesley | Photos by Ellie Rhodes
We’re no stranger to f-stop bags here at The Loam Wolf, having tested a couple of them over the years with great success. So, when it came time to replace my camera bag, I wanted to get a slice of the f-stop pie for myself. Thankfully f-stop was onboard and agreed to let me put their Ajna 40L Travel and Adventure Camera Backpack to the test, read on to find out how it performed.
The Ajna 40L is f-stop’s answer to a camera pack designed for those looking to go hard on adventures without being held back. The Ajna 40L is a 40-liter capacity camera backpack built out of rugged materials that should ensure it lasts through the punishment of the toughest days behind the lens. The main bulk of the bag is constructed from a PU-coated polyamide fabric, which is highly water repellent and resistant to abrasion. The most damage-prone bottom surface of the bag features a reinforced Hypalon material to keep it fresh for longer. The AquaGuard zippers are weather sealed to fend off the elements, and feature garages to stow them neatly out of harm’s way. Access to the inside of the backpack is possible from both the large rear opening as well as the top hatch, ensuring your gear is always within easy reach. Within the shell is an aluminum frame that ensures the bag never loses its shape, with a padded and ventilated back panel to promote comfort through extended use. Keeping the pack firmly secured are shoulder straps and a hip belt with generous EVA padding, as well as a chest strap for the most rigorous activity and heaviest loads.
Moving to the inside, you come across one of f-stops original stand out features: something they introduced to the market 15 years ago which has been imitated by many others since – their ICU (internal camera unit) modular system. f-stop offers a variety of different sizes and configurations of these ICU’s to their customers, so that everyone can tailor the internal layout to their liking and tweak the ratio of camera to “other” space inside. The AJNA 40L is compatible with ICUs from the Pro-Small through to the Pro-Large (tested), offering up a huge range of internal compartment sizes to suit nearly every personal preference and need. These ICUs are mounted securely to 4 attachment points on the inside of the pack, ensuring there’s no unwanted shift of the unit when in motion. Even with the largest of the compatible ICUs fitted, there’s still some internal storage space out with the camera unit for the storage of other items such as a waterproof or a big sandwich.
Further to the ICU are an internal sleeve perfect for storage of a 13” laptop as well as provisions to use a bladder for on-the-go hydration. On the outside of the main compartment are two full-length expandable side pockets and a front compartment; plus, a tripod holder, ice axe or pole holder as well as an emergency whistle for those times when the adventure goes South. Compression straps on the outside allow the bag to be cinched down tight when not fully packed, helping to keep things in place. The Ajna 40L tips the scales at 1700g (claimed), with the Pro-Large ICU adding a further 760g, adding minimal heft to ensure you can carry as much within as possible on your adventures. The f-stop Ajna 40L retails for 300EUR as a pack-only with ICU’s from 80-120 EUR, or can be purchased in a variety of bundles to add in extra accessories with improved value. f-stop is so convinced in the longevity of their backpacks that they offer a 20-year warranty to ensure your investment is protected.
Receiving my chosen Nasturtium (Orange) color Ajna 40L with Pro-Large ICU, I was super excited to get it loaded ready for my first shoot. The color is striking – unlike your usual camera bags it certainly doesn’t fly under the radar, making sure I’ll never lose it in the grass or mud. Generally, it feels like a quality product, with the weatherproof materials and sturdy zips and straps looking like they’ll stand up well to the test of time.
Loading the Pro-Large ICU into the pack was quite straightforward, thanks to the ability to gain access to the main compartment from both the top and the huge back port, so after clipping it in place within, I was ready to start loading my gear. The Pro-Large ICU fills the majority of the main compartment, offering a huge number of adjustable sections to tailor it to your gear set. On top of the ICU within the main compartment is a useful space for storing an extra layer or a waterproof, plus perhaps a sandwich or two. The ICU features a reassuring level of padding to keep your gear safe, and further adding to this are the plentiful elastic straps that f-stop includes to keep each item safe and solid within its section. These make a huge difference to the security of smaller lenses, preventing them shifting within their section and contacting other lenses in the pack, helping everything stay safe when I’m running down a hill chasing the next shot.
My Pro-Large ICU was stuffed full of the following throughout the test:
- Nikon Z6 camera body (main)
- Nikon D810 camera body (backup)
- Samyang 12mm fisheye lens
- Nikon 24-70 f4s lens
- Sigma 35mm f1.4 art lens
- Nikon 50mm f1.4 lens
- Nikon 85mm f1.8 lens
- Sigma 14-30 lens
- Sigma 70-200 lens
- 2 Pixa-pro Pika Pro flashes with tripods.
Whilst I certainly don’t use all this kit on every shoot, the ability to have it all with me has been invaluable a number of times when ideas have popped into my head for a different shot, so I’m thankful for all that space within the bag. I’ve only got the Pro-Large ICU myself, but it’s great to have the option to purchase another smaller unit in the future if I ever want to go on an adventure that requires more non-camera gear. The largest segment I had set up fitted the main body with the largest 70-200 lens fitted, and with a bit of shimmying around, you could likely go even bigger on the lenses inside and squeeze a 300mm f2.8 in. All the camera equipment does add up to make a very heavy pack, though it’s no fault of the bag which I found to be impressively light given its size and how sturdy it was. Thankfully the generously padded and highly adjustable straps have ensured I’ve been able to remain comfortable throughout testing. You get the impression that f-stop designed the backpack first and foremost to provide comfort for adventures, with the camera unit not playing an essential role in its structure and stability. The adjustability of the straps has been particularly good for me, since I’ve got a metal plate in my collarbone that can become very uncomfortable with bags that force the straps to sit against it. The chest strap between the main straps does a great job of distributing the load evenly, keeping things a lot more comfortable and solid on my back and vastly improving the comfort of the pack over a long day. You do need to adjust the straps slightly depending on how the bag is loaded, but this is made easy thanks to all the easily accessed adjustment points.
Accessing the kit inside the pack is easy thanks to the large main hatch in the back. f-stops’ choice to have this access port sitting against your back is one that carries a lot of benefits for me: when you put the bag on the dirt then back onto your back, it stops your t-shirt from getting covered in dirt; in a crowded environment there’s no chance of a thief getting into your camera gear without you knowing; and if you forget to do up the zip fully or if it was to ever come undone, things can’t fall out of your bag as your back presses against the hatch. This last benefit is particularly reassuring when riding a mountain bike with the backpack, as it keeps my fear of camera gear hitting the floor and smashing at bay. This back hatch is well padded and surprisingly well ventilated, which makes a big difference when lugging the pack about on a hot day.
The side pockets allow for my light stands to sit nice and low, preventing them sticking up above the Ajna and looking like a pair of rocket launchers. Compared with my current camera bag, this has reduced the number of times I’ve snagged on a low-hanging branch considerably, and it just looks better too. The tripod strap does its job neatly with no worries, cinching down easily to keep the tripod mounted securely; and the extra straps around the outside are good for cinching the bag down tight to minimize its volume and make storage and transport that little bit easier.
The Ajna 40L is showing no damage so far after a hard summer of use shooting photos all over the UK. The reinforced material in key areas has been chosen smartly in the most vulnerable areas, so it looks like the bag is in it for the long haul, and it’s so reassuring to have that 20-year f-stop warranty to back it. The only sign that the bag has seen any real use are the oil and tire marks on the orange color, but for me it’s worth it for the good looks. General mud and dust cleaned off this material easily with a damp cloth, but the tougher stains that got deep into the textured material have left their mark. The PU coating on the material has done a good job at fending off light rain showers, as have the covered zips that didn’t seem to let much if any water in throughout the test. I didn’t test the Ajna through any heavy rain showers, and would certainly want to add the rain cover to my kit for these instances just to be sure, but overall, I’ve been quite impressed by the standard weatherproofing. The zips are reassuringly large, with a solid feeling as you tug hard at them to squeeze a fully loaded gear bag shut. Though I’ve yet to add a hydration bladder, the provisions to add one look neat and have me very tempted to spend the cash on one to add in, as it would make a huge difference to the ease of grabbing a drink on the move – it can be so easy to forget or not want to go through the hassle of taking the pack off to access a bottle and often results in a very thirsty man come the end of a shoot!
My only real issue with the Ajna 40L with Pro-Large ICU setup is the lack of a full connection of the top portion of the ICU to the inside of the backpack. The attachments do a great job of keeping the ICU in place, but there are still gaps around the outside of it, meaning that any items stored on top of the ICU within the main compartment can easily find a way to slide down the side of the ICU and end up in a place that’s potentially quite difficult to reach. It would be great to see f-stop implement an internal zip or some other way of closing up this gap on the top to make that cavity more user-friendly, but it’s far from the biggest problem I’ve faced with a camera bag in the past.
The Wolf’s Last Word
With good looks and exceptional performance, it’s hard not to recommend the f-stop Ajna 40L backpack to a fellow photographer looking to take their gear on adventures, or simply have a bag that can fit a load of kit without losing its comfort. In fact, I’ve already put my name to a bunch of recommendations to fellow ‘togs for this pack, which should say it all.
Price: €300 /$299.99 (Ajna 40L) | €120 /$119.99 (Pro ICU Add-On)
Weight: 2,460g (claimed)