Jaakko's blog, Korpijaakko, is as he describes it his personal views on all walks of outdoor life. I was drawn to it as a consequence of his arctic experiences - in particular his Ultima Thule 2011 unsupported 3 week skiing expedition to Svalbard - and his excellent photography. The Aquazoom is great piece of kit and getting some rave reviews, but have a look at what Jaakko has to say about it before you decide.
Ortlieb Aquazoom Waterproof Camera Bag
When spending a lot of time outdoors you end up occasionally getting wet and so does your gear. This doesn’t kill you but there are some pieces of gear we’d like to keep dry at all costs. One of those things is a non-waterproof camera.
I’ve found the Ortlieb Aqua-Zoom camera bag to be nearly perfect solution for my needs. It’s a simple waterproof camera bag that fits a DSLR body with one lens attached. The bag delivers what I need as it:
- is completely waterproof,
- is easy to use, and
- provides some impact protection.
Behind the simple product are high tech materials and manufacturing techniques and Ortlieb’s 30+ years of experience.
Ortlieb uses only materials specially made for their specifications. The Aqua-Zoom is made of PU coated cordura variant called PS36C. It is waterproof up to 100 000 mm watercolum (yes, one hundred thousand millimeters), uses special PU-coating which is fold resistant up to 100 000 folds, weights about 360 gramm/sqm and is tear resistant to around 1800 Newtons (i.e. plenty).
The Quickseal Closure used on Aqua-Zoom is technically a beefed up version of ziplock bag closure with a slider. It provides easy and quick access and 100% dust protection but it’s not strictly speaking waterproof but only splash proof meeting the IP64 requirements.
The inside is lined with 7 mm thick cell foam padding to provide impact protection for the contents. The front and back foam panels are welded into place but the U-shaped side panel is removable. In addition there is some soft Velcro attached on the front and back panel for cell foam spacer (included).
The Aqua-Zoom is made in Germany using laser cutting and high-frequency 3-D-welding with about 10 mm overlapping seams. This makes the structure nearly indestructible and Ortlieb gives it a five-year guarantee.
For me Ortlieb stands for durable state-of-the-art waterproof gear and the Aqua-Zoom is no exception. The textured cordura outer feels very robust as does the coating on the inside and the workmanship is top notch.
The inner dimensions of the padded part are roughly 24 cm high, 15 cm wide and 12 cm deep on the top tapering quite strongly towards the bottom. There is also some additional space above the padding. The Aqua-Zoom is marketed to weight 340 grams but on my scale the bare bag clocks only 202 grams.
The sizing means the Aqua-Zoom can take any normal DLSR body without a battery grip. It’s a tight fit with the big full sensor bodies like Canon 5D series or Nikon DX00 series but they should still fit. A lens up to the size of Canon EF 70-200 4 L IS or similar fits in but bigger lenses are starting to be a struggle because of the tapered bottom part. In addition to a body and there’s room for some small items on the bottom or top or on the sides of the lens but this is not very convenient.
The bag has four welded plastic D-rings (two on each side) for attaching shoulder strap, accessory harness system or similar means of carry. The bag comes with a quite nice adjustable webbing shoulder strap with snap-hooks and removable padding but I haven’t used it much.
In addition to the D-rings there are two four-way loops (with 40 mm vertical and 25 mm horizontal slots) on the back side for attaching a belt or other means of carrying. I use a simple webbing belt made of 40 mm webbing, a triglide and a buckle. It works well enough but it is not the perfect solution.
The Aqua-Zoom uses the aforementioned ziplock style Quickseal Closure which is quick and easy to use but only guaranteed to be splash proof and not really waterproof (meeting the IP64 criteria). I’d like to see a more robust and secure closing mechanism but it shouldn’t hinder the ease of use and quick accessibility.
The tech specs on Ortlieb website warn that ”temperatures below -5°C/23°F may affect the function of the sealing lip”. I’ve broken one Aquazoom and one Protect bag with similar system when using them in temps below -30°C. The plastic on the sealing lips freezes and breaks when used in this cold. They aren’t really meant to be used in arctic winter temperatures anyway.
I’ve used different Ortlieb products for about five years and even the oldest are still in great shape. The Aqua-Zoom bags I’ve used for over two years and they’ve seen a lot of use in variety of conditions. Except breaking the closure in too cold temperatures they’ve worked flawlessly.
The Aqua-Zoom has even survived a user-error case of a long stretch of rocky class II white water swimming under a packraft and even though the closure mechanism is not specked up to that it kept my camera completely dry. I’ve also used it in below -20°C temperatures in Iceland without problems but generally I wouldn’t recommend operating the closure mechanism below freezing.
Most of the use has been hiking and I’ve carried the bag on my waist with the simple belt described above. This has led to some wear on the belt loops (after about 18 months of use) and I think the belt loops will be the first part to eventually fail, though it will probably take another two years of use. A better carrying system would increase the durability of the loops and as Ortlieb doesn’t offer one I should probably make one myself.
In my opinion the Ortlieb Aqua-Zoom is a superb camera bag for carrying a DSLR in dusty or wet conditions. It’s simple and light enough for hiking and provides easy access but still provides enough protection for most conditions imaginable and in real life use it even exceeds the promised levels of protection. There aren’t many bells and whistles and if you need, for example, several extra pockets then this is not the camera bag you are looking for. For me, it’s all I need.
Words and photos by Jaakko Heikka