Nov 192013

Slow Tools Camera Bag

An Unlikely Solution

Osaka Japan

Slow Tools Bags from Osaka Japan.  Adam Marelli

Slow Tools Bags from Osaka Japan. © Adam Marelli

The Quest Concluded

Finding the perfect camera bag is almost as hard as finding the perfect picture.  At the recent Photo Expo in New York City, companies from around the world were showcasing their newest fabrics, removable pouches, and secret compartments for the endless amount of gear that photographers tote about the world.  In my personal quest for the perfect bag, I have just about given up on anyone who designs a bag to carry a camera.  As I look at the pile of bags in my studio, it is clear that I must be a “Camera Bag Farmer,” because the pile keeps growing.  After years of frustration, I believe (knock on wood) that I have found an answer to my bag woes.

The solution to my bag problem came in the most unlikely of places, a small shop in Osaka Japan named Slow Tools.  Part of the reason its so challenging for me to find a bag is that there are a few things that I like in bags that are not popular enough for companies to cater to.

The best bag I have found for a Leica system.  Adam Marelli

The best bag I have found for a Leica system. © Adam Marelli

What do I want in a bag

Light Weight:  I don’t like a bag with padding.  I know, you are thinking this guy is crazy, but in the battle between weight and protection, weight wins for me.  All I need is heavy canvas and I’m good.

Good Color Options:  A bag should not stand out and unless you dress like a ninja, black is high visibility.  I prefer browns, greens, and grays because they tend to blend in with the clothes I wear while shooting.

A Leather Strap:  Since I shoot a Leica system, I don’t carry a ton of gear.  At maximum its two bodies and three lenses, but as anyone has ever seen in my workshops, its not uncommon for me to go out with just a camera and a single lens.  I want a strap that does not fray (this was the failing of my last bag) and will age nicely.

Better with Age:  This is another reason I don’t use black bags…I prefer things that age nicely.  I like something that looks like it wants a little dirt on it.

Internal Pockets with No Zippers:  When I reach into my bag, I want to be able to grab anything without opening another compartment.  Its too fussy to have zippers.

No Velcro:  Velcro is for children’s shoes, mountain climbing harnesses, and anything else that does not need to be silent.  Nothing worse than tearing velcro in a tiny temple or intimate meeting.  I’d take a button over silent velcro any day.

Hand Picked:  This is a harder one to articulate, but I want every part of the bag from the copper rivets to the vegetable tanned leather to be specific to that bag and not just be the “leather that the manufacture has access to.”  I appreciate people who go the extra mile to used heavier gauge thread, specific hardware and pull it together is something that you could wear with a suit rather than a military deployment.

Personality:  When possible I enjoy, in fact I down right love, meeting the people who make my goods.  If people spent more time buying and supporting small shops there would be a lot less waste in the world and companies could stop trying to solve everyones bag problems and specialize because most camera bags are a water down solution from what they should be based on the market.

The leather strap is cut with a taper so it is thicker over your shoulder and thinner at the buckle.  These small details are the things I live for.  Adam Marelli

The leather strap is cut with a taper so it is thicker over your shoulder and thinner at the buckle. These small details are the things I live for. © Adam Marelli

Slow Tools

So where did this magical camera bag come from?  While I was at Capsule, the men’s fashion trade show in NYC this summer, I came across Ichiro Nitta of Slow Tools.  based in Osaka they are primarily a fashion bag brand.  When I told him this would make a great camera bag, he was a bit surprised.  At the moment they do not distribute in the United States, but you can find their bags at the Japanese store Beams and a few other select locations.  Since Capsule, Slow Tools has ramped up their online presence because I don’t think I was the only one who found their bags amazing.

There is a small back pocket which is perfect for solid travel reading or a notebook.  Adam Marelli

There is a small back pocket which is perfect for solid travel reading or a notebook. © Adam Marelli

When I arrived at Anteroom Hotel, in Kyoto, there was a package waiting for me.  Four months and forty emails later, I was delighted to finally find my perfect camera bag. It has got to be the best bag for a Leica system I have come across to date.  It was great to use all over Japan from Maizuru to Sakai.  And with all of my excitement two of the photographers in the workshop decided to order bags too.  The happiness was contagious.

It feels like after years of searching I can finally put this quest to bed.  Between the copper rivets, leather details, perfectly weighted canvas and the single button flap, we have reached camera bag Shangri La.  I hope that everyone finds exactly what they are looking for and if you are interested to learn more about Slow Tools, check out their website here:

The Slow Tools Small Shoulder Bags goes for 13,500 ¥ or about $135 USD.

Be Well-Adam 

  32 Responses to “Slow Tools Camera Bag”

  1. Hi, Adam. Thanks for such an useful post. It really looks as a wonderful bag. I was thinking about a photobag as a Christmas “order” to Sta. Klaus…and guess will go definetively for this one. I do also love the idea of them being a small craftmanship shop. Mind you compared to a lot of “presumed” photo bags it is not expensive at all. Since the web is in Japanese and can’t understand what the buttons say…have sent an email to their shop-email. Really happy! All best, Teresa.

    • Hi Teresa,

      If you have any trouble getting hold of Ichiro, let me know…he will get you all sorted out.

      I too was surprised by the price. I was expected well over 200 USD for something like this.
      Happy we catch it early.


  2. Hi Adam:

    I agree with Theresa’s comments – very good post and the bag looks great with all of the components that one needs. When I first bought my Leica, i decided I needed a camera bag – wrong bag – for all the reasons you have outlined. What i have ended up using is an anti-theft bag from ‘PacSave’ bought for the anti-theft features while traveling. The bag has a number of the similar features that you have noted with respect to the ‘Slow Tools’ bag, except no leather strap and i have ended up using it as a camera bag as it can hold both of my Leica’s and the two lenses as well as a guide book. I may, however, have to look at getting a Slow Tools bag.

    • Hi Rob,

      Yes this bag does not have any anti theft. Compared with travel in other parts of the world, Japan is not too worried about theft. I would work in the lobby of the Anteroom Hotel and leave my camera, iPhone, and Laptop in the lounge to run upstairs and grab something and nothing was ever disturbed or taken. Its really very different from the rest of the world.
      A welcome relief for travelers.


  3. Hi Adam,

    Looks like a truly great bag, especially in this world of over stuffed, over featured bags that claim “stealth”, but in fact are just a pain to use. I have a similar bag, but with a canvas strap… which will definitely not hold up against the leather on yours. Love the name “Slow Tools”, awesome!

    Looking forward to working with you in the spring.

    • Hi Quinton,

      The back story on my canvas strap bag was that they used to use a cotton strap, which was nice. The company switched to a shiny nylon which is shiny and ugly.

      I wanted a leather one, but had a few reservations. I did not want an additional leather pad and did not want thin leather. This strap is thicker than my Tanner Goods belt. Its perfect and the little jog out, where it gets fatter at the tops was perfect.

      Looking forward to coming to Vancouver in the spring 2014 (for my birthday!) and working with you too.


  4. I have looked at buying bags of similar design and features like the one you have. One thing that always puts me off is the buckle on the flap/cover. they tend to have this faux buckle with a magnetic button which is always annoying. I think it robs the bag of its authenticity and make it feel like it is all fake. Why pretend to be an old fashioned buckle when it is actually a flimsy magnetic button. Also it gives a false sense of security.

    • Hi Damaru,

      As much as I have tried to use the buckles, they are a pain in the neck to get in and out of. This one has a solid button, not a magnetic piece. So it is properly secure for the scale of the bag without being overkill.

      That being said I do like the aesthetic of the buckle and its nice to choose between the two options. I see it as a nice hybrid of options, style, and convenience.

      No different than pants, button fly or zipper…its nice to have choices.


  5. Hi Adam
    The Slow Tool looks very appealing for use in my environment and since I followed your Luigi recommendation previously I am interested to try again.
    I have a little Domke bag. Opening it is about as subtle and noisy as an act of violence.
    I can’t negotiate the site in your post because it is in Japanese and would be interested in being able to contact Ichiro
    Can you help?

    • Hi Peter,

      Glad that Luigi served you well. Slow Tools will do the trick too. I will send you Ichiro’s email so that you can place an order directly through him.

      I love your description on opening the Domke…right on!


  6. Hi Adam,
    I’m very tempted by this sort of bag. One question though, do you use any insert to keep items from each other – or maybe a wrap?
    Regards Poul-Werner

    • Hi Poul-Werner,

      In the main part of the bag, there are two pockets. One fits my iPhone and the other holds an extra Leica lens. This way the lens and the camera are not banging against each other the whole time. It works well. It will hold most leica lenses except a 135mm, noctilux, or maybe a 21 f1.4. I walk around with summicron lenses so they all fit no problem.


  7. Hah — I’ve been searching for a simple canvas camera bag for what seems like forever and this looks great. From what I can tell, this is about 11 inches wide? Sometimes I like to drag my 13″ macbook air and I was wondering if the canvas is flexible enough to jam into the bag.

    For anyone that doesn’t speak Japanese, if you use the google chrome browser and translate the page, it is readable enough to be able to order the bag through the site.

    Hope to see you in Matera next year!

    • Hi Justin,

      The Slow Bags are indeed fantastic. This bag also comes in a “Large” size that would fit a 13″ Laptop. The smaller one fits an iPad, across the long dimension.

      Let me know if you need to be connected to Ichiro for an order.

      Since the article he has been slammed with orders, so I have been connecting photographers personally.


  8. Adam,
    thank you very much for your wonderful articles,
    always a pleasure to read, not only those related
    to photography, but also your food-for-thought
    on handcraft (Merz b. Schwanen, Mamotaro Jeans).

    May I also asked for Ichiro’s Mail to place an order.

    Take care

  9. Hi Uli,

    Thank you for the kind words on the site and the article.

    Sadly Ichiro is in the hospital right now for health reasons. He said bags will be available again in January, but while he is dealing with health matters, everything is on hold.

    Please join me in wishing him a swift recovery.


  10. Being an absolute addict when it comes to bags, I was curious as to how you protect your bodies in the bag. I usually travel with a couple of Fuji X bodies and 3 to four Fuji lenses, and sometimes just a body and lens.

    But if all that gear is in the bag how do you prevent the lenses from banging into each other.


    • Hi Ellot,

      I may travel with a few lenses and bodies, but I hardly ever walk around with more than one body and one lens. The rest I leave in the room.

      Sometimes I will bring an extra lens, for which there are two internal pockets that keep the lens from flopping around the bag. Its big enough for most Leica lenses, but not a 50mm Nocti or a 90 f-2. It does however hold my 90mm f-2.5.

      Since the bag is quite flat and unpadded I pack it in with my clothes and pull it out after I arrive.


      • Thanks for the quick reply Adam. Years ago, too many to count or admit too, Nikon copied a Leica bag. It was a school bag or perhaps a book bag that would hold a body and two lenses. Their were two pouches inside the bag that would hold the old 80-200 4.5 and let’s say a 105mm 2.5, and a couple of front pockets covered by the flap that held misc. accessories.

        Like yours it was not padded. I hope the designer of your bag is getting well as I’ll probably order a bag from him. What’s one more bag? :)

        I’ll continue m

  11. Hi Adam,

    Thank you for the bag review. The Slow Tools Bag looks perfect for my need. May I also asked for Ichiro’s Mail to place an order.

    Thank you.

  12. Hi Adam,

    I’m taken with the Slow Tools bag as well. Simple and understated works for me. Would you please send me the contact info for Ichiro, presuming contacting him directly is still the best way to go.

    Thanks, Michael

    • Hi Michael,

      Due to some importing exporting condition which is beyond my comprehension, they are only offering the bags in Japan. They will not be shipping internationally, which is a shame. When I go back to Japan in October I will be buying a bunch to bring back to the states. If you are interested in me grabbing one for you, send me a private email and we can arrange something. Don’t worry, I only charge “normal extortion rates” for personally carrying goods. : )


  13. Adam
    It is May 6th and I was wondering if the bags have come to New York and if so when can I expect delivery.

    • Dear Donald,
      The first round of bags arrived in NYC and has shipped out to the photographers. The second batch is due in July and we will contact you when it has arrived for shipping confirmation.

  14. Hi Adam, I’m a street photographer based in Tokyo, and I just visited Slow Tools’ new shop in Jyugaoka. Lovely bags except for one thing which you didn’t mention: the straps (both leather and canvas) are woefully short. I mean, if you want to wear these things bandolier style (which I surely do), they will ride up North of your hips every time. So easy to just add 20cm to the straps. Did you find that too?
    I ended up ordering a larger size Musette Gavroche by Bleu de Chauffe in Tokyo on sale for an incredible 8000 yen! Great website content, by the way…

  15. I like the looks of these bags and I want one in brick. What is the best way to go about this now?

  16. Hi! I purchased this bag in the Osaka store, and now, my friends want one too. Would you know where I can get them in Tokyo? (Wish I could read the list of stores, but it is in Japanese.) :)

Add Comment Register

 Leave a Reply



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>