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Tenba Messenger Mini: Go mini, or go home

My personal friends and anyone else who follows my blog are likely aware that I have stopped carrying a laptop and now carry an iPad 2 for my mobile computing platform when away from my desk. That said, I wanted to get a new everyday carry bag to match the changes in my mobile lifestyle.

For a long time I was using a Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 35. The UD35 has gone a revision by TTP since I acquired mine, but it served me well on a daily basis to carry a 13″ MacBook Pro along with notes, pens, portable hard drives, and a dSLR whenever I felt the need to have one.

The Urban Disguise 35 would have worked equally well carrying an iPad or other tablet as it does a 13″ MacBook Pro. But I wanted to acquire a bag in a traditional messenger style that was streamlined for a tablet and an ungripped dSLR body.

After a bit of research and shopping around, I decided on the Tenba Messenger Mini Photo/Laptop Bag. It looked like a nice messenger bag design; simple, efficient, effective.

After I received the bag from B&H and unboxed it, it was immediately evident the Tenba bag is a high quality build at great value (MSRP $93.95 as of 2011-11-13).


The bag is nearly the same external dimension as my UD35, but the Tenba Messenger Mini feels more sleeker and less busy than the trusty Think Tank Photo bag.

Tenba Messenger Mini (foreground) and Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 35 (background)
Tenba Messenger Mini (right) and Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 35 (left)

The Tenba Messenger Mini’s compartment dividers come configured in the traditional “T-design” as I like to call it, where the camera will be placed into the bag with the lens pointing down in the center channel/compartment, while other items (e.g. spare lenses, flash unit, etc) can be placed in the adjacent channels/compartments.

I reconfigured the default setup by removing one of the dividers such that a single divider was in place to split the main compartment into two (approximately 2:1 space ratio), to allow an ungripped body with lens attach to sit lengthwise in the bag.

The reason why I configured the dividers in this manner is because I intend to use the Messenger Mini as an everyday general purpose bag, and if I was going to carry a dSLR it would be a very general purpose configuration. Thus, I would carry my 7D (sans battery grip) with a 24-70 f/2.8L IS in this bag and configured the dividers appropriately.

Tenba Messenger Mini, example load configuration

The above photo is one example of how I might carry the Tenba Messenger Mini. The iPad 2 is slid into the rear pocket while an ungripped Canon EOS 7D with a Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L (hood reversed) sits sideways in the main compartment. A portable 2.5″ hard drive enclosure also sits in the main compartment along with miscellaneous accessories such FireWire cables and a Clear 4G hotspot.

Note: The iPad 2 in the above photo is inside an iPad Slip Case created, manufactured, and sold by WaterField Designs. I highly recommend this case for anyone who prefers a sleeve design.

Also, visible in the above sample photo are the mini pockets outside of the main compartment which can hold other items including a portable hard drive, a Moleskine notepad, pens, and even a Glock 27 (important capability for any “Jack Bauer” types). Between the mini pockets and the main compartment is a zippered pocket that runs the full length of the bag which can hold other small loose items you may want to keep separate from the main compartment (e.g. cables, small adapters, coins, memory cards).

There is also another large zippered pocket on the rear of the bag outside of the external compartment which is suitable for holding small flatter items such as loose paper notes, flyers, receipts, cards, etc.

One great selling point for the Tenba Messenger Mini is that the main compartment (and the front pockets) can be accessed without unbuckling and opening the main flap. There is a zipper that runs across the top front of the a flap that allows access to the inside of the bag.

Tenba Messenger Mini, example load configuration, closed flap

The above photo contains the exact same items in the bag as the prior photo with full flap opened. The ability to access the inside compartment with the flap still velcro’d and buckled closed is very handy in situations when you want to access the bag, but need to protect the compartment (e.g. crowded areas where you are surrounded by people, in the rain, while walking, etc).

The backside of the Tenba Messenger Mini is padded with breathable fabric to minimize the effect of sweat buildup as the bag rests against the body during carry. There is also webbing on both sides of the bag to accommodate clipped pouches or other items (e.g. carabiners). The main shoulder strap is respectably padded.

Overall, the Tenba Messenger Mini is a solid bag, and definitely a great value at just under $100 at any reputable retailer.

It is a great tablet and camera bag for anyone on the go and wants to keep things as minimal as possible, yet it still retains the flexibility to pack a lot into the bag for it’s size.

I would think it’s quite possible to carry a body with lens attached, along with two other wide-angle to standard focal range primes or standard range zooms in this bag (e.g. Canon 50mm f/1.4, Canon 85mm f/1.8, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8, Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS) or one spare lens and a Speedlite/Speedlight. Of course the whole point of the Tenba Messenger Mini is being ‘mini’. So this bag should be acquired with the goal of being lightweight and carrying the bare minimum.

For more information on the Tenba Messenger Mini Photo/Laptop Bag, visit the Tenba website at http://www.tenbabags.com.

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