“I noticed that these are all rolltops,” is what a rep from a manufacturer told me when he came by my apartment and into my office. It’s no lie, rolltop backpacks are my favorite camera bags. That’s for great reason. In fact, most of the staff like rolltops because they let us travel or accommodate lots of gear. But I’ve been in search of the perfect bag. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. But with a few fixes, the Ethnotek Raja 30L could easily be that bag. It combines my fervent love of ethics with fashion and durability better than most other bags on the market.
Ethnotek isn’t as large as Tenba or Manfrotto. They got their start on Kickstarter and have made pretty great bags since. What’s more important is this is the only bag I’ve used so far that finds a way to make nylon fashionable. So the bag ends up being lightweight and easy to use. However, there’s still a lot of work for them to do.
The Big Picture
The Ethnotek Raja 30L is a fascinating bag. It’s awesome in that it’s incredibly comfortable. What’s more, it’s both durable and highly capable of holding a ton of gear. The fact that it’s so ethically made is the orange peel on top of the negroni. But it has a few internal build quality issues as well as usability issues that can easily be solved. All in all, a few things hold this bag back from being the perfect camera bag. However, it’s still incredibly good.
We’re giving the Ethnotek Raja 30L four out of five stars.
- Insanely comfortable
- Can hold a ton of camera gear
- Uses nylon but found a way to make it stylish
- Rolltop design
- Lots of security features
- Ethically produced
- Tripod holder is incredible
- A good bag for someone that can take things a lot slower like a location portrait photographer
- Except for the quick access side, it’s a pain to get to your gear unless you remove the fashionable cover
- Getting in and out of the camera section is a major affair.
- Shifting it around on your waist is uncomfortable if you need to access the top.
- Way too much space for camera gear and this can’t be adjusted easily to give much more room up top.
- When you open the front compartment, you still need to dig around for your gear. They expect you to mostly use the side pocket.
- Can’t balance both sides of the exterior due to the pocket size.
- This is not at all a bag for event shooters or for anyone that has needs quick access at all.
We tested the Ethnotek Raja 30L with the following:
- iPad Pro 12.9 inch (our own)
- Canon EOS R7 (loaner)
- Canon EOS R10 (loaner)
- Canon 24-105mm L (loaner)
- Canon EOS R (our own)
- Canon EOS R5 (loaner)
- Nissin MG10 PRO flash (our own)
- Sony a7r III (our own)
- Sony a7 (own unit)
- Various Tamron lenses (our own units)
- OM System OM1 (loaner)
- Various OM System lenses (loaner)
The Ethnotek Raja 30L has done the brilliant thing of balancing ethical production with fashion. You can swap out their “threads” which make it possible to change up the way the bag looks. It will always be black, but the threads make the bag unique overall. I’ve seen no one else do this.
Here’s a look at the front of the Ethnotek Raja 30L. Of course, this is only one variant of the bag. I chose the threads from India. Again, threads are akin to skins. You can customize them as you’d like from different countries. There’s Indonesia, Vietnam, Guatamala, Ghana, and India to choose from. I think we can all agree that this is the most unique looking bag out there. Isn’t it?
It also has buckles that keep everything securely in place. You can store a tripod here if you wish.
Here’s a look at it with the tripod in place. Yes, these straps are partially to help hold a tripod.
Each thread has a hidden pocket. And I used mine to hold things like hand sanitizer, moisturizer, eye drops and more.
You have to pull the threads off of their velcro attachments and undo the buckles. Once that’s done, you’ll reveal the rest of the front of the bag.
Once the threads are pulled off sufficiently, they’ll reveal the hidden front pocket. This helps keep your gear secure and safe. But it’s also a hinderance. I’d prefer a thread sheet that only covers this area overall.
Open up that zippered pocket and you’ll see the interior. There’s a pocket as well as dividers inside.
Unfortunately, the interior top section doesn’t fully separate the bottom from the top. So it’s possible that stuff from the top will spill into the bottom area.
Let’s look at the pockets really quickly. Here’s one pocket with an expandable side if you need to use such a thing.
Then there’s another side door that lets you have quick access to your gear.
On top of the door for the side access is another small pocket. It’s more or less not very useful.
Here’s a look at the roll top area on top. This is really important for anyone traveling or any professional photographer in general.
As you can see, the buckles are pretty secure. There are a lot of them around the bag.
You may be wondering where to put your computer. Well, that can be slid into the back pocket along the back.
If you look inside the rolltop, you’ll find space for all the stuff you need. It’s pretty weather-resistant.
Lastly, here’s a look at the straps. I bought and attached the waist belt. Plus there’s a sternum strap. This combo together makes the bag really comfortable.
The Ethnotek Raja 30L has incredible build quality. With the threads attached, the bag fully zippered, and the rolltop fully secured, this bag stood up to quite a bit of abuse. It survived being bumped around on the subway, in ubers, along TSA conveyer lines, in airplanes, and thrown down on the ground. The bag kept working flawlessly and it also handled all the abuse without an issue at all.
Externally speaking, I can’t really find a fault with the build quality of the Ethnotek Raja 30L. But internally, that changes. For example, the top section of the camera carrier doesn’t fully close itself off from the top of the bag. Because of that, you can have the top area’s content spilling into the bottom. And if you use the drawstring to separate the areas, then you’re compressing how much space is available.
Finally, the dividers don’t work to also keep the area around the side access panel securely in place.
While the outside of the Ethnotek Raja 30L has almost flawless build quality, the internal areas aren’t so much. However, I’ll admit that these are more of inconveniences than serious problems. You could easily buy a Tenba bag with a rolltop and not face these issues. But you’d also lose out on the fashionability.
Ease of Use
For the most part, the ease of use of the Ethnotek Raja 30L is pretty straight forward. One of the biggest things that will affect almost everything about how you work with the bag are the threads. Ethnotek’s threads are what they call the fashionable skins you can put on. They attach by both buckles and velcro. And if you want to use the front door compartment to the bag, you have to unlatch the thread buckles and undo the velcro. Trust me, that gets incredibly annoying.
A viable solution to this would be to give photographers a smaller variant of the threads. Something that only goes over the front door of the bag would make infinitely more sense.
The Ethnotek Raja 30L doesn’t come with a waist strap, so I bought the one that they sell. It helped make the usability so much better. The belt is fantastic for storing little things like lens caps or eye drops when you’re out shooting.
This bag does something very progressive: tripod management. Indeed, the Ethnotek Raja 30L encourages you to put a tripod on the front of the bag and latch it in. With that said, it also doesn’t let you load stuff on either side of the camera bag. One side has a pocket, and the other has a door with a small access point. I’d much prefer that I could balance the bag by putting an actual usable pocket on the camera door side. And if that’s the case, then I’d only ever use the front door for practicality reasons. Combine that with a smaller set of threads and you’ll have a winner.
We’ve already discussed our problems with the interior, so we’re going to instead focus on what the Ethnotek Raja 30L gets right.
Besides the beautiful, sleek look that the bag can have, we like the fact that this bag feels really well balanced even when it’s fully packed. Could it be more so? Totally, if the side pockets could be fully utilized, it would be totally flawless. Also, it’s a rolltop, which is my personal favorite style of camera bag. But for years, I’ve been searching for a usable rolltop that’s also fashionable. The Ethnotek Raja 30L is really the closest thing to it.
Everything else about the Ethnotek Raja 30L is really pretty great. Not only is it very weather resistant, but it’s also easy to use once you understand its nuances.
Who Should Buy It?
The photographer that should buy the Ethnotek Raja 30L is first and foremost, the photographer that values ethics. These bags are made in sustainable and ethical ways and you can read all about that on their website. But more than that, it should be used by photographers that are traveling first and foremost. Ideally, if you’re not even bothering to bring a tripod, that will make this bag an even better purchase. If you also don’t plan on changing out your gear often, you might really like this bag. I’m bothered by the lack of clear separation between the compartments. But in reality, it’s okay.
Specs for the Ethnotek Raja 30L were taken from their website:
- Water resistant 840-denier ballistic nylon main bag fabric.
- Comes with interchangeable Thread™ front panel with tripod attachment points.
- Right-side exterior zip pocket allows access to main camera gear compartment.
- Easy access pockets for passports, plane tickets, and cafe punch cards.
- Left-side pocket is quilted and fuzzy tricot lined to keep gadgets safe from scratches.
- 13-15″ laptop
- Mirrorless & DSLR cameras
- 2-3 camera lenses
- Compact drone
- Memory cards
- Camera batteries