The Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L is one of the biggest carry-on camera backpacks available on the market. In this review, we’ll take a look at the bag’s build quality, features, and how much gear it can hold. If you’re looking for one of the best solutions money can buy, let’s take a closer look at the Flexloader L!
Disclaimer: Let me first say that I am not a Manfrotto Ambassador. Like every other article on CineD, Manfrotto, or any other brand, did not pay me to write this article. However, the company sent me the product to review for free. This review is my unbiased opinion, as Manfrotto did not modify, influence, or give input about the article or video before its publication.
The endless quest
When it comes to storing, transporting, or flying with film equipment, I think the creative world is divided into two categories: those who don’t care and those who are obsessively looking for an even better solution. Needless to say, I fall in the second category.
I’ve used bags, cases, rolling bags, and fly cases from various types and many different brands. The quest to find the perfect storage/carrying solution that combines build quality, storage capacity, total package weight, and functionality is endless.
However, for the past four years, I finally found some solutions that work for me. I purchased and used Manfrotto rolling bags – including the Pro Roller Bag 70 and Reloader Air-55 Pro – and they’ve been real workhorses. They’ve been a joy to use and what carries all my camera equipment 99% of the time. The Windows vs. macOS debate is as big as the backpack vs. rolling case one, but both solutions have pros and cons.
Also, the (now discontinued) Manfrotto PRO Light 3N1-36 PL has been part of my kit for some years now. It’s been a joy to travel with, but I now retired it as my “wireless video system bag,” which is a bit overkill, as this backpack can carry a ton of equipment.
As I mostly shoot as a one-man-band filmmaker, I’ve been trying to create one rolling bag and one backpack shooting kit that fits everything I need for all basic shooting scenarios and talking heads: two cameras, lenses, two camera tripods, some LED lights, light stands, and so on.
In October 2021, Manfrotto introduced a new PRO Light camera bags lineup for photographers and filmmakers. So I was very eager to try the Manfrotto PRO Flexloader L backpack for various reasons. First, it is one of the biggest carry-on camera-specific luggage on the market. Also, it’s Manfrotto’s second generation of PRO Light backpacks. So did the company improve what was already an excellent lineup of products? Let’s find out!
Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L specifications
As I mentioned, the PRO Light Flexloader L is a hefty bag that measures 36 x 35 x 56cm/14.1 x 13.7 x 22in for an empty weight of 3kg/6.6lbs. As with every camera bag, the internal dimensions are slightly smaller at 26 x 15 x 47cm/10.2 x 5.9 x 18.5in.
According to Manfrotto, the Flexloader L can take up to eight lenses, a DSLR/DSLR with grip or Cinema Camera, a 16-inch laptop (27 x 2.5 x 46 cm/10.63 x 0.98 x 18.11in), a gimbal, a tripod, and more. So you got it; this backpack can take a lot of stuff. That also means carrying a lot of weight on your shoulders, but we’ll talk about that in detail later.
Build quality and design
The Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L’s design is sober; it’s light black with a couple of “Manfrotto signature red” touches here and there.
The bag is made out of nylon and synthetic fabric. The ripstop nylon fabric features a cross pattern all over it. This kind of fabric is used to make military clothes, so I have very little doubt about its quality or longevity. All in all, it’s a matter of taste, but it’s a nice-looking bag that looks professional without screaming “there’s plenty of camera equipment inside,” which I always like.
You can immediately feel that it’s a well-made product out of the box. The materials look dense, the stitchings of the bag are perfect, the sewing thread is thick.
Also, Manfrotto put two thick rubber reinforcements/locking holes on the front and one on each side to create a tuck-away strap system.
You can set the two included straps onto the four front holes of these rubber parts to attach extra equipment/tripod to the bag.
The two included straps are made from nylon and metal and are high-quality; you can easily trust them to hold a bit of weight.
According to Manfrotto, the fabrics are water repellant. Also, there is a built-in fold-out rain protector located at the front of the bag. I did not stress-test the water resistance, but I never had issues with Manfrotto products in rainy conditions in the past, so this one should be no different.
However, I found that the Flexloader L quickly caught dust and marks during my tests. I’ve not been very kind with it and shot in some industrial factories that are not the cleanest environments out here. Back at the office, a quick wipe with a wet sponge and the backpack looked brand new again – as it cleans easily – but it’s something to notice.
Zippers, locks, and security
The Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L zippers are amongst the best I’ve ever seen, period. These are YKK zippers, which are some of the world’s best zippers you can get.
Also, there are rubber pull straps at the end of some zippers that open “secondary” compartments.
Manfrotto put some thick and quite long metal pull straps at the end of the main compartment and gimbal zippers, so it’s easy to open/close the most-used bag’s pockets.
Furthermore, these high-quality metal zippers pull straps are not here for the flex.
Indeed, the Flexloader L comes with a built-in TSA lock that allows you to securely close your bag when you’re commuting, for example.
Open the lock, put the main compartment’s zippers through it, lock it, and you can be sure that nobody will be able to open your backpack.
I like that you can still put the TSA lock in its pocket even when your bag is secured. You probably don’t want to catch unnecessary attention by walking around the city with a lock hanging on the outside of your bag.
The lock buckles have a different design from the “traditional” ones you can find everywhere, which usually break quickly. These Manfrotto lock buckles are smooth, and it looks like you only need to get the center part inside for it to engage. It’s hard to describe, but a picture is worth a thousand words.
Handles, shoulder straps and padding
To grab the bag, there are three handles: one on the top and one on each side. Although all the handles feel robust, they can take a lot of weight. If I am being picky, I would’ve liked to see a fourth grip at the bottom.
Talking about the bottom of the Flexloader L, there are two rugged bumpers under the dense nylon cover. These bumpers will help reduce impacts when you put your bag on the ground.
According to Manfrotto, these “SAS-TEC” structural reinforcements feature exclusive viscoelastic memory foam for multi-impact endurance. Unfortunately, I did not open the bag with a knife to verify, but the bottom bumpers did well during my testing.
It’s time to talk about my favorite part of the Flexloader L: the straps and back padding. The back padding is out of this world, and even with a fully-loaded bag that is close to 20kg, you’ll not feel it on your back, especially your lower back. It has a firm – yet so comfortable – padding with a mesh design and air tunnels, so you don’t sweat.
I asked some colleagues and friends to try carrying the Flexloader L, and everybody was impressed by the amount of support and comfort this backpack provides you. I think you have to try it out for yourself to experience how a bag should feel on your shoulders.
Next are the shoulder straps that do have two adjustments settings. The first one, like every backpack, is the length of each strap.
At the top of the Flexloader L’s shoulder straps, the second adjustment is the “support,” or how far you want the straps to be from the actual bag.
Also, the straps feature an adjustable torso height harness system.
Last but not least, the waist belt is inside the built-in pocket when you receive the bag. This is handy if you, like me, rarely use them. One thing I hate is to have a waist belt I don’t use swinging around. Also, the waist belt features a small mesh pocket with a zipper.
You got it; when carrying the Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L, you have choices, and it can rest on your shoulders for hours. The Manfrotto team put a lot of effort into making a comfortable bag. Being comfy is crucial as the Flexloader L can quickly become heavy considering how many compartments and how much stuff you can put in it.
Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L pockets and compartments
The Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L is a pretty simple camera bag with four main pockets and compartments:
- At the front of the bag, there is a small accessory pocket. This can be handy to carry some small items, batteries, snacks, papers, etc.
- Also, at the front, you’ll find the two zippers to fully open the main compartment.
- A laptop pocket at the back can easily fit a 16-inch MacBook Pro or an iPad, for example.
- And an expandable gimbal pocket that opens in two steps: first, unlock the zippers all around the bag. Then, extend your bag to reveal the full-size gimbal pocket. This pocket is initially designed to fit a Manfrotto gimbal, like their 300XM modular gimbal.
I did a quick test with a DJI Ronin RSC2 that barely fits inside this pocket.
You can get the gimbal inside the bag; it works. However, I’m not a massive fan of putting some stress on a motorized gimbal that will take some pressure from my back.
And that’s it. It is not an overly-complicated bag with tons of zippers and pockets all over the place. Instead, Manfrotto decided to keep things simple, and it just works perfectly.
There are several ways to attach tripods or light stands to the Flexloader.
First, there are two small expendable pouches, one on each side. I have issues with this kind of tripod pockets most of the time, as they are small. To give you an idea, they barely fit a Peak Design Travel Tripod, one of the most compact camera tripods you can get.
But, you can put small LED lights – I put two Nanlite PavoTube 6C in one pocket with ease – or a compact slider, for example; it works.
If you have a professional video tripod with a fluid head or light stands, you have another option on both sides of the Flexloader L.
Inside the small pockets with tripod logos, you’ll find straps that attach to their respective rubber hooks.
Last but not least, at the front of the bag, inside the rain cover pocket, you’ll find two nylon loops. Using the two front straps and these two nylon loops, you can attach a heavy camera tripod to the bag. I tried with my Sachtler Speed Lock CF HD set of tripod legs: it works. But, you’ll have to handle all that extra tripod weight on your back, the unbalance, and the Flexloader L will flip over when you put it on the ground. Also, it’s not very practical to access the bag’s camera compartment.
Once you fully open the two main zippers, you access the 26.5L interior to store your camera equipment. The first thing you’ll notice is that the bag flap opens entirely. Some like it, while others prefer latches to prevent the flap from touching the ground; it’s a matter of taste.
The top flap features three meshed pockets: two small ones (12.5 x 11cm/4,92 x 4,33in) at the top and a large one at the bottom (23 x 17cm/9 x 6,7in).
Only the large pocket is closed by a zipper. The two small ones feature soft fabric wings to kind of close them, but tiny items could eventually fall out of the pockets as they are not physically closed.
Inside the main compartment, you’ll find two central dividers that measure the Flexloader L’s interior length. The Flexloader L also comes with eight small dividers.
There’s also a nice little pouch inside the bag, which is around 23 x 15 x 5cm/9 x 5,9 x 2in.
You can use this pouch to store small items, filters, memory cards, cables, and so on.
The build quality of this pouch is lovely and an excellent addition to the global package.
The dividers feature Manfrotto’s M-GUARD technology to protect your equipment. M-GUARD dividers are made of high-density EVA foam and are “50% slimmer with 50% greater shock absorption” compared to previous Manfrotto dividers.
I can not confirm that these new dividers do better at absorbing shocks.
However, I can ensure that these 15mm thick M-GUARD dividers are much slimmer than their predecessor.
In short, these new dividers take less space inside your bag, so you have more room to store camera equipment.
However, I found the small dividers not high enough. When you have small items (batteries or memory cards, for example) in a tiny space separated by a partition, they tend to move around in your bag, get out of their dedicated space, and end up hitting other items inside the bag.
All the significant equipment in your bag won’t move. There are no issues with lenses, cameras, LED lights, and so on. But be careful with the tiny bits.
Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L carrying capacity
I tried the Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L in two primary configurations: a “traditional” camera bag and a multipurpose backpack.
In a camera bag configuration, I was able to fit:
- One small cinema camera with a cage (Canon EOS C70)
- A mirrorless camera
- Three “normal-sized” lenses and a big zoom lens (Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS)
- The pouch that comes with the bag
- Batteries, memory cards, and a ballhead
Can you get more camera stuff inside? For sure, but that’s already a fair amount of gear to carry on your back.
To me, the Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L shines as a multipurpose backpack. To give you an idea, I was able to fit:
- One Aputure 200D LED light with all the cables
- A mirrorless camera
- Four “normal-sized” lenses
- Two SWIT compact V-Mount batteries (PB-M98S and PB-M45S)
- The pouch that comes with the bag
Also, don’t forget that you can put a light stand, a camera tripod, and two small LED tubes on the sides/front of the bag, as well as your gimbal and laptop at the back. It means that an entire shooting kit can fit inside/outside the Flexloader L.
That’s quite a hefty amount of weight to carry all day long, but you can quickly move around the city (and stairs!) with only one bag.
If you remove the pouch that comes with the bag, you can put a monitor – in this picture, the PortKeys PT5 that I reviewed here – and some SSD hard drives.
As you can tell, there are a million ways to position the dividers and reconfigure the Flexloader L to fit your gear and needs. It’s a very versatile bag that can carry a lot of gear while still being carry-on sized so you can bring it with you on a plane.
I like the new dividers that don’t make you lose a ton of space inside the bag. When you’re packing your camera equipment for a trip, you want to pack as much stuff as possible inside your carry-on backpack.
Also, I can’t say enough how comfortable the Flexloader L is on your shoulders and back. This is a crucial part of a backpack that will get as heavy as it can get once fully loaded.
So is the Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L the perfect bag? There are only very few minor things that, to me, could be improved:
- the height of the small dividers could be higher so small objects doesn’t move inside the bag.
- the small front pocket could feature the same metal zippers pull straps as the main compartments ones, so you can close it with the TSA lock.
- adding a handle at the bottom of the bag.
As you can tell, these are minor issues and not a dealbreaker. Manfrotto did a great job at improving their camera bag lineup and they’ll have a hard time competing with themselves for the next generation.
Last but not least, the bag comes with a 5-year warranty. You’ll need to register and activate your warranty on Manfrotto’s website. The company’s customer service is incredible, and you can trust their warranty. To give you an idea, one of my Manfrotto Reloader Air-55 Pro zippers died two years ago. I sent it back, and they quickly sent me a brand new roller bag free of charge to replace it. That kind of service what professionals are looking for.
Price and availability
The Manfrotto PRO Light Flexloader L is available now for $329.99/€227.35. It can seem like a fairly high price tag, but the price/feature ratio is incredible and you’ll probably have a hard time finding a more affordable solution that offers you better build quality, versatility, and reliability.
For more information, please visit Manfrotto’s website here.
What do you think about the Flexloader L? Do you use a backpack or roller bag to carry your gear? Would you like us to review more camera bags? Don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments down below!