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The Best Backpack for Photographers? Tenba DNA 16 Backpack Review


Tenba pretty quietly announced the refresh to their DNA backpack last year. We reviewed most of their new messenger bags, which are arguably more popular. But among those satchels, there’s a pretty big, hidden secret: the Tenba DNA 16 backpack! Tenba’s previous DNA backpack was one of my favorites. What’s more, it also often served as my everyday bag. Looking at both camera bags, you’d never guess they’re from the same product line. But through and through, this could be the best backpack for photographers, or at least one of my top three.

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Too Long; Didn’t Read

The Tenba DNA 16 backpack is quite a change from the previous version of the bag. It overall remains incredibly comfortable to wear and can carry loads of camera gear. It’s a very strong competitor to the WANDRD PRVKE series of backpacks. And if you don’t like to open up your backpack from the backside, then it’s your best choice.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Very comfortable, though the first one felt more so.
  • Pretty rigid shape gives your gear more protection
  • Even when you put a tripod in the side slot, it’s not throwing your back off much, but you may still feel it. It will be even more pronounced if you’re wearing a thick winter jacket.
  • I love that Tenba continues to make rolltops.
  • Waist strap and sternum straps work great
  • Laptop compartment blends seamlessly and is comfortable
  • Fairly priced

Cons

  • I know TENBA isn’t a fan of canvas but, more so than any other bag, this would’ve been better in Canvas.
  • I wish I could carry a tripod on the bottom. The bag could then be even more balanced.
  • The camera section’s zipper can snag a bit around the corners. But it’s not all that bad.

Gear Used

We tested the Tenba DNA 16 backpack with the:

  • Benro Rhino Tripod
  • Leica SL2s
  • Leica 28mm f2 SL APO
  • Panasonic 50mm f1.8 Lumix S
  • Panasonic 85mm f1.8 Lumix S
  • Canon EOS R5
  • Canon RF 24-105mm f4
  • Apple Macbook Pro 2015 edition
  • Various filters
  • Profoto B10
  • OM system OM1
  • Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 PRO

Tech Specs

The following specs are taken from Tenba’s product listing page:

  • Expandable, Water-Repellent Rolltop Design – Versatile rolltop opening protects contents from rain when rolled tightly, and allows expandability to hold extra cargo when needed.
  • Camera/Laptop Gear Capacity – Fits a mirrorless or DSLR camera with 4-6 lenses (up to 70-200mm 2.8) plus flash and accessories, along with a laptop up to 16 inches (40 cm).
  • Comfortable Airflow Harness – The Airflow harness comprises ventilating 3D airmesh and Tenba’s Pivot-Fit™ auto-adjusting straps to ensure a comfortable fit. The hip belt can be used to support the weight of the bag when it is loaded, or the belt can be easily removed when loads are lighter.
  • Removable Padded Camera Insert – Slides out to convert the bag for general-purpose, non-photo use. Does not affect the rear sleeve so the bag can still be used to carry a laptop even when the padded insert has been removed.
  • Tripod Compatible – Reinforced side pocket allows the secure attachment of virtually any size tripod.

Innovations

The Tenba DNA 16 backpack doesn’t do anything innovative here. It takes what Tenba’s done already, gives it new material, and offers something unique. It’s more or less the same material as WANDRD’s PRVKE backpacks, or at least feels that way. However, it borrows Tenba’s philosophy on access to gear. So if anything, it’s just a different way of getting your gear with similar build material. This new material is called Helix All Weather, and Tenba says it’s their own special blend of materials.

Ergonomics

The Tenba DNA 16 backpack is fascinating. It feels like similar material from the WANDRD PRVKE series, but it’s not. Tenba works with a Korean manufacturer to get the material just the way they want. And when you look at the Tenba DNA 16 backpack, you’ll see a lot of Tenba’s design throughout it.

Let’s start up top! There’s a rolltop design to this bag, which I love. I can pack clothes, studio gear, filters, and more in here.

This area can expand to accommodate so many things. It’s great if you’re going on a trip and are coming back home with some goodies.

Here’s what the Tenba DNA 16 backpack looks like when it’s fully expanded but not closed. This bag is also TSA-approved.

On both sides of the Tenba DNA 16 backpack there are pockets. One side has a very expandable, soft cloth pocket.

The pocket on the other side is also expandable, but has more structure to it. Tenba works closely with Benro, so we stuffed a Benro tripod in the side.

Here’s the front pocket for camera access. Unlike its predecessor, the Tenba DNA 16 backpack doesn’t have overlaying pockets. It’s just this one pocket.

Open it up and you’ll find space for your gear. We used the Leica SL2s because it’s huge. So too are L-mount’s lenses. The Tenba DNA 16 backpack is said to be designed for DSLRs.

Here’s the pocket above the space that the main camera compartment occupies. You can stuff all sorts of random stuff in here.

Here’s the back side of the Tenba DNA 16 backpack. You’ve got sternum straps, waist straps, and a strap to put around roller luggage. This last strap also has velcro to wrap it around lots of stuff.

Lastly, around the back is the laptop sleeve. Thanks to the padding and air-flow design, this is all very comfortable to wear.

Build Quality

The Tenba DNA 16 backpack is built super solidly. The first quarter of 2022 has given us a lot of snowfall. So I’ve walked around with it in heavy snow on a few occasions. I packed the Tenba DNA 16 backpack with camera gear, clothing, tea, and an extra water bottle. Then I walked a mile in the snow to my yoga class. The entire way there, the Tenba DNA 16 backpack felt incredibly comfortable. The gear inside was safe and sound. Further, the rolltop design helped me carry way more than I needed. The comfort and durability combined convince me that this is a bag worthy of lots of praise.

On another occasion, I walked through two miles of rain on the Long Island City waterfront while testing the new OM1 camera. It all felt perfectly fine the entire journey.

The only things I’d complain about are, well, some of the usual peeves. I really wish Tenba would make it so that tripods can be carried on the bottom or even safely on top of the bag. There are times where I’d gladly take a tripod with me, but I don’t want to bring a water bottle in the other side just to even it out. Trust me, you’ll feel the weight shift, but the Tenba DNA 16 backpack will handle it and minimize it the best it can. Use the sternum and waist straps to ensure this. 

My other peeve is that I truly wish Tenba would make these in canvas. The Fulton bags have canvas. Tenba has told me many times that it would be too expensive and too heavy. I understand, but I’ve also used lightweight canvas bags with little issue.

Lead Reviewer Brittany Smith and I have discussed this at length before. Tenba says this is a bag that you’d want to bring everywhere with you. Brittany and I disagree.

Ease of Use

The Tenba DNA 16 backpack is billed as a bag that you’d want to bring with you everywhere. But in truth, it’s a bag that you’d want to bring with you on an adventure or for work. It’s not quite stylish enough to bring with you everywhere. Leather, canvas, and the materials Billingham use are stylish. This is why, when I’m just going out with friends and want to bring a camera bag with me, I often reach for Billingham. If I need a backpack, I’ll go for Olliday instead. 

I just finished celebrating an entire month of birthdays. And each time, I didn’t bring the Tenba DNA 16 backpack with me. It’s truly designed for work and that’s it.

With this said though, it’s also one of the easier bags to use. It’s straightforward and there’s nothing complicated to know or figure out. There are lots of areas to store stuff. If anything, you might just want to be careful about the angle of the zippers at times. The main compartment zipper snagged once on me. But as long as I opened it up a bit slower, it didn’t give me any trouble. For the record, this is the same issue the previous bag had too. 

Any time you use the Tenba DNA 16 backpack, I recommend that you use the sternum and waist straps. They’ll help a lot.

The Tenba DNA 16 backpack is designed to hold a DSLR and a bunch of lenses. With the Leica SL2s, I was able to stuff the camera with a lens attached and two other lenses in the side of the main compartment. The top section housed two other lenses.

Conclusions

Likes

  • Comfortable
  • It can hold a ton of gear.
  • Great for travel
  • Improved zippers over the predecessor, but there are still rare snags.
  • Decently priced

Dislikes

  • I wish there were a canvas version, but it will probably never happen.

The Tenba DNA 16 Backpack is, in every way, a great bag for most photographers. Traveling? Well, this can hold a lot of camera gear and maybe even your necessities. Going on a shoot? You can pack pretty much all your necessary studio gear in here. Still use a DSLR? Get a mirrorless camera but, until you do, this will serve you well. We really like the Tenba DNA 16 Backpack and what it provide for passionate and working photographers. Would we buy it? I run into situations where I’d need a bag like this. So honestly, as the site’s Editor in Chief, I’d be stupid not to. But my heart is still with canvas.

The Tenba DNA 16 Backpack receives five out of five stars and our Editor’s Choice Award. Want one? The Tenba DNA 16 Backpack can be bought at Amazon or Adorama.






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