This article was originally published in June/July 2016 issue.
By Mike Steidley
LowePro has been building amazing camera backpacks for years and the newest addition to their line is the LowePro DroneGuard 450. As a group that is constantly working in remote locations and traveling afar to get shots, we can definitely appreciate a reliable way to transport our gear. Can the DroneGuard pack meet our requirements for versatility, protection and ultimately find a place in our daily mix of filming? Let’s find out.
You only get one chance to make a first impression and the DroneGuard backpack receives a thumbs up at first glance. The pleasantly sleek design, attractive lines and durable appeal strike me first. Second, after I picked up the 6.2 pound backpack I was aware that it was heavy duty enough to hold up to what I had planned. I instantly put the pack on to see how it felt, taking advantage of the adjustable contoured straps and getting a sense of how it would potentially feel in the field. The pack uses foam that allows it to sit and remain cool on long hikes. The foam on the outside can clearly take a few hits and the pack does not feel flimsy. Dropping it to the ground or tossing it into the back of an SUV would not derail this pack.
PACKING TO FLY
The 450 can hold any small quad and is designed around the DJI Phantom series or the 3DR Solo drones and yes, it does fit the new Phantom 4. The pack loads from the back, meaning if you’re on the subway nobody can open it without you knowing. Alternatively, if you place the DroneGuard 450 down out in the elements, mud will not get on the interior and then come in contact with your back after flying. A large top loading pocket is well suited for all of the articles you will undoubtedly have on you; cell phone, sunglasses, keys and any stray objects all have locations for quick access away from your drone. You can additionally fit a light shirt or small jacket before things would start getting tight.
Now here is where things begin to get interesting. Opening the inside presents quite a number of custom options for how you load in your product. The center has two dividers that can be customized to hold the exact shape of your drone, ensuring a precise fit. Once the center dividers are in place you can secure everything with a strap to isolate any movement and bounce. Two large, zippered center pockets then can hold your batteries and accessories. You can easily get six batteries in these two spots if you choose. The pack has a top compartment for a tablet or flight monitor that is in an impressive suspension cradle to keep it safe from rattling around. The fold-out section that connects to the straps has a place for eight propellers and a small zip compartment that’s perfectly placed to hold a prop wrench and memory cards, guaranteeing they don’t go missing. The ability to customize and build out the pack as needed is exciting and allows you to bring all of the essentials. You could also fit a small form factor camera into one of the gear boxes if needed. Both my Panasonic GH4 and Sony a7sii with a small zoom lens fit into one of the pockets. Perfect for days when you want to explore and are not sure what film tool you might want to grab to capture a shot on any given adventure. Some small pockets make good use of space on the sides of the pack, but they didn’t prove deep enough to store much. Another downfall is that I would have loved to see an area tucked away that could potentially hold a compact tripod. The backpack overall is very well laid out. The material that would come in contact with your expensive gear is soft to the touch and the pack fully loaded feels comfortable on your back. A weatherproof cover that lives under the pack can be deployed to stretch over the entire pack should you get caught in the elements.
CUSTOMIZE, LOAD UP AND ROLL OUT
After playing around and using the 450 for several trips, it was time to bring it out for a shoot with some substance. I wanted to grab some clips of a pro mountain biker friend for a project and the location decided upon could only be hiked into. Our spot was a large boulder field that we had to walk across a stretch of beach, then hike for a good mile and set up on the jagged ocean rocks for some shots. A small copter was perfect for this shoot and I grabbed a Phantom 2 with a GoPro black. I wanted to shoot the clips in the flat color profile to push my color grade, hence the reason I opted for a Phantom a generation back. This copter has a 5.8 downlink and I carry several different antennas and a few filters to compliment this setup. All the pockets and packing options proved themselves with loading the many spares I wanted to bring and I was able to fit a full sized Futaba controller into the backpack. After trekking out to our location for the shoot I found the foam of the backpack to be comfortable the duration of the hike. Take-off on one of the shots was from the backpack itself to avoid getting sand everywhere. Throughout the shoot the pack was relatively exposed and I never felt I had to take any extra caution or worry about my gear being protected. This put me at ease and allowed me to focus on framing and capturing incredible shots. It was shortly after this shoot that I knew the LowePro DroneGuard 450 pack would work in my regular rotation for my professional jobs and would also compliment any adventure seeker who needs a durable way to transport their drone to any location.