Finding the right bag is a constant struggle. Everyone has slightly different requirements and priorities, and that means there’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution.
I looked for a bag that would be large enough to fit my daily creative kit, small enough to take everywhere with me, and provide easy enough access to its contents that I could get out my camera in a moment’s notice.
I narrowed down that definition through a trial and error of varying bags. Big bags. Small bags. Combinations of the two. None of them were quite right. Come this summer though, I finally had an idea of what I was looking for in a bag. And right around the same time, I found a classic messenger bag, designed with the modern minimalist in mind: The ONA Prince Street.
On the outside, the ONA definitely looks the part.
There are both canvas and leather versions of the bag available, but the leather model I have seriously inspires confidence in that it’s both made well and made to last.
The hide used is what ONA bills as “full-grain Italian leather,” and while I’m no leather expert, I’d have to say it’s some of the finest leather I’ve ever laid hands on. The leather is thick, smooth, and hefty in a way that oozes quality from the first time you pick it up.
Right out of the box, the leather is quite stiff and requires a couple days of use to break in. Once broken though, it’s supple enough to be a pleasure to feel and use, especially in the bag’s shoulder strap and carrying handle.
ONA themselves vouch for the leather’s long-term durability and say that, with some occasional applications of leather cream, the Prince Street should age gracefully. I’ve taken the bag in the rain, to the beach, and hiking in the woods all without problem. Apart from a small bit of fraying on one of the bag’s strap-connectors, I’ve had no issues.
Moving on to the bag’s hardware, the Prince Street uses ONA’s now-standard antiqued brass, which, apart from some extra wear for aesthetic’s sake, is simply some good ol’ brass. It’s used in the connectors of the bag’s shoulder strap and handle, as well as in the bag’s main clasps.
In the straps, there are several O-rings, D-rings, and carabiners that adorn the bag, all of which feel substantial and feel like there’s no risk of breaking. I’m really impressed with ONA’s work here, as the connectors are formed in ways that are obviously custom and not your run-of-the-mill metal parts. You just need to look at the way the carrying handle’s carabiners attach themselves to the D-rings and you’ll know what I mean.
The bag’s clasps are equally good, and ONA’s proven themselves again to be competent here. The clasps use ONA’s tuck-clasp closure that you can find all across their line of bags, and the design — which has you simply pressing a button to open or sliding the clasp through a ring to close — is so easy to use you can do it without looking.
I’ve been using the tuck-clasps for over a year now on both my ONA Bowery camera bag as well as the Prince Street, and there’s nothing better out there in my opinion. The tuck-clasps are made from solid hunks of brass, they’re easy to open and close in a moments notice, and they fit in with the bag’s classic aesthetic while still being a modern concession.
On the back of the bag is the Prince Street’s one exterior pocket. It spans the length of the pack and is closed with an integrated magnet. It isn’t all that large, but I’ve found it to be a good place to keep notebooks or pieces of paper that you might need quick access to, in addition to being a great place to stash the odd note or receipt if need be.
Once on the inside, you get to see some of the bag’s more modern innards. While it does make itself out as a bit more of a camera-bag than a courier-bag, the Prince Street still proves versatile across a variety of uses.
Inside the bag you’ll find three more pockets, bringing the Prince Street’s total to four. That might not sound like a lot, especially in a world where nylon-suited bags sport dozens of specialized pockets each for their own purpose, but all of the Prince Street’s compartments can be used in a lot of different ways. On the whole, I find this layout more useful than a bag studded with various bits of zippers and mesh.
To start with we have the two front pockets. While still technically on the outside of the bag, these two front-facing pockets get covered by the bag’s main flap when closed, and for all intents and purposes are sealed off from the outside.
They’re surprisingly deep and I’ve found they lend themselves quite well to the sorts of electronic odds and ends that find themselves in a camera bag. They are also a great place to store both my sun and prescription-type pairs of glasses.
These two front pockets are the catch-all. Whatever doesn’t find a home in the Prince Street’s main compartment will probably find one here. And they do their job well.
That main compartment is where the Prince Street really proves its handiness for carrying around the sort of creative kit I do on a daily basis. It has about half an inch of padding from the outside of the bag to keep my camera and iPad safe, and it comes with two velcro dividers — one large and one small — which allow you to basically design this interior pocket any way you want it.
This versatility makes the Prince Street able to conform to just about any sort of load that will physically fit inside it. Whether it’s an old medium format film camera and some rolls of film, a big DSLR and a couple lenses, or the tablet, keyboard, and mirrorless camera which you’ll find in mine. It’s not a complex feature, but it’s sure to help more people find ways to work the Prince Street into their life.
Looking at the quality of the materials, the overall fit and finish, and combining that with ONA’s modern touches like easy-use clasps and a configurable interior layout, make the Prince Street’s build a winner. The only thing you might want to take a hard look at is if the Prince Street will be large enough for your kit or not. If you need something larger, the slightly bigger and pricier ONA Brixton or ONA Union Street bags might fit your needs better. As for the Prince Street though, it’s well-made, classic (but still comfortable), and I couldn’t be more pleased with its build.
I’ve been using the Prince Street for about three months now, and over that time I’ve come to realize that it’s as close to perfect for my needs as I’ll likely get. It’s a really nice bag overall, and some of the things about it that others might have viewed as compromises are the same things that endear it to me. It’s not for everyone, but it fits a specific loadout and a specific person very well.
The first thing that most people might have a problem with is the ONA’s size. It’s too small for anything bigger than an 11″ MacBook Air, but as someone who tries to travel light and whose main computer is an iPad, the Prince Street is a dream. Give me a bag with too much room and it becomes hard to carry just the bare essentials or feel like my stuff isn’t going to be bouncing around in all the extra space. I needed something small.
This isn’t to say that you can’t fit much in the Prince Street. Rather, I’m saying that, in order for everything you want to fit, you’ll need to be sporting a minimal kit. That description fits mine pretty well, and I manage to carry with me everything that I need in a day.
- an iPad Air 2
- an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard
- a TwelveSouth compass iPad stand
- a FujiFilm x100s
- extra camera batteries
- a backup battery bank
- various chargers and cables
- a lens cleaning cloth
- two pairs of glasses
- a couple notebooks
- a 22oz water bottle
- a hat
It all fits quite comfortably, but not all that much more would fit before the bag would start to feel stuffed. This is good, as it keeps me carrying only the necessities on a daily basis, and leaves room leftover to carry things on special occasions like rainy days or hiking trips.
The other detail about the ONA that might throw off some people is the lack of pockets and being forced into using the main compartment and it’s divider-system to keep things organized. It’s certainly not the most popular approach out there to the interior design of bags, but I’ve found it works pretty well for me.
Being able to design my own interior means that instead of having separate pockets for individual items, I’m able to have easy access to them all and still have them segregated off and snuggly stored. Again, this might not work well for everybody, but for the small items and camera that I’m carrying, the Prince Street’s interior compartment works quite well.
The bottom line with the Prince Street is that, depending what you’re using it for, it may or may not fit your needs. It’s a small pack with some great features that make it easy to keep organized and to access at a moments notice. If that’s what you’re looking for — like I was — then it’ll be hard to find a nicer bag to fill the role.
Value & Wrap Up
When reviewing the Prince Street though, there’s one final detail which might turn off some people from a purchase: the price. The Prince Street’s price is really the elephant in the room, as the canvas option starts at $280, and the leather option comes in at an even pricier $390.
This is not a cheap bag. You could get a much larger bag that could hold much more kit for much less money. You could even start looking at buying a new camera itself for around the same price. Yet, I still think the Prince Street is worth the money.
There are cheaper bags that could probably hold my kit just as well, bags that would be as easy to use, and even bags that would start to come close to the Prince Street’s level of build quality. But I’ve looked far and wide, and even with its steep price, there’s no other single bag that will hold my kit as well, be as well made, look as nice, and last as long as the Prince Street will over the years.
Over these past three months, I’ve had an easy time fitting the Prince Street into my life. I had a clear idea in my mind beforehand what I wanted my dream bag to be like, and when it finally showed up, I didn’t have to think about how I’d end up using it.
I don’t know if this specific bag will fit as well for everyone out there. But if you’re looking for a small, well-made bag aimed at a minimal kit, then look no further.