DSLR tank bag review: ViaTerra Fly Universal

On a whim, I picked up a ViaTerra DSLR tank bag to see how it would be after using two trusty old Cramster Turtles over time. Cramster Turtle was on its last legs, and I needed a DSLR tank bag to replace it. If you need more or accurate information, leave a comment at the bottom, I will update this.

What’s a DSLR tank bag?

A regular tank-bag that has configurable padded inserts that allow you to safely transport a DSLR body, some lenses and some accessories. Get rid of the padded insert, and you get a whole lot more space to use as a regular tank bag.

Via Terra DSLR Tank Bag on the ThunderDuck
Via Terra DSLR Tank Bag on the ThunderDuck

ViaTerra Tank Bag Fly Universal

Let us take a detailed look at the ViaTerra tank bag, starting with its features list.

Zips

I am starting with the zips since this is what you use the most. Heavy duty YKKTM, solidly built.

Good: Most of the zips have extended tags. Can use it with my thicker gloves on.

Bad: The main compartment zip does not have tags to it. So, I’m forced to use the smaller metal tab for added grip.

DSLR Tank Bag Via Terra

Via Terra could have added a couple of nylon tabs like they’ve done for the others. I will probably add some myself. The tabs themselves could have been more strong too since the top pocket’s tab has already cut on mine.

Update

These tabs three of removable components. I have put the tab back together, but given the failure of one of these leads me to believe the others can also come off at some point. If possible open it up, use good quality glue and put it back together.

Main compartment

A single zip opens up the top on three sides. Still is the best way to do it and most tank bags do this. Tried and tested. Nothing new here to see. It has a storm flap on the main compartment for added rain protection.

DSLR insert - A whole lot of foam. Even more velcro.
DSLR insert – A whole lot of foam. Even more velcro.

Bad: Again, the zip of this main compartment. Look above.

Magnets

3 point mounting for the bag using magnets which could be designed a little better.

Good: Makes life simpler than having to strap in and out of a harness. Like most magnetic tank bags.

Via Terra and Royal Enfield Bullet 500
The light bouncing off the indicator is lighting up the reflective strip

Bad: It does move around while riding. I tried it both on a flat(ish) Bullet 500 tank and a sloping Thunderbird 350 tank. Edit: and now on the Royal Enfield Himalayan tank too. When you have a DSLR and a couple of lenses in there, you do not want that happening.

Expandable

Expandable main compartment, mostly I use that to put in a soft towel or something to protect the camera equipment from above. Starting off with 16 litres expandable to 20.

In an non-expanded state.
In a non-expanded state.

Good: The denier fabric exterior material is solid enough to hold it’s own when expanded. Apparently, fits a full-face helmet, but I have not tried that out. What I have tried however is to stuff my 13″ MacBook Air with the mouse and charger and other things on the way to the office. Fits everything well and has enough space to spare.

Rain cover

Almost all tank bags come with a rain cover, but it is vital for a photography oriented tank bag to have a rain fly. Rain-cover constructed from single fabric piece. The bag has a small stowaway pocket, with a flap to cover the exposed zip. Did we test the rain performance or what?

img_20160625_130655669-1
Quite an effective rain cover.

Over the first week of riding with this bag (after having bought it), we got everything from light drizzle to pouring rain. We did not use the rain cover in some conditions where the clear sky was on the horizon, but there was an entire day where we did not get rid of the rain cover at all. The bag kept everything dry and continues to do so at the moment as you can see the tank bag on the Himalayan above.

Side pockets

My go-to pockets of all the pockets on the DSLR tank bag. But these have been my favourite pockets from the Cramster Turtle days. I usually stuff it with a little chai money, some quick access tools, a multi-tool maybe and a box for shades.

Side pockets - surprisingly spacious. *Do not drink and drive.
Side pockets – surprisingly spacious. *Do not drink and drive.

Good: My shades’ box is big enough for two pairs of shades. These side pockets can accommodate that. 3M reflective tape between the expandable area of the side pockets for better visibility. Nice touch.

Top pocket

The top pocket is my least used pocket till today. I think it may be due to the fact below the clear pocket that this bag comes with. I usually forget this pocket is there. It may also be because my previous tank bag did not have a pocket here.

Inner dimension of the top pocket - an iPad Mini without trouble.
The inner dimension of the top pocket – an iPad Mini without trouble.

Despite this being the least used pocket, the nylon tab on this snapped off the zip before everywhere else.

Detachable transparent pocket

Good: The transparent pocket is useful. Used this extensively during the 2015 ride to keep a folded map of Karnataka, since we were on a no-GPS trip. You could use it to keep anything you want to grab a quick look at on the move.

The transparent "map" pouch. Attached at 4 corners.
The transparent “map” pouch. Attached at four corners.

Bad: I would have liked it a little bigger and better secured. Currently, it feels a little flimsy and not as well attached.

Mesh pocket (inside)

I use this mainly for memory cards. I would have liked this to be two separate pockets instead of one wide pocket. Would have made it easier to separate used and unused cards.

Cards, battery etc.

Inbuilt hidden straps

Now, this is excellent. I like that I can use this bag as a backpack and has helped me a lot on the previous trip. Climbing the rocky Matunga hill in Hampi was much easier with the camera bag strapped like a backpack v/s having it swinging off one shoulder.

These straps really make this bag worth it.
These straps make this bag worth it. I think one of its best features.

Faux leather bottom

Good: Soft enough to save the tank surface from significant scratches as long as the surface is clear of dust and particles.

Via Terra DSLR tank bag bottom
Scratches the tank after a while, but quite good while carrying.

Bad: Not always possible to make sure that the bottom surface remains particle free, due to the magnets. My 500’s green tank does have scratches because of that. But, that’s okay for me given the other advantages.

Where to buy?

I bought mine from the MotoStore, near Ulsoor lake in Bangalore. You can do the same.

Overall Verdict

Two things make a good tank bag, the finish and the stability. While the finish of this is good and I like it, the stability on all 3 motorcycles as seen are below what would be acceptable.

If you have a motorcycle with a smaller tank, this should not be a problem since the flaps with the magnets in them will be able to secure the bag better.

As for me, I will look for better fitting bag next time around maybe head back to something with straps too. 

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