Tenba have been making bags for over 30 years but I hadn't really heard of them until relatively recently, when I was looking to buy a medium backpack for my D800 and lenses. After reading very good reviews, I bought the Tenba Shootout medium backpack and was very impressed with the quality of the product.
I had also been looking for a replacement for my old Fuji shoulder bag, to carry a Fuji X-E1 and lenses/flash, when travelling around. There had been a number of bags that I had been looking at before going for the Black label. These included the Billingham Hadley Pro, the Tenba's small and medium messenger bags and the Think Tank Speed Freak and Fuji Millican bag.
It was only quite late in the day, when the Black label came to the fore, only when I saw the bag in a sale on Amazon UK for £76.99, did I start to consider it. Amazon advertised the Black Label small shoulder bag at £166.80 and it is very hard to resist an £90 saving.
Tenba have 5 bags in the Black label range, 3 satchell bags and two shoulder bags but Tenba has now ceased production of the bags, which is probably why I got the bag at that price.
The first thing I can say is that the bag looks very nice, all black, with a bullet proof nylon outer cover, with some leather and the shoulder strapping made using the same materials used in seat belts (nylon polyester webbing) with a badded shoulder strap.
The build is exceptional, with everything well stitched. Unlike many modern Tenba bags, the bag doesn't come with an inner padded liner but the bags moulded foam padding is very thick and will easily protect a camera from a fall. The ballistic nylon makes the bag very waterproof and unlike some bags which come with a rain cover, it doesn't need it.
The bag uses YKK zippers, which are very good quality, though I did find them a little sticky in one corner. Tenba also has its own metal tri-angle ring strap design, which is meant to help with positioning, though I have only set it up in the normal position. I don't know if all the bags are meant came with 2 shoulder straps but I am very happy that mine did. There is also a strap on the back to allow bag to be placed onto the handle of a rolling case.
Access to the bag comes from undoing the two duraflex clips, and lifting the outer lid of the bag. There is then a second, inner lid that has to be unzipped, to access the main compartment. To make access easier, the inner lid can be left unzipped and two velcro fastners help join the inner and outer lids together.
There are 5 dividers that come with the bag, which allow small changes in the main compartments layout. The bag is designed to carry a main camera and 4-5 lenses or equivilent equipment, dependant on size. I have slight mixed feeling about the dividers, they do work but they just don't feel up to the standard of the rest of the bag, with a couple that are just ill fitting.
The bag can hold a full frame DSLR with battery pack and 3 or 4 lenses/flash. It is too small for a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8, either mounted onto the camera or just stored, standing up in the bag. I could fit a Nikkor 24-70mm mounted to my D800, with lens hood attached, plus 3 prime lenses and a SB-800 but fitting in an SB-900 or longer zoom lens of around 150mm length ways, meant I had to removing one of the partitions, which means losing an extra lens.
Whilst it can handle a bigger camera, I think this bag is much more practical for smaller cameras and lenses. As I said at the beginning, I bought the bag to be used with a my Fuji and lenses and it does an great job of holding everything.
The bag comes with lots and lots of pockets. It has 2 large side/cargo pockets, 2 front pockets, one designed to fit memory cards, the other, has several strechy pockets and see though zip pocket inside. The top inner lid has 3 see through zip up pockets, one on the outside and two on the inside. Finally there is a rear zip up pocket, which runs down the back of the bag. It really is pocket overkill but in my view you can never really have enough pockets.
The older design means that it isn't ideal for carrying a large tablet. There are 2 locations that allow for the carrying a smaller tablets, with space in the rear pocket, though I am not sure I would want to, as it is on the outside of the bags padding. The inside lids top pocket, is more practical, it easily fitted my 7” Blackberry Playbook and protective case. It might be able to carry a Apple iPad mini but certainly nothing larger.
Black Label small shoulder bag in the real world use.
Recently I went into London to see a friend, who had come over from America. We wandered around town all day, either walking or travelling via train or underground. In the bag I carried my Fuji X-E1, plus a XF 8-55mm, a XF 50-230mm and a Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 Also my wallet, phone and a 58mm circular poloriser and tee shirt. This filled up the main compartment but I didn't need to use the rest of the pockets and the bag wasn't particularly heavy.
The bag is, at its widest about 10”, whilst it is slim enough for general use, it is slightly wider than many messenger bags which are currently on the market. I didn't have any real problem going through the underground turnstiles, as it was easy enough just to move the bag, from my side to my back, it did bang into a few people whilst we I was in the Natural History Musium and I found that leaving my house was a bit of a pain because I have a very narrow hall way and I had to open the front door, which meant the bag banged against the wall.
At the start of the day, it was pouring with rain. The rain was hard enough to leak through my so called waterproof jackets but inside the bag everything stayed completely dray (it is worth reading this review about the large Black Label shoulder bag, to see how waterproof the bag is).
Some have compalained about the shoulder strap and how it doesn't feel secure on the shoulder, or when walking about, the shoulder strap tri-angle makes a noise but after carrying the bag around, I didn't find either of these, to be an issue . What I did find though, was the seat belt material, did cause me to have a sore nipple, as the material is thinner, sharper and more slippery than most bag straps, I found the strap to couse chaffing. I found the shoulder padding to be easily easilyenough and didn't find the bag, uncomfitable on my shoulder, which is an issue I have had in the past with bags.
Although, access wasn't a big issue, the Black label shoulder bag t it doesn't quite have the accessability of some of the other bags in the market place, such as the Billingham Hadley Pro, with its pop off strap or the Tenba's small/medium/large messenger bags, which have a built in top zip. Whilst, walking around, I found I left the bag unzipped and only did up one of the clips, after getting my camera out, as they are fiddly to do up one handed.
I apart from the chafed nipple, I was very happy with the Black labels performance. It handled the weather well and access wasn't a big problem. It is small enough to carry around and big enough to carry everything I needed for the day.
It might sound like I have been really hard and slightly picky about certain elements of the bag but it is little things which annoy the most. The Black Label small shoulder bag, is very good and I am very happy with it. With its very high build quality, I can easily see the bag outlasting me. The bag is very cleverly designed and there are lots of little details, which I like. It doesn't really have many faults but its design feels slightly older than some shoulder bags and my guess is that this is the reason it is no longer being manufactured. I would say that the natural successor in the Tenba lineup would be the meduim messenger, which is designed to carry the same amount of cameras and lenses but has the top zip to allow access to the camera.
At full price, it is very close to the Billingham Hadley Pro, which I would say is more practical for carrying around a DSLR and is maybe the best looking bag on the market, with mirrorless. I probably would have looked else where if I had to pay full price for the bag, though I can see where the money was spent. For the price I bought the bag though, it was a complete steal.
Build Quality: 5
Carrying capacity DSLR: 3.5
Carrying capacity mirrorless: 5
Price: 3.5 (original price), 5 (sale price, pity I can't give it a 6)
Gereral use: 4.5
Street photography use: 4
Scores out of 5.