06 August 2007

Papa's Got a Brand New Audio Bag

Back in the land of the living.

22 days, all on location, from farmhouses to miniature steam train parks to operating trestle bridges to decommissioned nuclear power stations, in sun and rain and dust. But we survived, mainly by the graces of sunscreen and Red Bull.

Day two of locomotive process shots.

Which brings me to My First Product Review TM, for the Petrol Sound Knapsack. Petrol are well known for their production bags and harnesses; this is their first dedicated back-pack.

At first glance, it looks and feels like a standard back pack with water-retention issues, but once you yank on one of the the heavy-duty zippers, your MacGuyver-o-meter should peg its needles deep into the red.

In true Petrol fashion, The Knapsack is constructed of blue and black Cordura and ballistic nylon, with an orange fleece-like lining that easily mates with hook and loop connectors, and heavily padded and ergonomically shaped shoulder straps.

Inside, the bag is designed from the ground up for modern production, with three main compartments: one thoroughly padded and smoothly lined, large enough to accept a 17 inch laptop.

Another, more open space for the included organizing bags, each made of black neoprene with a zippered clear vinyl lid, allowing at-a-glance confidence of each bag's contents.

The outermost compartment has more traditional pockets and dividers for things like sunglasses, keys, pens, and the like.

I used my sample as my wireless bag, employing the more square-shaped bags for my four Sennheiser Evolution sets. Each bag was able to hold a transmitter, receiver, coiled lav mic, and body pouch with room to spare.

The nifty finger loops allowed me to yank another mic set out of the bag quickly if the needs of the scene changed.

In the eight variably-sized containers, you can keep a multitude of gear handy. There are two more rectangular bags in which we kept our boom mic capsules, switching between the cardioid for interiors and the short-shotgun for exteriors.

The biggest pouch ended up being a perfect fit for the Sony cans.

Seriously, I can't say enough good things about these pouch thingies. Keeping your stuff compartmentalized in a soft-shell container means that you stay organized, but have the flexibility to deal with the dynamics of field production. The fact that you can take them out to wire someone up on set without either bringing the whole backpack or just awkwardly pocketing a wireless set is nearly worth the price of admission alone.

Since the mixer bag I had initially bought was back-ordered, I resorted to using the laptop compartment to carry my Sound Devices 442 to and from set. There was more than enough room for the mixer along with a break-away cable and extension.

In the outermost pocket, I kept my sunglasses case, sunscreen (boy, was I popular on set for having that stuff...), and a small plastic kit with all of our "wiring" goodies: Transpore, Topstick, moleskin, and scissors. A vertically oriented space meant that I had quick-draw ability with the wiring kit, ready to re-mount a mic whose tape had succumbed to the sweat of the talent (yeah, I got into movies for the "glamour", folks:).

The bag also comes adorned with a very solid rubber Petrol badge that rests right between the shoulder blades. At first, I thought that this would be extremely uncomfortable, but the bag is so heavily padded in the back that I never once felt it, even when the bag was fully loaded.

The outside of the bag also has four smaller zippered pockets, each of which was big enough to hold two bricks of industrial AA batteries a piece. These pockets flanked a small net pocket, intended for boom poles, although it's closed at the bottom and only about eight inches deep. It felt like the pocket would be better suited to carrying a water bottle, although you'd have to take the pack off to reach it, so it wouldn't be very practical for that use. I also found myself using the neck of the net pouch as a handle to pick the bag up more often than not, even though Petrol included a very nice gel-padded handle across the top of the bag.

We did the majority of the movie cart-style, but certain locations proved to be inaccessible to anything other that foot traffic. In these instances, the bag proved indispensable, allowing us to quickly run in and get our shots without worrying about improperly packed gear bouncing around.

One issue that gave me pause was the doubling-up of the straps if you use the bag with a sturdier audio harness (Petrol's or otherwise), which, when mixing run'n'gun stuff by myself, I will certainly be doing. While it can be done, you end up with about three to four inches of padded straps across your frame, which can feel a bit unwieldy. I guess a possible solution to that would be a modular system (a la some tactical harnesses), where you have a central harness that you clip things to, e.g.: mixer bag in front, wireless bag in the back, etc.

Pros: tough; well- padded; room for days; pockets for everything and then some; those awesome pouches; ergonomic; very tech-cool looking.

Cons: no water bottle carriers; boom pole "pocket" a little funky (feels like it would be better to include two hook and loop straps to lash the pole, like on their other audio bags); solo operators may find doubling up of harness and pack cumbersome.

All in all, I was very impressed. Once I stashed all of my wireless in their respective pouches, wiring and adjustments became a breeze. No more digging around in a dark carry-all for the one vampire clip, no more crossing my fingers that my mics will survive being stuffed into a book-bag for the hike out to location. Moving to the next set-up was made that much more efficient by being able to simply shoulder half the kit, leaving my hands free for other gear.

The Sound Knapsack is a valuable tool for anyone who needs to keep an ENG/indie film audio kit organized and in good working order.

MSRP: $219.


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