In a recent two-week span, I made three major purchases (a cell phone, a toaster and a paper shredder—I know, glamorous, right?)* and came to the realization that I’m a very bad citizen of the Internet. I’m a taker, not a giver. You see, I relied heavily on online reviews to make my purchasing decisions, but I never, ever write product reviews.
Likewise, when I made my decision to purchase a camera bag from Epiphanie, I scoured the Web for bag reviews before pulling the ripcord and typing in my credit card number. I decided that I really wanted to write about Epiphanie now because 1) I’d hemmed and hawed over the bag I just got, a fuschia Belle, for a looooong time because I couldn’t determine whether it met my needs or not, so maybe my two cents will help someone else make a decision and 2) Epiphanie has, hands down, THE BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE I’ve had from a retail company. (More on that in a bit.)
My first Epiphanie purchase was a black Lola bag. I read page after page of “lady camera bag” reviews before ultimately settling on the Lola. I preferred the styles of Epiphanie’s line over the other most-recommended designer (Kelly Moore, in case you’re wondering), and it didn’t hurt that Epiphanie’s founder, Maile Wilson, is originally a Hawai‘i girl, from Maui.
Before I got a DSLR, I had tiny purses. I could fit everything I needed—keys, phone, wallet, point-and-shoot, into a pretty small bag. But once I bought the “big girl camera,” I needed a new bag. I like to carry my camera all the time and we go to a lot of events where a regular camera bag just isn’t appropriate (and, let’s face it, who wants to carry an ugly bag or, even worse, a separate camera duffle), so I wanted a bag that was indistinguishable from a purse but also provided protection for my camera and lots of pockets for other gear. Enter the Epiphanie bags.
I get a lot of compliments on my Lola bag and they’re always from people who don’t realize it’s a camera bag nor even that I have a camera stashed in there. I get a lot of, “THAT’S a camera bag?!?” Fellow photo enthusiasts—even the men—are consistently impressed when I reveal the cushy, rearrangeable padding inside. Everyone loves that it looks nothing like a traditional camera bag. A purse is a target for theft, regardless, but a camera bag is pretty easily pegged as something that contains thousands of dollars in gear. I don’t use the optional padded cross-body strap that came with the bag, but the straps are still comfy on my shoulder (aside from the general burden of carrying a 10-pound purse). And there are lots of handy pockets and compartments for all my daily paraphernalia and camera gear, like additional lenses or flash unit.
Another thing I really love about these bags is that I can stash a bottle of booze in there safely. I know that makes me sound like an alcoholic, but there’s actually a logical reason for this. We not-infrequently receive gifts of bottles of wine or spirits at events and if you’ve ever tried to balance a plate of food, a glass of wine, a heavy camera and a bottle of small-batch bourbon all at once, you’ll understand my joy at discovering a bag that can accommodate a bottle upright in a cozy, padded compartment, without it banging into everything else inside my bag. Whee!
Basically, I love my Lola. Problem is, I loved her too hard. As I said, I carry my camera all the time, which means that Lola became my every day purse. After a while, I started to notice bare spots and the faux leather finish flaking off. So here we come to one of the few things I don’t like about the Epiphanie bags: they aren’t real leather. I know this helps keep the cost more affordable as well as making the bag lighter—I have a real-leather duffle bag, which I love, but damn it’s heavy!—but it does mean it’s not as durable.
The scuffs were appearing along the edges of the bottom of the bag, the sides of the body and, oddly, on the top of the shoulder straps. I emailed Epiphanie customer service, noting that I knew the spots on the side were probably because I do attend a lot of events where I end up being crowded against a wall or having people bang into my bag, but the wear on the shoulder straps seemed abnormal for normal use, even as an every day bag. I wanted to know, I asked, if there was some sort of repair Epiphanie could suggest and if they were considering a real-leather option in the future.
I was delightfully surprised to receive a quick reply offering me a replacement bag! Epiphanie customer service rep Megan explained to me that they had recently changed over to a more durable material, so as part of their customer satisfaction policy, they would send me a new bag. Wow! (Epiphanie’s policy is that within one year of purchase, if the bag is damaged through normal use, they will replace it; past one year, they will replace bags that are damaged due to manufacturer’s defects. You may need to send them the damaged bag for inspection.) And not only would I be getting a new bag, I could choose a new style (of the same value) if I wanted! Double wow!
I’d had my eye on the fuschia Belle for a while. (All the bags have girly names and they come in standard colors and super-awesome fun colors—it can be hard to choose between practical and a splashy, it-doesn’t-go with-anything-but-it’s-so-cute! color). But I had decided not to purchase it because I was concerned about scuffs developing again (which I thought would be even more obvious on a bright pink bag) and because I couldn’t really tell if the style would suit me—I had a hard time figuring out exactly how large the bag was and whether it would be possible to carry it over my shoulder using the handle straps. I figured this was a good opportunity to find out!
I’m so glad I did! I love my new fuschia Belle—the color is awesome, and the straps are, indeed, long enough to fit comfortably over my shoulder. I have, however, been using the cross-body strap as an extra-long shoulder strap, though, because I’ve primarily been using the bag when we travel to events on other islands, and it’s just easier to carry the bag on a long strap when juggling other luggage. Also, Belle is a much thicker (wider body) design than Lola. The trade-off is that Lola has a much taller body. By rearranging the interior pads, I was able to fit an 11-inch MacBook Air (in its case) into the Lola (although the bag won’t zip); Shake’s iPad in its case will also fit. I haven’t tried it, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible in the Belle.
Here are a few other comparisons between the two styles, in case you’re considering them:
- Shorter, wider design; it’s very easy to see the contents inside because the mouth of the bag is the same size as the bottom.
- Handle straps can be used to carry the bag (without the longer shoulder strap) on your shoulder, but it will end up right under your armpit and it is a bit wide—you’ll find yourself using the bag as an armrest of sorts. If you don’t like having something bulky tucked into your ’pit, then you’ll want to use the longer strap.
- With the Lola, I can leave the bag unzipped and am reasonably confident nothing will tip out and that no one will stick a hand inside without me noticing. Belle’s design seems to have a different center of gravity and with the weight of a DSLR (not to mention a flash and/or additional lens in the bag) dangling on the long shoulder strap, it sometimes seems like it might tip the contents out. And it’s definitely possible for someone in a crowd to easily go rummaging about.
- More individual compartments, more room for stuff! There’s a main section for the camera and three side cubbies on each side of that for a total of six cubbies to corral lenses, flash units and whatever else you want to tote. You’ll want to balance your gear, though, to avoid tippiness.
- Taller design allows you to carry, natch, taller items. Other Epiphanie designs are actually intended to accommodate a laptop, but Lola can fit an 11-inch Air, stood on end, in a case. On the other hand, because the bag is so deep, it’s dark at the bottom, even with the bright contrasting fabric Epiphanie uses. I’m always rooting around for the one thing that’s drifted to the bottom. I don’t understand how a set of keys that was at the very top one minute is somehow underneath EVERYTHING ELSE within 5 minutes.
- Slightly narrower design means that there are fewer compartments inside—only two on each side of the main camera section. Also, the Lola design tapers at the top, meaning that while you can walk around with the bag unzipped without much worry, it also means it’s more difficult to see inside. You can’t see the entire interior at once like you can with the Belle.
- Longer handle straps than the Belle has, so it sits lower on your body, not all up in your armpit like Belle. Epiphanies come with an optional padded cross-body strap, which are great for travel. Using the long strap looks better on some styles than others; Lola is a style that, to me, doesn’t look as cute carried that way, so I almost never use the strap.
A couple other general bits of info on Epiphanie bags, from my perspective:
- They’re really great for travel because you can stuff so much into them!
- One thing I’m not crazy about is that many of their designs are identical on both exterior sides, meaning that if you set it down, you can’t necessarily tell which is the “back” and which the “front,” so I spend a lot of time sticking my hand into the pocket I thought contained my cell phone, only to discover 5 old grocery lists. Likewise, I’ll grope in the “right, back” padded cubby for my mini-flashlight to light a dish, only to discover that I should have been looking in the “left, front.” Epiphanie bags all come with a cute camera-embossed keychain medallion, which can indicate which side is which, but if you remove it (like I did—actually, it somehow got stuck in my pants pocket and detached itself), there’s no way to tell which side is which. A discreet, embossed logo on one side would be nice!
- That said, I like that there’s no big brand label or mark on the bag’s exterior, making them very stylish and classy. I’m not a fan of being a walking billboard, so this pleases me although I very happily inform anyone who comments on my bag where I got it. (Even if they didn’t ask!)
Finally, here are a few photos to show you what you can fit into a Lola or Belle. Please excuse the quality—I took these with Shake’s G12, which does normally take lovely photos, but I rushed the process and when I realized they were out of focus, I’d already returned the beautiful, wonderful 24-70mm I’d rented, so I couldn’t do a re-shoot with the same gear examples. Note that I do NOT normally carry around this much crap. I might put all this in my bag to go on a shoot or a trip, but I wouldn’t carry it all around for any substantial length of time. I usually am carrying all the miscellaneous junk and just the camera with the 50mm on. For night events I add the flash. The rest just goes in the bag when I travel.
Believe it or not, all this crap fits into a Belle:
Counter-clockwise(ish) from top left: Wallet, gum, “day job” business card holder, blog business card holder, Moleskine notebook, cell phone (it’s bigger than an iPhone), two sets of keys, a crapload of assorted pens, 50mm lens, 70-300mm lens, external 430EX flash, Canon T2i body with 24-70mm lens attached (sadly, this lens does not belong to me).
Want proof it all fits? Well, here you go:
A Lola will fit nearly as much:
Basically, with the Lola, you have to give up one of the extra lenses, or else some of the random crap (biz cards, etc.).
I think these photos really give you an idea of the big difference in accessibility to contents between the two bags and why I say I can run around with Lola unzipped, but not so much Belle. By the way, both bags each have a small interior zip pocket where I stash keys, lip gloss and random things, plus a larger exterior pocket on each side of the bag where I keep my phone and even more random stuff. On the Belle, the exterior pockets zip, on the Lola, they do not.
And here’s one more shot, for perspective:
I’m a petite gal (5’3 with a thin frame), so the bag does look rather large on me, but I never feel like I’m carrying a suitcase. That said, both times I received my Epiphanie bags I had a momentary thought, “Oh, geez, this is ENORMOUS!” I’m not great with spatial dimensions, so even if you tell me how big something is, it doesn’t hit home until I’m looking at it in person. As you can see, a jar of peanut butter (or Cookie Butter!) will fit easily into a Belle. In case you’re like me, I hope this gives you a better idea of what you’ll be getting in terms of size.
I hope this has been helpful for my fellow indecisive shoppers out there! And thanks again to Megan, Maile and all the rest of the wonderful Epiphanie crew for making such fabulous bags and providing the most amazing customer service!
*In case you care, it was an HTC One (very happy with it); a Cuisinart CPT-415 Countdown 2-Slice Stainless Steel Toaster (moderately happy—the lever goes down and stays down, so that’s a real plus over our old one); and a Royal 14-Sheet MicroCut Shredder MC14MX (totally in love with it!). [Return to text]