Tenba Messenger DNA 8

The ultimate small μFT bag?

My other articles related to the Olympus OM-D System.

Updates since the original posting:

If I had to travel with a camera and just one good lens, this lens would have to be the MZD 12-100/4.0, for more than one reason. It is large and heavy, though; if this is an issue, the Leica 12-60/2.8-4.0 would be my second choice.

What about two lenses? This depends on the nature of the trip. Sometimes you will be better off with a longer tele, sometimes — with a real wide angle. For the upcoming trip to Poland (urban vacation) I chose the second option, the Leica 8-18/2.8-4.0 which I like a lot, and which adds just about 300 g to my carrying weight.

The camera is E-M1 Mk.II, only because I don't have the Pen F yet.

Then I discovered I don't have the right bag for this outfit. Out of a dozen bags I own, every single one is either too small or too large.

I want the bag to be large enough, but barely so, to accommodate the camera and both lenses (with either mounted, stored vertically), the mini-flash, and one spare battery. If there is room for an eight-inch tablet, nice, but not a requirement.

Now, your two-lens setup may be different than mine. This write-up will still be applicable, under one condition: neither of your lenses exceeds 120 mm in length or 80 mm in diameter.

Lens hoods in inverted (storage) position are OK, but there may be some exceptions I'm not aware of.

A few hours of Internet research, and I found it. Or close. The Tenba Messenger DNA 8.

There was one doubt remaining: will it take the camera with the 12-100 mm lens mounted on it? Based on the numbers I found. the answer is: probably yes, if with a little persuasion.

Tenba specifies the interior height as 6.5" or 17 cm; the camera/lens ensemble is (almost) 17 cm deep, including filter and lens cap, but not counting the finder eyepiece, protruding another 8 mm.

The next larger option in that line is DNA 10. Way too large, almost twice as heavy, no contest. Ugly, too.

I went ahead and ordered the Eight. If it does not work with this outfit, it will with another. You never have too many camera bags.

Two days later the bag arrived. Before I go into details of configuring it to my outfit, let me share a few impressions.

First of all: the fabrics is lightweight, water-repellent 600 Denier Helix, whatever that is, but it looks and feels nice, and stitching is of highest quality. The whole thing weighs just 600 g without feeling flimsy. The hardware (zippers, D-rings and such) is claimed to be of premium kind and that's how it feels. The locks securing the flap (in addition to Velcro strips) are magnetic and, when I get used to them, I will like them for sure. A separate rain wrap is included, too.

There are quite many pockets, in and out. Outside, there is a full-sized, zipped one over the whole back, and another, small, thin and shallow, in the front flap (lens tissues?) Two more small, net pockets sit on both ends, under strap fixtures.

Wait, that's not all. Another four small, zero-thickness pockets, unsecured, sit on the bag front underneath the flap. I don't know what they can be used for, unless you have tickets for four different concerts and don't want to mix them up.

Inside, there is a thin, zippered pocket in the front side (passport?) and a padded compartment/pocket in the back to store a tablet up to 8 inches.

Additionally, the padded bag insert (see below) has small but usable pockets on the outside, at both ends.

Thirteen pockets total; that's quite a few, even if some are mostly decorative.

The flap has a handle attached. The handle is strongly asymmetric, not positioned above the center of gravity of the standing, loaded bag — far from that! I don't like that: it looks wrong, feels wrong, and handles wrong.

But my real issue with the flap is elsewhere. The flap has a full-length zipper at the top (with a narrow rain-protection strip), to provide quick access to (at least some of) the bag interior.

Tenba sees this as The Next Big Thing In Camera Bags, and even trade-marked it as Easy Access™. Indeed, it is quite handy — as long as the item you are reaching for is a pack of chewing gum; not quite so if it is an E-M1, even with a smaller lens.

I could just ignore this whole Easy Access™ affair (or even learn to like it) if not for one thing: it is (most probably) the reason why the flap at the top of the bag has no protective padding. Whatsoever. Even symbolic.

Your precious equipment is protected from the bottom and four sides by the nice, padded insert sitting in the bag's compartment; there is also a layer in the back of the shell, to protect your tablet. If you are hiking, however, and the bag drops hitting the ground with its top (or tumbling a few times), there is absolutely no protection.

This happened to me more than once or twice with my Tenba P506 of the 1981 vintage; the full padding, however, worked just fine. Never a problem.

Now, the inside. The bag has just one unpadded compartment and accepts a padded insert which can be partitioned with included dividers (two full-height, two small flaps). The insert and the dividers are adequate for the job, even if make and finish do not match those of the bag itself.

Here comes the moment of truth: internal dimensions. These are my measurements compared to Tenba's numbers.

Width [cm] Depth [cm] Height [cm]
Tenba 23 9 17
Wrotniak 22.0 9.5 14.3

Ouch. The one dimension I care most about, Height, differs by more than an inch between maker's claim and my measurement. (I suspect that their numbers are the external dimensions of the insert.) The other dimensions should fit nicely, though.

First of all, let us assemble the dividers. Not much of a choice here: a full-height lens compartment on one side, a half-height one on the other, the remainder becoming a camera cradle.

The smaller compartment needs a closing top; I just had to cut off the small Velcro wings (too bad they are not designed to be removed cleanly).

Important: the widest lens the bag will store must fit into each of the first two spaces.

I had no problem with that for the MZD 12-100/4.0, and the only lens (except for some manual ones) which is wider but not longer than this one is the MZD 7-14/2.8, just one millimeter wider.

Note the small outside pocket at the end of the insert. There is one at the other end, too.

Let's load the insert up with the gear and see how it works, with one lens or the other on the camera. (Sorry, you can forget about storing the 12-100 with the hood mounted, but inverted is just fine. For symmetry, I'm not mounting the hood on the Leica lens, either — but it will fit.) Here it is.

Mounted: Leica 8-18/2.8-4.0

Mounted: MZD 12-100/4.0

Laterally, this is the best fit you can imagine. No space wasted, and this is the biggest of all OM-D bodies so far.

Vertically, for the MZD lens the space is one inch short. Exactly the inch by which Tenba misreported the inside height. This is, however, not critical, as the flap leaves more extra room than we need. It's just not elegant.

Now let us check how the whole thing works.

Mounted: Leica 8-18/2.8-4.0

Mounted: MZD 12-100/4.0

Not bad at all. Actually, I think the insert could have been two centimeters taller. It still would fit into the outer shell, offering some extra protection where it is needed.

The half-height compartment under camera's grip can be used for small accessories (mini-flash, battery) or for a third lens, as long as it is not too large (the MZD 75/1.8 fits OK). I wouldn't recommend a lens, though, if both of the others are large; one of those must also fit there. This means I can't add a third lens to my setup, even a tiny one.

So, did I find what I was looking for? Yes and no.

Yes, because I have a nicely-made, good-looking, small and lightweight camera bag, accommodating exactly the gear I want to carry around.

No, because the bag does not offer any protection from one side (out of six): the top.

What failed me here was my imagination. It never crossed my mind that someone may design a padded camera bag with no top padding. And not just someone: Tenba, my favorite bag maker!

Do I return the bag? No, not giving up yet. I could try to find some flexible padding and apply it to the top half of the flap. While this could work, it would be messy.

There is another option: a bag insert. Tenba and (at least) two other makers offer standard-size inserts, similar to the one included with the DNA 8 and matching it in size — but all with a top cover. Tenba's insert is more expensive ($40 vs. $15 for the others), but it seems to be better made and has more features. I just ordered one.

A possible downside is that the top flap on the insert may not close with the big lens mounted on camera. When I see how that works, I will update this text.

Update 1: The BYOB 9 bag insert

This piece is supposed to fit inside a regular, thin-walled (non-padded) bag. It provides protective padding and interior partitioning, replacing the insert included with the DNA 8, but differing from it in two important aspects:

  • It has a finished, protective (nylon?) exterior, as opposed to soft, fuzzy cloth one;
  • It provides a padded, zippered top with a small handle

With that, BYOB 9 can be actually seen as a compact and light (but nicely padded) stand-alone bag with no carrying straps.

As a bag insert, BYOB works nicely with the DNA, fitting in quite snugly and offering protection from all six sides.

In this particular case, however (to carry this particular equipment), I was to be disappointed: the insert is not tall enough to accommodate the E-M1 II with the MZD 12-100 mounted on it. Look at the pictures.

Mounted: Leica 8-18/2.8-4.0

Mounted: MZD 12-100/4.0

There is no way to close the top with the longer lens mounted, and leaving it open (just closing the outer flap) creates an unprotected gap; no good.

Note: The insert originally had a transparent, flat pocket, made of some bubble-textured plastic, inside the top cover. I didn't like it at all, so I removed it. This wasn't a very neat job, as you can see in full-screen versions of the images.

Still, horizontally the lenses co-exist just fine, if a bit tight (the inner dimensions of the BYOB seem to be a bit smaller than those of the original insert, and the padding thicker). When the lenses swap places, the fit is good, at you can see at the top left and at the right.

Therefore I may say that the DNA 8 bag combined with the BYOB 9 insert will be an ideal combination for a two-lens E-M1 II setup, if the lenses are not longer than 90 mm or so.

As my chosen lens kit includes the MZD 12-100 which is 116 mm long, I still keep looking for a solution using the DNA 8 and providing top-side protection.

I've already tried the S-Zone insert available on Amazon: too tall, horizontal fit not so good, too thick padding. It may work with some other bags but not this one.

Mounted: Leica 8-18/2.8-4.0

Appendix 1: Bag equipment capacity table

The table lists what you can pack into the DNA 8 bag, with the original insert or the optional BYOB 9 one. It has to fit in regardless of which lens is mounted on the camera (E-M1 Mk.II).

Relaxing that requirement would increase the maximum lens size for the BYOB configuration, but it would not be usable for shooting sessions, only for transportation.

Insert Original BYOB 9
No. of lenses 2 3 2 3
Lens D×L [mm] #1 80×120 80×120 75×90 75×90
#2 80×120 65×85 75×90 65×85
#3 - 65×85 - 65×85

Lens dimensions shown in the table are as per manufacturer's data (in particular: length from the flange to barrel tip), as quoted in my μFT Lens List. In the table above I'm assuming that, additionally, each lens is equipped with a filter, lens cap and (if not mounted, of course) rear cap.

The listed dimensions do not include the hood, but (at least in the cases I've tried) it would fit, reverse-mounted. In particular, it did for the MZD 12-100, 12-40, 75, and Leica 8-18 mm. I am, however, sure that some hoods will not fit.

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Posted 2017/07/18, last updated 2017/08/02 Copyright © 2017 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak