Review of the Kata Auxiliary Pouch (AP) System

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Introduction

The Kata Auxiliary Pouch (AP) System consists of 6 pouches of various dimensions that may be worn standalone or attached to a carrying belt and optional shoulder harness. The concept is that you select the camera bodies, lenses, accessories, and flash that you need on a given day, place each one in an appropriately sized pouch, and attach the pouches to the waist belt. This system is akin to the webbing and pouches used by the Military, which is not surprising given Kata’s background and origins.

The AP System has been designed for photographers who want rapid access to their gear with a minimum of encumbrance. Backpack camera bags need to be removed in order to access the contents. Shoulder bags can be awkward to use in tight or crowded conditions and are a target for thieves. The AP system attempts to solve these problems by positioning your gear at your waist where it is most accessible and secure.

Modularity. Accessibility. Mobility. Sounds good in theory, but does the AP System really deliver as promised?

The Target Market

The AP system will appeal to 3 distinct groups of photographers:

  1. Photojournalists, Paparazzi, and other Professionals that need to move and shoot quickly.
  2. Minimalists. Sometimes I don’t want to carry my full photo rig – just an extra lens.
  3. Photographers who want to supplement their existing setup with additional storage and carrying capacity.

Features of the AP System top

Features of the Kata AP System include:

  1. Outer zip pockets: all AP pouches have an external zip pocket to carry small items such as memory cards, batteries, etc.
  2. Inner web pocket: all AP pouches have an internal web pocket for small items.
  3. Expandability: all AP pouches except for the AP-322 and AP-321 have a side zipper that allows the pouch to expand to accommodate wider lenses and some lens hoods.
  4. Standalone: Pouches can be used independently of the AP System Belt. They mount securely on my belt – which is 1 1/2″ wide leather. All AP pouches include a removable shoulder strap.
  5. Vertical Connection Strap: all AP pouches come with a Velcro loop that can be used to attach them vertically to many camera bag straps.
  6. Buckle and Velcro closers: Top flaps on the pouches have buckle closers. You can also choose to expose an additional Velcro closer that allows the pouch flap to close securely without fastening the buckle. The Velcro closer can be stowed away in situations where you want to eliminate the ripping sound of Velcro opening. Clever.
  7. TST: Kata also manufactures body armor and some of the technologies developed for the military side of the business have made their way into their camera bag designs. Kata’s TST (Thermo Shield Technology) protection provides exceptional protection for delicate lenses without compromising on bulk or weight.
  8. Removable padding: Each AP pouch includes a removable padding strip with Velcro fasteners. The padding provides additional impact protection and can be used to cushion a smaller lens in a larger pouch. Lenses can be stored in the padded pouches and safely packed in checked airline luggage.
  9. Construction Quality: Anybody who has read my other reviews knows that I am a big fan of Kata camera bags – I own several of them, and have used them pretty much exclusively over the last few years. I tend to be moderately rough on camera bags, and I have never had a seam split, zipper stick or fastener break.

The AP System Components top

Each component of the AP System is sold separately. They vary in price, but on average, each component costs about $50. This makes buying the entire system an expensive proposition for non-professionals. Because each piece is sold separately, however, photographers can pick and choose the components that they need right now, and add additional pouches as their needs evolve.

The Belt and Harness – the AB-301 / 302

The heart of the AP System is the AB-301 Auxiliary Belt. The 301 is a classic Sam Browne belt updated with modern materials. It varies in width from 4” (10 cm) in the back to just under 3” (7.5 cm) in the front.

There are 11 reinforced loops on the belt that provide 10 possible attachment points for pouches. Technically, 6 pouches can be attached to the belt simultaneously, but I find that 3 – 4 pouches is the sweet spot between capacity and mobility. If you assume that facing straight ahead is the 12 o’clock position, the optimum positions for attaching pouches are 2, 5, 6, 7, and 10 o’clock. I don’t like pouches in the 3 and 9 o’clock positions because they get in the way when my arms are at my sides.

The 301’s buckles snaps securely into place, and will not open accidentally. Having said that, the belt is quick to remove or to rotate back to front.

The 301 can be adjusted to fit your waist size. You will likely spend a half an hour adjusting it when you first try it on and another half an hour readjusting it after your first shoot. Adjustments made to the 301 stay firmly in place with no slippage. The 301 is very comfortable and can be worn fully loaded for long periods of time. Pouches attach quickly and securely. They are also quick to move and remove – allowing you to tailor your rig to the needs of the day.

The belt is available in two configurations. The AB-301 is the belt only and the AB-302 adds a shoulder harness that buckles onto the belt using D-rings. The harness has 3 attach points – one in the back and 2 in the front. The front buckles can each be attached at 2 separate locations allowing you to accommodate different combinations of pouches.

The shoulder harness redistributes a lot of the weight of the pouches to your shoulders and back. It is great for relieving the lower back strain of carrying a lot of gear all day.

Adding the harness to the belt will make your camera rig look very Military. Kata’s styling is already quite “RoboCop”, and adding the harness gives the lens pouches the look of ammo pouches. I wouldn’t walk into an Airport or Bank wearing this rig.

When I look at the AB-302 harness, I can’t help but think that Kata has missed some design opportunities.

  • The front straps of the 302 are web straps with standard adjustment buckles at either end. D-rings (as on the R-102 backpack) should have been provided to allow you to support your active camera body and lens.
  • In a perfect world, I would like to have the option to attach two small pouches (the size of a deck of playing cards) to the harness straps at the chest. These would be ideal for memory cards, polarizing filter, or your iPhone. Currently, the harness provides no additional storage capacity.
  • Wearing the harness prevents you from reversing the belt back to front.

Photographers may want to consider the AB-302 harness if they plan to regularly carry 3 or more large pouches for long periods of time, or if they suffer from back problems.

The AP System Pouches top

The table below lists the “approximate” dimensions of each pouch. Internal dimensions are measured at the lip of the lens pouches and do not include top flaps. I call these dimensions approximate because the flexible sides of the pouches allow them to conform to the shape of whatever is being stored in them. In the sections below, I will describe what you can actually store in each pouch – which I think is much more meaningful information than these raw dimensions.

Telephoto Pouches – the AP-323 and AP-324

The AP-323 is larger than the AP-324, but other than that, they are virtually identical. Unexpanded, the 324 will comfortably hold a Nikon 80-200 F2.8 and the 323 will hold a Nikon 70-200 F2.8 VR with reversed lens hood. By opening the expansion zippers, you can accommodate larger lenses, tripod mounting brackets, or the optional removable padding.

The telephoto pouches can be used as a secure quick draw holster for a camera with attached telephoto. Unfortunately, the top flap buckles cannot be fastened in holster mode.

Camera Body Pouch – the AP-321

The AP-321 is designed to carry a full-sized professional SLR body with an attached extended battery grip. A Nikon D300 camera body with attached battery grip fits comfortably in the 321 with room to spare.

Personally, I am not in the habit of carrying camera bodies without attached lenses – so here are a few other things that I tried in the AP-321.

  1. Nikon D200 body with attached prime or short zoom. A small prime lens like a Nikon 50 F1.8 fit fine, but the largest attached zoom that I was able to fit comfortably into the pouch was a Nikon 24-85 F3.5 – 4.5G. I didn’t like the feel or usability of the zoom combination much. There are better solutions available for a camera and attached zoom than the AP-321.
  2. 2 lenses. You can store 2 lenses in the AP-321 using the removable padding strip as a separator. I don’t like this combination much either – the strip tends to get scrunched down in the bag, and the lenses don’t feel properly secured or separated.
  3. Telephoto zoom and flash. This is the best combination that I tried. The Nikon 80-200 F2.8 zoom and SB-800 flash kit are a perfect fit in the AP-321.

The 321 also has 2 external web pockets on its sides for objects such as a battery charger, flashlight, or stray lens cap. These side pockets are the best place to store an iPhone on any of the AP pouches.

Editor’s Pick – the AP-325

For pure versatility, my favorite of the pouches is the AP-325. It can hold almost every lens that I own and my SB-800 flash as well. Even a large zoom like the 80-200 F2.8 can be holstered in the 325 during a fast lens change.

The only down side that I see to the 325 is that it does not accommodate wider lens hoods such as the HB-23 lens hood for my Nikon 12-24 F4.0.

The Baby of the Family – the AP-326

I am of two minds about the AP-326. Most of my lenses fit nicely when the 326’s expansion zippers are open and the extra padding removed – but few of them fit with the expansion zippers closed. My Tamron 90 F2.8 macro (without lens hood) or my SB-800 flash (without accessories) will fit – but not much else.

The 326 is only marginally smaller than the 325, but versatility-wise, the difference is huge. For lens storage, I recommend giving the 326 a miss and buying a second 325 instead.

Flash Pouch – the AP-322

The AP-322 is designed specifically to carry a professional flash unit and is a perfect fit for my Nikon SB-800 with attached diffuser and extension battery pack. The internal mesh pocket will store 5 extra AA batteries, and my table-top flash stand slides nicely into the external top flap pocket.

The inner mesh pocket of the 322 is positioned lower in the pouch to accommodate longer objects like the battery pack. Because the 322 has been sized specifically for a flash, it does not have an expansion zipper. This gives the pouch a trimmer profile, but limits its versatility as a general purpose lens carrier.

If you are on a budget or only an occasional flash user, you may want to consider the more versatile AP-325 instead. However, if you use flash a lot, you will appreciate the specialized design and fit of the AP-322.

What about Compact Cameras?

The AP-326 is a good match for either a Leica D-Lux 4 (aka Pansonic LX3) or an Olympus EP-2 (without EVF). However, the optional Olympus EVF will not fit in the 326, either mounted on the camera or in the internal zip pocket.

Once again the versatile 325 comes to the rescue. Unexpanded, the EVF fits perfectly in the 325’s internal zip pocket, and expanded, the EP-2 can be carried in the 325 with EVF and 17mm pancake lens attached.

Using the AP System top

Now that we have examined the individual components, let’s talk about using the AP System.

The Journalist

The photos below illustrate the potential of the AP System to the working photographer. On the left, the belt is worn with the pouches at the rear to minimize encumbrance while on the move. On the right, the belt has been reversed so that the pouches are at the front – maximizing access to lenses while shooting.

Paparazzi will appreciate the freedom of movement, low encumbrance, and stealth possibilities of the AP System.

Can the AP System be worn over body armor? Yes it can.

The Minimalist

Sometimes, I just want to travel light without the encumbrance of a loaded camera bag. The photo below shows a street friendly rig that is light, discrete, and always ready for action. I carry a Nikon D200 with attached 18-200 VR lens in my Kata T-212 torso pack, and attach an AP-325 pouch to my belt. I use the 325 to store whatever lens or accessory that I think I might need that day – typically my Nikon 12-24 F4.0.

I also like to hike in the mountains, and when I do, I carry a daypack filled with food, extra clothing, and supplies. I find it slow and awkward to dig in the pack when I need my camera or I want to change lenses – so I am always on the lookout for ways to make my gear lighter, smaller, and more accessible.

The photo below shows a sweet day hiking solution. The AP-326 holds a compact camera and the AP-321 holds a variety of trail essentials: water bottle, energy bars, first aid supplies, space blanket, waterproof matches, headlamp, pen, whistle, knife, compass, and my trusty iPhone (with GPS app and topo maps loaded).

The Sherpa

If you need to pack a lot of equipment into a remote site or if your job is to carry the photo gear for a team, the AP System provides some solutions.

The photo below shows the AP System combined with a Kata R-102 digital rucksack, tripod holder, and a T-214 torso pack. Surprising enough, I can still move pretty well while wearing this rig.

The beauty of this setup is that when you get where you are going, it can be disassembled and every component used as a standalone photo bag.

Conclusion top

I expected the AP System to be versatile, but I am still surprised at the number of ways that I can use this stuff. The pouches provide excellent storage and accessibility without adding much bulk or weight. The belt provides a comfortable way to carry a lot of gear, and can be reversed depending on whether you are on the move or on the job.

Although aimed at professional photographers, AP has a lot of potential for the amateur as well. It can be used to streamline your street / travel rig, and the pouches can do double duty as a convenient way to carry non-photo related essentials.

The AB-301 belt and 2 to 4 pouches (including at least one AP-325) is a viable alternative to carrying a full sized camera bag. I suggest buying the belt without the optional harness unless you frequently carry a lot of gear and require the extra support.

Overall Rating: A- (Highly Recommended)

Rob Will
www.robertwill.com

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