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Comments about Kata Kata Pro-Light FlyBy-74 Organizer / Rolling Case for 1 to 2 DSLR Camera Bodies with 6-8 Lenses, Flash and Other Photo Accessories + 15.4 inch Laptop:
To review Kata's FlyBy-74 PL roller, I will compare it to its Think Tank alternative, the highly regarded Airport International. I own the Airport Security roller (one size larger) which I use as a gear locker. My Think Tank roller is so well built and so well thought out that when it came time to purchase another roller to use for actual air travel, I just assumed I would purchase the next smaller Think Tank roller, the Airport International. Then I came across Kata's FlyBy-74 PL.
The thing that initially attracted me to the Kata was its price—even before a rebate it was nearly 40% less than the similarly sized ThinkTank. And if you want to take a laptop inside the case, Think Tank requires you to buy a separate divider set that bumps its total cost to nearly twice that of the Kata. Kata is no slouch when it comes to making quality products so there was no doubt in my mind that the FlyBy-74 was a significantly better value even if it were not quite as nice a bag as the Think Tank.
Price was not the Kata's only advantage. As opposed to Think Tank's Airport International (and many other rollers too), its bottom is flat. This not only increases the FlyBy-74's capacity; it also makes it easier to pack. Advantage Kata.
The flat bottom is possible because Kata has chosen to provide a lightweight detachable wheeled trolley in lieu of an integrated roller system. Not only do you get a flat bottom, you also get the choice of whether to even take the trolley. This provides considerable flexibility in terms of size and weight. Traveling to a place with strict weight limits on carry-on bags? Leave the trolley at home. The bag comes in at under five pounds! Traveling on a plane with a tiny overhead? Remove the bag from the trolley and slide the trolley under your seat (or next to your bag in the overhead). I've read some reviews that take the trolley to task for its durability. This makes me wonder what they're doing to the poor trolley. It seems quite well constructed to me. Advantage Kata.
Kata is quite proud of the light weight of this roller and for good reason. The FlyBy-74 is very lightweight without seeming to compromise the protection of the gear inside. It exceeded my expectations in this regard and, given the ever more stringent international weight restrictions for carry-on luggage, the importance of this cannot be overstated. I did not want to end up with a bag that weighed so much it accounted for half of the allowable weight in some parts of the world. Advantage Kata.
The lighter weight of the Kata initially gave the impression that my gear would be better protected in the Think Tank Airport International, but after using the Kata for a while I've come to believe that this is not true. The interior dividers of the Think Tank are thicker and more robust to be sure. Because these dividers are stiffer and are the same height as the sides of the bag, the Think Tank's lid feels stiffer when the bag is closed. There's just more support beneath it. I'm not sure this would remain true if these dividers were replaced with the optional low divider set that accommodates a laptop.
The Kata's lid is reinforced on the corners and contains what I can only describe as a kind of spine down the middle. With a laptop inside, the Kata FlyBy-74's lid also feels stiff; with an empty laptop compartment, there is more give than the Think Tank—except at the corners. When open, both lids seem to flex about the same amount.
The bottom of each roller (as they sit open on a table) is completely rigid so there is not much difference between the two in this respect. However, the four narrow sides of the Kata are also rigid, protecting gear along the edge of the bag from impact damage. The Think Tank Airport International relies only on padding along these edges. It's because of this that I'd give the protection edge to the Kata bag. If both are carrying a laptop inside, I think the lid and bottom of each bag are about equal. The rigid sides of the Kata give me more peace of mind than the superior (and heavier) dividers inside the Think Tank.
The Flyby-74 has a built-in neoprene laptop sleeve which is attached to the underside of its lid. The sleeve eliminates the need to bring a separate sleeve, which I like, but it also eliminates the location where pockets for filters, cleaning cloths, and the like are built into other bags. This is a worthwhile trade off if you need to bring a laptop with you; it's not if you don't. An empty laptop compartment provides plenty of extra room for the accessories but they are not nearly as convenient to access.
In addition to the very convenient accessory pockets on the inside, the Think Tank has a number of useful pockets on the outside including a place for pens, a cell phone, airline tickets, etc. The Kata has only one pocket on the whole bag, a good sized exterior pocket that requires you to throw your ticket, cell phone, writing utensils, and guidebooks in together. I suspect this is one of the tradeoffs made to keep the FlyBy-74 as lightweight as possible. I would have preferred another exterior pocket for organizing small items, even if it meant a slight increase in weight. Advantage Think Tank.
The biggest advantage the Airport International holds over Kata's FlyBy-74 is its security features. I really love them. Being able to lock my bag, lock things to my bag, and log my bag to something else (all at the same time) makes it much harder for a potential thief to get into it or steal it at the airport or out of my rental car. This is a big deal for me and no doubt is one of the reasons why a person would be willing to pay a premium for the Think Tank roller. Convenience is the key concept here. It is possible to secure the Kata using third party accessories but not as easily or as well. Definitely, advantage Think Tank.
There is just one area where the Kata FlyBy-74 falls short for me: the zipper. This is not because it isn't durable; rather, because some effort is required to navigate around the corners of the bag. I suspect this is why Kata provides big zipper pulls. This might not be so noticeable if not for the effortless way the zipper glides around the corners of the Think Tank Airport International. I never even think about it when I'm closing the Think Tank bag. Advantage Think Tank.
Finally, it is worth noting that the Kata FlyBy 74 comes with a very nice shoulder strap for times when the trolley is left at home. I'll be honest: When I read about the strap on Kata's website I kind of dismissed it as marketing B.S.; once I had a chance to use it, I was very impressed. It is comfortable on the shoulder and stays in place. I shouldn't have been surprised. Kata makes very good straps which are available separately as well.
The Think Tank goes one better and provides backpack straps. In general, backpacking straps are my preferred carrying solution (when I'm not rolling) but these straps are semi-permanently attached and add additional weight and bulk to the Think Tank roller. For short walks, I'm far more likely to use the Kata shoulder strap—and I can (and do!) use it with my other bags as well.
The bottom line is that I could be happy with either bag. The Think Tank Airport International has more features for sure but the Kata FlyBy-74 is easily the better value and, price aside, its best feature is its light weight. This gives me great confidence that the bag will continue to be a viable option even if U.S. airlines start to limit the weight of carry on's and, for international travelers, it means you can take more gear in your bag while remaining within the weight limits set by your airline. If not for the minor zipper issue and the single pocket, this is a five star product. Nice job, Kata.