Published on February 14th, 2012 | by Greg0
Think Tank: Classic, Classy Camera Bags
Choosing the right bag is of paramount importance to photographers. For starters, you need enough space, but not too much. You want padding, and pockets, and durability, but don’t want too much added weight. Every shooter thinks carefully about the likely conditions- rain or dry, meant for quick grab-and-go runs or carefully packed for a longer trip. And there are a plethora of options out there, offering every conceivable material and design, from a variety of companies large and small. We’ve checked out many types, including a few backpacksfrom several companies.
But one of our favorite recent finds was the Sling-o-Matic from Think Tank. And now we’re pleased to present two other options from Think Tank, one of them from their Retrospective series, the model 10 Pinestone Shoulder Bag. The other is one of small number of photographer-focused roller bags that we’ve seen, the Airport Airstream. We’ll discuss the ups and downs of each in turn.
The first thing you notice about the Retrospective 10 is the style- the material and color choice make this bag look naturally weathered, like it was a family heirloom or relic from an uncle who spent time working for National Geographic. At the same time, it doesn’t scream “expensive” or even “camera bag”, meaning you can blend it fairly easily to a variety of situations. Also available in black, we definitely prefer the Pinestone. And three other sizes are available- the 5, 20, and 30, with the largest capably fitting two pro DSLR and up to six lenses. The 10 that we tried was large enough for a pro DSLR and zoom lens with room to spare for a few extras- even a netbook or tablet can fit in the front pocket. If you don’t find yourself carrying more than a spare lens, we’d recommend sticking to the 5.
Beyond the style, we loved the sound silencers built in to the flaps, to eliminate noise when opening the bag in a quiet situation (like a wedding or event where you might not want that Velcro noise). An included rain cover protects against inclement conditions, and though the material isn’t as durable as some, a bit of extra wear simply adds to the character rather than seeming out of place or distracting. The adjustable shoulder strap was solid, even when the bag was full, and includes a pad for comfort. Our only real issue was the weight, as it does clock in a three pounds or so before you add anything- a bit hefty. On the other hand, they used attractive metal components instead of plastic. If you’re doing a really active shooting, you might want to check out the Sling mentioned earlier, as this bag lacks a cross-strap and can get awkward. Expect to spend about $160, well worth it in our opinion, online and in stores.
If wheels are more your style, then definitely check out the Airport Airstream. It meets the regulations for airline carry-ons, while offering a ton of space to serious photographers who want to keep their gear close at hand and avoid checking a bag. With some clever packing, you can fit two complete sets of gear, including serious glass (up to a 400mm lens), pro-size bodies, spare batteries, chargers, flashes, and even some foldable tripods or monopods. The front pocket is perfect for your newspaper, book, or paperwork, and the divider system is flexible, with plenty of options, thick padding, and stable Velcro fasteners. The weight isn’t too bad for a roller bag, and the wheels are extremely solid- they were solid over bumps, stairs, and survived a couple of drops while loaded.
Weight distribution, always difficult with a roller bag, is pretty good and we didn’t have any issues with the bag tipping over. TSA combination locks are pretty common these days, but still an important feature for anyone who wants some security without hassles. There is a handle on the bottom of the bag to help you lift the bag into the overhead compartment, easy to miss but essential for fast loading with less risk of dropping your expensive gear. We would’ve liked low dividers to be included by default (perhaps instead of the high ones), as we could’ve packed our laptop in the bag easily then without needing to purchase a different set of dividers. But beyond that, we were in love with this roller- overkill for many amateurs perhaps, but a good value at $300. And Think Tank supports their products well- lifetime warranties and free kits to replace your wheels if they should ever wear out or have issues.