Best Camera Bag?

It’s a shootout! Why waste time talking about the Billinghams. Domkes and Manfrottos of this world when everyone knows the best camera bags are made by Think Tank? It’s not a case of which is the best camera bag. It’s rather a question of which is the best Think Tank camera bag!

Now I have a confession. What makes a good photographer has absolutely nothing to do with the bag! I started life with a Kata bag (remember Kata?) Excellent, stylish bags bought out by Manfrotto. I’m not afraid to admit it, I loved that bag. It accompanied me on trips to China, India and America and looked as good at the end of the year as it did in the beginning. So what made me change?

Disillusion primarily. The core camera bags were excellent and the smaller bags just happened to fit 100×100 filters in their cases, perfectly. I’d have been quite happy using those bags today, but they were taken over by Manfrotto. The nice yellow lining against which you could spot the smallest thing was replaced by a blood red lining that looked horrible and proved to be useless as a backdrop for lost screws, clips and widgets.

ThinkTank Bags

I then discovered ThinkTank. That was more than ten years ago and I’m still using them. In fact I own 13 Think Tank bags, pouches and cable managers. Some are no longer in production, Here is a selection of the bags I’ve actually owned.

My Second Brain

Smart black laptop bag.

The only problem I ever had was seven years ago when a shoulder strap clip on the “My Second Brain” laptop bag got caught on an airport trolley and exploded. That bag has served me well for over a decade. Smart enough for business meetings, big enough for cables. notebooks, phone and charger. I wouldn’t be without it. 9/10

Urban Disguise

Hybrid Camera/Laptop bag.

I also bought the “Urban Disguise” a smart black hybrid camera and laptop bag that boasts amazing capacity. I don’t suppose it’s really that discreet as when fully loaded it weighs a ton and reduces my walk to that of the hunchback King Richard III. But a great bag for flying on budget airlines as it turns out. Even fully loaded it fits the Ryanair cage and can therefore be taken on board as cabin luggage.

It was the Urban Disguise’s effect on my back that persuaded me to change again to backpack. I elected to check out the Streetwalker. 6/10

Streetwalker HardDrive

Large Travel Backpack

ThinkTank Streetwalker HardDrive

This huge backpack is too big to get past the eagle eyed RyanAir staff in Europe but is nonetheless a great travel bag that I’ve taken to China, the US, Canada, Iceland and most of the countries in Europe.  It has massive capacity and I use it primarily for storage. In the hotel room, in the studio, it keeps a whole bunch of kit safe and dry. 8/10

Streetwalker Pro

Medium Travel Backpack

Think Tank Streetwalker Pro

 

This is the first bag I’d award an unequivocal full mark to. Smaller than the HardDrive, it still carries a fair bit of kit, highly configurable it can take a DSLR with 70-200 lens, several other lenses, cables, clothes and blowers. It can handle a small tripod and has stretchy side pockets for water and non stretchy pockets for stuff like maps, train tickets etc. Inside the front flap there are multiple pockets for cables, cards and batteries. For me, the size/weight ratio is perfect. This bag has accompanied me on every commercial shoot I’ve done in the last six years. Absolutely wholeheartedly recommend it. 10/10

Retrospective 10

Shoulder bag in Pinestone Canvas

Although it was designed as a camera bag, It is too small for a DSLR kit but is in fact perfect as a drone bag. The DJI Mavic Pro + Controller, iPad, charging cables, spare props and batteries fit the bag perfectly. It’s almost as if it were designed especially!

The other thing this bag has going for it is the timeless design. Manufactured with canvas and available originally in Sandstone, Pinestone and Black, the bag is about as cool as any bag I’ve ever seen. When I got rid of the Mavic Pro, I passed the bag on to my partner who uses it for her Olympus cameras and lenses. 10/10

Retrospective 30

Shoulder bag in Pinestone Canvas

ThinkTank Retrospective 30

This has been my daily camera bag for a couple of years now and it has done a great job. It comfortably carries a DSLR with a lens attached and two other lenses, cloths. cables and batteries. There are two pockets at the front that could be used to house a camera body without the lens but in my opinion that would make the bag difficult to carry comfortably. I’ve used the pockets for books when travelling by air.

I do have a problem with shoulder bags in that every one I’ve owned gives me a numb shoulder when I walk with it for longer than an hour and although that’s not this bag’s fault, I’m marking it down because of that. 9/10

Retrospective 15

Backpack in Pinestone Canvas

ThinkTank Retrospective 15

When I saw that this backpack had come out I was quite excited as it seemed to resolve the numb shoulder issue. However, I already had the Streetwalker Pro so I held off buying it until a potentially life-changing event happened. I dropped into my local bike shop, Dave Mellor Cycles to see if there was any hope of resuscitation for my battered bicycle. Left out in the rain and shamefully underused it degenerated to the extent that one day the front brake cable just snapped clean off.

There was a lot wrong with the bike and I needed a professional to advise whether to scrap it and start again. Long story short, the advice was to repair it, the cost was less than I had feared but there was a waiting list. I was due to travel to Spain and thought no more about it. In Spain, I climbed mountains, well, one mountain and ran up hills to get pictures of clouds trapped in valleys, on one occasion getting caught in a downpour of tropical ferocity.

Three months later I popped into the bike shop again to renew the conversation and saw the new range of EBikes. The price was eye-watering but the mountain bikes were very cool indeed. Try one they said with the insouciance of practised salesmen. “I will,” I said and arranged to borrow one for the weekend. Suffice to say that it was a revelation. Shrewsbury is hilly in places and the first ride had me accelerating up the steepest hill in the area. Smitten I rode for seven or eight miles, whizzing up hills and down dales and then a thought struck me.

Bags, Backpacks and Bikes

Bags, Backpacks and Bikes

It’s a weight distribution and stability thing. The average camera backpack places the lenses vertically in the bag as it lies on a surface. In other words, the bag is deep. Deep means your centre of gravity is affected making most camera bags entirely unstable for off-road bike riding. Shoulder bags especially are actually unsafe as they tend to swing. Backpacks are safer but shift the centre of gravity away from your hips making them potentially unstable on a bike.

The Retrospective 15 is different. The lenses are packed horizontally so the bag has a shallow profile, much closer to the body. This brings the centre of gravity closer to where it needs to be. I realised very quickly that the combo of this bag and a mountain bike would make life in Spain very different. No more trekking for hours on the off chance the light might be right when I reached the destination. The closest hill to my house takes me nearly an hour to hike to the summit.

My guess is that an EBike would do it in 15 minutes. That in turn would make responding to light much more efficient and the thought of astrophotography much more attractive.

Back to the review – I was a little nervous about the Retrospective 15, I couldn’t find one in the flesh to try out thanks to Brexit and so it was a case of a leap in the dark. I read every review I could find, watched all the videos and made outlines of the measurements so I could compare it to the Streetwalker Pro for capacity.

When it arrived it lived up to all of my hopes. Smaller than the Streetwalker Pro, its shallow profile suggests it will work brilliantly with a bike. It is much better equipped than the reviews describe, having a zipped pocket for passport and cash inside the front. The bag opens from the top and the inside ie. the side that is against your back. The top flap doubles up, one zippable the other clippable. Pickpockets despair. Better yet, it looks as though it will adequately carry a Mavic pro with a little reconfiguration. I’m giving this bag a clear 10/10

The Best Think Tank Camera Bag

I think it’s a toss up between the new Retrospective 15 Backpack and the Streetwalker Pro. Both bags are superbly well made (as are all of the Think Tank products I’ve owned). The capacity is about right for somebody of my age and build (65 and a little short of 6ft). The Retrospective range is stylish and discreet, it doesn’t scream “CAMERA!” at the top of its voice and promises much when paired with a mountain bike. the Streetwalker Pro is smarter in an urban sense of the word. Doesn’t do dust well!

Disclaimer: I am affiliated to Think Tank Photo and if you should make a purchase from the Think Tank site I will get some tiny reward. That would be a great thing for me, and for you as the bag will cost you no more and you’ll have a top-quality camera bag recommended by someone who actually uses them!

Picture Credits:

Hero Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Bags, Backpacks and Bikes Photo by Raoul Croes on Unsplash