Friday, January 29, 2010

REVIEW: Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise Series Camera Bags

I’m a huge fan of Think Tank Photo bags, so when I thought of what would be the perfect “grab and go” style bag for me, I wasn’t surprised to find out that they had already invented MY IDEA (ha, ha). The solution turned out to be the Urban Disguise Shoulder Bags which met my following requirements:

  • Not a backpack – I like backpacks but when I’m wearing a suit or going out with relatives to a restaurant it feels a bit geeky to have a backpack on. This is where these unique shoulder bags come in handy.
  • Quick access to my camera with the lens attached – I want something where I can just reach in, pull it out, shoot, and then stuff it back in. If I need a piece of gear like a flash, diffuser, or a different lens I want the same quick access. This is where these bags are brilliant!
  • Can hold lots of extra stuff -  Every time I try to put together a small kit of must have things I need to take out when i shoot, I quickly find myself with a bunch of odds and ends (i.e., off camera flash cable, lens cleaner & microfiber, polarizer, extra CF cards, etc…) I need a bag that can hold that, but also anything I might acquire while I’m out (i.e., business cards, letter-size papers, etc…).
  • Comfortable – I’ve mentioned it many times, but I have a very bad back and shoulders. Comfort is key with me, and this strap rocks! In fact, I wish I could put it on my laptop bag and camera!
  • A place to store my keys – I hate digging for my keys, and my pockets end up with lens caps, etc… when I’m out shooting. This has a device to keep my keys within reach
  • Easy to keep things organized – I’m a messy guy, but if I can keep my stuff in an organized way I can be much more effective. I like when everything has its place so if something is going back into the bag, it’s obvious where it should go.
  • Ability to hold my long-lenses – on the cameraI decided that I use my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens so much that I really wanted a way to have it mounted to my 5D Mark II and still be able to whip it out and shoot. However, if I wanted to switch to my 16-35mm or my 24-105mm then I could do that too and have the lens that was off rest nearby without having to reconfigure the bag.

I ended up with a Urban Disguise 50 and as luck would have it, a colleague gave me a Urban Disguise 60. Upon seeing my bag and hearing some of my feedback, a good friend of mine ended up purchasing the Urban Disguise 40. In this article I will discuss the series and what is different  between these bags. I’ll also explain what I would do differently if I was ordering a new bag based on my experiences, and what I really love about my UD50.

Urban Disguise Series

In a nutshell there are 8 different configurations in this series that mostly differ based on size and orientation (i.e., portrait / landscape). The smaller the number, the smaller the bag and the largest bags are designed to hold 10” to 17” laptops depending on the model. Naturally, the bigger the bag the more accessories you can hold as well as the more pockets offered. All feature the primary concept that you’ll insert your camera in the center of the bag (but the dividers are configurable) as shown in the Urban Disguise 10 picture below. This means when you open your bag you can just grab the grip and pull it out and you are shooting – this is what I LOVE about these bags!

Urban Disguise 10

Urban Disguise 40

Urban Disguise 30

Urban Disguise 70

The picture below shows a UD 70 that is jam packed with the camera body upright (but it doesn’t show the support pads very well) as well as extra lenses. I’d never pack my bag like this, but it shows what is possible:

Video Review

It is really hard to describe these bags without seeing them in action, so the best way to do that is just to shoot a video. Let me know if you like this video presentation and I may consider doing it more often in the future. However, if you prefer pictures then let me know that too and I’ll make sure my energy is spent working on that instead:


What’s in my Urban Disguise 50 bag

I carry a lot of stuff in my bag, but it’s never just bursting at the seems. This is why I think I could live with the Urban Disguise 40 because my bag always has extra space and never a laptop. Here’s what I typically carry in it:

My Friend’s Urban Disguise 40 Bag

My friend Eric Kool-Brown was kind enough to let me use his photos of his UD 40 bag. You can see his 5D Mark II with a 24-105mm lens on it, and the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM next to it. He has room on both sides for gear as well – just like my UD 50, but without the laptop compartment and a slightly smaller form factor. This is the bag that I wish I had!

Click for a larger image

Here’s another picture that shows all of the gear he was able to store in this seemingly small bag, and it wasn’t even fully loaded:

The Perfect Photo Walk Bag

I quickly discovered that this was the perfect bag for a photo walk or tourist scenarios (like the Pike Place Market shown above) where you are mixed in with crowds and you might be picking up items along the way. I loved its convenience and the ease at which I could reach in grab my flash, and then return it to the bag to avoid the extra dead weight.


As I allude to in this series, I think I would have been better off not trying to mix my camera bag with my laptop bag. I have a laptop bag that I love (the AI 17 - also made by Think Tank Photo), and I wanted this bag to be small. The UD 50 and 60 ended up being bigger than I wanted, so the UD 40 that my friend purchased was exactly what I wanted. It’s big enough to hold a lot of gear, but small enough to not be too obnoxious when talking the DSLR on a trip to the Space Needle or Pikes Place Market here in Seattle.

NOTE: As of December 21st, 2010, I’ve changed my mind and feel like the Urban Disguise® 50 V2.0 is the best compromise of size and storage needs, so I find myself preferring the 50 to the Urban Disguise 40 v2.0 I also own now.

Here’s a link to a complete list of Urban Disguise Shoulder Bags as well as similar offerings in the shoulder and sling bag category. 

Special Offer

Get a FREE bag when you enter their web site using this link. For more information, read this short article.

How I use my bags

I have a lot of Think Tank Photo bags. Now that I have this UD 50 bag, I do find myself using my backpacks less. However, I wouldn’t live without them. Here’s when and how I use each bag, so you can decide which scenario suits your primary the need most when ordering your bag(s):

Long Distance / Airplane Travel – If I’m going to be away from home, I want a lot of my gear with me. This means the Airport Acceleration bag is coming with me (although I still have yet to try out a roller bag). I like this bag because it can hold a ton of stuff (see the article below) and I can actually wear it for hours without ever getting any back pain. This is critical to me for International flights and for long day events (like the botanical gardens). I also love this bag for remote studio or on-location shoots.

All Day Events – If I’m going to be out all day and hiking a lot, yet I don’t need all of my gear, I’ll generally go for the Glass Taxi or Streetwalker Pro. I’m starting to favor the Streetwalker now because of its greater pocket configuration and depth, but I still love the size of the Glass Taxi – especially when in the stands at a motorsport race.

Sideline Sports / Photojournalism Work – If I’m going to be in crowds with a bunch of other photographers and/or I need to get to my gear quickly without being too bulky then the Modular Components are the ticket for me. They are great for sideline sports, so even if you are just a soccer Mom or a Basketball Dad you’ll appreciate these bags.

My Day Job -  I can’t live without my Artificial Intelligence 17. It’s the BEST laptop bag EVER – PERIOD!

Tourism / Photo Walks / Weddings / Nightclubs– The UD series are my go to bags for this now. I don’t even consider my bags for this anymore, but I might fill my Airport Acceleration with extra gear so I can go out to the car and do a gear swap if I need / want to (hey, I’m a Boy Scout so I am always over prepared).

I recognize that people don’t have the luxury to have so many bags, so hopefully this summary helps you to figure out which bag might be right for you.

No Hassle Returns

One FAQ I get from people is that they want to see these bags in real life, and/or they got a bag and decided it was the wrong one for them. Hey, guess what – no problem! Just order what you think is right, try it out, and if it isn’t for you they’ll take it back! Seriously, see my first TTP article for details about their no non-sense return policy that doesn’t have an end date. Sure, they’d like you to return it in resellable shape, but your happiness is #1 so don’t settle for second best because you can’t see one in real life. If you need more info, feel free to contact me as well. If I can’t help you, I’ll pass your name on to someone at Think Tank Photo who can – there customer service even blows Nordstroms away!

Ron’s Think Tank Photo reviews

Click here for a link to my other Think Tank Photo reviews.

Special Offer

Get a FREE bag when you enter their web site using this link. For more information, read this short article.


I was given a Urban Disguise 50 bag to review for this article and a co-worker gave me a Urban Disguise 60 as a gift for a work related activity. My friend purchased his Urban Disguise 40 without a special offer from this blog. I will get a commission if you use the special offer, so I appreciate your supporting more articles like this on this blog by using it!

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Chief Procrastinator said...

I have the UD-50 and UD-35, and a Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home. The Crumpler has been all over Europe with me in the course of 5 years, carrying various Nikon's, 2 lenses and 2 flashes. Still looks great, but I needed cases to carry laptops.

The UD-50 is great for location shoots where I need a lot of gear, and possibly, if I'm traveling, a laptop.

The strap pad is fixed. If you want to wear this bag across the chest, the pad will be somewhere other than on your shoulder. That's a bummer. Changing the strap length helps, but then the bag doesn't hang well. The Crumpler wins here.

Pros: Lots of space for a compact bag. Well made bag.

The UD-35 is more of the same, but a little more compact. Again, I needed a bag to carry a laptop, but not quite as much gear as the UD-50. The strap is again a problem.

These strap pads are not designed to be carried messenger style, period. That's really a limiting factor for me, and while I can easily go out and purchase a 3rd party strap and pad, it seems unfortunate for a bag that is already at a premium price.

Anonymous said...

Love this review! The comments the video that just fills all mind gaps. Thank you! Although I too have looked at and thought ThinkTank as a great bag mfg, as is Tamrac, as I have used the Velocity8, which was OK, but the reality for me, and a number of shooters I actually questioned and most for daily use, as we shooters try to carry our gear anywhere whenever we are out, the majority dont use a bag across the shoulder. Unless we are taking a long hike without a shoot on the journey(rare). The "messenger" style bags made sense to me.

I saw a Vanguard Uprise38 and at first I wasn't convinced it would be the second love of my life, ok 4th(2kids/wife)that is now my go-to anytime bag, EVEN when on a location shoot as I have other gear in other bags. The VanUP38 is SOOO similarr to the UD50/60(This carries a 15" laptop), that they were designed after one another for sure. It has the backpack loops, the SINGLE front saftey latch. The 2 large pockets for flash etc, pens, zipper...the one major difference is the cover, which I can see I like more, as it opens all access to the bag when needed, or the limited access zipper top(as the UD series). It also has a rain cover(tossed out). One FLAW on the UP38 is the velcro inside is weak, I have spoke to them and they are looking to do something(no word yet). So Ron, when that gets a little worn, I urge you to check this out, as it does have a more sleek look, has a slimmer design that you can unsip to expand for a little more gear, specially with a laptop or Ipad. I agree with the straps on these bags with other poster, they should make them better, so I got one from another bag I had with rubber noslip and thick pad...but the strap shouldnt be a deal breaker, but lowers your loyalty to a MFG. All in all the TT-UD looks like a great bag, and Vangaurd has some pluses in different areas that make sense to my needs. I can see more small slips and pockets on the UD(not that the UP38 doesnt have), but if you need them(I have not found a lack of in anyway. One major flaw on this UD38 is that it hardly stays sitting up with gear inside!

Maybe if we a check list we can cross ref! ? Wow that would be a great way to do tests/reviews (maybe better than the duke Out section) :-). Cheers! _Phil

Anonymous said...

I had written a long comparison of the UD50/60 vs the Vangaurd Uprise 38. And I would recommend you simply check it out and see what pros cons weigh for your needs.
Cheers! said...

Thanks for your feedback about this alternate bag.

There's tons of bags out there - and heck even at TTP - that I haven't had a chance to review so I'm sure there's plenty more good ones.

I'm a huge fan of TTP in general based on their build quality and just the high success rate I've had with their bags doing exactly what I want. Y

our point about the single latch is a valid one and can be argued to be a pro and a con. From a safety standpoint it is a con as you have one point of failure (i.e, no back up)but it is handy to get in the bag quicker.

TTP just sent me some new bags to review so I've got a few in the queue to keep me busy for a while, but if other OEM's want me to review their bags I'll try to make time for it.


R13ckJ said...

Thanks for the revie Ron. How come you changed your mind about preferring the 40 to the 50? As far as I can tell the only difference is the 50 can carry a laptop as well. Is this why you changed your mind?

R13ckJ said...

Thanks for the revie Ron. How come you changed your mind about preferring the 40 to the 50? As far as I can tell the only difference is the 50 can carry a laptop as well. Is this why you changed your mind?