Tuesday, May 20, 2008

REVIEW: ThinkTankPhoto Camera Bags

As I mentioned in my blog last week, I'm super excited to announce a special offer on my favorite camera bags. Why? Because these are quite simply the best bags I've ever used because they are designed by pros for use by anyone that wants a quality camera bag. I own 3, and I don't expect I'll need to replace them for a VERY long time.

Many people recommend LowePro and Tarmac so why ThinkTankPhoto?

Those who know me, know of my story where I had a Canon Deluxe 200 EG backpack zipper fail heading to the second qualifying session of the Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix just hours after these shots were taken. I had 3 L lenses and my camera body all come crashing onto the concrete from about 4 feet from the ground which destroyed my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens. This horrific event put me on a mission to find the best quality bags I could find.

Fortunately my good friend and ESPN featured sports photographer Mike Tedesco let me in on a little secret in his experiences dealing with photography greats. He was in charge of Microsoft's Icons of Imaging program in 2006 & 2007 so he knows what the big name pros are really using. He told me that great photographers were all excited about these great new bags from ThinkTankPhoto.com (TTP) and he told me to check out his Airport Acceleration.

After looking at the configurations and the gear I own I knew I could carry pretty much everything I own (excluding studio gear) in one bag. However, the best part was that if I ever got my dream kit which contains a 400mm f/2.8L IS USM lens I could carry that too. Even better news was that this bag comes with an Artificial Intelligence (15") laptop bag, but there was one small problem - I have a HUGE 17" Dell XPS M1710 laptop so I'd need a bigger laptop bag and the web site doesn't seem to accommodate that. I spoke with Mike about this and he encouraged me to talk to ThinkTankPhoto about this little problem and sure enough for $20 more they let upgraded my laptop bag and I was in business. It had all of the features I wanted but best of all it had mondo zippers that were sure to never fail, so I ordered one (full price - with no special offers :( ).

Airport Acceleration - now replaced by Version 2 shown below

(UPDATE: This article refers to v1 which is now discontinued)

When my bag arrived it came with a bunch of dividers and I quickly discovered what the hoopla was about. This bag seems indestructible and it is SUPER deep. It was really like having two bags because I could stack two levels across this entire bag and fit EVERYTHING I owned it!!! What's more, I could attach both my bulky Bogen-Manfrotto monopod & tripods to it (although I'm not sure that configuration is recommended) AND my laptop bag inside the outside pocket to carry everything I own. Thanks to the belt straps and beefy shoulder straps, carrying this bag was easy (despite my pinched nerve in my back). I've carried this bag full of gear for 5+ our hikes like the ones I did in Arizona at local Scottsdale photo ops without any problems. This was my first test of my bad back after spending nearly 3 weeks on bed rest due to a pinched nerve, and I never once had any pain associated with this bag in my back, shoulders or elsewhere. It fit great on the plane, and it didn't look like a camera bag so I felt safe leaving it in the hotel room when I was out on business for my real job. However, the thing that impressed me the most about this bag was that despite having it loaded full with gear, I gently held it upside down over the carpet with it open and NOTHING fell out! Yes, the dividers held my gear snugly in place so even if my zipper were to fail as it had in China (which seems impossible with this bag) the odds were in my favor that little - if any - gear would actually spill out! I LOVE THIS BAG!!!!!

My Airport Acceleration Configuration

Here's a picture of what I have jammed packed into my bag:

and inside the pouches:

The contents of this bag is as follows:

  1. Canon 1D-Mark III mounted to a EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (with an attached Hoya 77mm MC - UV PRO 1 DIGITAL FILTER - HOUVP1MC77) with RRS B1DMkIII-L L-Plate attached
  2. Canon Rebel XTi w/ BG-E3 BATTERY GRIP mounted to a EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens with EW-83E lens hood
  3. Canon 580EX II
  4. Canon off-camera shoe cord
  5. Cokin Z-Pro U960 Pro Graduated Neutral Density Filter Kit (contains 3 GND filters in cases)
  6. Cokin Series Z 77mm Lens Adaptor Ring
  7. 8 AA batteries
  8. Hoya 77mm SUPER-HMC - CIRC POL (THIN) - HOCPSMC77 in its case
  9. Hoya 77mm SUPER-HMC - UV PRO 1 FILTER - HOUVP1SMC77 in case
  10. Hoya 77mm MC - UV PRO 1 DIGITAL FILTER - HOUVP1MC77 (empty case)
  12. Giottos ROCKET AIR BLOWER 6.6"
  14. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM super telephoto lens w/ hood
  15. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM super telephoto lens w/ hood
  16. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens w/ Canon ET-67 hood
  17. LumiQuest PROMAX SOFTBOX
  18. LumiQuest PROMAX 80-20 POCKET BOUNCER
  19. Sto-Fen OM-EY OMNI-BOUNCE f/CANON 580EX/580EX2
  20. Canon EF 2x Extender II
  21. Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens with Canon ES-71 II hood
  22. Microstar Micro-Fiber 18% Gray Lens Cleaning Cloth
  23. Promaster OptiClean Lens Cleaner
  24. Hakuba Lens Cleaning Pen/Brush
  25. Bogen / Manfrotto 337 2 Axis Flash Hot Shoe Double Bubble Level
  26. Sekonic L-358 Flash Master light meter
  27. Delta GRAY CARD 4x5"
  28. All manuals for cameras and accessories
  29. Accessory cables
  30. Battery chargers for both cameras
  31. Extra XTi batteries
  32. PecPads
  34. Rain cover and plastic bags
  35. and miscellaneous odds and ends that I'm sure I'm forgetting

Artificial Intelligence

Of course, the other little surprise when I ordered this bag was how good the laptop bag was. At nearly 10 pounds, my laptop bag is heavy and unwieldy, yet carrying it in the portrait orientation in the Artificial Intelligence (17") made it feel light as a feature compared to my previous leather Tumi bag (which weighed in at nearly 30 pounds when fully loaded with my laptop and accessories). I was now carrying most of my gear in a lightweight bag that now made my laptop seem closer to a laptop than a portable desktop as I had described it in the past.

Camera Support Straps and Camera Strap

When speaking to the nice folks at TTP I mentioned that I was going to be shooting with two cameras at once and asked if they had anything to help with the hassle of a loose camera flopping around my neck. They suggested their Camera Support Straps which attach to my backpacks and a special camera strap to go with it. This cool configuration allows me to let my XTi dangle securely from my back without having it rock back and forth (i.e., it stays put) so my hands can be free with my 1D Mark III. However, I can easily remove the XTi (or leave it attached) for quick shooting. I love these straps and feel that if you are going to be shooting with two bodies, then this is the way to go!

Glass Taxi

As much as I love my Airport Acceleration, I must admit that it is a huge bag. While I enjoy that I can carry basically everything I own in it, there are times (think family events) where I wish I had a smaller more discrete bag that could carry a smaller subset of gear. Again, I talked to Mike Tedesco and he suggested the Glass Taxi. This versatile bag was originally designed to haul one huge prime lens like a 400mm f/2.8L IS USM , but it features a bunch of dividers that allow it to act as a fully functional backpack with numerous configurations in a very compact size. Personally, I use it as a SLR system bag and I hold a ton of gear in it (more on that later). In fact, it is now my bag of choice for 80% of my outings because I can hold so much gear in it. My only complaint about this bag is that the interior pocket sucks because it features just small piece of Velcro instead of a nice zipper pouch found on the Airport Acceleration. Aide from this one issue and my desire that it were just one inch taller so I could cram more stuff into it, I've gotta say that this is one awesome bag. It is lightweight, durable, and super deep so again I can carry two levels of gear inside. It also features a bunch of inserts and even a sling style strap for those who prefer that style, or for people like me it has a proper two strap backpack straps that are comfortable and supportive (with a chest strap).

My Glass Taxi Configuration

Here's a picture of my Glass Taxi stuffed to the hilt with my favorite gear (I carry this bag like this every day):

The contents of this bag is as follows:

  1. Canon 1D-Mark III mounted to a EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (with an attached Hoya 77mm MC - UV PRO 1 DIGITAL FILTER - HOUVP1MC77)
  2. Canon 580EX II
  3. Canon ST-E2 wireless flash transmitter
  4. Canon off-camera shoe cord
  5. Cokin Z-Pro U960 Pro Graduated Neutral Density Filter Kit (contains 3 GND filters in cases)
  6. Cokin Series Z 77mm Lens Adaptor Ring
  7. 4 AA batteries
  8. Hoya 77mm SUPER-HMC - CIRC POL (THIN) - HOCPSMC77 in its case
  9. Giottos ROCKET AIR BLOWER 6.6"
  11. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM OR EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM super telephoto lens
  12. LumiQuest PROMAX SOFTBOX
  13. LumiQuest PROMAX 80-20 POCKET BOUNCER
  14. Sto-Fen OM-EY OMNI-BOUNCE f/CANON 580EX/580EX2
  15. Canon EF 2x Extender II OR EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens
  16. Microstar Micro-Fiber 18% Gray Lens Cleaning Cloth
  17. Promaster OptiClean Lens Cleaner
  18. Hakuba Lens Cleaning Pen/Brush
  19. Bogen / Manfrotto 337 2 Axis Flash Hot Shoe Double Bubble Level

Here's a picture of the accessories that came with this bag that I don't use at this time:

As you can see, this little bag can carry A LOT of stuff!

Cool, which bag should I get?

I hear this question a lot and it is a hard question to answer because it depends on your needs. I have two bags (well technically 3) that really meet my needs, but like most photographers I'm always in need of one more bag I don't have. There are times when I wish I would have gone with the smaller Airport Antidote or Airport Addicted bags, but when I see one in real life and look at the way I'm using my bag I know I made the right choice for my needs. Your needs may be different.

I also sometimes wish I had wheels on my bag like you can get on the Airport Security V2.0 but this bag isn't a backpack so that rules that one out for me,

I know over time I'll probably collect items from the Digital Holster collection so I can maximize my mobility when I'm out with my kids.

The Airport bags look awkward - don't you look like a nerd carrying them?

Yes! At least I feel like I do, but like most things in life it is another case of revenge of the nerds! These bags, despite their awkward appearance are very comfortable. Part of the reason why they look awkward is because they are rectangular which gives them much more storage space than traditionally shaped backpacks. What's more, they don't really look like a backpack or camera bag, and since you can hide the straps it is really good camouflage for your bag.

I've worn my bags all day without any problems, and Mike's taken his to Antarctica and said he was happy with his so I don't think you'll find that comfort is a problem with these bags. In fact, the only complaint I've ever had in the comfort area with these bags is that the chest strap is way too high so it feels like it is going to become a necklace if you aren't careful, but fortunately it never does.

These bags sure are expensive

Go into any photographers closet who has been shooting with a SLR for over 2 years and count the number of bags they have. The reality is that photographers spend a lot of money looking for bags because they never find anything that meets both their storage and durability requirements. I think these bags solve this issue, so unless you want to branch out and have options (as I have done) you can honestly live with just one of these bags and never have to spend another penny. I can and have lived with just my AA and I've been plenty happy, and honestly I could probably live with just my Glass Taxi.

These bags aren't available locally and I'm afraid I might not like them

I've been in your boat and shared your same concern. Ultimately I called TTP and talked to Alvin about all of my concerns, and he explained that as long as the bag is resalable they'd be happy to take it back anytime. Jokingly I said, what if it sits in my closet for 2 years and I want to return it. His response - without hesitation - no problem. I've confirmed again that this is the official policy and not an overzealous salesperson, so they REALLY stand behind their bags! When I explained my concerns about failing zippers or fabric they didn't hesitate to say that it isn't going to happen with these bags, and if it does they'll fix it at their expense. In the 6 months I've had my bags they have been used and abused and they look like I just bought them. They've been on numerous trips and used heavily, so I'm convinced they are really professional quality.

In life you usually get what you pay for, and in the case of these bags I think I'm getting more than what I'm paying for because I feel the quality is superior to anything else I've seen on the market yet the prices are competitive with equivalent products from Lowepro and Tamrac.

Special Offer

Click here for the latest offer.

I've really got to see these bags before I can place an order

Some camera shops carry these bags, so I suggest you ask around. If you know me personally I'll show you my bags with advanced notice, or you may find a friend in your camera club/forum that has one. Either way I just ask that you support this blog by ordering through the web site using the special offer here.

UPDATE - 6-4-08

I'm traveling to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix Formula 1 race for a photo shoot this week and I really wanted to keep my bags down to a minimum, so I decided to see if I could get all of my gear in my Glass Taxi. Well, to my own amazement - I did! Here's a picture:

June 001

The contents of this bag is as follows:

  1. Canon 1D-Mark III mounted to a EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM (with an attached Hoya 77mm MC - UV PRO 1 DIGITAL FILTER - HOUVP1MC77)
  2. Hoya 77mm SUPER-HMC - CIRC POL (THIN) - HOCPSMC77 in its case
  3. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM super telephoto lens
  4. Microstar Micro-Fiber 18% Gray Lens Cleaning Cloth
  5. Promaster OptiClean Lens Cleaner
  6. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
  7. Canon Rebel XTi w/ BG-E3 BATTERY GRIP
  8. Battery chargers for both cameras
  9. Rain cover and plastic bags
  10. and miscellaneous odds and ends that I'm sure I'm forgetting

UPDATE - 9-1-09

I've added more ThinkTankPhoto bag reviews here:

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The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity


Anonymous said...

I'll put in a vote for the TTP Urban Disguise 60. The durability is excellent and, while my gear collection is not nearly as impressive as Ron's, I find that the UD60 holds my 40D with 24-70 f2.8 attached, 70-200 f2.8, hoods for both, monopod + head, and all the batteries, pouches, and miscelaneous stuff I can throw in it with room to spare. Best of all (for me) is that it also holds my laptop (15") along with power connections, mouse, headphones, and everything I need to travel for work as well. Although heavy when fully loaded, the shoulder strap is very well padded and it is actually quite comfortable to carry either as a shoulder bag or a briefcase. These bags rock!

Anonymous said...

I used a TT Airport International roller case on a month long trip. It safely carried 2 Nikon DSLRs, a Nikkor 70-200 VR 2.8, a Nikkor 200-400 VR f4, a Nikkor 24-70 2.8, a Nikon SB 800 flash, numerous filters, batteries, chargers plus more!

I was never questioned about carrying it on (it weighed over 14Kg!) and it travelled tens of thousands of miles in the overhead bins on many planes quite safely.

I am just buying a Glass Taxi now....!

Ivan Gomez said...

Actually, with all the feedback I have seen from you and other's on Think Tank, I made the leap and I bought the rotation 360. I havent used it officialy yet but its looking promising

Anonymous said...

Another vote for the urban disguise 60. I put my D300, 12-24, 80-200 and 24-70 plus all the usual odds and ends and laptop in it. Awesome piece of kit. I also have the Speedfreak with trim changer and lightning fast for the same kit with an SB800 for shooting sporting events. The quality is fantastic and the design is superb. I wish they did a proper field pack, but I'm sure it's coming.

Omar said...

Another vote for the TT Airport International...I've been all over the world with it...it's helped me safely transport all my gear from Canada to Jordan, Qatar, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, and all over Europe and back! My other favorite bag is actually just a lens bag, the Boda Dry. Nothing beats having one of these slung over your shoulder if you're an event shooter!