Justin Van Leeuwen, May 4, 2011
Camera bags are just one of those things that you can’t seem to get enough of. More accurately, they’re that thing that you can’t find the right ONE of, likely because there is no one-bag solution for everything you may need a camera bag for. The bag I bring to a wedding is not the same one I take on a hike for landscape photos, and it’s not the same one I take on a casual urban stroll. So knowing that there is no perfect bag, you will buy many, many bags.
You should at least be able to make an informed decision about which one you want, right?
So what is there to look for in a bag?
I quickly outgrew my first camera bag — it was more of a small pouch actually. It was just big enough to fit my Rebel XT and 17-40mm lens, but even the attached hood wouldn’t fit. My next bag was the Crumpler 6 Million dollar home, which remains a favourite to this day, but the loud colours and overly simple number of pockets don’t quite conform to my needs during some more professional shoots and, specifically, I wanted a shoulder bag that had a pocket that would let me carry an iPad.
I believe shoulder bags are perfect as “working” bags. Always at your side, these bags are easy to pop open to access the contents, and sling out of the way. They may not be the most ergonomic, or as comfortable as a backpack, but they get me in and out faster than anything I’d have to remove and put down to access. I knew I wanted a shoulder bag that I could use at high-end corporate events and fundraisers, and even weddings, where the dress code requires me to look the part; this should translate to my gear as well. I needed a good looking, durable shoulder bag.
There are more companies making bags out there for cameras, than there are cameras to be bought — maybe not literally — but you know what I mean. Heck, even the companies themselves have so many variations on a single bag that I still can’t make up my mind as to which one is better suited for my needs. In the end, you have to choose something, and I went with the Think Tank Photo Retrospective 30 shoulder bag. I had some experience owning ThinkTank products before, with my Streetwalker Pro HD Backpack and the Skin Belt system, so I knew I was going to get a quality product, with some cool bits that just made sense.
Enter the Think Tank Retro 30: What’s Macgasmic
The very first thing I noticed when holding the Retro 30 (Pinestone/Cotton Canvas) was how thick and well made the whole thing was from end to end. It felt like an old World War II satchel I owned when I was younger, and that’s a good thing. It speaks to a level of workmanship you often don’t get in consumer goods anymore. The shoulder strap itself is also very thick, and generously long (for those of us with a bit extra height or heft) and of course, fully adjustable.
Another great thing, something I love in all objects, is the level of storage it offers. The large zippered back pocket will fit an iPad no-problem, depending on the size of case you have protecting it of course, or even a flash-modifier like the Lumiquest SB-III. There are two outer side pockets that should hold a small bottle of water or a cliff bar or two. Once you unstrap the cover, your storage options get even better. The two front pockets can fold open to hold a pro-level SLR body, or even 2 580EXII flashes — though this is kinda stretching it — in each. There’s a front pouch section with spaces for business cards, manuals, pens, batteries, and it’s all sectioned off for organization: everything gets a home.
The Camera and Lens section is fully adjustable, but I tend to go the lazy route and just jam stuff into the spaces they’ve provided. It will hold a pro-size SLR, or the “other kind” with a grip attached. Ram it full of lenses or just go with the Holy-Trinity of a 70-200 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8, & 16-35 f/2.8 — they’ll all fit no problem. Again, there’s a zippered pocket at the back that I rammed my new favourite book into, but you can use it for whatever flat-bits you have lying around.
The Retrospective series from Thinktank includes the “10″ “20″ and “30″ as well as two lens-changer bags the “20″ and “30,” which just has a few pouches to hold lenses instead of all the cool space to jam lenses, clothes and loose pocket wizards and stuff. While I really like the texture of the Pinestone bag, I think it’s a bit more fitting for the traveler or journalist on the street than a formal wedding. Thankfully, these bags are also available in black.
For my needs, I’m going to be looking at the Retrospective 20 in black. I don’t need it to hold my camera (that, my Blackrapid RS-7 does), and then I’ll have a smaller bag that I can work out of, is durable, and looks the part at a more formal event. As you can see, the options really are endless, but at the same time, necessary for a field with such varying demands.