The ThinkTank UD 50, the bag to end all camera bags?

| Monday, July 4th, 2011

In the never-ending quest to acquire the perfect bag — though we know there is no one bag that is perfect — we often go for larger pieces. This was something I did when I first began accumulating more gear, from a little Lowepro holding a single, small camera body with a lens attached, to a shoulder bag capable of carrying several lenses, to a large backpack to haul everything from location to location. The problem with the larger bags, aside from being quite heavy with that much metal, plastic, and glass inside of them, is that I find they don’t actually allow me to take more pictures. Quite the opposite actaully.

With my camera in a bag, and too many options at the ready, I’ll spend valuable minutes deciding on lens/body combos f/stops, characteristics of chormatic abberation, and what level of distortion I need on a given frame. Do I want to use the 17-40mm f/4 at 24mm? or the 24-70 f/2.8 at 24mm? DECISIONS!

A “less is more” philosophy is certainly prevalent with many photographers whom I admire. David duChemin and Zack Arias have both bought into, or even fallen in love with, the Fuji X100. It’s compact, has a prime lens, and is just right for taking photographs on the go.

I wanted to explore this philosophy more in my outtings, on my recent Honeymoon, and on jobs that allow it. To speak on the latter, I would use a smaller bag as an accompanyment to my Pelican 1510 roller case, which frees up some space, and would make a camera more accessible if needed when not formally on the shoot.

My own love affair with ThinkTank Photo bags and accessories should come as no surprise; I own the Skin Belt system, the Streetwalker HD Backpack, and have reviwed the Retrospective 30 on Macgasm previously (and on the Podcast). It was easy for me to go straight to their catalogue to find something that would meet my current needs and desires.

My requirements that my ideal bag needed to meet was that it needed to be able to fit a 13.3-inch laptop, support a camera with a lens attached, another lens, and a flash. The Urban Disguise 50 suited those needs exactly. In fact, it’s rated for a 15-inch notebook if you like traveling with a bit more power in your MacBook.

Like all ThinkTank bags, it is increbidly well thought out, and made from the best possible materials. This is the “Version 2.0” of the UD50, which means I’m benefitting from the cumulative input of a bunch of version 1.0 beta testers.  Suckers.

What’s Macgasmic

There are pockets everywhere, which is good, because you need places to keep your bits. An outer front zipper gives way to an internal compartment with business card holders, slots for pens, markers or wine corkers (you never know when you need one — you just can’t bring it on the plane) plus a few other pockets within, including one zippered pocket to hold your assorted bits of paper, receipts, or lens cloths. Under this is a clipped flap, which reveals an expandible pouch, which could hold an extra camera body with the lens detached if necessary, complete with padded dividers. I ended up shoving all my assorted cables in here, chargers, extra batteries, and memory card readers — the bag came with a very useful Mini Pixel Pocket Rocket memory card holder — and used another zipped pocket within to hold my tether USB cable, but this last space could easily store some paper documents if necessary.

The inside is well padded with three “standard” sections; more than enough accessory velcro dividers are provided for you to customize the bag to your needs. There’s even a back slot to slide in some less bulky items. What’s incredibly well-thought out here are two things: the dividers are low enough that you have a significant amount of space at the top of the bag after all your gear is in, save for some longer telephoto lenses. I would be able to fit a pro sized speedlight atop the camera body if I wanted. There’s also the VERY clever option of a zipper (found just under that front flap), that allows for the bag to expand outward slightly to accomodate a larger “pro” body SLR or at least a less-pro one with a battery grip.

Then there’s the laptop hold, which, as I mentioned, should be able to accomodate a 15-inch no problem. It is lightly padded and customizable with a velcroed area: maybe so you could create a divide for an iPad and some items instead — although cramming a laptop WITH an iPad in this section is ill-advised.

Finally there’s a “rear” back pocket that, brilliantly, has a zipper on the bottom so that you can undo it and loose your important documents… or slip it over the extendible handle on your rolling case to ease your shoulder pain. To round it all off, I’ll mention the shoulder support, which is incredibly thick and curved to help distribute the weight of the bag evenly and left me without concerns of a harsh line cut into my body by a bag strap.

What’s not

Obviously I’m in love with this bag; with it’s metal hooks, or lockable YKK zippers, and discrete “not camera bag” looks, what could possibly be wrong with it? Well… there’s always user error.

If you give me a bag, any bag, I will overload it. Just look at how I crammed my Quadra portable lighting system in the Retro 30. It’s in my nature to overstuff my stuff. So of course I put so much extra in the bag that it became a burden to carry. That is the problem with shoulder bags. You can work out of them, but if you’re going for a hike or long walk, you might just want to consider a backpack like the Streetwalker Pro HD instead. And while a slender-looking black shoulder bag may not be revealing to potential thieves that you’re a photographer, there’s no mistaking that it’s also, quite likely, housing some form of personal, portable computer and assorted gadgets.

The shoulder harness is so good, I feel like I want it to be more. It’s thick enough to be able to support a micro-pocket ecosystem, and in the spirit of over-packing, I kind of wish there was a little elastic slip on the outer portion to slide an iPhone into as I walked, keeping it accessible.

The number of pockets also left me questioning where I even put things. I lost my keys in here, only to remember the zippered pocket within the zippered pocket. Maybe constant use will iron out my own head-space here. But liking lots of compartments and using them efficiently are different things. Of course, one could always choose NOT to use every single spot.

Conclusion

BUY! How could you not want more bags? If the size is an issue, and you do want something in a different size, the Urban Disguise is available as a 35 which holds a 10-13.3-inch laptop, the 50 (reviewed), and the 60 which would hold up to a 17-inch laptop. Like everything ThinkTank, it’s got accessorries with which you can combine it, like Voltron with straps to create a backpack, or modular pouches to cram even more gear on your person.

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