The Portrait: In the bag

The ThinkTank Retrospective 50 during the setup for a shoot on local poets for Caribbean Beat.
Photo by Mark Lyndersay

The Urban Disguise 60 2.0 at the Socadrome, Carnival 2014

I've had my eye on ThinkTank's stuff for a few years now, particularly after one interesting interlude I had when making my pilgrimage to their booth at
PhotoPlus Expo.

I was rocking my aged
Domke F3 bag on the show floor that year, a bag that's now 25 years old if it's a day and shows it with the nobility of well-made canvas.
A ThinkTank representative walked over, no doubt curious about my squeezing, tugging and general fondling of their products.
He took a look at the somewhat ratty camera bag on my shoulder.
"Looks like you need a new bag," he said with a smile.
"Hmph," I responded with a bit of an upturned nose.  "That's a Domke.""
So it is," he said with a nod of appreciation, "so it is."

So we jump forward to the end of last year when I left a comment on a competition post on
ThinkTank's Facebook page.
Not being a person with a history of winning anything, I was quite surprised to get a notification via email that I'd won second prize.

ThinkTank's Apple Pack.

I had my choice of the
Retrospective range of bags, though I didn't imagine that the company expected a second place winner to overreach quite so boldly and ask after the top of the line Retrospective 50.
To ThinkTank's credit, they didn't waver on their commitment.

They agreed quickly to the upscale request and that bag and the accompanying 'Apple pack,' a grab bag of Mac accessories was on it's way.
Shortly thereafter, another package arrived from ThinkTank, rather surprisingly containing another bag, the sleeker Urban Disguise 60 2.0.

In retrospect (see what I did there?), I really should have measured the Retrospective 50 more carefully.
It's a huge bag that positively swallows up gear. It's now my go-to bag for a hefty speedlight system. In an accompanying post on my current packing profiles, you can see how I use that bag.
This post is about the two bags, their advantages and occasional glitches.

Let's start with the Retrospective 50, a bag that's probably a bit too big for most folks.  Most users will be happy with a smaller version of this bag, perhaps the 30 or 40, you should measure (do as I say, not as I did), to get a sense of its capacity.

The 50 is a spacious bag that easily absorbs four speedlights, assorted modifiers, an Odin trigger and a basic camera kit, usually a Canon full frame camera with either a medium range zoom or a couple of primes.
What's remarkable about the Retrospective 50 is not just how easily it swallows up a remarkable amount of gear, but how comfortable it is to carry.

Part of that is because it has the best shoulder strap I've ever used, and I'm someone who is comfortable buying a better strap for a bag.
The strap design on the Retrospective 50 is one that ThinkTank should consider rolling out to its other shoulder bag products. The strap on the Urban Disguise 2.0 isn't in that class.  It's distinctly less comfortable, doesn't grip the shoulder nearly as well and for an extremely tall person (I'm a big guy ), at least six inches too short.

ThinkTank puts an average stiffener in the base of the bag, but I found that the bag's load balancing was significantly improved with the addition of a more solid interior base. Given the company's generosity with its padding and separation bits and pieces that shouldn't be a problem.

The Urban Disguise 60 is a smaller bag, so clearly numbers aren't a good way to compare bags across designs in ThinkTank's line.
It's also stiffer, the structure clearly designed to provide both protection and a compact, well-defined profile.
The result is a sleek, if determinedly unassuming shoulder bag that at a glance looks like the dozens of other bags that ferry executive paperwork and cheap PC laptops everywhere.

It's a calculated and risky design approach, betting that a serious photographer will be far more interested in a bag's interior than it's determinedly bland exterior.
Even the detailed pictures on ThinkTank's website don't properly convey the practical feel of the bag.
The camera compartment is much smaller than the one in the Retrospective 50.

I normally pull it when I'm working with a body, a couple of lenses and either two speedlights or the support stuff for a larger light kit (triggers, meter, etc al).
I can shove all this stuff in and still carry a MacBook Pro, a Windows 8 tablet and all related cables and paraphernalia.
This also makes it a great candidate for travel. ThinkTank clearly knows this, because while the bag is positioned as a street carrier, the company has added some sly features that make working with it in transit a dream.

The Urban Disguise 60 in play at Houston International Airport.

Unzip the bottom of the rear magazine sleeve (who travels with magazines anymore?) and you get an excellent attachment point for a rolling bag, my normal travelling companion.
The front flap of the bag has a thin, but neatly compartmentalised front pocket that keeps a travel wallet, note paper and pens conveniently at hand.

The bag's most compelling feature though, is a design that fits neatly under the seat of the small inter-island propeller aircraft that I frequently travel on that are keen to grab your gear at the foot of the embarkation steps.
Together, the two bags have overtaken all save two of the gear carriers I normally reach for.

I've been so pleased with the performance of these two ThinkTank products that I'm going hunting at PhotoPlus for a replacement for that old Domke F3 and my main strobe light bag.  Let's see if the company has what it takes to make a clean sweep.
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