August 30, 2012

Review | Think Tank Retrospective 30 Camera Shoulder Bag

Review

So I finally bought a new camera bag! After begging and pleading with Betty to approve my purchase, she gave in and let me replace my two year old Lowepro Exchange Messenger (reviewed here) with a new workhorse camera bag. Now, let me be open here that my amazing $20 Lowepro has served me for well over 40 weddings I think at that point, and still has not ripped nor broke in any way. As a lens change bag on the wedding day it works fantastically for on the go switching and I would still whole-heartedly recommend this bag to anyone. However, it does have it’s limitations. It’s a smaller bag that doesn’t provide much protection to your lenses and barely fits a full frame camera like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a prime lens with either one flash or one other lens inside if you had to stow the camera away for whatever reason. With these problems needing to be solved I looked to Lowepro’s new Pro Messenger but in the end went with the highly praised Think Tank Retrospective 30, both at similar price points and features. The Think Tank seemed to get a tad better reviews in the comfort and durability areas, so I decided to give another company a shot besides my beloved LowePro. Now, after a number of weddings and a little bit of travel under my belt using this bag, here are my thoughts and likes/dislikes.

Behind the Scenes | Yusra & Rahil's Mehndi Night | Fort Gordon North Hall | Augusta Atlanta Pakistani Indian Wedding Photographer
Myself with my black Retrospective 30 bag in the middle of filming a Muslim Pakistani wedding in Augusta, Georgia

Behind the Scenes | Maggie & Michael's Wedding | Lioncrest at Biltmore Estate | Asheville North Carolina Destination Wedding Photographer
Running down the steps of the Biltmore Estate shooting a destination wedding in Asheville, North Carolina

ThinkTank Retrospective 30

Official Product Photo from ThinkTankPhoto.com

Appearance – This doesn’t look like a camera bag. This was definitely a high priority for me to blend in on a wedding day and also to allow me to travel with the bag and not scream “photographer with expensive stuff inside!!!” While other colors I went with the all black model of the Retrospective because I’m usually wearing all black on a wedding day and also for general unobtrusiveness. Additionally, their are no manufacturer’s labels anywhere on the outside of the bag, only a small ThinkTank logo on the side of the bag that would be against your body (but also in black to blend right in).

Space – My second priority was being able to accomodate all of the llittle accessories that I need on a wedding day like spare batteries and memory cards, in addition to the Mission Critical items like lenses and cameras obviously. While I don’t think their will EVER be a one-size-fits-all solution, this one comes pretty darn close. The bag is deep enough to hold a 70-200 f/2.8 lens and you can even squeeze in the the lens and camera together if you don’t mind the flap covering it a bit. The pockets also are very deep and with a normal 3 slot configuration (if you divided the bag into 3 equal sections with inserts), you can even fit two lenses side by side like a skinny 135mm f/2L and the 100mm f/2.8L Macro. Or I ccould store two flashes like the 600EX-RTs side by side in a pocket and still have two other pockets empty for a 70-200 in one divider and one or two prime lenses in the other. Does that sound like a lot of gear? Well it is, and that’s a good and bad thing, which is my next point…

Comfort – With such an accomodating bag that eats up lenses and accessories I have a tendency to overpack this thing on a wedding day. I can honeslty fit an entire wedding kit into this bag and have! The most I’ve been able to cram in here on a wedding day:

2x 5D Mark III w/ grip in front pockets (lenses off of course)
1x 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
1x 35mm f/1.4L (stacked with 24)
1x 24mm f/1.4L II (stacked with 35)
1x 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS (side by side 16-35)
1x 16-35mm f/2.8L II (side by side 100)
1x 50mm f/1.2L (on top of the 100 + 16-35mm)
1x Speedlite 600 EX-RT (on top of 70-200)
8x Eneloop Batteries (in various pockets)
1x Pelican Waterproof CF Card Case (in interior side pocket)
1x Intervalometer
1x Spare Battery (in other interior side pocket)
1x Battery Charger (with the battery in interior side pocket)

And yes this bag weighed like 30 pounds, I actually packed this like this for our destination wedding in Arizona and used the Retrospective as one of my carry-on items able to fit under the seat, with a roller bag stuffed with the huge Elinchrom Ranger RX strobe and a few more backup items like two more flashes and another backup camera body. Even when it’s not loaded to the brim like this and killing my back, carrying 15 pounds on your shoulder for an entire wedding is pretty tiring so I try to stay as light as possible. The strap design is very good though with thick padding and a wide band to displace some of the pressure that accumulates there.

Generally this bag transports the cameras to the wedding venue in the exterior pockets but then those cameras unload and come out on my shoulders with lenses and flashes now attached, so all that is left in the bag is maybe a 70-200, another prime, and 100mm macro lens, giving me plenty of room to “work” and switch lenses with whatever is currently on my camera.

Durability & Security – When you’re spending this much on a camera bag you want it to last as well as protect your gear. So far, so good! All of the material seems to be very well constructed of high quality fabric and quality stitching on all of the seams. While not overly padded, the heavy duty material and inserts provide more cushioning than my old LowePro Exchange Messenger which had VERY thin exterior fabric. I’ll update this review should anything happen but based on my stress tests so far slinging this thing all over Georgia and beyond for weddings, I am very pleased with the construction.

Overall – Extremely satisfied! The price made me hesitate a bit at first, but when you think about it, ALL camera bags are expensive! However, you do get what you pay for, and I’m glad I spent the extra maybe $50 over the competing bags in this category for the quality of the ThinkTank craftsmanship. I highly recommend this bag to anyone I meet and I carrry it around with me everywhere! Right now I’m writing this post from a Dunkin Donuts and I used this bag to carry my iPad + keyboard, charger, and my Mark III + 35mm f/1.4 of course =).

Click here to see this bag for sale at B&H and buy with this affiliate link to help support Miles’ diaper habit!

Here are a few more photos of me with the ThinkTank Retrospective 30 in action! Maybe next I will review our other ThinkTank product, the Airport International v2.0 roller bag!

Behind the Scenes | Yusra & Rahil's Valima | Atlanta Pakistani Muslim Wedding Photographer
Pakistani Muslim Valima in Atlanta, Georgia

Behind the Scenes | Yusra & Rahil's Valima | Atlanta Pakistani Muslim Wedding Photographer
Full of gear at the end of a wedding…

Behind the Scenes | Ashley & Gaurav's Destination Hindu Wedding | Poco Diablo Resort | Sedona Arizona Indian Destination Wedding Photographer
Shooting bride & groom portraits at a destination Hindu Indian wedding in Sedona, Arizona

Somehow this all fit in carry on luggage!
Filled to the brim with gear (sorry for the grainy iPhone photo)

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