January 29, 2013

Review | ThinkTank Photo StreetWalker HardDrive Camera Backpack

Review

This is ThinkTank product number 3 for me, and probably not the last one either. Bags for photographers are a tricky thing, because their never seems to be the perfect bag for every situation and every gear requirement. However, the ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive comes pretty close and I was very happy with my purchase to take with me on my trip this past January to Sydney, Australia for a destination wedding and Tokyo, Japan for sightseeing.

Size
This bag is massive! Which is a good and bad thing. Side by side with my ThinkTank Airport International v2.0 they have about the same capacity. With the StreetWalker HardDrive you are gaining backpack straps over the wheels and the laptop compartment. You may be thinking, well Zac, why didn’t you buy the Airport TakeOff which has both rolling wheels AND backpack straps? Well for one I already had a roller, the Airport International, and two I just wanted a dedicated backpack because I knew I would only be using this as a backpack. We have another combo roller/backpack that we lug the Elinchrom Ranger around in and while it’s good, it has a few annoying compromises to make it both a backpack and a roller, such as extra bulk from the straps when using as a roller and a hard back panel from the handle when used as a backpack. Anyway, back on track… the StreetWalker HardDrive has a ton of room inside fit in the overhead compartment of every airline I flew on this trip.

Blog Photos | ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive Review

Blog Photos | ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive Review

Easily went into overhead bins on the following planes, and no issues with flight attendants or security/customs (but of course YMMV):

Delta, McDonnell-Douglas MD88/Q (ATL -> IAH)
United Airlines, Boeing 757-300 (IAH -> LAX)
Virgin Australia, Boeing 777-300ER (LAX -> SYD)
Japan Airlines, Boeing 777 (SYD -> TYO)
Singapore Airlines, Boeing 777 (TYO -> LAX)
Delta, Boeing 757 (LAX -> ATL)

My first stop was a destination Pakistani wedding in Houston, Texas and things were overloaded for sure. At this point I was actually carrying 3 cameras with me, because we were shooting photos and video for the wedding, though after the wedding I would be dropping off a 5D Mark II and a 50mm f/1.2L with Betty along with some of the spare batteries and other miscellaneous video items like the monopod, microphones, and audio recorders. Once she took the extra weight, here is what I packed for my two week trek to Sydney, Australia and Tokyo, Japan and carried all of this with me the entire time:

Canon EOS 5D Mark III w/ grip
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS
4x Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT (stacked sideways in two rows without their cases)
15.4″ Macbook Pro
Battery Charger, Spare Canon Battery, 2 TB Western Digital USB Hard Drive, Miscellaneous items

Blog Photos | ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive Review

Second view, showing the flashes on their sides to show the depth of the bag

Blog Photos | ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive Review

Now, while it fit easily in the overhead bin of every international flight, it was over the weight restriction with all of this year. My plan was to take out the gripped Mark III and put the 70-200 on it, and wear it around my neck should the need arise but it never did. No one looked at me funny with the bag as it packs a lot of gear in a tiny area. I don’t think any flight attendant would believe that I had that much weight inside, partly because it wears so well with the straps that it doesn’t look like I’m carrying 35 pounds on my back =)

Blog Photos | ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive Review

Later, once the destination wedding in Sydney was over, I converted the bag into more of a walk-around bag for sightseeing. I put my travel tripod (Benro Transfunctional Travel Angel A2691TB1) INSIDE the bag, along with two cameras, two lenses, and miscellaneous items – with plenty of room to spare. Yes, the backpack has an outside tripod holder, but when you’re in a tight suburban area like the trains of Tokyo, you want to be as subtle and compact as possible. Putting everything inside the bag solved that problem and let me be more discreet on the streets carrying so much gear around. I was looking at the ThinkTank Shape Shifter for this reason but ended up going with the StreetWalker, though it’s definitely a consideration if you want the flexibility of switching between transport and day bag (though I liked the drop-in ready-to-shoot aspect of the StreetWalker which made the decision for me easy).

Comfort
Perfect transition into the comfort of this bag! Packed full when in transit through the airports and carrying the full kit back and forth to a week of wedding events, I was definitely getting my workout in each day! However, and this is the saving grace, the straps and harness is very comfortable! Even with so much weight on my back, by pulling the shoulder straps tight and using the adjustable chest strap, I was really able to balance the load on my back. Yes, I even used the kind of dorky belt strap around my waist, while not winning any fashion awards walking like this on the streets of Australia, it was helpful to use this waist strap to secure the entire bag close to your body and keep it from bouncing around too much =).

Blog Photos | ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive Review
Shooting time-lapse sunsets of the Sydney Opera House & Sydney Harbour Bridge at Mrs. Macquarie’s Point in Sydney, Australia (GoPro Hero3 Photo)

Blog Photos | ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive Review
Me in the orange shirt with the ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive taking photos for some other tourists, still frame from a time-lapse I was shooting.

Blog Photos | ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive Review
Intentionally walking into my own time-lapse shot to have a photo of myself at the Sydney Opera House – orange shirt and wearing my ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive

Conclusion
Those are really the biggest two points to me, can it fit all of my gear, and will it be comfortable to wear when doing so walking around all? I could probably keep writing about how nice the construction of the bag is, but if you know anything about ThinkTank Photo then you already know the bag is top-notch, but is the StreetWalker HardDrive the right one for you or a different size bag – that is the question. While the bag is almost bordering on the too big and boxy, it balances that fine line with a bevy of useful features that make you want to love the bag. If I just needed a walk around bag and didn’t need to bring my laptop with me, I would probably go for the slightly smaller StreetWalker Pro – which may be a next purchase, who knows! Though I did appreciate the extra space, even when being a tourist in Tokyo I had space inside to throw souvenirs, water bottles, snacks, etc in with my camera gear. For it’s primary purpose for this trip, getting a TON of gear through multiple international airports and being able to easily transport all of that gear to a week’s worth of wedding activities on foot, it performed flawlessly. The laptop compartment was definitely helpful as I was bringing my Macbook Pro with me each night of the wedding to show slideshows and of course on the plane. I wholeheartedly recommend this bag and ThinkTank Photo in general, though just double check which size StreetWalker is best for your needs. I’m eyeing the StreetWalker Pro myself and may add that to the arsenal sometime in the future =). If you want to read my other review of ThinkTank gear, here is my older review of the Retrospective 30 which also made it on this trip as my trusty working bag during the destination Indian wedding in Sydney, Australia.

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