Think Tank Photo was founded in 2005 by a group of four collaborators: two designers and two photographers (one of them is a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist). The small team set out to create innovative and well-constructed camera bags, cases and accessories for the photographer on the move. Up against large and successful incumbents like Lowepro and Tamrac – Think Tank Photo has not only held their own, but they’ve begun amassing a rapidly expanding fan-base, by taking a fresh approach to supporting traveling photographers around the world.
On the Move
Traveling photographers face increasing hurdles during these times of stingy baggage allowances, increased surcharges and restrictions on what can be carried onboard commercial aircraft. Helping the photographer navigate the proverbial gauntlet of TSA-fueled airport security checkpoints are two of the most versatile products from Think Tank Photo: the StreetWalker HardDrive camera backpack and the Sling-O-Matic 20 sling bag.
Pairing these two models of camera + lens bags makes for the ultimate blend of convenience and functionality for the travelling photographer. Empty, the StreetWalker HardDrive is just 4.5 pounds, and the Sling-O-Matic weighs in at just under 3 pounds. Think Tank Photo achieves this lightweight result by employing high quality synthetic materials that both save weight and provide superior protection for the user’s precious cargo. Both bags offer a streamlined, non-attention-grabbing appearance, and come in your choice of color as long as it happens to be black.
The first thing that I noticed about the StreetWalker HardDrive (11.5” W x 19” H x 8.5”D) was the flat bottom that allows the backpack to stand upright, even when completely full of fragile equipment. This design element is obviously the result of input from a photographer who has dealt with camera bags that sag and tip over, bringing along with them a cadre of expensive lenses and equipment. Beyond its well designed bottom, the StreetWalker practically swallows equipment with room to spare, yet somehow carries a smaller footprint than comparable bags of similar outer dimensions. The camera backpack fits into overheard compartments with ease and prevents the user from lugging a bulky backpack through crowded airports. In addition to handling the large array of camera equipment and accessories, the StreetWalker HardDrive also conveniently accommodates a laptop computer. The StreetWalker HardDrive has also proven its durability over the three years that I’ve been toting it across the globe. The lightweight material has held up nicely and the zippers still open smoothly and without snags. The straps have retained their elasticity and the color of the bag itself remains unfaded.
The typical compliment of photo gear I bring along with me on dive safaris includes: Canon 5dmk2 and 7d with grips attached, 2 Canon Speedlites and 7 lenses including the EF100-400L, EF24-105L, EF16-35L, 100mm and 50mm Macros, Tokina 10-17, Sigma 15mm fisheye, all sundry cords, caps, filters and cable releases in the main compartment plus a 15.6” laptop along with its power brick in the lower compartment. A plethora of external pockets hold digital media, beverages, travel documents, pens and business cards. The StreetWalker handles all of this with ease, and even tipping the scales at well over 30lbs, it sits comfortably on the back due to the advanced harness design; which distributes the load across the user’s shoulders. An airflow channel with a mesh liner helps keep the user cool and dry while wearing it and when the weather turns wet the StreetWalker comes with a separate rain coat that can be quickly deployed to fully enclose the pack. A top mounted handle makes placing or removing the bag from the overhead compartment easy and it even comes with a set of elastic straps for securing a tripod to it.
The Sling-O-Matic bags come in three sizes: the 10, 20 and 30. The smallest bag, the 10 (9” W x 16.5” H x 6” D), has room for a camera body with attached 70-200 f2.8 lens along with a couple of additional lenses and a flash. The 20 (being reviewed here, 11” W x 16.5” H 6” D) allows for a gripped or pro-body DSLR with an attached 70-200 with hood in shooting position, lenses and flash (though I’ve managed to fit two gripped bodies with attached lenses, a 100-400L and a 580ex Speedlite). The 30 (12” W x 17.25” H x 7.5” D) accommodates the same equipment as the 20 with the addition of a 16” laptop compartment. A great feature that the larger Think Tank bags have in common is the ability to stand upright when placed on a flat surface, keeping the areas that come in contact with the user (and the camera), clean and dirt free.
The beauty of a sling style bag is the quick access to the various compartments as well as the essential equipment. Instead of having to be removed as a backpack would be, in order to reach the camera or change change lenses, a sling pack only needs to be rotated forward and unzipped to access its contents. The innovative design that sets the Think Tank’s Sling-O-Matic series apart from other sling bags on the market is the unique sliding strap, which allows the user to switch shoulders while keeping the opening facing up. This innovative, pressure-relieveing feature is greatly appreciated by any photographer whose shoulder has gotten sore after carrying around a sling bag that only allows for carrying on one side. Like the StreetWalker HardDrive, the Sling-O-Matic is also incredibly sturdy, although it is more rigid feeling than the camera backpack. This is likely due to the need for a stiffer chassis for the unique sliding system. Regardless, the Sling-O-Matic is quite a bit more svelte than the Streetwalker and again, all three versions come with a separate rain cover and tripod retaining strap and pocket.
The StreetWalker HardDrive is a phenomenal camera backpack and allows the traveling photographer to carry a substantial amount of equipment with minimum fuss and bulk. The combination of strong, lightweight materials and thoughtful construction makes the backpack a superb choice for any traveling photographer. Upon reaching the destination, the photographer can easily transfer the appropriate equipment to the Sling-O-Matic, allowing for fast and convenient access to essential gear while on location. These two well-designed camera bags make for a perfect duo, with their intelligent and practical designs and complimentary capacities.