What sets the Shape Shifter apart from other packs is its morphing design. It starts out with a tapered look, but unzip the bag and it expands to hold your gear, going from 3 inches in depth to 7 inches. Apart from that, the bag wears just like any photo backpack.
The Shape Shifter V2.0 has what’s needed for a comfortable hike or walk around town. Namely, it begins with contoured shoulder harness, sternum (chest) strap, and waist belt.
The included waist belt is not padded, but it works fine. It’s not removable in the usual sense, as it lacks clips. On the other hand, it can be removed with some effort. However, if you lift up the hook-and-loop-fastened bottom flap (which is padded to protect the bag at the bottom), you’ll reveal a hideaway behind the lumbar pad. If you don’t use the waist belt, then tuck it away. If you remove it, you can replace it with the padded Pro Speed Belt V2.0 (Think Tank, $41.75 - make sure to order in the right size). Instructions come with the pack for replacing the waist belt. The Pro Speed Belt is designed to carry extra gear, courtesy of the numerous attachment loops on the belt.
The back of the pack is comfortably padded, with an airflow design that makes it breathable. The shoulder straps are similarly configured to be breathable. And while the pack doesn’t have side compression straps normally found on outdoor packs, it does benefit from shoulder compression straps for a more personal fit. Another nice thing: the shoulder straps didn’t slip off my shoulders, which such straps have a tendency to do. That meant I didn’t have to use the chest strap, although to be thorough, I did carry the bag with all straps attached. It was a comfortable arrangement.
The main compartment has a single zipper. All other zippers are paired, and many are lockable.
If you want to use the pack as a daypack, for clothing and travel essentials, then you’d do best getting the Naked Shape Shifter. I would imagine that you could easily use the Naked Shape Shifter as a weekend getaway pack without adding any pouches. The Naked Shape Shifter is essentially the same pack as the one I tested, minus the sewn-in accoutrements.
Each Shape Shifter pack comes with a removable mesh water bottle pocket on the outside. I don’t know about the 15-inch Shape Shifter, but the pouch on the 17-inch version is large enough to easily hold my 32-ounce Nalgene. And the mesh means that condensation on the bottle’s exterior will be able to evaporate without the water forming puddles.
Before we open the pack, I did want to point out that the bag is surprisingly heavy, considering it lacks the usually dense padding inside and on the front and sides. But that’s also a sign of solid construction. As mentioned, the back is fully padded.
When expanded, the bag reveals an unpadded nylon shell along the top and sides. For this reason alone, I’d hesitate to take this pack on a strenuous outdoor hike where a backpack might be knocked about. But then again, that was never the design for this bag. It can easily take some jostling on a crowded bus or subway car.
One reason to love this bag: there are lots of pockets. First, there are 3 roomy pockets inside the front lid. Now move to the outside of the bag and you’ll find an abundance of pockets. For starters, there’s a padded sleeve that will hold a 17-inch laptop, along with a tablet in a separate padded sleeve – all in a section immediately to the rear of the main section. If you don’t carry a laptop, stick a jacket in here, or maps.
There’s a separate semi-padded tablet sleeve on the front of the bag. In fact, this sleeve offers protection for the camera gear, given the padding. I stuck the included rain pouch in a small upper outer pocket for additional padding from the front. There’s also an organizer pocket.
There’s even a pocket to hold the tripod legs, when carrying the tripod over the front of the bag (actually, this is the only way to carry a pod with this bag). That pocket can also be used for other stuff, since the included tripod straps should hold a lightweight tripod securely top and bottom (tripod straps included).
On the Inside
The expanded bag is deep enough to hold my rather girthy Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8. However, the bag is not really designed to hold a camera with attached lens, and for me that was originally the deal-breaker when Think Tank first introduced the original Shape Shifter. I prefer keeping one lens attached to the camera, so I can be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Still, not all situations require your camera to be constantly at the ready, and I was willing to give this a shot. And having said that, the new neoprene wrap may fit a body with a compact lens attached. I just didn’t feel it was worth the effort, since I’d have to swap lenses once I’d reached my destination.
In addition to the wrap, there are 4 pockets of varying size. I fit a Tamron 70-300mm zoom, Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8, and Nikon SB-700 flash in the pockets, with my Nikon D610 going inside the wrap. I still had one pocket available. I added a small padded divider to the bottom of the lowermost pocket to further pad that lens against bumps in the event I set the pack down a bit too hard. I would have done likewise with the other lower pocket had I used it. There was also room for a sling strap. If you have small lenses, simply wrap them well and double up to take advantage of the available room. Or if you stack them, add an unused padded divider or other padding between them. These pouches may be sewn in place, but they still leave room for some astute arrangements.
The 17-inch standard version leaves you plenty of room to throw in a jacket and some other stuff. And despite what you’re told in the introductory video on the Shape Shifter page, never ever put a water bottle inside a camera bag. And don’t put food inside the neoprene pockets, or you may find crumbs mixing with your lenses – a bad combination. For that matter, I wouldn’t put food anywhere inside the bag if you’re carrying camera gear—accidents do happen, and you wouldn’t want your trail mix mingling with your camera and lenses.
Working out of the bag was a charm. Granted, I still would have preferred to be able to use the bag with camera and my lens of choice attached, but I easily worked around that.
This bag comes in really handy if you don’t like to carry too much gear. You can still fit a second camera body in the pack, in place of one lens. But all in all, the gear carried is modest in scope and size. No really long, fast lenses here. This is a pack geared toward a DSLR, with or without grip. Most mirrorless systems will be swimming in the available space.
One recommendation. It’s very easy to forget to zip a bag or pocket. One solution is to standardize on how you employ the zippers. For faster access, the left and right zippers should meet at the apex or middle. When it rains, I tend to move them to one side. In other words, I keep all the zippers either centered or on the same side, so a quick glance can tell me that everything is secure. By the way, a rain pouch is included, but I use these only during a downpour. You shouldn’t need it in a light rain.
Who Should Use This?
DSLR photographers, street photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers, travel photographers, nature photographers with modest-size lenses.
Sturdy construction, but without the heavy padding associated with most photo backpacks; neoprene pockets replace the traditional modular, padded interior; a bit on the hefty side, but not uncomfortably so; comfy to wear and shoulder harness stays in place, not sliding off; comes with chest strap and simple unpadded waist belt, both of which work well.
I’m not exactly sure why you’d want to compress the bag, except when storing it empty in a closet. That aside, I’ve done a full 180 in my view of this bag. Originally I wasn’t too keen on the neoprene pockets, but now that I’ve actually used the bag, I see nothing wrong with them.
Oddly enough, you’d think the neoprene would make this bag a featherweight, but there is actually considerable heft to the bag, thanks in large measure to the fully padded back panel and shoulder harness, both designed for your comfort while touring your favorite city or on short nature hikes over mild terrain. The pack is not designed as a rough-and-tumble hiking pack, but in the city it certainly passes muster.
Where can I get more info?
Click this link.
Think Tank Photo
How much is it?
$279.75/Shape Shifter 17 V2.0
KEY FEATURES (per Think Tank Photo)
Shape Shifter 15 V2.0 & 17 V2.0 (17 V2.0 tested)
MATERIALS (Think Tank specs)
Exterior: For superior water-resistance, all exterior fabric has a durable water-repellant (DWR) coating, plus the underside of the fabric has a polyurethane coating. The bag also has 600D twill, YKK® RC zippers, 320g dry-flow airmesh, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
Interior: Removable closed-cell foam dividers, polyurethane backed liner and dividers, 200D polyester, laminated non-woven backed nylex liner, 2x polyurethane coated nylon 190T seam-sealed taffeta rain cover, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
SPECIFICATIONS (per Think Tank Photo)
Shape Shifter 17 V2.0 (bag tested)
Shape Shifter 15 V2.0
Naked Shape Shifter 17 V2.0
GEAR CAPACITY (Think Tank specs)
Shape Shifter® 17 V2.0 (bag tested)
Shape Shifter® 15 V2.0
Naked Shape Shifter 17 V2.0