Well, let me just add this. There is decidedly a place for a shoulder bag - for some people, on certain occasions. If I were a wedding photographer, I wouldn't want to show up at a wedding wearing the backpack I normally use.
But I’m not a wedding photographer. In my role as nature/wildlife photographer and travel/street shooter, I head out these days with one of my MindShift Gear photo backpacks. When I have to travel light, as when I'm flying, I carry gear in my Think Tank Photo StreetWalker pack, because it’s compact yet holds a fair amount of gear - and it will fit under the airline seat in front of me. Provided I’m not carrying my clothes in a second, larger backpack, that is - which would be the case in this instance. Toting two backpacks just didn't make much sense. Which brings me to this compact shoulder bag.
My Camera Bag Solution
For my recent trip to New York City, I needed a small camera bag, one that would easily fit inside the backpack. I wanted my hands free of any additional luggage and didn't want anything else hanging off my shoulder. What's more, if I'd decided to carry it separately, the bag had to be small enough to easily pass as my “personal” carry-on item when boarding the plane.
That carry-on backpack, by the way, was originally a photo backpack from which I’d removed the padded insert. And, no, it’s not one from Think Tank Photo or MindShift Gear – I’d never relegate those packs to such lowly a task. I’d stopped using photo backpacks from other manufacturers to carry photo gear because I realized that they were not as comfortable or as practical or as protective of my gear as these packs from MindShift or Think Tank.
I knew of one bag that would fit my needs for this trip. My solution was Think Tank Photo’s Retrospective Leather 5, the smallest size in this series.
What I Had in Mind for This Bag
On this New York trip I was planning to carry my Nikon D610 with Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC lens attached. And this bag was the perfect size for that. I wasn’t planning to take extra lenses.
I often set out with just one lens to challenge myself to explore the different perspectives and viewpoints in my compositions this lens would allow. What I especially like about this 24-70mm lens is that it’s image-stabilized. And it’s a great all-purpose lens, especially under dim lighting conditions!
What’s more, I don’t like carrying body and lenses detached because that slows down your response time immeasurably. Yes, carrying separate components – body and lenses - would have allowed me to carry an extra lens – but then what happens when you have to put the camera away, especially in a rush? There would be no room, unless you detached the lens. So why start out at a deficit was my argument! Not to mention, you may not be in a dust-free or weather-conducive environment when it comes time to attach or change lenses, or somewhere that you’re comfy letting your guard down while messing with the camera.
Oddly enough, I still had room for one more key item: my flash. I was able to comfortably stuff my Nikon SB-700 into the outside front pocket without bulking the bag out much. Yes, there was room for the flash inside the bag, but I found it hindered quick access to the camera, and worse, got in the way when trying to replace the D610 inside the bag. This proved to be the best and most practical carrying solution, giving me easy access to camera and flash.
(I should also note that I wear a photo vest - a great way to carry lots of small stuff, including a pocket camera, while getting around carry-on restrictions, although it does go through the airport security scanner, along with my bags.)
Retrospective Leather 5 Key Features
The leather Retrospective is a more elegant version of the all-canvas version released several years back. Not that the original wasn’t stylish in its own right. Still, leather, especially when it’s of good quality, does have a nice ring to it. And it’s considerably more fashionable. The leather series comes in three sizes, whereas the original Retrospectives are available in numerous configurations.
Here are the key features, from a Think Tank Photo press release (with my comments/observations added).
- Hook-and-loop “Sound Silencers” eliminate the noise of front flap hook and loop. (You can take this route and use the clasp, but I found it’s faster and easier to work with the hook-and-loop fasteners, if a bit noisier - but easily overlooked on a noisy New York City street. For quicker access maybe just silence one of the fasteners.)
- High quality YKK zippers, metal hardware, leather accents, premium build. (The YKK zippers really do make a difference in any bag. There’s plenty of leather, so it’s more than just “accents.” From what I’ve read on the Internet, Dakota leather, which is used here and by BMW, is very durable. But don’t expect that heavy leather smell, which, frankly, I was looking forward to.)
- Adjustable cushioned nonslip shoulder strap for all day comfort. (Works nicely! That said, I wear the bag sling-fashion, which is doable with a light load. The strap webbing goes all the way around. This level of support is especially important in the largest bag.)
- Easily accessible front organizer with key tether. (I never use key tethers in a bag, but I can appreciate the organizer pocket. There are also side pockets that hug the bag – perfect for spare batteries, although batteries should be stored inside the bag in freezing cold weather to take advantage of the insulation.)
- Stiffened, padded removable dividers. (Since I carry the camera with lens attached, I take some of these dividers and form an added cushioning layer at the bottom, as a buffer in case I set the bag down too hard. I do the same with all my backpacks. Essentially, I “float” these dividers so there’s a layer of air underneath, which still leaves plenty of room to position the camera with the grip up for a fast grab. And there's room to stow small items such as filters in this new "compartment.")
- Inner zippered pocket for important documents. (I keep overlooking this option. There’s also a zippered pocket on the back, against your body. There is also a pair of inner side pockets for batteries in cold weather.)
- Removable carrying handle for grab and go convenience. (Don’t remove it. When you board the plane, tuck the shoulder strap inside – it’s not detachable. Now carry this more compact bag by the handle and conveniently stow it under the seat in front of you.)
- Webbing attachment points to accommodate modular pouches or a carabineer. (I attach a water bottle or pouch here on either side.)
- Seam-sealed rain cover included. (Very, very nice touch!)
In the Field
For starters, the bag was a perfect fit under the seat in front of me, even on a relatively small commuter jet, Endeavor Air, to be specific.
Because the bag was so small and held a minimum amount of gear, carrying it was not uncomfortable in the least. In fact, I slung the shoulder strap over my neck. I hate it when a shoulder bag keeps sliding off the shoulder. I should add that the shoulder pad on this bag is quite nice, with strips on the underside designed for a secure purchase on the shoulder.
Still, simply carrying the bag on your shoulder invites someone on the street to grab it. Which is also a good reason for using a sling strap on the camera. And, thankfully, there was room enough for that camera sling strap as well inside the bag.
If you’re into shoulder bags and, like me, don’t want to get weighed down with a big bag, then Think Tank Photo’s Retrospective Leather 5 is the perfect choice.
Of course, if you’re a wedding or portrait shooter, the Retrospective Leather 30, the largest in this new series, would be a logical alternative to a roller case, especially if you constantly need both hands free to shoot while moving about. And it would reflect a certain air of professionalism and sophistication while providing quick access to gear.
But, again, I needed a bag that was compact and lightweight and would hold just one DSLR with wide-to-tele zoom attached, and this was a good fit.
Whether boarding a plane, or walking around the streets of New York or in the subway system, or shooting in the American Museum of Natural History, I always felt assured that I had my camera readily accessible and well protected.