Don’t get me wrong: I still prefer to travel light, unencumbered by anything that might weigh me down. But there are occasions when you need that extra something to make your life easier on the trails or even while negotiating the streets, byways and alleyways of a distant shore and, notably, to facilitate lens changes wherever you happen to be, even close to home. The problem becomes even more pronounced when you’re carrying gear in a backpack and the ground is muddy or wet and you can’t find a dry spot anywhere to conveniently set the pack down so you can get at that gear. Or when you’re in a tenuous situation where it might not be prudent to turn your back for the few minutes it takes to access gear from a backpack that’s sitting on the ground (watch out for that buck behind you!). The Think Tank products that neatly fit the bill here are the Lens Case Duo and Lens Changer series.
And, speaking of wet, we don’t all use cameras and lenses that have been waterproofed. Even if we do, some added protection against rain and snow and blowing debris couldn’t hurt. That’s when a water-repellent rain hood comes into the picture. And Think Tank offers two solutions to tackle these nasty situations: the Hydrophobia Rain Cover V3.0 and Emergency Rain Cover series.
Finally, you may need some means to carry all these accessories conveniently. Attaching lens pouches to a backpack that you’ll first have to remove is counterproductive. And you can’t depend on the backpack’s waist belt since, sooner or later, you’ll be unfastening it, if you even buckle it in the first place, which I rarely do. And shoulder/sling bags don’t all provide attachment points. Besides, the added weight may add to the strain of carrying the bag at your side. And, whereas you could use the belt that holds up your pants, not everyone wears pants – or a belt. And even if you do, carrying accessories on your belt can be a real drag. So a special belt might be in order. And here too Think Tank comes to the rescue - with the Thin Skin Belt V3.0. The lens pouches we’ll be reviewing are designed to be carried on this belt, as well as the more heavily padded Pro Speed Belt V3.0 (not reviewed here).
Lens Case Duo
As requested, Think Tank sent over the Lens Case Duo 20 ($28.75) and Lens Case Duo 40 ($32.75). (I chose the more fashionable green version.) The Duo pouches are made of sturdy stuff – yet lightweight – and are fully enclosed, with dual access via a zippered top flap or zip-down opening – hence “Duo.” These pouches also feature mesh side pockets to hold lens caps and such. Most Duo pouches come with a shoulder strap.
The important thing to keep in mind is that you should buy a size that fits the longest lens you expect to be switching out. So, if I’m carrying my Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 and Tamron 100-400, I would consider taking the Duo 40 – the larger of the two Duo pouches I received, to accommodate either lens. If I were only concerned with my short zooms and, say, a macro lens, the Duo 20 would likely be my choice. Just to be sure, I’d test each lens inside the pouch in advance.
If you’re adding accessories behind the lens, factor that into the equation. And be sure to also consider the lens shade, as some hoods add considerably to the girth of the lens – and, obviously, length, if left in place and ready for action. Leaving the shade (or any accessory that you’ll later need) inside your camera bag would defeat the purpose behind using the pouch.
One recommendation I’d offer Think Tank is this: add a fabric panel inside the pull-down zip hatch. I’m a bit nervous about a lens toppling out if this is left open for any reason, if, say, you got momentarily distracted when someone suddenly calls your attention to the Blue Jay that landed nearby. Of course, one could argue that this could also prevent you from quickly accessing the lens. Just a thought, Think Tank.
BTW – the Duo is also a great choice if you find a need to pack lenses in a suitcase, provided it’s not tossed in with baggage. Or if you use Think Tank's Naked Shape Shifter 17 V2.0, which should easily accommodate a number of these pouches in its spacious interior.
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Who Should Use Think Tank Accessory Pouches, Rain Covers & Belts?
Nature & wildlife photographers, travel photographers, street photographers, sports photographers.
Each accessory is a practical solution designed to meet your needs on location.
This lineup of Think Tank accessories will clearly come in handy. There are just a few logistics to consider.
One of the things you may fail to take into consideration is that each Duo pouch is its own bag and might be viewed as additional carry-on luggage, notably the larger sizes. One or two pouches might be a practical limit, but that still begs the question: How to bring them aboard? Before boarding a plane, you may have to consolidate everything inside your suitcase. You might be tempted to stow socks and underwear inside the pouches, but that’s well and good when clean, an entirely different story on the return flight. Better still, stow a smaller pouch inside a larger one, if possible. Another thought: clip or lash the pouches to the outside of your carry-on.
If you wear the belt with pouches attached, you’ll have to remove the belt during a security check. And there’s still the problem of what to do with it once seated inside the crowded aircraft. I often stuff my photo vest pockets, which then makes for a really uncomfortable ride. So, what to do? I’m thinking, I’m thinking…
The Lens Changers are designed so that you can become a quick-change artist with your gear. They’re lighter and less padded than the Duo, and for good reason. They’re meant more for temporary, rather than long-term, portage.
The access portal is fully open for easy and quick access, with a drawstring and padded "tongue" to help secure the lens from slipping out when you’re moving around. What about rain, you ask? Included in a zippered bottom hatch is a seam-sealed rain cover. Almost forgot… there are also two small external pockets on this pouch, though I don’t see a lens cap fitting in either. One large pocket would have been preferable.
I opted for the pouch that would cover the range of lenses I normally carry – and that’s the stratagem I recommend you use. One added benefit to the Lens Changer 35 is that it also makes an ideal carrier for a shoe-mount flash. Think Tank does also offer a separate flash pouch, I should point out. (Verify suitability of Lens Changers to the gear you expect to carry.)
The moniker Hydrophobia obviously derives from a fear of getting wet – or more to the point, a fear of getting your gear wet. And Think Tank is no slouch when it comes to addressing a photographer’s fear of water, as is evident in every pack and bag they make. The Hydro rain cover is no exception, with multiple layers of protection.
The Hydro 3 comes in five sizes, to fit different lenses on both DSLR and Sony full-frame mirrorless. It’s like buying a tailored jacket – up to a point. I received the Hydrophobia Rain Cover D 70-200 V3.0 (“D” for DSLR) and Hydrophobia Rain Cover M 70-200 V3.0 (“M” for mirrorless) - each $124.75. While I don’t own a mirrorless camera (yet), I do test them, so the mirrorless version may come in handy at some point. These will also fit a 100-400mm zoom. And then there’s the big daddy of Hydro covers, the Hydrophobia DM 300-600 V3.0 ($149.75 - for DSLR or mirrorless). This one fits nicely on my Tamron 150-600mm G2 attached to a Nikon D500. And it comes with an extension sleeve for oversized glass. The smaller Hydro covers also come with an integrated neckstrap that wraps around the lens inside the rain cover - for a secure fit (via a Velcro-style band). While the neckstrap appears to have a firm grasp on the lens, that was only after I'd tightened it. (So don't rush the job, as I did initially.) For added security, I'd attach a wrist strap to the camera and hold onto it while on the move.
The new Hydro 3 series is said to improve upon the old design, which I’d never used, so I can’t really speak to any practical enhancements. I was never really one for actively sheltering my camera from the elements, aside from simply being prudent about the degree of exposure. A light rain or mist or even snow is usually no problem. Introduce a tempest into the equation, and I become more cautious: I don’t want rain or snow falling on my optics. And in a downpour, I keep my gear safely tucked away (I say that on paper, but in the field the story often changes). That’s where the Hydro would come in handy. It’s designed to let you operate the camera while keeping it fully protected (but don't neglect that lens shade as an integral component in protecting the optics).
- Pro Tip - for snow that hasn't melted, blow it off with something like a Giottos Rocket Blower - not your breath (which may form freezing condensation or spittle on optical surfaces). If snow has melted, dab it dry (don't wipe) with a clean cotton handkerchief - I carry a spare under these conditions. Don't use the same handkerchief on the camera body and lens to avoid transferring oils from the camera to the optics.
The Hydro 3 has some neat tricks up its sleeve. In fact, it has two sleeves, so you can get at the camera with both hands while avoiding getting hands and camera wet, even with the camera on a tripod. In fact, you can fit the cover over the tripod-mounted camera. Using the sleeves gives you full access to the tripod’s knobs, as well as camera controls. There’s also a zippered flap that prevents water from splashing up onto the camera from below. The YKK zipper is a bit stiff, but that likely comes from a design that’s meant to keep out the elements. (Think Tank has never skimped on materials or hardware.)
- Pro Tip - if the camera body has gotten wet before you've added the rain cover, take a moment to dry it first. To avoid mold, don't leave the rain cover on the body after you're done using it, especially in humid tropical conditions.
Another nice feature is the plastic window that lets you see the LCD and camera controls. Provided you don’t seriously crimp the window, it should hold up for years of use. Think Tank says the plastic won’t yellow, noting it's “phthalate-free PVC,” but by the same token, I’d recommend avoiding exposure to direct sunlight (UV rays) for long periods just to play it safe. There are even convenience features, such as an eyepiece flap at the top and built-in pouch to store your original eyepiece when switching it out with the dedicated Hydro Eyepiece.
As we've just alluded to, one accessory you’ll need with the Hydro is the special Hydrophobia Eyepiece ($19.75), which replaces the camera’s eyepiece. While inexpensive, the Eyepiece has to be ordered for your model camera body, so it’s something to take into consideration - but the same eyepiece can be used with different-size Hydro covers.
This dedicated eyepiece mounts to the outside of the Hydro cover. Why do you need it in the first place? The rubber iris that acts as a gasket and surrounds the eyepiece aperture is too thick to accommodate the camera's original eyepiece. BTW - the eyepiece is itself cushioned for comfort.
It is a bit of a production to fit the Hydro over camera and lens, along with restoring it in its pouch. So it’s not something you’d want to try for the first time at the last minute. You might want to do a couple of practice runs to become familiar with the process, and do a refresher before departing on your next trip.
The only real downside to the Hydro 3 series is size and weight. I wish the pouch the Hydro came in had been fitted with a belt loop, so it could sit on the modular Thin Skin Belt V3.0. As is, you’ll need a carabiner (not included) as a link between pouch and belt.
Also noteworthy, each Hydro 3 comes with an attached rain cap (neatly hidden away when not in use) that slips over the front of the lens. This way, you don’t have to bother with the lens cap when not shooting – or you can use it as an expedient during really horrendous conditions. (Keep in mind - it's fabric, not plastic, so watch that you don't bump the lens into any protruding objects.)
The Hydro 3 should also be a practical choice when shooting at the beach, to keep blowing sand and water spray away from the camera. While I rarely recommend this, a protective filter would be a wise addition to protect the front element when the camera is in use in these situations.
- Pro Tip - allow rain covers to air-dry before packing them away.
This loosely fitting rain cover is a much scaled-down version of the Hydro 3. It folds down (in its own pouch) to a much more compact size and is considerably lighter - and much less costly - than its more robust sibling. And there's no dedicated neckstrap.
Lacking all the more sophisticated touches, notably the sleeves and dedicated eyepiece, the Emergency Rain Cover doesn’t offer the degree of protection afforded by the Hydro. Essentially a single-layer fabric, it’s a Think Tank camera bag cover made for your camera and lens – with some nice extras thrown in. At one end (well, technically, more in the middle), a hot shoe mount secures the cover in place (sliding in from the back of the camera just as your flash does) while, at the front end, a Velcro-style strap holds tight around the lens hood, similar to the Hydro.
The chief advantage to the Emergency Rain Cover is just that – for emergencies, and it's much more compact and lightweight, compared with the Hydro, so it's easier to carry. It also goes in place with much less fuss, and can be removed just as easily. If it can be said to have any deterrents it would be the plastic window that gives you visual access to camera controls - and focusing/composition. Using this plastic window to fine-tune focusing can be a bit iffy, which is where the Hydro and dedicated eyepiece are a noteworthy benefit. That aside, this simpler rain cover is fast, practical – and economical.
- Pro Tip - there is one proviso, and this would apply to any lens cover: If your lens uses a petal-shaped lens shade (hood), make sure not to cover up the petals out to the edge, as that may cause vignetting. You should have no problem with conventional lens hoods that uniformly shade the lens. So, in practical terms, this would be a concern with my Tamron 24-70 zoom, but not the 150-600. On the other hand, covering the lens shade entirely is much less of a concern during a heavy rain, especially if your subject is more or less occupying the center of the frame, clear of the edges that might get vignetted and later cropped out.
The Thin Skin Belt lets you conveniently attach many of Think Tank’s accessory pouches. In fact, the belt lets you carry a number of them at the same time. But you’d want to limit yourself, to be practical. Take into consideration whether you’ll also be using a backpack or sling bag – either choice will dictate the arrangement of pouches on the belt, although you can swing the belt around when needed.
Don’t be misled by the name “Thin Skin.” The belt is quite substantial. I can see it lasting years under a variety of challenging conditions. In terms of packing it away, I would put it on a par with a thick leather belt, except that this is made of fabric. Unless you wear the belt, you can pack it in a suitcase, running its length along the inside of the case. When passing through an airport inspection and asked to remove belts, I’d remove this belt as well, especially with any pouches attached. Metal hardware is part and parcel of this belt - it's not just plastic and nylon.
The concept behind Think Tank's Thin Skin Belt is commendable, but the belt could be better. The length of the belt might not be enough for someone with a wide girth. And tightening – or loosening – the belt is a bit of a chore once you don it.
- Pro Tip - basically, fit the belt before taking it on that long trek, but be prepared to make adjustments if you find yourself adding or removing layers of clothing while hiking. And try the belt on first with every layer you expect to wear – and with the fewest layers, so there won’t be any surprises. You want a snug fit, but not uncomfortably so. What’s important is securing the belt so it doesn’t slide downward while you’re negotiating some treacherous terrain. Of course, during warmer weather, you could simply wear the belt inside any jacket or vest you might be wearing, which eliminates these variables. With a heavy winter coat that remains zipped, that approach is not practical.
Think Tank also offers the Camera Clip Adapter V.3.0 so you can use a Peak Design or Spider camera clip with this modular belt. I’m not a fan of these clips, so I didn’t check out this accessory.