By Suzi Pratt
Finding the perfect camera bag is a challenge in today’s world where every bag style is possible. From messenger bags to belt packs to purses, there are many different camera bags out there to tickle your fancy. While the trend recently may be minimalist and compact, I’d like you to consider for a moment the exact opposite – a large, yet highly versatile, camera backpack known as the Think Tank Shape Shifter.
In general, many bags suffer from giving off the feeling and appearance of too much bulk, while at the same time not having nearly enough space for all of one’s camera gear. The Think Tank Shape Shifter is ingenious in that it is designed specifically to go from thin and skinny, to large and expansive, whenever you need it to. Top that flexibility off with fantastic padding and back support, as well as lots of pockets to hold all sorts of gear, and you have what I deem to be the perfect camera bag.
The Shape Shifter’s key feature is its flexibility in sizing, thanks to its rather simple zipper system. Similar to how luggage works, you simply unzip a section of the bag when you need it to expand, or zip it up to minimize the size. At its most compressed, the Shape Shifter measures 3 inches in diameter, and 7 inches at its maximum expansion.
As you can expect from all Think Tank bags, the Shape Shifter is built tough, despite having a minimalist profile. Featuring a black water-resistant exterior fabric, it also comes with a seam-sealed removable rain cover, just in case of a sudden downpour. The straps and back padding are made of 3D air mesh with a breathable air flow system, making the bag extremely comfortable to wear for long periods of time. There are also strong waist and chest straps to help equally distribute the bag’s weight across your upper body. The ergonomic value here is especially high, since backpacks already do a better job of equalizing the weight of heavy gear, as opposed to a one-sided messenger bag.
There are several main pockets in the Shape Shifter including a compartment for a laptop, up to 17″, and a huge compartment full of stretchable neoprene pouches for holding lenses and camera bodies. Alternatively, you could also stuff about four size small t-shirts in the pouches if you wanted to use the bag as a makeshift suitcase. There are also smaller zippered pockets on the bag’s exterior, where smaller items such as batteries and memory cards can be stored. Larger items such as tripods and lighting stands can also be strapped to the backpack if needed, using two sturdy straps that come with the bag.
I took the Shape Shifter on a trial run while photographing the USGA U.S. Open at Chambers Bay recently. Needing to take along a majority of my photography equipment, I managed to fit all of the following into the backpack:
- (2) Camera bodies (Canon 6D and 5D Mark III)
- (3) Lenses (Canon 40mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8)
- (1) Flash (Canon 580 EXII)
- (2) Flash Triggers (Yongnuo)
- (1) Laptop (Apple 15″ MacBook Pro Retina Display)
- Camera accessories (memory card wallet, spare batteries)
- Laptop accessories (card reader, external hard drive, charger)
- Other goodies (sunscreen, sunglasses, mints, credentials holder, notebook)
The resulting bag was admittedly pretty heavy, but the comfortable back padding and straps made the bag much easier to carry despite the added weight.
Versatile, despite shortcomings
One of the biggest challenges that the Shape Shifter has is in its ability to carry your whole photo studio. You can indeed do just that, but the bag gets extremely heavy, and some gear is difficult to reach without stopping to unzip and lay out the entire bag. Additionally, the structure of the bag makes it hard to carry preassembled cameras (lens attached) in it, meaning it is meant to have the lens and bodies in separate pouches rather than attached as one unit. The best way around this is to simply wear your cameras while shooting, and keep items you don’t need regular access to in the Shape Shifter.
Alternatively, you could also convert the Shape Shifter into a more functional daypack or suitcase, since its pockets and design don’t restrict it from being used as solely a camera bag. Say you’re travelling by air and trying to meet the two bag carry-on limit. You could put the majority of your camera gear that you need to be readily accessible in a smaller bag such as the Think Tank ChangeUp, and use the Shape Shifter to carry your overnight travel items and excess gear. Again, the big benefit of the Shape Shifter is its ability to shrink or enlarge depending on your needs.
Have you tried out the Think Tank Shape Shifter? Did it meet your expectations? Let me know in the comments below!
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