Think Tank’s Shape Shifter – Review
One of the goodies I received early this January along with my 5D, was the new hot-off-the-line Think Tank Shape Shifter. This bag is a whole new design for Think Tank and I gotta tell you, I like it. The bag is different than any other bag I have ever seen or used in the past. Its design is unique in that it does not use the typical foam and Velcro divider concept in the main compartment, but uses neoprene pouch like pockets. The reason being, they collapse easier and more flat. The whole concept of the Shape Shifter was to make a bag that could easily transport gear to the site and then collapse and save space. I have used the bag twice now, once to Cambodia and then to Bangkok for my meeting with David and Gavin. The bag worked as expected and beyond.
First let me describe the bag. It is made of high quality ballistic cloth and is, thus, pretty much indestructible. This is good and bad. It lasts forever; good, but then you never get to buy a new bag because your old one has never worn out; bad. Well, not really. I guess, overall, this is a good thing. The Shape Shifter is a backpack or rucksack style bag with contoured shoulder straps and a padded airflow system that vents the space between your back and the bag. The Shape Shifter comes with a simple nylon waist belt. The first thing I did was to disconnect it, replace the nylon belt with my Steroid Speed Belt. The design allows the user to open up the Velcroed lumbar support and place any one of Think Tank’s belts from their Modular systems under it and use them as a waist belt. I prefer the Steroid Speed Belt as it is wider and gives better support with the bag fully loaded. I also saved space by not having to pack my Steroid Speed Belt. Once I got to my location, I tore the belt off, loaded the skins on it and off I went shooting. The bag is made with two large compartments, one to hold a laptop, and the other camera lenses and bodies. The laptop compartment is big enough for my 17 inch MacBook Pro. Heck, it is big enough for my 17 inch MacBook Pro in the Think Tank Artificial Intelligence case. This is good, and I will tell you why. Too many times I get to a hotel and there is no WiFi in the rooms only in the lobby. If I don’t have a case like the Artificial Intelligence, then I have to carry the computer and cords down to the lobby in my hands; not good on so many levels. So this way you can pack the laptop in it’s case while in the camera bag and once you arrive at your hotel you have the Artificial Intelligence Laptop case ready to use around the hotel. When I travel I leave the Artificial Intelligence unzipped so I can easily extract the computer at security checks.
The camera compartment is the guts of this bag and what makes it special. The inside of the camera compartment is lined with five neoprene pockets – two pockets to hold two pro DSLR bodies without the lens attached. Then three other pockets for lenses. One is large enough for a 70-200 f/2.8 with lens hood reversed, another fits the 24-70 f/2.8 with lens hood reversed, and the remaining pocket can hold a 17-40 f/4 without the lens shade. Think Tank says it can hold 16-35 2.8 or similar hood reversed but I found it was too tight. The lens hood for the 17-40 really sticks out wide and it might fit, but I was afraid it might get smashed and it was simpler just to remove it and put it into one of the mesh pockets in the same compartment. I found the pockets easy to get gear in and out of. The only catch is that you need to empty the top pockets first before you can empty the lower ones. This is a minor inconvenience, but not a deal killer at all. Remember, this is a bag not meant to shoot out of. The design of this bag is for transporting the gear, then empty the gear out into your modular system whilst minimizing the bag down to 3 to 4 inches in width.
On the outside of the bag, you will find three additional pockets. The top one is a small organizer and has two expandable pockets inside that are big enough for my OWC Mercury On-The-Go Pro™ drives in each compartment. It may seem like a minor thing, but the pen slots in this bag are larger than many other bags. In so many bag organizers the slot for your pens seem to be made for a #2 pencil or a Bic pen. In this bag I can slide a large fat pen or, (and this is not a minor issue) a large Cohiba Siglo III cigar tube. The next pocket down is gusseted and is big enough for my Sony Noise Canceling Headphones that I keep in my Think Tank Bum Bag as well as a book and a magazine or two. Then the last pocket on the outside is a pretty straight forward pocket near the bottom that I use to store the rain cover of the bag. This pocket is also meant to secure the base of your tripod, if you choose to use the optional tripod lashing straps that come with the bag.
The whole bag is made extremely well and, as with all Think Tank products, is thought through. I am 6 feet and have the belt line of a 50 year old man (I am working on it, ok?!). But I found the pack fit me well and very comfortably. When fully loaded it was heavy, but that is not the bag’s fault, that is the glass I am carrying in it. Yet, the bag did not wear me down or hurt my shoulders in any way. Fully loaded it fit easily into the overhead or under the seat in front of me on all my Air Asia flights. Once I made it to my hotel I was pleased to find that the bag fit easy into my PacSafe 55 wire mesh and I was able to secure the bag and the contents to a metal desk in my room so I could breathe easy.
One of my pet peeves with bag manufactures is that they put corded zipper pulls on compartments that carry valuable items. Think Tank did not do this with this bag. The two main compartments, the one for the gear and the one for the computer, both have corded pulls but they have interlocking eyes that you pass a lock of some sort through. Finally someone is thinking! Now can I suggest a metal cable on the top handle. The North Face trolley bag I have have has this, and if I need to take a nap at an airport, I know I can lash a cable through the “cabled” handle and with the zippers really secure I can sleep well, knowing my bag is not going to walk off.
Now, what would I do different with this bag had I designed it? Not much, in fact I found no real flaws with this bag and what it was designed to do. Here are a few suggestions that might give the bag some added value. I already suggest the cabled handle at the top of the bag. It would have been nice to have the option to slide the handle of my Think Tank Airport Security between the bag and the lumbar and back support. At one point in one of these trips I took the bag off my back and was only going a short way to the taxi. The bag was so heavy that it would have been nice to just slide the bag down the handle and forgo putting it on my back. I found I could put most of my valuable gear in the Shape Shifter and the less costly gear and more compact gear in my Airport Security. This option did two things, it gave me a peace of mind that if I had to check the Airport Security for some reason, I knew I had my MK II safely on my back, and the second was it made my Airport Security much lighter and easier to stow in the overhead.
In conclusion; I think I will be adding this bag to my travels. The ease of use and convenience is what I had hoped for. I had been traveling with the Think Tank Urban Disguise 60. It is great, but limiting on the gear it can carry. This bag allows me to load up and the fact it looks nothing like a camera bag is also a nice security factor. Over all I give this bag high ratings for design and functionality. Fully loaded it is heavy and can be a strain on your back, but again, this is your issue not the bag’s. You just need to join me for more sit-ups.