ThinkTank Shape-Shifter Camera Bag Review
The ThinkTank Shape-Shifter is a unique backpack designed to transport camera gear between locations and become unobtrusive when not loaded. Unlike traditional camera bags, this one is configured to carry unassembled gear which is then moved to another carrying system at your destination. The Shape-Shifter is large enough to accommodate 2 full-frame DSLRs, 3 lenses, a 17" laptop, 2 flashes plus plenty of accessories.
The Shape-Shifter gets its name from its capability to compress when camera gear is removed. When fully loaded, it measures 12.5" x 20" x 7" which is qualifies as a carry-on bag with most airlines. Without the photo gear, a compression zipper reduces its depth to 3" while still carrying a laptop and accessories.
The exterior of this camera bag is made of extremely durable ballistic nylon with sturdy metal zippers. The back and shoulder straps are padded with spongy breathable material. Air channels at the back make it more comfortable to wear over prolonged periods. A retractable belt optionally provides additional support while being replaceable with a modular belt-system.
Extra protection is provided by a removable rain-cover. This cover protects the bag from rain and snow, while helping against dust and sand too. ThinkTank stands behind the durability of its products with a No Rhetoric Warranty to the original owner of the camera bag as long as the product is used.
The ThinkTank Shape-Shifter is available online from Amazon.
Every once in a while, a new products comes along that does not fit within existing categories. The ThinkTank Shape-Shifter is one of those products and is designed with a particular purpose. Many photographers, particularly photojournalists, prefer working without a camera bag. Instead, they use straps, harnesses or belts to keep their gear quickly accessible. The Shape-Shifter is designed to transport gear to the point where it is moved to a camera carrying system.
It is easy to realize that harnesses and belts are not suitable for long haul transport. This means that a photographer using such a system still needs to get his gear safely to his destination. There are certainly plenty of options to do this such as roller-cases, traditional camera backpacks, shoulder bags and even hard cases. All those options have, more or less, the same limitation which is basically the space they occupy. Other than backpacks, they are quite cumbersome to carry as well.
The solution ThinkTank devised is the Shape-Shifter. To improve upon traditional solutions, the Shape-Shifter does three important things:
- Compress to a relatively compact size when camera gear it taken out.
- Integrate with belt and harness systems to reduce interference between the two.
- Keep holding laptops and accessories which cannot be moved to carrying system.
This special backpack can be seen as comprised of three layers. The rear layer is entirely a well-padded laptop compartment, suitable for at least a 17" laptop with room for documents and folders. The middle layer is the camera compartment which features five soft neoprene pockets. The front layer is made of three flat unpadded pockets divided into plenty of small spaces. Within the top of these pockets is two small padded compartment for flashes or other small-but-delicate photographic equipment.
The key to how the Shape-Shifter works is the design of the middle compressible layer. It is a zippered compartment within the coil of an additional external zipper. When the external zipper is closed, it forces the camera compartment to be compressed. When open, the camera compartment is free to expand but still closes using the internal zipper. This is the same principle used in expandable suitcases.
The main compartment, being compressible, forgoes foam-dividers which are used by almost every other type of camera bag. Instead, five neoprene pockets offer their own light protection and secure gear in place using draw-string. Some additional protection is provided by the other layers of the backpack, mostly between the middle and laptop layers. This means that the Shape-Shifter is not suitable as a check-luggage, nor is it intended to be.
Camera gear is to be carried using the neoprene pockets which have a fixed configuration. There are two wide ones, each large enough for a DSLR with vertical-grip but without a lens mounted. There are two long pockets, designed for a telephoto lens, up to a 70-200mm F/2.8 or something with a longer reach but a smaller maximum aperture. The last pocket is mid-size and can hold a high-end general-purpose zoom such as a 24-70mm F/2.8. The neoprene is relatively stiff, so the fit varies according to the gear.
The front layer has a top pocket with multiple dividers. Most of them are open on top, so these are suitable for small items such as pens, notebooks, cards, etc, just nothing fragile. The last two divisions are padded and have a velcro strap to secure well-fitting content in place. This could be flashes or perhaps some filters. Below the top pocket is are two superimposed pockets. The outer one is a single open space. The inner one is twice as large and features two sturdy plastic zippered pockets. This is the ideal location for memory cards, batteries and remote triggers. The front of the backpack allows for optional straps to carry a tripod.
The ThinkTank Shape-Shifter integrates with camera carrying systems. Two metal loops, one on each shoulder strap, let this camera bag act as a harness for carrying one or two cameras. The built-in belt can be hidden or removed thanks to a flap at the bottom of the bag. Removing the belt lets another belt-system slip into the provided passage. This means that Think Tanks's Skin and Modular systems are completely compatible. It makes it easy to wear a Shape-Shifter as well as a belt-system.
In the end, the ThinkTank Shape-Shifter fulfills its purpose extremely well, providing a unique solution for photographers who prefer to not work out of a camera bag. The integration with other systems is key and the compression capability lets this camera bag provide a slim profile while being worn. Professionals working in a fast-paced environment will appreciate that they can quickly move their equipment from the Shape-Shifter to their preferred system without having to leave the pack somewhere.
The build-quality is top-notch and every component is durable. The shoulder straps and back padding are very comfortable even when the Shape-Shifter is fully loaded. While compressed, this backpack feels light and perfectly balanced since it stays close to the body. The design is refined, just like other ThinkTank products, with things like a transparent business card holder and webbing on the side of low-opening pockets. This is clearly product well-tuned for its purpose.
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