ThinkTank Sling-O-Matic 20 Camera Bag Review
The ThinkTank Sling-O-Matic 20 is a camera sling bag which can fit a professional DSLR plus several lenses including a large 70-200mm F/2.8. This is the middle size sling offered by ThinkTank and measures 11" W x 16.5" H x 6" D. This bag satisfies standard air-line carry-on rules and personal-item specifications on a number of airlines. It features a unique sliding rail system for switching shoulders without unfastening any clips.
Sling are one of the latest camera bag designs. These bags compromise between the comfort of a backpack and the accessibility of a shoulder bag. This is done using a single diagonal strap which lets the bag slide from the photographer's back to his front, enabling the gear to be accessed without taking it off. A complete description of the advantages and disadvantages of this and other types of camera bags is described in our Camera Bag Guide.
The exterior of the Sling-O-Matic 20 is mostly made of very sturdy ballistic nylon. The front and back surfaces are made of durable nylon with a smoother surface, most likely to provide a softer texture against the wearer. The contoured-strap is well padded from the top of the bag to about mid-length for extra comfort in the backpack position. There are strong nylon handles on three sides, one of which is placed to easily move the sling to the front position.
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 Sling-O-Matic is available online from Amazon.
The ThinkTank Sling-O-Matic 20 is a boxy camera bag with a deep rectangular interior measuring 10.25" W x 15.5" H x 5.5" D. This main compartment is very well padded on all sides. The outside of the sling has flat pockets on all sides. A specialized shoulder-strap is fixed to provide the movement needed to shift the bag between positions. It is also possible to lock the sling in place via provided belt and chest straps. These extra straps provide support in backpack position but must be detached to access gear.
Without a distinct front and back, the Sling-O-Matic 20 has a decidedly odd appearance. Like most ThinkTank products, this camera bag has an underwhelming appearance. It is designed for convenience rather than style and one feature greatly appreciated by professionals is to not attract attention. Even the company logo blends-in well without graphics or color.
Despite the simple exterior, this sling is built from quality materials and uses top-notch parts. The main compartment zipper is made of unpainted metal with an oversized coil for extra durability. The padding of the main compartment is dense and light, as is the one on the shoulder strap. There is a rotating metal buckle at the lower end of the bag strap to easily undo any twist.
The main compartment opens using a large flap which reaches the very edge of the bag on all but one side. This makes it extremely easy access gear with the sling in front. Using the default shoulder position, the flap conveniently opens away from the photographer. Otherwise it opens towards the photographer and really gets in the way. For this reason it is unlikely that a professional would end up changing the shoulder strap position.
There is a transparent plastic pocket inside the flap to store small items like memory cards and batteries. The remainder of the interior space is divisible using plenty of provided padded removable dividers. It is much more crucial to place the dividers well in a sling bag than any other type of camera bag due to the motion necessary to shift positions. Gear must be secured with padding between all items. Note that dividers in the vertical position with the bag in front become horizontal with the bag in back. The motion needed to change positions means an upside-down camera in backpack position becomes perfectly oriented in gear-access position.
Gear access is crucial for a sling and the ThinkTank Sling-O-Matic 20 excels at it. This is actually the very first sling tried here that opens fully enough to easily access all its gear, not just what happens to be on top. There is a perfectly placed nylon handle at the bottom of the sling to quickly shift it between positions. Just grab and pull. While it can be done extremely fast, it is better to slow down a little so that the moving shoulder-strap does not chaff your neck.
In the backpack position, the Sling-O-Matic is clearly more comfortable than a shoulder-bag that is also held by one shoulder but does so unevenly. Switching to the front position, the sling becomes uncomfortable since the part of the shoulder-strap that supports the bag there is thin and narrow. As such, a sling is not suitable to be carried for prolonged periods in front. This is true of all current slings, not just ThinkTank's. Compared to a backpack, the Sling-O-Matic is not as comfortable and needs to hang loose to arrive at a good height after being moved to the front. This describes well the compromise offered by sling bags: A bag which moves between two positions without ever being as comfortable as a bag designed for a single position.
There are mostly flat pockets on all sides of this sling. Both front and back sides feature large pockets with a recessed zipper to avoid bothering the wearer. These are slightly padded and can fit mostly flat items such as grey & white-balance cards, cleaning cloths, lens caps and quick-release plates. The main compartment flap has a smaller and unpadded pocket. This one too is for mostly flat items. The top of the sling has a business card holder, while the bottom has a double-ended pocket for storing extra straps.
The pocket opposite the main compartment is meant to store a tripod. It would take a very small tripod or gorillapod to actually fit entirely there. Luckily, there is another way. It is possible to insert one or two tripod legs in that pocket and use supplied accessory straps to hold it in place. It does work but not very well. Even with one of the shortest carbon fibre tripod legs, the ball-head which sticks out above the sling makes it very unbalanced. The top strap attachments are properly located but the bottom ones, being almost lined-up with the closed-end of the pocket, provide little support. It would be much better if the bottom of that pocket would open too. Of course, this pocket can be used for completely different items such as the rain cover, a camera cleaning kit, etc. Only fragile and small parts must be avoided since this pocket is unpadded and only closes with velcro.
There is no doubt that the Sling-O-Matic 20 is a very well designed sling. It gives easy access to a good amount of gear while being able to quickly shift positions thanks to a contoured shoulder-strap and well-placed handle. However, slings by their nature are bags of compromises and they do not provide the best comfort in either position, so not everyone will be happy with this type of camera bag. For some though, this is exactly the right compromise and the ThinkTank Sling-O-Matic 20 is an excellent choice for it.
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