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The Skinny on Think Tank Photo's Shape Shifter Backpack

The Skinny on Think Tank Photo's Shape Shifter Backpack

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This bag holds a lot of gear, but can skinny up on assignment

By Jack Howard

June 5, 2009

Think Tank Photo knows a big part of their core market is hardcore pro shooters, and this bag is designed for haul the modern PJ kit to the assignment: pro bodies, wide zoom, midzoom, short tele, strobe, gadgets, and laptop but then skinny up while shooting. If you get how cool that is, you'll want to get this Shape Shifter.

 

As amazing as it sounds to say, there's not a single hook/loop foamy divider section shipped with the Think Tank Shape Shifter. Instead, this international carry-on regulation conforming backpack's main compartment has locking pullstring pockets made out of a thick springy fabric that's kind of, but not exactly, like a kangaroo pouch made out of wetsuit material. Each of  these pockets are shaped slightly differently, but pro level bodies will fit into a couple of them, and a 70-200 f/2.8s will fit others. And once the six pockets are filled with gear, there's usually enough room inside the bag's main pocket for a Gitzo Traveler Carbon Fiber tripod. Three mesh pockets (one zipped) face the pockets on the front wall of the main compartment for filters, gadgets, and such. Fullsized tripods can be lashed to outside of the bag with included, but removable tripod straps. 

Flush against the back is a top-opening laptop compartment that will easily hold a 17-inch MacBook or other megalaptop.  The top front compartment fit gadgets, accessories, pens, granola bars and such. Two dedicated hook/look pockets are perfectly sized for hauling a full-size iPod/iPhone or a portable USB harddrive. The square lower pocket has two semi-transparent small gadget pockets and has a soft divider in the main section. This pocket is big enough to easily haul a hardcover book and full-wrap headphones in a carrying case. There's a small flat undivided pocket on the outside of the big lower pocket that is challenging to use for anything more than a few scraps of paper when the bag is fully over-loaded,.

Breathable fabric shoulderblade and lumbar pads make the bag comfortable against the human's decidedly non-linear backs for the long haul, despite the laptop pocket placement. Backpack straps are nicely padded, are adjustable at top and bottom, and have a cross-sternum stabilizer that slides up and down a few inches for a custom and comfortable fit for photographers of different shapes, sizes and gender.  Each strap has an integral D-ring, and there's mounting straps for optional Think Tank Camera Support dog-leash style clips to jive with the Think Tank Camera Strap. Little stretchy pockets on the lower section of the straps can be used for holding a pen, cellphone, or tucking in the strapping for the Camera Support straps. Under the lumbar pad is a hideaway waist belt for long hikes.
So far, the Shape Shifter sounds like just another variation on the modern PJ bag, but its when it gets to be time to shoot that the Shape Shifter really shines. Any shooter that's ever been in tight quarters while lugging a big, bulky empty bag around will love what happens when it's time to shoot. The main pocket, once emptied, can be compressed by an external zipper. This significantly skinnies up the Shape Shifter, making you much more agile while shooting!

Also very cool: the the lumbar pad bottom unfastens from the bag body. This is cool because this means that you can easily slide a belt-based speed system on, and not get bunged up with the bag. And this also means you don't have to put your bag down, so there's much less risk of losing your bag (and laptop!)  If you get how cool this is, you'll get how cool this bag is, both in concept and execution.



The bag in the slideshow isn't factory-crisp and clean because I seriously field test each bag I review.


Per the Think Tank Photo design philosophy that function is fashion your only color choice is black. It does take some adjustments and some experimenting for best layout with sliding gear in and out of the pouches, but Think Tank does ship a suggested layout template for popular Nikon and Canon kits, (these are also good starting points for shooters of Pentax, Olympus, and Sony kits, too.)

There's tons of bigger backpacks on the market, and there's tons of smaller backpacks on the market, but there's not many other bags out there that can haul a respectable day-to-day photojournalist kit and then skinny up to briefcase size with a quick zip. If you get how cool this is, you may seriously want to consider the Think Tank Shape Shifter. I wish it were around back in my newspaper days!

Let us know what you think! What bags should we review next?

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