As photographic companies are concerned, Think Tank is fairly young. The company was founded in 2005 and quickly rose to be one of the premier camera bag manufacturers. Taking on established companies like LowePro and Domke, they created products that have generally been well received. They recently revised their quite popular Retrospective line of bags, and were kind enough to send me a copy of the Retrospective 30 v2.0 for me to review. While they did provide the sample, I am committed to providing an unbiased review, and will not sugar-coat any deficiencies I’ve found in my time with the bag. I don’t do paid advertisement for positive reviews, and never will.
Camera bags are an interesting thing in the photographic world. Good ones will last for years and years, perhaps even decades, but a lot of photographers still find themselves buying dozens of bags, for each type of day of shooting that they’ll have to deal with. I fall into that trap a little, aided by the fact I have three camera systems for my reviews. I own around 12 bags, including bags from Domke, Tenba, Lowepro, Peak Design and Think Tank. Some sit in a closet, rarely used, while others, like my LowePro holster bag, are used for special situations (I use that when I just want to bring one body with one lens). Generally, however, I’ve been carrying my Sony A7 III kit in my venerable Domke F-2 that I’ve had for nearly 15 years, my Fuji kit in a Peak Design Everyday Sling and my Micro 4/3 kit in a Think Tank Retrospective 5. I’ve really enjoyed all of these bags. Today’s review bag, the Retrospective 30 (v2.0), has been used in place of my Domke F-2 with my Sony kit for the past month.
Around the Bag
The Retrospective line of shoulder bags is Think Tank’s effort to provide a shoulder bag that doesn’t look like a typical camera bag. Like a lot of Domke bags, the Retrospective line is made predominantly of canvas (with the black models being nylon), and has a weathered ‘retro’ look. The bag reviewed today has their very popular ‘pinestone’ color, which is a sort of grayish green color that looks quite nice and subtle. The version 2.0 Retrospective bags are lighter than their predecessors, and the canvas is quite light, though still appears to be rather rugged. I’ve always loved the feel of my Retrospective 5, and the v2.0 Retrospective 30 is even more comfortable from a materials standpoint.
While the canvas flaps and walls of the bag are thin and flexible, the shoulder strap is made of thick, very tightly woven cotton cord that appears to be near indestructible in day-to-day usage. The shoulder strap also comes with a soft pad to cushion the weight of the bag. The pad feels great, and has rubber triangles on it to provide grip so it won’t slide off your shoulder. This pad, while extremely comfortable, also appears to be about the only thing on the bag that will not last forever. It’s wrapped in the same heavy canvas and tightly woven edge cording as the rest of the bag, but the pad material itself is a very soft mesh that feels like it might wear after some time. With that said, the pad on my Retrospective 5 is almost identical and is still in great shape after 5 years with that bag.
The Retrospective 30 is the largest bag in the lineup, and as I mentioned earlier, I’m using it to carry my Sony kit. I’ve been using my Domke F-2 for my Sony kit for the past three years, and I used it for my Canon DSLR kit from 2004 to around 2011, so it’s seen some use. I keep using that bag because it’s one of the few bags I can find that can fit a full frame body along with five decently large lenses. Shoulder bags that can carry four lenses with ease are abundant, and backpacks can easily hold that much gear, but I don’t generally like shooting with them because you have to remove them to get at the gear. Well, now I can add the Retrospective 30 to the list of bags that can hold my kit. My daily carry while testing the bag included my A7 III, Voigtlander 40mm f/1.2, Sony 16-35mm f/4, Sony 90mm f/2.8 macro, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 and the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3. That’s a good-sized kit, but it all fits without having to stack lenses. More importantly, the bag is sufficiently sized such that it works well to carry the camera with whatever lens I happen to have mounted.
The Retrospective 30 comes with four large dividers and three smaller dividers as extras, which allowed me to replace one of the large ones and split one of the areas to hold two lenses. See above for how I keep the bag packed. The Retrospective 30 is similar in width, a bit shallower and a fair bit taller than my F-2. That extra height comes in handy, as the one thing I don’t like about my F-2 is that I can’t carry the camera with a telephoto lens mounted, but with the Retrospective, I can put even the 100-400mm on the camera and still carry it with all the other lenses.
There are two huge front pockets that expand to hold all sorts of goodies. You can fit a lot into these pockets, and I was easily able to get all my needed accessories into the bag. There’s a zippered compartment that actually sits behind these pockets, but in front of the main compartment, which has small holding pockets inside for batteries, pens and memory cards. There’s a large zippered compartment on the back of the bag, and on the interior, there is both a front oriented pocket as well as a place for a tablet or laptop to fit in the back. This pocket comfortably fits my 13″ ultrabook in it when the bag is fully loaded, and I’d imagine thinner 15″ laptops will also fit. In the front pockets, I stored three sets of stacked filters, of 72mm, 67mm and 62mm (a total of 11 filters), a 1.4x teleconverter and a remote release. All of this actually very easily fits into one pocket, leaving the other completely open for additional items to store.
The Retrospective bags have always mainly closed by a large flap that simply covers the bag. There are velcro closures that will keep the flap shut if you want, and they hold very securely. Think Tank also provides a ‘silent’ mode for when you’re working out of the bag and want to avoid making noise when you open the flap, which hides the velcro behind two flaps. I’ve always left these engaged on my 5 and continued to do so with the 30. New to the v2 Retrospective bags, however, is a new zippered flap that allows you to fully seal the main compartment of the bag. This flap is normally velcroed to the main flap, but can be pulled down and engaged. It’s a nice feature for when you’re traveling, or if it’s raining outside, but the zipper is a bit fiddly to get closed, and that’s when the bag is off. While wearing the bag, it’s extremely difficult to get the zipper to slide around simply because of the way the bag hangs.
There is another small pocket in the top flap, and it would be really nice for storing a bunch of different things, but it is only closed by a center strip of velcro (and could be covered by the zipper flap as well). It’s fine for storing large flat items, such as rain bags to cover the camera while shooting and the like, but it’s not useful for storing small things like batteries or memory cards, as you’d be very likely to lose them when opening the flap. I wish there was a zipper on this little pocket.
There is also a ‘water bottle’ pouch on the side that can expand to hold bottles or other items, and it can be folded and secured when not using them. However, when open, it isn’t great as an additional storage pocket because it has no flap above. I didn’t find that to be a problem, however, because the other pockets allow so much other stuff to be stored. I ended up using this pocket to hold my arca-swiss style L bracket when it’s not mounted on the camera.
While the treated canvas will do just fine keeping your gear dry in most situations or gentle rains for short amounts of time, if you find yourself in a downpour for an extended period of time, it is likely that some water would get in the bag. For that, they provide a fully weatherproof cover to put over the bag in those situations. It folds to a reasonably small size, but it does take up a decent amount of space, so you’ll give up a bit of storage capacity if you want to keep it with you. I moved this rain cover from its starting location in one of the front pockets, to the top flap pocket to keep it out of the way.
So how does it work and feel in daily use? It’s really nice. I have always liked canvas bags because of the pliable nature of the material, and the soft canvas of the Retrospective 30 feels fantastic. The bag conforms to your body, and it’s quite lightweight for the size. As a result, it’s a very comfortable bag to carry around, even for long periods of time. Working out of the bag is pretty easy as well, as Think Tank has laid out the bag well, and the openings are all large and easy to access.
One downside of a large canvas bag while shooting out of it, is that the bending that the bag does around your body can sometimes make accessing lenses at the edges of the bag more difficult, but it’s a small price to pay for the added comfort in my opinion. Also, the flap is quite large, by nature of covering a large bag, but that means flipping it out of the way isn’t quite as quick as it otherwise could be.
I don’t know if I’d say that anything is truly bad about the bag, but there are a few drawbacks. The top of the bag can be zippered, which is great for preventing your camera and lenses from escaping should the bag go upside down during transport. However, the main flap that will be used when shooting out of the bag can’t be secured by anything more than velcro, despite there being two large metal grommets in the bottom of the flap. It’d be nice to have a hook that could latch to them.
Perhaps the biggest issue is the lack of a middle-sized divider. The small dividers can be nice for dividing a bigger section into two, but they aren’t good for creating major sections in the bag. The rest of the dividers are all very tall. I very much would like two dividers that are about 2″ shorter than the tall dividers, as it would make accessing the camera and lenses while in the field easier. As it is, it can be a bit of a dive to slide your hand in while wearing the bag.
As I’ve mentioned, I do wish the pocket in the flap was zippered instead of mostly open, and it would be nice if the side pockets could be secured to hold more sensitive items, rather than just being mainly useful for holding bottles.
Overall, though, these are fairly minor complaints.
In all, the bag is very well appointed, fits a LOT of gear inside, and allows for a lot of flexibility in how you are able to store your gear. The lighter weight and new features make for some nice improvements over the original versions, but they largely didn’t mess with success here. The Retrospective 30 is not a cheap bag at $199 US, and even the tiny Retrospective 5 is a fairly hefty $149. However, I’ve had great success with Think Tank bags over the years, and they should last a very, very long time. Given the durability and the way the bag is thought out, it’s definitely worth the money if you’re looking for a higher end bag. I was quite impressed with the Retrospective 30 v2.0, and if you’re looking for a good-looking, comfortable shoulder bag, it should be near the top of your list.