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Review: Think Thank Photo Retrospective 10

by Mike Pouliot on 12/18/2011

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5 shoulder bag. This well made bag was on the small side, but it packed a punch when it came to quality of materials and design. Today, we are going to take a look at it’s big brother, the Retrospective 10.

Features

aa The exterior of each Retrospective shoulder bag is purposefully simple, allowing photographers to inconspicuously blend into their shooting environment.
a All the shoulder bags in the Retrospective series are available in two colors, pinestone or black.  Pictured here are the Retrospective 20 in pinestone and the Retrospective Lens Changer 2 in black.
a The softness and flexibility of the Retrospective 10, 20, and 30 easily allows a pro size DSLR to be carried in the main compartment with a lens attached, facing downward.  The Retrospective 10 is pictured here, containing (left to right):  a Canon 5D with battery grip and 24-70 f2.8 attached and a 70-200 f2.8.
a Within the Retrospective 10, 20, and 30′s main compartment, are two collapsible nylon pockets (one on each side).  These pockets are tall enough to fit most flash units or other accessories.  A hook-and-loop strap can be used to secure the contents or it can be tucked into the pocket for quicker access.
a The Retrospective 10, 20 and 30 all have an organizer pocket inside the main compartment.  It gives photographers enough space for small, but significant, accessories necessary for a successful shoot.
a The expandable pocket(s) on the front of the Retrospective 10, 20, and 30 can be used to carry a spare pro size DSLR body or other photo gear.  A small hook-and-loop flap folds over the top of the pocket to secure its contents.  The Retrospective 30 (pictured) features two expandable pockets, while the Retrospective 10 and 20 have only one expandable pocket on the front of the bags.
a The “sound silencers” underneath the main flap are used to suppress the loud tearing sound hook-and-loop makes while opening and closing the bag.  Simply release the sound silencer panels and cover the hook-and-loop strips to prevent the hook-and-loop from contacting.  A clear business card pocket, for identification and spare cards, is also located under the main flap.
a Hook-and-loop panels securely fastens the main flap down, keeping valuable photo equipment hidden from view.
A A wide storage pocket is located on the back of the Retrospective 10, 20, and 30.  This pocket can be used to carry magazines, newspapers, or other paperwork, depending on the size of the bag.
a Webbing loops on both sides of the Retrospective 10, 20, and 30 can be used to carry some smaller pouches on the bag.  Alternatively, a carabiner (not included) can be used to quickly clip accessories to the the sides of the bag as well.
a Side pockets on both sides of the Retrospective 10, 20, and 30 can be used to carry smaller water bottles and will even fit some shoe-mounted strobe units.
a A fully adjustable, canvas strap is integrated into each Retrospective bag.  For extra comfort, a breathable cushioned pad slides along the strap for optimum positioning.  Sections of non-slip material on the pad helps keep the entire strap on your shoulder.
a The Retrospective 10, 20, and 30 each have a removable carrying handle for convenience.
a The seam-sealed rain cover included with the Retrospective 10, 20, and 30 was specially designed to keep the carrying handle and integrated shoulder strap outside the rain cover without compromising protection from the elements.

Design

The Retrospective 10 is a small to medium sized shoulder bag that can hold a lot more than you’d think based on it’s size. There’s quite a bit to talk about with this bag, so let’s start with the outside. One of my favorite features of this bag is the strap, it’s awesome. The strap is wide, long and the shoulder pad makes carrying the bag a joy. The long shoulder pad has strands of grippy rubber which prevents the pad from slipping off of your shoulder. Simple, but effective. Along the back of the bag is a zippered document pocket that is great for storing maps and small notebooks. Another welcomed feature of this bag is the small handle that runs across the top/back of the bag. This is great for maneuvering the bag around when it’s not slug across your chest. Protecting your gear from the elements is a very large flap that is secured by heavy-duty hook-and-loop closures. If the tearing of hook-and-loop closures isn’t for you, simply apply the built-in “silencers” and you will be in stealth mode. On the sides of the Retrospective 10 are two small pockets for quick access to things like batteries and very small water bottles. If this sounds good to you so far, keep reading because things just keep getting better.

The inside of the Retrospective 10 is much more spacious than the Retrospective 5. I can easily fit the following:

That’s quite a bit of stuff. The important thing is the bag holds all of this gear with ease. When I’m using the kit above, I don’t have to jam things into place or take off the bag to simply access something, everything fits without issue.
One issue that I tend to run into when buying a new bag is trying to fit my 5D in the bag with the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS attached. It is possible with the Retrospective 5, but the camera body really does stick up too high to be truly secure/protected. Luckily, the larger size of the Retrospective 10 means this is no longer a serious problem. Is it ideal? No, but it’s a much better fit than the Retrospective 5.
If you’re looking for a shoulder bag that can easily transport a body with large zoom attached, you’re better off looking at the Retrospective 20 or 30. These bags are much larger, specifically the Retrospective 20 which has added length to accomodate longer lenses.
To keep everything organized, Think Thank Photo has thoughtfully included several compartments within the Retrospective 10. To keep things simple, I’ll list the compartments below:
  • There is one large zippered compartment that runs along the back inside wall of the bag. This pocket is well protected so I usually store my credentials and any valuables in this pocket.
  • There are also two collapsible nylon pockets on each of the small inside ends of the bag. These are ideal for storing flashes and flash accessories. If you do decide to carry a flash in one of these pockets, you will probably have to ditch a lens unless you are using a compact prime like the nifty fifty.
  • Along the inside front wall of the bag is a handy organizer section. This section is comprised of several small pockets and compartments which are good for storing smaller items like memory cards, business cards, pens, lens cloths, etc.
  • And, like any modern day camera bag, the main section is fully customizable. Along with the three dividers you see in most of the photos, Think Thank includes a bunch of dividers to allow you to make the bag fit your needs.

Construction

Like all Think Thank Photo products, overall construction and the quality of materials are top of the line. From the rugged canvas to the heavy duty zippers, this bag is going to easily last you a lifetime which is why all Think Tank Photo products are backed with a lifetime guarantee.

I’ve owned and reviewed TONS of bags in my shot time on this earth and, as a review, I get to review just about any bag I want. Currently, almost all of my bags are Think Tank Photo products. That says something.

Observations

I’ve been using this bag exclusively for a month now and I have to say that I am pretty impressed. My typical load out consists of the gear I listed earlier in this post. The Retrospective 10 easily carried this gear and more importantly it carried it comfortably. I used this bag on several weekend trips where it was on my shoulder all day and I have zero complaints about comfort. I also used it as more of a day bag with a smaller amount of camera gear which worked equally as well.

For the most part, access to gear is quick and easy but I should warn you about a few things. First, the main cover/flap is very large and it can get in the way at times. On occasion, I found myself wrestling to get the flap out of the way so I could access my gear within the main compartment. With that being said, I’d rather have the occasional tussle with the flap if that means my gear is going to stay protected and dry.

Another thing that may keep you from accessing your gear quickly is the hook-and-loop…this stuff is heavy-duty. You really have to take a good yank at the flap to gain access to the bag. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you are shooting in a crowed area, but it is something to be aware of. What I found works well for me is, if I’m shooting in a crowd, I use the hook-and-loop closures. If I need to be quiet, like at a wedding, I use the silencers. If I’m shooting anywhere else, I do a half and half setup meaning I use one of the silencers and one of the hook-and-loop closures. This ensures my gear doesn’t fall out but it provides me easier/quicker access to my gear.

One of the benefits of purchasing a Think Tank Photo bag is they include rain covers with almost all of their bags. You may think that you’ll never need one, but trust me…they can come in pretty handy. A few months ago, I was shooting at the beach with my Retrospective 5 when the wind really started to kick up and sand started to get blown into all of my gear. Thinking quickly, I grabbed my rain cover and wrapped up my Retrospective 5. This kept the sand and ocean mist out of my bag for the rest of the day.

I think the thing I like the most about the Retrospective 10 is the attention to detail. These bags are made by photographers for photographers, and it shows. Think Tank Photo has really put some thought into these bags. For instance, there is a built in lanyard for keys or your memory card wallet. Above is a picture of my Think Thank Pee Wee Pixel Pocket Rocket attached to the built in lanyard. Also, the Retrospective 10 has a pocket or a pouch for pretty much anything you would carry in a bag of this size. I like that. There’s nothing worse than digging through a bag to find a small accessory. Every second you waste looking for something is a potential missed shot.

Conclusion

If you are in the market for a shoulder bag that can hold a consumer or prosumer body, 2-3 lenses and all of your accessories, this bag should really be at the top of your list. Yes, there are cheaper bags out there, but I can guarantee you the build quality and attention to detail will not even come close to that of the Retrospective 10.

Is the Retrospective 10 too big or too small for you needs? If so, don’t worry, Think Tank Photo makes five different versions of this bag! Check out the full lineup of Think Tank Photo’s Retrospective shoulder bags.

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