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Review: Think Tank Retrospective 40 Shoulder Bag

by Christian Rudman on 01/03/2013

The Think Tank Retrospective 40 Shoulder Bag

Yes, another Think Tank bag review. You know why we do so many of these? Think Tank likes people to try out their bags and receive feedback on the good and the bad about their products. They have been so willing to do this with the staff of ThePhoblographer.com that we almost continually have another Think Tank bag review in the works. Which makes sense, because they are one of the most prolific bag makers on the market today. The Think Tank Retrospective 40 bag is another shoulder bag in their long line of professional products, paired in release with its larger cousin the Think Tank Retrospective 50 which was reviewed by Bobby Zhang recently.

The difference between the two bags is a bit more room and a jump from the 13” laptop pocket in my Retro 40 to the 15” laptop pocket in Bobby Zhang’s. It’s a little funny that I got the 13” laptop model because my 17” Toshiba is nowhere near fitting in this bag, but I have found that using it as a straight camera bag has been plenty use enough to test it out. If you want to know about the laptop protection qualities or are more interested in a 15” model, check out Bobby Zhang’s review of the Think Tank Retrospective 50 bag for a more in-depth look at those aspects of this bag’s construction. Enough prattling about other bags, let’s dive into this one after the jump.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Very sturdy construction for a shoulder bag.
  • Room for lots of gear
  • Low-profile design for inconspicuous shooting

Cons:

  • So roomy you can over-pack and hurt your back
  • Large bag, but still only fits smaller laptops
  • Laptop pocket is not very well protected on the backside from impacts

Gear Used

The Think Tank Retrospective 40 Shoulder Bag - Gear Used

I shoved this bag so full of camera gear I started running out of things to put in it. That’s a slightly hyperbolic statement but it is pretty damn near the truth. I mean, shoving a bunch of other film gear in there next to my monstrous Mamiya RB67 was impressive. I don’t suggest this amount of equipment as your street shooting or daily carry kit. No amount of shoulder padding will save you from having 30+ pounds dangling over your trapezius muscles for hours at a time and causing issues that the chiropractor will have to sort out years down the road.

The Think Tank Retrospective 40 Shoulder Bag - Gear Used

In this part of the review, I was going for full capacity and less practical daily kit. This after all is a giant shoulder bag and will not be your urbanite street shooting bag unless you like lugging around a 1Ds Mk IV and a few L zoom lenses for pictures of homeless people and shady alleyways. This would make for a great event bag, but I rarely do those and spend most of my time shooting personal work with a mainly film camera kit consisting of a Mamiya RB67 with the 90mm f/3.8C Lens, a Canon F1 with 50mm f/1.4 S.S.C., and an Olympus Pen E-P2 with 17mm and VF-1 (not pictured, but it fit). The Mamiya in this build out makes for a heavy carry around town, but this bag totes it well.

Specifications

  • Material: Sand washed cotton canvas (Pinestone or Blue Slate model) or 1100 Denier Polyspun Polyester (Black model)
  • Type of Closure: Hook & loop front flap, zippers
  • Exterior Dimensions: 14.2 x 11.8 x 8″ (36.1 x 30 x 20.3 cm)
  • Interior Dimensions: Main Compartment – 13.8 x 11 x 6.5″ (35.1 x 27.9 x 16.5 cm)
  • Interior Dimensions: Laptop Pocket – 13 x 10.2 x 1.3″ (33 x 25.9 x 3.3 cm)
  • Carrying/Transport Options: Soft, adjustable shoulder strap with cushioned non-slip pad or Removable short carrying handle
  • Weight: 3.6-4.2 lbs (1.6-1.9 kg)*
    *Lowest weight taken with bottom padding and two hinged dividers intact

Specifications pulled from the B&H Photo Think Tank Retrospective 40 product page.

Ergonomics

For quite obvious reasons, this bag is almost identical to the Think Tank Retrospective 50 that Bobby Zhang reviewed recently, so I’ll pull a good-sized quote from him on that:

Coming in a variety of flavors ranging from a tannish Pinestone cotton canvas, a blue tinted Slate cotton canvas, and the classic black poly-spun nylon, the Retrospective 50 feels like it’ll hang on right along side you, even in the worst of conditions. The cotton canvas quality provides a denim-esque feel to the overall bag that is both rough and sturdy to protect your investments, but also gentle and soft to the touch.

Every attachment on the bag is constructed out of metal, which comes in handy due to their strong and resistant nature to wear and tear while adding another layer of durability to the bag. The zippers are all of the tough YKK variety, which are famous for their long-lasting and dependable qualities. It’s hard to imagine what you’d have to be doing for you to put an end to this Retrospective 50′s life.

Conveniently designed, this shoulder strap features both an extremely well-cushioned, anti-slip shoulder pad to reduce any shoulder pains from a long day out on a shoot and a handle strap for when you want to switch things up. Assuming you’re not packing your entire studio’s worth of equipment in here, you’ll find it to be a comfortable experience.

The Think Tank Retrospective 40 Shoulder Bag - Shoulder Strap Padding Detail

The massive shoulder pad and thick strap is one of my favorite aspects of this bag. With me toting around so much weight it was surprisingly comfortable.

The Think Tank Retrospective 40 Shoulder Bag - Rear Bag Strap Handle

Another great feature on this bag is the small tote strap on the back of the bag. I found myself using this strap consistently to grab the bag out of my car and from under airplane seats and out of piles of baggage. It is truly a wonderful little addition that just shows how much Think Tank understands that the devil is in the details.

The Think Tank Retrospective 40 Shoulder Bag - Silencers

The silencer feature on the velcro closures are a well noted design feature on these bags, so I won’t go into them too thoroughly. Suffice to say that they are a wonderful feature when you need quick or/and silent access to your bag’s interior. Just be careful tossing your bag around too much when you have them engaged, as there is nothing keeping that flap from opening up.

Build Quality

I personally love the look and feel of my Pinestone Retro 40. This is a truly brilliant bag for so many applications that they did well to build it to withstand lots and lots of heavy use. I have been battering mine with daily use for the last two months and can truly say that it stands the test of time really well. The bag is pretty stiff when you first start using it, but just within a few weeks of daily use it breaks in really well. Mine has gotten quite comfortable in a very short period of time and see this being one of my go-to bags for almost any occasion short of small kit carries. The bag is heartily stitched all over with very nuanced attention to detail that just oozes high-quality. In everything from the interior deflector flaps to prevent things spilling in or out of the sides of the main flap to the organizer inside the main compartment, this bag has a feature for almost every need.

In Use

This was a great bag for my carry-on with my flight to California, as you can load it to the brim and still get it under the seat and carry it around the terminal without too much concern for your back in short spurts of carrying. I have used it for carrying small daily kits as well as large kits for location work, and it always manages to not be too obtrusive despite its large size for a shoulder bag. The bag’s design makes for incredibly easy access that is still comfortably secure thanks to the large velcro closures with the silencer option. I do feel that the size lends itself more to heavy packing which makes for an uncomfortable time if you are carrying it for more than a half hour or so with loads of equipment. If you do get this bag, be wary of over packing with it as a day-carry bag.

Conclusion

The Think Tank Retrospective 40 Shoulder Bag is a great bag for nearly every style of photography, even up to medium format carries. However with the expansiveness of this bag it is very easy to overburden yourself. Plenty of space to spare for most event kits and a great bag for larger daily carry kits. I recommend this bag for anyone who is looking to tote around a good-sized kit, loves shoulder bags, and wants something sexy yet inconspicuous to cover all their expensive equipment and keep it snuggled safe. In short, I love this bag and will be happy to recommend it to anyone that is looking to meet one or all of the aforementioned needs.

As of the time of this article’s writing, you can pick this lovely bag up for around $210 at most online stores. Click through any of the links on the bag to purchase directly from B&H Photo and support The Phoblographer while you are at it!

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