The Think Tank Retrospective backpack is a standout camera bag in so many ways. For starters, it’s all canvas with only a bit of leather. Lots of brands street away from canvas because they feel it’s too heavy. But honestly, the Think Tank Retrospective backpack doesn’t feel heavy at all. And when you pack it fully with camera gear, it still doesn’t feel heavy. Maybe that’s part of the design and how it carries weight. No matter what though, the Think Tank Retrospective backpack is a very impressive camera bag.
Table of Contents
The Big Picture
I’ve been on the hunt for more canvas backpacks. A lot of them are very expensive or just don’t fit what I want. Granted, the Think Tank Retrospective backpack isn’t everything that I want either; but it comes close. With this bag, you can hold cameras, lights, lenses, a computer, and a slew of accessories. Photographers tend to go for Think Tank’s messenger bag style stuff. But this is great for someone that doesn’t want to completely wreck their back and still wants something a tad more fashionable than the nylon stuff out there.
The Think Tank Retrospective backpack receives four out of five stars. Want one? Check them out on Amazon.
- Various ways that it can be configured
- Canvas and leather!
- Not incredibly heavy
- Surprisingly comfortable! We walked with it for over four miles in a single day with it packed to the brim. And it still felt great on the back.
- Can pack a lot of gear, but wow, do you have to work on reconfiguring it to do so.
- Reminds me of a rucksack.
- Probably Think Tank’s most gorgeous bag
- A decent price
- You can mount a tripod on the front and you’re not locked into just putting it on the side
- Can pack everything a working photographer needs
- I wish it were a rolltop
- Could use a lot more pockets to separate things.
- I wish there was side access to get to my gear faster or a safe yet fast way to access the gear up top.
- A bigger variant is needed for travel with a rolltop and the ability to pack more gear.
The Think Tank Retrospective backpack we got in for review is for keeps. And we tested it with various pieces of Canon, Panasonic, and Leica gear. We also used it with Profoto lights, Elinchom lights, and an iPad Pro with a keyboard.
This bag isn’t reinventing the wheel or doing anything revolutionary. However, it is one of the few canvas options out there in a world of nylon backpacks. And this one has a thick canvas that works very well.
Here’s a look at the front of the Think Tank Retrospective backpack. It’s incredibly minimal, and honestly, no photos that I’ve seen of it online do it justice. There’s a subtle beauty to it, and that’s because of the texture of the canvas.
Here’s a look at the back of the Think Tank Retrospective backpack. This part goes against your back and provides an ample amount of cushion to your back. Even when the back is unevenly packed, it’s still quite comfortable.
Here’s one of the sides of the Think Tank Retrospective backpack. It’s got an adjustable strap to make whatever you put in here tighter or not. You can stuff a tripod in here if you wish. However, it also includes straps to put on the bottom of the bag to store a tripod there.
Here’s the top flap of the Think Tank Retrospective backpack. It can be opened to get to the contents inside; or at least to start to get to them.
After you undo that flap, there’s another zippered pocket to protect the contents on top.
Here’s a look at the hardware that keeps the top flap down and in place. I wish that they could be deployed faster, but they’re instead just standard loops and hooks.
Here’s the inside of the front pocket. There are more pockets to separate stuff in there, and that’s about it.
Here’s the inside of the top the camera bag. It’s also where you access the laptop sleeve.
The Think Tank Retrospective backpack is opened from the rear. And here’s one of the configurations that I figured out to work well for me.
And finally, here are the straps. It comes with waist and shoulder straps with a lot of available adjustment options.
This bag is positively fascinating. For years, I’ve asked other manufacturers to make canvas bags. But they’ve all said that they’d be too heavy. One day on a press trip, I even remember having a conversation Jared Polin from Fro Knows Photo and Chris Nicholls from DPReviewTV where they both said that canvas bags are too heavy. But our staff has never had a problem with them being too heavy. And with the Think Tank Retrospective backpack, I’ve got no issues here, either. Any sort of extra weight is compensated with the impeccable build quality, soft cotton canvas, and tons of padding. On top of all this, it can resist the elements pretty well.
In a single day, I walked over four miles with this bag on my back and didn’t have any sort of issues with it. Even with the bag being not packed totally evenly, it didn’t really hurt my back because of all the padding around the back area. To clarify this even more, I walked to my yoga studio, did a 75-minute class, walked back, walked to a diner, then ate, then walked for around a mile, then back to my home. There was a lot of walking and I didn’t have any issues with the fully packed back on my back. This was an extra 18.4 lbs. Granted, I work out a whole lot every day in addition to photo walking with a bag of my back.
So truly, I have to say that this bag proves to me that a canvas backpack can be surely heavier but that it can be built to a point where you don’t feel it.
Something to also be said is how good the dividers are. Years ago, I gave a buddy a Think Tank bag and he felt they were just right. I agree here. They feel better than WANDRD’s and have more malleability than Gura Gear’s.
Ease of Use
First off, let’s discuss the difficult part. This bag and configuring the inside to get it to hold all the gear you want is like working with a jigsaw puzzle. Think Tank puts a bunch of ideas on their website. But even then, you’ll end up scratching your head a lot. It took me a few hours, then walking away in frustration, then more hours to figure out how to fit all my Canon gear in there. I truly didn’t think I could stuff two Canon RF bodies with L lenses attached and an Elinchrom One in there with the supporting accessories. However, I found a way to do it.
I tended to pack my R5 up top with a lens that I knew I’d use more often. And if I needed more gear, I’d put the bag down, access it through the back, and then shoot. Filters and stuff were packed in the front of the bag. But even then, I wish that there were more separation abilities.
To access your laptop, you have to go in through the top. This is different from many other camera bags out there. So if you’re sitting down at a cafe, know that you’ll have to undo the top and then undo the top zippered flap. For some of us, that might be very annoying as it means that the stuff in the top section isn’t secure.
Overall, once you’ve got the Think Tank Retrospective backpack fully configured, it’s a pretty simple and comfortable back to work with. You can easily use it as an every day backpack as a photographer.
Who Should Buy It?
There are lots of photographers who could benefit from a bag like this. First off, the dividers can be adjusted to accommodate pretty much any camera system. And I think that photographers that work every day and move about all the time for their job might be best served with this camera bag. Specifically, I’m thinking about photojournalists here. Portrait photographers that are also a bit more mobile might like the Think Tank Retrospective backpack. But I think that the Retrospective line was always targeted at photojournalists anyway.
Want one? Check them out on Amazon.
These specs are taken from Think Tank’s website.
- Internal Dimensions:
11.4” W x 13.8” H x 5.5” D (29 x 35 x 14 cm)
11.8” W x 15.9” H x 7.1” D (30 x 40.5 x 18 cm)
Laptop Pocket (fits up to 15” laptop):
9.8” W x 14.1” H x 1.0” D (25 x 36 x 2.5 cm)
4.0 lbs (1.8 kg) including all accessories