Like many photographers, I’ve developed an addiction for camera bags. Some of the bags I own are for wandering about in an urban environment (mainly in or near Amsterdam), others are for storage at home or hiking in Holland’s small patches of woods and heaths.
However, I didn’t own a bag that allowed me to take my MacBook as well as my camera gear (and several other bits an pieces like lunch, an external hard drive, a first aid kit etcetera) with me. As a result, I regularly used one of my normal backpacks as a substitute. I stuck my laptop in its sleeve and stuffed it along with some of my camera equipment, fairly unprotected and completely organized, in my backpack. Needless to say this just didn’t work.
So I was on the market for a new bag to feed my addiction. And that’s where the Think Tank Photo (TTP) Shape Shifter comes into play. But oh, the bag does so much more than I expected it to do!
The fully loaded Shape Shifter. This was just a test to see how much gear it could hold. I wouldn’t recommend carrying this much on a daily base.
Expanded configuration accommodates:
- Laptop up to 17″, plus computer accessories
- Two Pro DSLR bodies
- 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200 (or similar) lenses
- Two strobes
- 32W, 51H, 18D cm (12.5″, 20″, 7″)
- 32W, 51H, 8D cm (12.5″, 20″, 3″)
Weight when empty:
- 1.73 kg (3.75 lbs)
Design and features
The main reason I chose this bag above other, similar bags, is that the Shape Shifter can incorporate my TTP Pro Speed Belt and my Skin pouches. I was also curious about the ‘shape shifting’ ability. It’s possible to compress the Shape Shifter to a mere 8 centimeter (3 inches) in depth, when most of the camera equipment is removed from the pouches. While I haven’t measured its exact depth, it is a big difference when the compressing zipper is closed. Of course, if you carry a lot of stuff in the front pouches, the depth will increase. But it still is a great feature for crowded places.
The laptop compartment, placed on the back of the bag, holds laptops up to 17″. The compartment is still accessible when the compressing zipper is closed. The inside of the compartment is covered with a fleece-like material.
Another unique feature of the Shape Shifter is the use of sewn-in neoprene pouches for the storage of your lenses and (D)SLR bodies. I was a bit skeptical about these pouches at first, but they work really well. Keep in mind that they aren’t removable like the dividers in most camera bags. But they can accommodate a wide range of lenses.
The two front pockets offer plenty of room for pens, business cards, CF-cards (I store mine in a TTP Pixel Pocket Rocket), a Moleskine notebook, snacks, sunglasses, first aid kit, a 0.5 litre water bottle, my Leatherman tool and so on. TTP really paid attention to details here. There are dozens of useful compartments inside the front pockets.
One of the downsides for me is its appearance. I don’t think it’s a very good looking bag, but then again: I have never seen a good looking camera backpack. But this is just my opinion. I’m sure other people will think otherwise. And truth be told: it’s better looking in real life than on any photos I have seen.
What’s more important though, is that the Shape Shifter is very inconspicuous. Most people won’t recognize it as a camera bag (if you don’t carry a tripod), which is a huge plus since it’s less likely you’ll get robbed of your expensive gear.
I was able to fit this inside the Shape Shifter (tripod on the outside), plus a gripped Canon 400D I used to take this photo. It weighs 15kg (33 lbs) and does make the bag a lot less comfortable.
The quality of the bag is just amazing. I’m a sucker for good quality products, and this is one of the best build bags I ever owned. The fabric is very light and supple, yet super strong.
In my experience, one of the weakest points of bags are the zippers. But as expected, Think Tank Photo used the well-known, high-quality YKK-zippers. I have never ever had a YKK-zipper fail, so I’m very confident they will stand up to some abuse.
The harness is very comfortable. The shoulder straps are slightly curved for a better fit and they’re made out of the right amount of padding.
While the bag is fairly waterproof, they also included a rain cover. Which will undoubtedly be useful for the many Dutch downpours.
Another plus point for me is the fact that TTP chose to use environment-friendly materials. Think Tank Photo made the choice to use PU and silicone in stead of PVC for the labels and clear laminated mesh on the inside of the bag. While it wouldn’t be a deal breaker if they did use PVC, it’s good to know it’s an ecological bag too!
Pro Speed Belt and Skin pouches
While I love the Pro Speed Belt and the Skin pouches, it isn’t the perfect solution. First and foremost, it was impossible to use the belt system together with a normal (or photo) backpack. The belt is placed too high for a normal-sized backpack to fit comfortably. When I saw the specifications of the Shape Shifter for the first time, I was attracted by its ability to replace the regular belt with the Pro Speed Belt.
I wasn’t completely convinced however. On most backpacks that I have used, the waist belt was placed too high for me to wear comfortably: the belt was placed over my belly rather than my hipbones. And I’m not even that tall (180 cm or 5.9 ft).
The way I place my gear in the neoprene pouches. Below my gripped Canon 5D mark II fits another similar sized body.
To my surprise, the Pro Speed Belt is placed exactly on my hipbones. The weight is spread on my shoulders and hips, making it super comfortable to wear. There is a lot less strain on my body when hiking around with too much weight for a sane person to carry around for some photos.
I know this won’t count for everyone, since not everyone is the same height as I am, but I thought it was worth to mention.
One of the tags attached to the Shape Shifter says: “Equipment can be kept in Skin pouches and still fit into the interior pockets”. A very useful feature, but it isn’t completely true. While it’s easy to fit my Canon 35L or 17-40L inside the Skin 50, it’s impossible to fit the Skin Chimp Cage inside the neoprene pouch designed for the bodies.
The way I carry the Chimp Cage.
A minor inconvenience though, since there’s plenty of room to fit an empty Chimp Cage inside the gear compartment.
Pros and Cons of the Think Tank Photo Shape Shifter Camera Bag
- Build quality;
- Ability to replace the regular belt with the Skin or Pro Speed Belt;
- Very inconspicuous;
- Light weight;
Although the Think Tank Photo Shape Shifter is a bit pricey and has some minor downsides, it is the best bag I have owned. The build quality is amazing, and it’s really comfortable and versatile.
If you’re looking for a inconspicuous bag to carry a select amount of lenses, a laptop and miscellaneous gear, this bag is one of the best choices out there. The Shape Shifter really comes to life when using it alongside their Skin Belt System.
Check out the price of Think Tank PHoto Shape Shifter Camera Bag on Amazon.