Deal 7: How to make money through your photography
I’ve come to a grim realization recently and that is: There is no perfect camera backpack out there. And while that sounds like a bad way to start off a review, let me follow up my last statement with this one: The Shape Shifter is as close as I have been able to come to finding the perfect camera backpack! I get emails from various companies asking me to review products for DPS and my photography website and that’s always fun, but I want to start out the review by saying that I pursued ThinkTank to see if they’d send me a Shape Shifter for a recent trip to Italy. I searched the interwebs high and low for the perfect backpack for my trip. I had several different models from several different companies narrowed down, but in the end I wanted the Shape Shifter.
I can already imagine there will be some comments saying that I’m wrong and that the perfect camera backpack is actually (fill in the blank). Well, let me respond to all of those ahead of time by saying that I can find something wrong with any backpack (or product for that matter). The reason being that no backpack is perfect for everything. Unfortunately, in reality you probably need several different backpacks for different trips, different shoots, different styles, etc. A massive backpack that holds all of the gear in my office is great for getting from point A to point B. But what if when I get to point B I want to explore and be light on my feet?
On the flip side, a light and sporty camera backpack is great for day trips and long hikes, but what about when you need to get a large amount gear to a location?
See what I mean? So the challenge becomes doing your best to find a backpack that fits somewhere in-between these two extremes. A camera that can hold a LOT of gear, but can also tear down when you need to go out and about.
I. love. this. backpack. My good buddy Jacob Lucas suggested it to me and when I looked it up on the ThinkTank website I knew my search was complete. I went to Italy with more gear than I would normally bring along because I was shooting a wedding for part of the trip. Because of that I had to bring a bit more gear than I would if I was just going for travel photography. The Shape Shifter was the only camera bag I took and you will not believe what I fit into this thing! Here’s the list…
1 – Canon 1Ds Mark III camera body
1 – Canon 5D Mark II camera body with BG-E6 battery grip
1 – Canon 24-70mm lens
1 – Canon 70-200mm lens
1 – Canon 50mm lens
1 – Canon 15mm Fisheye lens
2 – Canon 580EXII flashes
1 – Canon ST-E2 Flash Transmitter
1 – 15inch Macbook Pro
1 – Small Wacom Tablet with mouse and pen
1 – Lacie 500GB Rugged External HD
1 – Canon TC-80N3 Intervalometer
1 – B+W 10 Stop Filter
8 – CF Cards
3 – Extra batteries for 5DMII
2 – Chargers for 5DMII
1 – Extra battery for 1DsMIII
1 – Charger for 1DsMIII
1 – Manfrotto Tripod Legs/Head
Now that’s a lot of gear in one backpack and one thing a manufacturer will never be able to do is make that much gear weigh less than it actually does (unless the backpack came with an assistant to carry it). This backpack was quite heavy but that was fine because I only needed it to all be with me while I was traveling from point A (Texas) to point B (Italy). There’s no way that I’m going to check any of my photography gear on an airplane, especially when clients are counting on me to photograph their wedding! Once I got to the hotel we were staying at I took out a lot of the gear like the laptop, hard drive, Wacom tablet, and anything that I didn’t need for that specific night. When it was time to move from one hotel to the next, I’d pack everything up again just like before. If you don’t believe you can pack all the gear listed, here’s a quick time-lapse video as I pack the gear from the list above. (Note: I don’t pack the tripod and the 5DMII because they were being used to film the video. I do pack the battery grip for the 5DMII where the camera body would normally go. The tripod connects on the outside of the backpack via the very front pocket and some straps that connect at the top of the backpack).
INSERT VIDEO HERE <http://youtu.be/Gga6_3SQClE>
There are actually quite a few reasons why this bag is awesome so I will touch on a few of them here…
Sure I could have brought more lenses and gear but then my backpack would just keep getting heavier and heavier. With the range of lenses I brought, I never felt during the trip that I should have packed more gear.
There were several days/nights in Italy where my wife and I were all on our own, free to travel and explore. On those nights all I really needed was a camera body, my tripod and my lenses. I could really strip everything down to just the bare essentials and that’s when you get to take advantage of the Shape Shifters ability to…well…shift shapes! If you don’t have much gear in your backpack, you can grab a zipper at the bottom of the packpack and zip the backpack down to only 3 inches thick. The zipper just compresses the width down and sort of streamlines everything. This can only be done in certain situations. If you have too much in the backpack the zipper won’t zip closed. Doing this make the backpack incredibly thin and low profile and really it just feels better in this configuration. I wish ThinkTank would find a way to shrink my camera bodies and lenses down to size so I could use this feature all the time!
Pockets are always a good thing and the Shape Shifter has plenty of them. And not just pockets mind you but every pocket seems to have a purpose, a reason for being there. Some pockets are there to hold CF cards, some hold batteries, others hold cell phones, pens, etc. They aren’t just big pockets to stuff anything into (although there are a couple of those). When you really pack this bag up to it’s limits, you will stand back in disbelief over how much you just fit inside of it.
This was a must on my trip to Italy. I wasn’t going to take a bag with me unless there was some way to lock it. Although the bag doesn’t come with the locks (I think that would be a great feature as well) you can find them at just about any store with a travel section. While I bought locks that came with keys, I would encourage any travelers out there to do the opposite and get a lock with a three digit combination. It was too complicated trying to keep the keys in a place that was easy to find but not too easy to find (if you know what I mean).
This is another must-have-feature for a travel backpack. If your backpack isn’t comfortable on your shoulder then really what is it worth? The Shape Shifter has exceptionally padded shoulder straps that sit very comfortably and never let me down. There were certainly times where I was sick of carrying this thing around at train stations and airports but that was just because of the weight, and we already decided there’s nothing they can do about the weight of my gear. The Shape Shifter also comes with a waist belt and a clip to connect your shoulder straps together. If you don’t want the waist belt it tucks away nicely inside the bottom of the backpack, or you can just remove them altogether. Very clever!
Like I said in the beginning: No camera backpack is perfect for everyone. So while I may love a feature about this bag, someone else could hate it for that very same reason! I understand that and I don’t think this would be a good review without stating the potential disadvantages of the Shape Shifter.
I bought this bag so my camera gear would be protected from potential theft. Because of that reason, the gear also takes longer to get to when I’m shooting on location. If you buy a backpack that has super fast access to all your stuff, then you might want to consider that it proveds super fast access for thieves as well! So, this really comes down to the question that you have to ask yourself: Why do I want/need this backpack? We live in a fast food world and some people get all fussy if it takes them 10 seconds to get a lens out of their backpack instead of 6 seconds. It doesn’t bother me but that is just me.
Again, I don’t mind this feature because it makes the bag thinner and lower profile. But I have heard a number of people complain about this so it is certainly noteworthy. Each compartment in the gear section of the backpack is specifically designed for either a lens or a camera body. There’s really not a way to pack a camera body with a lens attached. This means that if your walking around without a camera in hand and see something happening you’d have to unzip your backpack, grab a camera body, grab a lens, attach them and stow the lens and body caps, re-zip the backpack and then shoot.
My solution: Always have a camera in hand! Any time I’m walking around with my backpack, you can rest assured that I also have a camera body and lens around my shoulder via a Black Rapid RS-7 Camera Strap. I put the strap around my shoulder first, then put the backpack on second. It works perfectly and the backpack doesn’t constrict the movement of the RS-7.
The ThinkTank Shape Shifter is by far my favorite camera backpack that I’ve owned to date. The advantages to the backpack far outweighed any potential setbacks in my opinion and I really can’t think of a better solution. This bag gives me the ability to carry large amounts of gear, but also the option to strip everything down and go incognito if need be.
Get a price on a ShapeShifter at Amazon.
May 9, 2012 03:12 pm
I'm reading a lot of comments from people saying, "This bag isn't as good as this other bag" or "Why not just use this bag?" I think all of these questions are missing one of the main points I tried to make clear in this article, and that is that no one bag is perfect for everyone BUT this bag was perfect for ME during my trip to Italy.
People are asking why I didn't just take a suitcase camera bag with wheels and I believe I went over this in the article too. I already had my huge suitcase full of clothes, toiletries, etc that was on wheels. Trying to traverse country like Italy with TWO suitcases on wheels would be more trouble than it was worth. Have you ever tried going anywhere trying to drag one suitcase in each hand behind you?
Having my camera gear in a backpack was 100% without a doubt the best decision I could have made. Here's a few reasons why:
1.) I was able to keep my most valuable luggage (my camera gear) on my person at all times.
-At train stations in Milan and Rome this was vital. When I was actually on the train it was even more vital. It was pretty much impossible to keep suitcases within view on trains. You had to put them in overhead compartments and the ones above your seat weren't always available (or even the ones in your room on those types of trains). On a 3-4 hour train ride it was impossible to keep an eye on my suitcase 100% of the time. I had to deal with this and be ok with it as much as possible considering it was mainly just my clothes and other replaceable stuff. I would not have been able to let my camera gear out of my site and I wouldn't have had a choice on a few of the trains.
2.) I could take some of the heavier gear (laptop, tablets, hard drives, flashes, etc) out of the backpack when I went out on my own to shoot travel and landscape photos. I could attach my main camera to a tripod and throw it over my shoulder, then have a backpack with a few extra lenses and be relatively light on my feet when I went hiking and this sort of thing. Try doing that with a wheeled suitcase....
Gerald Harris also wanted to know why I brought my laptop and tablet because I could have just waited until I got home to do my editing....
You're right, I could have. It's just preference :-). However, I also used my laptop to communicate with people back home during the trip, update things like Facebook and Google+, call family members and friends back home using the call feature on Gmail, etc. I also used the laptop as yet another source of backup for my photos. So I had them on CF cards, on my laptop and an external hard drive.
Hope this helps :-)
May 9, 2012 02:22 pm
tommy leong said "if you have THAT much gear to carry on, why not get the PELICAN 1510 carry on?"
a number of reasons not to use a 1510: (i have one and love it, but....)
1. empty, it is almost overweight for carry on.
2. full, it's really heavy to lift into an overhead locker, and if it falls out, it's really going to do some damage!
3. pulling a roller around isn't always convenient. airports are generally smooth, but get outside and dragging a roller over rough footpaths can be a real pain.
as i said, i have the pelican, but i'm about to get a shapeshifter. as i have done more work, i've realised i don't need to be able to put a body with lens attached into the bag, so now i can get the bag i've lusted over for a few years.
February 7, 2012 03:51 pm
There's definitely no such thing as a perfect bag. I love carrying my camera in an over shoulder bag so I can have it out quickly for a photo. My shoulders, however, are not as fond of that. Still, I have multiple shoulder bags.
I finally had to admit defeat for longer trips and try the backpack route, though I've yet to buy a complete camera backpack. Instead, I have a couple of backpack inserts but have used my own backpacks. My camera ends up in my hands a lot more this way, but when I'm done with it, it goes into a backpack that doesn't scream there's a camera in here.
This one sounds like the closest I'd come to a full-on camera pack. I like that it can adapt to the amount of items carried in it. Pretty slick!
January 27, 2012 03:10 am
WE can't see the video, even if we take the address above to Youtube. Could this be fixed?
January 25, 2012 05:10 am
Dear Naik, I suggest you feed this into your browser window .. http://www.shetalacamera.com/viewproducts.asp?by=c&id=11
Then go to page 4 to see Shetala.com's quote of Indian Rupees 3.,700. Not too expensive compared to the cost of your gear, is it?
5561 Explorer 100
5 Years Warranty from TAMRAC
MRP Rs. 3,425.00
Our Price: Rs. 3,425.00
5562 Explorer 200
5 Years Warranty from TAMRAC
MRP Rs. 3,700.00
Our Price: Rs. 3,700.00
5564 Explorer 400
5 Years Warranty from TAMRAC
MRP Rs. 4,150.00
Our Price: Rs. 4,150.00
January 24, 2012 10:55 pm
The bag really looks great but what about the cost ?? is it affordable ??
January 22, 2012 03:18 am
Great bag for busy full-time pros, I guess, but for an amateur like me who's pushing 63, the Tamrac Explorer 200 is ideal for my D5100 and two lenses...and I quote TAMRAC (hope they won't mind) :-
Internal Dimensions: 8½W x 4½D x 8H (22 x 11 x 20 cm)
External Dimensions: 11½W x 6¾D x 9H (29 x 17 x 23 cm)
Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz. (625 g)
The Explorer 200 carries and protects a DSLR (like Canon's 50D or Nikon's D5000) with a 4" lens attached, an additional lens or two and accessories. This slim profile bag combines unparalleled equipment protection and extensive features with a great modern design to provide the ultimate carrying solution. The front pocket features Tamrac’s patented Memory & Battery Management System™, which uses red flags to identify which memory cards and batteries are available and which ones are used up. A Speed Pocket on the front flap secures and provides quick access to small accessories, while a side pocket keeps a water bottle or mobile phone within easy reach and a zippered pocket on the back holds an instruction manual. A Total Coverage Top with quick-release buckle and zipper closures provides weather protection. The new Explorer 200 includes a removable M.A.S.™ Rain Cover to protect camera gear in extreme weather conditions. Inside the lid is a smooth nylon pocket for holding lens cleaning paper. An adjustable, BioCurve™ non-slip shoulder strap, and an EasyGrip™ carrying handle provide convenient carrying options. As Ken Rockwell would say, "WhooHoo!"
January 21, 2012 01:29 am
Do you have any reviews or thoughts on the Think Tank Speed Freek V2.0 Belt Pack?
January 20, 2012 11:14 pm
Very nice job on the review, James! Thanks for taking the time to inform.
I think what most people miss when thinking "No, my XYZ is the best one", is that the author is sharing information based on their specific use and thereby giving us a glimpse of a different situation. You might as well start pointing out that the author left out the "r" in "your" in the second header. (fast fingers on the keyboard, happens to me all the time!)
Every now & then, my wife thinks we should sell off some of the camera backs, cases and backpacks, as they are not used everyday, and the Shape Shifter is one of them. It's like having a pair of 18" channel-lock pliers; they sit in the bottom of the tool box, taking up space most of the time, but when you need it nothing else will do!
January 20, 2012 10:32 am
I love the bag, for the same reasons as the reviewer. Hard to not to fall in love with this babe. But for fast working in the streets, use something else.
January 20, 2012 05:36 am
I love my Think Tank Gear. Has never let me down, and God knows it has been dropped, stomped, soaked, run over. Pretty much a day in the field. Have been looking for a new backpack. Think I just found it!
January 20, 2012 05:05 am
Well, you are partially right, but your approach is ALL wrong! Every camera backpack is the perfect one... for a specific purpose! Even the Shape Shifter has deficiencies (like I can't get my Nikkor AF-S 200-400 f/4 in it), and while I have a Shape Shifter, I haven't used it in a long time because it can't satisfy my long fast glass needs. I've got at least a half dozen of them, and the one that gets the mos use is Moose Peterson's MP-3. After that the most used is the Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW. If for some reason those aren't available of I don't need my 200-400, then and only then will I use the Shape Shifter. My $0.02
Thanks for your review.
January 20, 2012 03:55 am
"I like the looks of this bag – but it has one major design flaw that every other bag but the Kata 467 has – if you want to open in up and get to things, you must lay it on its back – and it its a dirty dusty place – you wind up putting on a filthy pack."
Agree with this. Because of the shape shifter functionality, this bag really isn't designed to stand up on end, without keeping a hand on it.
I keep an aluminum carabiner on the top loop of the bag, with a 12" loop of parachute cord. In most environments you can find an easy place to hang the bag to get done what you need.
January 20, 2012 03:23 am
I, too, had searched for the perfect backpack for my camera gear when travelling, specifically. I already have 2 other backpacks, which couldn't hold everything. My concern when travelling, was that I didn't want to have to "abandon" my camera gear to the luggage area of the airplane. Many of the smaller planes cannot hold some of the "stiffer" backpacks made for travelling. This bag fit the bill for me, because it does hold so much, yet it is thinner for fitting into the overhead compartments of planes. I have actually put it into my rolling carry-on bag without much else in the roller, so that if they tell me my roller bag won't fit in the overhead compartment, I can quickly pull out the Shape Shifter to take my gear with me and let them take my roller down below. Airlines will not insure any electronic equipment lost on flights, so this was the perfect solution for me. We'd already had a small point & shoot camera stolen from a carry on that was "gate-checked" for a flight. My husband forgot to remove it - thinking we'd get the bag back at the next airport, when, in fact, they had gate checked the bag through to our final destination. With a 3 hour layover in the next airport, I'm sure that's where it disappeared...along with a pair of my prescription sunglasses from my carry on. The airline refused to pay for the camera because you are not supposed to "pack" electronic equipment. We hadn't intended for the carry on to go to the luggage area, but were told it wouldn't fit in the overhead compartment, when I really think it would have. Many of the bags I checked into for purchase, were very light in weight, and some even had wheels for easy travel, but were more rigid to protect the camera and lenses from impact. This bag was great for accommodating my needs! Would recommend it to anyone!
January 20, 2012 03:22 am
Surely is a great bag, indeed... But do your baCK a favor; if your bag is full of heavy stuff, make sure you're holding it correctly, on both shoulders and your waist... Holding such bag on one shoulder while shooting is a very good way to hurt your back and shoulders. I use such a bag to carry my gear on location, then unload it and shoot with either a smaller bag with the minimum gear that's required.
January 17, 2012 11:48 pm
I got this bag about a year ago. Have used it several times on photo shoots. I won't lie, it gets a bit bulky hiking up the side of a mountain to do some waterfall shots in the middle of August but over all I love this bag. I am able to fit my d5000 with battery grip and a small prime lens in the bag pockets pretty easily. I almost always walk around with a small prime on the camera anyways. It is nice having a bag that can fit my 17" laptop and the rest of my gear and move around. I am currently looking at some of Thinktanks Slings bags for just walking around. Think Tank has some of the best build quality of any bag company I have ever used. Oh, and the Rain Cover that is included works great. I got stuck in a surprise downpour one day in the middle of a field. First time using the cover and I was able to figure it out and have it on in about 30 seconds. Now my poncho was a different story.
January 17, 2012 10:29 pm
Excellent article but two things ocurred while I was reading. Why should you need a laptop and touch pad which are used in post processing, that could wait till you returned home. Plus, with so much weight I am sure you could benefit from a set of wheels.
On the topic of over weight carry on luggage; I had a total of ten fights last year on a photographic round the world trip covering three continents in 7 weeks. I travelled light in terms of equipment, one 5D DSLR body, f4.0 24-105mm, f1.2 85mm lenses, 480EX flash, plus Canon G12 and a laptop. The laptop enabled me to keep track of the shots and communcate with home. Plus clothing for about a week before I needed to do a wash. Not once did i check in my bag, neither was my bag ever weighed. However, the one thing I did regret was not having a set of wheels for those long, long walks when making flight connections.
January 17, 2012 08:19 am
When I read that list of gear I feel like I should be entering a competition???
January 17, 2012 07:15 am
Love think tank bags. They are very well built.
January 17, 2012 05:58 am
This is an interesting review, and I'm impressed with the bag and the comments. I do have one question, though, which perhaps the reviewer or someone else might considered replying to. It is stated here that the reviewer never checks any of his camera gear -- which I certainly understand. But, how does one deal with the situation of overweight carry-on bags? I will grant that it is rare in the U. S. A. for bags to be refused as carry on because of weight, and the fact that a minimum of 20, and (with Continental) up to 40 pounds can be carried as carry-on helps.
Outside the U. S. A. this is a major problem. Bag weights are limited and the limits are enforced. Even without carrying ALL the gear, it is very easy to not be able to carry any of it if one were to fly, say, IcelandAir, which has a carry-on limit of 1 bag, maximum 11 pounds.
How does someone such as the reviewer, who may be photographing a wedding, manage to deal with this sort of issue? Bear in mind that even a D7000 body, with two lenses and a flash hits that 11 pounds very quickly. And, if one is like some people (such as me), one also MUST carry medical equipment.
So, again, what steps do people who have expensive equipment which MUST be carried on take to deal with this sort of problem of enforced weight restrictions and number of bag restrictions? And, for the sake of completeness, let us presume the person does not have a press pass or other "bye" which allows the gear to go on as an exception.
Other than that, good review of a nice bag. I may well look into it.
January 17, 2012 03:16 am
I like the looks of this bag - but it has one major design flaw that every other bag but the Kata 467 has - if you want to open in up and get to things, you must lay it on its back - and it its a dirty dusty place - you wind up putting on a filthy pack.
The Kata 467 stands up and has a kangaroo pocket for lenses so i can put my bag down in muck and still get to everything i need and NOT get anything but the "bottom" of the bag dirty.
I can pack alot of gear in it, but admittedly it is not as bomber as the Think Tank
January 16, 2012 07:24 pm
How much did the thing weigh after loading that lot?! I don't even want to think about your insurance firm having a fit ( or rubbing their hands over the premium ) with that much gear in one place, LOL!
I must admit I am one of those who prefers eveything to hand regardless of intention of shoot. Nothing worse than getting somewhere and realising the one little thing that would turn a good shot into something stunning, is still at home!
January 16, 2012 04:47 pm
Great gear bag, but really - "Digital Photography School - for students of photography who are new enough to need suggestions on backpacks, but need something to put their $20,000 worth of gear in"?
January 16, 2012 11:14 am
I have and love this bag. I recommend it to anyone. Great for travel.
January 16, 2012 11:02 am
if you have THAT much gear to carry on, why not get the PELICAN 1510 carry on?
Save a lot on medical fees :)
January 16, 2012 10:43 am
"I’ve come to a grim realization recently and that is: There is no perfect camera backpack out there."
Perfect start to an equipment review, and the truest statement I've heard from an article on camera bags yet.
One of my bags is a Think Tank, and I do like it a lot, but perfection is impossible when there are so many dfiiferent photographers in the world.
A very well researched and thoroughly written review, mcuh appreciated.
January 16, 2012 10:18 am
I am convinced - this looks like an amazing product! I could have used this during a recent shoot in Chicago. Had to keep adjusting and repacking my gear in my Tamarc Bag. It is sturdy, but not entirely optimal.
Here is a shot of the famous "Bean" in the Windy City - you MUST go and check it out!
January 16, 2012 09:35 am
That's some serious gear you have. Looks like you were supposed to insert a YouTube video but forgot to on the final edit :). ThinkTank makes GREAT stuff. I love my StreetWalker Pro bag.
January 16, 2012 06:46 am
First, I am a fan of anyone who travels to Italy. :) Second, I love how thorough you were in this review. It gives me a great idea of the backpack and I am now interested in it. The only problem - it's not really girly!
January 16, 2012 06:43 am
You can easily pack a camera with lens attached in this bag, by letting it rest down the middle between the pockets (if you're not filling this bag to the absolute maximum capacity) , you can zippers on the side to adjust the tension to prevent it from rolling around. I've done this with a D3 + 70-200, it works.
I'd say the one drawback for some will be that the backpack is not inherently padded. There is just enough in the pockets to prevent stuff from moving around and banging / scratching into each other in the bag. If you let a baggage handler or bellman throw it, you'd probably break stuff. There is a philosophy here, like a Domke bag (which sadly just aren't sized for today's cameras - try fitting a 70-200/2.8 without using up all the space in the bag), it is for the functioning professional, not a nervous Nelly.
I too love this backpack. Think Tank's level of engineering design and quality is generally unmatched.
I use this backpack for the situations you describe and I am a black rapid fan too. The Think Tank Retrospective bag is also fantastically designed, I'll sometimes pack an empty one in my checked luggage for trips like yours and then use that bag when I want to travel really light on arrival, locking the shape shifter in a PAC-Safe.
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