Think Tank Photo, Shape Shifter Camera Backpack Review

I’ll start this off by saying that this isn’t the first Think Tank Photo item I’ve had come through here. In fact, the first bag that they sent me, the Retrospective 5 shoulder bag, is still being used by me on a daily basis to carry around my essential day-to-day photo gear. It however is a small bag so it doesn’t carry everything I need at all times which can be a problem when I need to carry a couple extra lenses or some extra equipment. Since there are times where I have to review several cameras at once, I can’t carry them all in the Retrospective 5 which brings me to what I have here today. This is the Think Tank Photo, Shape Shifter Backpack. The main attraction of this bag is that it is able to expand and contract enable to fit either more or less equipment. This means that it is a very versatile bag that can accommodate as much or as little equipment that you need.

Features

The first thing you’ll notice about the Shape Shifter when you first get it is how slim it looks and wonder how this backpack will fit all your equipment. It’s after you start unzipping everything that you see just how versatile this bag is and how much it can actually hold. When you unzip the portion that makes the Shape Shifter expand, it opens up to a full 4″ extra of depth. That’s a full 7-inches of depth that can be used to carry all sorts of equipment.

After unzipping the expandable section, there is another zipper located on the inside that opens up the main compartment. The zipper goes all the way around the outside allowing you to completely open up the backpack like a book so that it is easier to get at all the inner pockets and pouches. The main compartment has 5 Neoprene gear pockets that can be used to hold a variety of items depending on how creative you get. For instance, you can carry 2 DSLR bodies, and 3 rather large lenses. In my case, I am able to carry my Sony NEX-5N with 18-55mm kit lens attached, my 16mm pancake lens and fisheye lens adapter, two rather large Sigma telephoto lenses for my NEX-5N, and an extra Olympus PEN E-PL3 with 20mm Lumix pancake lens. That’s quite a lot I can fit into the 5 Neoprene pockets. On the other side of the inner compartment. there are 3 more nylon mesh pockets that can be used to carry miscellaneous equipment such as extra lens and body caps, battery chargers, and flash units. The larger nylon pocket is zippered while the smaller two are not. As you can see, there are a lot of pockets, and that’s only in the main inner compartment.

On the outside of the Shape Shifter, there several more zippered compartments. I’ll start off with the compartment that is closest to the straps. This one is used to hold up to a 17″ laptop. It’s a very large, flat padded compartment that can help keep your laptop safe during travel. When the Shape Shifter is compressed, it makes for a rather nice laptop backpack that is very slim. Even when expanded, there is still plenty of room for both your laptop and all your camera equipment. In my case, I use it to hold my iPad in which there is more than enough room for it.

On the front part of the Shape Shifter, are 3 more zippered compartments. The upper front compartment is one that you may actually use a lot. This compartment includes a handy organizer for accessories. The organizer has 4 pen holders, 1 larger pocket for maybe a small notepad, and 3 card slots for ID, credit cards, or any other cards of this size. Behind that is a larger pocket that holds the removable rain cover or whatever else you want to hold of this size. The compartment also includes 2 more pockets with Velcro straps on them to keep them secure. These can be used to hold a mobile phone, compact pocket camera, MP3 player, etc.

In the lower front compartment, you’ll find even more pockets to hold your equipment. This compartment includes 2 more zippered pockets and one large open pocket. The zippered pockets are made of some plastic-like material which seems to me like they would be water resistant and would be a good place to keep electronic items that might need more protection from the elements.

Below the lower front compartment, you’ll find yet another large zippered compartment. You can use this to carry more equipment or you can use it for carrying a tripod or monopod. The pocket is use to store the legs of either while the 2 included tripod straps are used to secure the tripod or monopod in place.  The Shape Shifter comes with 2 of these straps that can be left on the bag or removed if you don’t plan on ever carrying a tripod or monopod.

Like I said, plenty of pockets and zippered compartments to hold all your stuff. I like the fact that you can really use the bag for two different things. If you don’t need to carry around all that camera equipment, you can use it strictly as a laptop backpack and carry around all your laptop gear. When you do need to carry around photo equipment, the Shape Shifter easily converts into a camera backpack that can carry around almost anything you can throw at it. There really is nothing yet that I couldn’t hold in the Shape Shifter backpack.

The Shape Shifter also has its fair share of straps. The shoulder straps are nicely padded and very comfortable to use. They aren’t just regular shoulder straps however as they also include harness pockets, D Rings, and sternum strap. The backpack also includes a waist belt to help support heavy loads if you are carrying a lot of gear in your bag. What’s great about the waist belt however is that it can be removed if you plan on using something a bit more functional like the Think Tank Photo Pro Speed Belt. The Shape Shifter has a Velcro groove built into the bottom of the backpack that allows you to attach the Pro Speed Belt thus allowing you to carry even more gear by attaching their modular component systems. It’s a very nice option to have and you can really appreciate the fact that Think Tank Photo really thought out the design of the Shape Shifter.

Technical Specifications:

  • Outer Dimensions When Expanded: 20”H x 12.5”W x 7”D” (51.0 x 32.0 x 18.0 cm) Outer Dimensions When Compressed: 20”H x 12.5W” x 3”D (51.0 x 32.0 x 8.0 cm) Laptop Compartment Inner Dimensions: 19” H x 12”W x 1.5”D (48.0 x 30.5 x 4.0cm)
  • 3.75 lbs (1.73 kg)
  • No Rhetoric Warranty Policy
  • Exterior – All fabric exterior treated with a durable water repellent treatment (DWR) while fabric underside is coated with polyurethane (PU) for superior water resistance, YKK® RC Fuse (abrasion resistant) zippers, 1680D ballistic nylon, 420D velocity nylon, 3D air mesh, ultra stretch pockets, Rock Lockster® buckles, nickel plated metal hardware, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
  • Interior - Neoprene gear pockets, 210D silver-toned nylon, 2x PU coated nylon 210T seam-sealed taffeta rain cover, nylon mesh pockets, closed cell foam, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.

Final Thoughts

I honestly never thought I would ever have the need to carry around a camera backpack. For the most part, I’ve been content in using more traditional shoulder bags but I’m finding that as I accumulate more and more gear and my stock of review cameras build, I’m needing something much larger to carry it all. Shoulder bags are great for carrying around one camera and maybe a backup lens or two, but anything more than that I’m finding that I’m using the Shape Shifter more and more these days. It’s very comfortable to use over long periods of time and isn’t very bulky at all.

There is one disadvantage though to using a backpack as opposed to the shoulder bags I’m used to and it is getting to your camera quicker. It’s easier just lifting up the flap on a shoulder bag to get to your camera as opposed to me taking off my backpack, unzipping the main compartment, and reaching into one of the neoprene pouches for my gear. It’s not as convenient. However, you can remedy this by hanging your camera from the shoulder harness D Rings if you know you’ll be shooting often with it.

Overall though, I’m loving the fact that I can carry around much more gear now and don’t need to pick and choose what I can and can’t carry due to limited space in my shoulder bag. With the Shape Shifter, I can carry more and be more prepared in case I run into a situation where I need something specific.

If you’re worried about long term reliability, don’t be. The Shape Shifter is very well made and really feels like it will last a long time based on the quality of materials used. There are no cheap looking parts anywhere on the bag. Every inch of the bag looks like it was built to last and hopefully that will be the case after long term usage.

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