For a couple of years, I have used a Think Tank backpack as my primary “big load” camera bag. I had one messenger bag style bag which I used for carrying things around at a wedding, a portrait session, etc., but then I used a big Think Tank backpack as my massive storage supply. A few weeks ago, I received a press release from the folks over at Think Tank, announcing their new Think Tank Signature 13 bag. I responded back that I would be happy to live with the bag for a few weeks, check it out, write a review and then present it as a give-away.
Three days later I emailed them and begged to keep it. Here's the great news: if you are reading this in April, 2017, Think Tank will be giving away your choice of a Signature Series 10 or 13 to one lucky reader! Just to fully disclose, I was allowed to keep the sample bag. Details on the contest will be listed at the close of the article. I was expecting it to take me weeks to get used to this bag because I have spent a long time with the Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag, and honestly, I wasn't remotely interested in changing bags. Don't get me wrong; There is no way that I'm parting with my Peak Design bag – I'll go into some of the reasons why that will still be my primary choice for certain situations, but for others, the Signature 13 is hands-down the winner.
Here are the specifications provided directly from Think Tank:
- Dedicated laptop/tablet compartment: Signature 10 fits a 10” tablet; Signature 13 fits a 13” laptop
- Secure clasps on front flap with one-handed operation
- Dedicated phone pocket fits up to an iPhone 6s+ or S7 Edge
- Wide handle pass-through for attaching to rolling luggage
- Large front pocket for an extra strobe, rain cover or small book
- Long, cushioned neoprene shoulder pad positions easily when worn cross-body
- Zippered front pocket provides security for small items and includes a built-in organizer for pens and business cards
- Quilted velex dividers can be customized to fit gear
- Shorter dividers can be made into shelves to stack short lenses and primes
- Dividers and bottom foam can be removed for a completely collapsible bag
- Although the bag’s outer fabric is treated with water resistant coating, a seam-sealed rain cover is included for downpour conditions
- 1 standard size DSLR with 3–4 prime lenses and accessories
- A complete Mirrorless camera system with 3–4 lenses and accessories
- 10” tablet fits inside a dedicated compartment
- 1 standard-size DSLR with mid-range zoom attached plus 2–3 additional lenses
- 13” laptop fits inside a dedicated compartment
Exterior: All fabric exterior treated with durable water resistant coating while fabric underside is coated with polyurethane for superior water resistance. The bag also has 240D wool-like 195G nylon/poly blend, full-grain leather, antique-plated metal hardware, highest quality YKK® RC-Fuse zippers, 550D polyspun, nylon seatbelt webbing, neoprene, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
Interior: 210D silver-toned nylon lining, polyurethane-backed quilted Velex liner and dividers, high-density closed-cell foam dividers, 2x polyurethane coated nylon 210T seam-sealed taffeta rain cover, nylon binding, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
- Internal Dimensions: 11.8” W x 7.8” H x 5.1” D (30 x 20 x 13 cm)
- Exterior Dimensions: 13” W x 9.1” H x 5.9” D (33 x 23 x 15 cm)
- Tablet Compartment: 11.4” W x 7.8” H x 0.8” D (29 x 20 x 2 cm)
- Weight: 2.8 lbs. (1.3 kg)
- Internal Dimensions: 13.3” W x 9.1” H x 5.1” D (34 x 23 x 13 cm)
- Exterior Dimensions: 14.6” W x 10.4” H x 6.3” D (37 x 26.5 x 16 cm)
- Laptop/Tablet Compartment: 13” W x 9.1” H x 1.2” D (33 x 23 x 3 cm)
- Weight: 3.1 lbs. (1.4 kg)
I am a Canon 5D Mark IV shooter, and I am thrilled at how securely my camera body fits in this bag with my 70-200 2.8 OR my 100-400 Version II. Those are some fairly beefy lenses, and not only do they fit comfortably in the center space, while mounted to the camera, but a HUGE plus over the Peak Design bag – there is an inner cover lining that securely zips everything inside the bag. I can put my body and large lens in the center compartment of my Peak Design bag, but it just sort of ‘dangles' there in a very precarious way. I have used it for a good year or more, but there is always a nagging fear in the back of my mind that I'll bend over weird, or lean oddly, and my camera could just fall out. With the inner zip lining, that is 100% prevented.
The padding is another huge benefit of this bag. In addition to the main configuration, the bag comes with four additional velcro pads that can be used to provide additional cushioning, or to reconfigure the bag however you wish. As the bag was set up on delivery, it's absolutely perfect for the camera body w/ moderately large lens mounted in the center, my 100mm macro on one side, and my 24-70 or 16-35 on the other side. In the stock image to the right, all six pads are included inside the bag. The configuration I have found best for my needs is simply to leave the two “beefier” pads in the center, and I have removed the other four.
Another major ‘plus' to the Signature 13 is styling. While the Peak Design certainly has the “hipster/hiker/outdoorsy guy” thing
completely down to a science, this new Think Tank bag is much more posh and elegant. I would love to say that looks don't count for anything, but given my choice between these two bags in my collection, I will use the Think Tank bag anytime I'm intending to look sharp. I am a regular shooter for an organization that produces events on 5th Avenue in New York. These events are attended by the CEO's of Wall Street banks, major multinational corporations, and elite art dealers. This bag fits in perfectly in that crazy posh setting. It's perfect when dressed to the nines for a formal event of any occasion.
In the week that I have been using it, I have literally been stopped on the street by three different people to ask what kind of bag it is. All three of them were executives, not photographers. One was actually a cyber security expert for Apple, and he thought it was a laptop bag. They recognize it as a bag of superb quality, although it hasn't been targeted as a camera bag, which I do like. This certainly isn't going to be a “hide it in a junky bag” type of camouflage, but then again, that is not the intent of a finely pointed and bag like this.
I just mentioned laptop, and here we find ourselves at the most substantial drawback of this bag: It will not carry a MacBook Pro 15″. That is the laptop that I use, and if I wanted to carry it inside my camera bag, I would be disappointed. Luckily for my own personal choices, this isn't a thing. I hate having the extra weight of a laptop sitting on my shoulder all day at a shoot, so I use a separate briefcase to carry my laptop and my back-up drives. For me, not an issue at all. For some readers? I would just make sure you have a smaller laptop in mind, or a different way of carrying your computer. There is certainly plenty of space for a 13″ laptop, or an iPad.
The front of the bag has A leather strip that snaps over two separate storage areas. The frontmost of those two sections has a dedicated cell phone holder. The zipped area right behind that cell phone holder provides several little pockets to hold lens wipes, business cards, some filters, etc. Given the overall size of the bag, there is an impressive amount of storage available. On the rear side of the bag is another zipped storage area. That storage area covers the entire back width of the bag, and
The only other “negative” is actually 100% a positive: It's simply too nice to run around out in the woods, or to take out and get it all dirty/dusty/nasty in various situations. The bag itself is water resistant, and it also comes with a custom nylon waterproof bag to cover it. That is a thing that I greatly appreciate from Think Tank. A custom waterproof bag has come with all three of my Think Tank bags. A great touch.
The Signature bag also comes with a roller-luggage pass-through on the outer back side. I do not have an airport roller bag as of yet. I have heard from other photographer friends that it pairs absolutely perfectly with their Think Tank airport roller bags.
As I'm sure you can tell, this bag receives a solid five stars as far as I'm concerned. The attention to detail and the superior quality of this bag is just phenomenal. With all of the product reviews that I have done in the past year+ with www.improvephotography.com, I have found only two companies that have absolutely blown me away to the point where I fear coming across as a “fan boy.” The first was Breakthrough Photography. When I did my massive filter review, I fell in love with one filter company, and since then, I have become an exclusive shooter of only Breakthrough Photography filters. This was not an exhaustive comparison of a wide variety of bag manufacturers. In fact, it was initially meant to be a review of a really nice looking bag based on a press release. I wasn't expecting to marry this bag, and I did. That should pretty much say it all. As I mentioned in the beginning of the article, I will not desert my Peak Design Everyday Messenger. That bag will go with me camping, hiking, to the beach, and essentially anytime that I'm likely to scuff the bag. When I'm in jeans and hiking boots – Peak Design. When I'm in a suit or dress clothes: Signature 13.
And last but not least, here is a link where you will receive 10% off the purchase of any Think Tank products.