The Shape Shifter backpack from Think Tank is a really unique camera bag. It is designed to expand and contract, and stores your camera bag in a system completely different from anything I have used before. When I first got the backpack, I was very leery of its design, but as I have been using it for several months, I realized the design is actually kind of perfect for a lot of the photography trips I do.
Shape Shifter Design
The biggest unique part of this bag is the pocket for your camera gear. This pocket is where the bag gets its shape shifter name. Depending how much gear you have in this pocket, the pocket can be compressed via a separate zipper, making it a much flatter backpack if you don't have a lot of gear.
Pretty much every single camera backpack I have used has very similar padded dividers. The Shape Shifter stores your gear in a completely different manner. Inside the gear pocket are 4 fairly large padded pockets. 3 of the pockets are basic pockets with cinch tops, while the fourth, which is designed for your camera body, has velcro sides so you can fit your camera in regardless of the set up.
This set up may not work for you if you carry a ton of different lenses, but usually when I travel, I only carry 3-4 lenses with me. This works nicely to fit a lens in each pocket. The pockets are actually a bit large for my Fuji lenses, but they don't bounce around at all and still stay very secure. The only issue I really have with the design is you have to get creative a bit to get the camera body with a longer lens attached into the pocket nicely.
The reason I have really grown to like this design is because you don't get a bunch of wasted space. With many camera backpacks, I feel like I only fill up 2/3 of the dividers on a lot of trips, and the remaining dividers don't work great for other luggage so it goes wasted. In the Shape Shifter, you can carry your essential lenses and body in these pouches (store all your smaller stuff in the small pockets throughout the bag) and then you can pack whatever else you want in the same pocket without any issue. I have found it is great for packing in extra clothes during a trip.
The other really cool thing is the design allows you to easily reach in and pull gear out with the bag in a standing position. As most readers probably are familiar with, most backpacks require you to lay them down and fully unzip the pocket to get to all the camera gear. With the Shape Shifter design, you can just unzip the top of the pocket, reach in, and pull out the lens or camera you want.
The other large pocket that is really nice is the laptop compartment. It easily fits my 15.6 inch laptop with room left over to pack in other essentials when I am travelling.
The front of the bag has four additional smaller pockets. The larger two are great for fitting smaller items that you want quick access to like batteries, cords, headphones and filters. The smaller two pockets are perfect for a cell phone or something else small.
The final pocket is a detachable water bottle holder for the side of the bag. It is fairly large, which is great for carrying a big bottle or something similar. It is a bit bulky if you aren't using it, so it is nice that they made it detachable.
The final feature worth discussing is the back of the backpack features a pass through for the handle of your rolling luggage.
I have found the Shape Shifter to be a comfortable bag. It isn't designed as a heavy-duty, long-distance hiking backpack, but for normal use, you will find the padding and ergonomic straps more than adequate.
I also rather like the style of the waist and sternum straps. They add a lot to the comfort of the backpack and are very easy to adjust, which for me make a big difference. They also have smartly-designed loop holders that don't get in the way. These help so you don't have long straps dangling down when you tighten the waist strap.
Overall, I am very pleased with the Shape Shifter backpack. While I was skeptical of the design at first, but I figured out how to take advantage of it and it has become super convenient to use. I think the backpack is a perfect fit for a hobbyist photographer that likes to travel. It is perfect for carrying camera body and a few lenses, while having plenty of room for clothes, a computer and lots of other gear. While it may not be ideal for someone carrying a ton of gear, the design is awesome for those it is more likely designed for.