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Review: ThinkTank Airport Advantage


Dallas

ThinkTank have released what I think is probably the perfect roller for the photographer who needs to travel by air with a decent amount of kit on any kind of photography excursion.  

 

As many of my readers over the years will already know, one of the biggest problems I have had since I began hosting photo safaris, is picking a suitable means of travelling with my gear on local flights. In the past I have used both the other (older) ThinkTank Airport rollers, namely the International and the Security. Both have their own strengths as conveyors of equipment, but for the most part they are also part of the problem in that they weigh a fair amount before you have even put any gear in them. 

 

These days the airlines are getting stricter with the carry on luggage limits and most of them in South Africa limit you to 7 or 8 kilos in a single carry on item for economy class seats. There is no way I would be able to get away with dragging the Airport Security V2.0 onboard a local flight as hand luggage these days. It’s a wonderful case to keep your gear safe in, but it’s not the most inconspicuous, mainly because of its size. When the cabin crew who man the gangways and plane doors see you bringing it onboard they will most definitely stop you and ask you to sky check it. The Airport International is a bit smaller than the Security, but it is still big enough to attract unwanted attention from the cabin crew. 

 

In preparation for this year’s Ultimate Big 5 Safari I was in a bit of a quandary when it came to deciding which bag I should use. On the two previous safaris I used the ThinkTank Retrospective 50 which swallows up an incredible amount of gear, including my 13” MacBook Pro and a bunch of other things like chargers, hard drives and power supplies. I like that bag a lot, but it is a bit large to carry around casually and I also had an issue a few years ago in getting it to fit in the overhead of a small plane. When fully loaded it also doesn’t easily go under the seat in front of you. 

 

My favourite and most used camera bag is the ThinkTank Retrospective 7. It can carry both of my Olympus E-M1 bodies, the Oly 50-200mm (without hood and tripod mount) and a bunch of other items I would want on the safari. However, the pouch on the rear of that bag is designed for iPads and isn’t big enough to fit my 13” laptop. Despite this I had pretty much decided that this was going to be my bag because I could always carry the laptop in its Thule case as a personal item and/or put it into that rear slip long side up. 

 

Then ThinkTank announced the Airport Advantage about 2 weeks prior to my departure. Just by looking at photos of it and watching the video on their website I knew that this would be the perfect case for me to take on safari this year. About a week or so later it arrived at my door via courier and boy was I happy to meet it! 

 

The Airport Advantage is a lot lighter and more importantly slighter in stature than the other ThinkTank Airport rollers, which means that when you look at it, it doesn’t attract any unwanted cabin crew attention. Yet this roller, in spite of this diminished appearance, possesses some sort of TARDIS-like magical power because it swallows up a lot of stuff, including some very large lenses which people coming on our safaris here in Southern African have been known to bring with them. 

 

Configuration Options

 

Like all bags with padded dividers there are a lot of configuration options for the interior of this roller. You get a decent amount of dividers with the case too, as well as a raincoat (more about the raincoat later). The three-part telescopic handle only runs about halfway down the spine of the case so the bottom section has enough depth to accommodate the largest of DSLR’s, including gripped ones, with their big lenses attached. 

 

Typically on our safaris we find most of our guests bring two camera bodies, one main telephoto lens (the 200-400mm seems to be the most popular lens), a 70-200/2.8 and a wide angle like the 14-24/2.8, a flash, teleconverters and maybe one or two smaller lenses. So I took the opportunity on this most recent safari to see how this kind of kit would fit into the Airport Advantage. 

 

Below are some photos showing exactly how it handled a Nikon D4 with 200-400mm f/4 attached, as well as a D3s with the new 300mm f/4 PF with a 2x TC and the 70-200/2.8 on the side. I also put a Canon 7D Mk II with a 300mm f/2.8 and its hood un-reversed in there. You can see for yourself how easily it accommodates these large items and how much room is left over for other things. 

 

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For my gear I had more than enough space to carry not only my 13” MacBook Pro (there’s a sleeve on the front for that), but 2 Olympus E-M1’s, the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 SWD, Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, Olympus 75/1.8, Sigma 19/2.8 & 60/2.8, 2x battery chargers, 2x external hard drives, lots of cables, a back-up card reader and a whole bunch of other items like extra batteries. I even had a dedicated space for my Peak Design Slide and Leash straps. It really is quite an incredible roller! 

 

CtCd2stWgAASF1Q.jpg-large.jpg

 

With everything packed I weighed it on the bathroom scale and it came in at around 10kgs, which is still over the official carry-on limit, but the thing is because it’s so compact it doesn’t look like a heavy bag and nobody raised an eyebrow at all on my 2 domestic flights this time around. 

 

Features

 

While it is a truly amazing roller, there are one or two things about the Advantage that I think could be improved on. 

 

Raincoat

Firstly the raincoat, like all other bag raincoats I have ever tried to use in a hurry, simply eludes me. We were out on a game drive and it started to rain, so I tried to cover it up but nothing seemed to fit logically. Eventually I just gave up and left it lying on top of the case as we made our way back to the camp. They really ought to coat these cases in something more water resistant than nylon. Maybe a lining inside the nylon would be better? 

 

Pockets

The other thing that I would like to have had is an external pocket to put my travel documents in. There is a zippered recess just underneath where you can put your business cards, but it isn’t deep enough to hold much more than a passport, and even that is a bit of a wiggle to get in on its own. I think that they could put a pouch on the flap of the laptop compartment which would then make this the absolute perfect safari travel roller. 

 

Unlike the other Airport rollers I have used where there is a stretchy sleeve on the front for putting your laptop in, only to have it fall out if you’re not careful, the Advantage has a proper sleeve with a velcro flap. The sleeve doesn’t have any padding though, so if you’re going to travel with your laptop in there it’s a good idea to have some extra protection for your hardware. I use the Thule semi-hard shell for my MacBook and it survived not only a couple of hours in the overhead bins of the planes I went on, but also 12 hours of road transit between Johannesburg and the Sabi Sands. I was careful to make sure that no other bags were placed on top of it though. 

 

Handles

There are handles on three sides of the Advantage which makes hoisting it into overhead bins quite easy. I like the design of the handle on the bottom of the case which also doubles as its balancing feet. A nice touch. 

 

EM1B3736-Edit.jpg

 

The other top quality finish is the telescopic handle. This feels very well made. I have wondered though why ThinkTank opted to use a dual shaft handle instead of a single one on this roller. I think it may have been a better design to use a single telescopic shaft that is housed on the outside of the back instead of two shafts that use up space on the inside of the case. Perhaps v2.0 will see some of these refinements? 

 

Tripod Attachment

If you are travelling with a tripod it is possible to strap one onto the side of the Advantage and Think Tank supply removable straps for you to use with the loops on the bag. Personally I always put my tripod in my checked luggage so I doubt I would use this, unless I was using the roller on a local shoot and needed to take a tripod with.  

 

Lockable

Unlike the big brother Airport Security, this roller doesn’t have a built-in TSA lock but it is possible to lock it from the zipper with your own luggage lock. I have a cheap combination lock which I have no doubt any thief could probably gnaw off in a matter of seconds, but I suppose it’s better than nothing if your bag might be unattended for a short while. 

 

Wheels

The wheels are super smooth to run and I put those to the test properly when I had to literally sprint through OR Tambo airport to board my flight home on time. I think Wayde Van Niekerk better watch out - this old dude can shift his molecules quickly when he needs to! :D 

 

Conclusion

 

In spite of my few little nitpicks and improvement suggestions, this is by far the most useful travelling case I have ever used for my camera gear. For people coming on our safaris it’s just about all you will need to bring out not only your essential camera gear but also a fair amount of accessories and of course your computer too. I highly recommend getting one to simplify your travels with cameras. 

 

If you would like to support Fotozones please use the link below to order your Airport Advantage. A percentage of each sale is paid to us in commission AND you will also get a free gift from ThinkTank when placing your order using this link.

 

ORDER YOUR AIRPORT ADVANTAGE HERE

 

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Edited by DDFZ

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Great review.

 

I love the Think Tank bags.  My one and only complain about them is the rain covers.  They make no sense to me either.  I much prefer the way that Lowepro does the rain cover.  In a velcro pocket at hte bottom - you pull it out and over the bag and attach it with a velcro strap to the handle at the top.  Very quick and easy.

 

 

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With a weight limit of 8kg I would not choose a bag with wheels.  Even I can carry 8kg on my back with a decently designed bag.

 

I have still not found a better bag than my Lowepro MiniTrekker AW, light, comfortable to carry, amazingly capacious, space for non photographic bits, and, bizarrely, discontinued.

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13 minutes ago, Anthony said:

With a weight limit of 8kg I would not choose a bag with wheels.  Even I can carry 8kg on my back with a decently designed bag.

 

I have still not found a better bag than my Lowepro MiniTrekker AW, light, comfortable to carry, amazingly capacious, space for non photographic bits, and, bizarrely, discontinued.

 

Carrying a couple of large DSLRs and a 200-400/4 and other bits on your back won't be fun, I can assure you. Yes, those items will definitely put you over the weight limit for carry-on, but you won't stick out when you take it on the plane. That's the beauty of this roller - it looks small but it carries a lot. 

 

I had two Lowepro Mini Trekkers over the years - they were good bags. 

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I've been saying it for years (applies to most bag makers) - why do they make a separate "raincover" instead of simply either making the thing with a rainproof material (incorporating a storm flap) or at the very least lining the bag with a waterproof membrane?

 

In the '70's they almost all seemed to forget at design stage that it rains at times outdoors, and that people mostly use their bags to carry their gear other than indoors.

 

Earlier bags were made out of leather with storm flaps or waterproofed canvas, again with flaps that worked on the simple principle that water doesn't flow uphill. Nylon seemed to introduce the theory of no rain, ever, and the rain cover always was an idiotic patch-up to a systemic design failure of making the bag with porous material. Why that change happened is beyond me - both my 1970's aluminium cases had a rubber gasket sealing the opening, and both leather bags I had never allowed my gear to ever get wet due to their sensible materials and use of storm flaps.

 

If any of the manufacturers could demonstrate to me why it is preferable to have my photographic bag designed so that it actually absorbs water rather than repels it, I'd be fascinated to hear it.

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On 10/20/2016 at 13:41, Alan7140 said:

 

I've been saying it for years (applies to most bag makers) - why do they make a separate "raincover" instead of simply either making the thing with a rainproof material (incorporating a storm flap) or at the very least lining the bag with a waterproof membrane?

I think that we have all pondered the rainproofing solutions offered by the pack manufacturers.  I feel the best solution is either the Lowepro built-in/fold out concept, or a simple and inexpensive generic backpack raincover that takes up a small amount of space when stuffed into the pack.

For those pining for a waterproof material for the pack to be made out of, there is no material that meets performance, cost, durability, and weight requirements.  

ALL coatings applied to woven nylon eventually decompose...usually long before the nylon does.

Sealing humidity IN is a bad choice.  

In the case of an internal Gore-Tex-type lining, I don't see the value of having a soaking wet pack, even if the contents are kept dry.  

Others may, and will, disagree, I'm sure.

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After our most recent safari I thought I would provide a little anecdotal update on this roller bag from ThinkTank.

 

As regular readers will know, on the UB5 safari I fly from Durban to Johannesburg, meet our Safarians and then we travel by road to Sabi Sabi. No problems getting the Advantage on the plane in Durban.

 

This year's return flight to Durban was slightly different in that instead of driving back to Johannesburg and then flying on to Durban, our entire party (except Pepe) were transferred from Little Bush Camp to Skukuza airport in the middle of the Kruger National Park. 

 

We haven't ever used this airport before because we weren't sure of the transfer logistics involved in getting there, but it is now possible to transfer there directly from Sabi Sabi without having to leave the Sabi Sands and then re-enter Kruger Park via a different gate. Our Little Bush Camp trackers actually transferred us there in the game drive vehicles from the lodge along the old Military Road and the drive was just over an hour. It's also obviously a much nicer drive than going to Nelspruit some 2 hours away! 

 

Anyway, after I had checked in and passed security at Skukuza, we were all sitting in the departures area (which is actually a lovely outdoors patio) when a baggage handler approached me and handed me a tag for my Advantage roller for gate checking. I said no, I had electronic equipment in there and he left with his tag. I wasn't sure if he had gone to call a superior, but I sure as hell wasn't going to let them check my camera bag. Then when I was about to get on the plane, another baggage handler standing at the stairs to the plane said that I couldn't take that onboard as it wouldn't fit in the overhead locker of the Embraer 135 aircraft we were flying on. I politely insisted that it would fit and he relented and said that the cabin crew might ask me to take it to him for gate checking if it didn't. 

 

I got onboard and while the overheads were indeed very small, by removing my laptop from the front sleeve I was able to stow the roller without any problems. In fact, I could definitely have put in under the seat too. 

 

So, bottom line is that this case is ideal for a photo safari to Kruger National Park. You can put a full sized DSLR inside it, together with a large lens like the 200-400mm and a bunch of other items. It's a great solution. 

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      Getting to Jo'burg from Durban on SAA was easy. I have never been asked to weigh my carry-on luggage by SAA and this time was no different. I checked in my main suitcase and they didn't even ask about the ThinkTank roller which I had strategically positioned directly in front of the check in desk so that the attendant didn't really see it. I also draped my jacket over the top of it to camouflage its dimensions a little. No questions were asked. I went through security and on the other side I found the gate I needed to be at, making sure I was the first in line to board. This is important as it assures you of a space in the overhead bin - the last thing you want to have happen if you can't find any space in those overhead bins is for the flight attendants to have to place your bag for you, because the weight will be a major concern and then they will most likely gate check it if they haven't already compressed their vertebrae trying to hoist it somewhere themselves. Get on the plane first and secure a space in the overhead bin.
       
      Going back the other way from this year's Big 5 safari required me to make two flights; one from KMIA to Johannesburg, and then from Johannesburg back to Durban. In the past I have flown directly back to Durban from KMIA, but this is where I encountered the small plane problems that I knew I would not be able to take a big carry-on like the ThinkTank rollers onboard. On that flight there was no overhead bin and there was very little space under the seat, so I decided to fly back via Johannesburg this time. Longer and more expensive, but I'd rather pay more for the flights and get all my gear home safely than check it at the gate and possibly lose everything.
       
      One of our guests on this safari had brought his gear over from the US in the bigger ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 roller. While we were waiting to board the plane back to JHB from KMIA after the safari we were both approached by a ground personnel individual and asked to gate check the rollers as we walked out to the plane from the gate. She seemed a little unassertive, so we both refused, citing the contents as being too valuable to check. She relented easily enough and we boarded the aircraft with our rollers ahead of everyone else, found our seats, stowed them above us and sat down to enjoy the flight. I also had no problem getting the roller onboard the Kulula flight back to my home city, Durban. Job done. Thank you ThinkTank!
       
      If you're thinking about getting this case, I can highly recommend it. You'll fit a decent amount of kit into it and it has some pretty neat features, including a raincoat, lockable zippers, external pockets and also a system for attaching your monopod or tripod to the outside of it. There's also a combination lock you can use to secure your case to a pole or something immovable if you need to be away from it for a short while. I can see this coming in handy when shooting on location. The build quality is also top notch.
       
      If I can offer some criticism of the case it's that I found some of the dividers a little too stiff to configure nicely. I think if they could make them a bit more flexible it would be a whole lot more awesome as a solution for your camera travels. Also, the telescopic handle of this model seems very thin and flimsy compared to its bigger brother's handle. Speaking of handles, ThinkTank have placed one on three of the cases edges, which makes it very easy to hoist from any angle. That's clever design.
       
      The inside also zips out completely so you can wash it out thoroughly, especially if you're in the habit of dragging your roller into dusty locations, which we tend to do a lot on safari! My associate Pepe is now using this roller permanently and I have opted to use the larger one, the Airport Security V2.0 which I will discuss in my next article.
       
      If you are in the USA you can buy this bag directly from ThinkTank and get a free gift when you use this link.
       
      Note: unfortunately the images for this article were lost in a software upgrade. 
       

      View full article
    • By Dallas
      The genre of photography that excites me the most these days is landscapes. I can’t think of anything I enjoy shooting more than a drama filled natural landscape. I feel at peace doing this type of photography, truly content. In preparing for our recent photo safari to Namibia I was looking at getting a filter system to help me make the most of the landscape photo opportunities that we were going to encounter.
       
      So why use filters when a lot of the effects they offer can be replicated in post production software like Photoshop or Lightroom? Well, firstly I don’t like to do things in post when they can be done in the camera. If there’s a recipe for making me fed up it involves me sitting behind a computer screen for hours tweaking pixels with masks and layers in software that requires a great deal of expertise to get the best results from (besides, I’m not playing the Adobe rent-a-shop game these days). Secondly, the sensors on digital cameras these days have pretty good dynamic range, but if you want to make the most of the digital information captured on those sensors, it’s probably best to avoid working with the extremes of DR. If you’re on the edge of blowing out the sky while lifting the foreground, why not just play it safe and protect the sky with a neutral density graduated filter?
       
      Neutral density filters that block light in the same way that sunglasses do have long been used by photographers to slow down exposure times when using wider apertures in bright outdoor conditions, or to selectively reduce glare in parts of the frame. Doing this not only helps to minimise depth of field in situations where your shutter speed is hitting the limits of your camera’s ability, but it also helps to create drama in skies with moving clouds, or to give moving water the dreamy silk-like effect that we see so often in seascapes and photos of rivers and waterfalls. You can’t replicate those effects easily in Photoshop or any other image manipulation software.
       
      So, now that I have convinced you to use filters to enhance your landscape photography, you have a couple of options if, like me, you are chasing down exciting landscape photography:
       
      1) you can buy filters that screw onto your lens, which gets expensive if you have quite a few lenses with different filter thread sizes, or…
      2) you can buy into a system of filters that can be used on any lens with an adapter.
       
      I decided to look into the latter and the LEE filters Seven5 filter system that has been designed specifically for smaller mirrorless cameras like micro four thirds popped up on my radar.
       
      The Lee Seven5 system is much like their well known bigger system of resin based rectangular filters that can be slotted into a holder, which is then attached to a lens by means of a lens adapter. The only real difference is that the Seven5 filters are smaller (they are 75mm wide whereas the bigger filters used on DSLR’s are 100mm wide). Assuming you are using a ND grad, once the filter is in position you can easily rotate the holder around your lens to darken certain parts of the frame. You can also slide the filter up or down inside the holder to adjust the part of the frame you need to darken. This can’t be done with a traditional screw-in filter.
       
      I got a LEE Seven5 filter system that comprised the following bits:
       
      LEE Seven5 filter holder (dual slots for filters)
      46mm, 52mm & 58mm adapter rings
      0.3, 0.6 & 0.9 ND hard grad filters
      0.9 ND filter
       
      The filter numbers indicate the number of stops of light that they cut out. For example, 0.3 is 1 stop and 0.9 is 3 stops.
       
      These hand made filters come in handy micro-fibre pockets that can double as cleaning cloths, but they are also wrapped in a fine tissue like paper that I have often used to clean lenses with in the past. Unfortunately the tissue paper didn't make it out of the desert intact...
       
      The adapter rings are made of a black anodised metal and the filter holder simply snaps onto these, allowing you to easily rotate the holder with the filters in place. It’s a very neat, uncomplicated system.
       
      So how does it work in the field?
       
      Prior to this Namibian safari I had never used filters like this, so you could call me a complete filter system newbie. Fortunately there is a lot of information on the LEE Filters website, as well as guides on how to use their products, so before I went on the trip I spent some time reading up how to use them and it seemed to be a fairly straight forward process.
       
      The first time I tried to use them was at Bloubergstrand in Cape Town where you get some amazing sunsets over the ocean. Initially I found it a little difficult to figure out where exactly the ND grad line was appearing on the Olympus E-M5 because even if you press the depth of field preview, the EVF automatically brightens itself. This is a setting somewhere that I simply didn’t have the time to go looking for, so I guessed where to place the filter. The results were interesting, but as I was still learning how to use the system, I needed to experiment a bit more.
       

      click to enlarge
      Above is a shot showing the sun setting over Robin Island with a bit of the shoreline in the frame. If I remember correctly I was using the 0.6 ND graduated filter here, but I might be wrong. The overall exposure between land, sea and sky seems to be nicely balanced, but there is a spot of flare from the sun in the frame. This is not a train smash as you can always clone it out, but because you’re using what is essentially an external element to your lens, the quality of the filter will affect the severity of flare if you have the sun in the frame, so keep this in mind if you get the notion of buying cheaper filters.
       
      The next time I got to use the filters was a couple of weeks later when we found ourselves photographing landscapes inside the Sossussvlei, which is a spectacular dune reserve in the south western part of Namibia. This is a place where landscape photographers die and go to heaven. Wherever you turn there is majestic landscape waiting for you to capture it. On our second day in the area we stayed inside the reserve in one of the exclusive Namibia Wildlife Resorts which enabled us to stay in the reserve at the most important photographic times of the day, sunrise and sunset. We made the most of this and did a session near dune 42 in the fading light of late afternoon and then again the next morning before sunrise at the Deadvlei, which is about 60km from the lodge, right at the end of the asphalt road that runs through the reserve.
       
      The afternoon session gave me some much needed time to play around with the ND grads using my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and 9-18mm lens. While our group were mostly photographing the massive dune in front of us, I turned around and looked at the landscape behind us. The sun was setting and the light was amazing, so I found some foreground interest and proceeded to experiment with the LEE Seven5 ND grad filters, trying them all, before finally finding my stride with the 0.6.
       

       
       

       

       
      The next morning three of us arose before the dawn and headed for a sunrise at the Deadvlei. This gave me yet more opportunities to try out the ND grads. Again the results were great!
       

      click to enlarge
       
      The next time I got to try out the filters was in Swakopmund, but the sky was very washed out there and there weren’t any clouds, so for this particular shot I went with the 0.3 ND grad and positioned it just below the horizon to give some more definition to the tops of the dunes.
       

      click to enlarge
       
      I think that this little system of filters is indispensable to landscape photography. It’s been downsized for use with the smaller mirrorless systems, such as micro four thirds and Fuji X-trans, so it’s easy to carry around in a camera bag. I managed to find a $20 slimline Lowepro GPS case that fits the filters and adapter rings I have perfectly. The filter holder comes with a drawstring pouch that fits nicely into the side of my ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag, which means I can bring along my entire m43 kit and a filter set without having to resort to a bigger bag.
       
      There are quite a few filter options available for the Seven5 system, ranging from sunset, B&W, tobacco, chocolate and sepia grads to polarisers and even a lens hood to help minimise the flaring from light hitting the filters at oblique angles. All in all it’s fairly comprehensive as a system and should keep landscape shooters using smaller systems quite well prepared for many eventualities.
       
      Price wise it’s not cheap, but it should be remembered that each filter is hand made, so you're getting the very best it can be. For the set of 3 ND grads, a single 0.9 ND filter, holder and 3 adapter rings you’re looking at approximately US$396 excluding shipping. There are now also Singh-Ray filters that will fit the LEE Seven5 holder, but those cost even more than the LEE filters.
       
      In my opinion if you’re into outdoor photography, especially if you want to keep weight down by using a small mirrorless system, you can’t beat this Seven5 system for convenience. Go get it if you can, it's a worthwhile investment in your photography.

      View full article
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