Everybody who has read my articles about our 2013 Namibia safari will have heard me waxing lyrical about the awesomeness of the ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag that accompanied me throughout that trip and how I could carry my Olympus E-M5 and 6 lenses without any problems everywhere I went. It’s been a love affair from the first moment I first got it.
However, as I have continued along with my transformation to the micro four thirds system I have acquired more kit and my little Retro5, as magical as it is, simply can’t swallow all the new bits that have come its way. A new love affair was on the cards.
Most important to me in my search for a new bag and carrying solution was that I needed something that could take both my OM-D cameras with lenses attached to them, plus of course the grips I am using on those bodies. I do have a Lowepro Nova 200AW that I used once or twice when I was shooting Nikon, but that bag is not suitable for micro four thirds stuff. The compartments are too big for the lenses and it also makes me stick out like a … photographer carrying a lot of expensive equipment. Not my aim.
I had a chat on Facebook with Simon Pollock who runs social media for ThinkTank and told him what I was looking for and what it would need to carry. He suggested the Retrospective 7, which is the same as the Retro 5, just a bit bigger. That was all I needed to hear. Nothing is cooler than the Retrospective series bags in my opinion, so if I could have the same degree of cool in a slightly bigger bag without giving away my photographer status I would be a happy Fonzie.
So the Retro 7 is what I decided on and it has come to me all the way from California. Just as Simon suggested it is about perfect for what I need it to carry. It’s almost exactly the same design as the Retro 5, with the only real difference being that it has a zippered and padded sleeve in the back that can accommodate a full size iPad or an 11” MacBook Air. I have neither, so I dumped the raincoat in there for now and come safari time later this year will probably put my 13” MacBook Pro in there sideways (inside its protective Thule shell) for my flights. I don’t foresee a problem with this as my carry-on for the flight because I can take out the MBP when I put the bag in the overhead and then put it in the seat pocket in front of me to keep it safe - I will just have to remember to take it with me when I disembark! Of course being a micro four thirds user now means I will have no bag weight stress either, which has been the cause of much angst over the past few years whenever I have been on safari.
The supplied dividers of the Retro 7 are the same as the Retro 5 - they divide the bag into three big sections with a few short and thin dividers you can optionally add in. Unfortunately those supplied dividers were inadequate for what I wanted to put into this bag, so I pilfered more of the stiffer dividers I had left over from my ThinkTank Airport Security roller and had my own way with the innards of the Retro 7. The roller dividers are just right for this bag and have allowed me to divide it up into 6 or 7 sections, depending on what I’m carrying with me.
Here’s a look at the way I have configured it (empty). On the right hand side I have used a thinner divider that connects to a loose inner pouch and can easily shift its size to accommodate my biggest lens, the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 when I need to carry it, or become 2 smaller sections for my other stuff (flash units, more smaller lenses, etc).
When I want to take a lot of stuff and 2 bodies it looks something like this before I put the cameras in. The two compartments in the middle are deep enough for two shorter m43 lenses to "bunk" together, so there's space for 4 of them there.
In this shot above you’ll see how the E-M5 slots into the vacant spot together with the Olympus 7-14/4 (four thirds mount) or Olympus 12-40/2.8. The E-M1 will attach to the 50-200mm and everything fits perfectly. Unfortunately I had to use the E-M1 to take these photos so until I get a third body (heaven forbid!) you’ll have to use your imagination, or just take my word for it that it all fits well. I should mention that I have the hood and the tripod mount of the 50-200 still attached here, which brings me to some criticisms I have of the Retrospective 7. I don’t like those little bits of material that are sewn into the corners of the inside. They just get in my way when I'm removing things from that part of the bag. I am very tempted to take a box cutter to them. All that stops me is the fear that they may in some way be the glue that binds the whole bag together and butchering them could result in the entire thing coming apart at the seams. Unlikely, but for now I will endure their presence.
I’d also really like the bag even more if ThinkTank could incorporate the raincoat into a bottom sleeve as this would not add much bulk and could free up useful space in the pouches. They could probably design a little pocket in the main flap for this. It would certainly make it easier to get to in a sudden downpour.
The pockets on the external sides of the Retro 7 are useful to store slim articles but perhaps they could be a little looser so that you could put a water bottle in them?
Apart from those minor criticisms I have no complaints about the Retro 7. Some cool features that are carried up from the Retro 5 are the business card sleeve on the inside of the main cover flap, plus you can also silence the velco on that flap using the ingenious ThinkTank fold-over bits. The same internal pockets that are on the Retro 5 can be found in the 7, so you can store memory cards, paper clips or any number of other things that you might need to carry with you while you're out shooting. I use the front pouch to carry my wallet and phone. I could also probably slip that third OM-D body in there should it ever come to that for me.
On the whole it is a really nice solution for when I need to take along a bit more kit than I can get into the Retro 5. I’m looking forward to this being the only camera bag I take with me to Botswana and Sabi Sabi this year for our Photographers.travel group safaris.
The above shows the Retro 5 in front of the 7 to give you an idea of the size difference. All I need now are some more rock n' roll badges to make it look even less like a camera bag.
If you’d like to order a Retrospective 7 directly from ThinkTank please use this link and you will get a free gift with your order. They retail at $162.75 and are also available in black and blue slate.