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Review: ThinkTank Retrospective 7


Dallas

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.

 

gallery_1_432_1397556702_377.jpg

 

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).

 

gallery_1_432_1397556702_380.jpg

 

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.

 

gallery_1_432_1397556703_381.jpg

 

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.

 

gallery_1_432_1397556703_384.jpg

 

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.

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Guest kristian skeie

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It os a nice bag Dallas- I have the Retrospective 50- bigger but fits nicely a Nikon D4 with something like the 24-70 as well as another 2 or 3 lenses and a flash...and a laptop (up to 15"). Discrete it is also. 

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Guest zarrayx

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i have one of this bag at that time it is 15-25  usd $ cheaper 18 months

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Does anybody know which is the smallest Retrospective bag that could fit a 13" MacBook Air and some mirrorless kit (Fuji X in my case)?

 

Cheers

Simone

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      As a photographer who organises wildlife safaris fairly often, the biggest elephant in the room I usually have to deal with is transporting my camera gear on airplanes between cities in South Africa. The issue is that if you are flying on a domestic airline within South Africa the rule for carry on luggage is that it can't exceed a certain dimension or weight. This happens to be either 7 or 8kgs, depending on which flavour airline you're on. Not a hell of a lot, is it? Put a couple of pro cameras with big lenses and a laptop into the mix and you'll be over the limit very quickly. The domestic airlines here also restrict you to one piece of checked luggage that cannot exceed 20kgs. On my last safari to Namibia I think my camera bag was pretty close to 20kgs on its own. I'll elaborate a bit more on what was in it later in this article.
       
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      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?
       
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      LEE Seven5 filter holder (dual slots for filters)
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      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.
       
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      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.

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