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Review: Wacom Intuos Pro


Dallas

A few days ago I was supplied with a demo sample of the new Wacom Intuos Pro tablet (medium size) to review. I already own a very old, but faithfully still working Wacom CTE-640 (a.k.a. Graphire 5) which I only use when I am working in Lightroom or Photoshop. I use it mainly to do dodging and burning but every now and then I will also do a bit of the dreaded deep etching via clipping path in Photoshop that is sometimes needed for my product photography where clients want to drop the photo onto a different background. It’s a mind-numbingly boring job, but having a Wacom makes it a little bit less taxing.

 

For the rest of the time while I am working on my Mac I use my Magic Trackpad, which has made a huge difference to my efficiency on the computer, mainly because of the numerous gestures it offers – things like swiping backwards and forwards between web pages, triple tapping to define words, swiping up to see open apps, etc. I love my Magic Trackpad. I also love that it sits beside the Wacom and I can chose to use either of them on the same computer without having to do any reconfigurations on the Mac.

 

So, what if the functionality of my Magic Trackpad and Wacom tablet could be combined into one product? Well, this is exactly what the people at Wacom have managed to do with this new range of Intuos Pro tablets. They are pen and touch sensitive PLUS you also get even more functionality in terms of swiping and gesture customisation than a Magic trackpad offers. In fact, the customisation available on the Intuos Pro I have is quite mind boggling. You can customise just about everything to a degree that would most definitely leave an OCD sufferer unable to ever leave their computer.
EM1B8732.jpg
Reviewing a graphics tablet is very subjective, depending on what you use it for, so as a photographer who’s usage is pretty limited, what I have decided to do for the purpose of this review is explain how I have integrated the demo unit into my computer setup and explain how it has improved my productivity in a typical workday.

 

The version of the tablet I have for review, while only the medium option, is still pretty large. It’s called an A5 size because that’s roughly the size of the “active area” (which is also customisable) that you can use for regular touch and pen use. But the actual surface area of the tablet is just a tad smaller than an A4 size of paper. The size of the medium is actually way too big for my needs, as you can see by the amount of real estate it uses up on my desk in a photo down the page. This one is 38cm wide and 25cm tall. The large version is a massive 48cm wide and the small one is a more manageable, but still somewhat wide 32cm. People with smaller workspaces may need to think the size options over very carefully before deciding which one to get. Photographers will probably be quite well served by the small version.

 

If you use the tablet in mouse mode you will only be able to use the active area that is shown between the illuminated brackets that show up on the tablet surface. However, if you use the tablet in pen mode, you can decide how much of the surface area you want to map for use with the pen, and also, if you use more than one monitor, whether your pen will cover both or only one of the monitors. Or if you wish, only a portion of both the tablet and the monitor. The screen grab below shows you how you are able to customise this to your liking.

 

ScreenMapping.png
Screen mapping options for the Wacom Intuos Pro

 

Look, Feel & Layout Customisations

 

The Intuos Pro is a very handsome looking piece of hardware. It’s finished in a dark, graphite finish and it has 8 touch sensitive Express Keys on the side, as well as a Touch Ring in-between the 8 Express Keys. When you lightly touch over any of the Express Keys a translucent menu pops up on your display showing what each of the keys is assigned to do (in case you forget, which is not impossible given the staggering array of functions that can be programmed into them).

 

Each of the keys and the touch ring can be customised to perform everything from emulating a keystroke to opening an app to copying to the clipboard, etc, etc, etc. These functions can be customised per application. So say for instance you want the Express keys to do certain things on your OS when you are working generally you can program them to behave in a certain way, but then when you have an app like Photoshop open they can be programmed to do different things. Example, I have the top key set to toggle the touch functionality on or off in all other apps except Photoshop, where it is set to the Save command. If I wanted that button to do something else in Lightroom I could change it easily to have a different behaviour when that app is active.

 

TouchOn-Off.png
Touch On/Off on screen display

 

The Touch Ring also has 4 customisable functions which you toggle through by pushing the button in the centre of it. These can be set to perform any keystroke you want, such as adjusting brush sizes in Photoshop, zooming into or out of a photo/drawing, rotating something, and so on. And of course you can set it to do different things in every app too.

 

TouchRing_Preferences.png
Touch Ring Preferences

 

Did I mention how complex this can get? Fortunately it is possible to store, import and export all your saved settings using the Wacom Desktop Centre software that comes on a Cd or can be downloaded from the Wacom site. It’s highly advisable to back these settings up if you plan on buying a new computer and using the same Wacom on it.

 

One of the setup options that you can modify using that Wacom Desktop Centre app is whether you are using it left-handed or right-handed. It’s expected that lefty’s (like me) will have the Express Keys on the right side of the tablet and everyone else will have them on the left. However, if you want you can use it left-handed with the keys on the left too.

 

WacomDesktopCentre.png
Wacom Desktop Centre screenshot

 

This is one customisation that depends on how you expect to use the tablet in relation to your workspace. As you can see in the photo of my workspace below, I have it over on the left side of the desk with my keyboard to the right. This means that if I have the Express keys on the right I will probably need to use my right hand to use them efficiently, BUT only if I move the keyboard out of the way and have the tablet directly between myself and the big 27” monitor in the middle of the desk (that’s the one I use for editing). Alternatively I could set it up with the Express Keys on the left, using my left hand to push them and leaving my keyboard where it always is.

 

I did try this for a while but it wasn’t very practical because I had to move my hand way over to the other side of the desk to use something stored on one of those keys. Because the Wacom isn’t surface clickable like my Magic Trackpad is I have set the bottom Express Key to perform the function of a regular mouse click for when I want to click and drag to highlight text (there is a 2 finger gesture that does the same thing but my muscle memory is so ingrained with the click and drag method that temporarily changing that behaviour will cause me issues when I have to give the demo unit back).

 

EM1B8748.jpg
My desk with the Wacom on the left.

 

One problem I do foresee me having over time should I eventually upgrade to this size Wacom is that I will have to remove my watch when working with it, or use some kind of a protective pad to rest my wrist on. Although I am left-handed, I wear my watch on the left wrist and have done so since I was a kid. It has something to do with my multi-dextrousness (I am not entirely left-handed, I eat right-handed, play guitar right-handed and kick a ball with the right leg). Working With The Intuos Pro
As I said at the start of the review, as a photographer my use of a Wacom tablet is purely to do a very small set of brush strokes on images that require dodging and burning in Lightroom, or sometimes Photoshop to draw clipping paths around products I have photographed for clients. The Wacom Intuos Pro is actually way too much tablet for me. A professional graphic designer will undoubtedly find a considerably larger scope of utility with this device than I ever could, especially when it comes to the pressure sensitivity (2048 levels of it) that is available with the Intuos Pro. You are also able to calibrate the sensitivity of the pen so that it feels either soft or firm on the surface when translating to an app, as well as how sensitive it is to the tilt of the pen. Artists will love it.

 

So, I decided to try out some deep etching in Photoshop to see how it feels with the Pen. I still use the Wacom in “mouse” mode when doing this because the Pen mode is going to take a whole lot of getting used to and I really don’t have this thing for too long. I suppose I should explain what the difference is between the modes for those of you who have never used a Wacom before. Basically in Mouse mode it acts exactly like a trackpad does. In Pen mode wherever you touch the trackpad on its surface it moves to the mapped area on the screen, so you have to develop strong hand-to-eye coordination between the tablet and screen otherwise you will frustrate yourself quickly. Using that method does help to locate the cursor quickly though, but I couldn’t see myself using the tablet that way, so I have it set to mouse mode permanently. Strangely toggling between these two modes doesn’t seem to be possible via Express Key customisation (although it is possible via application preference). I suppose you either use one or the other permanently.

 

Anyway, getting back to the use of the pen in Photoshop for my typical purposes of deep etching, I most definitely can see how much easier it is to use the Intuos Pro for something like this, especially by having one of the Express Keys assigned to the Undo command. On my old tablet I have to use the keyboard shortcut, which slows me down a bit. This way is much faster.

 

Here’s a partially finished bit of deep etching that took me a few minutes to do (pros will probably do this in seconds).

 

DeepEtchingSample-1024x576.png
Partially finished deep etch

 

Apart from the convenience of having an Express Key setup to step backwards as I am working (and cursing about dragging the pen handles too wide when tracing around curves), having the Touch Ring functions where I can zoom in and out and also being able to easily adjust the size of a brush when erasing the background, is seriously helpful. Also, if I am zoomed right in on a complex part of the image while deep etching I am also able to pan around just by using two free fingers on the suface of the tablet. I can’t tell you just how useful that is compared to the way I have to work with my old Wacom.

 

The Wacom surface feels a lot different when using the touch functions compared to Apple’s Magic Trackpad. It’s not as smooth, which is I suppose the way it needs to be to provide the right amount of friction when using the pen. The Magic Trackpad does have a glass finish to it, so that accounts for it being easier on your fingers, but in saying that, the Wacom isn’t all that bad and after a while of using it you probably won’t even notice this.

 

Using the pen on the tablet is a lot nicer feel wise compared to my old Graphire. It actually feels like a real felt-tip pen on a piece of paper, which is wonderful. Graphic artists will absolutely love this aspect of the Intuos Pro. Also, Wacom have cleverly hidden in the base of the pen stand some 10 extra nibs, a few extras of the default nib plus a few other types of nibs that are bound to suit just about any users preferences. Also found in the base of the stand is a steel ring that you can use to remove the nibs from the pen. A very nice design touch.
EM1B8739-1024x683.jpg

 

EM1B8741-1024x746.jpg
Removing a nib with the steel ring provided

 

Other Features Of The Intuos Pro

 

One really cool aspect of the Intuos Pro is that you can get a wireless kit for it that consists of a rechargeable Lithuim Ion battery and a USB dongle so that you can dispense with the USB cable that normally sends power to the device. In the setup preferences you can also determine how long you want the Intuos to stay awake for when you are using battery mode, so that battery life is maximised. It looks as if the battery will last about 2 or 3 days with all day use, so make sure you keep the USB cable handy to recharge it when needed.

 

Getting back to the customisability, there is an area of customisation that I think Apple people would like to hear about and that is the ability to customise what happens when you tap and swipe with 3, 4 or 5 fingers. A three finger tap can be set to bring up another feature I haven’t yet touched on and that is an on-screen control menu. There are a whole bunch of these that you can create that will pop up a translucent menu wherever you want to position in on the screen. Or you could just use the 3 or 5 finger tap to open an app. You decide.

 

SwipingGestures_Pshop.png

 

SwipingPrefs.png

 

Swiping preferences THE BOTTOM LINE
Wacom tablets are a must for anybody who takes digital imagery seriously, be they professionals or amateurs. This particular model is chock full of really useful features and customisations. Once you get it set up the way you want it will most definitely improve your efficiency around the digital workspaces you use it in. I’m not looking forward to going back to using my old tablet after my loan period is up, so I will certainly be looking to upgrade to one of these very soon, most likely the smaller version.

 


The combination of pen and touch is a masterstroke by Wacom. Mind the pun. :)

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Something I have noticed with the wireless option running on my Mac is that if I let the tablet go to sleep, when it wakes up I lose all the Expresskey functionality. Looking into the Wacom status bar menu it tells me that there is no Wacom present. Plug it back in and viola, the full functionality is back. 

 

Must be a bug. 

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I have the latest drivers installed for this tablet. Still waiting for drivers for the older one. I don't think they are going to post any, which means that piece of hardware is another that has fallen victim to OSX upgrades. :( 

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      OK, so about the case... the ThinkTank Airport Security rolling case is awesome. Compared to the ThinkTank Airport International V2.0 version it has a few additional features, such as a set of backpack straps that hide away in a compartment in the back. You can wear it on your back but don't expect it to be very comfortable when fully laden. I guess this feature is handy to have if you have to take the case across terrain that isn't exactly roller-friendly (like muddy patches, or grass, etc).
       

       
      Showing the straps that fold into a flap on the back
       
      There's an extra pocket that flips open on the side of the case and inside it there are some stretchy divisions that are handy to store things like keys, wallets, etc. It also has a buckle that you use to attach the tripod/monopod straps to secure such things to your case. It is a bit tricky to figure out if you don't use the instructions sheet, but once you know how it's a doddle.
       

       
      Side pocket with buckle for tripod attachment bits
       
      At the top of the case there is a place to put your business cards in. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep a good supply of these in all your camera bags. It's great that all the ThinkTank bags I have used have dedicated space for these to be easily accessible. I also used this roller on the ICANN47 meeting here in Durban and I was constantly dishing out cards to people throughout the conference.
       
      Just below the business card holder is another zippered pocket with enough room to store your plane tickets and passport which makes them very easy to get to.
       

       
      The rest of the case is very similar to the International, just a bit roomier. This case is ideal for photographers who need to carry big lenses like 400mm f/2.8's and while I don't have one to try, I reckon you might even get a 600mm f/4 into it too.
      As with the International I would strongly advise getting the low divider set so that you can store your laptop on the inside of the case while travelling. Speaking of the inside, once you have it open the lid has 4 zippered pockets that you can store things like memory cards, AA batteries, cleaning kits and whatever else you need to store that is slim line. ThinkTank have also very cleverly sewn in little stretchy pockets for the zip ends to slip snugly into. This ensures that they are not exposed to your gear where friction could cause unsightly abrasions.
       
      The reason why I decided to keep the larger version of the ThinkTank rollers and not the International is because of the additional room. When I was shooting the ICANN47 conference I had my Nikon and micro four thirds kit inside it, but what I did with the m43 kit is put the whole lot into my amazing little ThinkTank Retrospective 5 shoulder bag and then put that bag right into the roller. It was a perfect fit and it gave me the versatility I needed to be mobile as well as have as much gear as necessary securely placed nearby. Being able to lock the roller's lid zipper with the combination is probably the cleverest thing I have ever seen on any camera case. Love it.
       
      On the rolling side the wheels used on the Airport series of rollers are excellent. They roll super-smoothly and are practically silent. I believe they use the same wheels that you get on roller blades, but I'll need to confirm that.
       
      So, now that I have established that it is in fact possible to travel on most domestic flights between big cities in South Africa that are relevant to our safari operations, this roller will become my go-to companion on those trips. It will also be very useful for when I am covering conferences and other shoots that require a fair amount of gear to be brought along. The Airport Security V2.0 is pretty rugged. While we were in Namibia there were 3 of us using these cases and they all came through with flying colours. They kept the dust out (and boy, did we have a lot of dust!) plus they rolled everywhere. They are easy to load and unload into vehicles because of the extra handles on the top, bottom and side. Plus, all these ThinkTank rollers have a metal plate riveted onto the top rear section with your serial number printed onto it. You can register your case with them and if it is ever lost and then found by a good samaritan it can be returned to you.
       

       
      A ThinkTank dominated Land Rover Freelander in Damaraland, Namibia.
       
      Many thanks to ThinkTank for not only designing this awesome piece of kit storage, but also for sponsoring evaluation copies for me to review and put to the test in the harshest conditions (which is why the product shots shown here look a bit scruffy - they were taken after the case had travelled more than 10,000kms with me by road and air - I'll get around to cleaning it someday soon).
       
      If you're in the USA you can buy your ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 directly from the company, plus you will also get a free gift from them when you do so using this link! 
       
      Note: the V2.0 has been replaced with the V3.0.

      View full article
    • By Dallas
      A few weeks after our Ultimate Big 5 Safari in August, I found myself packing to fly to Cape Town where we had a 32 day adventure lined up, namely the Namaqualand to Namibia Safari. This time there was a lot more to pack, so I decided to put the ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 to the task, seeing as I already knew it would fit on a smaller plane (one of our guests used it without drama on the flight from Kruger Airport to Jo'burg) and the plane to CT would certainly be a lot larger than that other one.
      I had planned to do a lot of landscape work on this trip so while I was going to bring along my Nikons and the Sigma 120-300/2.8, I also needed to find space for my entire mirrorless kit. Configuring the roller with the low divider set was challenging for the m43 stuff, mainly because the lenses are so much smaller and the dividers are designed for much bigger partitions. But I managed and here's a shot from my iPhone of everything that fit inside the Security V2.0 roller.
       

       
      Lot of stuff, huh? Here's a full list:
      Nikon D700
      Nikon D3100
      Olympus OM-D E-M5
      Olympus 9-18mm
      Olympus 75mm f/1.8
      Panasonic 14-45mm
      Panasonic 45-175mm
      Samyang 7.5mm fisheye
      Sigma 120-300/2.8 OS
      Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens (review is in the works)
      Sigma 12-24mm f/4-5.6
      13" MacBook Pro
      iPad Mini
      Back-up hard drive (WD 1TB)
      Lee Filters Seven5 system (to be reviewed soon!)
      Chargers
       
      In the pocket shown as empty here I later added my sunglasses cases. I had a pair of polarised driving glasses and a regular pair.
       
      So on the day of the flight I got to the airport (early as usual) and there was a very large queue of people waiting to check into the Kukula.com flights. I was somewhere near the front of the queue when I heard this announcement being made that went something along these lines: "Kulula.com advises all passengers travelling with them that hand luggage is restricted to one item only and that it may not exceed 7kgs. It will be weighed at the check-in counter and also again at the gate. If any hand luggage is found to be over the limit at the gate you will be sent back to the check-in counter and additional check-in charges will be incurred." Oh. What could I do? My carry on weighed close to 20kgs!
       
      Well, I could only do one thing: plead ignorance. I got to the counter, hoisted my big red suitcase onto the conveyor and would you believe it, the scale read 20.8kgs. The attendant looks at me and says I am over the 20kg limit and I will have to pay in R250 (about $25) for additional baggage. I look back at her and I smile. "That can't be possible. I weighed this suitcase at home and it was 19.5kgs. There must be something wrong with your scale. Can we try it on another scale?" Now at this point the queue had gotten longer and there were no additional free counters for us to check the weight at. She looked at me, half-smiled and said, "OK, I'll let you go through without extra charges, but next time you'll have to pay the R250..."
       
      Phew.
       
      All this timethe ThinkTank Security roller was parked right in front of the desk with my jacket over it. "What's that bag?" she asked, somehow managing to catch sight of it. I told her that it's just my camera bag. She handed me my boarding pass and ID and wished me a pleasant flight.
      At the gate I was looking for these hand luggage weight police but I saw no scales or scaffolding apparatus that could possibly be used to measure bags, so I relaxed a little and waited to be let on board. Fortunately the bag fit perfectly in the overhead stowage of the plane and I got to Cape Town without any further drama.
       
      Flying back from Cape Town to Durban my big red suitcase had somehow lost a bit of weight and only tipped the scales at 19.1kgs. No questions about anything else. Onboard I found myself sitting right at the back of a very full Boeing 737-800 which also had slightly different overhead bins to the plane I had flown down on, the kind that hang down and are then clipped up during the flight. I managed to get the roller into the one directly over my seat, but it was a bit of a struggle as somebody else had already put stuff in it (I wasn't the first to board because Cape Town airport has to buck convention and their gates are illogically designed when it comes to figuring out how to queue up). Just prior to touch down in Durban we hit a bit of turbulence and the overhead bin with my roller in it popped open. Thankfully nothing fell out and the passenger on the aisle was able to simply pop it closed by reaching up his arm.
       
      Phew, once again.
       
      OK, so about the case... the ThinkTank Airport Security rolling case is awesome. Compared to the ThinkTank Airport International V2.0 version it has a few additional features, such as a set of backpack straps that hide away in a compartment in the back. You can wear it on your back but don't expect it to be very comfortable when fully laden. I guess this feature is handy to have if you have to take the case across terrain that isn't exactly roller-friendly (like muddy patches, or grass, etc).
       

       
      Showing the straps that fold into a flap on the back
       
      There's an extra pocket that flips open on the side of the case and inside it there are some stretchy divisions that are handy to store things like keys, wallets, etc. It also has a buckle that you use to attach the tripod/monopod straps to secure such things to your case. It is a bit tricky to figure out if you don't use the instructions sheet, but once you know how it's a doddle.
       

       
      Side pocket with buckle for tripod attachment bits
       
      At the top of the case there is a place to put your business cards in. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep a good supply of these in all your camera bags. It's great that all the ThinkTank bags I have used have dedicated space for these to be easily accessible. I also used this roller on the ICANN47 meeting here in Durban and I was constantly dishing out cards to people throughout the conference.
       
      Just below the business card holder is another zippered pocket with enough room to store your plane tickets and passport which makes them very easy to get to.
       

       
      The rest of the case is very similar to the International, just a bit roomier. This case is ideal for photographers who need to carry big lenses like 400mm f/2.8's and while I don't have one to try, I reckon you might even get a 600mm f/4 into it too.
      As with the International I would strongly advise getting the low divider set so that you can store your laptop on the inside of the case while travelling. Speaking of the inside, once you have it open the lid has 4 zippered pockets that you can store things like memory cards, AA batteries, cleaning kits and whatever else you need to store that is slim line. ThinkTank have also very cleverly sewn in little stretchy pockets for the zip ends to slip snugly into. This ensures that they are not exposed to your gear where friction could cause unsightly abrasions.
       
      The reason why I decided to keep the larger version of the ThinkTank rollers and not the International is because of the additional room. When I was shooting the ICANN47 conference I had my Nikon and micro four thirds kit inside it, but what I did with the m43 kit is put the whole lot into my amazing little ThinkTank Retrospective 5 shoulder bag and then put that bag right into the roller. It was a perfect fit and it gave me the versatility I needed to be mobile as well as have as much gear as necessary securely placed nearby. Being able to lock the roller's lid zipper with the combination is probably the cleverest thing I have ever seen on any camera case. Love it.
       
      On the rolling side the wheels used on the Airport series of rollers are excellent. They roll super-smoothly and are practically silent. I believe they use the same wheels that you get on roller blades, but I'll need to confirm that.
       
      So, now that I have established that it is in fact possible to travel on most domestic flights between big cities in South Africa that are relevant to our safari operations, this roller will become my go-to companion on those trips. It will also be very useful for when I am covering conferences and other shoots that require a fair amount of gear to be brought along. The Airport Security V2.0 is pretty rugged. While we were in Namibia there were 3 of us using these cases and they all came through with flying colours. They kept the dust out (and boy, did we have a lot of dust!) plus they rolled everywhere. They are easy to load and unload into vehicles because of the extra handles on the top, bottom and side. Plus, all these ThinkTank rollers have a metal plate riveted onto the top rear section with your serial number printed onto it. You can register your case with them and if it is ever lost and then found by a good samaritan it can be returned to you.
       

       
      A ThinkTank dominated Land Rover Freelander in Damaraland, Namibia.
       
      Many thanks to ThinkTank for not only designing this awesome piece of kit storage, but also for sponsoring evaluation copies for me to review and put to the test in the harshest conditions (which is why the product shots shown here look a bit scruffy - they were taken after the case had travelled more than 10,000kms with me by road and air - I'll get around to cleaning it someday soon).
       
      If you're in the USA you can buy your ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 directly from the company, plus you will also get a free gift from them when you do so using this link! 
       
      Note: the V2.0 has been replaced with the V3.0.
    • By Dallas
      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.
       
      The volume side of the carry-on restrictions is not usually a problem, provided the bag you're using fits into the little aluminium scaffolding apparatus they use to determine maximum proportions at the check-in counter. Smaller planes don't always have overhead stowage so your bag has to fit under the seat in front of you which is not always a possibility, especially if it's a really small plane and also if you find yourself sitting next to an emergency exit.
       
      When you are at the check in counter at South African airports that are run by ACSA (Airports Company South Africa) you will also notice that there are signs behind the attendants clearly indicating that you are prohibited from checking in any valuable electronics, including cameras, computers, etc. So, it's a conundrum alright. How do you get yourself and your equipment from one city to the next without going through the stress of possibly being charged additional luggage fees for being overweight, or perhaps being forced to check your equipment in with your regular luggage and running the risk of it being stolen or damaged by the handlers? The answer is simple: you don't. The stress is just something you have to deal with. Fortunately there are a few strategies you can employ to minimise the issue.
       
      1) You can wear your equipment using one of those photographer vests with numerous and large pockets. These work quite well, but you will attract the attention of airport security as well as raise the anxiety levels of nervous flyers who may mistake you for a terrorist. You're also not going to have the most comfortable flight if you're thinking of wearing it in your seat.
       
      2) You can upgrade your ticket to Business Class which allows you more hand luggage, but this is not always available, especially not on regional routes. I haven't seen any business class on any flight to the Kruger Park.
       
      3) You can choose the right bag, one that is unobtrusive, versatile and in the worst case scenario where you have to check it in, will provide your gear with adequate protection. You may also need to be a little devious in this regard.
       
      The ThinkTank Airport roller series are such bags (or cases if you're a stickler for details). On the two safaris I have led this year I evaluated two different types of Airport rollers, namely the Airport International V2.0 and the Airport Security V2.0. This article is about the smaller one, the Airport International V2.0 which I used on our Big 5 Safari. I will write a separate article about the Airport Security, which is the one I used on our Namibian safari shortly after the Big 5 trip.
       
      So, at the beginning of August this year we did our annual Ultimate Big 5 Safari to the Sabi Sands which is a private game reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park. I had to fly from Durban to Johannesburg and then once we had all our guests with us we flew from Johannesburg to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA). I decided to use the Airport International roller because the Security, while only slightly bigger than the International, does appear a lot bigger than it on the outside. When I first received the Security I thought there is no ways that thing is going to be allowed as a carry on - it looks more like a suitcase than anything else, so I got the International just to be safe.
       
      We normally fly on SAA to KMIA from Jo'burg and they use a 4 engine jet plane (can't remember the name, so I have a photo of it below this paragraph). This plane has adequate overhead stowage capacity, but sometimes they might change the plane depending on the number of passengers booked on the flight, so prudence is advisable when going to KMIA on SAA. For this trip I had to fly back to Durban on Kulula from Johannesburg and I hadn't flown with them before, so I had to be extra prudent in the light of not knowing how strict they were with hand luggage, or the type of plane they operated.
       
      I had managed to keep the weight of the Airport International V2.0 down to about 15kgs. Inside I had my Nikon D700 with MB-D10 grip, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 OS, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS, a couple of teleconverters, a Nikon D3100, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Olympus 75mm f/1.8, Samyang 7.5mm fisheye, Panasonic 14-45mm, 45-175mm and Olympus 9-18mm lenses, MacBook Pro 13", iPad Mini. A fair amount of kit for a week in the bush! I was also using the low dividers set for this case which is an absolute must in my opinion. This lets you put your laptop inside the case for extra protection. There is a sleeve on the outside of the roller you could put one into, but it's not advisable. When you open the lid of the roller the laptop will slide out of the sleeve. Trust me, I've done this - it's the making of a movie with a very sad ending.
       
      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. 
       
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