If you follow conventional wisdom, and the tried and true, you probably know that camera bags are designed for specific photographic shooting activities and subjects.
Landscape photographer? Well, you need a backpack-style bag. Involved in street photography or you’re a photojournalist? Why, the shoulder bag of course, it has served us well for eons. Wildlife big-gunner? Uh, well, you don’t need a bag. It will cramp your style. Plus, it’s hard fitting a 600 mm lens in most bags.
Of course, as we conform dutifully to these conventions we usually become a little myopic, or we develop acute tunnel vision. Not that these standards are all wrong, they usually make sense for most of us, but it limits our thinking on how to solve a simple problem. And that problem is - how to carry our gear in a convenient, efficient, practical, and comfortable manner using a bag that meets the space requirements we need. I’m one that is certainly guilty of this kind of limited thinking. So much so, that my only previous experience using a shoulder bag was with my Dad’s old vinyl bag from the early 1960’s. I used it back when I was in high school in the ‘70’s. The thing was warped and shoddy. The shoulder strap was gone, and the zipper that opened the main compartment constantly stuck and jammed. So much for fond memories.
It sounds ridiculous, but that is all the experience I have ever had with shoulder bags. So, when Think Tank Photo sent me their updated Urban Disguise 50 Classic V3.0 to test and review, I was going into this with maybe a few preconceived ideas, but no real opinions set in concrete. I took it out on a short trip and I came back with a few surprises, realizations, and a whole new perspective on shoulder bags.
Think Tank Photo started back in January 2005 with a group of four individuals. Two are designers and two are photographers. Since the beginning, they have dedicated their efforts in producing a line of high quality products based on the “Think Tank” approach – which is creating new carrying solutions with an emphasis on invention targeted at achieving those solutions and translating them to excellent, functional designs. While the Urban Disguise collection of shoulder bags has been around since the start, the new V3.0 is a very nice Classic Edition commemorating their flagship shoulder bag. It features full-grain leather accents and panels to enhance the DWR (durable water-repellent) coated exterior fabric.
Think Tank Urban Disguise 50 Classic V3.0
The Urban Disguise 50 is designed as an innovative interpretation of the old shoulder bag concept. To begin with, it doesn’t look like your typical camera bag, hence the name Urban Disguise. On the outside it looks like a top quality business portfolio/brief case. The bulk of the outer shell of the bag is made of ballistic nylon made water-resistant with a DWR coating. There is a leather panel on the top of the front flap and the handles and snap keeper are also of high-grade, full-grain leather. Additionally, the front flap is treated with leather piping around the edge. This leather treatment adds a lot to the quality feel and look of the bag. Compared to the standard V2.0 the Classic V3.0 really stands apart. On the Think Tank website the two models have a price difference of $60.00. If you want a bag that really takes it up another notch, then I definitely recommend the Classic V3.0. Overall, the design shows classic lines and function, and the form makes it easy to carry and access your gear.
Laptop/Tablet Padded Compartment
Generous Item Organizer for all Your Accessories
Two Built-In Pass Throughs for Piggy Backing on Another Rolling Bag Via its Handle
On the inside the Urban Disguise again shows the emphasis on innovation. There is a padded slot for your laptop or tablet device. On the opposite side of the bag is an Item Organizer to securely pack just about anything you need to carry with you on a shoot. I have to hand it to Think Tank Photo, when I saw this compartment for the first time I was immediately familiar with it. It has the same color scheme and overall design of the similar compartment found in my Artificial Intelligence 15 V3.0. Now, here is a good example of how Think Tank strives for consistency and promotes the efficient use of their carrying solutions.
Additionally, when you are carrying more than one bag you can use the pull handle of your larger rolling bag to secure the Urban Disguise with a pass through panel on the bag or the pass through on the shoulder strap pad allowing you to piggyback the bag, a very nice touch.
Other features include outer side pockets made of stretch material – the perfect place to hold a water bottle or your smart phone. The high quality zippers that secure the camera and laptop compartments are lockable with the use of your standard luggage type padlocks. There is an expansion zipper to increase the depth of the main camera compartment. Expanded you can fit a full-size DSLR with grip and a standard length zoom attached. The bag also comes with a seam-sealed rain cover in its own pouch.
Sound Silencer System
Here’s a feature that I think is very useful, particularly if you are shooting in a situation where you must be stealthy and not attract attention to yourself. I have shot several professional seminars with keynote speakers and the occasional church ceremony where this is a must. The Urban Disguise has “sound silencers” built into the front flap. This flap has two types of closures: Hook & Loop (Velcro) panels and a snap clip. Everyone knows that Hook & Loop can be really noisy and distracting. If you need to access the contents under the main flap the silencers work great to eliminate all noise. Simply put the silencers in place to cover the hook panels on the flap so they can no longer engage with the loop material. With this system deployed you no longer have to hear the loud “rip” when separating the hook panels from the loop fabric.
Inside the Urban Disguise 50 Classic V3.0
Finally, let’s move on to the camera compartment. Think Tank Photo claims the 50 Classic has the capacity to hold a gripped full-size DSLR with a standard zoom attached, plus a mid-telephoto such as a 70-200 mm, an additional lens, and a flash unit. According to my testing this is accurately stated. I was able to store my Nikon D4 with a Nikkor 24-70 mm attached, a Nikkor 14-24 mm, Nikkor 70-200 mm f/4, and a Nikon SB 800 Speedlight flash. It is a little bit of a tight fit but with the expansion zipper deployed to enlarge this compartment it is a totally workable situation. Of course, with all this gear, a laptop and other sundry items the bag can get heavy. With the bag stuffed in this manner the shoulder strap is a necessity, I would not want to carry this bag with the handles alone.
USE IN THE FIELD
As I mentioned earlier I loaded up the Urban Disguise with a few items on a recent weekend trip. In the bag I put a Nikon D4 and two lenses – a Nikkor 24-70 mm and a Nikkor 14-24 mm. Along with the camera kit I also brought along my memory wallet, a Black Rapid strap, a small cleaning kit, a small zipper bag with laptop cables and mouse, my laptop, and some documents and writing materials. I was on my way to document some real estate property sites so I needed to be able to take some photographs, make notes, and do some research on the computer while at the hotel. While the bag was not stuffed to the gills it was pretty full. I would consider maybe adding another lens or two but that would probably be stretching the limits of this sized bag. It became obvious right away that the solid and well padded shoulder strap is a big positive. Anything lighter or less padded would have made carrying this amount of weight very uncomfortable beyond more than a few minutes.
Since I am so accustomed to carrying around backpack style bags I have to admit it took me some time getting used to the rectangular shape of this shoulder bag. As it sits over the shoulder it feels a little wide, whereas other bag designs are sometimes a little sleeker. I do like that the shape helps to easily store the bag in the back of a vehicle or on the rear seat. Most backpacks usually flop over like a sack of potatoes; the Urban Disguise sits upright and still, like a well trained Labrador. Here is another thing; because this bag is rigid in design overstuffing it will create bulges in the center. At this point the bag can become somewhat unwieldy and I would assume you may risk damage to the contents if the bag is tossed around or bumped up against hard surfaces. I would definitely heed the load recommendations by Think Tank and not exceed these limits.
When I got to the destinations it was a pleasure to pull out this bag. The leather accents and clean design connotes a professional attitude. The people I met with had no idea I had expensive camera equipment inside, and they were surprised when I asked if I could take photographs and I didn’t go back to the car to get my gear. Taking out a notepad and pen and referring to some printed materials all stored in the same bag made things go so much easier.
Accessing the camera and lenses is easy with the large opening in the top of the bag, especially with the zippered extension deployed, which helps with the larger camera bodies. The Nikon D4 slipped in and out with ease. With the bag slung over my shoulder it is also easy to switch lenses without having to put it down. As long as you have the camera secured to you with a good camera strap (I use the Black Rapid Sport) it is a simple and quick process.
Back at the hotel, I pulled my laptop out of the compartment to download and review the images of the day. I have a 15.6” widescreen Lenovo laptop that, while it fits in the compartment, it is tight. In fairness, Think Tank clearly states this bag is intended for use with a 15.4” widescreen laptop. I don’t see this as a negative. I just point it out so that it is clear that this bag is for the smaller 15” sized laptops.
I’m really impressed with the Urban Disguise 50 Classis V3.0. It offers professional styling and performance. Think Tank does a thorough job designing bags that make carrying camera gear almost a pleasure. When we are faced with lugging around heavy, delicate, and expensive equipment it is great knowing that a company like Think Tank is out there dedicating their efforts to make this less of a chore and easier to deal with, a lot easier. Think Tank makes several size bags in the Urban Disguise line but I think the 50 is the best combination of size and capacity. If you need to carry more than one camera and two or three lenses then maybe a rolling case is the better choice. While I infrequently photograph in an urban setting, I certainly now understand how a shoulder bag is a better choice in these situations. Think Tank has elevated the shoulder bag to a very high level and the bad memories of my Dad’s old vinyl bag have now faded away.