Brand New Bag

Think Tank Sling-O-Matic 30 Camera Bag
Think Tank Sling-O-Matic 30 - © Copyright 2011 by William Beem

Selling Picks to Miners

Have you ever noticed there are some products that are always on prominent display when you walk into a store? Go into a music shop and there are guitars lining the walls with amps covering the floors. Sure, they may sell saxophones and other instruments, but guitars just have a primal reach into your soul. They know it and they sell a lot of them, which is why they're right in your face. Photographers like to walk in and look at the cameras and lenses behind the glass case, because they know we want it. So now you walk out with your shiny new guitar or camera.  Where are you going to put it?

During the Gold Rush, some people saw an opportunity to get rich. However, they didn't plan on getting rich by searching for gold. Instead, they realized an opportunity to sell supplies and provisions to the '49ers. Who had the better plan? Let's put it in perspective. Do you remember the name of anyone who got rich from striking gold in California, or do you remember the name of the man who sold them blue jeans – Levi Strauss? How are you going to move that gold?  Wells Fargo. John Sutter, the man who was building a saw mill where the gold was discovered, was ultimately ruined by it. It's the providers who prospered.

That's why camera bags and cases are the next most prominent thing you see in the store. When you spend a bundle on gear, you need a secure place to keep it when you go out for a shoot. It seems simple enough, so you buy a bag that holds the stuff you own. It's never that simple, though. Soon enough, you buy more lenses or another camera. You find that you need a flash, and a bunch of memory cards that need their own organizer. You end up with bags within bags, and then there just isn't enough room in your bag for all of your stuff.

When you get enough stuff, your bag seems pretty heavy on your shoulder, so you get a rolling bag. That's nice, but it's not quite as convenient when you don't need all of your stuff, or if you go someplace where carrying is preferable to rolling. Now you reach the inevitable conclusion that you not only need a camera bag, but you need different bags for different purposes. There isn't one true bag to rule them all.

Defining My Needs

I have a plethora of camera bags already.  You'd think that one of them would fit my needs. In fact, they do – for their given tasks. I have a Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Home, which I outgrew and then bought a 7 Million Dollar Home. I also bought a Crumpler Whickey & Cox backpack, which I soon learned to scorn. In my opinion, backpacks are horrible camera bags because you have to take them off for any kind of access. It's great for distributing the weight, but that's it. The Whickey & Cox has a place to hold my laptop, but I found it's poorly configured for holding camera gear. It's also difficult to close the bag when the laptop is inside. In my opinion, it completely fails in its purpose.

The 7 Million Dollar Home is a great shoulder bag in a messenger style, but it's not a true messenger bag. You can't easily adjust the strap to hold the bag on your back, as you would with a messenger bag, so it becomes difficult to use that way without strangling yourself every time you put it on or off. Instead, it becomes a shoulder bag. That's good for easy access, but carrying a heavy camera body and a few 2.8 lenses around for a day will leave you with an aching shoulder. Also, it doesn't have a place for my computer or straps to hold my tripod. As I've become more interested in HDR, keeping that tripod with me has become an increasing necessity for me.

My Think Tank Airport Takeoff is a rolling back that holds plenty of gear, it has the ability to strap a tripod to the side, and it also includes backpack straps. However, I don't want to carry it like a backpack. Not only do backpacks suffer from the problems I've already mentioned, but this is a rather heavy bag for a day of hiking about for photos. I believe the backpack straps in this bag were meant for the occasion when you need to carry your rolling bag (e.g., sand or other surface that doesn't roll well), but not as a primary backpack. Something else needs to fit in this space.

I wanted something that could carry my camera gear, a laptop and tripod. It needed to be easily accessible while wearing, but still distribute the weight across my back.

Think Tank or Timbuk2

I found two products that seemed to fit my requirements, and I liked both of them. Obviously, the Think Tank Sling-O-Matic 30 was one of them. I debated whether I really needed to carry my laptop or not, but ultimately decided that I would rather have the option and not need it than vice versa. That's why I opted for the 30 over the Sling-O-Matic 20. Otherwise, both bags are of equivalent size and durable construction. Since I already own another Think Tank product, I'm familiar with the excellent construction and features from the vendor.

For years now, I've been waiting for Timbuk2 to create a camera bag. Like Think Tank, Timbuk2 also has a reputation for durable, quality bags – just in a different market. I own a couple of their laptop messengers and really like the attention to detail. Timbuk2 gives a lot of thought to organization within their bags, providing plenty of pockets and even a key tether in one of the pockets. Their new camera bag – The Snoop – is essentially a Timbuk2 messenger bag with a bucket insert for your camera gear, a pocket for your laptop (in the larger model) and tripod straps on the bottom of the bag. It's easily adjustable CAM strap lets you get in and out of the bag with plenty of room, and then cinch up the strap to carry the bag on your back.

Either of these products would've suited my requirements and I'm a fan of both vendors. So why did I end up buying the Think Tank Sling-O-Matic, even at a higher price than the Snoop? There were a couple of things about the Timbuk2 Snoop that were missing, or just not right.

  • No Grab Handle – sometimes you need to pick up a bag without using the strap. The Sling-O-Matic has a grab handle, but the Snoop does not.
  • Color – I'll be honest, I was hoping for some color. Think Tank comes in any color you want, as long as it's black. Timbuk2 messengers have an excellent custom bag option that lets you choose three colors from a vast range of options. Of course, this option isn't available for the Snoop. You get the colors they provide, and Timbuk2 provides some UGLY colors for it's Snoop bag. Timbuk2 changes colors now and then, so you may find some less objectionable options than I did when I decided to purchase.

Before ordering the Think Tank bag, I called Timbuk2 to see if there was any way they could overcome my objections. Unfortunately, the answer was “no.” The person who took my call mentioned that both of those issues were mentioned by a lot of other potential customers. Perhaps Timbuk2 will find a way to modify the bag, or even change their manufacturing process to allow customization, but that's not the way it works today. Unfortunately, that was a deal-breaker for me. I would have loved to check out the Timbuk2 bag and perhaps some day I'll get the chance. For now, I'm satisfied with the Sling-O-Matic 30.

Sling-O-Matic 30

Now that it's hear, I'm pleased that it does everything I required. Fully loaded, it feels very comfortable on my back. I filled it up with my 15″ Macbook Pro, Nikon D700 w/battery grip, 24-70 & 70-200mm lenses. I also added a Manfrotto Magic Arm & Superclamp, SB-800, 50mm 1.8, assorted cards and accessories. The top of the sling strap is very broad, so the weight didn't cut into my shoulder. The bag rests high on my back at a slight angle. It definitely felt much more comfortable than a shoulder bag with the same gear, and the Sling-O-Matic allows you to slide the strap to fit on your opposite shoulder if you feel the need to shift the weight. It easily slides around to put the bag in front of you with the zipper compartment on top for easy access to your gear.

There are external pouches with zipper pulls on the front/back panels, roughly the size of an iPad. A smaller zipper pouch fits on top of the side panel that opens to access your gear, which is good for any documents or flat objects you need within quick reach (e.g., airline tickets).

On the opposite size is a large pouch. You could use it to hold a water bottle, but it's there to hold a couple of legs of your tripod. Think Tank includes a pair of straps to cinch down the legs and keep them in place. My RRS TVC-33 tripod is roughly twice the height of the bag, so it definitely sticks above the top a bit. That, along with the extra depth of the bag on your back, makes it interesting to go through doorways.

Success!

This is another fine product from Think Tank Photo. It meets all of my requirements and is comfortable to transport. If you'd like to see a bit more of this bag in detail, I found a unique review on YouTube that shows most of its features. This video features the Sling-O-Matic 20, but the only difference is the absence of the laptop compartment.

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