Over the course of a lifetime, a photographer will buy more camera bags than cameras. It seems we're perpetually in search of the One True Bag. It's like a search for enlightenment. You never really get it, so you have to keep trying. Inevitably, we end up with stacks of bags that have failed to quench our search for perfection. I just added two more items to my own stack of bags.
My old Domke bag lies in a closet, still cradling the film cameras that I haven't touched in six years. I have a few Crumpler bags that were the most satisfying. My 6 Million Dollar Home was fine when I had a D70, a lens and a flash. I moved to the 7 Million Dollar Home when I upgraded to FX cameras and fast glass. There was even a foray with the Whickey & Cox backpack so I could carry my camera gear and laptop in one bag. Sadly, it carried less camera gear than the shoulder bags and rarely gets used.
That meant I often traveled with a camera bag, a laptop bag and a suit case that carried my tripod and clothes. There was always a stop to check-in luggage due to the two-item limit for carry-on baggage. If I couldn't get a direct flight, then that meant lugging those two bags through another airport for an hour or two. There had to be a better way. That's when I decided I needed a rolling bag. Putting all that gear in one bag makes it easier for carry-on and layovers. At least, it seems that way in theory.
A number of people seem satisfied with the Think Tank Photo brand. I've looked at a number of other products from different vendors and didn't like the build quality or some other aspect of the product. Another concern was taking the bag in places where it couldn't roll. Although I don't think this will happen often, I wanted the ability to carry the bag like a backpack. Schlepping a loaded rolling bag by its handles over a distance could get awkward and tedious. As it turns out, my friends John & Susan have the bag that met my criteria – the Think Tank Airport Takeoff.
The construction is sturdy, it's very configurable and has capacity to hold more gear than I need. That gives me room to grow into the bag. It's still not perfect, though. The laptop compartment is an external compartment that doesn't lock. There is a security cable and lock built into that external pocket, but it won't attach to a laptop. Instead, you have to purchase yet another product – the Artificial Intelligence.
Apparently, the idea is that you loop the security cable of the Airport Takeoff through the handle of the Artificial Intelligence and that's supposed to deter laptop thieves. I hope that's not the only protection it offers, because it's incredibly stupid. All a thief needs to do is unzip the Artificial Intelligence and slip out your unprotected laptop. That's right, there is no provision to actually lock the zipper pull has a loop that could let you hook it to a D-ring on the side of the bag. Unfortunately, the pull is fabric – like a thin bungie cord – and easily cut. There is nothing on the metal zipper itself to secure it from opening. You can protect your Artificial Intelligence, but not the computer it contains. In my opinion, it's a glaring flaw. In hindsight, I should have bought a PacSafe InfoSafe. I may do that and return the Artificial Intelligence. Perhaps I'm wrong about the AI. It'd be nice to find out, but it's not clearly apparent how this case protects its contents.
Laptop security aside, this case appears to be just what I wanted. There's a tripod holder built-in on the side, so I no longer have to worry about carrying it as a separate item or losing space in my suitcase to carry it along. The last time I took my tripod on a trip inside my suitcase, I had a nice little note from the TSA telling me they'd inspected it. I guess a few pipes inside a case draws attention on an X-Ray screen. I'm also pleased with the array of organizer pockets. You can pop open the top of this case and find what you need at a glance.
This is less of a review than a first look, as I haven't taken it out on a trip yet. After I've had some time with it, I'll come back if there's something substantial that wasn't initially obvious. Overall, I'm very pleased with its potential.