Photography and commentary by Paul Yarnall

Product Reviews

Think Tank Speed Racer… a traveling work bench

I am on a continual quest to find the best products for managing my gear. At last count I have bought and used four different back packs, all by LowePro. (All excellent products). However I was on a trend of getting bigger bags to carry more stuff. I was turning into a “beast of burden“.

Aside from the increasing weight and bulk, I became increasingly annoyed by the constant need to take off my pack, lay it on the (pick one… wet, dirty, nasty…) ground to swap lenses or retrieve a filter or cable release. Managing this process on a hill side working on a landscape is one thing… doing it on a crowded street under the watchful eyes of potential ‘predators’ is another. (“Colorful” images sometimes puts you in “colorful” locations.)

So, after recalling the recommendation of Dennis Minty, a very talented Canadian Pro shooter I met on a previous adventure to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, I checked out Think Tank Photo. They have quite a range of products for carrying gear and they focus on meeting the needs of professional shooters. I was intrigued by their new backpack system which allows rotating a section around to the front for access without removing the pack, but Dennis recommended the “Speed” series. Since I wanted to be able to manage my 1Ds III and a decent telephoto, this meant the Speed Racer… the biggest of the series. There is also the “.. Demon” and the “.. Freak”. ( A rather bizarre naming philosophy, but moving on..)

The Speed Racer. Image from the ThinkTankPhoto online catalog.

What the photo here doesn’t show is the hefty shoulder strap or very much of the very wide and well padded belt system. I was a bit skeptical, but the price, $160, seemed reasonable so I went for it. I added two of their accessory pouches that integrate on to the belt. One which could hold my 17-40 wide angle WITH lens hood, and another for holding a water bottle or rain jacket.

My first working trip to test this set up was to Maine to shoot the Puffins on Machias Seal Island back in June. There was also local shooting from home, of course, then the Ecuador trek I just completed.

The verdict?

I LOVE THIS BAG! It has forced me to trim my travel gear down to what I really need and it will stow easily under a seat in the plane or in the smaller overheads, no problem. It also sits quite nicely in my solo canoe for evening water shots.

What am I carrying?

  • Body of choice… the 5D or 1Ds lll with the 24-105 attached.
  • 70-200 2.8 L or 100-400…. usually the 70-200
  • 17-40 wide angle
  • 1.4X, 2.0X tel-extenders and 25mm macro extension (all connected together)
  • RRS pano gear… (three separate not so big pieces)
  • Filter wallet
  • Cable release
  • Spare batteries, cleaning stuff, pencil and pad, small flashlight, etc.

All this is in the bag. I can add the flash head in one of the belt pouches if I want to have it handy. This collection ends up at around 20 pounds. Lighter than my pack systems.

The best part, however, is the ‘work flow’ in the field. The belt has adjusters which need to be cinched up snug so that the belt is carrying a lot of the weight on your hips and the bag is snug to your butt. The shoulder strap bears some weight but not all of it… that would lead to a sore shoulder. When I need to change a lens or retrieve something I release the tension on one of the belt buckles (but not unhook), then I rotate the bag all the way around so it is now in front of me.

The shoulder strap makes this ‘pivot’ move a breeze
. The top of the bag zips open and hinges on the far side so everything is open and accessible. The lens pouch is right at hand, so it is a simple and secure process to pop off a lens, pull out another, remount, get caps in place, close up the bag, flip it to your back side and resume shooting. It took me about 10 seconds to see the advantage this would offer in the field!

This bag system is a traveling – working photographers dream. As mentioned, it is available in two smaller sizes for smaller bodies and shorter lenses. Included is a card wallet with an integral lanyard, and a rain cover cleverly hidden, also with a lanyard.

The only downside is lack of a way to strap on my tripod, so I have an after market strap for that or I throw it over my shoulder. If I need to do some serious trekking, one of my LowePros can be put back into service and the tripod easily secured on the pack.

Every choice comes with compromises, but for now, my ‘quest’ for the best travel bag is over.

3/30/09: If you found this review useful and think you might want to try ThinkTank products yourself then use this referral link and you will be eligible for one of four free items* from ThinkTank when you buy one of their pack systems, but you must go through this link. Use AP-315 for the code. Alternatively you can this ThinkTank link or the one above.

* Cable Management 20, Pixel Pocket Rocket, Modular Pouch, or Security Tag.