Gear Review – Think Tank Retrospective 20

What it’s not

Before I discuss all the great things the Think Tank Retrospective 20 does well, you have to understand what this bag is not supposed to be. If you confuse the purpose of this camera bag, then you will be disappointed. However, if you understand the niche this bag fills, then you will be elated. Well, very happy at least.

The Retrospective line of camera bags (in sizes 10, 20, and 30) are not general purpose camera bags. Nor are they good bags for travel or storage since they lack reasonable padding or secure zip or clip closures. The Retrospective bags are not great at carrying laptops with cameras. Lastly, while they hold a lot of gear, they are not intended to hold everything a professional photographer needs.

Carrying capacity of the Think Tank Retrospective 20 by Hunter Harrison of Hunter Photographic - a Cleveland wedding photographer

Carrying capacity for the Think Tank Retrospective 20 – D700 with grip, D300, 70-200mm f/2.8 with hood reversed, 24-70mm f/2.8, 14-24mm f/2.8 with hood extended, SB-800 speedlight, spare batteries, memory cards, rain cover, iPhone and car keys with room to spare.

So why are they so special?

The Retrospective bags fill one niche really well – they are the perfect “shoot sack” for working photographers. I cannot tell you how perfect this bag is for comfortably carrying a moderate amount of gear nearly all day long. With the right gear loaded, the Retrospective 20 sits comfortably on the hip with the strap across your shoulder. The strap is built tough, but more on that later.

If you must stuff the Retrospective bag full, have a look at the picture above. The Retrospective 20 can hold all of that photography gear with room to spare. YES, two camera bodies with one grip and three fast lenses. However, I recommend carrying less in the Retrospective 20. In fact, I am wary of the larger Retrospective 30. Carrying too much in either bag is uncomfortable and wears on the shoulders regardless of the excellent strap. For my purpose as a wedding and portrait photographer, the Retrospective 10 is a little small. Then again, I just carry too much gear.

So, simply put – a perfect bag to load up with gear you need access to quickly and often. Perfect for working wedding or portrait photographer, especially when working on location. Definitely not designed to be a travel bag. For travel and storage, move your gear to a well padded and secure bag and simply take the Retrospective 20 along for on-location duty.

Carrying capacity of the Think Tank Retrospective 20 by Hunter Harrison of Hunter Photographic - a Cleveland wedding photographer

Comfortable capacity for the Think Tank Retrospective 20

With gear reduced to what I really need, as seen above, the Retrospective 20 wears well and feels comfortable across one shoulder. However, you can still see that it holds a lot. Leaving out the extra camera body and knick-knacks gives me the right gear and comfort level, especially with a camera and lens in hand leaving the bag partially empty.

If you typically just work with two lenses, say a fast normal and telephoto zoom, then you may be able to get away with the smaller Think Tank Retrospective 10. Personally, I like a little more space in case I need to squeeze in extra gear. Also, all three Retrospective bags can hold an iPad or small laptop in the outer-back zipped pocket. Keeping something large and ridged in this pocket makes it sit uncomfortably on the hip. Leave the laptop or iPad a travel/storage bag.

Inside the Retrospective 20 camera bag by Hunter Harrison of Hunter Photographic - a Cleveland wedding photographer

Spacious internals of the Think Tank Retrospective 20

Think Tank Retrospective 20 loaded with reasonable photography gear by Hunter Harrison of Hunter Photographic - a Cleveland wedding photographer

Retrospective 20 filled with a comfortable gear load – One camera with grip, three fast lenses, speedlight and accessories.

Packed up with a comfortable load, the bag does not wear very “thick” at the waist. My arms move comfortably around the bag when I am walking distances. The bag can slip behind the thigh and stay put while walking – much more so than a single camera hanging from a rapid strap. It simply stays at my back and does not flop around much.

Features make the bag

Features will make or break a decent bag. Fortunately, Think Tank does features better than any other professional camera bag company. I also own the Think Tank Airport Security and have looked at Think Tank’s entire line-up. They all come with thoughtful and useful features, including the Retrospective line of bags.

Retrospective 20 camera bag inner front pocket by Hunter Harrison of Hunter Photographic - a Cleveland wedding photographer

Retrospective 20 camera bag inner front pocket with the closure flap tucked away for “silent mode”

First, the inner-front pocket seen above has the right amount of well-sized mini pockets. The pockets are great for holding the typical small accessories a professional photographer needs. You can see the Think Tank label in the picture above. That is a flap to secure the inner-front pocket closed. If you don’t want the loud velcro RRRRIIIIPPPP during a wedding ceremony, the flap will secure to the side leaving the pocket open. In fact, all of the velcro flaps can be put into “silent mode.”

Retrospective 20 camera bag inner rear pocket by Hunter Harrison of Hunter Photographic - a Cleveland wedding photographer

The inner-rear pocket of the Retrospective 20 features a zipper closure with a soft cloth pull tab.

The inner-back pocket is one deep well and secures with a zipper. Grabbing the zipper is made easy by the large cloth pull attached to the zipper head. The cloth pull is nice since it won’t scratch or wear photo gear inside the bag, especially LCD screens.

Retrospective 20 camera bag dual speedlight pocket by Hunter Harrison of Hunter Photographic - a Cleveland wedding photographer

Dual “speedlight” pockets are included on each side of the Retrospective 20 camera bag.

Each side of the bag has a pocket that secures with a velcro flap. These two inner-side pockets seem tailor made to hold speedlights, even the giant Nikon SB-900. The flaps can be secured so the pockets stay open in “silent mode.” Even though these pockets seem designed for speedlights, I prefer to keep my speedlight in the front-outer pocket. This leaves more room inside the bag, enabling fast and easy lens changes.

Retrospective 20 silent velcro feature by Hunter Harrison of Hunter Photographic - a Cleveland wedding photographer

The best feature – silent velcro. In the velcro in one position the top flap secures. In the other, the velcro won’t engage. Brilliant!

Above you can see what I mean by “silent mode”. This is the main flap that flips over the top to secure the entire bag closed. On this flap, you can secure the velcro in “silent mode” so that it does not seal when the main flap is shut. This feature enables silent access to the bag, especially nice during wedding ceremonies. For a wedding photographer, this silent feature is a real dream.

I mentioned at the top this bag is not for general purpose storage and especially not for traveling. The main flap only secures with the velcro. There are no clips or zippers and little padding. Because of this, I do not recommend the bag for gear storage or travel. I use the Think Tank Airport Security to house my lighting gear and a well-padded LowePro backpack for camera gear storage or travel. If you recognize the Retrospective 20’s on-location niche, this should not be an issue. Think of it as a bag supplement.

Then again – bags are like crack to professional photographers. We can never have enough bags.

Retrospective 20 anti-slip comfort strap by Hunter Harrison of Hunter Photographic - a Cleveland wedding photographer

Comfortable strap – the Retrospective 20 has a well padded and adjustable strap which features anti-slip rubber pads on the bottom

Retrospective 20 strap detail by Hunter Harrison of Hunter Photographic - a Cleveland wedding photographer

Built tough – the strap anchor points on the bag continue down the sides and under the bottom for security

The last feature worth mentioning is the strap. Again, it is very well designed with the professional photographer in mind. The shoulder pad has three main features. First, it strap pad is thick and provides all day comfort. Second, the bottom of the pad has anti-slip silicone nodules to keep the strap securely on your shoulder. Last, there is a strong friction fit between the pad and the strap. Thus, the pad will not slide out of position on the strap, but the pad can be moved to your desired position.

As for the strap security, just have a look at the last picture. The strap anchor points on the bag are nuclear-strength. Strap webbing continues down the side and across the bottom. In short – this strap will NOT come undone.

Some other nice features:

  • A second top strap handle for carrying the bag in your hand
  • Available in black or “pinestone” (a soft gray-green)
  • Outer-side pockets to hold, um, stuff
  • Big outer-back pocket large enough to hold an iPad
  • Comes with a weather-sealed rain cover, which can tether to the bag
  • Has a lanyard for your keys
  • Strap can be easily adjusted for taller or shorter people
  • Comes with a couple extra dividers, but you really don’t need them

What’s the downside

Certainly not the on-location niche. However, here is a short list of possible improvements –

  • Including a clip on the main flap in addition to the “silent” velcro would give extra peace of mind.
  • The bottom of the bag could use a little more padding. I certainly would not want to drop the bag by mistake, even from a short distance.
  • The cost – at $159 the price is steep. Then again, professional photography bags from any company are not cheap.

Do I like it? Yeah, you can have my Retrospective 20 when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

  • Linh said:

    What about this doesn't fit as a general purpose bag? I think it works fairly well for that, as well as some travel. I loaded up my R10 with a GF1 and couple of lenses, a flash, a 135L (for a friend to use), and even a small netbook for when I was on the plane. Flew east to west coast, used it all day, very nice (though, a bit heavy, the bag itself), fit under the plane's seat very well (I suspect the R20 would too, not sure about the R30).

    To each their own I suppose. The bottom line is it's a good bag =)

  • Hunter said:

    Don't get me wrong. The bag absolutely can be used for travel. However, I feel a good travel bag should have more padding and a more secure closure than Velcro alone. For example, some of the popular backpacks or rollers from Think Tank, LowePro, or Tenba are great for travel. The Retrospect can be used for travel, but I prefer something more robust.

  • Peter said:

    Great write up. Oh, and yeah, I want one!

  • Zeca Moraes said:

    Dear Hunter,
    I also recently bought a TT R20, and I discovered a little trick to the 1st "downside" you say above: when you cover the velcro parts in the inner side of the flap to make it silent, just let one of them with a small line uncovered. It will be enough for the flap not to be loose, and will make just a little noise when opened. It's not perfect, but works...

  • Dave Scott said:

    Great write-up and many thanks! I just purchased this bag and it is a wonderful shooting bag as you stated!

    -- Dave

  • Rex said:

    Thanks for the review and write up. It was just what I needed since there are no local vendors that carry Think Tank. This makes me confident to order as your description of it seems to fit my actual needs.

  • Tom said:

    Thanx for this very good review...
    One question that I cannot find an answer for anywhere...
    The D700 with Grip and 70-200 2.8 attached ( hood backwards ), Does it really fit in ? That's the dealbreaker for me...
    Thanx !

    Tom

  • Hunter said:

    Yes, it certainly does fit but only with the hood reversed. You might also consider removing the tripod foot so it doesn't get caught on entry and exit.

  • WJ said:

    Is that a 14-24mm in this picture?:
    ThinkTank-Retrospective-20-Review-6-28-2010-0017-website-590x442.jpg

    If so that is my exact setup except I have an L-bracket on top of the MB-D10 grip.

  • Hunter said:

    Yes, that it is (or was). The three lenses picture are The Trinity - 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm. I no longer have the 14-24mm, but I still have the other zooms. I now primarily shoot with the Holy Trinity - 35mm f1.4, 50mm f1.4, and 85mm f1.4.

  • Matt said:

    Quick question: is the bag in your photographs black or pinestone? It appears much darker than the photos of pinestone bags on the Think Tank website, B&H website, etc., and yet your bag appears lighter in color than a black bag (more like a dark brownish stone gray -- which is gorgeous). A minor aesthetic point, I know, but if these are in fact photos of a pinestone bag I may go that route. Thanks much in advance

  • Hunter said:

    My bag is in fact black.

  • Dave said:

    Great review. I've been thinking about this bag to replace my Domke F3. I love the Domke F2 and the F3 is a good bag, but just doesn't have as many features as I would like.

  • Carlos said:

    Im a photojournalist, working Always with 2 cameras and 2 lenses attached , nikon d750 + Nikon 70-200 vr II and nikon d810 with 24-70,. This bag will hold them together with lense attached?

  • Hunter said:

    Great question. The ThinkTank Retrospective 20 will NOT effectively hold two cameras and the lens you mentioned. It's best for one camera and up to three lenses. Hope this helps.

  • Matthijs said:

    Is this bag a good fit next to my lowepro protactic 450aw?
    I have a D800e, Nikon 24-70/2.8, 105/2.8 and a 16-28/2.8. Does this fit easily?

    Thanks! Nice review!