The search for the perfect camera bag is a quest that all photographers share. I can’t count how many bags I have tried over the years. What I have discovered is there is no perfect bag, no jack-of-all-trades. You will end up with an assortment of different bags in your stable for different purposes. That being said the ThinkTank Shape Shifter does a lot of things well and is one of the bags I use regularly.
This bag is a backpack designed to carry camera equipment and a laptop. One of the first things that drew me to the bag is the ability to work out of the bag without having to put it down to open it. It is also designed to expand and contract based on the amount of gear you have in the bag. There is a zipper, which can be opened and closed to make the bag larger or smaller. This is a great feature because it makes the bag scalable based on your needs.
There are two pockets on the front of the bag to hold cords, accessories and other essentials. The main compartment has 5 neoprene pockets designed to hold 2 bodies and 3 lenses, although you can put whatever you like in them. There is also a zippered mesh pocket and two mesh pouches. The mesh pouches are a great place to put top mount flashes.
At the back of the bag is the laptop compartment. It is the only padded part of the bag. This gets to one of the bag’s best features. Many bags have a lot of padding, too much. All of the padding makes a bag stiff and unnecessarily bulky. With having the laptop compartment padded and that section of the bag against your back the bag is very comfortable to wear. The five neoprene pockets give a little padding and protection to keep your gear from banging around. It is just enough to keep your equipment safe inside the bag.
Some people are afraid their gear will get broken if they do not have it in a heavily padded bag. They end up getting bags you could drop from the top of a ladder and have nothing happen. I used to be one of them. Then I asked myself–has it ever happened? Do I know anyone who has had his or her gear saved that way? The answer was no. One of the major down sides to the heavily padded bags is that they make everyday work more difficult. Is there time for the heavy padding? Absolutely there is! If I am going to spend the day out in the woods then I will want some more padding. But heavy padding is not needed for the everyday use at which this bag excels. The Shape Shifter is a great everyday bag that is easy to work out of.
The bag is well constructed and rugged like all of the ThinkTank bags I have used. I have never had any problems with the zippers or other hardware. The nylon material is durable and will take a lot of abuse. Another of my favorite features of the bag is its compatibility with the modular system belt and pouches. The padded belts that can be combined with the bag add comfort when you are going to be wearing it all day. The bag also comes with a rain cover, which I have had to use unexpectedly on several occasions.
I use this bag alone regularly for local jobs and I take it with me as a gear and laptop bag along with my rolling bag when traveling. For macro work it is great when going to photograph for a couple of hours in a garden type environment. There are many times when I will have larger bags in the car with a bunch of gear and use this as my walking around bag. I will run back to the car to swap out and change around gear while keeping the load on me as light as possible.
When using this bag for travel on non-photography related trips these items are what I pack in it: I have one camera body, the 16-35 and my 100mm macro. I will bring my extension tubes, a top mount flash and the LED ringlight. Besides these basics I will have cards, card reader, power cords, chargers and so on. Finally I have my laptop. This is my bare bones macro setup when on the road just in case I get the chance to do a little photography.
When I am working local assignments for non-macro and non-sports projects that don’t require a lot of gear here is what I pack in the bag. These are normally candid or informal group assignments. I have two bodies, the 16-35, the 70-200 and my 24-70. I have two top mount flashes and a battery back for one of them. Then I will have extra batteries, memory cards and so on. I will also bring a couple of extension tubes in case I can throw in some macro work.
Overall this is a great lightweight bag. If I could add one thing it would be an extra divider in the laptop compartment so I could separate the laptop from the portable hard drive I keep in there when traveling. I have cut a piece of padding I use to separate them but it would be nice to be able to Velcro it in place. I would absolutely recommend this bag for the applications described above. When evaluating any bag remember to judge it based on a specific purpose. There is no one bag that will do everything.