Review Think Tank Speed Freak

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There's a very long preamble to this review, which I will post lower down. Read if you're bored. However, in order to get to the point...

Maker/Provider: Think Tank

Product: Speed Freak

Price: £85

Overall Rating: 9/10

Overall Summary:
The continual search for a camera bag is at an end

Detailed Review

I needed a bag that would hold the following, without being too huge or wide:

EOS 5D + 24-105F4
70-200 F4
17-40 F4

I also wanted to be able to attach a pouch with my 300F4 to the bag. Other nice to haves were room for a 1.4X OR 50 F1.8, swap 70-200 for 550EX, and possibly even room for my Bushnell Trophy 10x42s.

The Speed Freak could almost have been made for me. Read the preamble for more detail, but I like belt bags and I like shoulder bags in different situations. The speed freak is both.

Kits that Fit(tm)

This bag has exceeded my expectations of what can fit. My lenses all have reversed hoods fitted when in the bag - 70-200 has stock ET74, 24-105 has EW-83J (stock hood for 17-55 F2.8 IS), 17-40 has modified EW-83DII (stock hood for 24 F1.4L. It has been filed down so as not to vignette, resulting in a far more compact yet more effective hood than stock EW-83E).

1) 5D + 24-105 + 17-40 + 50 + 70-200. The 50 sits on top of a divider above the 17-40.
2) As above but 1.4X instead of 50.
3) 5D + 24-105 + 70-200 + 300F4 + 1.4X. I was astounded that this setup fitted, but it does, although is a little tight on the zips. This requires the 70-200 to be fitted to the camera. Both telephotos can fit with their tripod rings and QR plates.

The front pocket is big. In fact, big enough that my binoculars go in it without problem. It is even possible, although care should be taken due to lack of padding, to get the 550EX in the front pocket. Otherwise it can replace the 70-200 in kits 1) and 2) above.

In use

This bag is about versatility. The belt system is well padded and I find nicely fitting, with enough flexibility and the most comfortable I have tried. It can take additional sliplock-type bags (eg crumpler, lowepro, think tank, etc pouches). However, the sewn loops are narrow and don't fit many sliplock bags, which may have to use the larger section behind the sewn loops - which then allows the bags to slide back and forth.

There are pockets galore, inside and outside. I like being able to put a couple of bottles of water in the side pockets for walking, slip some papers down the back pocket, spare battery and memory cards inside, allen key for tripod plates in the lid and binocs in the front pocket. The one issue with all the versatility is the lid. It has a zip across the top of it, in addition to the zip around it, so you can get in without opening the whole lid. The downside of this in my opinion is that it's an easier way in for thieves in an urban environment - one which it is rather too camera-baggy for comfort anyway.

Build quality is great - nothing has frayed, materials are well-chosen and the main lid zip is very robust. The shoulder strap is lovely and easily removable for waist-bag mode. The waist belt also tucks away nicely for shoulder bag use.

Think tank have clearly used belt systems before designing this bag. The reverse-flip lid is the clearest indicator of that. This means the lid is not in your way when trying to change lenses with the bag on your body, and is also a good anti-pickpocket feature (notwithstanding the mentioned additional zip which lets things down on that front) since the zips can be positioned between the bag and your body, where it will be difficult for them to get hands unnoticed.

The bag isn't overly weather-proofed, and has a separate AW cover. This cover works well and is easy enough to use, but I've always preferred design for weatherproofing (eg CCS overlapping lids and internal drawstring cover - these work well without impeding use like the AW covers do).

Looks wise, there is no mistaking that this is a camera bag. It is not stealthy nor is it neutrally designed (like say the crumplers that could be messenger bags or handbags, or the business neutral lowepros).

Overall

This is as close to perfection as I've ever found in a camera bag. My most serious complaints about it could be resolved with a simple lid redesign (remove top zip, offset main zip downwards half an inch to give weather-proofing overlap). In terms of size and utility it's brilliant. I quickly sold my old shoulder bag, and my belt system and backpack haven't seen use since I bought this (must get them sold...). The size fits exactly the kit(s) I want to carry, without being so wide as a Nova 190. It's comfortable to walk with all day. It's very well made. The price might seem high, but it's nothing compared to what I've spent over the years on all those other bags...

Score: 9/10 (nothing's perfect)
 
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Preamble

I've messed with belt systems for years....

I started off with a bag that came with my EOS 1000FN (1992 I think that was...), and that was a holster-style shoulder bag. Later I got an 80-200 lens, and bought a CCS pouch for that lens, which lived on the strap of the shoulder bag. All worked ok.

I upgraded bits of kit and went to a lowepro nova 2 and then a nova 4 since my EOS 5+VG10 wouldn't fit the 2. That was too big to be convenient and I was finding shoulder bags to be rather annoying, so started on the belt-system kick.

1) CCS Mammoth with CCS "Better Belt". The mammoth was a great bag, with reverse-flip lid, good weather proofing, room for body with booster. I had pouches for lenses and the whole thing worked ok, but for the belt. Far from being "better", the lack of padding resulted in significant abrasion on my hips, leaving raw red patches after a day walking/shooting.

2) Kinesis Belt. The Kinesis belt offered padding, and could take slip-lock style bags, belt-loop bags (via adaptor) and kinesis's own connector bags. However, the adaptor for belt-loop bags struggled with the weight and size of the CCS mammoth, plus allowed too large a degree of movement for bags with typical 2" belt loops. After a disappointingly short time some of the stitching on the Kinesis broke down. I talked to the manufacturer but it wasn't economically viable to ship it back to the US to be fixed, so they sent me some bits and I had it repaired here. With the bits they sent me I converted the CCS Mammoth to kinesis connection system so it would attach properly to the belt and this improved matters. However, another bit of stitching later gave way on the belt-loop pack adaptor and this resulted in the pouch holding my 50 F1.8 falling from the belt onto the floor of manchester airport, smashing the filter (thankfully no other apparent damage).

After this I moved back to a shoulder bag (Crumpler budgie smuggler) with additional pouches, but I had bought this originally for my second body at the time, and it wasn't big enough for much of what I wanted to do.

So then I tried a backpack (Crumpler Shrinkle) which works ok but I found to be very inconvenient to work out of (not Crumpler's fault. Just that backpacks don't work for me).

This all coincided somewhat with a lull in my photography due to disliking the body I had moved onto (EOS 20D) and so the situation remained that way for a while. I was re-energised with the acquisition of a 5D (I had missed full-frame) and this really outgrew the Crumpler shoulder bag, so I found myself on a mission to buy yet ANOTHER camera bag.

I missed the "free shoulders" of belt systems, combined with a recent bad back/sciatica and so I was interested in that, but wary after previous unsatisfactory experiences. I liked the internal layout of the Lowepro nova 2 I had had, top-down with spaces for lenses either side of the fitted lens, but Lowepro's current offerings wouldn't support that layout for the size of kit I have. My requirements were to fit a 5D, 24-105, 17-40 and 70-200F4 inside the bag, with the 70-200 replaceable with 550EX at times and be able to attach an external pouch for my 300F4. The other thing I found was that I wavered between shoulder bag and belt, for different situations - in a corporate environment or travelling I found I preferred a shoulder bag, but in walk/shoot environments I preferred belt.

Eventually I found an interesting looking bag. I called up one of the few shops in the UK that carried it and asked if they had it in stock for me to look at, and it turned out that on the day I would be there the rep would be there showing the bags off and there would be 10% off. The bag was brilliant and so this review resulted.
 
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#4
Cracking review i have the speed demon and i'll do a review of that soon, but could you add a few pics of it with gear and possibly of you wearing it so we can get an idea of sizes please?
 
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