“OMG—it’s huuuuge…” That’s what my friend said when she first saw me holding the Retrospective 50 camera bag from Think Tank Photo ($240). My ego properly boosted, I heartily agreed with her.
But besides being the size of a japanese automobile, the Retrospective 50 (R50) is a continuation of functional, understated, vintage-looking camera bags from Think Tank. And unlike the other smaller bags in the Retrospective line, this one has a special space reserved for your 15-Inch Macbook Pro, which I discovered in testing, can be both a pro and a con.
Think Tank’s Retrospective bags aren’t like most photography bags. In a marketplace full of nylon constructed, plasticky-looking satchels, the simple and classic look of these cloth and canvas bags stands apart in a very good way. These bags remind me of the beautiful and tough Domke bags from the 70s and 80s, and that’s good, because I like mostly everything from those two decades.
Beyond looks, R50 has more space than you’ll ever want to use. There are pockets everywhere on this bag. I had no problem fitting my DSLR plus two flashes and an extra lens in the well-padded main compartment. That’s in addition to my 15-inch Macbook Pro in its very own padded section. And because the bag is so deep, I probably could have fit another small lens or other random photo accessories if I wanted to get creative. The R50 also features a huge gusseted front pocket and slim rear sleeve on its backside.
So after filling up the R50 with as much photo gear as it could swallow, I slung it around my shoulder and took it for a walk. Though my back did get a little tired (more on this later), it wasn’t because of the lack of padding. The shoulder strap and and thick grippy pad helped me slug around my load in comfort, and the shoulder pad, because of its rubbery little strips (which I love), stayed right where I positioned it. I don’t often come across messenger bags this cozy, especially at this size.
R50 also has some neat treats built in. Its detachable rain cover will keep your gear dry when the drops start to fall. And like the other bags in the Retrospective line, the R50 features a “silent mode” that allows you to deactivate the velcro on the front flap so it can be opened and closed in total silence.
The R50 is no Chihuahua; it’s more like one of these dogs. Yes its big stature is useful because it can hold so much, but for some it’s going to be too big, and definitely too heavy, especially if you fill it to capacity with glass, cameras, and a 5.5 pound Apple notebook. The R50 is fabulous for moving your gear to, from, and around on shoots, but it’s not good option for a day bag, it simply gets too heavy.
And lastly, because the R50 fits a 15-inch Macbook, its internal compartments are very deep and not well sized for a camera with a stand size lens (as in not a 70-200mm). For example, once I position my DSLR in the bag, there are still 3-4 inches above it. I don’t really want to stack anything on top of my $3500 camera, so that space goes unused. Rearranging the R50’s velcro walls could remedy this issue, but after playing around with them, I couldn’t find a good solution. Maybe I’m not good at puzzles. Or maybe, the internal compartments are just oddly deep, after all, this is a messenger back made to fit two very dissimilar sized items: a 15-inch Macbook Pro and a DSLR camera and lens. However, it’s worth noting that this is probably a non-issue if you often shoot with long lenses.
Even with its spacial issues and the fact that the R50 is larger than a direwolf, I do adore it and think it’s a wonderfully useful bag. I love that it fits it all, looks good, and when not overloaded, is very comfortable to wear. If you’re looking for a shoot bag to cart around your Macbook, glass, and gear, this is definitely one to consider.