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Accessories Reviews

Think Tank Photo Airport Acceleration V2.0 Backpack Review

Thomas Berg (twberg)


Keywords: think, tank, photo, airport, acceleration, backpack, bag, non_nikon

Show pages (4 Pages)

The perfect travelling photography backpack

The quest for the perfect large travelling & touring backpack?  Well, yes and no — but more "Yes" than "No!"

About a year ago I decided to join a group of photo enthusiasts for a photographic safari in Namibia (which was performed just recently). I had all the photographic equipment available but no suitable bag compatible with modern air traffic regulations. My bag choices were either too small or way too bulky and I did not want to compromise my equipment selection. So I started to look around to see what was on the market.

Face to Face: the AA2 and my el-cheapo


Face to Face: the AA2 and my el-cheapo

My goal was to find a kind of "perfect travelling backpack for photographers" and whenever I looked at the many offerings from numerous branded and non-branded manufacturers, I found the search converging towards the products of Think Tank Photo more than once. My photographic equipment is rather on the professional's side and the gear acquisitions in the past years left no margin for travels. Definitely, I would not want to put this equipment at risk of damage during my travels and I am convinced that here the difference between "professional" and "amateur" fades away.

Actually, I should not be surprised if amateurs are even more concerned about the potential loss of their photographic equipment (in the same sense as children are concerned about their favourite teddy bear) than professionals are. Be it hobby or profession, we all rely on our photographic equipment.

At this point international air travel regulations in general and the dreaded international luggage handling regulations in particular come into play. The latter forces us to indulge the former strict limitations. Ouch! Soon the conflict raises. A typical large photo backpack suited for convenient hiking will often not meet the airline's regulations and limitations on cabin luggage, neither does the classic photographer's shoulder bag meet the hiking traveller's needs – the trapdoor is wide open.

Actually, I should not be surprised if amateurs are even more concerned about the potential loss of their photographic equipment (in the same sense as children are concerned about their favourite teddy bear) than professionals are. Be it hobby or profession, we all rely on our photographic equipment.

 

 

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Have a look inside: the AA2 as delivered


Think Tank Photo to the rescue?

On the trolley at Frankfurt Airport

On the trolley at Frankfurt Airport

Certainly Think Tank Photo addressed this conflict much earlier than all competitors. In the wake of September 11, 2001, Think Tank Photo seemed to be the only manufacturer of bags for photographers who interpreted the new stricter security correctly (and even in a think-ahead manner) and created a comprehensive line of air-travel cabin luggage compatible products.
My investigations ended in spring 2009 with the impression that all competitors still adhered to the classic top-rounded backpack designs. Think Tank Photo sets itself apart from the crowd in creating suitcase-like box-shaped layouts targeting at maximising spatial efficiency without sacrifice to comfort in carrying.
From a traveller's point of view, box-shaped designs make a lot of sense and the design similarities between most flavours of hand luggage used by business travellers and the trolleys and backpacks from Think Tank Photo are obvious. With the waist support detached and the shoulder straps tucked away, the shape of the rucksack is neat and flush like a box.

As a consequence of the streamlined external design, the Airport Acceleration V2.0 sacrifices some of the versatility known from day-to-day backpack offerings. No generous external mesh pockets for water bottle or collapsible umbrella, for example. No jungle of zippered compartments for keys, mobile phone, batteries and memory cards. Some of that would be nice to have in my opinion.
I believe that Think Tank Photo had to compromise on such minor aspects in order to satisfy the main design target and, really, there are numerous other ways to maintain accessories organized.

The Airport Acceleration V2.0 accompanied me during three travels, two inside Germany and one to Namibia, Africa. The domestic travels served me in getting familiar with the bag and there I already learned that the carrying comfort is quite on par with the conventional bags from competitive brands. Loaded with some 15 kilograms (33 pounds) you learn quickly whether or not a backpack suits you comfortably. At no point did I have the feeling that the Airport Acceleration V2.0 suffers from comfort issues.
Now that you already know about my generally positive impression, it is time to dive into the details. My quest for the ideal travelling bag started with several requirements and the most important ones were (listed in order of priorities):

 

 

1) compatibility with international airline cabin luggage restrictions
2) enough storage capacity for my "African Safari" travel
3) carrying comfort
4) quality of workmanship and zippers
5) compatibility with laptop computer
6) option to remove or tuck away shoulder straps and waist support
7) weight of bare bag

Think Tank Photo seemed to be the only manufacturer who offered bags that met all my criteria with ease and my impression of their product quality, witnessed at the recent Photokina fair booth, spoke very much for their offerings.
Eventually, I only had to distinguish between the three models of backpacks that seemed to meet the capacity target and I opted for the second-largest model, the Airport Acceleration V2.0. With this model, full compatibility with the international "handbag test cage" is not to be taken for granted when the front pocket is loaded with a laptop computer, but I was told by travellers that most airlines accept a laptop as second hand luggage item without discussions. Anyway, it will be possible to utilize the low dividers, initially designed for the trolleys, hence store the laptop inside the bag.
With my laptop in the laptop case fitted into the front pocket and the straps tucked away, the bag fit easily into the overhead compartments of both the Air Namibia Airbus A340 aircraft and trains in Germany. I witnessed plenty of people struggling with the straps and belts of their conventional backpacks and felt very happy that the smart design of the ThinkTank made my handling so smooth.


Talking about storage capacity, I was immediately impressed by the internal depth of the bag. Two camera bodies of Nikon D300 size fit vertically side-to-side with enough slack to conveniently move them in and out and my bodies are even fitted with Kirk angular brackets. The AF-S 4/300 and AF-S 2.8/70-200 fit on top of each other into one compartment without affecting closing the bag. Great! I cannot praise enough the design approach of "deep compartments" as it turns out to be so very versatile. I know many bags where the insufficient inner depth limits the packing density in such a way that one feels in need to fill the gaps with towels or socks. Not so with the Airport Acceleration V2.0. It is absolutely no problem to fit more equipment into the bag than you eventually want to carry. For the journey to Namibia, the bag carried almost 14 kilograms (30.8 pounds) of equipment and, as you see, the weight scale at the Windhoek airport shows that I am not joking.

Windhoek weight scale: 14 kg, ex camera

Windhoek weight scale: 14 kg, ex camera


The weight of a camera backpack

Packed for Namibia

Packed for Namibia

This brings me to another point that I considered important when looking for a bag: the native weight of the backpack. A couple of years ago I purchased the humongous Kata BP-502 bag in order to carry both a 4/500mm and a 2.8/300mm lens with bodies and accessories and tripod attached to the side - man, I must have been lunatic! 

Oh yes, it worked, but it was anything but fun to lift, buckle and carry some 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of bulky monster bag. The bare BP-502 weighs nearly 5 kg (11 lbs). The bare Airport Acceleration V2.0 weighs less than 2 kg (4.4 lbs). For traveling and certainly as long as I am the one in charge of carrying, I prefer lightness over beefiness. "Beef for dinner, not on the back."

Taking the choice between the available bags of the Airport-series gave me more headache than I thought. Without the Photokina experience as well as the hands-on demonstrations of fellow Nikonians it would have been even harder. The amount of gear that fits into the backpack is hard to imagine and making up the own mind on how all the stuff can be organized for easy accessibility is even harder. You can take my word that reality beats imagination by a good margin. Here is the list of equipment that I wanted to take to Africa:
300mm f2.8 AF-S
Teleconverters TC-14E and TC17-E
70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR
16-85mm f3.5-5.6 AF-S VR
10-24mm f3.5-4.5 AF-S
85mm f1.4
Nikon D300 body
Fujifilm S5 Pro body
Laptop computer and external hard disk
Accessories like spare batteries, chargers, memory cards, dustblower, etc.

All that was no problem for the bag. When I went to the island of Usedom (at the German east sea coast), there was the 105mm macro lens instead of the 85mm lens in the bag and, further to that, the 300mm f4 and a set of extension rings. Even then there was space left for socks!

You see, putting a lot of equipment into the bag and a laptop computer into the front pocket is not tough at all. It gets tough when you carry the bag around and you begin to feel weight and thirst. At this point, the difference to the conventional designs becomes noticeable: there is no provision for water bottles and biscuits on the outside of the bag and I for one would not want to store food and beverage inside, next to the cameras. Think Tank Photo claims the elastic side pocket to be useful for beverages, but my experience does not line up with that. A pocket that fails taking as little as a half-litre-bottle (rough 17 ounces) is not really useful.
The bag is equipped with provisions to attach a monopod or mid-sized tripod to the outer right side. For a rather small monopod/tripod, the elastic pocket should be used. A larger tripod may become attached by means of the strap extension as shown in the photo. This arrangement has only one anchor point near the shoulder strap, hence the tripod starts to wiggle while you walk and this is not very comfortable. As a result, I prefer to avoid this kind of tripod attachment. Maybe the designers at Think Tank might elaborate on an improved solution for a future revision.

Letting gravity assist shooting

The manufacturing quality leaves very little to desire and the many thoughts that went into the design are very well reflected by the impression given by material and workmanship. The only points that I am a little concerned about are:

- the front pocket clasp looks very nice but unlocks quite easily and possibly undesired and undetected. Here I would prefer a lock like for the tripod pocket.
- the main zipper is not surrounded by a lid that would protect from light rain showers
- the rain cover is a separate item, it would be nice if it was incorporated into e.g. the bottom of the bag. I come to this conclusion because I did not think of the dust in Namibia and had the raincover left at home.

The backpack is manufactured in China but did not exhibit this terrible odour composition of cheap plastic and chemical compositions that can be found in some brandless low cost stuff. Good for my nose and good for the equipment. I do not want my Nikon gear to become compromised by evaporations from plasticiser agents.
Along with the bag comes a wide selection of dividers to create lots of internal compartments. The total number of divider elements is large enough to even satisfy the owners of rangefinder cameras. Some of these dividers are very thin and flexible and coated with silky-smooth fabric instead of the standard loop fleece. They are quite helpful since the velcro hooks do not catch into that fabric. It gives the freedom to create "slippery" sub-divisions of odd shapes.

 

At the beginning I thought that having only two large laminated mesh pockets might be too few to maintain the typical bunch of small accessories organized. My mind changed with the first travel. Rather than stuffing memory cards, batteries, angle view finder and similar items into these pockets, I used them for travel documents, passport, wallet, maps and such. I found that very convenient. The relatively bulky items like DR-6 viewfinder and the selection of batteries and memory cards went into a separate pouch and I never had a problem in finding the necessary space for that in the bag.

 


Conclusions buying a camera backpack

I consider the Think Tank Photo Airport Acceleration V2.0 among the most advanced solutions for photography oriented travellers and I see no competition coming close to this almost perfect product. It offers an ideal relationship between storage capacity and portability.
With respect to hikers, the verdict must be balanced against the lack of pockets and deficits in attaching modular components. In this area, the competition may have the edge.
I normally prefer beltpacks and holster solutions for hiking over any kind of backpack because I consider backpacks in general as slow and heavy. In all situations where the "snail approach" (all the gear on the buckle and always with me) is inevitable, the Airport Acceleration V2.0 forms an eligible, albeit not perfect, solution with unquestionable comfort in carrying.
I am very happy with the Airport Acceleration V2.0 and recommend it without hesitation!

 

 

Con's
• No protective lid for main zipper doesn't leave me with good feelings in case of a serious rain shower
• Having the ability to attach modular components is very limited ( I for one would love to attach lens bags, filter bags etc for hiking tours)
• Rain cover is a separate component rather than integrated into bottom of rucksack (which means you possibly left the cover at home while you're outside in the rain)
• No mesh pocket for water bottle (might find a home below left-hand side handle)
• Tripod support extension has no secondary anchor point (should not be too difficult to implement) and wiggles while walking
• Front pocket clasp can become unlocked unintentionally by items pressing onto it
• Massive metal D-rings and even more massive carabiner hooks at the laptop bag strap add noticeable weight (today's high performance plastics should do just as well and be much lighter)

The heavy hook

pro's
• Very convenient to carry, even for extended periods and when fully loaded (Big point!)
• Enormous storage capacity
• Enough and well positioned handles, bag feels properly balanced when hand-carried
• Waist support detachable (I dislike such waist supports and love to get rid of them)
• Shoulder belts tuck away easily behind back padding for ease of transportation
• Sternum strap features a flexible "rubberband" section which effectively reduces chest compression
• Business card compartments, both on backpack and laptop bag, ease identification
• Unobtrusive passport-sized compartment for documents
• Front pocket with lid is a big bonus for travellers and an improvement over the previous version with elastic pocket
• A lot of very useful internal separator elements are supplied by default, employment of low dividers may expand versatility even further
• Did I mention that this is a great travelling backpack? Kudos to Think Tank Photo!

(3 Votes )
Show pages (4 Pages)

Originally written on November 5, 2009

Last updated on April 22, 2016

Thomas Berg Thomas Berg (twberg)

Porz, Germany
Basic, 1 post

2 comments

Zita Kemeny (zkemeny) on November 25, 2009

Your article helped me to decide faster which backpack shall I buy. Thank you!

User on November 23, 2009

Thank you Thomas for writing this review.

G