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Accessories Reviews

The Think Tank Modulus & Airport Addicted Reviewed

Jason Odell (DrJay32)


Keywords: thinktank, bag, non_nikon

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GOING MODULAR

 

Most of the Nikonians I have met have a “dirty little secret”. We are bag junkies. While we can go on ad nauseum as to why a certain lens or camera is superior for a given application, we become baffled when confronted with how to store and transport our gear. Let’s face it, if there were a “perfect” bag solution out there, we’d all own it by now.

 

Jason Odell by JRP

The author at the 5th ANPAT

 

My bag needs seemed simple enough at first. I usually shoot wildlife subjects either from a car or after a short hike on well-defined trails. I need to transport my gear, including my 500mm lens, on aircraft, preferably as a carry-on item. I want freedom of movement and easy access to my equipment. This scenario seemed easy enough to solve, but then how come I was never quite satisfied with my large backpack?

 

 

Backpacks, of course, are excellent for hiking with your gear. But when it comes to accessing lenses and filters in the field, you must dismount your bag, shuffle through it, and then remember to close it before you put it back on (otherwise your lenses are rolling down the cliff). The thick padding of most photo backpacks is great for comfort, but really restricts one’s ability to carry the pack on a plane. I found that I had to buy a slightly smaller bag than I would have liked in order to comfortably carry my gear on a plane, and even then I had to get creative with the strap/harness system in order to fit it in an overhead bin.

On the 4th Annual Nikonians Photo Adventure Trip (ANPAT), my solution was to wear the backpack over a photo vest. This provided me some access to my accessories (filters, film) without having to dismount, while the pack was easy enough to carry around. Usually, I found my pack to be mostly empty in the field if I was carrying my 500mm attached to my camera on my tripod. While this hybrid solution was pretty good, wearing the backpack compromised many of the pockets in my vest. Before the 5th ANPAT, I wanted to find a new solution.

 
4th ANPAT

 

Enter thinkTank photo.

I found thinkTank Photo quite by accident while browsing the Nikonians forums. Turns out that they had published first-hand accounts of how pros travel with their gear on airplanes. That got me thinking about trying several of their products for the ANPAT to South Dakota, where I knew I’d need access to a variety of lenses; from my wide-angle all the way up to my 500mm lens. I decided to try the Modulus Speed Set and the Airport Addicted bag. After using these products on the 5th ANPAT and for several other photo excursions, I’ve decided that they fill most of my requirements for a versatile carrying solution. So, I am going modular from now on.


THE THINK TANK MODULUS BELT SYSTEM

 

A modular “utility belt” design is nothing new to the photo industry. Other manufacturers have been making them for years. Think Tank’s system is designed with the working pro photographer in mind; especially sports and action photographers. As I learned, a nature photographer can learn to love a modular system, too.

 

Click for enlargement

The Think Tank Modulus Belt System

 

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

 

The core of the Modulus system is the Pro Speed Belt. This adjustable belt has a very large plastic buckle, similar to what you’d find on a waist harness of a good frame backpack. The padding is thick and comfortable. I never experienced any comfort issues, even when fully loaded. The interesting feature of the Pro Speed belt are the series of strong nylon loops on the outside face of the belt. These loops, as I will describe, allow components to be “locked” onto the belt.

 

Pro Speed Belt

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I got the standard six-piece set (Modulus Speed Set), which included four accessory pouches, and a memory card wallet. All the Modulus components are constructed of very durable ballistic nylon, and the pouches all have a seam-sealed rain cover that can be deployed if the weather turns ugly. The rain covers are attached via a nylon leash so you don’t lose them in the heat of battle. Most of the components have elasticized mesh pockets on the outside of them, which are incredibly handy for holding lens and body caps.

 

 

 

Modulus components attach to the Speed Belt in either of two ways: freeform or locked. In the freeform configuration, you attach the component to the belt using the fat Velcro tab on the back of the pouch. The tabs are wide and very easy to use, and allow the photographer to place and remove the components on the belt in any order without “threading”. In the freeform configuration, you can rotate modules freely around the belt, including around the belt buckle. This is useful when you are changing your shooting position. For example, when I kneel down, having components on the front of the belt is uncomfortable. If I use the freeform configuration, I can rotate the components to the back of the belt to make my position comfortable again. On the other hand, I can also choose to lock the components onto the belt by using a small plastic tab built into the attachment flap. By threading the tab through one of the web loops on the belt, I can lock that component securely in place. The locked configuration is especially useful for the components that are placed nearest the belt buckle. Lock one component on and they will keep the other components from sliding off the belt when you are putting it on or taking it off.

 

The Lens Changer 25 and 50 modules are pouches for lenses, and the Speed Set includes two of them. The LC 25 holds compact zoom lenses (it devours a 24-85mm AFS Nikkor), and the LC 50 easily holds a 17-55 DX or 28-70 f/2.8 with hood reversed. You can also use the LC 50 to hold a super-wide lens, such as the 12-24DX or 17-35 AFS with hood in place. I also obtained a Lens Changer 75, which is large enough to hold my 70-200f /2.8 VR Nikkor lens with the hood reversed and foot attached.

The lens cases all have padded bottoms, but not so much padding on the sides. This allows the cases to be packed relatively flat when traveling. I also found it possible to nest the Lens Changers inside one another when packing them up. The Lens Changers all open and close via an elastic drawstring at the top of the pouch, making access very easy.

 

Lens Changer 25



Lens Changer 50

 

The Modulus Speed Set also includes a rectangular “Speed Changer”, which holds numerous accessories, and a “Lightning Fast” case for electronic speedlights. The Speed Changer has a removable foam padded insert (which also holds two CF cards), and several padded dividers. The dividers can be used with or without the insert. It also carries the “Pixel Pocket Rocket” on a leash, which is a wallet that will hold ten CF cards. I carried filters, my teleconverter, and my Rocket Blower bulb easily in the Speed Changer. I even used it to carry a 50mm lens. The Speed Changer also has slots for pens and pencils. It really holds a lot! The “Lightning Fast” component easily holds my SB-800 speedlight with the diffuser dome attached. This case also has a removable padded compartment. I usually didn’t need the padding when I was out in the field, but it provides some extra protection if you need it.


FIELD TESTING: AT THE 5TH ANPAT

 

I took the Modulus Speed Set to the 5th Annual Nikonians Photo Adventure Trip in South Dakota. Getting used to a belt system took me some time, but by the end of the trip I really enjoyed the flexibility. On a typical shoot, I carried the three Lens Changers and the Speed Changer. Rarely did I need the Lightning Fast for the landscapes of South Dakota. This configuration meant that I had two lenses on the belt and one attached to the D2x around my neck. Hiking with my tripod over my shoulder was not a problem, even on rough terrain, as I had a fairly low center of gravity because of the belt system.

 

Click for enlargement

The Think Tank Modulus Belt System

I really enjoyed not having to take off my pack to access my lenses. In the afternoon heat of the Badlands, not wearing a backpack was a blessing. I still had to figure out how to carry my 500mm lens, but I found an old daypack that worked well enough for that. I usually positioned the Speed Changer case right in the front of the belt. When open, it was deep enough to work out of and not lose anything. I had easy access to my TC-14E and CF cards. Because the “Pixel Pocket Rocket” wallet was on a leash, I didn’t have to worry about dropping it.

In Custer State Park, we had some misty, foggy weather. I deployed the rain covers to see how well they worked. They were fairly easy to use, and when I needed a lens, I could take the cover off without repacking it because the covers were attached to their respective pouches with a nylon leash. This feature made the rain covers very simple to use, and their internal elastic band secured them to the pouches well.

 

At the 5th ANPAT by jrp

 

In the Badlands, we found ourselves on some serious “clay” outcrops which dropped off in several directions. Usually, there was just enough room to set up a tripod. The vastness of the Badlands really had me changing lenses. I used my Sigma 10-20mm, my Nikkor 17-55 DX and my Nikkor 70-200 VR. Each time I wanted to change lenses, I was able to do so from a standing position. I put the lens caps into the little mesh pockets on the Lens Changers, all the while thinking to myself how easy it would be to lose a cap down a 30 meter embankment, especially in fading light! While others were rummaging through their bags, I was able to continue shooting. This experience, I think, is the reason why I will continue to use my Modulus Speed Set.

 

The only component I really missed was having a place to store my D2x body on the belt. I got around this issue on the ANPAT by wrapping my camera in an OP-Tech Soft Wrap and wearing the camera on my neck. However, in the future, I will be looking into a modular body case for my Modulus Set.

 

Speed Demon Modular Case

 


GETTING FROM POINT A TO POINT B: THE THINK TANK AIRPORT ADDICTED BAG

 

While a modular belt system is truly great in the field, it can be a little complicated to carry on a plane. I don’t travel a lot, but when I do it usually is via an airline. That means figuring out how to pack all my stuff and get it in the overhead bin. I received Think Tank Photo’s “Airport Addicted” bag just prior to the 5th ANPAT. I have now taken this bag on several trips, and I think it serves its function well. Whether or not this bag is right for you will depend on how you use bags in the field.

 

Airpor Addicted

The Think Tank Airport Addicted Bag

 

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

 

The Think Tank Photo Airport Addicted bag was designed with one purpose in mind: fit as much gear as possible in a space compatible with the overhead bins of most airlines. With that mission in mind, the Airport Addicted’s dimensions are obvious: 14”W x9”D x 22”H. The Airport Addicted looks just like a typical piece of carry-on luggage. Inside, the bag measures 13”Wx 6.5-8”D x 21”H. Why the variable depth? Well, this bag includes an internal laptop case that is accessible from the outside of the bag. This is the feature that makes this bag a winner for me. Ever since I switched to digital, my laptop computer has become an important component of my gear. With the Airport Addicted, I can carry the laptop in the same bag as my gear—internally. The laptop case is minimal, but holds my 15” PowerBook with no trouble. The Airport Addicted is made from sturdy ballistic nylon, has large, strong zippers, and is padded on the outside for protection. The shoulder harness and waist belt tuck neatly away under padded Velcro flaps. The waist belt is removable.

 

There are handles on the top, bottom, and on one side of this bag, making it easy to grasp and remove from an overhead bin. The rectangular shape makes it easy to pack in a car with your other luggage.

 

On the side of the bag is a flap that can hold a monopod; a tripod holder is also included. I don’t use the tripod holder, as my Gitzo 1325 is a little too tall. Smaller tripods, such as the 1200 Gitzos should fit in the tripod holder with no problem.

 

Access to this bag is incredibly easy. The main flap opens completely for easy access. There is also a smaller flap opening in the main door that opens partially, allowing access to accessories when the bag is standing up. There are lots of other “nice touches” on this bag, including a side pocket for small accessories, a business card holder for ID, and elastic pockets in the shoulder straps that can hold a wireless phone. The laptop case is stored in the rear panel of the bag, allowing easy removal when going through airport security. Lastly, the Airport Addicted includes a seam-sealed rain cover that can be used in inclement weather.

 


CAPACITY

 

Because this bag was designed with sports photographers in mind, it can hold up to a 400mm f/2.8 lens with hood reversed! The Airport Addicted devours your gear and leaves room to spare. The bag comes with more dividers than you can possibly imagine, allowing you to configure it pretty much however you want. In fact, there is enough room in this bag that I can use half of it for clothes if I’m only bringing a sub-set of my gear.

 

What I have recently done is remove all but a few dividers and use the Modulus Speed Set for holding my lenses and accessories. When I get to my destination, the lenses are already in their modular pouches and ready to load onto the Speed Belt. However, in a more “traditional” configuration, this bag holds pretty much everything I throw at it, including:

• Sigma 500m f/4.5 lens
• D2X body
• Sigma 10-20mm lens
• Nikkor 70-200mm VR lens
• Nikkor 17-55 Dx lens
• TC-14E
• Wimberley Sidekick
• Kirk BH-1 ball head
• SB-800 flash
• Flash X-tender
• Wimberley flash brackets
• Extra batteries
• Rain cover for bag
• gloves
• filters
• 15” laptop computer with accessories

 

Airport Addicted

 

In other words, if I need to carry my gear on a plane, this is the bag to do it. The major drawback is weight. If you use an airline that weighs carry-on luggage, be very careful not to overload the Airport Addicted. While this bag is very well designed and manufactured, it cannot replace a serious backpack. The harness system is designed to be compact, and while it is great in airports, I wouldn’t recommend it for hiking long distances. On the other hand, the Airport Addicted would be very much at home on the sidelines of a sporting event or in a vehicle, where it can operate as a portable “base camp” for your gear. If you use a modular belt system, the capacity is diminished. However, I find it still holds everything I need when used with the Modulus Set (I usually pack my tripod and tripod accessories in my checked luggage).

 


MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE AIRPORT ADDICTED

 

I used the Airport Addicted on the 5th ANPAT. I configured it with dividers in a typical manner for travel. With all my camera gear and my laptop, the bag was really heavy. However, going through the airport was no big deal for me. The shoulder harness and waist belt were comfortable, and they tucked away very quickly when it was time to get on the plane. When I went through the security checkpoint, I had no issues whatsoever. I was able to quickly access the laptop and place it in a bin while the rest of the bag cruised through the X-ray machine.

 

5th ANPAT pin

 

On the other side of the checkpoint, I was reunited with my gear and I replaced the laptop in the rear compartment. I flew on a tiny commuter plane, so I had to gate-check the bag. None of my gear was harmed.

 

When I arrived at our hotel in South Dakota, I removed most of the dividers from the bag and put my gear into the Modulus Speed Set, which I then packed into the Airport Addicted. I soon discovered that this was not ideal for ANPAT shooting, as there were eight Nikonians sharing a van, all with lots of backpacks. I had to wait until everyone had removed their gear from the van before I could remove my belt system from the bag. By the end of the trip, I only carried the Modulus Speed Set with me in the van, along with a day pack that held my 500mm lens. Had I been in a smaller vehicle with fewer people, I would not have had this issue. In fact, if I were using a car as a blind, I would have just used the Airport Addicted with dividers to hold my equipment; belt systems don’t work to well in cars!

 

I took another trip with the Airport Addicted, and this time I was on a larger aircraft. I can report that this bag fits easily into the overhead bin of a normal jet. Obviously, it won’t fit into the overhead bin of a commuter aircraft (regional jet), but that is ok with me, as gate-checking has always been good to me. Although I don’t recommend checking expensive photo gear as luggage, the Airport Addicted does have lockable zippers.


CONCLUSIONS: THINK TANK PHOTO MODULUS SYSTEM AND AIRPORT ADDICTED BAG

 

In summary, Think Tank Photo products are built incredibly well, and they do the job they are designed for with ease. I thought the zippers and ballistic nylon construction of the Think Tank bags are as good as any bag I’ve seen or used. There is lots of attention to detail and features that are uncommon on other bags, like the rain covers with leashes. The important thing to remember is that these bags are not for everyone (there is still no “perfect” bag for all occasions!)

 

Airpor Addicted

The Think Tank Airport Addicted Bag on an airplane upper bin

 

MODULUS BELT SYSTEM

 

Pros
 
Versatile configurations
 
 
Easy access to your gear when in the field
 
 
Rain covers. A nice touch
 
 
Holds lenses with ease, including a 70-200mm f/2.8G ED IF AF-S VR
 
 
Comfortable to wear
 
 
Removable padding to pack flat
 
 
 
Cons
 
Not a lot of padding for lenses (the importance of this is debatable)
 
 
Not usable in a vehicle
 
 
Not a travel bag (you’ll still need to pack the system in another bag)
   
 
A Modulus Speed Set is great for Nikonians who:
   
Need mobility and access to their gear without having to put down their bag
   
Work in warm climates, where comfort is important
   
Want to hold gear discreetly under a jacket, like at a wedding or other event
   
Change shooting positions often
   
 
On the other hand, the Modulus System is probably not your bag if you:
   
Work from a car
   
Want to pack your gear for travel in it
   
Need maximum capacity on long hikes

 



AIRPORT ADDICTED BAG

 

Pros
 
Huge Capacity
 
 
Complies with carry-on airline requirements
 
 
Holds laptop internally
 
 
Fold-away harness system
 
 
Can hold the super guns, like the 200-400mm f/4D VR AF-S, 500mm f/4, etc.
 
 
Infinite configurations
 
 
 
Cons
 
Huge Capacity is easy to overload
 
 
Harness system not designed for hiking long distances
 
 
No built-in wheels for large airports (You may look into the "Airport Security")
     
The Airport Addicted Bag is great for Nikonians who:
 
 
Travel often by airplane
 
 
Want to carry the maximum possible amount of gear in a carry-on bag, including a laptop computer
 
 
Need to carry a 400mm or 500mm lens with them
 
 
Operate out of a vehicle, or move short distances in the field (such as a sideline)
 
 
 
On the other hand, the Airport Addicted is probably not for Nikonians who:
 
 
Hike long distances and need a high-end harness system, or
 
 
Want a built-in wheeled luggage system, or
 
 
Don’t fly to their destinations

 

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Originally written on July 11, 2011

Last updated on October 28, 2016

Jason Odell Jason Odell (DrJay32)

Awarded for his multiple written contributions for the Resources and eZine

Colorado Springs, USA
Silver, 3395 posts

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