thinkTANK Modular Component System Review
Keywords: thinktank, bag, vest, belt, modular, components, jrp
Old, good times
When I started to do photography all I needed was a camera with one lens. A camera strap was the only other accessory required for long walks. Half a century later I want to be able to photograph anything I may find at a location. So I need to have with me a series of lenses. For landscape (14-24mm), portrait (85mm), or a medium range zoom (24-70mm), macro (105mm), animals and birds (70-200, 80-400mm or longer). Adding a second body for backup, two speedlights for group photos, flash diffusers, SU-800 commander, extra batteries, rocket blower, cable release, a BV-22 attachment for my Markins Q20i ball head, and other small items and I end up with a minimum load of 24 to 26 pounds (11 to 12 kg) to carry all around, not considering the tripod.
Discussions on camera carry
Btw, we are discussing bags, backpacks and carrying equipment in our Camera Carry & Apparel forum.
The Perfect Bag
My perfect bag is one that …
- Allows for all your needed gear for a trip to fit
- Is comfortable to carry
- Allows for mobility (you can even run with it if necessary),
- Is padded enough for your lenses, your back and shoulders, and
- Has a decent waist belt to keep it close your body, not dangling around
- Is carry-on compliant even in regional air carriers
- Is durable.
My thinkTANK Airport Acceleration v2.0 perfect backpack allows for very easy access once you take it off your back, it has great materials including zippers, you can arrange it anyway you want and it complies with carry-on size limits for the small airplane bins of regional carriers or under the seat. thinkTANK now offers four airport models depending on your needs.
The issue for me is not to transport my equipment from my home to the airports and airplanes and from there to hotels and later to our vehicles. For this purpose it is truly perfect. The problem is in the field. At the Annual Nikonians Photo Adventure Trips (ANPATs) I may only use two or three lenses at a location and have no need for the rest, like two flashes and its diffusers, etc.
Furthermore, buying the 14-24 and its special adapter for large rectangular filters, forced me to add a small shoulder camera bag. Not very convenient, even when keeping hiking to a minimum.
A System Solution
How to find a solution?
A better bag? Hardly a solution even if it may exist. The weight remains the same.
A beach cart with large wheels to pull everything into the location? It will take a lot of space in a van and I am not fond of torn muscles or dislocated shoulders. I’ve had a few of those and it was never fun.
What you need to transport for the trip is not what you need to take to a given location; so why carry it all?
And then it hit me! I remembered that more than a few savvy Nikonians were either using:
- Two bags, a perfect transportation one to best carry everything needed from their home into the vehicle, and a smaller one to only take what is needed from the vehicle to the specific location, or
- A perfect transportation bag and a belt with pouches, most of them with the belt strapped to a harness for easier and more comfortable carry of a smaller gear subset into a location and without the risk of your pants falling down due to the weight.
Using two bags added much volume to luggage while flying. Using a vest with harness and pouches was then my chosen system solution since it also permitted easier and convenient access to each individual item selected to be carried to a location.
The preferred brand choice
There are several brands out there in the market, however the preferred choice of ANPAT goers has been and remains to be thinkTANK.
ThinkTANK offers two models of component sets: the unpadded Modular Skin Set V2.0 and for just $20 more dollars, the padded Modular Component Set V2.0. I chose the latter for added gear protection. I found the components in the set to fit all of my frequently used lenses.
It also offers three different belts, the Thin Skin, the Pro Speed and the Steroid Speed Belt in increasing thickness of padding, all three in waist sizes to accommodate any possible requirement, from 27 to 64 inches (69cm - 162cm).
The Modular Component Set V2.0 contains the following:
- Lens Changer 50 V2.0 for small to medium sized lenses
- Lens Changer 75 Pop Down V2.0 for medium to long lenses
- Strobe Stuff for any Nikon Speedlight
- Speed Changer V2.0 – I use it for a complete set of filters
- A Large mesh travel pouch for the set
Seam-sealed rain covers integrated into each pouch
I added the Pixel Racing Harness V2.0 and the Steroid Speed Belt V2.0 for additional comfort, plus a set of Pro Uni-Loop Connectors from the Photo Pro Shop, compatible with the Nikonians Pro Camera Strap system, to have a camera with lens on the ready, hanging from the harness’ front rings.
It is very comfortable to wear. More so if the belt is tight on your waist. The harness is fully adjustable to position the belt at the right height. The components can be made to slide over the interior of the belt, or be fixed in a position. One can shoot standing, sitting, kneeling or even prone. The pouches all have loop strings to keep all contents from sliding out.
As long as you don’t overload it with pouches in the back, you can sit in a vehicle wearing it, or easily take it off and keep it as is or reload it with a new set of gear for the next location.
Although I mostly shoot landscape and wildlife, I’ve seen this system also used in sports and event photography.
If you are tired of lugging all over the place your whole set of photo equipment for a trip, you should try this system. I am very happy with it, so I can highly recommend it.
Have a great time!
Originally written on March 23, 2016
Last updated on May 16, 2016
More articles that might interest you
J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on April 28, 2016
(Edited by jrp Thursday, 28 April 2016 ) William, When traveling by air, my tripod is always inside luggage. When out in the field I always have it in my hands, as if carrying a rifle; or over my shoulders with one leg in the back and two in front of my chest. I will soon try another better way: adding a tripod holder like some savvy Nikonians do. You can see an image of it here: https://goo.gl/3pPkwx (copy/paste the link in your browser to get to the gallery where the image is shown)
William Meyer (chasseurdelumiere) on April 23, 2016
Does it make carrying a tripod different? How? I do travel but have not gotten used to it how ever I keep on hearing ev er y one needs one
John McGarry (jtmcg) on April 18, 2016
(Edited by jrp Thursday, 28 April 2016 ) Ramon - Great article. I was reading along and as I scrolled down I saw a familiar face...me. :) I do like the modular system. It saves having to carry everything everywhere. I also recommend the Steroid Speed Belt V 2.0 that you have rather than one of the smaller belts. If you are carrying a couple of heavy lenses like a 14-24 and an 80-400 in pouches attached to the belt, the stiffer belt carries the weight much better.
Stuart McClay Smith (StuMcSmith) on April 9, 2016
Yesterday I ordered two holsters, the version 2.0 models 20 and 30. I love the expandable bottom portion so even a 200mm mounted lens can be carried in the shooting configuration (hood). I love shooting candids at outdoor events like swap meets and art festivals where a longer lens is preferable. The holsters are compatible with their belt and harness system so I will probably get a couple of the lens cases. I managed to botch my online order so I called Customer Service where an actual human being cheerfully worked through my issues.
John A. Meiers (Dakotaboy) on April 5, 2016
I used a similar harness with belt system by a different company at the Fall ANPAT in SD. I really liked the system. My only issue with this company their setup came with no instructions. After looking at your picture JR now I Know what these two short straps were for. To hook to camera. On occasion I would remove the harness and belt to put in back of van. It is recommended to relatch the belt after removal. Some how I was able to turn it inside out when taking it back out of van. This did not happen if the belt was re-latched after removal.
J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on April 1, 2016
(Edited by jrp Friday, 01 April 2016 ) Marion, like you, I still own a collection of Tamrac bags. Shoulder ones when I was younger and stronger, later, Expedition backpacks. Then someone decided to add outside pockets which made the newer bags not carry-on compatible even if those pockets were empty. So that was the end of Tamrac for me. The ones I have are now dedicated to storage. Then came thinkTANK and a new world was open. The airport series is a delight to use, they even have a roller model. Adding the harness/belt/pouches is superb. I should have done it earlier. You should try it.
J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on April 1, 2016
(Edited by jrp Friday, 01 April 2016 ) Frederic, good to hear from you. We learn from each other at Nikonians and that's how I have now embraced a system approach instead of insisting on a single do-it-all bag. Thanks for sharing your similar experience. We will soon switch the comments to the forums, to enjoy the full functionality with image sharing there.
Marion Pavan (pqtrths) on March 31, 2016
JRP: A fascinating system and an excellent article. The Think Tank system looks to be the answer for me to carry required equipment and accessories, water/food, and medical supplies for an entire hike/shoot on most any day while reducing fatigue. I'm also in a rut bag-wise and after using Tamrac for 20+ years, it's probably time to change. I began with one then two Tamrac shoulder bags and then to Tamrac 6x and 7x backpacks for all my camera equipment and accessories, Tamrac tripod case for my tripod and monopod, and several accessory pouches that attach to the 7x backpack for filters and the battery pack for my strobe. All this was to have everything readily at hand and to reduce fatigue. Plus the 7x packed with equipment is heavy - mid-afternoon at the Danville Concours during a 105-degree day, I had to call it quits because I was exhausted and could not continue even though I was only carrying one camera and lens. First time in my I've had to do that. Add to that, that the backpack increases the photographer's visibility which may not be good in some areas. As another option, I could switch bags going back to the 6x, which I had used for several years, with the 7x and its extra equipment packed in the car when needed. But the Think tank system that you use and described here is making more and more sense to me. Mp
Frederic Hore (voyageurfred) on March 31, 2016
Nice setup and article JR. I have some Think Tank bags, notable the Sub Urban Disguise 30, which I use for event photography where I need to look classy. It allows me to carry one body with a 24-70 f/2.8 lens attached, a 70-200, plus the SB-900 flash, and an iPad, all in one nice, elegant black kit. I looked at their modular system, and although quite good, I decided to stay with my existing Lowe Pro Street & Field system which I have been using for more 15 years. This system has many of the same attributes as Think Tank. I use the well padded Lens Case 5 for my Nikkor 200-500 f/5.6 VR lens, and the Lens Case 4 for my Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8. Both fit easily into a secure PacSafe Venture 2 backpack I use for my daytrips on my local and international excursions. I have separate cases for all my lenses and flashes, allowing me to mix and match depending upon the shoot requirements. Lowe Pro also has a handy and well padded Delux Technical Belt for attaching all manner of bags and lens cases, like Think Tank. Like you, I am a bit of mule, so for my foreign trips, I tend to bring almost all my lenses with me, and up to 3 bodies for Antarctica expeditions, using a convertible backpack/attaché style shell bag made by Mountain Equipment Co-op here in Canada. I would attach a photo of my setup and how it's all packed, but there is no way to upload a photo onto your blog. Many thanks for sharing! Cheers' Frederic in Montréal
J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on March 31, 2016
Cal, a Nikonian added a wide leather strap to the back of his harness and hangs his tripod from there, inserting just one leg into the strap. Very convenient, I may do the same eventually. I was a hunter in a previous life so I am used to carry my tripod as a rifle and weights much less. Customization is possible but I am resisting it. Adding pouches to the harness shoulder straps are a temptation (for the cellphone on one side and a small lamp on the other, for example), climber clip rings, etc. But I want to carry less, not more. As for water I have a bottle holder for the belt that works very well as we keep hiking short.
Cal Towle (noneco) on March 30, 2016
Ramon, I have much the same belt & suspenders solution. A while back I spent about 2 hours at a local store moving lenses back and forth between the LowePro and ThinkTank harness & belt systems. Both work well and my personal choise was the LowePro. (I don't now remember just why. It was close.) My pouches are half LowePro and half ThinkTank and I also use Op/Tech clips to hang my camera. After ANPAT 16 with you, I'll be continuing on to Yosemite for a workshop with High Sierra Workshops. Due to the high altitude, they require 64 oz. of water for a hike on the third day. I have cannibalized a Camel Back hydration pack - cut off the straps then added Op/Tech clips to it and the harness. That leaves the problem of tripod carry. On my shoulder for a short distance works but for longer walks I have a Gitzo tripod shoulder strap that works well with the harness but is a bit awkward when the hydration pack is full. For adding clips, d-rings, loops etc. I suggest finding a luggage repair shop over a shoe maker. Their sewing machine's tension needs to be adjusted for the webbing vers leather. Also, they will probably have rings, clips and ideas. Take care. Cal
J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on March 30, 2016
Ralph, you should try it with the harness. Less tiring as the load gets distributed over the shoulders and not just the waist. Very good idea to have an empty bag to place it while driving. We chose the OP/TECH system year ago for our Nikonians camera straps, after analyzing all available in the market. Safe, light, speedy, no metal parts. Thanks for your kind comments on the article.
J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on March 30, 2016
Cheryl, good to hear you also use it and are happy with the system.
User on March 30, 2016
jrp Excellent, yes it works for me too though I do not yet have the harness (just wear the belt tighter). Great for cycling/motor cycling, walking and as you say for sport or other active shooting. The only issue I have with this modular system is removing it (with all the weight of over 1Kg lenses) every time I want to sit down particularly in a vehicle. Doing the belt up tight means wearing it under jackets so your waistline can bulk up somewhat!! Not pretty. My solution is couple it with a thinkTank Airport backpack. Mine is the Mk1 version with the cloth pouch that I find good for keeping a 5 in1 reflector. Empty the dividers and place the belt and contents inside when travelling. The bag can hold clothing/snacks etc if necessary while actively shooting. The added advantage of the Airport rucksack is that the camera can be attached with Op/tech buckles that double with all straps etc. as in your above illustration. An article well worth posting thanks. Ralph UK
Cheryl Tadin (ctadin) on March 30, 2016
I also have been using ThinkTank modular system for years. And, I do exactly what you described if I'm traveling by plane or auto. I load up my gear in ThinkTank's Bag on Wheels and then when I get to my shooting destination, I take what I need and add it to my modular system.
J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on March 28, 2016
Richard, I had the same issue with my Streetwalker. But then I started to use its belt and that improved it. Later I added a thinkTANK belt to it and that was the perfect solution for the backpack. Of course the harness system is even better.
Richard Cron (rcron) on March 28, 2016
I currently have a number of packs including a Streetwalker which is my favorite -but- after only about 30 minutes with it on my back I start to have low back pain. I love my gear but at my age, it's getting harder to tote around. Your system looks like most of the weight gets shifted to the hips and legs. Maybe that would work better for me. Thanks for the suggestion.
J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on March 27, 2016
Very glad to hear you agree, Lynn. A great number of Nikonians members do use it. I now know I should have used it sooner.
Lynn Cates (SSIGuy) on March 27, 2016
I agree that the ThinkTANK system is outstanding. My wife and I have been using the belt and harness systems for years. ThinkTANK quality is excellent and well engineered. I especially like the way I can temporarily slide the lens bags to the back of the belt so that I can walk comfortably with my arms to my side. Highly recommended!
J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on March 26, 2016
John, the holster is great. I have one too. However, now with the harness and a belt it is even more convenient and comfortable and can take another lens in a pouch on the other side, which also serves to balance the kit.
John Hernlund (Tokyo_John) on March 26, 2016
Excellent practical reasoning and a great company...I had a set of Tamrac bags of varying sizes, from a large backpack to smaller sizes. I liked their quality build and materials, but some of the designs had minor annoying flaws and they also had nothing to offer for my F5 and a few smaller lenses...so I found a Think Tank Speed Freak in a discount bin one day at a shop in Tokyo and I never looked back. Then a Think Tank Holster for carrying a F5/D3s with longer lenses that would otherwise require me to take a backpack. Now I'm pretty hooked on their equipment, and I am gradually building up a complete modular kit piece-by-piece instead of all-in-one.
J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on March 24, 2016
Elly, welcome to Nikonians. In the UK you could find them at Snapperstuff, https://snapperstuff.com/
Elly Russell (ellyrussell) on March 24, 2016
That's genius - where do I get one!!