Think Tank Retrospective 10 Camera Shoulder Bag Review

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, February 2011
Manufactured by: Think Tank Photo
Requires: Camera gear and the urge to walk around with it.
MSRP: US$149.00

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The Think Tank Retrospective 10 is a soft-sided, relatively unstructured, shoulder-style camera bag. The main compartment is wide enough, deep enough and long enough to carry a pro-size camera body with attached f/2.8 mid-range zoom lens with hood extended. The wide shoulder strap is non-detachable, integrated into the bag's end panels, and has a wide, moderately quilted, sliding shoulder pad. The Retrospective 10 is offered in two materials - an earthy green, weather-resistant and backed canvas in a color called Pinestone, and a tough, black, woven, weather-resistant nylon cloth. The main compartment does not have a zip closure, but is covered by a large main flap which also covers and protects the wide front accessory pocket. The outer rear panel of the bag has a zippered compartment large enough to carry a netbook, iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, eReader, etc. There is a single, half-pipe, unsecured pocket on each end panel. The main compartment contains two inner end pockets which are sewn in, and a velcro-secured sub-compartment with a tethered carabiner for attaching a CF or SD card wallet. The sub-compartments also have sewn-in slots for filters, lenspens and other accessories. The bag has a top handle, each end of which is attached to the outer end panels using ladder buckles. The Think Tank Retrospective 10 is 13” W x 10.5” H x 7” D (33 x 26.7 x 17.8 cm) and weighs 3 lbs (1.36 kg).


Think Tank Photo's designers must have sat down at some point and mused about packing every feature they could think of into the Retrospective line. A tethered carabiner works to attach and stow a Pixel Pocket Rocket CF/SD card holder (don't ask me where Think Tank came up with that name, but it's a really good CF/SD card holder).


The main compartment is divided into three lateral sections - the larger storage section in which you can lay a camera with attached lens flat or on its side, or subdivide using the supplied velcro dividers. The two narrower lateral sections contain sewn-in pockets sized for filters, lenspens, pens, spare batteries, and because they run almost the full width of the bag can also hold relatively thin electronics such as as netbook, eReader, iPad or Galaxy Tab (or some other tablet computer). Each end of the main compartment also has two moderately sized pockets which are sewn closed on the bottom, so anything you place in them (iPod, iPhone, BlackBerry, cell phone, earphones, battery, etc.) won't slip out into the main storage area. The inside rear panel of the main compartment contains a zippered slot pocket the use of which is limited by the amount of bulk in the main compartment itself, although reference cards and that sort of thing (anything really flat that can't ever be exposed to the elements perhaps?) fit just fine.

The outer front pocket is also full width and almost full height, and expands slightly by means of a single-fold bellows seam. I use it to store an Amazon Kindle 3, a couple of filters and a spare battery.

The rear panel contains a zippered slot pocket which is roomy enough for an iPad or, in my case, a Samsung Galaxy Tab. I tried an Asus 10" netbook and it fit quite nicely. The zip closure includes an upper shroud which prevents weather from penetrating the zipper track.

Each outer end panel has a moderately wide, 5" (12.5cm) wide by 1.5" (3.75cm) high end loop to which external accessory pouches can be attached. The loops are slightly narrower versions of the shoulder strap material - very tough stuff.

Ladder buckles are used to secure a hand strap to the top of each outer side panel. That means you can carry the Retrospective 10 using the hand strap irrespective of whether or not the front flap is secured with its velcro closures. Very handy when rushing to get the bag in and out of a vehicle.

The bottom of the bag is lined with a medium density, nylon-wrapped pad. The bottom of the bag also features an additional waterproofing layer, so ground moisture shouldn't be a problem unless you leave the bag sitting in water for a couple of hours.

Weather resistance is excellent. It appears the cloth is designed and treated to fully repel continuous, moderate rain for at least an hour.

The feature set is robust, and the only things that are only semi-useful are the outer end panel pockets (half-pipe, non-stretchy, non closing/open tops) and the inner rear zippered slot pocket. Everything else makes perfect sense and works to your advantage as long as you properly organize your gear.


I carried the black Think Tank Retrospective 10 on two photography trips in Europe (France and Germany) and one in eastern Canada (Québec and New Brunswick). The Retrospective 10 has also been my daily camera bag for walkabouts in Toronto for the past three months. Getting used to the floppy interior panel of the sub-compartment and the interior end pockets was initially irritating, that is until I stopped expecting the interior of the bag to react like a stiffer more structured, conventional shoulder bag. As soon as I shook my head clear of long-practiced habits, the Retrospective 10 suddenly became more intuitively useful. The sub-compartment has a velcro closure to keep it from interfering with quick draws (and quick stows) in the main compartment. Use the velcro. The interior end pockets in the main compartment are ideal for iPod, earphones, cleaning cloths and so on, but if you leave the pockets unsecured, the narrow strap closure with its velcro'd end will get in your way; use it as designed.

My standard kit consists of these accessories: neutral density filter in its plastic case, circular polarizer in its plastic case, one spare battery, Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket CF/SD card holder, Amazon Kindle 3, Samsung Galaxy Tab, iPod Touch, USB charger for the Tab, 18% grey self storing microfiber cloth, Lenspen, body cap, lens end cap, and a Red (medium size) POD bean bag. My standard camera setup is one of three kits: Nikon D3s (a full size pro body with integrated vertical grip) and attached Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 zoom with hood extended, or a Nikon D700 (regular size pro body) and attached Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 zoom with hood extended, or a Nikon D7000 (full size consumer/enthusiast body) and attached Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 zoom with hood extended. The Retrospective 10 handled any of these setups easily. I've never had a problem gaining quick access, drawing or stowing the camera. Through rain, heavy winds, heavy snow, sleet and a couple of inadvertent set-downs in street puddles, I've also never experienced any weather penetration or soak-through and I have yet to deploy the weather cover that is included with the Retrospective 10.

The Think Tank Retrospective 10 has a slim visual profile which is beneficial when traveling through security check points at airports, heritage sites, historic monuments and sites, and other areas where bulkier looking bags tend to draw attention. The soft-sided, free-form and less padded design also makes it very easy for security personnel to open all the compartments wide for a quick but thorough look inside.

The best test of any bag has less to do with features and usability than it does with comfort over the course of a long day. During a recent 17.5 kilometer (10.8 mile) photography wander in Toronto, I barely noticed the bag carried cross-shoulder (sling-style), a direct result of the wide-but-not-too-wide shoulder strap and the flexible, sliding, nicely quilted (but not too thick) shoulder pad. We have another Retrospective 10 in the Pinestone material which I actually saw only once before one of our research associates 'absconded' with it, refusing thereafter to give it back. It happens. The point is that everyone who has tried the Retrospective 10 has enjoyed using it.

I'll offer our regular advice on bag organization. Settle on a place/position in the bag for each and every item, including camera and lens(es), and always return each piece of gear to the same spot when you're done. Use a bag this way for only a couple of weeks and you'll be able to locate anything you need by touch alone.


Value judgements are no doubt subjective, but I'll momentarily wax poetic about the Think Tank Retrospective 10. For US$149 you get a good looking, versatile, comfortable, very well constructed bag made from tough but soft synthetics or natural materials, all offering good weather resistance. Dealers (stores and online) invariably sell bags below suggested retail prices, as the Amazon and other adds accompanying this review show, so you're bound to find a deal. Value? In a word - great.

Cons: Interior compartments in a soft-sided photography bag design actually need some structure in order to ensure they don't interfere with the action of stowing or drawing camera and lens in and out of the bag. The internal front bag/slot/pocket (I'm not sure what to call it) in front of the main compartment tends to bellow inward every time the bag is opened. If you're stowing a large SLR, the top edge of the pocket can snag a strap lug or the hot shoe. If you're drawing a camera, the internal end pocket can can snag on a lens hood. The point is that until you develop a kind of gentle, quick, wrist shove to belly the main compartment, you'll likely need to use two hands to draw or stow the camera unhindered. Keep this advice in mind and you won't get frustrated, which means you'll begin to immediately enjoy using an otherwise remarkable photography shoulder bag. The velcro on the front flap is suitably long to accommodate large and small loads and the resulting variation of the front flap position, but the velcro is too wide by half. So if you adjust the velcro silencers to expose only a small amount of hook & loop, security is terrible; if you expose too much hook & loop though, the closure is quite noisy. Narrower velcro is needed. The bag's profile is not ideal, in our opinion, for anyone who is very slim and at the same time less than about 5'5" (165cm) in height.

Pros: I've been using this bag daily for so long that the need to write a review faded into the fog of distant memory. Sorry about that, but the bag has become my daily driver. It easily and comfortably accommodates any of the setups mentioned in the Use section above. No matter which size setup I'm carrying, the bag just seems to free-form itself appropriately and I never feel as though the bag is too small or too large for the particular setup. The shoulder strap and sliding shoulder pad are a wonderful combination, in my opinion as of February 2011 the best strap and shoulder pad on the market; Think Tank Photo has outdone itself. Construction quality is second to none, and finishing of the matte black nylon version is reminiscent of the high standard set by Billingham (a serious favorite of mine as long-time readers will no doubt have noticed). Despite my velcro complaints, keeper adjustments are quick and easy. As well, noisy velcro ensures that you'll hear anyone trying to open your bag; it's a trade-off no doubt. There are other bag closure systems, but plastic snap buckles often require two hands to use, magnetic systems add incremental weight, tang buckles are not recommended for quick access, leather toggles are silent and therefore insecure in crowded environments; so velcro rules. When you want to run absolutely silent, simply use the sewn-in keepers to quiet everything. Think Tank thoughtfully included a (removable) top handle (which is, mercifully, attached to the top of the end panels rather than the top flap), so getting in and out of a car is easy, and there's no risk of dumping the bag contents as has happened to hapless photographers lifting bags by flap-mounted top handles found on some Billingham, Domke, Lowepro and Tamrac models. All in all, the Think Tank Retrospective 10 is a broadly versatile, well made, weather resistant shoulder bag offering a visually slim profile while accommodating a wide range of gear and accessories. For consumer, enthusiast and professional use. Top marks. Highly recommended.

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