Think Tank Shape Shifter Photography Backpack Review

Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, (with Barry Curran and Deborah Voyles), June 2009
Manufactured by: Think Tank Photo
Requires: Someplace to trek, walk or hike with photography gear and a laptop computer
MSRP: US$249.00

Think Tank Photo is firmly grounded in professional photography. Of course Think Tank products can be used by anyone. But pros and busy amateur photographers alike are looking much more closely at Think Tank products than ever before. That's happening because of the amount of time and attention Think Tank pays to the needs of working pro photographers. Photography backpacks present unique challenges for bag designers and often represent a series of compromises which result in packs which try to please too many prospective customers, but instead end up pleasing too few. Think Tank often chooses to make only those compromises which serve to slightly expand the appeal of a particular design just enough to broaden its use into something other than a narrowly single-purpose item. The Think Tank Shape Shifter is a medium size backpack designed to carry a pro photography setup, tripod (on supplied external accessory straps), up to a 17" laptop, and a healthy complement of related accessories. The pack also features an outer shell which can be zipped down to 3" (7.5cm) in depth for carrying books and a laptop, or unzipped for full use. We tested the Shape Shifter on five different photography trips with five different people during May 2009.


Some Shape Shifter specs:

  • Outer dimensions (expanded) 20”H x 12.5”W x 7”D” (51.0 x 32.0 x 18.0cm)
  • Outer dimensions (compressed) 20”H x 12.5W” x 3”D (51.0 x 32.0 x 8.0cm)
  • Laptop compartment inner dimensions 19”H x 12”W x 1.5”D (48.0 x 30.5 x 4.0cm)
  • Weight: 3.75 lbs (1.73 kg)

The Think Tank Shape Shifter contains five main compartments consisting of:

  1. Full height, densely padded rear laptop slot for up to and including 17" wide screen behemoths. There is also a thin layer of padding all around the edges of the compartment to protect your laptop from side impacts.
  2. Main photography gear section which contains five integrated heavy duty neoprene pouches (1 pro body, 1 full size body, 2 short or medium length pro prime or zoom lenses, 1 long pro zoom lens (anything up to a 70-200mm f/2.8 w/tripod foot), each with braided, lockable cinches. There are also two flat mesh slots and one large zippered mesh slot.
  3. Upper/outer front, 1/3 height, zippered accessory area with a pair of filter holders, pen slots, business card slots, etc., and a nylon tether with a clip to which you can attach a key ring.
  4. Lower/outer front, zippered, 2/3 height accessory area with two clear plastic zippered slots and a separate nylon cloth divider panel. Most of our testers used the zippered slots for CF or SD cards and stowed the removable rain cover behind the nylon cloth divider panel.
  5. Secondary zippered lower/outer front slot for odds & ends.

The testers only needed a couple of days of regular use to become accustomed to the heavy duty neoprene body and lens pouches. Everybody likes them. For the most part, we all used the Shape Shifter in its deepest configuration, fully unzipped. One tester, however, used the Shape Shifter as a laptop and day pack during her business day, without photo gear, and of course zipped the pack into its shallow configuration. After work, she went home, loaded the Shape Shifter and took off to various conservation areas, events and other locations to do late day/early evening shooting in the best outdoor light of late Spring. It's a bit large for a day pack, but she also confessed to stopping at a local market during her walks home from work to shop and stuff the Shape Shifter with a couple of bags of fruit and vegetables and other necessities. It worked for her, so it can work for you. She's tall at 5' 9" (175cm), so the pack worked very well for her on various trail walks through two different conservation areas (primarily Lemoine Point, near Kingston, Ontario).

The Think Tank Shape Shifter reviewed here was used by four other photographers including two event guys working out of their SUV while attending outdoor locations in various parts of Ontario, Canada, a research associate (the writer) who traveled with the Shape Shifter to Anchorage, Alaska, and Kickstartnews Managing Editor Howard Carson who used the Shape Shifter during a weekend hiking trip in Algonquin Park (250km/160 miles north of Toronto).

The last trip (in Algonquin Park) gave the Shape Shifter a good workout in rather rainy conditions. The supplied rain cover spent more time on the pack than off and the cover's rip-stop nylon and seam-sealed construction proved to be completely waterproof. Neoprene bags and quiet zippers allowed the photographer to deploy gear almost silently and get shots which would have otherwise been lost with the typically noisier backpack designs provided by many other makers. Once you've set up your gear for hiking (camera and lens mounted on a tripod carried on your shoulder), the bag is essentially completely silent while walking. Howard also used a pair of Think Tank Camera Support Straps to attach a second body (Canon XSi/450D with mounted Canon 100mm Macro) to the d-rings sewn onto the front of the pack's shoulder straps. Gear carried on the trip: Nikon D3 body, Canon XSi/450D body, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR zoom, Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro, Sigma/Nikon 50mm f/1.4.




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