by: Howard Carson, Dave Miller & Kerry Lewis (contributors), August-October 2009
by: Think Tank Photo
Requires: A preference for shoulder bags, and an interest in protecting camera gear while walking or traveling
As urban and general street photography becomes more popular (or at the very least remains as popular as ever), more photographers are spending more time walking village, town, city and neighbourhood streets than ever before. As new photography gear offers more versatility than ever before, many of the millions of new photographers in the market around the world every year are starting to wise up, carrying less gear simply because hauling around everything you own just isn't necessary any more in order to make great photos. The Think Tank Urban Disguise 35 is designed for working pros, serious street photographers, active amateur shooters and anyone else who needs an unobtrusive, versatile, tough, weather resistant shoulder bag that can also accommodate a small laptop.
The Urban Disguise 35 is a tall enough to hold a full size DSLR or V-SLR with long zoom attached, two smaller lenses, a flash, storage cards, notepad, cleaning pens, batteries, cleaning cloth, and up to a 13" laptop. During the course of reviewing the Urban Disguise 35, I used it on a photography trip to London and Paris in July & August 2009. I carried a Nikon D700 with 24-70 f/2.8 zoom attached, a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 prime, a dozen CF cards in a Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket card holder (supplied with the Urban Disguise 35), two LensPens, a POD beanbag, a couple of self-contained grey card cleaning cloths (from Nikonians.org), a notepad, spare battery for the D700, a little Sunpak hot shoe flash with lithium batteries, and of course my well-worn old iPod 30GB and ear buds. Last but not least, during airplane travel, my little Acer Aspire One netbook, a small wireless Logitech laptop mouse, and the Acer power block all fitted snugly into the laptop slot of the Urban Disguise 35.
|Working local shooting spots with the Urban Disguise 35 was uneventful. The bag works and does not get in your way. Access in & out was easy. The bag was initially somewhat stiff, but over the course of a month of regular use broke in beautifully without becoming a shapeless mess. The Urban Disguise has, as of this writing, been in regular use for over three months by a variety of photographers and still perfectly retains its slim profile, stand-up rigidity, padding integrity and water resistance, but all of the zippers are now working quickly and smoothly, the bag is quieter (not that it's particularly noisy when brand new), and the shell flexes easily during access to compartments.
The real test of any bag (as far as we're concerned) always takes the form of a series of photography trips by several different photographers. This time around, exploring the back alleys, laneways and wandering at night through the oldest parts of London and Paris, the bag was shouldered for many, many more miles/kilometers of walking, wandering and urban exploring in a variety of weather (including a couple of torrential downpours) by a couple of our research associates who traveled to Vancouver, Canada and to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Perhaps not quite as handsome as the Lowepro Classified 160AW which competes against it, the Think Tank Urban Disguise 35 nonetheless offers good unassuming looks and a functional design which is a bit better than the Lowepro. The Lowepro has an awkward and useless front flap. The Urban Disguise 35 has a slimmer front flap design which also contains a usefully sized and configured zippered pocket. The Lowepro has a top opening which gapes as wide as the Urban Disguise 35 by means of an extended zipper gusset at each end which tends to interfere annoyingly with the shoulder strap d-rings. The Urban Disguise 35, by contrast, uses the natural height of the main compartment to wrap the main zipper a few inches down each side. So you get the same gape and ease of access without the interfering zipper flaps of the Lowepro. Somebody at Think Tank thought about this quite carefully.
I walk long distances with a shoulder bag carried cross-shoulder like a sling bag. That means I appreciate any sort of shoulder pad that either slides along the strap (so I can reposition it easily when the bag is slung) or extends sufficiently in length (without being too bulky) so that when the bag is slung there's still padding along the strap to protect my opposite shoulder. The Urban Disguise 35 strap has a fixed shoulder pad, so I have to adjust the strap buckles unevenly to ensure that shoulder carry and sling carry provide a shoulder pad position which protects either shoulder. It's not ideal, but the strap is nonetheless quite good. I'm hooked on the Urban Disguise 35 and intend to use it for the foreseeable future, so I'm on the hunt for a suitable strap with a sliding shoulder pad (my preferred type of strap).
All of us who used the Urban Disguise 35 so extensively during July, August and September 2009 agree that the bag basically 'disappears' after a while simply because ease of access is very good and you get used to the bag very quickly. Moving even a bulky Nikon D700 with attached Nikkor 70-200 VR f/2.8 zoom quickly becomes effortless. Unzip, gape the top, draw the camera. We all noticed the typically robust abrasion resistance of the Cordura outer shell, a quality which is greatly appreciated when maneuvering through crowded urban streets, banging and roughing up the bag along fences, building stone, walls and, inevitably, other people.
Cons: There are very few. For example, we've been urging Think Tank to put sliding pads on their shoulder straps (although the shoulder strap is very good and very well made - a sliding pad would make it perfect). We'd also like to see Think Tank shave off a few ounces/grams of weight by going to a lighter set of findings for d-rings and strap clips. Some dust can get into the two front accessory compartments when the bag is fully packed. Four of us (two Kickstartnews editors and two associate research assistants) have now used the Urban Disguise 35 extensively and none of us is willing to mention anything else negative about the bag. It's a functionally excellent design.
Pros: The Think Tank Urban Disguise 35 is one of the toughest, trimmest and conservatively good looking shoulder bags we've ever seen. The somewhat longer design meant to accommodate long, fast zooms, also makes the bag look even less like a camera bag than it's squatter brethren in the Urban Disguise line. The bag travels extremely well, swallows netbooks and small laptops easily in the dedicated compartment, carries comfortably all day long in the most busy and jammed urban environments, and offers a very good system of photography slots, pouches, compartments, padding and weather proofing. The bag is easy to access while remaining secure in tight quarters. Because of its somewhat taller than 'normal' configuration, it's possible to carry a rather large assortment of gear - multiple lenses, two SLR/DSLR/DSLR-V bodies with one attached to a lens. Of course, the slim profile of the Urban Disguise 35 encourages experienced photographers to carry only the gear they actually need. We've used the Urban Disguise 35 as a travel photography bag, as a location bag, and as an all-day walkabout camera bag. It worked extremely well for us in all scenarios. Water resistance to splashes and heavy rainfall is good-to-excellent for all compartments. Highly recommended and almost a perfect 5/5 Bars.