Review: Think Tank Retrospective 5 Camera Bag

Fuji X100 | 1/125 sec, f/2.2, ISO 2000

The Think Tank Retrospective 5 bag: Photographer tested, Shiba approved.  Ever since I started regularly heading out with smaller, lighter gear like my EPL2, X100, and even Nikon FM, I’ve been yearning for an appropriate bag. I have a “carry everything bag” already,  so what I need here is a bag that will carry just what I need for a particular outing. The requirements were pretty simple: durable, comfortable, portable yet efficient, and most importantly, inconspicuous.

I realized something about the design of this bag while eating dinner at a restaurant over the weekend. A family with baby in tow sat down at the table next to us, and I noticed that the father had a bag that looked just like mine, only a bit bigger and with cartoon designs all over it…and it was filled with diapers. But hey, that’s nothing to be ashamed about! Like a good diaper bag, the Retrospective 5 has a very minimalist but efficient design.

Made of highly durable cotton canvas and available in Pinestone (mine) or Black, you certainly wouldn’t confuse it for a diaper bag, but you wouldn’t necessarily think it was a camera bag either, and that’s what I love most about the Retrospective 5. I carry it around with me everywhere, so the last thing I want is for it to scream “I have thousands of dollars of camera gear in me!” According to Think Tank, the minimalist design was intentional in order to help photographers inconspicuously blend into different environments.

Fuji X100 | 1/480 sec, f/2, ISO 200

Under the main flap there’s a clear pocket for your business card along with a really cool hook-and-loop strip system equipped with what Think Tank calls “sound silencers.” Again, the design of the bag is purposefully minimal and inconspicuous, so how inconspicuous is opening a hook-and-loop strip sealed bag in a quiet environment? Not very.

The image on the left shows one of the hook-and-loop strips in “silent mode.” In this configuration, the flap just falls over the bag instead of attaching at the strip, and hence makes no noise. This is how I leave the bag most of the time. On the far right the strip is active, and noisy. =)

Olympus E-PL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 | 1/50 sec, f/1.7, ISO 400

The strap is awesome. The strips of highly grippy rubber (feels like silicone) along the strap’s padding are extremely effective at keeping the  strap from sliding, allowing me to  hang the bag on the edge of my shoulder and move around with confidence while the bag stays put. Thoughtful little details like this add up to make this bag great.

On the left is an included, seam-sealed rain cover. It covers the entire bag with the exception of the straps to protect your gear in the rain. You can see it deployed here.

Fuji X100 | 1/40 sec, f/2, ISO 1000

Even though the Retrospective 5 was designed with rangefinder or micro 4/3 systems in mind, it will still happily carry a big DSLR (though your shoulder may not be quite as happy).  In the bag above is a D700 with Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G mounted (that’s a big chunk of glass), and in the side pocket a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G, stacked on top of a Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens. There’s still plenty of room to the left of the 50mm, so a bigger lens could definitely take its place. I could mount my 24-120mm f/4 VRII and put it in the bag with my 70-300 VR and have a really wide range in a very small bag.

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 35mm f1.4G | 1/30 sec, f/2, ISO 400

This is my most common setup when I head out onto the street, walk the dog, or for travel. In one compartment is my Fuji X100, and in the other, my Olympus EPL2 with Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 mounted, effectively giving me a wide and a telephoto in two cameras. This setup is extremely light. The bag also comes with plenty of removable compartments that allow you to customize the interior any way you like. Think Tank says it can easily take a Micro 4/3 system with 3-6 lenses plus accessories. I believe it!

Olympus E-PL2 + Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 |  1/20 sec, f/1.7, ISO 400

See that front pocket in the image above? It’s expandable, so much so in fact that it can swallow my D700 body with ease:

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 35mm f1.4G | 1/30 sec, f/1.4, ISO 400

Of course, it has no problem carrying my X100 all by itself. If I want to travel as light as possible, I just slip the one camera in the bag, and the rest of the bag easily holds chargers, batteries, and other accessories.

Nikon D700 + Nikkor 35mm f1.4G | 1/50 sec, f/1.4, ISO 400

Finally, a removable carry handle. Sounds simple, but it’s extremely convenient in practice.

This post doesn’t even cover every single feature, just my favorite ones. There are many little purpose-made pockets and compartments in the bag that I didn’t mention here, but the bottom line is that if you’re a micro 4/3 or rangefinder system user, or even a DSLR user who wants a more compact and inconspicuous solution for carrying a camera and one or two lenses, the Retrospective 5 is a great choice.

34 thoughts on “Review: Think Tank Retrospective 5 Camera Bag

  1. Looks interesting, I have looked at Think Tank and have considered them. They seem to have many good ideas but they are not out in the East very well yet, so I have taken a wait and see until they arrive in my area.

  2. Sweet looking bag actually. Looks tough and durable yet casual and stylish too. Great review here Jonathan. The developers would do well to link to this.

  3. Nice review! Right when I was deciding on another bag. I thought about Billingham, but now I’m reconsidering. I like the Think Tank’s “inconspicuous” and rugged style. Good one!

  4. Awesome review Jonathan! I was actually thinking of buying this bag when it first came out because I loved the urban look to it. Glad you went way into depth with this one. I’m pretty sure this is the most thought out and detailed review out there on the net!

  5. awesome review Jon… but ouch, u still have that plastic thing on your Nikon!!!
    I highly recommend a GGS screen protector – look into it, u won’t regret it – it’s like a slim down version of gorilla glass and very inexpensive too.

    1. Hah! I just realized I should have removed that for these images. I typically only have it on when I store the camera to prevent me from losing it. Thanks for the info!

      Thanks everyone for the comments!

  6. Great looking bag…. I want one, although I don’t need one. I’m a sucker for camera bags. I started out with Crumplers. Now I use Incase Ari Marcapoulos. They are all quite nice. I like how this one (Think Tank) looks as if it’s a regular bag. Hmmm. So tempted.

  7. So cool. You do such thorough reviews! my current bag is pretty torn up. I was thinking about getting one from Noa, which looks super spiffy. But now I’m considering this one…

  8. Looks nice but it seems to have the same issue as many other bags. ( for the record, pingstone is the color to get, I have it on a Retrospective 20) and the issue is they dont allow for the DSLR body to have the battery grip on and still fit right. Are the pics misleading on that?

    1. Keep in mind that this particular bag was made with smaller camera systems in mind (rangefinder and micro four thirds), so making it to accomodate a gripped DSLR with a lens mounted would probably go beyond the intended design of the Retro5. What I like about the bag, as I highlighted in the post, is that I can still use it to carry my DSLR if I wanted to, even though I primarily use it to carry for my smaller camera systems. Sans grip of course…but a gripped DSLR over my shoulder all day? Ouch!

  9. Your product reviews are always so in-depth and resourceful! I love how this bag looks; from the color to the material and low-key nature.

  10. When you use your Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 with your EPL-2 – do you need an adaptor? I’m a newbie and was thinking of buying that lens but need to know if it can go directly on or I need more equip 🙂

      1. Jonathan,

        Does the metal zipper slider bother you? I see it wearing on the camera/lens if it’s set-up near it. I just noticed this on my bag while sliding it in and retrieving it>

      2. Jim,

        Yeah, I wish there was some sort of guard over that zipper, though my smaller cameras are not big enough to touch it while in the bag. Also, if I put my DSLR face down with the bottom plate towards the zipper, it doesn’t wear on the camera.

    1. The newer Retrospective 7 has a pocket for an iPad or Macbook Air. It also comes in a shale blue color as well as the black and pinestone

  11. I was looking for such a solution for my D700+zoom or primes.
    Do you think a D700+28-70/2.8 would fit?
    Do you think anyone could put his hands inside the bag since there’s only velcro and no zips?

    1. It would fit, but it might be a little tight depending on how you configure it. As far as someone getting into the bag, the velcro is pretty strong and makes a loud noise when you open the bag. I think it would be hard not to notice if someone tried to get into it while you’re wearing the bag. That being said, there are other bags out there specifically designed to prevent theft.

  12. Thanks Jonathan. I’ve been looking for a discreet yet lightweight bag for my X-E1 and some lenses, and this looks like just the ticket.

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