For many photographers, carrying the essentials for a day's shoot no longer means just toting camera equipment, but a laptop or tablet as well.
While there are plenty of bag options for stowing both, the Think Tank Retrospective 7's tough but lightweight materials, unassuming design, and uncomplicated layout make it an excellent choice for a day bag.
The bag, which weighs about 3 pounds and externally measures 13.5 inches wide by 9.5 inches high by 7 inches deep, strikes a great balance between size, weight, and capacity: small enough that you can travel with just an SLR and a flash without it feeling too bulky, but big enough that you can load it up with an extra lens or body and still have room for other stuff.
The exterior is made from sand-washed cotton canvas giving it somewhat of a weathered look, and while it's initially stiff, it quickly breaks in and conforms to your body after a few days of use. If canvas isn't your thing, the bag also comes in black polyspun nylon. The entire outside is treated with a durable water-repellent coating, and the bottom is coated with polyurethane for better water protection.
The canvas is otherwise unprotected on the bottom and there are no feet, so rough surfaces will scuff it up. If you need more protection from water, Think Tank includes a seam-sealed rain cover.
Along with being a good size and weight, its design doesn't scream, "Look at me, I'm loaded with camera gear!" It's just a very clean-looking shoulder bag with little adorning the outside and a simple, but strong, strap with a nicely padded movable nonslip shoulder pad and attractive antiqued nickel-plated metal hardware. There's also a small strap that runs across the top of the bag to quickly pick the bag up with, but it can easily be removed if you don't want it.
On each end of the bag are deep narrow pockets with large loops above them for attaching Think Tank's modular bag accessories or a carabiner clip. These include things like water bottle holders as well as pouches for extra bodies, flashes, or lenses. That's good because these pockets really aren't good for much because of their size and they're completely open.
The only zippered pocket on the outside is the big one on back. That's the one made for storing an iPad or other tablet, or an 11-inch laptop such as an HP Pavilion dm1z or MacBook Air. Of course, you can use it for anything you can fit in it, but with its extra padding on the pocket inside and out, it's made for mobile devices.
A large flap covers both the main camera compartment and a large front pocket. The accordion fold on the front pocket gives you some extra space for accessories or even a secondary compact camera. It doesn't have a zipper, but there is a large hook-and-loop strap to close over the pocket for a little more security.
The main compartment is designed to hold a camera with lens attached in the center, with room for an additional lens and flash unit off to the sides. According to Think Tank's site, it can hold a Nikon D700 with a 24-70mm f2.8 lens attached, a Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lens, and a Nikon SB-900 Speedlight.
The bottom of the bag is fairly well padded and the included padded inserts can be customized for your needs; Think Tank includes a few additional inserts for even more flexibility with the layout. At each end of the bag inside are two collapsible nylon pockets that are tall enough to fit flash units, each with a strap to keep it tightly closed.
In the front of the compartment is a shallow nylon pocket that runs the length of the bag with a tethered clasp for keys, as well as pockets for business cards and pens. In the back of the bag inside there is a large zippered pocket, too. It can't hold anything too bulky, but since it's a soft-sided case you do have some room to play with. It's well suited for cables, extra batteries and battery chargers, memory cards, or other small accessories.
It just would've been nice to have at least one of these located in the front pocket; with the bag full it's not always easy to get things in and out of these interior pockets. Also, there's no place to attach a tripod, so bear that in mind if that's a necessity for you.
Large hook-and-loop closures keep the top flap secure when the bag's closed. If you're shooting somewhere where a loud tearing sound from the closure might be unwelcome, silencers on the inside of the flap can be used to cover the hook-and-loop straps. It means the bag's not as securely closed, but it allows you to get in and out of the bag quickly and quietly.
Also on the inside of the main flap is a small pocket for business cards or ID or, you know, whatever you can fit in it.
The Think Tank Retrospective 7 has plenty of room for a day out shooting with or without a small laptop or tablet. But it's not so big that you'd feel like you had a hulking empty bag on your back if you decided to travel light. It's well-constructed, too, and the materials all seem like they'll hold up well over time.
It would be nice if there were a small zippered pocket outside for quickly stashing something like a phone, but the large back pocket is sufficient and it's a minor point on an otherwise excellent bag.