First of all the reviews that I do aren’t a systematic breakdown of specification sheet material found on the manufacturer’s website. I try to reflect real-life usage of a product that I have paid for and like enough to warrant writing about, so that other people that are interested in this bag may find the information useful. So enough formalities, and onto the review! =)
If you’re after an international carry-on bag big enough to fit all your gear, and be rugged enough to also have it checked in without worrying too much about your precious cargo then I can highly recommend the ThinkTank Airport International V2.0 rolling case. Having used the Lowepro Pro Rollers previously and not being happy with the internal configuration of my gear, I decided to purchase the ThinkTank Airport series of rolling bags for my trip to Vietnam.
With prices of flights overseas drastically coming down over the past few years, airlines have found other alternatives of cutting costs down; primary of which involves restricting how much luggage you can bring on-board.
The Lowepro Pro Rollers are a nice and sturdy bag, however the downside of this was that they look (and are) big and heavy, and that was before you put anything in them. Now if you’re lucky enough to get past the gate nazis at the airport check-in, you may still be subjected to another check at the boarding gates depending on how full your flight is.
Seeing that the Lowepro I had (Pro Roller x200) was pushing the boundaries of fitting into the metal frame at the airport, I was always afraid that I would have to fight to bring my bag and gear with me. This time around I didn’t want to risk my chances of getting my equipment checked in, so I bought the ThinkTank to replace my Lowepro.
And yes, I do know that Lowepro have recently released the Pro Roller Lite series to compete with the ThinkTank Airport range. So why didn’t I buy one of these you ask? Well the reason is that I like ThinkTank’s ability to have two full-sized gripped bodies side by side with lenses attached, whereas the Lowepro still doesn’t do this. Now some of you may not care for this feature, but to me it’s quite important as I work out of 2 bodies when I’m shooting.
I have 3 bags and a few accessory pouches from ThinkTank Photo, the one thing I’ve noticed about their design is that they have an uncanny ability to look a lot smaller than what they can fit, yet have adequate amount if padding to protect your precious photographic gear inside.
Check-in went without a glitch. The person at the gate just glanced at the bag and waved me on. So far so good then. =)
So you’ve bought this bag to securely carry your gear around the world. How good is it from keeping sticky-fingered opportunists away from your gear? Luckily this bag has a plethora of locks to keep these kinds of people out. Okay I lied a bit, it only has 3 locks, but still it’s better than most of its competitors!
Now the first lock is the most important one, it’s a TSA Samsonite-type combination lock that secures the main zippered compartment from the right hand side of the bag.
The second lock is a cable lock at the back of the bag, and comes with the bonus of also doubling as a semi-useable compartment where you could store a phone, mp3 player or something else quite small. The cable lock is used to wrap your bag securely around an immovable object at a cafe, your hotel room or airport (similar to a Kensington lock for your notebook) so people find it hard to just pick up your bag and walk off with it while you’re not looking.
And finally the third lock is located in the front pocket and is used to secure ThinkTank’s Artificial Intelligence notebook sleeves (or something similar) to the bag. Personally I haven’t found a use for this yet since the front stretch pocket of the bag I use for storing papers or my iPad.
Remember that these locks are just there to keep opportunistic thieves away, so please be mindful of your surroundings and don’t just leave your bag unattended in public areas.
The bag has a few features that are a little different to the Lowepro that I had so I’ll quickly go through some of them in this section.
There are some similarities though, they both are made of ballistic nylon which have been treated to repel water, both have organisers on the inside of the lids for various bits, both use very high quality zippers (the ThinkTank stating they use high quality RC fused YKK abrasion-resistant zippers) and both have the ability to strap a tripod to the side of the bag (this feature I have yet to use).
Now onto the differences. Firstly, the ThinkTank has a security ID plate on the back of the bag, that once registered, may allow your lost or stolen bag to be returned to you, which is a nice feature.
Secondly, there’s a front stretchy mesh pocket where you can either put in some papers for you to quickly grab, ThinkTank’s Artificial Intelligence notebook sleeves can be put in here and locked down to the bag using the front cable lock, or if you’re like me and like to do some work (or fancy a spot of Angry Birds) during transit you can put you iPad in the front for easy access also.
The third feature that I like about ThinkTank bags (my StreetWalker Harddrive has this also) is that it has a semi-transparent section underneath the top handle to put business cards or identification. I find this very useful especially when you’re trying to find the right bag in a sea of similar looking black boxes.
Next, there is the top pocket underneath the semi-transparent ID/business card holder used to store something for easy access. I’ve put the rain cover inside this top pocket since I couldn’t decide what else I would use it for but I’m sure some of you may put your passport in this top pocket perhaps?
And finally the rain cover, a useful water repellant cover that covers the whole bag but has cut-outs to allow the handle to extend but not let water inside bag. Very useful if you’re stuck outside and the skies opened up.
The not so good…
Annoyingly there was one minor quibble that popped up after getting on the plane. The bag was a little too wide to wheel down the aisles of business class in an Airbus A330 (which I was on for my flight from Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City). A little annoying when you have to lug it half-way down the plane by hand, but it could just be the design of business class on this carrier.
I’ve read online of the many people who have moaned about the flex on the handle, and yes, while it does feel flimsy fully extended it’s held up to carrying a fully loaded Retrospective 7 (about 5kg) on top of it quite easily.
Although when you use the handle to wheel the bag around, the weight of the bag pushing down on the handle makes it feels quite solid, so perhaps that was how it was designed? The thing to remember is that the more joints and links you have in the handle the more flex and movement it will have (just like Aluminium travel tripods for example), but ThinkTank seem to have constructed it from decent aluminium so it should hold up to many years of abuse.
Now onto the positives and the first one is that this thing has really nice wheels!!! They’re ridiculously smooth, silent and rolls effortlessly so it makes traversing long distances at airports as well as on the streets of Vietnam a breeze. The wheels ride on ABEC 5 bearings and can easily be replaced as they are basically similar to the wheels used on Rollerblades.
It’s also nice that ThinkTank has decided to include a protective kick plate at the back of the bag as well to help minimise the scuffs and damage to the bag as you’re walking along.
The other awesome thing about the bag is that each of its side has a grab handle, and the top and right hand side handles being nicely padded. Again, some of you may not care about this minor thing, but being able to lift a heavy bag regardless of which side you pick up is a bonus for me, especially when you need to lift it up or down into the overhead compartments of different types of aircraft or into and out of car boots.
And the great thing is it easily fits lengthwise inside the overhead compartment of an Airbus A330.
Did I also mention how much stuff this thing can hold while still looking quite slimline? As I’ve mentioned earlier on in this review, the killer feature for me is the bag’s ability to hold two pro-sized bodies with lenses attached while still having space for everything else that you may need on a shoot.
Things I found out in use
One thing I’ve noticed is that initially I tend to spin the dials on the locks for the main compartment when picking up or handling the bag using the right side handle. This usually isn’t too annoying bar the fact that when you don’t have the right combination keyed into the lock, it makes it hard for you to put the main compartment zippers back into the locking sections. But after a few times picking it up from the same side handle during the trip, I haven’t move it since. It’s something I thought was worth mentioning just in case someone else does the same thing I did, and may have thought that someone was playing an annoying prank on them.
No bag will be without its flaws, although despite all of the minor issues I’ve had, the bag has come with me practically everywhere on this trip; from the airports to the busy backstreets of Hanoi, from a boat on Halong Bay, to the back of a tuk tuk and onto an overnight train. The bag was subjected to being bounced along the cobbled backstreets and repel the rain we encountered along the way. It proved to be rugged enough to take a beating and keep on rolling smoothly.
The ThinkTank Photo Airport International V2.0 feels like it is built to last many years of abuse, and that’s a good thing for a working photographer. While I mainly used this bag on my trip as a carry-on overnight bag, on my return this will definitely be one of my bags I will be working out of when I’m on shoots.
I highly recommend this bag to anyone who is interested in a rolling bag to protect and carry their camera gear, with the added bonus of being able to be taken on-board as carry-on baggage on international flights.