We review a lot of products here at SLR Lounge, and to be honest, most of it doesn’t end up in our personal collection. Have you ever wondered, “what equipment do the camera gear reviewers themselves actually use?” If that sounds like you, and especially if you’re in the market for any sort of camera bag, then you’re in exactly the right place. From time to time we have done long-term gear reviews, focusing on an entire product line or brand in general. Today, we’re going to report on the longevity of our own personal Think Tank Camera Bags.

We use virtually every category of Think Tank camera bags: backpacks, shoulder bags, rolling travel cases, duffel bags, and accessories. Some of our Think Tank gear is over 5 years old! We have camera bags that we’ve traveled with around the world, and we have camera bags that we use on our daily commutes. All across the board, we’ve been virtually 100% satisfied, and had zero failures.

With that being said, let’s dive into this article. I believe that it is extremely important, now more than ever, to discuss durability and longevity, because they’re becoming increasingly rare in our modern world that has begun to accept cheap, off-brand, and in some cases downright disposable throw-away products. To be totally honest, we have strong feelings against that, not just as people who appreciate quality products, but from a sustainability and environmentally friendly standpoint.

So, let’s answer some questions: What makes a product high-quality? How is it made? What can you expect for your investment? And, just as importantly, how much “extra” could it potentially cost you to save up for camera gear that is going to stand the test of time? (Hint: in the long run, you’ll actually SAVE money!)

Longevity In A Disposable World

Pictured: Think Tank BackLight Elite 45L

First off, I want to address the biggest concern I have regarding quality products and how they are ultimately a better value compared to what may seem to be a “budget-friendly” alternative. Simply put, the old saying is true now more than ever: If you buy a really good quality product the first time around, then you will immediately save money the minute you don’t have to replace it when any lesser option would have broken or just worn out. I’ve seen the same story time and time again, in many different realms of photography equipment. Someone buys a cheap alternative, or even a knock-off clone of a name-brand product, …and sure enough, in a few months or a year, that item breaks and they usually have to just throw it away and buy another. Suddenly, you’ve doubled your original budget, and the realization is just setting in: the same thing will probably happen again in another few months or years.

Thankfully, I have also heard a fair number of encouraging stories that tell the opposite tale: When we save up just a little more and afford ourselves the quality, durable product, it can easily last 2X, 3X, or 4X+ the lifespan of the cheap option. Certain products are built for a literal lifetime of service, and the thought of replacing them won’t even cross your mind for a decade or more!

This is what I would like to encourage all photographers, and indeed all human beings in general, to consider: think in terms of decades, not months or years. What may seem just a little more expensive today, could save you a ton of money in very short order, and certainly throughout your lifetime.

Not only is this a best use of your budget, but it’s also better for the planet in general. I don’t want to get too high up on a soapbox now, because that’s not the main subject of this article, but suffice it to say, I think we can all agree that it would be great if we could minimize the roughly 1,800 lbs of trash that we (Americans that is) throw away each year.

With that being said, here’s the good news: When it comes to camera bags, and in this particular case the brand Think Tank, I can jump ahead to two important spoilers: Firstly, the camera bags aren’t even that expensive, despite their incredible longevity. Also, secondly, the financial benefit is significantly greater than just your budget for a camera bag alone, because you’ll be using it to protect your extremely valuable camera gear, of course! Maybe you have $1,000, $2,000, or even $5,000 or more worth of camera bodies, lenses, etc. If you break even one of those items because your camera bag didn’t offer adequate protection, then your overall expenses are immediately jumping far beyond whatever your budget was for a camera bag.

Design Is Just The Beginning

Pictured: MindShift Rotation 34L

So, what makes a camera bag, or any product, qualify as “good quality”? It starts with a good design, although it is much more than that. (We’ll get to all of it next!) In the case of Think Tank, we’ve been using their camera bags for a decade in some cases, and part of this had to do with their design.

From both the perspective of durability and intuitive usage, we didn’t just love how well the camera bags stood the test of time, we also loved just how easy they were to actually use in real-world situations. Whether it was rugged outdoor hiking & backpacking, or globetrotting air travel for high-end wedding photography, both the backpacks and rolling cases have stayed our favorites for many years.

Parts & Materials

Pictured: Think Tank Retrospective Backpack 15L

Of course, a great design is nothing if the actual materials and parts used are poor quality. This seems to be the first thing to go out the window when a generic or “fake” brand tries to mimic an excellent design, too, we’ve noticed. If corners get cut in terms of the materials used for a product, the lifespan is inevitably shortened, almost always by a significant amount!


Pictured: Mindshift Ultralight Dual 25L (Succeeded by Mindshift Backlight 18L)

In the case of Think Tank, it’s always been a non-issue; the parts & materials have always been top notch. From name-brand parts such as YKK zippers, to the various materials such as abrasion-resistant canvas, ripstop nylon, and high-density closed-cell compartment padding, everything that goes into these bags has stood a surprising amount of, well, I should just fess up and call it “torture testing,” in some cases, and plenty of “heavy use,” indeed!

SIDE NOTE: One thing that we appreciate about Think Tank as a company in general is this; if you ever do experience something breaking, then there’s a chance it’s an item which can be easily replaced. Whether it’s a DIY replacement, for which Think Tank offers some various items, (sometimes they’re even free!) …or it requires their own customer service to guide you to a solution, either way it makes for a better overall investment and customer experience.

Quality Control, Construction & Workmanship

Pictured: Think Tank Retrospective Backpack 15L

Next on our list is the actual workmanship, construction, and quality control that goes into a product. Once again, one of the biggest complaints we have about so many makes and models of products these days, especially when it comes to camera bags in particular, is when we see failures of actual workmanship and quality control. Sometimes the stitching just wasn’t done right, and a shoulder strap rips right out of a backpack literally the first time we load it up with all our heavy gear. Other times, a zipper or other mechanical coupling just falls right off because it wasn’t attached properly.

This is one of the biggest reasons why we once again highly recommend quality, name-brand products, and this once again rings especially true when it comes to our experience with Think Tank. We’ve reviewed countless products, and have added many of them to our permanent collections, and every time we have never had any complaints about quality control. That is a truly impressive track record. In fact, it’s a track record that expensive, luxury brands would pride themselves on, and something we rarely see from relatively affordable product lines such as Think Thank.

What Type Of Content Creator Are You?

Pictured: Think Tank BackLight 36L

Now, let’s talk about you and what type of content creator you are? Specifically, how can you benefit from our experience and wisdom on this subject? There are a few things we want to mention that go beyond the aforementioned key pillars of what go into a good quality product, and the best way to organize our final thoughts is by what type of photographer or videographer you are, and what you’re likely to need in terms of gear transportation, storage, and protection…

Air Travel

Pictured: Think Tank Airport Navigator

This is a relatively obvious one: If you do a lot of air travel, then the gold standard in camera gear transportation is, in our opinion, the aptly named Think Tank “Airport” series. We love them for quite a few different reasons: First, this type of travel in general lends itself to rolling cases, not backpacks or shoulder bags. If you’ve ever had to traverse an entire airport terminal in under 10 minutes with anything besides a rolling suitcase, then you know just how unbearable it can be. (20 years ago when I first started traveling for photography work, I made the mistake of bringing an enormous shoulder bag that carried THREE camera bodies and four large lenses; I thought I was cool for even having that much gear; I was in excruciating shoulder pain by the time I returned home from that multi-layover air travel!)

Also, we prefer products such as the Think Tank Airport International V3 and Airport TakeOff V2 because they appear totally innocuous; they don’t look like they’re crammed full of expensive gear! Compared to some leading alternatives, we simply appreciate this slight increase in our overall peace-of-mind when traveling.

Hiking & Backpacking

Pictured: Mindshift Rotation 34L

Oppositely, what if you’re headed for destinations where wheels are, quite literally, useless? Think Tank once again tops our list of favorite products, with backpacks that are specifically designed for not just durability, but also, comfort and protection. The latter two things are especially important when you are literally climbing up a mountainside, or trudging through a rainstorm, or braving a rocky shoreline, to “get the shot”.

Pictured: MindShift Ultralight Dual 25L (Succeeded by Mindshift BackLight 18L)

Additionally, we have to consider the brand MindShift, which was founded by the same people as Think Tank, and merged officially in 2018. The line of MindShift backpacks has served as our gold standard ever since we first encountered them in 2014!. From quick day hikes and outings with family, to overnight wilderness backpacking trips, we’ve trusted their backpacks such as the award-winning MindShift Rotation series, and the (now Think Tank labeled) BackLight / FirstLight series.

Road Trips

Pictured: Think Tank Retrospective Duffel 50L

Road tripping can be a challenging mix of different types of travel; a single trip might involve hopping on an airplane, renting a car and driving for hours or days, and even a little (or a lot) of walking or hiking with your camera gear.

In short, you need something with maximum versatility. In fact, you might even want multiple camera bags! For road trips, we’ve always loved to have both a larger gear bag and a smaller camera bag. The bigger bag could be a rolling case, an all-in-one duffel, or a large camera backpack. Any of our above recommendations could suit you perfectly, or in the case of an all-purpose duffel bag, we love the Think Tank Retrospective duffel bag series and a “Stash Master” padded camera cube to put inside it.


Pictured: Think Tank Retrospective Duffel 50L, Retrospective Backpack 15L

The smaller bag, then, would be whichever suits your particular needs; for hikers we love the BackLight Sprint or the BackLight 18L, and for general travel we also love the BackLight 18L as well as the Think Tank Retrospective backpacks, or the sleek, modern looking Think Tank BackStory series. This is a highly subjective decision, though, and we recommend considering any option that suits your exact needs such as whether or not you need a laptop compartment, and/or easy gear access, etc.

Travel Vlogger, Influencer

Pictured: Think Tank Retrospective Backpack 15L

One special type of traveler is, of course, the content creator whose content is just that: travel! If you’re not just traveling with your camera bear, but actually documenting all of your travels in great detail, then we have a special recommendation: Our hands-down favorite camera backpack of all time for content creators is the Think Tank (MindShift) Rotation series. Its truly unique design offers immediate camera access that totally beats all other backpacks and camera bags, period. It is absolutely worth the investment. With a wide range of capacities from 22L to 34L and even 50L, there is going to be a perfect-sized backpack for your style of content creation whether it is minimalistic, or a cinematic production.

Daily Commuter

Pictured: Think Tank Retrospective Backpack 15L

Last but not least, we don’t just use Think Tank camera bags when it’s time to travel, or even just on the weekends when we’re on-location photographing a high-end wedding. We also use their backpacks and shoulder bags literally every single day! (Well, every day that we leave the house, that is. Shoutout to all you work-from-homers today in our post-pandemic workplace!)

In this realm, once again our favorites depend on your own personal style and, I dare say, sense of fashion: We love the Think Tank Retrospective series for its rugged, “handsome” looks, or for those looking for something more slim and sleek, the Think Tank BackStory 15 or the Think Tank Urban Access 15 could be right for you. (Again, be sure to check the various spec sheets for details such as what size laptop you might need space for! I fit my relatively large ~16” 4K laptop into the Retrospective 15…)

Conclusion | Think Tank Long-Term Quality Review

Pictured: Mindshift Rotation 34L

All in all, this is one long-term gear review that was truly easy to write. We have no shortage of positive feedback about all of the Think Tank camera gear that we’ve used and encountered over the years, and that is an impressive track record.

Keep in mind that we have reviewed innumerable camera bags over the years, including generic options and all of the high-end name brands. Some of the gear was so bad that we couldn’t even publish the review, and indeed the company might not even be in business anymore. Other camera bags might have offered durable quality, but were downright painful or just plain frustrating to use. Either way, nothing holds a candle to the camera bags we’ve mentioned. We use them in the real world for our actual work, we use them on our personal vacations and adventures, and even our everyday commutes. That is, quite simply, the highest positive recommendation we can possibly make!

For more information about Think Tank products, check out their website. Considering the quality and practical usefulness of their various product lines, the prices and inherent value are absolutely worth it.