Think Tank is in the business of saving my back. Over the last three years my gear that I carry with me in the field has only increased and the chronic lower back pain I have has also only increased to the point where I needed an alternative to my ThinkTank Streetwalker HardDrive (here). Post back pain, I had been looking for a good roller camera bag- one that was small enough to satiate the non-standardized and often nonsensical requirements for carry on luggage that many of the local airliners here in Asia have. I finally landed on the Think Tank Airport Airstream The Airport Airstream has turned out to be quite the bag for me. This is a bag that I have taken on business trips and one that I have carried out to the nomad grasslands of Western China all the same.
ABOUT THE BAG
STRAIGHT FROM THINKTANK
The perfect small roller for traveling with a selected amount of gear; meets international carry-on size limits.
- INTERNATIONAL carry on size.
- TSA combination locks.
- Front cable & lock secures laptops.
- Back cable & lock secures to fixed object.
- Holds up to a 400mm lens
- All photographers, from pros to serious enthusiasts.
- ID: 13” W x 6.5-7.5” D x 15.5” H (33 x 16.5 x 39.5 cm)
ED: 14” W x 8” D x 17.5” H (36 x 20.5 x 44.5 cm)
- 9 – 10.5 lbs (4.1 – 4.8 kg)
- Lifetime Warranty
The Look - Much like my other reviews of Think Tank gear, it’s mostly all business. I’m tempted to copy my text from my Streetwalker HardDrive review verbatim, but I won’t. In short it doesn’t look bad; it doesn’t look ‘designer‘. It’s yet to make someone say “Holy crap! That’s the best looking roller bag I’ve ever seen!” It also doesn’t scream “Hey you! If you steal me there’s enough camera gear in here to retire on!” either. And that I’m continually grateful to ThinkTank for. It’s a black, all business, tough looking rolling camera bag. I’m not sure it’s supposed to look like something more than what it is. I really wouldn’t want it to.
Convenience- The Airport Airstream is on par with the convenience I expect and have experienced from all other Think Tank bags. This time it’s on wheels! Everything stays where you put it and it’s extremely easy to get to what you want to. Like my other Think Tank bags, I rarely have a hard time finding items that I’m looking for – which has to be one of the main metrics of measuring convenience for a camera bag. I’ve found that you get spoiled with Think Tank bags and forget how well designed everything is until you have to use another brand. It’s really convenient.
Most of the high points as far as features are concerned I will cover later, but there are a few things worth mentioning here. The transparent inside pocket system remains one of my favorite designs on all Think Tank bags. It’s amazingly convenient to be able to see all your cords, cards, documents and batteries at a glance. The outside pockets actually seem to be too sparse for me on this model, which is surprising because I’m not much for tons of pockets. The main outside pocket allows for pens, cards, cash, documents, and a few tools and really not much more. There is also a place for name cards and identification on the top of the Airport Airstream. Directly under the name card holder is a nondescript pocket that I use for my passport and any money that I need to get to quickly. The front and side elastic pockets are absolutely brilliant – I use them all the time. I end up using them for very quick storage that I don’t really need to get into the bag for
The Airport Airstream is full of handles. You can pick it up from basically every side and it’s small enough that it’s not awkward to do so. I pick it up and carry it when I’m not using the roller system. Again, much of the ‘convenience‘ will be covered in the features section – it’s hard to separate the two.
Features – The Airport Airstream has lots of features and a few of them have been covered in the convenience section. If you are interested in the full list of features on the Airport Airstream, check this out. Nonetheless, the following points are what I see as the major features of the Airport Airstream.
Roller system - The core feature is the roller system, obviously. The core point of convenience… again… is the roller system. Yes. Convenience is a feature. Nonetheless, the roller system on the bag is implemented very very well. The rollers are smooth and the extendable handle is non-intrusive and sturdy. It simply just works and it’s what you’d expect for a high-end suitcase. It’s also extremely durable and can handle most of what you throw at it- roll it over in this case. Furthermore the whole system really just doesn’t get in the way or take much away from the bags storage capacity. Roller systems can be annoying and obtrusive – this one isnt.
Camera Placement - I love Think Tank for this feature. The compartments in the Airport Airstream have notches cut (see here) so you can put your cameras with the lens attached into the bag. I find this feature extremely convenient and I tend to pack my bag with this in mind so I can easily get in and get out and be shooting with as little hassle as possible
Locks – The Airport Airstream has three security locks built into the bag itself; One on the front for locking other bags placed above the Airport Airstream such as laptop bags/briefcases and then one located on the back for extra gear like a tripod. Lastly it includes a lock on the side for locking the main compartment. Mostly the locks are so you can lock the Airport Airstream to other immobile objects so the whole thing isn’t stolen. The locks are an excellent addition to the Airport Airstream and are surprisingly integrated into the bag seamlessly and unobtrusively.
Lost and Found – Many of the new Think Tank bags are coming with a ‘security ID’ plate (see it here) which allows you to register the Airport Airstream with Think Tank (here) and have them help return it to you if it’s stolen or lost. Think this isn’t a feature? Say that once your bag is lost… and then returned.
Flexibility – The Airport Airstream is what I’d call a flexible bag. The inserts are all removable and I’ve moved them around quite a bit to fit my needs. Furthermore I can pack a 15″ laptop into the bag with the Low Divider set I have. Beyond that the front and side elastic pockets and top pockets make it very easy to store things like cards, water bottles, jackets, and documents very quickly. I’ve reorganized my Airport Airstream into many different configurations to fit my needs. This bag is very flexible and that should be considered a feature (feature of convenience?) despite being a bit of a nebulous metric.
Durability – Rolling it through an airport or dragging it out to the middle of nowhere, I have zero concerns about this bag breaking down on me. Infact, in these review pictures you can see dirt on the Airport Airstream from my last trip out to the Tibetan plateau. I take it everywhere and have zero concern. It wont break. If it does, Think Tank will fix it – it comes with a lifetime warranty. The Airport Airstream has several thick plastic ‘plates’ on sensitive points on the cameras body which adds extra protection (see here). It’s built from mostly the same material as my Streetwalker HardDrive, of which I made the following remarks:
I don’t even think about the thing breaking. I’ve beat the crap out of it like I do all my gear and I can honestly say that , other than obvious signs of use, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. I often times leave it on the dusty ground and the high quality, high-density, build material (feels like armor, it’s tough) allows me to just brush it off – it also wicks water away from your bag. It does everything but cook breakfast.
How I pack it – My philosophy for packing camera gear is to try and be as smart (as smart as someone like me can be) with my space and use a smaller bag to create a kind of required ingenuity. I’m bad with keeping up with stuff so the less stuff, the less I can lose. On top of that the more I think about how I pack things and plan it out, the more likely I am to keep to the system while I’m on the road. As with any bag I own, I have many different setups. However, the following is what I generally pack and what you will see in the following images:
- D700 w/ grip
- D90 w/ grip
- Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8
- Sigma 17-55mm f2.8
- Nikkor 50mm f2.8
- Nikkor 24-50mm f3.3 (old one)
- Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8
- Nikon SB-900 hotshoe flash
- 4 Extra camera batteries
- Apple iPad (first Gen)
- Black Rapid Strap(s)
- 3 Legged Thing Brian X1 travel tripod
- Two Paul C. Buff remotes + trigger
- Lens pen, Pen(s), blower, Multitool etc
- Memory Cards + 500gig external backup
- Extra Cell phone, external USB powered battery, card reader, iPod, charger(s)
- Extra AA batteries, sunglasses, 3 moleskin notebooks, Biz cards
- Reading Material (or in this case, a folder with travel permits, air tickets, etc)
- Black Diamond Head lamp
- ThinkTanks provided rain cover
A few comments on packing. Like I’ve mentioned earlier in the review, I have several different packing setups. The one you see above is specifically for while I’m on the road and want to get to my gear quickly. When Im travelling I cram a few more things into the bag, most notably a 15′ Macbook Pro. Also while Im travelling I have my Airport Airstream setup to where everything fit’s into the bag while the lenses are still attached, if need be.
Is it too small? - The bag is what it is – a smaller, maybe more economical, version of the Airport International or the Airport Security bags. It’s designed to be this small and to fit into almost any overhead compartment. To say it’s too small is to say the Airport Airstream is supposed to be a different bag. I find it fits well into the Think Tank rolling bag lineup. However, for larger shoots, tours, and events I generally carry the Airport Airstream and the Streetwalker HardDrive. It’s up for the buyer to decide what is too small and what isn’t. If you need a larger bag in the same vein as the Airport Airstream, I would strongly suggest checking ou the Airport International. However, for me and where I live the initial thought was to avoid the strange and often bothersome carry on luggage regulations that are too often randomly and inconsistently enforced by the Asian (specifically Chinese) airlines I have to fight with almost monthly. This bag does just the trick for me. This review is based around quality, durability, and functionality. I will say that you can fit more into the bag than you think you can which depending on your personality can be a good or a bad thing.
The not-so-good – Just a few things that stood out to me:
Pockets – It’s a strange day when I ask for more pockets, but the Airport Airstream could benefit from just a few more. The front pocket is just too shallow – if it wasn’t too shallow, there wouldn’t be a need for more pockets. It’s not suffering greatly from this condition, but it’s occasionally noticeable for me – a guy who doesn’t care much about pockets. Also, in the front pocket, one of the clear plastic sections is dedicated for simply holding the pad lock which reduces the outside storage space just that much more. One more pocket and then I’m completely satisfied in this area.
Tripod Holder - The Airport Airstream comes with a detachable tripod holder which I find very useful, but installing it and then storing the holder somewhere else can be a pain. A design like the Streetwalker HardDrive where the tripod pocket is integrated into the bag would have been preferable over the detachable (read: easily lost) parts for attaching the tripod.
The Conclusion – The Think Tank Airport Airstream is a fantastic bag offering durability, functionality, and convenience. Am I glad I own it? Absolutely. It fill a really needed functional role among all my bags. If you need something this size, I couldn’t recommend the Airport Airstream more. It’s jam packed with Think Tank’s usual quality and functionality. There isn’t much more you can ask for.
Contest & ThinkTank Sale
Contest – In conjunction with the graciousness of Think Tank Photo, I’ve been looking to give away (Plateau Photo Tours & Brian Hirschy Photography) two Pixel Pocket Rockets for a while now- I’ve decided to attach it on with this review in the form of a contest. If you are interested in joining this contest, do one of two things. First, you can re-tweet exactly this:
@bhirschyphoto reviews @ThinkTANKPhoto’s Airport Airstream: http://t.co/tRfRFpz -RT for chance to win a Pixel Pocket Rocket
You can also enter an actual on topic comment below pertaining to the Think Tank Airport Airstream and automatically be entered into the contest. The contest ends August 12th, 2011 at Midnight CST. Commenting and Retweeting multiple times will only result in one contest entry per person. Any strong derivatives/variations of the above tweet may not be considered a contest entry. One winner will be selected at random [via Randomizer] from the comments while one winner will also be selected from the tweets and retweets.
Sale – I’m pretty stoked about this. Think Tank hardly ever has a sale. Nonetheless, currently Think Tank is having a sale on all their Modular Sets and all of their Skin Sets. An excellent way to get into either of these amazing products for well below retail cost. Furthermore, while shopping at Think Tank’s website, you can append the following code: ?code=AP-403 to any of the Think Tank products and you will receive a discount if available (only on the Modular Sets and Skin Sets right now) and a free bag or accessory when checking out.