Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review - Think Tank Urban Approach 15 Mirrorless Backpack

The Urban Approach 15 Mirrorless Backpack is a new camera backpack by Think Tank Photo which is targeted at the growing mirrorless camera market.  I was interested in this bag ever since it was announced and the folks at Think Tank were gracious enough to send me one early for this review.

The Urban Approach 15 is similar in shape to the Streetwalker series of backpacks, but with a shallower depth designed to accommodate smaller mirrorless cameras.

Like all Think Tank bags, this is solidly built - very clean lines and low profile appearance that doesn't scream "Expensive Camera Gear Inside".

 There are stretchy pockets on both sides of the bag, enough to fit a water bottle or a small strobe in them. The included rain cover fits easily into either one.

There is also a strap included which lets you attach a small tripod to the outside of the bag

The shoulder straps are comfortable to wear, even when the backpack is overstuffed with gear.

The chest strap is height adjustable, and pretty much stays in place once you set it in the desired position - don't have to worry about it shifting around while in use.

The tags on the zippers for the laptop section says that it will fit both an iPad and up to a 15.4" laptop.

Since I use my iPad on location shoots, I have it in an Otterbox Defender case, which ends up being a very tight fit into this iPad slot.  Would have liked it to be a little more open.  My Macbook Air 13" with Speck case slides into the laptop compartment easily with room for the AC Adapter.

There is just one thin pocket on the front of the backpack.

It's also very shallow - about 4 inches deep. It'll hold a Pixel Pocket Rocket,  but not much else.

The back of the bag has a loop that you can slip over the handle of your roller bag, such as the Airport Navigator.  A nice feature that I hope Think Tank will incorporate into all their future backpacks.

The zipper pulls to the main compartment have loops that can be padlocked for extra security

 Opening the bag you'll see the standard insert that Think Tank includes which shows a typical gear layout.

Once you remove the insert, take a good look at the interior, cause that's all you get.  The bag I received for this review did not come with any additional dividers.  Though to be honest, there isn't much more space you could divide up anyway.

 The main compartment is much shallower compared to how it looks from the outside because of the iPad/laptop compartment underneath.

The top of the backpack tapers downward so it will fit a smaller camera like an a6000 or an A7 series camera without a battery grip.

 If your camera has a battery grip attached, it will fit in the second camera section in the lower half of the bag .

For a typical wedding shoot I'll take along the following:
2- Sony a6000 bodies ( I usually use an A7mkII with a battery grip and one a6000, but the A7mkII is currently out for repair). Each body is outfitted with a Really Right Stuff L Plate, a Peak Design Capture Plate , Peak Design Clutch Hand Strap and Micro Anchors for the Peak Design Leash
Magmod flash modifiers - Mag mounts, gels, grids, Magsphere and Magbounce
ND filters
dust blower
LED headlamp
business cards
2 - Ziplock Freezer Bags (emergency rain covers for off-camera flash units)
 Amazingly that all fits into this bag. It ends up being a bit snug, especially on the side with the 70-200, but it does fit.

Compared to the other ThinkTank Mirrorless-specific backpack, the Perception Pro, the Urban Approach is more customizable. The Perception Pro's pouches each have internal dividers that can be adjusted but the pouches themselves are hard sewn in to the bag whereas with the Urban Approach you can move all the dividers around to fit your needs.

When compared to the Streetwalker Hard Drive, the interior dimensions of the Urban Approach 15 is several inches shorter in both length and width. While I do appreciate the shallower depth, I really wish they had kept the width and length comparable to the Streetwalker Hard Drive as there were a few more things I would have liked to put in, such as a Yongnuo 300 II LED light. Also, in order to get the flash units to fit into the bag, I had to remove the MagGrip attachments from the flash heads (In the photo above, the MagGrips are stored underneath the Mag Grids). A slightly wider bag would have allowed me to keep the MagGrips attached to the flashes.

Note to the designers - It's ok to make the bags shallower, but please don't scrimp on the length/width - we can always make use of that space. Even though mirrorless cameras and lenses are smaller, we still take a lot of gear to weddings - 2 bodies, 2 flashes (yes 2 flashes - always gotta have a backup), flash modifiers, radio triggers, extra batteries, etc.

I think if you had taken the Streetwalker Hard Drive, just made it shallower, lighter and added the roller bag handle attachment to the back of the bag, that would have been just perfect.

I've now used this backpack on several beach sunset wedding shoots and other than the slightly limited space in the bag its been working out pretty well. The depth of the bag helps to keep smaller cameras from bouncing around too much and there's "just enough" space to carry the basic gear I use on a typical shoot.  

The handle on the back that slips over roller bag handles should be standard issue for any camera backpack. I never realized how useful it was until I found that I would usually pair it with my ThinkTank Airport Navigator which now holds most of my extended lighting gear. Would like it to be just a skosh wider so that it would more easily slip over the roller bag handles when the bag is fully loaded with an iPad and laptop.

Overall this is a great backpack that I think a lot of mirrorless camera shooters would be happy with (unless you like to take a ton of extra stuff like me). If you decide that the Urban Approach 15 suits your needs, I would greatly appreciate it if you use the links provided above as a small portion of sales will go towards supporting this blog.

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