Probably the best filter bag in the world

Last year, I wrote a review about the Kinesis filter bag.

Before I continue, I would like to make it very clear that I love this bag very much and it has become my favourite filter bag of all time. I can't recommend this bag highly enough.

Just shortly after publishing my review, I was alerted that there is a problem with the bag ‘outgassing’. The concern seemed to be about the material within the bag releasing a gas that seems to leave a residue on the filters.

kinesis Large Grad Pouch, goes around your tripod collar, for easy access to the 'indexed' card system of filters inside.

At the time, I did some testing of my bag and found that this did seem to be the case. I was very disappointed because I love the design of the bag and it is extremely functional. But I decided to change to the Lowe Pro filter bag.

To try to cut what is already a long story short, I found the Lowe Pro bag had the same problems. In fact, I would say that probably any newly manufactured filter bag would probably releases gas or chemicals, simply because it is new.

With both filter bags, I found that after a few months, the issue was no longer there. I can only surmise that this is something to do with newly manufactured materials, and in no way does it affect the life of your filters.

I've been using the Kinesis now for the past 9 months or so and have really grown to love it. It is my favourite filter bag of all time, mainly because of how functional it is: It has a lovely little strap that allows me to hang it around my tripod collar where I have instant access to all my filters like a little indexing system. I can heep my head at camera level and if I need to change filters, there's no moving over to the bag to find them and there's no wondering where to put the filter bag either. It works 'with me'.

Also, because the filters are stored sideways and are all accessible like a filing system, I can easily drop a filter back in its slot, and pull another out.

I keep all my filters in this bag now, and I have them ordered in the following way, so I know where everything is, without any fidgeting whilst on location:

1 stop ND 2 stop ND 3 stop ND 3 stop ND (yes, I have two, as sometimes I use 6 stops ND) 1 stop soft grad 2 stop soft grad 3 stop soft grad 1 stop hard grad 2 stop hard grad 3 stop hard grad

As many of you may know, I really believe in 'process'. I keep everything in the same place all the time, because it cuts down on any delay in working in the field. When everything is in the same place, your hand just reaches for the right object based on muscle memory.

This ‘order’ works for me very well, and the bag also has enough space to leave some lens cleaning cloths inside it, or even store the entire lee filter holder (With filters already mounted) when I need to take the holder off the camera.

In short, the bag has become a spare pair of hands for me now, and I will often put in the dark slide for my Hasselblad camera, or anything that needs to be taken off the camera for a few moments. I've never known where to put things when I need to take them off the camera for a few moments, and often lie filters on rocks or on the top of my camera bag. That little strap around the filter bag keeps the filters where they need to be - within easy reach.

I should warn you that this bag is a bit bigger than most filter bags, but it's ergonomics makes me want to take it with me at all times.

If you would like to read the original review about the Kinesis filter bag, then it is here.

Flights and carry on camera bags

Lately on my travels, I've found that my discreet ThinkTank Airport International trolley bag hasn't managed to make it as carry on, when I've been flying around. Simply because some of the airlines are now starting to weigh the carry on.

This has happened to me twice in the past month: flying to Tasmania from Brisbane, and flying to Capadocia in Turkey from Edinburgh. On both occasions the weight restriction was around 8kg, which turns out to be pretty much the weight of the ThinkTank airport international bag when it's empty. I know this, because we tried to lighten the contents of the bag while going to Tasmania, and I ended up with the bag completely empty and it still weighed around 7KG.

So I've had to do something I've always feared doing: check in my camera bag, and hope it arrives at the other side all in one piece. On both occasions so far, that's exactly what's happened - the bag has arrived intact and all my possessions inside the bag were still there too.

So is there a solution to flying with camera equipment? I don't think so. You could argue that:

a) get a bag that weighs almost zero and use that to transport your gear. It still means you'd have to be careful not to go over the 7kg limit (which I think is achievable), but the risk is that for any reason they decide to check in your gear, the bag may not be sturdy enough to protect it.

b) The robustness of the ThinkTank camera bag saved my gear. I'm sure this is true. It's a very study bag. But it comes at a risk of being checked in because it's so heavy.

c) Take all your camera gear out of the bag and put it into pockets on your jacket. I've done this before and it does work, but it's a hassle and stress worrying that you're going to lose something in transit.

d) Dump all the heavy gear: No more SLR's, no more medium format equipment. Go Micro-Four-Thirds for example. If you are a digital shooter, I think the options for lightening your load are becoming more practical as camera systems become more compact. I've been thinking for a while that SLR's are outmoded now, and results from more compact systems are just as good, or close enough to beg the question why we're carrying all this large gear around.

I did have one panic though. I checked in my camera bag with all my photographic film inside it. I managed to get them to retrieve it. But I'm rather curious if this 'urban myth' about check in baggage x-ray machines being much stronger than the carry on, is true? Consider that Fujufilm ship their products around the world: they must go via the hold of large planes, and I doubt they would be exempt from xray. So I'd really like to hear from anyone who knows the answer for sure about this one.

In the meantime, I'm much happier now just checking in my camera bag. My gear is insured, and I will take the film on the plane with me.

* Since I wrote this, I've decided that the ThinkTank Airport International is now a lost cause. It is simply too heavy to use as a carry on bag, if it gets weighed. Most airlines are limiting weight to around 9kg, and the bag alone is around 7kg. If I load it up to the capacity, the bag comes in at around 15kg. So it's a lost cause now.

Instead, I am just going to board the plane with my belt-bag. It holds three lenses, all my filters and a camera body. I will pack my film in a 'duty-free' plastica carrier - this is how I used to do it previously.

Kinesis Large Grad Filter Pouch

If you've got a lot of ND and ND grad filters like I have, then you're probably making do with the (cloth) Lee Filter case. I have the excellent leather access case - see below -  (but it's rather heavy out in the field and it only stores six filters). It is a great filter case, sturdy, and has amazingly quick access to my filters. I've had no complaints using it, except perhaps the weight of it, and the fact that I could do with a few more slots for a couple of more filters.

I personally detest the cloth case made by Lee. The zip makes getting access to the filters cumbersome, and once i've got the case open (like a book - using both hands), I have to go through each page in the holder to guess which filter is in each cloth cover. If I'm using the ND filters - which are square, they are buried deep within one of the cloth pages, and it can take a while to fish them out.

I hate faffing (a UK term for fidgeting).

Anything that causes me any delay in making the images I'm seeing open up in front of me - must go. I've discarded a lot of equipment over the years because it's either too cumbersome, or simply it gets in the way. You'd be surprised how much stuff isn't made to do the job it's advertised to do. Well, the Lee case isn't quite in that territory - it works, but it's a little fidgety for me.

Each month on my workshops, I get folks coming along with the latest and greatest cameras, tripods and bags. The past few months I've started to see the Kinesis Large Grad Filter Pouch on my trips and I've just placed an order for one today (Kinesis have a problem with their web site which means you have to email them to buy anything from them if you are not in the US - get this sorted out Kinesis! You'll be losing a lot of trade from this!).

The pouch as you can see is like a mini filing cabinet. I like how the filters are stored sideways, and there are some nice velcro labels attached to each section so you can find the right filter quickly. Access is a breeze. No horrible zip to undo, no filters falling out all over the place either. The filters are tightly packed together, and there's ample room in there for quite a number of them too.

I can't stress how important 'process' is to my photography. I have all my gear organised. I put things away in the places they were before I used them, because it means I don't have to spend time hunting (faffing). Likewise, I dumped the Lee cloth case because it's just a pain to use. I never zip it up because it takes a lot of time to unzip it round three edges of the case. The Kinesis has been designed with thought and care. It doesn't just store your filters - it has been put together to give you quick and easy (read organised) access.

Highly recommended.

On my travels

Today I'm heading off for about a month. During the coming time away I will be heading off to Easter Island, Patagonia and Bolivia. It looks all set to be an interesting month ahead for me doing some personal photography on Easter Island, and then running photographic safaris in Patagonia and the Bolivian Altiplano.

It's been a while since I was back in Torres del Paine national park in Chile. It is without doubt one of my favourite places on Earth. I've been busy packing for the trip for about a week now - I always seem to forget something, so in a vain attempt to not leave home without something important, I start to pile up a small mountain of equipment to take on the trip.

I've got two camera bags to take with me. I love the ThinkTank Airport International and Take-Off bags - you can see the content of my bag here:

I've got my Mamiya 7II plus three lenses, and a Hasselblad kit too in this bag, along with all the Lee filters and light meter that I use. This bag is purely used to get me through the airport-circus and around most of the heavy traveling I'll be doing.

Once on location, I prefer to go out shooting with a smaller bag and one outfit only - doing this makes me more focussed on working on the landscape and less on thinking of which system to use. I use a small shoulder bag for the outfit I use on location, because quite frankly - I detest backpacks - if I can get away without  using them - I will. Backpacks mean I have to stop, take the bag off my back and lay it on the ground. I prefer a bag that I can access things from the top without everything spilling out everywhere and a smaller bag means I take less, and if I take less, I'm more mobile, and less burdened down by the weight and choice of what to use once I've found my spot.

I'll try to post some things on the blog over the coming month, but I'm not so sure I'll be able to do that, as we will be in remote regions with little or no communication.

ThinkTank Airport Takeoff


This posting is a review of a camera bag. Before I go any further, I would like to explain that a few weeks back, I was contacted by ThinkTank, who said that a lot of their customers have cited my blog as a good source of photography information. ThinkTank got in touch with me to ask firstly, had I heard of them, and secondly, would I like to look at some of their products?

Well, I do know of ThinkTank, as I bought one of their bags around 3 years ago - the Airport International. It's a great bag for helping me get through the airport merry-go-round, with all my camera equipment intact. It is, perhaps one of the few bags I own that I have an extremely high regard for.

But as much as it's a great bag, no bag can satisfy everything I need from it. The Airport International is great for the airport, but once I'm at a location, I tend to use a second bag for day to day shooting (this is usually squashed up and placed inside my checked in luggage). So when ThinkTank offered to send me some freebies, I said that I would be interested in two bags:

1) The Airport Takeoff. This bag is similar to my existing international bag, but offers to act as a backpack once I've got through the airport merry-go-round and am now on location somewhere. It seems very appealing as it can continue to be of use once I'm shooting.

2) A waste level camera bag. They are sending me one when they have stock. Personally, I hate backpacks, much preferring to have access to my gear without having to stop, lay the backpack on the ground, and remember to zip it up before I try to put it on my back (I've forgotten a few times, and have had lenses and bodies spill out everywhere). But i use backpacks now, because in my 40's, I'm more aware of looking after my spine!

But I must stress that I did not pay for this bag. It has been sent to me to see what I think of it, and I also must stress that I am under no obligation by ThinkTank to review it and there is no contractual agreement in any shape or form.

This review though, is about the Airport Takeoff, with some comparisons to the Airport International.

In a few words

If you would like to cut to the chase, I will say that this is an excellent bag, with amazing build quality. It is a very high end, professionally made bag, with very logical layout and some nice small (but essential) add on features. I'm really taken with it, so much so, that I'm going to try to use it for all my future foreign trips where I am not trekking at the other side (when I trek, I take an 80L Macpac rucksack and extend the hood, so I can slot in a small camera bag - when will someone invent a trekking backpack that has a detachable camera bag?). But when I'm going some place where I don't expect to have my temporary home strapped to my back, I would definitely take the Airport Takeoff.

The review

The Airport Takeoff conforms to most airline dimensions for a walk on bag - US and Europe. I would say that this is true for most airlines. I have found some where the overhead lockers are simply unsuitable for putting anything in, unless it's a toothbrush. So under those circumstances, I've managed to get by, either by storing the bag below my seat, or by the air cabin crew storing it somewhere for me. There's little we can do about this, but the Takeoff has been designed well to work with most airlines.

It's very sturdy. They've taken a lot of care in the design to include non rip materials and the bag is extremely durable. Think 'military' rather than 'wallmart', in terms of strength and attention of robustness. It would be very easy to think these bags are costly, but when you actually see the build quality to them, you know the money has got you a bag that will last for a very long time. ThinkTank have told me that one of the design concerns was to make bags that won't get thrown out so quickly. Not only do they provide you with something that should last a lifetime, they have told me that with their warranty program - they try to keep the gear on the road for much longer. I can't stress enough, that when I got the bag, just one look at how much effort had gone into making it very durable - instantly made me think the price tag was entirely justified. This is perhaps something that's not easy to convey in any marketing material or by looking at pictures of the bag on the web.

Comparing it to my International bag, I'd say it's of very similar build, and that bag, has been thrown about in dusty old Rajasthan as well as Nepal. The wheels are solidly made, although I see the Takeoff wheels are made from a type of heavy duty plastic, whereas the International bag I own has alloy wheels. I'm not sure why this design change, but they do seem very robust and I have a lot of confidence in them to work under very abnormal situations.

The internal compartment is very roomy. They give you plenty of section material to allow you a lot of freedom to re-organise the bag to your own tastes. The space is deceptively large and I can easily fit my entire Mamiya 7II outfit, plus filters and also my old Hasselblad 500CM camera with three lenses too. Personally, big bags encourage me to take far too much gear, and I often find myself overburdened once I'm at my destination. But there's plenty of room in this bag to handle most needs, including large lenses such as a 400mm Canon telephoto. There are also lots of zipper compartments to hold things like batteries, cleaning cloths etc.

If you are the type of person who wishes to take a laptop with you, then you can buy recessed sections from ThinkTank to allow you to have the laptop inside the bag. I've got the recessed sections for my international bag. I kind of wish they would just include it as part of the original bag, because although the recessed sections are a less deep, they're more than adequate for keeping all your gear organised, and still provide plenty of real estate for storing of bodies and lenses.

There is a nice security cable for the bag and they also provide a padlock for it too. So you can lock the bag to something. I liked that feature with my International bag, which didn't come with a padlock.

Now, the whole point about this bag, is that you can use it as a dual purpose bag - for the airport, and also as a backpack. The straps are nicely contained in a pouch on the back of the bag, and are easy to get at. The entire side of the bag unzips and flips back to reveal the straps. I thought, upon first inspection, that the flap would just hang down and flap around, but they've taken care to give you a velcro fitting below the bag to allow you to keep it firmly out of the way.

I was wondering just how comfortable it would be to put a walk-on trolley bag on my back, and it turns out that this is pretty good. The flap that folds back to reveal the straps acts as a lumbar support. The bag doesn't feel like a compromise when in backpack mode - I felt right at home with it on my back as soon as I put it on. The only thing I felt that was missing, was some form of waste strap, but I think this would have caused some major headaches trying to fit that into the limited space requirements they are trying to keep the bag to. You do however, get a breast-plate strap to keep the two straps from falling back off your shoulders. Under the circumstances, I think this is sufficient.

In terms of weight, I don't think the bag is heavier than my current backpack - a Lowepro Vertex 200 bag. That's pretty amazing, considering it has a very sturdy extendable handle built into it, as well as the strong wheels too.

If there is one part of the bag that I find a bit fidgety, it is the tripod holder section. I do feel, that ThinkTank put a lot of effort into it. The initial set up of putting the straps together is a little bit of a fidget, but what's nice about it, is that to take some of the straps off, or fold some of them away into the nearby pouch isn't much of a big deal, and they did include that small pouch just for this scenario.

I have a series 3 Gitzo tripod. It's pretty big. I was able to have it in the side holster on the bag, and use it no problem. Personally, I just don't get holders for tripods. I feel that a camera bag should be for holding cameras and lenses, not for acting as a tripod holder too. So for me, I think I'll have a tendency to forget about the attachements - simply because I can't get enthusiastic about having any bag take care of my tripod for me. What I would like, is for someone to design a sling-shot style cable that is easy to attach to a tripod. I hate tripod bags. I want to have quick access to my tripod and bags just get in the way.

In terms of flying with tripods, ThinkTank aren't assuming you will attach the tripod to the side of the bag. I'm sure that most airport security is not going to allow you on a plane with a three-pronged impaling instrument, so do what I do - wrap lots of clothing around it, take the ball head off, wrap lots of clothing around that too, and place them right in the centre of your check in luggage.


In summary, I'd say that this is a remarkably well engineered, beautifully designed 'high-end' bag, and I will be using it for my forthcoming trips to Switzerland this October and Norway and Iceland later on this year too. I will feel very secure getting through airports because the bag conforms to airport guidelines and it's very sturdy. It also works very well as a backpack when I'm there, so I won't need to pack a second walk around bag. So if you're doing a lot of flying, want to be less conspicuous, and want to use the bag as a backpack once you're there, then I for one, would be very happy to recommend it to you.

I'll keep you posted how I get on with it. There are a few trips coming up where I'll be taking it for sure (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Patagonia & Bolivia).

The Nature of Camera Bags

Over the past decade, I've managed to accumulate a rather large collection of camera bags. I came to this realisation yesterday after getting a nice email from the guys at Think Tank in the USA. They wanted to know if I'd had any experience of their camera bags. Well, I do own an Airport International bag, that I bought around three years ago. So they're going to send me a couple of bags that I think might be of use to me. I'll let you know how I get on with them in due course.

In the meantime, I did a little stock taking and found that I have:

Lowe Pro Trekker II Lowe Pro Orion AW waist level bag Lowe Pro Dryzone 200 LowePro Vertex 200 LowePro Reporter 400 LowePro Reporter 600 Think Tank Airport International

All of which, are great bags - but none fill the role of being everything that I need for all my photography projects. I just can't seem to find a bag that fits all my requirements. Which I guess is similar to not being able to find a camera system that fits all my requirements.

One thing I would like to say about camera bags, is that I prefer them small. A big camera bag means I'm going to fill it. The temptation is always there and I know that if I do fill a large bag, my trip turns into an endurance test because of all the cumbersome weight that I'm carrying (I'm talking about the bag - not me). A small bag forces me to be very selective about what I take, and make sure that the lens, body, filters I carry are going to be used.

I think we often think about accumulating lenses and gear. The more we have, the more options we will have when we go out to shoot. I suffer from the temptation to take every focal length of lens that I own, in the chance that I might see some amazing macros and also some amazing 400mm shots too. The truth is, having all this gear just makes for too many choices and confusion when we do come across something worthy of a picture.

I remember when I went to Iceland in 2004. I took the little Orion AW waste level bag with me and I managed to cram in my Mamiya 7II, three lenses and Lee Filters. It was compact and I could (almost) sling it around my waist. I had to be ruthless about what I took, and I found that every item I had with me was used on the trip.

If I were to distill into a few sentences what I'm looking for in a camera bag, it would be:

1. Quick access to cameras and lenses 2. Waterproof 3. Easy to lock up

The ultimate thing for me is the access. I hate having to wrestle with a camera bag. I also hate having to take ages to pack things away. That's why I have a preference for waist level bags in previous years because I can often get into the bag very easily without having to stop and lay it out on the ground like a backpack. I'm in my 40's now (you'd never know it - well, that's what I keep telling myself), and I find that the days of carrying a waist level bag are perhaps over for me. I need something with equal weight distribution for my back and so these days, you'll often find me with a backpack on (comfortable, but completely useless at getting access to stuff quickly - and how many times have I thought the bag was closed up and I get ready to put it on my back, and lenses start tumbling all over the place?).

Maybe you have some suggestions of bags that you rate. Or bags that you don't. It would be nice to hear from you, and by all means, if there's any bag in my collection you'd like to know more about - just add an entry to this post.

ps. I intend to do a review of some of my bags.