Think Tank Retrospective 30 V2
When it was created, the Retrospective line was meant to break the mold, and avoid looking like a camera bag. It succeeded in this, but its runaway success means that it is now very well known indeed.
The five available version 2 Retrospective sizes are offered in one color, called Pinestone, down from three with version 1 (the others being Blue Slate and Black). We look at model 30, which isn't the deepest (the 20 has that claim) but is the widest, and generally largest model.
One of the things that set the Retrospective bags apart is the choice of materials. While most camera bags are rigid and stiff in order to protect your gear, the Retrospective are soft and form-fitting. The look is akin to what you would expect to find in a military surplus store. The fabric is cotton canvas (except for the black version), an obvious departure from the ubiquitous nylon synthetic material. The thick cotton is treated for water resistance.
This form-fitting shape really isn't usual. It means the bag will bend around the wearer's body, increasing comfort somewhat. It also means the bag sags a bit except when filled to the brink. This is a deliberate, and certainly uncommon approach.
The cotton's treatment is apparent to the touch, it has a slick texture and inspires confidence. The bottom has a stronger WR treatment but uses the same canvas.
The general shape is a rectangle. The back of the bag shows two elements: first a luggage handle passthrough, second a zippered pocket useful for tablet, laptop, book or magazines. A small elegant leather accent highlights the manufacturer's name. A similar color is used on zippers everywhere for a consistent look.
To the right side (seen from the front) is a thick band, useful to attach a carabiner or other accessories. Most lens pouches could be attached there, as could camera clips, but the band isn't particularly stiff so might bend under load.
To the left is a well-designed water bottle pocket. When not needed, it collapses on itself and is held in place via a velcro patch and a metallic buckle. It can expand quite a lot and hold large bottles. The thickness of the cotton canvas might inspire users to place a lens or flash in this pocket, be aware that it is not padded.
The top flap covers the whole front of the bag. It features decorative grommets but nothing else.
The flap opens all the way and folds flap to the back, revealing two large pockets.
Closed by large velcro flaps that can be tucked away, these pockets are surprisingly wide when expanded. Each could hold a camera body, gripped for APS-C.
They can also hold a few flashes with ease. Again, they offer no padding towards the outside, but the thick cotton, plus the top flap, give some measure of protection. Accessory cases, memory cards wallets and other medium-sized items will fit easily.
Behind these wide pockets is a zipper, opening into a thin compartment with several smaller sleeves for small items. The front pockets' flaps hinder access to this zipper when attached to the front; they need to be folded back completely.
The top flap includes a few interesting elements. The first is the adjustable silencers for the velcro closure system. To the front of the bag are two velcro pads, matched to those on the top flap. However, tucked behind the flap's pads are two fabric rectangles which also feature velcro. These rectangles can be placed over the flap's velcro, to act as silencers. They match the flap's checkered material for a uniform appearance. The silencers can also be placed so they cover the velcro only partially if desired.
Note that if the silencers are used, nothing holds the top flap in place.
Under the top flap is an additional zippered cover. Similar to the one found on the company's Signature messenger bags, this cover adds a level of security against prying hands, or more generally rain and dust.
This cover attaches to the top flap via a small velcro patch
It can be tucked away almost completely inside the top flap via an opening. We say "almost", because a corner hangs out partially, thanks to the zipper. This pocket is mostly hidden and can serve to store small valuables, such as a passport, alongside the cover.
As is often the case with Think Tank, the strap and handle are superb. The shoulder strap is wide, strong, and offers a superbly padded central section. The padding is thick and well distributed, and the underside features textured chevrons for a better grip.
Adjusting the shoulder strap's length is not as fluid as on some other products. The metal buckles are sturdy, look good and are in line with the bag's design philosophy, but adjustments are easier if the bag isn't worn on the shoulder, or at least not too heavily loaded.
The shoulder strap is permanently attached to the bag.
The top handle is a smaller version of the shoulder strap, without the padding. It takes up the whole length of the bag and extends up when used, thanks to the flexible nature of the Retrospective.
The handle can be folded back or completely removed if desired. Note that it must be folded to access the bag's insides, as it attaches to the main body and not the top flap as is usual.
Despite the bag's water resistant treatments, Think Tank included a rain cover with their Retrospective 30. It fits nicely in one of the front pockets, or inside the bag.
The Retrospective 30 V2 is a no-nonsense camera bag. It manages to have a timeless look without feeling outdated. The flexible, form-fitting shape is a love-or-hate affair. Most camera bags are stiff and rigid and some users might be unused to this different approach.
Think Tank did not cut corners regarding quality of materials and craftsmanship. Offered with the same lifetime warranty as the company's other products, the bag leaves nothing to be desired in this regard. The shoulder strap in particular is impressive.
The bag is not without some design compromises, however. First, there is no provision to carry a tripod (the attachment point between the top flap and the zippered cover might have been used for this). The front pockets' flaps prevent access to the zippered compartment behind. The general softness means the bag tends to sag and external attachment points are not ideal.
Still, the retrospective 30 V2 has a lot going for it. It is easy to understand why the Retrospective line is popular.