By Ellis Vener
Equipment cases with built-in rollers are nothing new, but none really satisfied me, until now. Either the cases were too heavy, too bulky, too small, or the extended handle was too short. Or they were prone to tipping sideways on uneven surfaces. Or they didn’t allow for flexibility and efficiency in arranging gear for different types of jobs. Or they simply weren’t built for the long haul. And the designs usually scream, “Steal me! I am full of something valuable!”
Finding all of the right elements in a single bag seemed as likely as getting comfy in a coach airplane seat. But then I found the Think Tank Photo Airport Security Roller case and that has turned out to be one of the best designed and well thought out pieces of photographic gear I have worked with.
What makes this a great case for a working photographer? Four qualities stand out: stability, ergonomics, versatility, and clean design. When rolling, the wide-track wheel placement at the back corners of the case keeping it balanced. Park it at your side while standing in line and the feet at the front corners make the case difficult to tip over. The total length of the telescoping rectangular handle tubes and case (a bit over 41 inches) means you won’t keep kicking the case with your heels or stooping to find a stable towing angle.
Designers paid attention to details large and small. Zippers and pulls are heavy duty. The capacious interior compartment has a staggered depth. A deep U surrounding the well for the retractable handle tubes allows for upright storage of tall camera bodies like the Canon EOS 1D /1Ds series, along with high speed telephoto lenses like an EOS 400mm f/2.8L). Multiple pockets for holding documents and other must-get-to items on the front, top and sides are well fashioned and placed.
Think Tank Photo addresses bag security in a number of ways. The two major zippers feature built-in combination locks. A long braided-steel cable, anchored internally to the frame and stored behind a Velcro-sealed panel in the zippered compartment for the built-in shoulder straps, lets you lock the case to something non-mobile. Finally, one of the simplest best security components is appearance; the Airport Security Roller just doesn’t look like a camera case, even down to the small, unobtrusive Think Tank Photo logo.
As more gear bag manufacturers are realizing, a black interior can become a black hole when you're searching for a piece of photographic gear that happens to be black, which is most of it. The interior of all of Think Tank Photo’s cases is a light neutral gray, making it easier find what you're looking for.
All of this would be for naught if the case were not easy to work out of. You get into the main compartment by unzipping a large flap in the lid or the lid itself. Opening the flap allows immediate access to seven accessory pockets (for cables, sync cords, media cards, batteries, etc.) and beyond that, limited access into the main compartment. Unzipping the lid gives you access to everything. And if you are from the “bring it all, just in case” school of thinking, "everything" can be a whole lot. The bag can haul three DSLRs, nine lenses, two Speedlights, extra batteries and chargers, digital media wallets, cables, a Pocketwizard system or two, a job folder, etc. All of this in a case with a 14x9x22-inch exterior dimension, which happens to be the maximum allowable size for carry-on luggage for U.S. based airlines. After two months of near daily use of the ASR, I could only find one area for improvement; I want loops on the inside of the case where I could attach the leash of the company's Pixel Pocket Rocket CF card wallets.
Caption (click for larger view): Clockwise from the top left compartment
1) rain cover for the Airport Security Roll-on case; charger for the
Leica DMR; 20GB portable hard drive
2) Lee Filters Slotted lens hood; 8 AA batteries
3) Canon EOS 1Ds Mk.2 body and second battery
4) 2 Pocketwizard MultiMAX Transceivers
5) Nikon SB-800 Speedlight w/diffusion cap, Canon EX 580 Speedlight (in ThinkTANK Lightning Fast Modulus case)
6) Sekonic L-558R light meter; Charger for Canon EOS 1D camera batteries
7) 70-180mm f/2.8 Leica Vario-APO-Elmarit-R zoom lens; SanDisk Cf card reader
8) Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R lens; (hidden from view) 90mm f/2 Aspheric APO-Summicron-R lens
9) Canon EF 35mm f/2 lens; (hidden from view) Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 lens
10) Two more Pocketwizard MultiMAX Transceivers
11) 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor lens; (hidden) Leica 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 Vario-Elmar-R lens; extra batteries for Leica DMR
12) Leica R9 + DMR digital back; 2 Pixel Pocket Rocket media wallets (room for 20 CFcards!)
13) Nikon D200 with 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DX Zoom-Nikkor lens mounted; two Heliopan Circular Polarizers; Canon 500D diopter lens attachment.
I have also been working with ThinkTank Photo’s 12-piece Pro Modulus Set. This is a belt-based modular system for carrying gear while working. The big ideas here are modularity and accessibility. With modularity, you only attach the bags for the gear you need for a particular assignment. For accessibility, you can choose to lock the individual bags into a fixed position on the belt or, much better, slide them around on the belt. The sliding system lets you have easier access to any particular piece of gear and the ability to redistribute the weight of your gear as the assignment goes on. This last benefit isn’t to be sneezed at; moving the weight around reduces fatigue and muscle aches. Along the same lines, the Pro Modulus kit includes an attachable Pixel Racing Harness to carry the load on your shoulders as well as on your hips.
The Pro Speed Belt comes in Small, Medium, Large, and Extra Large. Take into account the clothing you’ll normally wear the belt over before you order. (I write from personal experience about this.) One improvement I’d like to see here is for the large (35- to 41-inch) belt to be one inch longer.
My overall impression of both the Airport Security Roller and the Pro Modulus system is that they fully live up to Think Tank’s credo of “designing highly functional bags for photographers (to support them) in doing their jobs.” Much of the credit for this is that the designers listen directly to working photographers, and that two of the four principals in the company are working photojournalists themselves.
Airport Security Roller price: $359.
For women photographers, who often have trouble using gear bags designed for men, Think Tank Photo has a page on their Web site showing how female photographers are using their products.