By Ellis Vener
In general I haven’t been a fan of the sling type camera bags I’ve tried so far. Either there is trouble with accessibility, feeling comfortable, or both. One issue is that all of the ones I’ve tried before were designed to be carried all of the time over only just one shoulder. The Think Tank Photo Sling-O-Matic bags differ because they're more of a case-like design instead of being based on the messenger bag design, and you can switch the load from the left to right shoulder with no fuss. When you’re carrying a heavy load over just one shoulder, you want to be able to switch sides periodically to balance out the wear and tear on your body.
This is essentially a rigidly framed top-loading, rectangular dual-compartment camera and laptop case with a single permanently attached body sling strap. The front, sides and bottom are rigid with a little padding; the top is padded but soft. It's equally suitable for electronics or small lighting and grip gear. On the outside there are two large flat document compartments, one on the front and one on the back, and a narrower one on the top of the main compartment. On the inside of the top flap there is a fourth flat zippered compartment with a clear window. There are are two handles as well. A bag this compact should fit with no problems in the overhead bin of a puddle jumper commuter jet, but I haven't actually tried it.
Specs: The Sling-O-Matic 30's interior dimensions are 11.25 (W) x 16(H) x 5.5 (D) inches for the main compartment and 11.25 x 16 x 1.5 inches for the laptop compartment. Outside dimensions are 12 (W) x 17.25 (H) x 7.5 (D). Empty weight ranges from 2.9 to 4.0 pounds depending on accessories used.
Capacity and access: Once you've moved it from your back to your chest, you've got excellent accessibility. Nose down, a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G VRII (with the tripod mount foot removed) mounted on a Nikon D3s with an RRS L-bracket smoothly eases in and out. There is still plenty of room for other smaller lenses, flashes, etc. With the case on your chest, the top of the case serves as a small platform (approximately 6.5 x 16.5 inches) that serves nicely to rest your elbows on when shooting with a longer lens, or as a small writing platform.
Fully loaded, it will hold more than you would like to carry around all day. I am a big guy who works out regularly and am in pretty good shape, so take my advice: do yourself a favor; use common sense when selecting just how much gear to carry.
Looks: As my 7-year-old put it when she saw me wearing it, "That looks stupid." My wife wasn’t wild about it either, and they are used to seeing me accessorized with photo geek attire. I suspect it was designed to be functionally and not aesthetically beautiful. I can also see this bag being very useful for filmmakers and sound crews as well as photographers. It is faster to access than a backpack and can hold plenty of gear. Given it’s size I'm pretty sure I won’t want to be using it if I am working in a very crowded space, like a street market or a store full of Steuben Glass, either.
Wearability and comfort: The sling can be used over your left or right shoulder without detaching or reconfiguring the sling. It is easy to put on and take off. Depending on whether it the sling is over your left or right shoulder, the U-shaped zippered top flap will either open away from you (left shoulder) or towards you (right shoulder). Different weights of YKK RC-Fuse zippers are used for the different compartments, with the sturdiest one on the main compartment.
The shoulder portion of the strap is well padded, as well as nice and wide, but tapers down as you get towards the lower attachment point on the bag. The middle section of the strap connects to the shoulder and lower attachment points with brass swivels, and its length is adjustable. I'm 6'5" and long waisted but the Think Tank Photo Sling-O-Matic 30 fits me well.