Thinktank ShapeShifter Review

Although I have a small selection of camera bags, I face a new challenge. I’m going to be doing a lecture tour and traveling to a lot of countries in a short time. I need to take my laptop with me, plus the usual photo equipment so I can grab whatever opportunity I can to shoot. I usually try to get a sunset shot of the city I’m visiting, so I always have a tripod. My base kit is the D700, 80-200mm, 24-70mm and 14-24mm, plus some filters. I always carry my iPad, and often a paperback for when the stews won’t let me use the iPad on take off or landing.

Now, when I’m engaged in the business that I’m traveling for, I only need to carry my laptop and power brick, no camera gear (except a discreet fuji x10). When I get out to shoot, I leave that stuff behind and take a bag with a tripod. This is where it gets complicated. I have the old style Urban Disguise 60. This is a shoulder bag, but it can’t take a tripod at all. The new V2 can, but I’m not upgrading. Plus, fully loaded that sucker is heavy! It also doesn’t accommodate a iPad very well, so it’s off the list.

Next up is my Streetwalker Harddrive. This is a fantastic bag and I use it as a travel bag system.The downside to this bag is that it’s big and imposing. I don’t want to drag a full size backpack into meetings and I do stand out with it on my back. I can’t fit the tripod inside the bag, it has to strap to the outside, which is conspicuous. It also interferes with opening the bag as you have to unstrap the tripod to get into the body of the bag. An iPad doesn’t fit well either, but it’s still fantastic for dedicated photography trips.

I decided to fill the gap with a ThinkTank ShapeShifter. This is a novel bag that is lightweight and instead of carrying equipment in velcro compartments, it has individual pouches that you stuff things into. It has a generous laptop compartment, the main body is big, and the lid compartments are right sized for an iPad. There are additional mesh pockets inside the lid, which have a large capacity, plus an extra couple of pockets on the outside of the lid itself.ThinkTank ShapeShifter

The gimmick of this bag is that if I need to scale down to just a laptop, I can pull all the camera gear and zip the main body up with a compression zip. This flattens the bag, making it much less conspicuous. Very nice. It holds all the gear I usually carry below, plus all the sundries that you need while traveling.

ThinkTank ShapeShifter

One undocumented feature is the ability to carry a small traveller style tripod inside the bag. Here I’ve got a Gitzo 1541T with a Giotto MH-5400 ballhead in the bag. I position it so one leg sits in the groove running up the middle and the bag zips up nicely. I really prefer to carry my pod this way as it’s a lot less conspicuous. On Metro systems, the bag isn’t screaming “I’m a tourist! Mug Me! Steal my bag!” which is the way I feel if I have a tripod attached to the outside.

ThinkTank ShapeShifter

This bag is a really nice tool. It gives me buckets of flexibility, which is what I need for these trips. Build quality is the usual ThinkTank standard, which is top notch. Even though the pack isn’t rigid, I feel it offers protection for the delicate bits.

So how does it perform? As I write this, I’m on a trip through Iraq, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait. I’ve put it in the overhead and through countless x-ray machines. I’ve hiked along water fronts and carried it through airports. It’s sat in the dust by the side of the road and been carried in the back of cars. I’ve given it a pretty good shakedown run, and can honestly say it met my expectations. It is a really good bag and very fit for purpose for what I need it for, which is what I’ve come to expect from ThinkTank.

The bag isn’t perfect though. There are a couple of things I’d change. The chest strap isn’t detachable. I wish they’d make on like the tripod strap so I could take it off. I actually lost (then found) one of the waist belt straps. I’ll remove these and store them when I get home as I’ll never use them on this bag.

I wish they had some method of slipping this over the handle of a piece of wheeled luggage. The UD60 has a zippered panel for just this purpose and I miss it when I’m transporting this bag with my checked bag (e.g. at the hotel). Just a strap below the shoulder pads would do. Another feature I miss are the water bottle pockets. Most of my other bags have them and I really miss having one to carry a bottle in. It doesn’t matter if when the bag is compressed I can’t access it, but in full backpack mode, I’d really like to carry a water bottle externally.

For me, this bag is a perfect fit for this kind of travel. If I was hiking though chinese mountains, I’d hate it, but then, that’s what my Streetwalker is for. If I was trying to carry a 200-400mm telephoto, this bag would not work either. But understanding it’s limits, it is a fantastic fit for purpose, my purpose, bag.

One disclaimer. Links to Thinktank products include an affiliates code. BUT….I purchase all my own equipment. It doesn’t get sent to me, I buy it and review it from a users perspective, not a compensated reviewer .

More to come……

Creative Commons License
This work by Jason Pitcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *