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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rolling with Think Tank - Airport International V2 Review - A mulit-purpose Rolling Carry On

Think Tank Airport International V2 – Roller Bag Review

First off this will be a bit different than just another camera bag review because this camera roller bag is really a rolling suitcase that is kitted out for photography purposes. This is a multi-purpose rolling bag and that is how i use it.

I have more camera bags, briefcases and suitcases than I care to mention.  I have different bags for different needs but my focus was always on quality. I have Victorinox luggage and bags and also several Tumi products, and even Pelican stuff as well. The past few years I have been buying Think Tank products. I got excited by their clever features and was won over by its quality and common sense practicality. I have stuff from each product category (next will have to be the Urban Disguise 60). I realized that I needed a rolling camera bag to save my back but also to carry all the stuff you may need for a photo shoot. This was very evident when I was asked to shoot some photos with 500px for the Nutcracker being done by the National Ballet of Canada. 

Meets INTERNATIONAL and USA domestic airline carry-on size requirements.

I used to use a Pelican Rolling Case (22”) and then place a Lowe Pro Extreme camera bag and gear into the case.  However the stuff can shift around as I do not have the divider kit for it. Also it’s too big as a carry on. I do use it for carrying my studio strobes and lighting equipment. I can easily strap on several stands to it as well. Great for that but not for camera gear. The other thing I found is that when I travel with it and use it as a suitcase, the security staff always opens it up, or have it weighed, or tell me it has to go to oversize because most Pelicans have electronic equipment in it. I originally looked at the 1510 model but it just didn’t suit me and besides I do not want to draw attention to it. I needed a better way to carry more stuff and to do it safely so thus the research for a suitcase looking camera bag started. Sure enough Think Tank makes several and I chose the International due to its carry on friendly dimensions.

The roller bag comes with a idea card showing where to store your Nikon gear. Flip the cardboard over and its a Canon version.
What makes it exciting to me is that Think Tank really offers several features that make this an ideal bag for multiple purposes. You could use this rolling camera bag as a travel suitcase as well. The Airport series of products are not inexpensive but they offer high end quality, practical features with feedback from working professionals, and they are an investment. It also works extremely well with the other Think Tank products. The primary reason I chose the TT AIv2 was for its features and because I want my camera equipment safe and sound in the overhead bin of the airplane or when traveling to a shoot. The roller looks like a suitcase and not something carrying over $10k of photo gear. The roller bag also has more room than the traditional camera bag meaning you can bring more stuff to the shoot as well as lash on a tripod and save your back. 

Here is the bag with the regular divider kit. Note the rain cover pouch and tripod straps

The features that I wanted in a roller bag were as follows:

  • High Quality and built to last
  • Big Beefy Zippers (only YKK will do for me)
  • Replaceable wheels
  • Durable DWR finish
  • Security Cables (this has one in the back and one in the front) with TSA friendly locks
  • Security Plate with serial number and registration (just like Victorinox)
  • Tripod Holder
  • Zippered Pockets
  • Flexibility (Low Divider kit optional) able to move dividers at will
  • Rain Proof Cover
  • Room for 2 bodies, 4 lenses, 300mm, a few flashes and more stuff

This bag is 43” linear length making it ideal as a carry on for air travel with any airline but it will not fit in the overhead bin of many regional jets or underneath the seat. However, the Think Tank Urban Disguise 60 will fit underneath and just barely in the overhead bin of a Regional Jet. (The airline will gate check it for you meaning it goes into the plane’s luggage section underneath the plane. Photo gear is not recommended to be in the luggage. You should remove the camera and lenses into a carry on bag for the plane. The Regional Jets are small planes and have very limited luggage space. Other airplanes are able to accommodate a carry on bag of 45" linear length.). I have tested the TT AIv2 and it does fit in an Air Canada Luggage test frame. OK it is sized liked a regular rolling suitcase.

The bag ships with a divider kit but I chose to get the optional Low Divider kit which is shorter in height allowing room for the Cable Management 50 or an Airport Intelligence laptop bag to fit inside the case. This is my preferred set up for transporting my photography gear. I can’t think of any other company making anything similar. Again the great minds at Think Tank are always thinking ahead. 


Low Divider with the Cable Management 50

If I am doing a trade show then I can pull the dividers out (and keep the top two) and just pack a body, lens and flash, my LCD projector and some packing cubes with clothes. My laptop slides into the front. Now you are starting to see how useful the case is. It can be multi-purpose.

If I am out doing radio work, I can shift the dividers around and pack radio equipment just as easily. I can even mount a portable antenna in the place of the tripod. It can be multi-purpose and even use it as a traditional suitcase.

Trade Show set up - clothes, Projector and camera, lens , flash. Note the laptop bag


As a bonus the inner lid has 4 plastic pockets with zipper pull protectors that are perfect to hold a circular polarizer, white balance cards, small foldable reflectors, cables, pocket wizard’s, etc.

Of course, the outer pocket has organization compartments and I can fit my Travel Wallet and Passport Holder in there.

I can slide my Think Tank Airport Intelligence laptop bag into the front sleeve as well.

The security cables allow you to lock the case to a pole or a table. This is perfect for the trade show environment or a hotel room. I can also lock my laptop bag as well as there is a security cable at the front. Again, people just see a suitcase full of clothes. Who wants to steal that? I can keep the Eagle Creek security cables I use at home now and use the built in ones. The security cables are designed for casual use and not intended for long term unprotected safety. The rain cover is handy as well when trying to get from the hotel or shoot site to the parking lot in pounding rain.

I found the telescoping handle to be kind of flimsy. I checked some of my other rolling luggage’s and found they were not as flimsy. It turns out the TT AIv2 has a 4 section handle and it stows into about a 10 inch section in the case. This is ingenious I think because the bottom half of the case has extra room as it doesn’t have to house the telescoping handle. Regular luggage would have the handle telescope  the full length of the case, good for clothes not as good for camera gear as there would be two ridges for the handle.  I can live with a flimsier feeling handle if it gives me a better designed interior.

The package also comes with a ton of dividers, the rain cover in its own pouch and several straps and a cup for the tripod or mono pod holder.

Weekend Travel version. Lots of room for clothes. Don't need my 28-70 mm beast a 18-105 VR is just fine

The Airport International V2.0 Rolling Camera bag comes highly recommended with a 9.5/10 rating. It does lose marks for its weight as it is a hefty ten pounds but that includes a strong built frame, real rollerblade wheels and the dividers themselves. Looking at the Lowe Pro version of it you will quickly see that it has no real organizer pockets inside, the telescoping handle is on the outside of the frame, and no clever Think Tank features.  One product improvement would be to add a standard ¼” threaded mount in the telescoping handle so for an impromptu light stand. The Lowe Pro has this idea. The Kata series has its lovely bright yellow interior but I didn’t like how the tripod had to be held against the front of the bag. The Think Tank having it on the side means I can lay the bag down and still open the lid. With Kata and Lowe Pro I need to lift the lid with the tripod attached. Seems too clumsy for me. Also the competition just didn’t seem to have that quality and clever features going for it. Remember, Think Tank is designed for and by working professionals not for Sunday photographers out at the zoo taking photos of Elephants.

In summary it’s somewhat expensive but price is what you pay and value is what you get. Its multi-purpose investment for my needs and it has some really great features not found elsewhere. You may want to order the Low Divider kit and a Cable Management 50 organizer bag as these two items work well for me. Guess what? Think Tank also makes a Think Tank Photo Travel Pouch for holding your clothes and shirts with YKK zippers and bullet proof construction. Guess what I am buying next payday?

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