If you’re like me, when you get into something you get in with both feet and get totally wet. It’s been like that since I got my first mirrorless camera a couple of years ago, the original Olympus Pen E-P1. I now find myself on my 4th mirrorless body, the charming little Olympus OM-D E-M5 and it seems to want to surround itself with lots of shiny little attachable bits. I’ve now got 5 lenses (and a Nikon F mount adapter) for the micro four thirds system and still find myself looking at not only other lenses for the OM-D, but also other systems like the Fuji X-trans system as possible future companions.
Some call it GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) while others, the learned kind who spend their days sitting around in leather chairs listening to the troubles of others, probably call it obsession, or psychosis, or something worse. Whatever you call it, when you get it you get it and unless its life threatening just go with it, man.
So while I have all these little cameras and their offspring running my life, a rather serious problem presents itself. When I go out with the mirrorless system what bag do I carry it in to protect its whole family? Now this problem is even worse than deciding what cameras and lenses to buy in the first place, because nobody has found the perfect solution yet. All we photographers can do is continue to buy camera bags and hope that eventually we’ll stumble upon one that is perfect for our needs. I can hear this little voice in my head saying “Good luck with that” as I type these words.
With mirrorless camera systems the conundrum is that most camera bags have been designed for DSLR’s and their chunky bits. The compartments are just too big for the smaller system lenses. They will flail about inside the average camera bag and that’s never good. The alternative is to get a smaller bag. However until recently most smaller bags were just too small to accommodate a reasonably comprehensive mirrorless system with say, ahem… five lenses and maybe an extra body.
This is what seems to drive the guys over at ThinkTank. Recently they introduced a new range of camera bags they’re calling the Mirrorless Movers. There are 4 of them in total, each a different size, starting with the very small Mirrorless Mover 5 and going up to the Mirrorless Mover 30i, which is the one they very kindly sent me for this review.
Those of you familiar with my posts here will recall that only a few weeks ago I obtained the ThinkTank Retrospective 5, which I absolutely adore. This has been as close as dammit to providing a good solution for my burgeoning m43 system while still retaining a good degree of cool, but since I got the Olympus 75/1.8 things have gotten a little tight in there. I can still fit the whole system in the bag, but the problem is accessibility. I have to lie the lenses down on their sides and in protective pouches on top of each other if I am going to fit the whole lot inside. It’s workable, but a little impractical because the opening to the bag is designed to flap towards your body, so invariably I find that I have to lay it down somewhere and rummage through it if the lens I want is at the bottom. This isn’t always possible depending on my location.
So enter the Mirrorless Mover 30i. If you look at it, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of external size difference to the Retrospective 5, but it adopts a slightly different approach to carrying around your mirrorless kit. The top flap is zippered and it flaps outwards from your body which means that accessibility is vastly improved if you don’t want to lay the bag down to get something out of it. It also has more head room, so you can put longer things into it than is the case with the Retro5. I had absolutely no problem getting my entire kit into the bag with room for at least another couple of small lenses and probably an unmounted GF-1 too.
There are some nice touches with this bag, but there are also some things that I think could be improved on. Let me elaborate.
As with all the ThinkTank products build quality is superb. They use only the best materials and it shows. The bag looks smart.
Inside the main section they have supplied three slightly U-shaped velcro padded dividers, one of which doubles as a little pouch that you can slip your smart phone into. That same divider also has sleeves for a couple of memory cards, which is a very good idea. I can’t begin to tell you how often I have turned my camera bags inside out to try and find a memory card that I knew was hiding in a compartment there somewhere. Keeping them in the main part of the bag is an improvement.
In addition to the sleeved internal divider for your iPhone (or equivalent), there is a sleeve in the bag into which you can put your full size iPad. Hence the “i” in the model number. I suppose this is pretty cool for those people who experience separation anxiety when it comes to being away from their iPads, but for me I only use my iPad at home and in bed, so I’ll probably use this sleeve to put other slimline objects into. Come to think of it, there are probably more than a few people I know who would buy this bag specifically for their iPads (which they use as cameras) and then store other things where cameras and lenses would normally go. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see that happening.
The 30i has a belt loop around the back which means that you could attach it to your person using a regular belt, or if you don’t want your pants falling down, use one of ThinkTank’s special purpose system belts.
The shoulder strap has a padded section that slides along the strap so you can adjust its position for comfort. It also clips on and off really easily using high quality anodised metal clips – the kind that swivel so that you’ll never have a tangled up strap. I like this feature a lot.
Around each side of the bag you’ll find little pockets. On the right side the pocket is made of a stretchy neoprene type fabric. You’re able to squeeze something bigger in there and I have discovered that this is
probably the best place to put my F-mount to m43 adapter (which would otherwise be taking up valuable space inside the bag’s main compartment.
The pocket on the other side of the 30i is not stretchy as it’s made from the same material as the rest of the bag. It does have a bit of a fold in it for expansion, so it would probably be a good place to put smaller things in.
The front of the bag has an external flap that covers a zippered flap in which you’ll find the bag’s raincoat and some space for other objects like keys, wallets, etc. This external flap has small circular magnets in it that secure it to the main body of the bag. This is where I think the design has gone a little bit wayward. I don’t see the point in the flap. It doesn’t serve any purpose other than to hold the ThinkTank logo. There isn’t a pouch or slip place that you can store anything in it either, so to me its just a bit of a waste.
Room For Improvement
Functionally the bag works well, but in using it there are some areas that if improved on could make this an even better bag.
As with the Retrospective 5 only the long parts of the interior have material that you can attach velcro to, which restricts the configuration options for the internal dividers. If there was soft velcro anchor material around the entire interior I could probably avoid using the lens pouches that I am using so that I can put two lenses in each compartment. It would also be better if the dividers themselves could anchor to one another as that would give you a lot more configuration options. A minor niggle, but hopefully the designers will think about doing that for the next incarnation. In fact, if they wanted to they could provide an insert for the whole inner of the bag that could be bought as an add-on to make the bag more functional in this way right now.
The main flap of the 30i opens outwardly, which is great, but while I was using it I thought of a way to make this work even better. What if they were to sew in a couple of loose pockets onto it that could serve as a lens changing zone? So the lens you’re switching to gets held temporarily in position there and the one you’re taking off goes into the neighbouring pocket. This would be especially helpful if you’re toting a bag full of lenses and would help me a lot with my aforementioned problem of having to put bags down to change lenses.
ThinkTank have made mention of the fact that they use YKK zippers on this range of bags, which is great, however the thing I love most about my Retro5 is it’s lack of zippers. The zippers do make it a bit more clumsy to open and close your bag and almost always require the use of both hands, whereas a loose flap attached by velcro is easier to open.
The Mirrorless Mover 30i is a great little bag that provides you with enough room to carry a substantial mirrorless camera system. Mine swallows up the Olympus OM-D with the full HLD-6 grip, plus Olympus 75/1.8, Samyang 7.5mm fisheye, Panasonic 14-45mm, Panasonic 45-175mm and Panasonic Leica 45/2.8 Macro in it. I could probably also stash a large flash in there on top of the lenses. It could also serve as a very significant home for my recently acquired Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm kit lens, which is probably what it will end up becoming a permanent home for. I like the Retro5 too much!
If ThinkTank were to make this bag in the same material as the Retro5 and with the minor changes I mentioned, I think I would be in seventh heaven. On the whole though it’s a great bag and I think many mirrorless shooters will be happy with it.
All images © Dallas Dahms
For those of you interested in the technical details of these product shots, I used my Olympus OM-D with the Panasonic/Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit. Lighting was provided by two Nikon speedlights set to SU-4 mode and triggered with the clip on flash on the Olympus (set to 1/64 manual).