My review of Think Tank Photo Airport Commuter camera backpack

Think Tank Photo Airport CommuterLast week, I purchased a new camera backpack for my travels: the Think Tank Photo Airport Commuter. For the first time, my buying decision, in terms of camera bags, wasn’t for a LowePro‘s one. In the last four years, I have been using a LowePro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II, a robust and performing camera bag, quite similar for size to the Think Tank Photo Commuter Airport. The main reason because I changed backpack was due, unfortunately, to the not that high quality of materials used for my LowePro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II. I missed two cord zipper pulls as they broke somewhere during my trips and also the thick external mesh padding suddenly started to unpick at certain point. It looked like the camera backpack I owned for several years was not made to last for long time yet. So, I opted for the Think Tank Photo Commuter Airport, a camera backpack I’ve heard such good things about from other photographers. Though I have used it just around town so far and not in any trip yet, this impartial review is my first personal experience with this backpack.

The Commuter Airport is part of the Think Tank‘s line of Airport series backpacks. It’s aimed to professional photographers who travel (and fly) often and is built to fully meet the international carry-on standards.

At first sight, the backpack I received look well-made, great design (though bit boxy compared to the LowePro‘s backpacks) and built to last for its construction and materials throughout. Though less thicker that the ones in the LowePro Runner BP 350 AW II, the padded straps and handles in the Airport Commuter backpack look robust and, differently from my latest backpack, the heavy-duty zippers seem solid to last. Hopefully.

These are the main features and dimensions of the bag as declared my manufacturer:

MAIN FEATURES 

  • Meets most of international airlines’ carry-on size requirements;
  • Contoured adjustable harness with lumbar support;
  • Large comfortable handles;
  • Height adjustable sternum strap and elastic pockets on shoulder strap;
  • Robust handles on three sides of the backpack for easy over head lifting;
  • Easily accessible front organizer pocket;
  • Includes tripod/monopod mounting system;
  • Cable lock & locking YKK zipper sliders for added security;
  • Useful top zippered pocket for boarding pass;
  • Water bottle pocket 

DIMENSIONS

  • External Dimensions: 31.6 × 45.7 × 21.6cm
  • Internal Dimensions: 29.2 × 42.4 × 17.3cm
  • Laptop compartment: 27 × 40 × 3.5cm
  • Weight: 1.5-1.9kg

My new camera backpack

The Airport Commuter backpack is supposed to carry a gripped DSLR camera, 5-6 lenses including a 400mm f/2.8 one, additional gear such as flash, cards, filters, till 15″ laptop and a 10″ tablet plus small accessories.

The backpack has there are three main zipped compartments. The bigger one is dedicated to the photographic equipment. The other two smaller ones are one to keep laptop and tablet while the other one is for small accessories.

Let’s start from the main compartment.

Same like in every camera bag, you find plenty of dividers that allow to customize the space for your gear needs.

In my specific case, the backpack’s main compartment carries a Nikon D850 plus my three Nikon f/4 lenses, a flash, filters, spare batteries and cards, cables, battery charger, cleaning kit and more small useful accessories. There’s still enough room for putting also a sweater or a light jacket, something impossible in my previous camera backpack. I was pleasantly surprised to see how deep is the main compartment while I was packing my photographic equipment. Gripped pro DSLR can be easily stored inside. Differently from the LowePro Pro Runner backpack, much of lenses can be even stored vertically which means you save space though this can be tempting for packing even more stuff inside! 

Think Tank Photo Airport Commuter

What I really miss in this backpack instead is the built in rain cover at the bottom of the bag which you find in the LowePro‘s one, instead. Most of camera backpacks normally come with the rain cover stitched into a pouch on the bottom of the backpack so that it doesn’t take any space inside. Think Tank Photo for its Airport series opted for a seam sealed rain cover included in a small bag apart which means if it starts raining suddenly when you are already out you have to open the main compartment where camera and lenses are located to take the rain cover bag, extract it out and cover the backpack. Before you do all this the backpack will be wet though Think Tank Photo declares its bag is totally waterproof thanks to its durable water-repellant polyurethane 1680D ballistic nylon coating.
In the two large see-thru zippered pockets inside of the lid, I stored my Hitech 150x100mm filters (those in my previous LowePro Pro Runner‘s  bag weren’t wide enough to store them unfortunately), a portable disk for my Macbook and some cables.  

My camera backpack

The three large handles are really appreciated. Two well padded side and top plus one strap-like on the bottom of the backpack. They really make easier to lift and carry the backpack despite a heavy load. Useful when you have to put it in the overhead compartment on the plane. Same as in the LowePro backpack I used before, the handle on the side in the Airport Commuter backpack allows me to carry it more like a briefcase when I want my shoulders take a rest sometimes.

Think Tank Photo Airport CommuterThink Tank Photo Airport Commuter

Beside the main compartment for your photographic equipment, the Think Tank Photo Airport Commuter has two more zippered compartments on the front. The smallest one is to hold pens, keys, smartphone, block notes,. even an e-book reader and more small accessories. Compared to the LowePro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II backpack I found there is more room for these things. The other (larger) compartment is dedicated to store a laptop (a 13″ Macbook in my case but fits perfectly also the 15″ ones) in the bigger pocket and a tablet in the smaller one.

In the upper part of the backpack just underneath the handle there’s a useful top zippered pocket ideal to take out or put inside easily your passport (or any ID card) and your boarding card at check-in counter or during the security controls at the airport. There is room also for putting business cards inside. Alternatively, this small compartment looks the perfect place where putting inside the small blue bag with the seam sealed rain cover.

Still in the upper part there is a small business card holder which in my opinion it would make more sense if the pocket were transparent like in the LowePro Pro Runner backpack to easily identify the backpack’s owner in case of loss.

Same like in other Think Tank Photo‘s products, there’s a small side pocket with a cable lock provided inside which should help to lock the zipper closed and secure the backpack to an immoveable object, like a table for example, when you’re out. Something I would never do, honestly, as it takes nothing for a thieve to cut the (not that thick) cable.

Think Tank Photo Airport Commuter

Differently from the LowePro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II, this backpack hasn’t really fully dedicated straps to secure your tripod. Think Tank Photo includes two straps for this purpose but then you have to secure your tripod on the side without handle and put two legs inside the stretch pocket which means you can’t use the pocket to hold a water bottle. Sincerely, I prefer the tripod be strapped in front of the backpack like in the LowePro Runner and not on the side of the bag.

Camera backpack's shoulder strapsI got the feeling, from the very first moment I put it in my back, the Think Tank Photo Airport Commuter sits high up and rigid against my back. The shoulder straps are adjustable, They are less thicker than the ones in my previous camera backpack but wide. Each stripe has a pocket for holding small items like a smartphone, for example. By tightening the shoulder straps, I can shift the weight further up my shoulders to relieve strain on my spine which is good considering how many hours I spend walking about with almost 10 kg of photographic gear on my back! The included waist belt in the bottom part of the backpack is easily removable.

BRING YOUR AIRPORT COMMUTER ON BOARD

Think Tank Photo says its Airport Commuter camera backpack fully meets the international carry-on standards and fits perfectly inside the overhead compartments of most planes. Check this extensive Airline Carry-On bag guide (updated to July 2019) to find if Airport Commuter camera backpack (along with other Think Tank Photo bags) fits the carry-on allowances. Some photographers owning this camera backpack’s model claim it fits also under most of plane seats. I haven’t had any chance to check it if this is true yet but I read on the net the average space to store your luggage under the plane seat vary from 20 to 23 cm on average (CRJs and turboprops like ATR or Bombardier Q-Series even less, I’m afraid). Being the Think Tank Photo Airport Commuter backpack 21,6 cm deep as declared, I doubt it will fit properly under the seat of all commercial planes. In my experience, the LowePro Pro Runner backpack, being a few centimeters less deep, always fit perfectly under the seat of every plane and airline I flew with so far. I will keep updated my experience with my brand new Airport Commuter backpack as soon as I will bring on board. Stay tuned!

CONCLUSION

Think Tank Photo Airport Commuter is a practical, compact but spacious at the same time camera backpack. It has excellent storage and solid build quality. I appreciated the unexpected deep of the main gear compartment. Once on my back it fits great while weight is distributed perfectly on my back despite the load. Purchased for 192€ at Amazon is not among the cheapest camera bags on the market, for sure, but, at first sight, represents for me a good value for its quality materials and worth every single cent. I am not disappointed at all.

PROS

  • well made and robust camera backpack with high quality materials;
  • deep main compartment for photographic gear allows to keep lenses vertically;
  • fully meets the international carry-on standards;
  • large comfortable handles;
  • fits most of overhead compartments on board; 
  • lighter than other camera bags with similar size;
  • fits good on your back with straps distributing the load correctly further up your shoulders;
  • useful top zippered pocket dedicated for storing passport and boarding cards;
  • removable waist belt;
  • great design

CONS

  • no built in rain cover at the bottom of the bag like in other camera backpacks;
  • unlike other camera bags, straps to secure tripod are on the side of the bag and not in front of it which means you can’t use the stretch pocket to hold water bottle; 
  • more expensive than other camera bags with similar size;
  • business card holder not transparent