Nov 072012
 

The best camera bag for any Mirrorless or Leica M system! Think Tank Retrospective 5

So I was looking back at all of the camera bags I have tried over the years..from cheap but functional Crumpler bags to fancy Billingham bags to very fancy FOGG bags. Artist and Artisan has also been around my shoulder (and still is) but there is one bag that was just made in a way that reeks of functionality and quality when it comes to small mirrorless or a Leica M system. Plenty of room for a camera and up to 3 lenses along with accessories and an iPad mini. The bag is small, discreet, looks cool and has a comfy strap.

This bag is NOT new and most sites wrote about this one a loooong time ago (even me) but just wanted to give it some love again as it is a fantastic bag that does just about everything right. I made a new video for it below so you can see it on me and hear my explanation as to why it is such a deal at $137.

You can go direct to Think Tank for one, or B&H Photo.  It is also available in Slate Blue.

Below is the new video I posted yesterday to my YouTube channel! Enjoy!

  66 Responses to “The best camera bag for any Mirrorless or Leica M system! Think Tank Retrospective 5”

  1. Got one of those… but it have a tendency to get too thick.. though me stuffing a ipad in the back might not be helping. ;-)

  2. It’s a nice bag but very plain and functional. I have the black one. I ordered the greenish/forest color and didn’t care for it at all. My problem with these is they look like diaper bags. I also have a Billingham which I like much better but cost a lot more. If I had to do it again even though it performs well I’d look for something that didn’t look like a diaper bag though. I have 5 kids and have carried around diaper bags long enough…

    • How cunning. It looks like a diaper bag: That’s really an advantage. What thief would want to make off with a bag full of diapers?

  3. What if I only want to carry around an X-E1 and one additional lens, rather than a complete mirrorless system? Any suggestions for a bag that’s slightly smaller than the Retrospective 5?

    • Try the Domke F-5XA. I own one. Perfectly compact, simple, durable.

      http://tinyurl.com/csfckuo

      • Second the Domke F-5XA (Or F-5XB). In fact I wouldn’t swap my Domke F-5XB for anything else I’ve found, regardless of price. The 3 small compartments are perfect in the 5XB for Camera+Lens, and either two extra lenses, or 1 + flash. I carry E-M5 + FL600r + 2 Lenses in mine.

    • Check out the Lowepro Event Messenger 100; that might fit your needs. I did a review of its big brother, the EM 150, which I liked quite a bit. The 150 is more or less a cheaper alternative to the Retrospective 5, but can also accommodate a full size iPad. The EM 100 is a step smaller.

      Here’s a link to my Event Messenger 150 review, if you want more info.
      thumati.com/chronicle/2012/11/1/review-lowepro-event-messenger-150

  4. Who is the adorable pooch in the background you failed to introduce?

  5. I prefer the Retrospective 7 – roughly the same size but it has a dedicated iPad pocket.

  6. I have one of these, and it’s OK. Mine is greenish and I like the material, color and size. Like that it doesn’t really look like a camera bag. BUT it has a bunch of odd flaps inside whose function I don’t understand and that get in my way, and it’s weirdly heavy. Feels like it has a camera inside even when it’s empty.

    Guess I’m more of a Domke person.

  7. The only bags that really make the grade are those from Billingham. I’d accept no substitute for quality of workmanship, ease of use, and style variety. Stick with the best as you have a lot of money tied up in those camera jewels!

    Guess I’m more of a Billingham person!

  8. I have one in Pinestone and it’s my all time favorite bag (out of.. a LOT of bags). Hell, I even took it to Italy last month with my D700, 24-120 f/4, and fisheye. And, yes, that’s way too much for this bag size…but it worked. Sort of. I had my camera out and on a sling strap for the most part, so I didn’t have to depend on drawing it out of a small bag and putting it back in all the time. As you pointed out, it’s great for a smaller kit, and it’s perfectly comfortable to carry while walking around all day (especially with less weight than I had in it).

    I tried a Retro 7 before I left on the trip and I thought it was just too large for me. I have a choice of some other bags to take along, but chose the 5 because I like it so much. Just don’t overload it like I tend to.

    Steve, just a mild critique of the video – no offense. Don’t wear a black shirt while you demo a black bag. And for Pete’s sake get some light on it so you can see inside. I recommend you use one of the lighter colors for a demo. OK, critique off. Thanks for all the good info you offer on your site.

    Rich

  9. Before you buy check out the Domke j-803 Digital Satchel. Does not scream “cameras inside” very strong because it is made of ballistic material, and will last a VERY long time. I’ve had mine for around 6 years and little wear. Bag has been to the Arctic Circle, mountains of New Mexico and Colorado, and all over England, where I live.

    • Brian,

      I couldn’t agree more. The Domke J-803 is my favourite bag after going through so many! More useful than the F-803 with much more space, though barely larger.

      As you say, it looks just like a compact notebook bag that is inconspicuous, and very importantly (to me), has one of the thinnest profiles you can find.

      Last year, I took it on a trip with my M-9P, 18mm Super Elmar, 24mm and 50mm Luxes, 90mm Cron, and 135mm APO-Telyt. Though I didn’t need to carry everything around all the time, it was perfect to carry all through airports, flights etc, and just to test, was even comfortable to work with with all items in, including battery charger, spare batteries, cards, ND filter, mobile phones etc.

      I highly recommend this bag!

      Hatem

  10. Love mine! Yes it can get too thick…like maybe I should really consider what I’m doing and take some of that crap out…and it is heavier…as in maybe I won’t have to buy another. best…jf

  11. the new think tank street walker bag looks much more interesting than this one, it can hold an iPad, the retrospect 5 is bulky and can not hold one!

  12. Damn Steve…I thought you were all about the Domke F803 ;)

    Still loving my F803. Perfect for my needs and my 7″ tablet fits perfectly in the front pocket!

  13. I think it’s between the retro 5 and 7 to be the best bag. Billingham’s are great, too but a little more expensive, their shoulder pad costs extra and almost everyone currently uses them.
    Thank you for the Video!
    Martin

  14. Though not a camera bag, I’ve been using a Medium Filson Field Bag, which holds my Leica MP, a couple lenses, film and some times my X1 as well quite nicely. I purchased the bag back in 2000, after daily use for over a decade one of the brass hinges wore out, Filson sent me a new bag. now I don’t cary a computer or iPad, just cameras, lenses, keys, a phone and a wallet, and this bag suits me perfect. The best part it doesn’t look like a camera bag.

  15. Will have to disagree Steve, My personal preference is a Domke F-803. There are Domke Bags, then there are lesser offerings.

  16. Domke Rugged Wear F5XB for me.

    Three adjustable compartments big enough for a M body (with or without a lens, another two for two lenses or a lens and a flashgun or spare battery… and a small front pocket large for SD my cards carried in an Altoids small tin, and a notebook :-)

    The bag has served me well in a damp UK climate and it doesn’t shout ‘expensive camera gear carried’.

    Oh, did I mention the very comfortable and grippy strap long enough to go across your chest, and the good quality zips?

  17. So, recently it was the Domke F803 that was the best… And now, you recommend this. Sheesh, Steve, you’re beginning to sound like K.R. No offense, but…

    I’ll stick with my Domke… I think the Think Tanks are great, but too heavy and too deep for me.

    Oh, and you’re sticking to this opinion? ;^ )

  18. Hi Steve,

    My problem with all ‘camera’ bags is that if I go out making pictures I don’t just take a camera. In addition I need something to drink and energy bars, nuts, or a banana. I cannot survive on photography alone. My solution (seeing as how none of the manufacturers provide one) is to use an ultra lightweight cycle messenger bag (Castelli Sport) with a very light Bare Bones bag inside. It also means I never look like I’m carrying a camera bag.

    Cheers

  19. Multifunctional messenger type bags are great for everyday-carry-a-camera life. Faced with the challenge of one bag, work, documents, iPad, a camera, auxilaries and maybe light shopping, I opted for a Tumi messenger bag and Billingham insert. Has worked a treat for almost two years now, and that includes cycling and driving tonwork and everywhere else.

    Even my D700 with one prime fits in with the rest, it never gets too heavy, using carrying it on my bike as a measuring stick.

  20. Hum, I guess I’m a real minimalist. My only rational for using an EVIL (NEX-5) is to keep everything as small/light as possible. I just toss my NEX and a couple of extra lenses in a Lowepro StreamLine 100 which cost about $40 and weighs nothing. It’s a snug fit and won’t carry all that junk but I really value light/small over everything else when using the NEX. The Think Tank seems gargantuan to me, almost as large as a dSLR bag.

  21. I totally agree…the Retrospective 5 is an awesome bag for Leica/mirrorless. I pre-ordered this bag the day it was announced and love it. My only issue with it is the ‘Pinestone Grey’ is much more ‘green’ than ‘grey’. Personally I was a bit disappointed with this but just my personal opinion. The bag itself is great, I used to carry around an M8 with a 50mm Summicron and a 25mm Biogon and it worked great….very non-descript. Currently it is loaded up with an X-Pro1 and a mix of Leica/Fuji lenses.

    It’s a little pricey but the quality is top notch.

  22. Steve, would a TLR (like a Rolleiflex) or Mamiya 6 fit in the bag or would it be too small for that? How do you find the weight of the bag? Thanks.

    • I use the retrospective 7-nice denim blue!- and this is perfect for a contax 645 alone so I expect the 5 would be too small for you. And I like the 7 for my leica ..there’s some room for shopping too!

  23. Nice bag, but bigger than I like. Have a nice Billingham L2 Alice that is also a little large. Just got an ONA Bowery bag. Really like it! Fits an M with a lens plus one or two more lenses and extras.

    • This is the bag that im currently looking at. Its between the bowery and the think tank 5 for me.
      I want to carry my NEX + SEL 35, Nikon V1 + 30-110 and an extra lens in it so the dimensions are perfect. I’ve only bought bags around the $50 mark before though and am struggling to justify the outlay on one of these. I guess its just a one off purchase, but they dont stock them anywhere near me (im in the UK) so cant test them out.

  24. Save your money and get a Billingham Hadley model; not as bulky (for a mirrorless choice), many customised accessories are readily available, takes a hammering and looks even better as it ages, the carrier won’t look like a mincing metrosexual and your gear is safe.
    I

    • A matter of personal opinion. IMO the Hadley is ugly as sin…..would rather look ‘Metrosexual’ than like a German tourist in lederhosen….which is what I see when I look at a Billingham Hadley Bag lol.

      • Which Billingham is as “ugly as sin”, CHD? Please tell.

        Oh, the Billinghams are canvas camera bags, CHD (not much leather at all); the idea is that you don’t try to step into them and then draw them up as a pair of lederhosen using the strap as braces, but maybe you don’t know the difference between canvas and leather (“lol”).

        Watching you prepare for a day’s shooting must be quite an experience..

        As they say, CHD, the poor man pays twice.

      • not sure, i too wasn’t that sure about the looks but once i’ve seen them in real life i changed my mind. billingham bags are built to last, the quality is out of this world. they are not leather, they use canvas or new synthetic material. what’s good about them is how small/large they can be based on your needs. was considering domke but in the end it’s billingham. shame that think tank doesn’t make retrospective which would take 13″ laptop. model 7 can take and iPad though

  25. I dont think so.
    The best Bag is from Billingham the “Hadley Shoulder Bag Small”

    Dieter

  26. I think, the best offfff is :
    Billingham Hadley Shoulder Bag Small

    Dieter

  27. Nice bag. Looked at it. Went with the Tenba Mini Messenger instead. It holds a bit more, including a full-sized iPad, 4 Leica lenses, and my M9 with ease. Access can also be through a top zipper as well as a front flap. A bit better for my use, and significantly less expensive.

    I took a knife to mine though and removed the logo from the front.

    Check it out.

    http://www.tenba.com/Products/Messenger-Photo-Laptop-Bag-Mini-Black.aspx

    • Did exactly the same to mine. Sometimes a gap lets a little water in if you are not careful but I think all these bags might suffer the same issue.

  28. I have one of these, and it holds a pair of NEXes, and several lenses. It is a very sturdy bag, but there are a couple of things to be aware of:

    As you can probably tell from the video, this bag does not protect your equipment from any hard knocks.

    The strap is inexplicably sown directly into the bag the ends don’t swivel, so you will have to constantly straighten out the strap if it twists.

    There is such a thing as too many pockets, since some of compartments serve more to impinge on useful space than are useful in their own right.

    Those are all niggles. There is really one issue that prevents the bag from being near perfect: it provides no way to attach a travel tripod. I’m toying with the idea of modifying the bag to make it that much more useful, but it would be a shame to start poking holes in such a nice bag. Thinktank, please make the same bag with a couple of tripod straps!

  29. The Retrospective 5 is my most used bag. The 7 is nice too if you want to carry an iPad. While I usually go out with no bag at all or prefer the smallest possible bag, there is one larger bag that I really like because it is slim front to back and conforms to your body for a vey comfortable carry: the Kelly Moore Thirst Releaf Bag – available through links from this site at B&H or Adorama. This bag also looks fantastic.

  30. Right now, I use either one of the earlier Speed Changers or a Hubba Hubba Hiney. I can carry my M9 with a small lens attached (Nokton 35mm f/1.4 or Skopar 21mm f/4) along with another lens with the SC; or, I would use the HHH if I needed to carry around a third lens. I’m looking at either an R5 or R7 if I want to carry both my M9 and my D300 with a lens and flash for photoshoots.

  31. Nice bag…a bit too big for me but nice bag. You’re looking pretty fit Steve, must be from all the excercise you get while walking with your cameras. lol.I do alot of walking but where I’m from there isn’t sun year round so I don’t burn as many calories, except when someone is chasing after me for having taken their picture. lol

  32. Dear STeve,

    I have been a daily reader of your website and I must say I like so much your humor and the positive way you see life and photography.

    I Have been living in Vietnam for more than 8 years but am originally from Corsica (France)

    Thank you so much for bringing some joy and optimism in the world of the (sad) reviewers !

    Congratulations and all the best to you !

    Dominic

  33. The best bag is one that transfers the weight from your shoulders to your hips. It’s MUCH more comfortable walking around all day with the weight of a camera and lenses being supported by a hip belt. Wish I’d learned this thirty years ago before I killed my back and shoulders with heavy camera bags. Even a Leica M and a couple lenses plus bits and pieces is mighty heavy after a few hours walking.
    Having any kind of weight on your shoulder all day sucks!

  34. That’s a great bag, but for the ultimate in portability check out the ThinkTank Speed Changer V2. It is a heck of a lot smaller (7.5 x 3 x 6.7 inches) than the Retrospective 5 but here is what I can fit into mine:

    * 45-200 Panasonic zoom
    * 8mm fish eye
    * 14mm Panasonic
    * 20mm Panasonic
    * 45mm Olympus

    I can also fit my GX1 body in the bag with either the 14mm or 20mm lens mounted.

    The only downside is that it doesn’t come with a shoulder strap but you can easily attach one using a couple split rings.

  35. I like the Lowepro Passport Sling. I was looking for a small, lightweight bag for an X100 and an LX3, and wanted a zipped opening for better security. Good thing also that it does not look like a camera bag.

    http://products.lowepro.com/product/Passport-Sling,2190,4.htm

  36. I have a Wotancraft Scout bag and I love it. A little pricey but the quality is amazing.

    Cheer Stefano

  37. I have a Retrospective 7 and two Retrospective 5s for my m4/3 system (I also have one of their lens changer bags), so I’m really a fan of these bags. The 7 is my day-to-day bag. It typically carries my OM-D plus three extra lenses, a Sony RX 100, batteries, an iPad and iPad mini, camera connector kits and chargers for both, and some filters and lens hood. It’s rather heavy when full but it does hold a lot.

    I use the 5s for more casual walking-around purposes, usually with just one camera and a couple of lenses. My one complaint about the Retrospective 5 is that the zippered rear pocket is not large enough to completely contain an iPad mini. I bought the IPad mini specifically to be a walk-around alternative to the bigger IPad, but really want to be able to carry it safely.

    The way you’re carrying it, Steve, is certainly functional but I’d rather be able to zip it in. It does fit conveniently in the inner zip pocket of the 7, and the full size iPad fits into the zippered outer pocket of the 7. I suppose I could just carry less in the 7, but all that space cries out for utilization.

    I guess we need a Retrospective 6, if there were such a thing.

  38. I wanted to like the Retro 5, but I felt it kind of gets in its own way. I **love** the Retro 7. I did YouTube reviews of both if anyone cares to get a closer look. Then, after getting a job that required me to carry a 13″ MacBook Air, I broke down and bought a Billingham Hadley Pro (yes, I’m sick with bag G.A.S.).

    Strangely, the Hadley Pro wears and appears smaller than the Retro 7, but carries as much (and the possibility of a bigger computer). I think it comes down to bag construction philosophy: TT goes all out, with lots of pockets and a place for everything. Domke and Billingham are more minimalist, with less padding, and wide-open spaces that leave room for the imagination — and gear.

  39. Had the 5, but found it too heavy for what it carries. I replaced it for the 7, which is almost the same weight (something like 1000 vs 1150 grams) but holds so much more stuff and is a much better/versatile all round day bag as well. I then sprung for the Domke f-5xb for my twrow over thr shoulder small camera only bag.

    I use the E-M5 with 12-50, 45 1.8 and 25 1.4, all with hoods on all the time.

  40. I was looking for a good camerabag for quite a while. After watching your video I bougt the Retrospective 5. And so far I am very very happy with it. Great buy for the money.

  41. I own Domke, Billingham, a handful of Tamrac and Lowepro bags, but lately I prefer the Naneu Pro Lima
    for a small kit. It’s well padded, “doesn’t look like a camera bag”, ballistic nylon and cheap. I like it so much that I also bought it’s bigger brother, the Sierra, because it has a padded tablet compartment but is still manageable. Small enough to pack in a carryon when I travel and large enough for a day bag.

    comfortable

  42. I respect Mr. Huff, but I have to say I can’t agree with this article, sorry.

    I bought Retrospective 7. It is really a nice looking bag (I mean it doesn’t look expensive), but I returned it immediately because of its WEIGHT. I carry mirrorless camera because of its weight and size, but why I have to carry big and heavy American bag with ultra light and small Japanese camera? It is simply ridiculous. The bag weight is more than 3 times heavier than camera itself. They could design much lighter bag if they wanted, but as far as I can tell from their products, there is ZERO trace that they tried to make it lighter. Yes, I wanted a stealth bag that doesn’t look hi-tech nor professional, but I ended up using a modified padded lunch tote bag which only weight 340g.

    I’m still looking for a perfect bag.

    • In Steve’s defense, he’s writing about the Retro 5, which is smaller/lighter than the Retro 7. However, I’ll agree with you that the weight, being proportional, is still too much for the Retro 5.

      In my opinion the Retro 5 doesn’t pull its weight (and that’s where I disagree with Steve). It is too small for all the nice “doodads” that ThinkTank puts in, and IMO gets in its own way. The Retro 7 is better proportioned for the doodads, IMO. I ended up keeping my Retro 7 and like it fine, but I agree it’s overkill for a mirrorless system (I carry a Hassleblad or Leica R8 system in mine).

      My take on the Retro bags, even though I really like their quality, is they’re somewhat over-engineered, so you need to choose carefully to get the right mix of features and room. I like Domke, too, and I recommend you try a Domke F-5XB or F-10. I find the F-10 to be a super-versatile bag because it’s basically a bucket you put your gear in — almost no extra pockets, snaps, cubbies, flaps, etc. I’ve carried many kits in it, film and digital: RF gear, the R8, my Sony A55, etc.

      If you hunt around you’ll find reviews of these bags on YouTube, so use those for comparison.

  43. Battery, extra card and cloth in one pocket, pick your lens for the day and mount it, hand in wrist strap to hold the camera and money clip in the other pocket for food and drink. For me part of the reason to go mirrorless was to lose the weight and the bulk. Carrying a bag just means loading it up with everything I have and weighing myself back down again. I stopped carrying a bag when I went to the m4/3s system and I’m so glad I did. Traveling? Different story. I use a Billingham and love it because it holds my stuff and an iPad. Hiking? Lowepro Slingshot. But my usual everyday walk-abouts don’t include a bag at all. My 2cents.

  44. I agree with David M., I find most of these bags to be way too heavy for my taste.

    I’m very happy with the Tamrac Jazz Messenger 2 (about the fourth of the weight of the Hadley Pro at 275g!).

    I posted a review on dpreview: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/0591195135/travellers-bag-for-mirrorless-camera

  45. i am looking at the hadley digital for my nex 7 w/ SZ 24, if it fits the rx100m2 as well is a plus. i have a hadley for my larger gear which is just perfect. this one must be small, waterproof and discreet, e.g. no loud velcros. is there a smaller billingham that would fit the nex 7, the pola stowaway? i also like the dome f-8 rugged. any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. thank you!

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