Think Tank Photo is now shipping Airport Security, a rolling photo equipment bag designed to carry a 400mm f/2.8-size supertelephoto lens, several digital SLR camera bodies plus smaller lenses and accessories. Its 22" x 14" x 9" (56cm x 35.5cm x 23cm) outer dimensions, including the wheels, means it also meets the typical carry-on size limits of major U.S. airlines, while the Airport Security's minimalist exterior design means it also looks like it's within typical carry-on size limits.
If Airport Security bears a striking resemblance to Airport Addicted, that's not a coincidence. Airport Security is the two-wheeled counterpart to the Airport Addicted backpack the fledgling bag manufacturer released when they opened for business in 2005. Like Airport Addicted, Airport Security is aimed at sports photographers and other pro shooters who need to fly with long lenses in their kit and must be able to stow that kit in an airliner's overhead bin. The two bags share many of the same key features, including nearly-identical interior dimensions that enable them to swallow up an enormous amount of digital SLR gear, a clean look devoid of the endless straps and clips found on competing bags, an included slip-over rain cover, integrated monopod holder, attachments for the company's Bazooka Tripod Case and premium-quality RC Fuse zippers from YKK.
The main differences between Airport Addicted (our long lens bag of choice in the past year) and Airport Security result from the latter bag being a roller. Airport Security gains a set of user-replaceable smooth-running wheels (similar to those found on inline skates, and which Think Tank will replace at no charge if they wear out), wheel housings that extend up the back of the bag to protect against curb damage, a rock guard along the rear edge and a three-stage telescoping handle that collapses inside a zippered compartment atop the bag.
Airport Addicted will hold a 15-inch size laptop in a compartment on the back of the bag, near the top. This same spot in Airport Security (shown at left) is occupied by the handle. Because the handle and related hardware takes up less space than a laptop, the main compartment is actually slightly roomier in the Airport Security roller than it is in the Airport Addicted backpack. But, Airport Security loses the dedicated laptop compartment to the handle apparatus.
In our testing, there is still room to safely fit a decent-size laptop in a padded sleeve inside the main compartment, even when the bag is loaded with a 500mm f/4, three camera bodies, a 70-200mm f/2.8 and other big game essentials. Adding in the laptop does fatten up the bag's external depth noticeably, however. This might make it necessary to carry the sleeved laptop onto the plane separately in some instances, and will almost certainly mean removing the laptop before trying to stow the roller in an overhead compartment.
If the two bags are so similar, why isn't the new one called the Airport Addicted Roller? Simple: because Airport Security also includes user-settable three-digit combination locks on both of the bag's main zippers, as well as a wire security cable that extends out of a hidden compartment for tethering the bag to an immovable object on location (the cable itself is sheathed in plastic, is similar to a lightweight bike lock cable and is permanently attached to the handle frame inside the bag). While these security features won't prevent all forms of theft, they should all but eliminate equipment from disappearing from unguarded media rooms at major events or any similar sort of barely secure place where photographers have to store gear.
The Airport Security is not a rolling backpack per se; that is, it doesn't incorporate a full shoulder strap, lumbar padding and waist belt apparatus. And that's fine by us, since our own experience with roomy rolling backpacks is that they quickly become overly large and somewhat too heavy, owing to the fact they have complete carrying and rolling systems built into one bag. Airport Security does, however, include a set of wide but thinly-padded shoulder straps, to be used for those times when wheeling the bag isn't practical: over a stretch of gravel, for example. The straps tuck compactly into a rear zippered compartment, just in front of the access flap for the security cable. The straps can be removed completely as well, and easily reattached later.
In an interview last week, Think Tank Photo President Doug Murdoch likened the use of Airport Security in backpack mode to "carrying a refrigerator on your back," owing to the rigidness of the bag's rear panel and rock guard. To test out the Airport Security's similarities to the kitchen appliance in question, we filled the bag with cameras and lenses, such that the bag and gear together weighed about 34 pounds (about 15.4 kilograms). Then, we went for a walk. The verdict? Yes, Airport Security could be mistaken for a portable beverage cooler, but it's absolutely not a problem to carry it on one's back, if necessary. Airport Security is primarily a roller, though, with a nice, long pull handle when extended. If it's really a big backpack that you need, then Airport Addicted is the better choice.
Think Tank Photo has been making great stuff since they burst onto the photo equipment bag scene starting in January 2005. In our brief time thus far with Airport Security, the new roller looks to be a well-made, essential addition to a line of products aimed at the news and sports photographer, or any photographer whose gear-carrying needs are similar to this type of shooter. Think Tank has gotten some of the best buzz going within the photojournalist crowd in the last year, owing to their ability to produce bags that are a notch above photo bag industry heavyweights in design thoroughness, but without the price premium usually associated with smaller or startup pro bag makers.
Our only quibble with the review unit of Airport Security here is a somewhat finicky telescoping handle, one that doesn't extend as smoothly as we'd expect from a bag of otherwise high build quality (the problem seems to be in the fit of the material around the base of the handle, not in the handle mechanism itself). And our only quibble with Think Tank Photo is what they don't yet make: we really want to see the company set their design sights on everything from smaller backpacks to big lighting cases, and pronto, because we have more gear to carry!
Airport Security is shipping as of today, direct from Think Tank Photo in Santa Rosa, California, for US$359. Dealers in the U.S. should receive their initial allotment this week, says Murdoch, with availability in Canada expected to follow by early next week. The Think Tank Photo web site contains reams of data about the new roller, including a 15-page downloadable PDF, example bag configurations and usage information from testers of prototype units.
The company has no plans currently, says Murdoch, to revise the Airport Addicted backpack to include the locking features of Airport Security.