We Review the Think Tank Retrospective Backpack 15 After Two Years of Use
Sep 18, 2023
In 2021, I bought the Think Tank Retrospective Backpack 15. This would be my lightweight backpack for holidays and day trips. I’ve enjoyed using this backpack, and now, it’s time to make a long-term review.
I have a weak spot for Think Tank bags. I have owned several, including the Streetwalker Pro, the Shape Shifter 15 and the Trifecta. These bags have been replaced by newer Think Tank bags. I sold the old ones, because they still looked great after many years of heavy use. Besides these bags, I also use a couple of trolleys, like the Airport Security V2, of which I wrote a review some time ago.
When I decided to choose a larger backpack for my travels, replacing the Think Tank Shape Shifter 15, I also realized the need for a smaller backpack. After careful consideration, I chose the Think Tank Retrospective Backpack 15 to be my small backpack. This turned out to be a great decision.
I find most backpacks to be rather unattractive, but the Retrospective Backpack 15 stands out with its unique appearance, especially the pinestone version. The design of the backpack is inspired from the Retrospective shoulder bags, hence the name. It’s made from the same sand-washed cotton canvas with a polyurethane coating. This makes it water-repellant, but not waterproof. That’s why the bag comes with a separate rain cover.
The Retrospective Backpack 15 has a clean and rectangular shape, distinguishing it from the more common rounded shapes of smaller camera backpacks. This design allows for better utilization of space inside, preventing the issue of running out of height, which I've noticed with other backpacks.
The backpack has a front compartment and a main compartment that's accessible from the top as well as the rear. It also features two collapsible pockets, one on each side. A thick webbing on top offers the option to add Think Tank Modular pouches.
The backpack has a total of 15 liters of storage in the main compartment and 5 liters in the front pocket. The overall dimensions are 30 centimeters wide and 40.5 centimeters high, with a depth of 18 centimeters.
The front pocket is closed with small antique plated brass hooks that slide into full grain Dakota leather buckle loops. This leather material is also used for the zipper pulls. The front pocket is expandable, accommodating larger items like a raincoat. It has a zipper compartment inside with a hook for keys or other small items.
The front pocket cover can be opened completely, revealing the zipper on top of the bag. You get access to the main compartment this way. I have divided this main compartment into two parts, so the top opening of the bag only gives access to the upper part. This is where I store my lunch or a jacket. The top opening also provides access to a dedicated laptop sleeve that can fit a 15-inch laptop.
The main compartment can be accessed from the back as well with a padded cover that opens entirely. It provides complete access to the inside, except the laptop sleeve.
The collapsible pockets on the side of the Retrospective Backpack are also closed with brass hooks, and they feature a padded bottom that can be pushed down when opening the pockets. These pockets are generously sized, accommodating two small water bottles if necessary.
There are two connector straps included. These can be used on each side to secure larger items in the side pockets. I use one to hold my tripod. When the two connector straps are attached to the webbings on the front, these can be used to secure a jacket, for instance. If used for that purpose, there are none left for fixing a tripod. You would need to buy an extra set of connector straps if you want to use both possibilities.
The backpack also features D-rings and an adjustable sternum strap for added convenience. The waist belt is simple webbing without any padding. It can be removed, if necessary. But then, you will lose the little stability it offers. The connectors are made from brass-colored, high-quality plastics.
The zippers work smoothly, thanks to their large size and leather zipper pulls. These zippers are YKK RC fused and abrasion-resistant. The bag is stitched with three-ply bonded nylon thread, ensuring its durability. After two years of intensive use, there are no signs of wear.
The main compartment is highly customizable, allowing you to fit a lot of equipment inside the bag. According to the manufacturer, it can accommodate a standard DSLR or mirrorless camera body, four lenses including a 70-200mm f/2.8, and a flash.
However, that would make the bag quite heavy, and you lose the ability to add personal items like lunch or a raincoat. My typical setup includes a Canon EOS R5, RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, and the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM. I also take a Haida NanoPro magnetic filter set in a small pouch with me.
The side pockets easily fit a Gitzo GT 1555T travel tripod on one side and a large water bottle on the other side. There is plenty of empty space for lunch, an apple, a jacket, or a raincoat. The front pocket also offers more than enough space for small items like spare batteries and charger, a torchlight, my wallet, and keys. You can even fit a thin jacket or raincoat.
If necessary, I can swap lenses, such as a RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM instead of the RF 24-105mm, or my old EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS USM with an adapter instead of the RF 100-500mm. The compartment layout I chose also allows me to fit the DJI Mavic Pro 2 with spare batteries and the Smart Controller alongside my camera body and one small lens. I could use the Think Tank Modular pouch if I needed to take the RF 100-500mm as well in this compartment configuration.
With the amount of gear I carry inside the Retrospective Backpack 15, I find it easy and comfortable to wear for longer periods of time. The shoulder straps are well padded, and the webbings allow me to attach my Op/Tech connectors, enabling me to carry my camera body on the front. With this system, the camera works as a counterweight for the backpack as well. Check out my article about this carrying system, which features the larger backpack I chose.
I find the Retrospective Backpack 15 perfect for day trips and vacations. It's small and not too conspicuous, although the tripod speaks volumes, of course. It is advisable to be careful where you put the bag, especially when it's wet or if there is a lot of sand or dirt. The front pocket is basically open, so there is a big chance you will get sand and dirt in that pocket when you put it down on the ground. The use of the rain cover is a good solution for these situations since it keeps the bag accessible from the back.
The Think Tank Retrospective Backpack 15 was a bit of a gamble. After all, it doesn’t look like the typical camera backpack. However, it turned out to be an excellent decision, and I have grown to love this bag.
Nothing is perfect, and there are a few minor drawbacks. The hooks for the front pocket can be a bit difficult to remove from the loops. The side pockets are too large for a single small water bottle, and the waist band doesn’t give much support. However, for my lightweight use, these issues are not problematic.
The only real downside is the risk of getting sand and dirt in the front pocket when I put the bag down. At least, this is an issue with the division I made in the main compartment. If the gear can be reached from the top, you won't have to lay down the bag.
The things that could be improved are only minor things. They’re not dealbreakers, and I can recommend the Think Tank Retrospective Backpack 15 to everyone that is in search for a great and stylish backpack.
Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.
The side pockets can be made smaller by moving the clip over. Not all the way over like when the pocket is closed, but there is at least one (maybe two) increments. Works well for me when carrying a lightstand in the pocket that is fairly thin.
That's possible indeed. Unfortunately it doesn't work that well for me personally. If the widest is too large, moving one increment less is too narrow.
I got a Think Tank Mindshift and it was not for looks. It was the bestback I could find that would let me place the weight of the heavy lenses as high and as close to the body as possible. It’s basic backpacking knowledge that this is how you should pack the weight. I wish more carrying-gear makers would take heed of that.