Think Tank’s rolling bags are a staple of the sports photography industry. Walk into any press room at a sporting event and their rollers are guaranteed to be lining the whole room, it’s actually a quite remarkable domination in an industry that has such a range of manufacturers. I’ve been using this Airstream roller for some time now and whilst it’s had mentions in many posts and articles over the last year and a half I think it’s time to take a closer specific look.
The Airstream is the smallest of Think Tank’s rollers. It’s very slightly smaller than the 4-Sight roller but seems to actually have a little more room inside it. It is considerably smaller than the Airport International which is their largest roller that technically meets most international carry-on standards. I used to own the International roller myself but what I discovered is that when you roll with a bag that skirts around the limits, there is a tendency for airline staff to want to weight your bag. On more than one occasion I was denied taking the international onto the plane as carry-on due to weight infringements. Forced then to do the ridiculous lens-in-each-pocket , cameras-around-the-neck trick. Several times I had no issues at all but I wanted to try something different and that involved spreading things out a bit more between my roller and my ‘laptop’ bag. These days I use a Macbook Air so I can fit an awful lot of photo gear in this supposed laptop bag. Using a smaller roller and then placing two or three lenses in my laptop bag was the solution.
Since taking this approach I haven’t had a single issue and the Airport Airstream has now been around the world a couple of times and crossed N.America a few times to sporting events and photography trade shows. It comes with several straps for the side of the bag that allow you to strap a monopod or tripod to it. The monopod strap has proven to be the most useful for me.
Physically the bag has gotten a little grubby around the edges but there are absolutely no faults with it. Zippers, wheels, materials, pockets and locks have held up perfectly.
- ID: 13” W x 6.5-7.5” D x 15.5” H (33 x 16.5 x 39.5 cm)
ED: 14” W x 8” D x 17.5” H (36 x 20.5 x 44.5 cm)
- 9 – 10.5 lbs (4.1 – 4.8 kg)
- No Rhetoric Warranty Policy
- Exterior - All fabric exterior treated with DWR while fabric underside is coated with PU for superior water resistance, 1680D ballistic nylon, YKK® RC Fuse (abrasion resistant) zippers, custom designed extra tall skid plates, replaceable in-line skate wheels, antique nickel plated metal hardware, SpanKodra front pocket, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread
- Interior – 210D silver-toned nylon, PU backed velex liner & dividers, 2x PU coated nylon 210T seam-sealed taffeta rain cover, closed cell foam & PE board stiffened dividers, clear PU mesh pockets (non-PVC), 3-ply bonded nylon thread
Fitting two pro sized bodies in the end slots is a tight squeeze but it is doable. With those in there there is enough room for a 300mm f2.8, a 70-200 f2.8, a 24-70 f2.8 and one other lens. Perhaps a super wide or a specialty lens like a fisheye or macro. On top of that you’ll get your memory cards and batteries in the interior lid pockets. You can also fit a flash under the 70-200. For most traveling journalists this is going to be a great kit and it will also be adequate for a lot of sports. I’ve shot several big motorsports events with just what I could fit into this bag. Even if you wanted to travel with a longer lens than a 300 you could fit the long lens in a ‘laptop’ bag such as the Gura Gear Chobe which is my current shoulder bag of choice.
Pros & Cons
- Sleek look doesn’t look like a camera bag
- Considerably smaller than carry-on limit keeps it inconspicuous
- Handle/wheels make for solid and reliable rolling.
- Locks everywhere.
- Nice handles for lifting into baggage lockers
- Enough storage for a good sized kit including a 300mm f2.8 and two bodies.
- Even empty this bag is pretty heavy.
- The front zippered pocket is far too tight to fit more than a couple of pens in it.
- Tripod cup attachment is a bit fiddly
For me this is a near perfect roller bag and there’s a good reason why Think Tank hasn’t seen the need to update it in a long time. I’m sure a lot of people are going to be deciding between this and the newer 4-Sight and there’s no doubt that is a tricky decision. Judging by the interior dimensions the 4-Sight will hold slightly less in volume and it’s tapered top looks to encroach on the useable space quite a bit. Whether that will translate to less lenses I’m not sure, but I think it would. What I can tell you though is that you will not be disappointed with the Airstream and whilst I can see some advantages to the 4-wheeled 4-sight design, I also see those wheels looking pretty vulnerable and I have no issue rolling the Airstream anyway with its tucked away wheels. With it’s smaller size its not possible to load it to the weights of the larger Security roller anyway. From a design standpoint it’s nearly perfect and the only thing I take issue with is the zippered pocket on the front. You can try and cram things into it but then things get easily hidden and it quickly creates a bulge on the front that looks like it might burst a seam. I tend to throw a couple of pens in there and that’s it. The materials used, and quality of the construction will see this bag through many many years of service, of that I have no doubt.
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