Review: Think Tank Photo TurnStyle 5, 10 and 20

Think Tank Photo Turnstyle 5, 10, and 20 Bags

Think Tank Photo bags have been with us for some time now, and over this period they have made some quality, if a little aesthetically underwhelming, camera bags and carriers. While so far many of them have been fairly conventional, with shoulder bags, front-opening backpacks, and modular systems making up most of their line up, their latest lineup is something that is actually quite interesting: The Turnstyle sling-cum-beltpack bags.

Design

What makes the TurnStyles interesting is style of the bag. Where most shoulder sling bags typically have a small opening that accommodates a camera, the Turnstyle incorporates a zipper that runs the entire length of the bag. What this means is that when slinging the bag to the front, one can access the entire contents of the bag by fully unzipping the zipper. Only a few other bags incorporate this style – the ones I can think of are the extremely boxy Think Tank Slings, the now-discontinued Lowepro Passport Slings, and the Crumpler Mild Enthusiast series. Among all of them, only the Crumpler shares the other defining characteristic of the Turnstyles, which is the ability to convert between sling bag form and beltpack form. While beltpacks are inherently “uncool”, being able to do so can take the strain off your shoulders from time to time. It is a nice feature to have, but we will see if it is a big enough advantage to offset the “uncool” factor.

The Turnstyle range comes in 3 sizes – The smallish TurnStyle 5, the mid-sized TurnStyle 10 and the large TurnStyle 20. The bags are designed to be slung across your left shoulder – there is no way you can sling on your right shoulder.

CK: Thanks to the local ThinkTank Photo distributor, TK Foto, we had the opportunity to try them out and review them. TK Foto kindly lent us all the sizes for review – YS got the TurnStyle 20, me the 10 and David the 5.

YS: Yes, we are going to review all three bags, with a variety of equipment. That way you can see what is more suitable for your gear.

The TurnStyle 5

TurnStyle 5

David: The TurnStyle 5 is the smallest of the series and the one that is most suitable if your kit consists of mainly mirrorless cameras or rangefinders. Though I never actually tried it, I don’t think you can even squeeze in a small beginner level DSLR, at least not with the lens attached.

What I did put in are 2 small cameras consisting of the Leica M9 with 35mm lens attached, the Ricoh GR with external viewfinder attached. The internal dividers nicely delineate the bag into 3 compartments, and each camera goes into one compartment, with a spare compartment for a third camera, for example, something like the OM-D E-M5 with a small lens attached or even an extra M mount lens. For me, I used the extra space to put in two external mobile phone chargers plus cables, and for the front pockets, I filled it with an SD card case holding 8 cards and the ThinkTank DSLR batter holder (holds 2 extra batteries for my M9). I also threw in an extra battery for the Ricoh GR. The whole package fits comfortably.

TurnStyle 5 Contents

So how does it feel during actual usage? I took it along for the ultimate test – an actual wedding shoot, with the aforementioned gear packed inside the bag. In my hand is a Nikon D600 with a 24-70 f2.8 with flash attached. I have always wanted to carry my backup cameras in a smaller bag and the TurnStyle 5 suits the role nicely. In use, I was able to sling the D600 on my left shoulder, the M9 on my right shoulder, and the TurnStyle 5 carried all the accessories, batteries, and the Ricoh GR as a backup.

I was able to swing the bag smoothly to the front of my body when I needed to pack the M9 (the D600 obviously would not be able to go in), and swing it back easily – an intuitive and novel process. While carrying the bag, I felt comfortable, and I wasn’t too bothered by the fact the shoulder strap goes over the left shoulder (I know some don’t like that) as I’ve always slung my bags off the left shoulder.

On days when I wanted to just go out for a photo walk, the M9 and the GR lives in the bag comfortably, and I can jump into shooting mode in less than 5 seconds with a quick swing and swivel of the bag to the front, and pull out the appropriate camera, zip it up and swing it back.

So are there any cons to the bag? Well, if I were to nitpick, I do feel that having the camera bag slung behind one’s back with visible zippers might invite pickpockets or thefts in shady places. There are good arguments for having your bag visible and in front of you at all times, and I would be extra cautious with the TurnStyle in very crowded places where you might not feel the zipper being pulled down and a camera taken out. Though this is hardly the bag’s fault – one can lose their gear through any number of ways (eg drive by snatch theft with sling bags).

The other thing I’m not so comfortable with is the fact that if you forget to zip the bag fully, and you swing the bag around, items could conceivably drop out – this is a very possible scenario as the zip goes all the way along the length of the bag, and when in a hurry or stressed state, it is possible to forget about closing the bag properly. Again, this is more of a user error – I’ve seen cameras dropped out of backpacks when the photographer forgot to close the bag properly.

To be fair, both of these shortcomings can be overcome somewhat if you use the TurnStyle 5 as a waist pouch instead of a sling bag, though personally I prefer to sling it. All in all, the TurnStyle 5 is a excellent companion for mirrorless cameras, compacts or even rangefinder cameras. Highly recommended!

The TurnStyle 10

TurnStyle 10

CK: The TurnStyle 10 is a medium-sized sling bag suitable for a DSLR and two lenses. For the purpose of my review, I tried it with a Nikon D7000, Nikkor AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8G and the Nikkor AF-S 12-24mm f/4G. I also tried the bag with a smaller setup comprising of a Nikon 1 V1, the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 mounted on camera, 1 Nikkor 28mm f/2.8, a Nikon FT-1 adaptor and the Nikkor AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8G. It would probably also work well for a mirrorless setup as well, though you’d probably end up with lots of empty space. The smaller TurnStyle 5 would thus be more suitable for that.

The bag also has a front pocket suitable for accessories like remote cable releases, spare batteries, memory cards, etc. On the rear is a largish compartment which looked like it’d take an iPad but unfortunately won’t. My iPad 3 is just about an inch shorter than the zipper’s length. However, there’s also an inner pocket which does hold the iPad 3 nicely. The iPad mini should have no problems going into the rear pocket, though I have not tried it myself.

TurmStyle 10 Contents

In use, the bag is very comfortable, allowing me to carry my gear for long periods of time without feeling tired on the shoulders. This is unlike the times when I was carrying the same amount of gear in my workhorse bag, the venerable Domke F2 shoulder bag. Part of the reason could be the well-padded but not too bulky shoulder strap of the TurnStyle 10 (which also applies to the 5 and 20 as well).

Being a sling bag, it also does not slip down your shoulders as you walk around. With a regular shoulder bag, you would have to adjust the strap and move it up your shoulder every now and then as it slowly creeps down. Not so with the TurnStyle. It stays there.

One of the reasons why I had always preferred a shoulder bag over a backpack is that although the latter is more comfortable to carry for heavier loads, and also distributes the weight more evenly across both shoulders, it isn’t as easy to gain access to your gear within. In most cases, you’d have to unstrap the bag from your shoulders, put it down and then open it to access the contents.

With the TurnStyle, you almost get the best of both worlds – a bag that wears like a backback (ableit on one shoulder) and also provides easy access to the bag’s contents simply by sliding it from the back to the front. Once you are done, you simply slide it back. No hassle.

One slight thing I’d like to point out when using the bag is that you have to take note of how you sling your camera. If you hang your camera over your neck, on top of the bag’s strap, then you’d have some problems sliding the bag over to access your gear as the camera’s strap gets in the way. However, if you wear your camera below the bag’s strap, then it prevents you from raising your camera to your eyes properly. If you are using the camera’s default straps or similar, I’d recommend slinging on your shoulder instead of your neck for best results.

I use a Joby UltraSling Strap for my D7000, and originally it thought it’d be a problem as I also sling that across my left shoulder. In use, it turned out to be less of an issue than I thought. I just need to sling the camera under the bag’s strap. This way, I can still slide the bag over to the front when needed, and the bag’s own strap does not interfere with the UltraSling. Quite a pleasant surprise.

All in all, I quite like the TurnStyle 10. It’s well-made and is a pleasure to use in the field. I’d definitely recommend this if you have a simple setup, or you want a bag to carry a small amount of gear around in a comfortable bag.

The TurnStyle 20

TurnStyle 20

YS: I picked the TurnStyle 20, which is actually an odd fit for me. It is the largest of the TurnStyle bags, and ThinkTank have positioned for those using a large DSLR like a Nikon D800 or a Canon EOS 5D with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. Those of you who have been following the blog will know that I have made the switch to something much smaller. However only the TurnStyle 20 is big enough to put a gripped Panasonic GH3, plus I wanted to see if it could fit the new Lenovo Yoga 11 I recently bought.

The GH3 with the 12-35mm f/2.8 attached fitted nicely into one of the compartments in the bag. So far so good. Putting the 35-100mm f/2.8 and 7-14mm f/4 lenses in however, made me realise that this is too much bag for such small lenses. Not helping is that the bag only comes with two large dividers that partition the bag into three compartments. Being able to add sub-dividers would have helped greatly here.

The tablet compartment in the rear is meant for an 10” tablet like the iPad, which means that by right, the Yoga 11 (and most 11.6” Ultrabooks) will not fit. Except that they technically could: Like what CK discovered with his iPad, the compartment is actually big enough to hold an 11.6″ screen device. What is not big enough, is the width of the zipper.

Ruler showing tablet compartment's extra width
The ruler ends at 30cm, and there’s some extra space to go – so really, the compartment is easily 32-33cm wide, but the zipper itself opens to slightly shy of 29cm.

Now zippers usually need a little extra room at their ends to do their work properly. Having an inch’s worth of extra space on each end however does seem a bit excessive. I still managed to fit the Yoga 11 in a rear slot within the bag’s main compartment itself, but that position made it a bit hard to remove and put back in with cameras and the bag itself getting in the way.

With a full Micro Four Thirds setup and a light convertible tablet in the bag, it was quite comfortable carrying it. It would have been more comfortable for me if the bag used the right shoulder for the sling – my right shoulder is stronger than the left. Regardless it was much more comfortable than my Crumpler Mild Enthusiast (Small), simply by having a much better shoulder strap.

I tried converting it to beltpack mode, but even with a 32” waist the TurnStyle 20 really felt too big for a beltpack. This is for guys who are much bigger than me, like someone who is six feet tall. At least.

Shooting with the bag is a pleasure. Sling bags like these are even better than shoulder bags when working from them, as they are held up by the back and shoulder around the chest area. This makes for a comfortable position that makes it even easier than a shoulder bag to access gear from.

I did try stuffing an older Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 with my D300 (sans grip). The combination now made the bag very heavy, and this time I did not feel as comfortable, especially with my weaker left shoulder. Trying it out with the D300 and a couple of other F-mount lenses I have left still made the bag feel rather heavy. I still think if there were more dividers, this would have been a much more useful bag. I still liked it a lot though.

Conclusion

CK: We think Think Thank Photo’s TurnStyle series of sling bags are great. They are generally well-designed, and worked well in the field for us, and there’s a size to suit most photographers as long as you are not trying to bring all of your photo gear out on a shoot. The bags offer the comfort of a backpack as well as the ease of gear retrieval of a shoulder bag.

YS: That said, there are things which we felt could be improved upon. For example, the tablet pouch on the outside needs a little rework so that a larger tablet could be stored. There is actually sufficient space, but unfortunately the length of the zipper is not long enough. More dividers could also be provided for photographers who have plenty of smallish gear and wants to further compartmentalize their bags. This is something we felt could be of consideration for Think Thank Photo when they come up with a Version 2 of the product.

All in all, we still think they are excellent, inexpensive bags, and we had a great time using them. Highly recommended!

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