Think Tank has grown to be the photographer’s go-to bag solution in recent years, and for good reason. The bags are extremely well designed, priced well and rarely (if ever) fall apart. They’re incredibly well made and the brand resonates with this industry: made by and for professional photographers. The Airport International Limited Edition roller bag is Think Tank’s celebratory bag for 10 years in the industry and a slight upgrade from the standard Airport roller, a popular bag for the traveling shooter. Think Tank upgraded their standard Airport roller with leather accents that only marginally increased the total cost of the unit (only $40 more than the original non-leather model). The upgrade is somewhat minor, but packed onto what is already a great bag, it’s nice to have a roller that has an element of class to it.
As with all Think Tank bags, the build quality of this roller is exceptional. I’m going to start with the exterior and work my way in to describe each portion of the bag.
Starting with the exterior, the woven nylon that surrounds the entire bag is extremely heavy duty and can withstand quite a bit of punishment. If you have the original Airport Roller, the LE version is identical here. Where they differ is on the front of the bag, where the LE has introduced leather onto the topmost zipped pocket and the pull-tabs on the zippers themselves. It’s a small amount of leather that adds a nice touch to the front of the bag, but it’s nothing exorbitant or especially luxurious. The amount of leather is rather small, so it’s not something you notice unless you’re really looking for it. It does, however, make me personally want to take better care of the bag. I find myself babying it a bit, which is an unusual feeling for a piece of gear I normally toss around without much thought.
The other leather addition is to both exterior handles located on the left side and top of the roller, but only to the top, visible area of the handles. Again, it’s a nice touch but you only notice it if you’re looking for it. It also doesn’t really change the “feel” of the grip very much, as most of your hand will be under the handle and not touching the leather when in use.
The placement of the leather mimics the materials on the original Airport, so I can understand why they did it they way they did. For manufacturing purposes, it is easier to substitute a material in places where material differs on the original bag. It limits the amount of work the designers and actual assembly line has to do. But it also doesn’t make the bag feel particularly unique, even though it is a special edition bag.
The wheels and wheel housing on this bag are outstanding. The roller-skate-style wheels are incredibly smooth, making the bag a breeze to pull behind you. They are removable and serviceable, so if you run into any problems in the future you can repair them easily.
The retractable handle lives inside another zippered pocket (with a leather pull tab on the zipper) and is my favorite design of any retractable handle on any bag I own. It smoothly and easily pulls in and out in three sections. My only gripe is that when you first pull it out, the handle is so deep inside the top pocket that it can be a bit tricky to get your fingers around the handle to pull it out. It is an exceedingly minor complaint, however.
What I love about the handle is how it feels when I’m pulling the bag. The grip on the handle is rubberized yet smooth to the touch. It has to be experienced to really adequately describe it. I really enjoyed pulling this bag behind me.
For those who plan to travel with the roller, which you probably will considering it’s carry-on approved, there is a TSA lock on the side to secure the zippers. This really is only a benefit if you plan to check the bag, which if mine is full of camera equipment I never will. It is a nice thing to have though.
Gratefully, this bag is surprisingly light when empty. After filling it with two cameras, six lenses, accessories and a laptop, I could very much notice a difference between it and my other non-Think Tank bags. However, that low weight did come at a cost.
Unlike another roller I am quite fond of, the Think Tank has no inner support “tub” that adds stability and safety to the interior of the bag. This limits the security of the contents from outside forces. What I found most interesting is that the interior dividers are very sturdy, which means that when I put lenses or cameras in the bag and they needed to force themselves somewhere as they fit snugly into position, rather than force inwards, the items actually forced outwards, warping the form factor of the entire bag and making zipping the roller closed somewhat difficult. I do like how well cushioned and secure the interior of this bag is, but I’m bothered by how easy it is to warp the exterior of the bag. It makes me question how well the contents would be secured against a fall, airport baggage claim collisions, and any other sort of forces that come with being a photographer.
I want to come back and talk a little bit more about the reason Think Tank created the bag, and how the addition of premium materials has affected it. The LE is designed to be an ode, a celebratory bag, a “we did it thanks to you” experience, but the amount of leather on the bag itself hardly seems all that joyous. Don’t get me wrong, I love the leather accents, but I was left wanting more. I would gladly pay a far more premium price for a bag that screamed luxury. A bag like that would help paint an impressive picture when speaking to high-end clients, but this bag only makes known its benefits to me. Any onlooker would not notice the leather, and the bag just looks like any other Think Tank bag at first glance. This isn’t necessarily bad if you don’t have any plans of needing to impress clients or have your bag stand out, but for a premium price I would think it would at least be something you would be considering. People don’t buy high end, nice clothes from top fashion brands to satisfy themselves; they do it to send a message to others. This bag doesn’t sufficiently send that kind of message, in my opinion.
- Lightweight, well designed and tough
- Excellent wheel design
- Extremely durable interior
- Good size fits a lot of gear, but isn’t obtrusively big
- TSA Lock built in
- Carry-on size
- Great handle design
- Leather accents are a nice touch
- Wish the premium materials had bigger focus
- No interior tub, making exterior of bag flexible
The Airport International Roller is an excellent bag, and the LE brings pleasant, though somewhat limited, leather accents to the table in what is the first attempt by any major camera bag company to give us something with a luxurious take on what we normally consider a “workhorse” product. It may not blow me away in that luxury category, but the bag itself is still a winner. It is well-designed and light weight with its only flaw being the lack of interior support through the exterior padding of the case.
We give the Limited Edition Airport International Roller a solid four out of five stars for an excellent overall design, but leaving us wanting a bit more in the luxury department.