Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Think Tank Digital Holster 20 review

Recently I went looking for a case to hold my Canon 40D with a range of lenses attached and ended up buying a Think Tank Digital Holster 20 after trying out several in the shop (Morris Photographic in Chipping Norton) from Lowepro, Kata, Crumpler and Tamrac. This review covers my experience of it so far.

Ever since I stopped using “ever ready” cases with my old film SLRs I have tended not to use a case to protect my camera with lens attached; rather I have relied on transporting them in a camera bag such as my Lowepro Magnum or just wrapped them in a fleece and stuffed them into a rucksack.

Recently I was going on holiday flying by Ryanair and wanted to put my camera and lenses in carry-on baggage. When travelling I try not to look like a photographer so I use a non-descript rucksack with photo gear inside it. Ryanair’s cabin baggage sizes are, however, quite tight, being 55 x 40 x 20cm – the 20cm (4”) restriction being pretty small, so I needed to be more careful than usual about carrying and protecting my photo gear.

I wanted a case to protect my camera with a lens attached (normally an EF-S 17-55 f2.8 IS zoom, but I wanted some flexibility to put a longer lens on if possible) that would take up as little space as possible in a small rucksack, be able to meet the 20cm thickness restriction and weigh as little as possible. Many of the options available did not meet the 20cm criteria, but the Think Tank Digital Holster 20 did. It also had a number of nice additional options on offer (more about them later), so I bought it. The photo below shows it with the 40D in it.

Think Tank Photo is a relatively new kid on the block, in Europe at least, and I had not seen any of their products before. Their mission statement says:

“We are a group of designers and professional photographers focused on studying how photographers work, and developing inventive new carrying solutions to meet their needs. By focusing on “speed” and “accessibility,” we prepare photographers to Be Ready “Before The Moment,” allowing them to capture those historic moments that reflect their personal visions and artistic talents. For some companies, it is only about the product. For us, it is more: It is about supporting photographers doing their job. If we can design products that help photographers travel easier, take pictures faster, and organize their gear more efficiently, then we will have accomplished something beyond the bags themselves.”

At first glance their equipment looked a bit old fashioned, which probably means that it is designed to do a job other than look good in the shop, but when I came to try out all the options the Digital Holster 20 met my needs best.

Think Tank offer a range of five Digital Holsters (10 to 50) which can be seen here. All of them offer their “pop down” feature – which allows the holster to offer two different lens lengths options. Essentially the bottom portion of the holster has a zip around it which holds it in the closed position for the shorter option or you simply unzip it to allow the full length of the holster to be used. The photos below show the holster in the short and long configurations.

The holster is made out of a thick’ish black ballistic nylon type outer material; a relatively thin foam padding down to the “pop down” section, where it becomes a soft pliable padding, and a combination of grey smooth and brushed nylon inner. The whole holster feels solid but not bulky and it can stand up on its end (lens down). It therefore fits inside my rucksack without taking up unnecessary space or weighing too much, while offering reasonable protection against every day wear and tear.

My Digital Holster 20 in the closed configuration holds my Canon 40D snugly (with a Really Right Stuff L-plate fitted) with the Canon EF-S 17-55 f2.8 IS lens attached, with lens hood reversed (it will just take it with lens hood attached, but it feels too tight for comfort). With the holster at full extension it takes the 40D with a Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS lens attached, with lens hood reversed and the tripod ring and Arca plate attached – although it is much easier to fit in with the tripod ring rotated to the portrait position with the raincover taken out to create a bit more space. There is space to take a lens about 25mm (1”) longer than the 70-200 f2.8 IS if need be.

With the internal divider supplied it is possible to place another small lens, extender, extension tubes etc into the bottom of the holster; depending on what lens is fitted to the camera.

I discovered by accident that there is an added unexpected benefit to having this variable holster length option. Essentially when closed the extension material is squashed up into the bottom of the holster and this acts as an excellent impact buffer for the contents. I found this out by accidentally dropping the holster with the 40D + 17-55 lens attached (lens hood reversed) onto a stone floor (I extremely rarely drop my cameras etc as I am normally pretty paranoid about protecting them, but accidents happen…). The whole lot landed lens cap down and I immediately feared the worse. It, however, landed right on the end of the holster where the squashed up extension material was thickest and to my immense relief everything was absolutely fine. It almost certainly paid for itself many times over in that one incident, especially as I had only taken a compact as backup with me on holiday.

The Digital Holster 20 has the following features:
  • Variable lens length option
  • Detachable seam sealed raincover
  • Adjustable LCD protection pad inside the holster
  • External pocked for memory cards/batteries etc
  • Adjustable internal lens separator
  • Carrying handle mounted on the lid of the holster
  • Zipped clear compartment inside the lid
  • Clear business card holder underneath the external handle
  • Rotate or lock mechanism for use with Think Tank speed belt
  • Comes with a removable shoulder strap
  • Comes with a “No rhetoric warranty” see here for details

Key measurements (note these are somewhat different from those quoted in Think Tank’s literature and are measured from my own Digital Holster 20):
  • Width: 21cm (inc buckles & pocket)
  • Length: 24cm (closed) to 33cm (extended)
  • Thickness: 14cm (With 40D + RRS L-plate inside)
  • Weight: 535g complete
    400g exc. the shoulder strap
    340g exc. the shoulder strap and raincover

Comments on features:
The raincover sits neatly inside the holster in its own Velcro closed pouch, attached to the holster with a ribbon fixed with a Velcro tab, so it is easy to remove and fit or simply to leave behind to save weight (it weighs 60g) and space inside the holster (it does take up quite a bit of room inside, so if space is tight taking it out may help). It is made from a thin black rip-stop nylon type material and has two elasticated draw strings secured with toggles to seal the cover in place. It is, however, not the simplest cover to install that I have experienced – I guess it has to accommodate the holster in its two length configurations, so it is a bit more complicated than it might be. The toggles make sure that there is a snug fit over the lid protecting the zip, and covers the whole of the front, sides and bottom of the holster, but leaves an uncovered patch at the back (presumably to allow attachment to the speed belt?), much like the cover on my Lowepro Magnum. So it will protect from rain but not dropping into water; not surprising since it calls itself a “raincover” and does not claim to be waterproof. Below are front and back photos of the raincover in place with the holster in its closed configuration.

I would recommend trying the raincover out before using it in anger as it took me some time to figure it how best to fit it the first time I tried it. The All Weather cover on my Lowepro Magnum is much more intuitive and easier to fit with its elasticated edges and Velcro fastening.

The LCD protector flap also allows you to stow something else above the camera, such as a camera strap, inside the holster without it rubbing directly on the back of the camera/LCD display.

The external memory card/battery pocket is useful. It is outside the foam padding of the main holster but if you overfill the pocket it will intrude into the body of the holster. I found that it would comfortably take two spare 40D (Canon BP-511/512 type) batteries in it, either side-by-side or end-to-end. I keep spare memory cards in the pocket inside the holster’s lid.

I tend to leave the shoulder strap off this type of bag (in fact I left it in the shop when I bought it to take on holiday and only got it back when I returned – Morris Photographic kindly rang me to tell me that I had left it on their counter) and use the carrying handle or if I really want a shoulder strap I use the one fitted to the camera – in my case an Op/Tech neoprene strap. In due course I might fit a couple of Op/Tech’s quick release tails to the D-rings on the holster so that I could transfer the strap from the camera to the case if need be.

Since I did not buy the Think Tank speed belt at the same time I can not comment on the ease of use or usefulness of the Rotate or lock mechanism.

The Digital Holster 20 is thoughtfully designed and well made, without being bulky. The versatile variable length “pop down” feature allows me to use it for a wide variety of camera/lens combinations.

It does everything I asked of it and most probably saved a lens and/or camera body when I dropped them on a stone floor – I am very happy with my choice.

I have no connection to any of the suppliers or retailers mentioned in this posting other than being a happy customer.


pedalhead said...

Thanks for the review. I'll probably be buying one of these for my 40D now.

Julz said...

bought one of this last weekend and totally agree with your comments. :)

Unknown said...

20cm is actually 8" NOT 4" :-)

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