The Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2 is a camera backpack designed to accommodate two pro DSLRs, several lenses including a 500mm f4, and a 15in laptop, while looking discreet and complying with most airline carry-on restrictions. It sits between the smaller Airport Antidote v2 and the larger Airport Addicted v2 in the Think Tank backpack-without-wheels range.
I needed a serious camera bag for a trip to Florida to photograph a Space Shuttle launch which had to meet several key requirements. First, I would be carrying three entry-level to semi-pro DSLR bodies, along with three lenses, one of which would be a hefty 500mm f4 model. The bag would also need to accommodate numerous accessories including a laptop.
Packed full of valuable equipment, the bag needed to confidently protect its contents while also not revealing their identity to potential thieves, and with no desire to check it in, the bag also had to meet airline carry-on requirements. While hard sides and wheels would be beneficial for toughness and ease of urban transportation, NASA’s additional security demands ruled-out both.
These requirements quickly narrowed my choices down to a handful of models, all of which I hope to evaluate in the future. Starting with two of the major players, I essentially had to choose between the Lowe Pro Trekker or Think Tank Airport ranges. Interestingly while the larger options from each range would meet my requirements, they did so with quite different styling: Lowe Pro’s Trekker bags look more like traditional hiking backpacks, whereas Think Tank’s Airport bags are quite business-like in comparison. I decided I’d test one from each company, starting with the Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2 here.
I chose the Airport Acceleration v2 over the versions on either side of it based on capacity. I wanted the smallest possible bag which could accommodate all my gear, and in particular the 500mm f4 lens. While the smallest Airport Antidote bag could impressively accommodate a typical 400mm lens, it was too tight a squeeze for a 500mm f4. Conversely, while the largest Airport Addicted bag could easily accommodate my gear including the 500mm f4, it did so with space to spare. So I opted for the middle option of the Airport Acceleration which turned out to be a perfect fit: it’s not too large, yet manages to squeeze in the 500mm f4L while mounted on a body, while accommodating another body and lens alongside.
Before going any further, here’s a photo of the Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2, fully-loaded with all my equipment for the trip: a Canon EOS 7D and two EOS 600D / T3i bodies, along with EF 500mm f4L, EF 70-300mm f4-5.6L and EF-S 10-22mm lenses. There’s also the two Rode microphones, a PowerShot S95 and a pair of small binoculars in there, along with a Samsung Netbook in the outer sleeve (although room for something much larger if desired).
Outer design and straps
The main bag itself has external dimensions of 47x33x18cm and maintains its depth across the entire width and length, unlike a typical backpack which gradually tapers-in at the top. As such, it maximises its internal area, but equally looks quite boxy when worn on your back. The external material feels tough and features a layer of internal padding about half a centimetre thick. The bag weighs between 1.5 and 3.2Kg depending on the configuration of supplied straps, tripod attachments, laptop sleeve and internal dividers. A waterproof cover is also supplied, packed into a small pouch.
Almost the entire outer rear surface is padded for comfort on your back, although the padding also serves to hide and store the shoulder and waist straps if desired. The outer sides of the padding lift open, allowing you to slide the shoulder straps in, before the padding is velcro’d back in place. Meanwhile, a wider channel running along the lower part of the rear surface can accommodate the waist strap. With all the straps ‘packed’ away, the bag looks surprisingly neat and boxy, and some may prefer this configuration for transportation in planes or through x-ray machines. You can however unpack the straps in seconds when required. The waist strap can also be removed entirely if preferred.
The shoulder straps aren’t as sculpted as the most innovative backpacks, but are reassuringly wide and well-padded, not to mention securely attached to the main bag. Each strap features a D-ring and a thin stretchy pocket for small accessories. Finally, a smaller (vertically adjustable) strap provides additional support across the top of your chest if desired.
Substantial padded handles are attached to the top and the side of the bag, allowing you to easily carry or manoeuvre the bag into position into luggage storage. Below the upper handle is a small zippered-pocket designed for passports and tickets, which is handy storage when passing through airport checks. On top of this is a small window for an address or business card. It’s tempting to stuff these pockets full of items, but they quickly mount in thickness, in turn making it harder to comfortably grip the handle. The pocket is also not quite wide enough to hold most airline tickets without folding, at least across the perforated section before boarding.
Side mounting and tripods
On the opposite side to the second handle you’ll find a large stretchy pocket designed to grip small water bottles or the base of small tripods. Occupying roughly one third of the side of the bag, the pocket certainly looks big, but in use you may find it only accommodating smaller items – my 70mm diameter Klean Kanteen water bottle is quite narrow, but stretched the pocket to its limits, while also dangling precariously at times. Try and squeeze all three legs of even the smallest tripod in there and you’ll struggle, but to be fair in use you’ll actually only slip two of the legs in the stretchy pocket, and leave the third dangling on the outside.
Think Tank provides a number of additional straps to hold tripods securely in place. Two thinner straps slide through channels on the side of the bag and wrap around tripod legs to hold them tightly in position, while an optional foot ‘cup’ hangs from the side with an adjustable strap to accommodate larger tripods.
The largest tripod you’d want to carry on the side of the bag would be in the Manfrotto 190 class. Two of its legs will slip neatly into the stretchy side pocket, leaving the two straps to hold it in place. Larger models can be accommodated using the foot cup, but once they start getting too big and heavy, they’ll make the bag feel unbalanced on your back – so for comfort and stability, I wouldn’t personally strap anything much bigger than a Manfrotto 190 on the side.
Front pocket and laptop accommodation
The entire front surface of the bag is home to a single large unpadded pocket which can be used for a thin jacket or jumper, a 17in laptop in a thin sleeve, or more commonly, the supplied laptop sleeve / shoulder bag. This is one of the cleverest parts of the overall design, as the presence of the supplied laptop sleeve or lack-of, transforms the look and size of the bag as a whole.
The laptop sleeve features a padded main compartment which can accommodate a 15in model with ease; slot a smaller laptop inside and you’ll have room for a decent-sized book. The rear side of the laptop sleeve has a thin pouch for A4 documents or a magazine, held closed with velcro. The front side has a zippered pocket that’s shorter but thicker. The sleeve itself comes with a removable shoulder strap, so you can use it as a standalone laptop bag if desired.
With the laptop sleeve packed full, it’ll add around 7cm to the thickness of the overall bag, taking it to around 25cm in total. In this configuration the bag looks pretty large and may not comply with airline carry-on restrictions. The clever part is the sleeve can be removed in seconds, allowing the front pocket to fold flat and reduce the bag thickness back to 18cm. This makes the bag much smaller, not to mention lighter, and allows it to comply with most carry-on regulations. Meanwhile the laptop sleeve will be accepted by most airport x-ray operators without having to remove the actual computer. As such you can approach the x-ray area with the bag on your back, then simply pull out the laptop sleeve for separate scanning, then slot it back in again on the other side. Then when you reach the aircraft, you can judge whether you need to remove the sleeve again in order to fit the bag into the overhead compartment or under the seat in front.
I did this entire process several times during my trip to the US and found it faster and easier than previous bags I’d used. The only weak point in the chain is the basic clip on the front of the main pocket which can open pretty easily, allowing access to the sleeve within. Think Tank has already anticipated this by including a security cable and padlock which is attached to the main bag via a small zippered section in the main pocket flap. Ultimately a more secure clip for the front pocket may be preferred by some, but it would in turn make the bag thicker and could catch on tight luggage compartments; as compromises go, it’s not all bad.
Inside the bag
A reassuringly heavy-duty zip allows the entire front surface of the bag to open to reveal the contents. ALl the zippers on the bag have cables which allow you to easily pull them open and shut, while the zippers for the main compartment also feature metal holes if you’d like to fit a padlock.
Like most backpacks, you’ll need to remove the bag from your shoulders before opening it to access anything. The access is also conventionally from the front of the pack, which theoretically could allow someone to open it while it’s on your back. Some prefer solutions where the main compartment opens from the rear for greater security.
Once opened, the benefit of a boxy design becomes clear as there’s not a single bit of wasted or unusable space. The internal dimensions are only around 1cm smaller than the external dimensions, giving you a volume of 45×31.5x17cm to play with; again unlike traditional backpacks, this 17cm depth is maintained throughout the entire compartment, providing great flexibility.
Think Tank provides the bag with a wealth of well-padded dividers allowing you to configure the inside exactly as desired. The width can accommodate two small-to-medium sized DSLRs side-by-side, both with lenses attached; the depth allows many lenses to be stored vertically to save space, while the length is sufficient to contain a Canon 500mm f4L lens while mounted on a body. You really can get a lot of kit in this bag and position it for quick and easy access. The inside of the main flap features two see-through laminated mesh pockets for small accessories.
Click here for my Think Tank Airport Acceleration v2 review verdict.