Think Tank Airport AirStream Rolling Camera Bag . . . continued

The AirStream is the smallest of Think Tank Photo's carry-on rollers, but it's not exactly small. It is however, well under the maximum size limits imposed for carry-on luggage by all the airlines we checked and used. Despite it's comparatively smaller dimensions, it has some heft. At a minimum of 9 lbs (4.1 kg) the AirStream is considered heavy. A typical international carry-on limit of 22 lbs (10 kg) leaves 13 lbs (a bit less that 6 kg) for cameras, lenses and accessories.

A pro kit consisting of a main body (Nikon D3 or Canon 1Ds MKIII), a backup body (Nikon D700 or Canon 5D/5D MKII), Nikkor 14-24 wide angle zoom, Nikkor 24-70 medium zoom and Nikkor 70-200 telephoto zoom (or equivalents) amounts to exactly 6 kg. So pros and serious amateurs alike will have to decide whether or not our ridiculously heavy selection of bodies and lenses is really an absolute necessity. Still, 13 lbs. (6 kg) is a lot of gear, all things considered. And if you end up having to check in the AirStream for any reason (lack of overhead bin space in regional jets around the world or commuter trains in Europe, a sudden security alert at the airport, etc.), you can dump the AirStream in the hold of any aircraft and be sure that no harm will come to your gear.


All that said, we're feeling decidedly editorial. Ignore the idiotically heavy selection of bodies and lenses with which we often travel. The Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8 zoom may be the finest wide angle zoom ever made or conceived in this range, but it remains nonetheless a specialty lens. Don't haul that 2.1 lb (970 g) boat anchor unless you're going to really use it - a lot. Carry the superb Nikkor 17-35 f/2.8 instead (200g lighter, and Canon shooters should be carrying either of the recent versions of the superb 16-35 f/2.8 L at an even lighter 600g). As usual, the best quality pro lenses incorporate tough, heavy bodies which allow pros to use them under every conceivable shooting situation - crime scenes, riots, running from shot to shot during a hectic wedding project, shoving their way to the front rank at a celebrity photo op, sprinting through dust and filth, in the midst of desert heat, deploying gear in arctic cold or the unbearable humidity of a southeast Asian summer. But those pro lenses aren't necessarily any sharper than mid-priced (and much lighter) lenses. If you're not subjecting your gear to the abuses listed above, travel smarter and travel lighter. The camera gear that's light enough not to have tired you out after hauling it a kilometer or two is in fact the best camera gear to carry because it's the gear you're actually going to use. Travel smart, travel light.

During the extended review period, nothing unusual happened on three separate research and photography trips. We would have liked to report that the AirStream withstood raging storms, muck & bullets (perhaps not the bullets), and all manner of abuses. The fact is, the AirStream just worked. Top-of-the-line YKK zippers never bind or accidentally open. The front, stretchy laptop sleeve didn't stretch out and permanently deform. We stuffed everything from water bottles to wallets in the stretch side pocket. It's still looking normal and performing perfectly. Some idiot with an enormous Pullman bag got out of a limousine at Frankfurt airport (Rhein Main Flughafen) and promptly dumped it over on top of the AirStream. No harm done. A huge security agent at Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo thought the bag was fully unzipped on the conveyor and proceeded to shove his hand and (we thought) rip the top off the bag. The zippers simply cooperated and are none the worse for the rough treatment - tight and secure as ever. The AirStream got caught in heavy rain for almost five minutes in Cardiff, Wales, but without its rain cover in place. No water penetration. At all times, in all situations, our gear was very well protected. The AirStream just works.

Cons: It's heavier than competing products (but see "Pros" below), so don't forget to weigh the fully packed bag before you get to the airport. The AirStream (like almost all Think Tank products) is supplied with a seam-sealed nylon rain cover which works, but which also needs its own exterior-accessible compartment. A rain cover stowed inside the bag means you may sometime have to open up the bag and expose your gear to heavy rain in order to deploy the protection.

Pros: It's heavier than competing products . . . and tougher and rigid enough not to deform when carrying even the most poorly packed loads. Airport security alert in progress? All carry-on bags have to be checked? No problem. The Think Tank Airport AirStream will protect all of your gear just as well in the Hold as it will under the seat or in an overhead bin. The Think Tank AirStream does not look like a typical rolling camera bag, which means it's less of a theft target. The security features (two different TSA-compliant combination locks attached to tough, integrated steel alloy cables) means that tethering the AirStream to any convenient post or railing or fixed mount of almost any kind will make stealing the bag more trouble than it's worth in most cases (which is especially handy in cheap hotels with questionable or absent security). During the extended travel period this bag endured, it performed flawlessly. Grit, grime, wet and abuse never interfered with zippers or compartments and the interior of AirStream remained satisfyingly dry in a variety of conditions. The wheels work well, and if you're thinking that all wheels are created the same, think again. The AirStream wheel bearings are tough, the axles shed grit well, and the wheels are mounted on the outside corners so that entanglements with rope, twine, street junk and you-name-it can be easily and quickly removed. The standard interior divider set can be replaced with the optional low divider set which lets you safely stow a laptop on top of your photography gear. The Think Tank AirStream is one tough, highly functional rolling bag. Best of its class. Highly recommended.



KSN Product Rating:



© Copyright 2009 All rights reserved. legal notice
home | previous reviews | hot news | about us | search | store | subscribe


The latest in tech news and information Find a product review on KSN Home Previous Reviews About Us Store Subscribe