I rely much more on a photography backpack for most of what I do, but I still find a good messenger bag to be a necessity. With that in mind, I tested out the Think Tank Spectral.
There are a few select situations where I prefer to have a good messenger bag. The most frequent place where I use a messenger bag is at work. As a lawyer, I have to carry my laptop to meetings all over town and sometimes I have appointments out of town.
The Spectral works great just as a professional bag that fits my laptop and has plenty of room for other materials if I don’t have my camera gear.
While the Spectral is fine for just normal business meetings, it is awesome for those meetings out of town or somewhere I might have some down time to go out shooting between or after meetings.
Having a professional bag to use for meetings that can also securely carry my camera is a must for anyone that likes to get out and shoot during work trips.
Another time where I frequently use a messenger bag is when I fly. Depending where I am traveling, I will use a messenger bag as a personal item on a plane if I am bringing limited gear.
Another place I frequently use my Think Tank Spectral is on car drives. If I am going to be driving somewhere scenic, I like to have my camera easily accessible and it doesn’t get much quicker than a messenger bag on the passenger seat.
Finally, I like to use a messenger bag when I am shooting street or urban photography as it is easier to access my camera and I can stay a little more inconspicuous.
I have owned half a dozen or more camera messenger bags with mixed results. Most camera messenger bags are designed pretty similarly and all have some great features, but most also have some pretty serious drawbacks as well.
When Think Tank launched the Spectral a couple years ago, I was excited for a good messenger bag that could easily fit a fifteen inch laptop, I was excited to give it a go.
The Spectral bag has worked well for me for years now. While there are definitely some things I would like to change about the bag, there is nothing that is bad enough it has me looking for a replacement.
The Spectral’s Design
The Spectral’s design is a bit bland for my taste, but I do appreciate that the simplicity works well for a business meeting. It will also be appreciated by the many readers whose complaints about flashy camera bags attracting thieves.
The Spectral bag is very inconspicuous and could be mistaken for a normal laptop bag or casual briefcase, which is part of the appeal for anyone doing business in addition to those weary of a lurking thief.
The Spectral bag is made of fabric treated with a water-resistant coating. I haven’t had the chance to use the bag in anything more than a light drizzle, but just by touch, I can tell the bag would hold up well in something more substantial.
However, if you are worried about keeping everything inside dry in a heavy storm, the bag comes with a rain cover for when you want a little extra protection.
If you have read one of my many other reviews of Think Tank gear, you know their zippers are one of the things I appreciate most about Think Tank. The Spectral zippers aren’t as bug and sturdy as on other Think Tank bags, but it works well for the smaller bag.
While zippers may seem like a small thing, a well designed bag can be ruined by a cheap zipper. I have used bags where the zippers ruined the experience. I had one really expensive, but very cool camera bag, where the zippers broke after just a view uses. It ruined what otherwise may have ended up being my favorite bag.
The zippers have never been an issue with any Think Tank bag I have used, and that has held true with the Spectral after years of use.
The Shoulder Strap and Front Flap
I like the shoulder strap on the Spectral. It is not too bulky, but still provides a decent amount of padding on the shoulder to make it comfortable to wear. It is also easy to adjust the length of the strap, which is big for me because I like to change the length when I switch between carrying cross body and over the shoulder.
The magnetic clasp on the flap is a really cool design. While it takes a bit of getting used to, I got to the point where I was easily able to attach and unhook it and it works really well for me now. You probably won’t love it at first because I didn’t and was tempted to send the bag back because of it. It is just different than what you are used to and takes some practice is all.
The first thing you will notice about the inside of this bag is that there is a zipper under the flap that allows you to completely close of the inside of the bag.
I was torn at first because I don’t like more separation between me and my gear, but there are some huge advantages to this as well. The zipper is very helpful if you are traveling with this bag or even just riding with it in your car.
An issue you can have with a messenger bag is small items can slide out. I have run into this when flying and I have my messenger bag tucked under my seat, especially during take off and landing.
While an extra zipper can be annoying when I am out shooting and want to access my gear more quickly or frequently, Think Tank solved this problem by placing velcro where the zipper cover can attach so it is almost like you don’t have a the extra barrier at all.
While this little extra flap and zipper seems like such a small addition, Think Tank really thought through everything to make this as user friendly as possible. It has become one of my favorite features.
For a messenger bag, there is a lot of room in the main compartment. My standard gear in the Spectral 15 is my laptop, a Fuji mirrorless body with three lenses, one flash, four filters, my mouse, battery charger and some snacks.
The outside of the Spectral has four additional pockets. On one side is a mesh pocket that expands large enough for a normal sized water bottle. I mostly use it to carry my ball head, which has been great.
The remaining three pockets come on the front of the bag. The largest pocket can fit a tablet with room for other gear. This pocket also has a zipper so it is great for small items you want quick access to like a shutter remote, memory cards, batteries, tools, lens wipes and any other small item I want close but secure.
The final two pockets are on the very front and have no zippers.
Another one of the reasons the Spectral is a favorite of mine is that it is really easy to carry a tripod due to the tripod attachment straps on the base of the bag.
While becoming more common, the ability to carry a tripod on a messenger bag is not a surefire feature on most messenger bags. For me, if a company wants me to buy its messenger bag , a way to carry a tripod is an absolute must.
The tripod attachment straps on the Spectral attach to the base of the bag. It is easy to tighten the straps so you can tightly secure your tripod.
While you will not have room to comfortably carry a large tripod, you probably are going to be using a smaller travel tripod with a messenger bag anyways.
Another important feature for me is that the straps are easy to completely remove from the bag so there is nothing looking out of place or getting in the way when you don’t have a tripod. The small straps easily tuck into an inside pocket to be used when needed.
The Spectral comes in three sizes: the 8, 10 and 15. The Spectral 8 is, of course, the smallest bag of the three. The Spectral 8 should fit a standard DSLR as long as you only have one or two small lenses. The 8 should be fine with most mirrorless cameras combined with three or four lenses. It will also fit an eight inch tablet.
The Spectral 10, you may be catching on here, fits a ten-inch tablet. The Spectral 10 can also fit a standard DSLR with a professional 20-70 mm lens attached. Think Tank advertises the Spectral 10 can fit up to three additional lenses, unless one of those is a 70-200 mm or larger. You can fit one larger body, unattached to the body. If you have a mirrorless system, the Spectral 10 should be more than sufficient.
Finally, the Spectral 15 fits, dun dun dun, a fifteen inch laptop. I usually carry a 15.6 inch laptop when I am doing photograph editing, the 15 inch pocket can often be a snug fit. With the Spectral 15, the tight fit comes in the height of the bag. My laptop easily slides into the pocket, but sticks up half an inch too high. Even so, I can still zip up the bag just fine. In addition to the 15 inch laptop, the Spectral 15 can fit a 10 inch tablet and lots of other gear. You can fit a standard DSLR body with a 70-200 mm lens attached and 2-4 extra lenses.
I really like the the thought Think Tank put into the design of the Spectral messenger bag. The bag is fairly compact, but still fits quite a bit of computer and photography gear. While it would be nice if my laptop fit more smoothly, it can still be sealed when traveling, which is what is important. There are a few other design issues I would have changed, but overall, I think they nailed it with this bag.
The price point on the Spectral bag is right where you would expect for something from Think Tank, ranging from $99 to $139. While this might seem expensive for some, I would happily pay for this over a cheaper bag that won’t work as well or last as long. I have used Think Tank bags forever and they hold up amazingly.
For me, the Spectral 15 is the obvious choice, but if you have other needs, you can check out the Spectral 10 or Spectral 8.
I always prefer getting my gear directly from the source, so head over to Think Tank if you want to check the current price of the Spectral.