Friday, July 09, 2010

Thinktank Speed Racer camera bag review

A waistpack?

The 80's, neon, roller skates and old men. Those are images I picture when I hear the words “waistpack”. You don't see many people wearing them, except for joggers or maybe that shopper who has bundle of coupons within arms reach. So when I ventured on the idea of a bag that actually can hold a decent amount of gear, yet not become too much on my shoulder, I didn't think it would have been a waistpack. I broke my collar bone three years ago but still can't carry things on my right shoulder for too long before it gets sore, and that's the shoulder I usually carry bags with.

Searching for the perfect bag

My experience with camera bags is like most people, I went through a few shoulder bags, the classic block shapes with a usually thin strap holding my gear. After a while I found that carrying the amount of gear I wanted on the trip was not as easy to hold. In most photo trips I took, I was doing lots of walking and lugging a bag over my shoulder wasn't comfortable. Soon I tried backpacks but then I ran into another problem, you had to take them off to get to the camera. I also found that backpacks in general were usually really bulky and deep.

Also for the backpacks that are thinner, they can barley hold a standard DSLR with battery grip attached, which I normally equipped on all of my cameras. Another solution I researched was the new sling style bags, a cross between a standard shoulder bag but worn like a messenger bag. I liked the idea but many of the slings were too small to really carry enough gear. Also another problem they put too much pressure against one shoulder.

Benefit of the waistpack design

My only experience with waistpacks has been playing paintball. The paintball pod packs designed for carrying paintballs are usually waistpacks, they are pretty easy to carry over 1,000 paintballs and still run around without any stress on your back. From searching B&H's catalog and other sites, I found a few camera bags based upon this design. After much research and debate, I ended up purchasing the Thinktank Speed Racer waistpack and going to briefly go over the design here, also touch on how well it works.

Intro to the Speed Racer

From Thinktank's web site, the Speed Racer is their camera belt pack, that is built around one major compartment vs their other designs that are built upon a modular design of smaller packs. This is more personal preference but I wanted something less busy and simple, just one larger pack than buying packs for each item I'm going to bring with me. Important to note that you can add packs to the Speed Racer if you want.

First off the construction of the Speedracer is well done, This feels like a quality bag, slightly heavy but very solid with some interior foam to hold it's shape. The padding and included dividers split the interior into three spaces but I think most people would prefer splitting the interior into two spaces. The bag personally feels like a Lowepro and it was not surprising to learn the co-founder, Doug Murdoch was a lead designer from Lowepro. It is not using materials as thick as a Domke but honestly I think it's still built just as well. Guess time will really tell.

Overall design

The bag is a larger designed bag which some people may find too large compared to the newer style messenger bags. Nice feature is this bag can handle a pro DSLR with lens, where often other messenger bags require you to remove the lens to store the camera. Here's a size reference with the 5d markII and bag together.

There is the main compartment as previously described, here's an image with the 5d markII next to a 580EX II flash unit.

As you can see, there's enough room for the 5d, with grip and RRS l-frame, plus flash unit, and extras in a little space below. If you look very carefully you can see a 15mm fisheye hiding under it all. While the fitment is a little tight, it's not bad and still enough room to add a longer lens or even a few more items. With the 70-200mm f/2.8 instead of the flash unit the space was tight enough that it took two hands to close the top.

The top of the bag's lid has a nice clear pocket for storing thin items, guessing best of a small map? It's not enough for anything thick but maybe a small notebook and pens.

A nice attention to detail is how they made a pocket for the zipper end. Instead of resting outside where it can scratch your camera body.

The lid also has a "Lowepro" style open top, very similar to the Stealth bags. Now I heard there's some complaints about this not being useful but honestly I like it. It's important to understand that the size is not designed for removing the camera, but smaller items such as a lens or accessories. Here I am holding it open to almost maximum size.

The bag also has a "hidden" two pockets for memory cards and a rain cover, with tethered strap.

Tethered strap for rain cover.

Rain cover, made of decently thick material. Doubt it would rip if taken roughly.

Moving toward the front of the bag, there is a main pocket which contains two smaller pockets.

The pocket in the rear is too small for anything but maybe a thin manual, while the front sub pocket holds the Pixel Pocket Rocket. A nice feature of the Pixel Pocket Rocket is a tether to the main, which is removable if needed. Also this holds 8 compact flash cards, in a easy to use folding style, think Velcro wallet.

Easy to access the cards.

Another place to store you business cards.

Now moving to the side of the bag, here's a mesh pocket and another pocket right behind.

The mesh pocket is very flexible, with a cinch strap to make sure you're items don't drop out, while the back pocket is more firm. In the photo above I have a media reader in the mesh pocket, while a 580EX battery pack in the back pack.

On to the straps

One area I find lacking in bags is how they use the straps and buckles. The Speed Racer uses a unique style of a material loop which a nice metal buckle is linked it.

At first I was somewhat skeptical about this design but looking further, I found that the loop is solidly connected to the bang with a long strip of material reaching down into the side pockets.

The actual shoulder strap which is used as additional support or an option over the belt is covered by a thick foam. The foam has some slip and is not grippy, as it's designed to slide on your shoulder when you rotate the bag. Thinktank does include a grippy pad if you intent to only use the shoulder strap which I would also recommend. It might be hard to see but the strap is thinner than other straps I've used to so be aware if you intend to only wear the shoulder strap.

The actual belt pack is designed pretty awesome.

The strap is pretty thick but taper off to the buckle allowing you to move freely or bend over. The main black belt is made of a thicker plastic covered by nylon, while the lighter gray is more flexible and is lightly padded. You can also add additional items on the black belt part as needed from Thinktank's modular belt system.

How does it fit and work?

Wearing the Speed Racer is fairly simple. You adjust the belt to your waist and if needed wear the shoulder strap. When you want to access your gear you can either rotate the bag to the front, or just keep the bag in the front position.

On sizing, I did ran into a slight problem.

As you can see, I have the main belt almost to the smallest size possible. Now I wear a size 32" pants, which I don't think is that small but from this bag, I'm near the limit. For women or thin guys, this might be a deal breaker and honestly not sure what you can do if the bag is too big for you. It's important to note that the bag is not designed to be very tight, more able to move and adjust as needed.

As with the shoulder strap I ran into the same problem. The shoulder strap is almost at the smallest size yet it just barley fits my frame. I'm 5'9" and 140lbs. so this might give you an idea how well this will fit smaller people.

On the flip side for larger guys there is plenty of space for adjustment.

The details

While there is some limitations for me on the sizing I have to say the details really impressed me. I personally liked the zipper design of using cord instead of metal tangs, I think these are less easy to scratch your gear or car.

The Thinktank logo is in many places on this bag.

Overall impressions

Honestly I really like this bag. For a long time I only used shoulder bags, mostly my Domke J1 but with my shoulder not being able to carry a heavy bag for a long walk I had to look for another solution. With backpacks I liked the support but didn't like the size and trying to get my gear out quickly. The belt pack/waistpack offers a nice in between solution that I think will make for a great all day bag, especially for events like photography at a race or hike.

Now it's not perfect, as noted by the limited sizing but if you are in smaller size you might be better off going with Thinktank's module belt system instead of the Speed Racer. For the record, you can buy the modular belt system and Speed Racer for about the same price.

I'm going to follow up this post in a few months to see how a long term review of the bag is and update with nay problems I may discover. So far everything looks great!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Is Linux harder to learn?

Last week I had a long phone conservation with a good friend who moved out of the area a few states to the East. I haven't spoken to him in a few months, just things were busy here and he was busy with his move. After the phone conservation moved from catching up, I mentioned how I'm working in a multi-OS environment with Windows and Linux. As I was giving some details on a recent headache, my friend commented, "I tried to learn Linux but it was too frustrating".

I actually was surprised by the comment not for the fact that he was learning Linux but the fact that he struggled with the OS. When we discussed how similar in a problem I was also at, and that many books while aimed towards new users, were very unclear, it made me wonder is Linux really more difficult than Windows to learn?

What are we used to?

For most users, their first experience with a computer is a Windows desktop. This might be a simple desktop with a mouse and keyboard setup, running general applications such as Internet Explorer. Now from a user's perspective, this is a very simple to use computer, little to no knowledge is needed, you could get someone up and running within a few minutes. Possibly in a day you could have someone running decently understanding how to create e-mails, writing documents, save/copy/paste, basically do simple tasks on the Internet.

Now let's break down how the user is viewing the computer. For most users, there is mostly visual memorization how to get where, such as icons, when you right click the drop down menu shows your available options, etc. Thinking about this, moving toward a non visual OS would be a big change but how hard is this really?

Why it's hard to understand the basics

When I first started playing with Linux I ran the desktop version on my home computer, did a few simple applications and that was it. Beyond a different and free OS, there wasn't much else I could do. Why? For one part, I was heavily tied to applications that were not available on the Linux platform, for example Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. I was used to using the same applications on Windows and my problem was not with the OS but not understanding how to use a application.

Once I got past the transition and understood OpenOffice and Gimp, I was able to pretty much work as normal, there was some adjustment period but soon after that, everything was the same. Thinking the same thing towards using the command line, it's very similar. You are used to using the mouse, then switch over to using just typed commands, which takes some time but like switching from one application to another, it's a matter of getting used to the new functions.

Another point why it's hard to understand the command line is how much it's used in Linux verses Windows. In Windows almost everything (except maybe a few functions) are done with a mouse on the GUI desktop. I've been an Windows admin for a few years and the only functions I know of that really require command line knowledge is when you are doing high level admin changes, or running commands for the Powershell environment. In most cases the majority of functions and settings are done from a visual menu, while there are some applications that use config files it's not nearly as common as in Linux.

For even a high level Windows user, it's easy to see how you can get by without ever using the command line for anything more than simple commands. I worked with some IT staff that could not even run the simplest of DOS commands.

Is Linux and the CLI really more difficult?

My first adventure in the CLI was not met with success. I think I battled for a few minutes just to copy a file, other times I was trying to move the cursor in Vi. It was a somewhat steep learning curve, but once you have a understanding of the basics it's actually very fast.

For example, you want to view the log files on the server. Let's think about this from Windows, you need to right click "My Computer" then select "Manage" then expand "Event Logs" and from there click "System". Ok, now let's try this from Linux, from the command line enter "tail /var/log/messages". That's it. You get a return of the most recent events for the server.

Now while the method described for Windows can be shortened, that's the most common steps to view the logs. It's actually more difficult than remembering one command line, but it's again the same problem that most people are trained visually to use their mouse than remember commands from memory. Once you get down the basics, which are not too hard, things start to make sense.

Text files vs mouse clicks

One area that also took a while to fully understand was why most Linux applications use text files to store their configuration. In Windows you can make changes by clicking on an application usually under the "settings" window. If you ever worked with DNS servers you know that working on a Windows DNS server and a Linux Bind DNS server is very different. One server you can see visually the settings where the other is all stored on conf files.

Which one is easier to work with? If you asked me a few years ago it was Windows hands down but recently it's been Linux. I found out that when you keep a conf file in a text format while it's more difficult to view, it is extremely easy to save. Now think of this, you want to save your configurations, then make a change, but the change caused a problem, how to you revert back.

With a text config file it's very easily done, but with a regular Windows application it's much harder. How do you export your settings and then import the same settings again? It's understanding that once you know how to use the other OS correctly, it's not that hard to learn.