Introduction & Styling
The Retrospective range of camera bags are shoulder bags. To my eye they have a classical canvas messenger bag look. They come in three different colours - black, pinestone, and blue. The pinestone is the lightest shade of the three and goes well with earth colours like brown, beige, or green. I have the pinestone and while I like it, I do miss having a darker colour to go with darker clothes I often wear. A good solution for me may be to get a black retrospective 30 for those occasions. One nice feature of the bag is that it can be adjusted so that it is silent. The way you do that is by changing the way the velcro flaps on the main compartment cover are connected. (see Image 2) As I would expect, the bag comes with a seam-sealed rain cover.
ComfortPerhaps the most important feature of any camera bag is how comfortable it is. I mean, if it isn't comfortable, then everything else is almost irrelevant. Camera equipment can be pretty heavy and the bag you choose can make a session fly or it can make you feel like someone is hammering nails into you shoulders. In terms of comfort, the retrospective 20 is excellent. The shoulder strap is the right width and thickness to provide effective support for as much equipment as you can fit into the bag. Also, being made from canvas, it is soft and doesn't pinch into you - regardless of how long you are wearing it. (See Images 3 & 4 for a close up of the strap) Comfortwise, this bag nails it. It is the most comfortable shoulder bag I have ever worn.
SizeThis bag "fits" a full size pro body with grip, a 70-200 f2.8, a 24-70mm, and a 14-24mm f2.8. In addition, it will take two flashes and an ipad. Wow! That is some serious equipment for a not that big shoulder bag - well that, as they say is the blessing and the curse. Put simply, although you can fit all those items in the bag, by the end of the day you are not going to be very satisfied. In fact, depending on how often you put in and remove your camera from the bag, you might be downright angry. You see, the problem is that the bag is simply not wide enough to comfortably put in and remove a pro body with a grip without it catching on the canvas sides of the bag. Image 6 shows how the front pocket is stretching to allow the camera to fit. See how the right side of the opening is leaning inwards. The canvas is not stiff enough to maintain shape at the top but it is only an issue when you are inserting and removing the body. The result? Frustration with a capital F. If you are using a small body or even a pro body without a grip then it isn't an issue - but my day to day body is a Nikon D800 with grip and tripod plate always attached. Yes - technically it "fits" but in practice, the bag needs two things - 1. To be a bit stiffer at the sides - especially around the opening and 2. To be about 4 cm wider.
So, if the width is such a big issue, then why is this my favourite shoulder bag? Because for me a shoulder bag functions as a transportation device between sessions rather than between shots. I don't put the camera in the bag after every shot or even every 100 shots. I put the camera in the bag when the session is over or we are changing locations or we are taking a break. Between shots, the camera is hanging around my neck on a quick strap. (an across the body shoulder strap like a black rapid.). So for what I need most of the time, the sizing thing is not a deal breaker. But, I can easily imagine several scenarios where the this bag would be unusable simply because the width is inadequate for regular insertion and removal of the body. In fact I have had situations where I have chosen to use a different bag only because I felt this bag might hinder me. I'll get to which bag that is later.
Now, back to lenses. Remember how I said you could fit the Nikon trinity into this bag as well as an iPad and a flash and accessories - well you can BUT I never would. If you do that, you will have 10+ kg of weight sitting at your hip, weighing you down at every step. Now even if you could handle the weight for more than an hour, there is also the issue of not being able to kneel down without the bag falling forward and possibly crunching against the ground. No. Realistically, this is a bag for a body, one zoom lens like the 24-120mm f4, one small prime like the 50mm f1.8 g, one SB600, and perhaps a lighsphere. Along with the usual accessories, that should bring it down to around the 5 kg mark - a reasonable weight to bear even for a few hours. You could substitute the 24-120mm with the 135mm DC AF-D if you knew you were going to do mainly portraits. You will still have the same problem almost all shoulder bags have and that is that they can flop about if you are getting low or you are in a hurry.
For carrying the Nikon trinity and a flash or two, I would either go with a backpack or with another of my favourite bags - the Crumpler New Delhi 620. Although it is still a shoulder bag, it has the ability for you to swing it around to your back and strap it up so that it sits like a backpack. It is very comfortable and doesn't move if you have to get down low. The Crumpler is bigger too so it is just that little bit easier to use with so much equipment. So, why isn't the Crumpler my favourite shoulder bag? Well, the simple fact is that the Crumpler is a BIG bag and I try to avoid carrying lots and lots of gear on my back. If I absolutely must, then a backpack is a better choice and when I only want a small kit for going out or something ad hoc, then the retrospective 20 is a great fit. It is stylish, well made, and works great as long as you don't over fill it.
PocketsThe Retrospective 20 has 8 accessory pockets
- External Front (No zip but closed with the same cover as the main compartment
- External Rear (With Zip - See Image 7)
- External Side Left & Right (Small without any cover - See Image 8)
- Internal Front (With pen holder & smaller internal pockets - See Image 9)
- Internal Rear (With zip about half the height of the bag - See Image 10)
- Internal Side (With small velcro flap)
The bag contains one large front pocket that has no zip but is covered by the same flap that covers the main compartment. It also has one external thin rear pocket with an internal zip. The rear pocket will hold an iPad with the only issue being that instead of being on the absolute top of the pocket, the zip is a little on the inside which means it could easily scratch the front or rear of the iPad if you are hasty or not careful. (See Image 6) My iPad has front and rear covers so it isn't a problem but I still wish that either the pocket were 1cm deeper or that the zip was at the top. A third small pocket is sewn into the front inside of the main compartment and on the rear of the inside is a half-height pocket with a zip. Also on the inside there are two small side pockets that will fit a flash unit but if you use them, they take space from the main compartment so you may find that it is difficult to fit a wide lens like the 14-24mm as well as a flash unit. An SB900 will fit but it is a very tight fit and it is a pain to get in and remove. More than once during my use, I switched the flash on by accident while I was trying to insert it into the pocket. Both the internal and external side pockets are tedious to use. I would prefer if they only had one set or perhaps one internal and one external but that are more usable than at present. Overall, the pockets are more than adequate for filters, cleaning accessories, batteries, an iPad, and a small flat light modifier - Pretty much all the accessories I need other than a tripod, a light stand and an umbrella.