As with the debate over Mac vs. PC or Canon vs. Nikon, there are any number of photography forum sites littered with the noise of impassioned discussions on the merits and failures of shoulder bags, sling packs and traditional backpacks and why one is “definitely” better or “obviously” worse than the other. Once you get beyond the noise, it really comes down to choosing the right tool for the job and realizing that just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. Over the past thirty-odd years that I’ve owned cameras (my first SLR was a Pentax Super Program), I’ve used nearly every style of camera bag and I have come to realize while most often I prefer the look of a shoulder bag (ONA bags, for example, are dead sexy), I appreciate the all-day comfort of a good backpack. Spending several hours walking around carrying multiple lenses, a speedlight or two and maybe even a backup body slung over one shoulder can be hell on the neck and back, regardless of how much padding there is on the carry strap. Recently, ThinkTank released two new backpacks—the Trifecta 10, designed for DSLR owners, and the slightly smaller Trifecta 8, which is targeted towards the mirrorless shooter. Both looked to have enough space to carry a body (or two) and two or three lenses with room to spare. Several of my photographer friends swear by ThinkTank bags and despite how much I love the look of my vintage-styled canvas shoulder bag, the Trifecta seemed like it could be a terrific—not to mention more comfortable—choice for the interview kit I was assembling. I emailed ThinkTank and asked if they would send me one for review.

A couple weeks later, I came home to find a plain brown box on my doorstep. Honestly, I had forgotten about the ThinkTank email, so was pleasantly surprised to open the box and find a new Trifecta 8. The first thing I noticed about the Trifecta (beyond the absence of extraneous packaging) was how sleek the backpack is. The clean design and lack of gratuitous straps, buckles and loops was actually something that drew me to the Trifectas in the first place. One of the other things that struck me was how well made these bags feel. Some of you may see the price and think that it sounds expensive for a backpack—and it is to a certain extent. Especially when spending a few minutes on Amazon you can find any number of backpacks for quite a bit less. All I can tell you is, by and large, when you get them you’ll see why they cost less. Whether it’s bad stitching, lower quality materials or just bad design, a $50.00 backpack tends to *feel* like a $50.00 backpack. My friend Mark has a great analogy about these types of purchases. Basically, he equates it to buying a pair of shoes—or boots, to be more specific. A few years ago, I went with him to the Red Wing store to buy a new pair of work boots. I asked him why he spent $300 on a pair of work boots. “Because they last,” he said flatly. He explained that buying lower priced boots is less money up front, but acutally costs more in the long run beacuse they wear out so quickly by comparison, not to mention the Red Wings are far more comfortable. “You’ve only got two feet, man. You gotta treat them right.” Amen.

After giving the backpack a thorough visual once-over, I loaded it up with the gear that currently makes up my interview/portrait kit:

  • Fuji XPro-1 with 35mm f/1.4
  • Helios 55mm f/2.8 with adapter
  • Zoom H5 (with case)
  • Røde NTG4+*
  • RødeLink Filmmaker Kit (x2)
  • 32GB SD card (x4)
  • 32GB iPad Mini 2
  • Anker 13000mAh charger
  • MeFOTO A1350Q1T Tripod
  • Miscellaneous batteries, cables and adapters
  • Field Notes journals, pen and pencil

*Doesn’t fit inside the backpack, but rather in the external tripod pouch.

Not only does the Trifecta hold more than would fit in my “vintage” shoulder bag, it’s also surprisingly comfortable to carry around all day. The shoulder pads offer more than ample padding (along with a sternum strap) and the back padding allows enough air to circulate so that you don’t end up with a sweat-soaked shirt. There’s also an included rain cover, just in case the weather decides not to cooperate.

I do have one small gripe about the storage on the Trifecta 8, compared to the Trifecta 10. Both have inner sleeves to hold an iPad, but the 8 only holds an iPad Mini, whereas the 10 holds a full size iPad. The 8 will actually hold an iPad Air 2—but just barely—and only without any sort of cover or case. It seems odd to assume that just because mirrorless users have smaller cameras, they also have smaller iPads. It would have been nice to have that extra bit of space to accomodate the larger tablet. As it happens, I use an iPad mini so it doesn’t affect me personally (yet), but I’m sure at least some mirrorless shooters may find this an unfortunate limitation.

The minimal difference in size between the two models (the 10 is only 4cm wider and 5cm taller) makes me wonder why ThinkTank produced the 8 at all. Why not offer only the 10 and simply call it Trifecta? While their marketing targets different users, the reality is the two models are nearly identical in size and weight (the difference is only .2 kg). That said, the Trifecta 8 is a terrific bag, and although I’ve only had it a little over a month, in that time I’ve taken it on a road trip across the country and for several outings in DC. It looks great and while I would prefer the extra room of the Trifecta 10, the slightly smaller 8 holds everything that I’ve wanted to carry (as long as I don’t add anything else or upgrade to a full-size iPad) and is comfortable enough to go for hours without back or neck pain, and aren’t those at least a few of the qualities you want in a photo backpack?

The Good

Sleek design Solid build quality Lots of room relative to the overall size Multiple points of entry Very comfortable

The Not So Good

Tablet pouch could be larger. Difference between Trifecta 8 and 10 is minimal

Trifecta 8 Specs:

Interior Dimension: 9.4” W x 10.2” H x 4.5” D (24 x 26 x 11.5 cm) Exterior Dimension: 11.4” W x 17.7” H x 5.7” D (29 x 45 x 14.5 cm) 8” Tablet Pocket: 6.7” W x 9.4” H x 0.4” D (17 x 24 x 1 cm) Weight (with all accessories): 2.3 lbs (1 kg)