Todd Hatakeyama

Apr 132015


In a very short space of time, drones have gone from being the secret weapons of spy agencies and the military to the hot new plaything of the weekend warrior. Now, photographers everywhere are using compact, radio-controlled quadcopters like those of the popular DJI Phantom Series to take spectacular aerial videos.


However, a quadcopter is not a toy; higher end models can cost thousands of dollars. Their odd size and shape and delicate parts can make them tough to fit into conventional luggage. Definitely not something you want to carry through airport security in a duffel bag.


So here’s a riddle: How do you fly a quadcopter without turning on the propellers? Answer: You pack it inside the new Think Tank Photo Airport Helipak and take it on a plane! Ahead of the curve as usual, the brain trust at Think Tank has responded to the increasing popularity of UAVs by creating a bag that’s tailor-made to carry a quadcopter like the Phantom 2 safely and comfortably.


The outside of the Airport Helipak is low-key and tasteful but rugged, made of tough polyester and ballistic nylon and treated with a durable, water-repellent coating to protect it from the elements. With exterior dimensions of 14” W x 20.5” H x 9” D or 35.6 x 52.1 x 22.9 cm, the Helipak is far more compact and convenient than the Pelican hard case I’ve previously used to transport my Phantom 2. Its light weight makes it a breeze to carry when traveling, and it fits easily into the overhead bins on planes. Furthermore, while the Pelican case can only be carried by its handle, the Helipak provides comfortable, padded shoulder straps and an adjustable harness so you can wear it as a backpack.


Inside, the case provides plenty of room for a Phantom 2 or similar quadcopter, as well as a remote, a 7” screen, accessories, and extra batteries, with space to spare (Interior Dimensions: 13” W x 18.8” H x 7.6” D or 33 × 47.8 × 19.3cm). A set of dividers specifically designed for the DJI Phantom Series permits you to customize the bag’s configuration to suit your gear, and internal, see-through mesh pockets in the case’s padded lid keep your rotors, spare parts, and tools secure, sorted, and readily accessible. The dedicated laptop pocket accommodates a 15″ Macbook Pro or equivalent notebook and features an adjacent organizer panel with sleeves for your cell phone, wallet, pens, and other small items.


Unlike a large Pelican case, the Helipak requires that you remove the quadcopter’s propellers so that the craft’s body will fit in the bag, which is a slight inconvenience. However, that’s a small price to pay given that the Helipak offers you more actual storage space than a comparable hard case in a compact size that is far easier to carry and stow.


An external side pocket capable of storing a 32-ounce water bottle and a seam-sealed rain cover make the Helipak as handy to have on the nature trail as in the airport terminal. So when you’re ready to take your photography to new heights, tuck your quadcopter in the Think Tank Photo Airport Helipak for safe-keeping and head for the skies. You’re cleared for takeoff!

Purchase any Think Tank product by clicking on the banners and receive a free gift.

We will earn a small commission on any purchases made from Think Tank.

Receive a FREE CAMERA BAG from Think Tank Photo

Mar 302015


Given the increasing popularity of smaller, mirrorless cameras, it’s been surprising and often frustrating how difficult it is to find bags customized for them. Fortunately, the forward-thinking minds at Think Tank Photo have given us the new Urban Approach 15, a mirrorless camera backpack with all the security, versatility, and convenience of a top-notch DSLR bag.


A traditional camera backpack in function, the Urban Approach 15 takes advantage of mirrorless cameras’ compact size to keep the overall size of the bag smaller and more streamlined than a comparable DSLR backpack. The main compartment (Interior Dimensions: 9.4” W x 16.3” H x 3.9-5.3” D or 24 x 41.5 x 10-13.5 cm) includes more removable padded dividers than the typical DSLR bag, permitting you to configure smaller storage spaces and a greater number of compartments for your gear. Even after I packed in two Sony camera bodies and every lens I own, I had enough space left over for my Uniqlo jacket, a variety of accessories, and other necessities.


Two internal mesh organizer pockets provide additional storage space for batteries, memory cards, and similar items, and a padded outer zipper pocket gives you a safe, accessible place to stash your cell phone or sunglasses . Unlike many camera bags, the Urban Approach 15 incorporates both a laptop compartment large enough to accommodate a 15″ notebook and a separate pocket for a tablet computer. I especially appreciated these features since I like to have both my 11″ laptop and my iPad Mini 2 along when I travel. Now I don’t have to squeeze both devices into the same narrow slot!


The bag’s construction is of the high quality that we’ve come to expect from Think Tank Photo. The backpack’s ballistic nylon exterior is treated with a durable water-repellent coating, and it includes a seam-sealed rain cover for further protection from the elements. Special contouring on the back panel cushions the bag for greater comfort and encourages air flow to minimize perspiration. The elastic side pockets serve as a tripod holder or can keep a water bottle or small umbrella within easy reach. Think Tank thoughtfully added a handle pass-through on the back of the bag so you can slide the backpack onto your extendable suitcase handle for easy transport through airports and train stations.


The Urban Approach 15 enabled me to carry all the gear I needed for a recent weekend at Joshua Tree National Park. Although I didn’t do any hiking on that occasion, I did take my Jeep off-road and stopped for several pictures along the way. In a few weeks, I plan to take this backpack with me to Yosemite for some real hiking to give it a good workout. It will be a refreshing change to take along an extra camera body and my 70-200 f/4, which I could never fit in the small camera backpacks I’ve used in the past. As I use mirrorless cameras more and more, I have a feeling Think Tank Photo’s Urban Approach 15 Mirrorless Backpack will become my bag of choice.


Purchase any Think Tank product by clicking on the banners and receive a free gift.

We will earn a small commission on any purchases made from Think Tank.

Receive a FREE CAMERA BAG from Think Tank Photo

Mar 032015


For an outdoor photographer who loves to hike remote, rugged terrain in search of those perfect nature shots, a reliable backpack is a must. The average shoulder bag will hold little more than your essential camera gear, and you can only stuff so many of your personal belongings in your pants pockets. Unfortunately, many backpacks are so big and bulky that they prove cumbersome to carry and difficult to access. What is an adventuresome weekend warrior to do?


Leave it to the design ingenuity of Clik Elite to offer a sleek new solution to this dilemma–the Clik Elite Obscura 30. I think this bag, when worn properly, rates as one of the most comfortable backpacks I’ve ever used. Its asymmetrical waist-belt system does an admirable job of distributing the pack’s load to avoid fatiguing your shoulders, and well-placed, breathable padding helps prevent perspiration and chafing on your shoulders and back.


Made of durable, rip-stop nylon, the Obscura 30 weighs in at only 3.45 lb. (1.56 kg), impressively lightweight for its size (Exterior Dimensions: 23.5″H x 13″W x 9″D or 59.69 x 33.0 x 22.86 cm). This is due in part to the sturdy aluminum frame, which gives the pack a very solid feel without adding much to the poundage. The frame keeps the bag from sagging when you’re carrying only camera gear, and it adds a bit of load support when the pack is crammed to capacity.


Although more streamlined than many of its competitors, the Obscura 30 still offers plenty of storage space for both your gear and your hiking necessities (Interior Dimensions: 14″H x 11″W x 7.5″D or 35.6 x 28 x 19 cm). The camera compartment is not only large enough to accommodate a standard DSLR with lenses, it even fit my monster PhaseOne DF+ medium-format camera…and, believe me, I wouldn’t trust any bag with this baby unless I was sure the camera was snug and safe! A zippered side-entry portal gives you easy access to the stowed camera so you don’t have to go digging through the pack to get to it for a quick shot.


The main compartment features a double lens holder that, along with the space in the camera compartment, allows me to pack virtually all of the larger PhaseOne and Schneider Kreuznach lenses I like to have with me. That still leaves lots of room for clothing items, food, and toiletries. External elastic mesh pockets can hold such articles as coats or water bottles, and a nifty pouch on the waist belt keeps small accessories handy. Best of all, they’ve even incorporated a dedicated laptop sleeve long enough for a 15″ notebook computer, which makes the Obscura 30 a more useful and versatile pack than one intended solely for trekking through virgin forests.


Indeed, the Clik Elite Obscura 30 has become such a convenient way to transport my gear that I now find myself taking it on more of my professional as well as recreational shoots. The backpack is also my primary bag whenever I ride my motorcycle, for it adjusts quickly and comfortably with a single pull of a strap. If you’re looking for a camera backpack that will serve you as well in the city as it does in the country, the Clik Elite Obscura 30 is a great way to go.


We will earn a small commission on any purchases made from Clik Elite.

Feb 272015


Sometimes, even a dedicated nature photographer like me just wants to stop and smell the roses…without taking pictures of them.


In that spirit, MIU COLOR claims its company promotes the “slow life,” a more relaxed, eco-friendly, unhurried existence. Among the wide range of products they offer through their worldwide distribution system, the new MIU COLOR Packable Handy Lightweight Nylon Backpack Daypack serves as a nice option for those occasions when you want to go out for the day without a bunch of camera gear.


Fashioned from durable nylon, the MIU COLOR daypack is as handy and packable as its elongated name implies. Spacious when open (12 x 16.5 x 6.3 in.), the backpack folds easily to a very flat, compact size (9 x 5.5 in.) to fit in your other luggage, making it a convenient bag to take along as a light alternative to your main gear bags. Its carrying capacity makes it an ideal backpack for a day trip, with just enough room for snacks, a light jacket, flashlight, sunscreen, and other essentials, including pockets for two water bottles on the outside of the pack. The breathable mesh shoulder straps make the backpack comfortable enough to tote all day. My wife Autumn wore this backpack when we went hiking in Sequoia National Forest, and she was able to carry everything we and our two dogs needed for the entire afternoon.


True to its name, the MIU COLOR daypack is available in two brilliant hues, an electric blue and a neon green. The eye-catching colors and the reflective patches on either side of the pack ensure the bag is easy to spot, so you and your fellow hikers can keep track of one another in thick forests and oncoming drivers can see you on dark, winding roads. If you get caught in a light drizzle, the water-resistant fabric will help keep the bag’s contents dry, another feature that makes this a nice outdoor pack.


So the next time you feel like communing with Nature rather than snapping photos of it, consider taking along the inexpensive and well-made MIU COLOR daypack. Let’s all enjoy the “slow life”!

We will earn a small commission on any purchases made from Miu Color.

Feb 232015


Suppose you’re flying to Switzerland for a week of luxurious landscape photography among the Alps. Do you take your camera and lenses in a nice trolley case to roll through all those interminable security lines at the airport? But how do you carry your gear when it’s time to go for those rugged mountain hikes? The trip up the Matterhorn can be a bumpy ride for a trolley case.


Clearly, the minds at Think Tank Photo have been pondering this dilemma, for they’ve come up with a solution in the design of their Airport TakeOff Rolling Camera Bag. This trolley case lets you cart your camera equipment with ease through long terminal gangways, then converts into a comfortable backpack for trekking over uneven terrain, making this one bag that’s as handy to have when you get off the plane as when you got on.


If you’re like me, there’s no way you’ll check a bag with thousands of dollars’ worth of high-end camera equipment, only to have it tossed around by a bunch of strangers then thrown into a cargo hold with a zillion other bags. I want my gear no further from me than the overhead bin directly above my seat. The Airport TakeOff is designed to remain within standard international and domestic carry-on size limitations (External Dimensions: 14” W x 21” H x 8” D or 35.5 x 53 x 22cm), although Think Tank recommends checking with your airline carrier for any specific requirements for your particular flight.


The main compartment offers sufficient capacity for two standard or pro DSLR camera bodies with or without lenses attached, plus enough extra space for up to a 400mm f2.8 as well as other lenses (Interior Dimensions: 13” W x 18.5” H x 5.25 – 6.75” D or 33 x 47 x 13–17cm). I easily fit a Canon C100 video camera with several lenses and accessories. The pack’s front pocket can accommodate a 15″ or even a 17″ laptop, although the length and thickness of the computer may cause the case to exceed carry-on restrictions or make it difficult to store in overhead bins. Think Tank thoughtfully includes plenty of padded dividers in the storage compartment so you can configure a setup that works best for your gear. A plethora of stretchable pockets provides lots of additional storage for batteries and other small accessories.


Even when fully loaded, the Airport TakeOff remains lightweight (about 9 or 10 pounds), and its wheels roll smoothly when you pull it with the retractable handle. Think Tank anticipates that you’ll get years of use from this sturdy trolley case, for the customized “skate” wheels can be replaced as they become worn, so you won’t have to trash the whole bag if you get a “flat.” When it’s time to go from the terminal to the nature trail, you simply collapse the handle and pull the backpack straps out of the convenient pocket on the back of the bag.


The straps are durable yet well-padded and comfortable, and the pack remains well-balanced and not too bulky when fully loaded. It gives me peace of mind to carry a backpack that I can wear even while shooting, so I never have to set the bag on the ground where my equipment might get stolen or damaged. The pack features a built-in rain cover and a convenient side pocket for a monopod or small tripod, and it also includes a special “tripod cup” and straps that permit you to attach a larger tripod.


Indeed, Think Tank Photo has made the Airport TakeOff Rolling Camera Bag such a great backpack as well as a reliable trolley case that you may want to use it for virtually any photo excursion, even if you never leave the ground.


Purchase any Think Tank product by clicking on the banners and receive a free gift.

We will earn a small commission on any purchases made from Think Tank.

Receive a FREE CAMERA BAG from Think Tank Photo

Dec 112014


Think small!

That seems to be the motto among electronics manufacturers these days due to the growing popularity of mirrorless cameras and ultrathin tablet computing devices. Why lug around a bulky bag big enough for one of those clunky old DSLRs when your compact little camera will fit a sleek case half that size? And who better to “think small” than the dependable brain trust at Think Tank Photo?


With their new Perception Tablet backpack, Think Tank has created their smallest, lightest backpack yet (Exterior Dimensions: 10″ W x 16.3″ H x 5.9″ H or 25.5 x 41.5 x 15 cm; Weight: 1.7 lb.), tailored especially for mirrorless camera systems. It’s so compact, in fact, that casual observers will never suspect you’re carrying expensive camera equipment in such a modest bag–a definite advantage when you’re out on the streets in sketchy urban environments.


Despite its small size, the Perception Tablet holds enough gear to serve as a great daypack, accommodating a mirrorless camera body with lens, an extra lens, and an 11″ laptop or tablet in its padded interior compartments. A drawstring cinches the camera compartment closed for added protection. Two outer pockets and one interior pocket provide plenty of places to stow accessories, and the space below the camera compartment can hold clothing or other little necessities.


A tripod-carry on the front of the backpack allows easy access to the bag’s contents even when a tripod is attached, and a seam-sealed rain cover complements the backpack’s water-resistant fabric to guard your gear against inclement weather. The breathable padded shoulder straps and adjustable sternum strap makes the backpack a breeze to carry. I would have liked an external side holder for a water bottle, but I can hardly complain when Think Tank has crammed so many great features into such a small package.


I recently traveled with a couple of business associates to Indianapolis to shoot a promotional video for a client, and the Perception Tablet backpack permitted me to pack all the basics for a quick overnighter. Its durable construction enabled me to stuff the bag to maximum capacity without endangering any of my fragile valuables. For gear, I took along my Sony A7r with Leica 50 Summilux, a Sony 16-35 f/4 lens, two Sony batteries, a sound recorder and lav mic, a charger and cables for my iPhone and Anker battery pack, an SD card reader, a few SD cards, a pair of Phiaton PS 210 Bluetooth Earphones, and a 11” laptop with ac adapter.


I was also able to squeeze in all my personal items for the one-day trip: a Uniqlo down jacket, two shirts, a pair of shorts, boxers, a pair of socks, and my toothbrush and other toiletries. My traveling companions couldn’t believe I fit everything I needed for the trip in a bag that was half the size of the ones they carried. In fact, I had to add a Canon 85mm f/1.2 to my Perception Tablet backpack because their bags were already too full to slip in the extra lens!


Even packed to the gills, the Perception Tablet fit easily under the seat in front of me on my plane flights, so I didn’t need to fight the other passengers for space in the overhead bins. I appreciated the sleek, streamlined design, but those photographers who want to carry additional camera bodies, more lenses, or a larger laptop may prefer one of the two larger backpacks in this Think Tank series, the Perception 15 and the Perception Pro. For a travel-light day-tripper like me, however, the Think Tank Perception Tablet is a great pack to get you there-and-back!

Purchase any Think Tank product by clicking on the banners and receive a free gift.

We will earn a small commission on any purchases made from Think Tank.

Receive a FREE CAMERA BAG from Think Tank Photo

Dec 082014


Simple Photo Tours is a Southern California-based company founded by two photographers who want to share their love of photography and travel with others through fun, well-planned photo excursions to exciting, picturesque destinations.

Todd Hatakeyama, the CEO of Simple Studio Group, Inc., is a former studio and wedding photographer whose product knowledge, business acumen, and entrepreneurial vision have turned Simple Studio Lighting into one of the preeminent e-commerce suppliers of studio lighting equipment. He has since diversified his enterprise into a burgeoning photographic services business, and now manages a thriving studio and a team of talented photographers and videographers. He travels extensively to pursue his passion for landscape photography and writes about his journeys and reviews the latest photographic products on his blogs, and

Jay Bartlett, Vice President of Simple Studio Group, Inc., perfected his craft by taking battlefield pictures for the US Air Force while on active duty in Desert Storm. After shooting product for a medical company for several years, he became a full-time commercial photographer. Jay now specializes in shooting people and clothing for editorial, advertising, and fashion accounts and has worked for such illustrious commercial and corporate clients as Harley Davidson, Home Shopping Network, and Margaritaville Apparel Group.

Please check out our upcoming tours!

Nov 252014


Longtime readers of this blog will know how much I’ve admired Think Tank’s diverse product lines. With its new CityWalker 10 Shoulder Bag, the Think Tank brain trust provides a great new “in-between” option to its trusty Retrospective bags. As its name implies, the CityWalker 10 gives the on-the-go urban photographer room for enough gear for a day’s shooting while keeping the bag light and streamlined enough to carry through bustling city crowds.


Larger than the Retrospective 5 but smaller than the Retrospective 7, the CityWalker 10 still offers enough storage capacity to accommodate two camera bodies with lenses attached and an extra lens, with space left over for a tablet or a small laptop (Interior Dimensions: 10″W x 7.5″H x 5.3″ D or 25.5 x 19 x 17 cm).


I was able to fit my Sony a7r with Leica 50 Summilux, an NEX 5r with 10-18mm lens, a Sony 55mm lens, an iPad Mini 2, a Lenovo Miix 8 tablet, a Bluetooth keyboard, charging cables for all my equipment, some extra batteries, a portable hard drive, a few SD cards, a card reader, and other small accessories. In addition, I slipped a bottle of water into the stretchable outer compartment and rolled up my Uniqlo down jacket so I could squeeze it into the main compartment with my gear.


If I need more computing power, I can slip my Macbook Air 11″ in between the camera compartment and the tablet sleeve. Despite the fact that there was no dedicated space for it, the laptop nestled well there in the middle, snug and safely padded.


As usual, Think Tank has put extra thought into the bag’s construction. Unlike the vast majority of shoulder bags, which put the hard, unyielding laptop or tablet at the back of the bag where it’s right up against your body, the CityWalker places its tablet compartment toward the outer side of the bag. This design allows the soft, padded, pliable fabric of the bag to mold to your body for greater comfort. Made of a water-resistant nylon, the CityWalker stays far dryer on rainy days than the cloth-covered bags in the Retrospective series, particularly when sheltered under an umbrella.


Think Tank also increases the CityWalker’s utility and versatility by incorporating a removable camera divider insert that enables you to convert the case from a camera bag to a messenger bag.


On our recent trip to Tokyo, Taipei, and Hong Kong, my wife took advantage of the CityWalker’s dual nature by using it as her main carry-on bag for plane flights, where it stowed easily inside overhead bins or under the seat. It not only safely stored some of my camera gear, it also served as her purse and makeup case. Indeed, the bag has such a plethora of pockets and storage compartments that I was tempted to keep cramming it with knickknacks until it became quite heavy. However, the comfortable shoulder strap ensures that the CityWalker remains easy to carry all day long, even when fully loaded.


Think Tank’s CityWalker 10 is smaller than its sister bags, the CityWalker 20 and 30, yet it should provide ample room for most of the mirrorless camera setups. As such, city-going photographers should find the CityWalker 10 a fine alternative when they want the perfect-sized shoulder bag to hit the streets for a day-long urban shoot.

Purchase any Think Tank product by clicking on the banners and receive a free gift.

We will earn a small commission on any purchases made from Think Tank.

Receive a FREE CAMERA BAG from Think Tank Photo

Oct 292014


With its rotation180° Panorama camera backpack, Mindshift Gear debuted a truly innovative two-bags-in-one design that solved the perennial dilemma of the hiking photographer: how to access your camera gear without removing your backpack? The Panorama offered you the best advantages of both types of bags, giving you the large storage capacity of a backpack for extra food and clothing and the convenience of a detachable waist pack for ready access to cameras, lenses and other accessories without requiring you to take off the entire pack.


Not every photographer who wants to shoot the scenery needs to take enough gear and supplies for a whole day’s trek through the wilderness, however. For those who want to travel light as they go for a relaxed afternoon walk, Mindshift Gear presents its new, smaller rotation180° Trail backpack. The Trail is essentially a “Mini-Me” version of the Panorama, featuring the same sort of detachable camera pack in a scaled-down size (Exterior Dimensions: 9.4″W x 21.3″ H x 5.9″ D or 24 x 54 x 15 cm).


As with the Panorama, you can pull the beltpack out from under the main pack and maneuver it along the belt to serve as either a side holster or waist pouch while you shoot, then stow it back under the main pack for safe keeping–all without having to shrug the pack off your shoulders or set your camera bag on the ground. For added comfort when hiking, you can tuck away the waist strap in the beltpack compartment when not in use, then easily put it on when you’re ready to shoot. And when you want to travel really light, you can remove the beltpack entirely and use it solo.


I decided to try out the new Trail on my recent two-week trip through Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Unlike my photo safaris in the Valley of Fire and Zion, which required the carrying capacity of the Panorama, this vacation consisted of the sort of brief day-trips and afternoon excursions for which the Trail was perfect. It seemed about half as large as the camera backpacks I saw other people carrying, yet it still held all my essential camera gear. This made it an ideal size to carry on the plane, for it fit easily either in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of me.


The Trail’s waist pack (Belt Pack Interior Dimensions: 8.7″ W x 6.3″ H x 4.3″ D or 22 x 16 x 11 cm) accommodated my Sony A7R with 10-18mm lens attached and the Sony NEX-5R with 55mm lens attached. For the most part, I wore my A7R around my neck with my Street Strap and took out the NEX-5R when I needed a longer lens. The compartment also has a slot for an 8″ tablet such as an iPad Mini.


For getting in and out of cabs or the tour bus, I stashed the pack’s belt so I could take the bag off and put it on again easily, but when walking around, I took out the belt so I could get into the camera compartment quickly when necessary.


To take advantage of the Trail’s more compact size, one must, of course, sacrifice some carrying capacity. Storage space in the main upper compartment is a bit limited, but I found it more than adequate to carry the basics: a folded jacket, a few snacks, and small accessories. The compartment on top of the backpack is even smaller, but very handy for little items one need to access quickly, such as pens, medications, or batteries. The rear hydration compartment can hold up to a 1.5-liter water reservoir, but I used it as a fast-’n'-easy place to slip in my 8″ Windows tablet instead. In the outer stretchy compartments I carried an umbrella and a water bottle. Even fully packed, the Trail remained lightweight and very comfortable to wear.


If you need enough food, water and layers of clothing to sustain you for a whole day of hikng through rough terrain, then you might want to consider upsizing to the Panorama. But if you want a light, easy-to-carry, all-in-one backpack for a shorter day of shooting, then the Mindshift Gear rotation180° Trail makes a nice compact alternative.

Purchase any MindShift Gear product by clicking on the banners or links.

We will earn a small commission on any purchases made from MindShift Gear.