When Camera Bag Bling Ain’t Your Thing, Choose Think Tank’s Lily Deanne For Great Function & Form

by Karin Gottschalk1 Comment

Longtime professional camera bag and backpack stalwart Think Tank Photo recently released a new signature range named after the two women who jointly designed it, Senior Product Designer Lily Fisher and Pulitzer Prize-winning Think Tank Photo director-cum-photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice.

The Lily Deanne Series of over-the-shoulder messenger-style bags comes in three sizes – Lucido, Mezzo and Tutto – and two color ways – Licorice and Chocolate. The designers’ stated aim was to create the ideal bag for professional female photographers, “as functional as it is fashionable”.

Think Tank sent over a Licorice aka black Lily Deanne Mezzo bag and I have been trying it out as a daily general purpose bag as well as to carry cameras plus personal items.

Always Carrying

Dating back to my Leica M-series analog rangefinder days, I always carry a camera of some description and mostly, these days, a hybrid for grabbing stills or 4K video as the subject demands.

Shooting movies demands one carry more stuff than when shooting stills only, though. Microphones, cables, neutral density filters, SD and CF cards, batteries, a recorder for interviews and ambient sounds, notebook and pen, rigging devices: the list adds up.

Then there is all the personal paraphernalia one also needs on location – rain jackets, umbrellas, caps or visors, sunglasses, keys, mobile phone, tablet or notebook computer. Oh, and headphones or earphones for phone and camera.

Some of that gear can present size and shape challenges in transportation, especially directional or stereo microphones along with their shock mounts and often bulky windshields.

My adoption of Micro Four Thirds hybrid mirrorless cameras, especially the Panasonic Lumix GH4 and GX8, helps reduce the size of the gear I carry but not its numbers.

Weight is always a consideration too. I eagerly adopted Røde’s versatile little VideoMicro cardioid microphone and that has become my go-to standard now. Rigging has been reduced down to a PIXI by Manfrotto, table tripod-cum-handle as well as weight below the camera for a bit more stability.

My BFF holding up the Think Tank Lily Deanne Mezzo camera bag in Licorice aka black, in our favorite local café. Photograph made with Panasonic Lumixc GX8 with Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, processed with Macphun Intensify CK 2016 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.

My BFF holding up the Think Tank Lily Deanne Mezzo camera bag in Licorice aka black, in our favorite local café. Photograph made with Panasonic Lumixc GX8 with Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, processed with Macphun Intensify CK 2016 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.

Me & My Camera Bags

Due to permanent upper spine and shoulder injuries in an unsafe government workplace several years ago, I have shied away from larger over-the-shoulder camera bags in recent years. The only one I had in my way-too-large collection before the Mezzo arrived was a little one-camera-plus-lens bag by Kata. Anything bigger than that and headaches and shoulder pains kicked in something rotten so I let those larger shoulder bags go.

Instead I have been relying on several backpacks of different brands and sizes as well as items from my complete collection of Think Tank Multimedia Wired Up Series waist packs. That product range, now discontinued, appears to have been released before its time, several years before independent moviemakers began carrying all this extra stuff.

Things have begun to get interesting in the shoulder bag space recently though. The Peak Design crew had a rethink of the traditional messenger bag, resulting in yet another resounding Kickstarter success in The Everyday Messenger Bag.

That bag is a far cry from the big, rather floppy, canvas shoulder bags I used when I first got into photography, shooting in baking western deserts, gritty mines and sand-blown beaches. I don’t miss those places, mostly, and I sure don’t miss the dirt those bags would accumulate way too easily and that could never be entirely cleaned out.

Hello, Lily Deanne

And now shoulder bags have become even more interesting with the arrival of the Lily Deanne Series. I gave up the idea of ever looking fashionable years ago but good looks must be paid attention to, especially when trying to blend in.

Last time I did the job-hunting rounds, my backpacks caused no small consternation at too many of the agencies and employers. Most city workers here carry backpacks but mine apparently gave away their camera-carrying status and I was asked if I was actually serious about applying for the job several times. Obviously creative people applying for production jobs is, I was told, frowned upon.

Looking at the Lily Deanne Mezzo in Licorice, I don’t think I will encounter that particular discriminatory belief in future. The Lily Deanne bags, in Licorice or Chocolate, have an understated elegance and don’t shout “camera bag!”.

Educated eyes might pick up on a couple of giveaways, Peak Design’s Capture Pro clip and Leash safety strap attached to the Mezzo’s wide webbing shoulder strap. The classic Fujifilm FinePix X100 mirrorless camera often attached to it is enjoying a new lease of life for fine art-style snapshots, an extended William Eggleston moment I suspect, and I want it immediately to hand for those odd but revealing moments throughout daily life.

The X100 sits quite well in its clip on the strap though I do need to pay attention when getting in or out of cars and buses with the bag over my shoulder. Having it outside the bag has got me shots I would have lost if I’d have had to fish it from out of the bag. The Mezzo’s strap is substantial enough to hold the Capture Pro.

Unless they know the Think Tank brand, chances are slim that likely thieves might recognize this understated but elegantly-designed and manufactured shoulder bag as containing cameras and lenses.

Unless they know the Think Tank brand, chances are slim that likely thieves might recognize this understated but elegantly-designed and manufactured shoulder bag as containing cameras and lenses.

Rapid Access & Easy Closing

Ms Fisher and Ms Fitzmaurice have designed the Mezzo collection for rapid access to the gear inside, with magnets securing their three leather flaps and a double zipper system so the bag can be fully or partially opened or kept zipped up in inclement weather. They have included a rain cover within its own little integrated bag, and an extra divider too.

The Mezzo’s main, top flap can be inserted into a space at bodyside so you can keep it tucked out of the way when shooting and using the bag as a “gear bucket”, as the Peak Design guys described the way their own new shoulder bag is intended to be used when shooting. Great minds clearly think alike.

Plenty of Other Useful Touches

The Mezzo has plenty of other excellent, useful touches too. I appreciate the multiple spaces for slim notebooks, tablets, uncased mobile phone, pens, memory cards, business cards, wallet and other more personal items. Even purely stills photographers need to carry more than just cameras, lenses, cards and filters. Even more so for writers-cum-photographers-cum-moviemakers like me.

I am still in the process of finding the right home in this bag for every one of the items I need to carry on a daily basis. While there is no such thing as a shoulder bag or backpack that will carry absolutely everything, I am going to see just how much I can usefully carry in the Mezzo without overburdening it or my spine and shoulders.

Batteries, Cards & Keys

I will be rethinking how I will carry some items like batteries, cards and most especially keys. I do sometimes wonder if keys fall into the too-hard basket for some bag designers. Keys can be dangerous to fragile photographic gear yet we need to carry them at all times nonetheless. We seem to accumulate far too many of them over time but we must have rapid access when needed.

There are four possible places for keys in the Lily Deanne bag, but no clear and obvious provision made for them as there is in Think Tank’s excellent StuffIt! Both ends of the bag have internal and external pockets. I may rig up a key ring attached to a lanyard, with keys inside a small bag padded to protect gear and the Mezzo itself.

A close look through the Think Tank and MindShift websites could pay rewards. The same goes for small battery and card holders. How I carry several of each in my backpacks and waist bags won’t do for the Mezzo where I need fewer of each. Think Tank’s CF/SD + Battery Wallet looks like a good choice. The perfect solution for carrying keys may demand a bit more thought.

 

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It’s in the bag!” Clockwise from rear left: Think Tank Lili Deanne Mezzo shoulder bag in Licorice, Patagonia Women’s Houdini Jacket stuffed into itself, Panasonic Lumix DX8 with Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro lens, Røde VideoMicro and Peak Design Clutch, Cuff and Slide Lite camera straps and Genustech Eclipse variable ND filter with step-up ring and lens hood, UniQlo umbrella, Peak Design product bags, Fujifilm FinePix X100 with Peak Design Leash, rain cover for shoulder bag, and in the center, lens hood, lens cap and clear protective filter for the Olympus lens. Photographed on Canon EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-105mm f/4 lens, lit with Rotolight Neo lights, and processed with DxO OpticsPro, DxO FilmPack and Adobe Photoshop CC 2015. Art directed by Carmel M. Morris.

 

Pros and Cons

I wrote much of the text above before I had a chance to really get out there and slog about in the streets of the city and suburbs. Australia is bearing the brunt of early exposure to climate change and our long, sunny mostly rainless spring and summer are no more. Rain, thunderstorms, lightning and cold, grey, windy days have dampened my enthusiasm for staying out for hours on end.

But as you can deduce from the bag and contents image on this page, I have been working out a viable collection stills and moviemaking gear that I carry with me most days now. Still inside the Lili Deanne Mezzo bag depicted are my notebooks, pens, LensPens, keys, mobile phone, tablet and sunglasses. The tablet, though, I usually leave at home.

The big pro is that the Mezzo is certainly manageable enough when carrying all this gear due to swapping full-size DSLRs for MFT cameras. I often carry just one lens, the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8, and just one camera, the GX8 or GH4. That leaves plenty of room for more occasional items like rain jacket, umbrella and cap or visor, or another lens or two.

Choose Think Tank Photo Lily Deanne camera shoulder bag for great form, function & versatility. Click To Tweet

I really appreciate the sturdy yet extra-soft pad on the shoulder strap but wish all bag makers would find a way of ensuring that these pads stay in place. With strap lengthened so the bag rests against my hip, the pad slides up and down according to its own will. With strap considerably shortened so the bag is against my waist, the pad slides far less. I would love it never to slide at all and that is con number one.

Number two is the lack of clear provision for that other bane of my life, keys. My solution is to keep them inside the little draw-string bag that came with my X100, to protect the Mezzo’s lining from their sharp edges, and inside one of the internal end pockets. I have yet to find a lanyard to attach keyring-plus-bag to inside the Mezzo. A trip into the city should solve that problem.

For me, the Mezzo is a good compromise between weight and capacity. I don’t fill it nor weigh it down as I would if I were still using DSLRs. I carry enough to capture chance people and events without overburdening myself. I have walked quite some distance with it laden as in the illustration. I add a tablet or Kindle when doing more sitting than walking so weight is not a problem.

Materials, Colors and Closures

All pros, and another is the Licorice Mezzo’s scheme, black synthetics and leather, and robin’s egg blue synthetic lining. I much prefer restful light blue to other colors commonly used to line camera bags like grey, black, brown, yellow, orange or red. Black camera gear shows up well against it.

I also like, forgive me, sometimes resting my hand on the leather as I walk. I would prefer all use of animal products in clothes, shoes and camera bags were eliminated completely. The same with using animals as our food, for the sake of a sustainable planet and reducing cruelty.

Choosing bags unseen, online, is not an easy task. Until the Mezzo arrived I had wavered and wondered if the larger Tutto might be a better choice. Now, I know better, for me at least.

The Mezzo is just about right. The Lucido may have been a wiser choice were I shooting only stills with my MFT cameras and lenses. The Mezzo allows me to carry just enough for stills and movies most days, with the bonus of more space for more gear as I need it.

Another bonus is its double closure system, leather flap with sewn-in magnets over sturdy zipper opening. Drop flap over open zipper when rain starts pelting until you find shelter to close it all up at leisure for another foray into the downpour.

I like the two end-pockets that can be expanded one-handed to insert sunglasses or mini-umbrella. I would love it if I could find an after-market solution to keeping the shoulder pad in place. Perhaps Ms Fisher and Ms Fitzmaurice can give this some thought? And add it to their next version of their collection?

Life in the Shoulder Bag Yet

The Lily Deanne Mezzo has shown me there is life in the camera shoulder bag concept yet, just so long as it is not overburdened with stuff. I am glad I no longer use DSLRs on location though I often employ them in the studio and wonder how I ever carried two plus those big, heavy lenses long ago.

For carrying much more gear than in my illustration above, I do need a backpack, and also for the sake of my should and my spine. Luckily, Think Tank’s sister company MindShift Gear has come to the rescue with its lightweight, innovative BackLight 26L, and that is the subject of another story.

 

Think Tank's Lily Deanne Mezzo

LILY DEANNE MEZZO

Via Think Tank:

Senior product designer, Lily Fisher and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Deanne Fitzmaurice, collaborated to design the ideal bag for professional female photographers. With room for pro-size lenses and hoods, your gear will feel right at home and at your fingertips. Extensive pockets and compartments make this camera bag as functional as it is fashionable.

lily-deanne-mezzo-4

KEY FEATURES

  • Sized for professional camera gear with an oversized zipper opening for easy access
  • Full-grain Dakota leather flap and accents, metal hardware with chrome finish, and a Robin’s Egg blue liner add style while maintaining a professional appearance
  • Dedicated compartment fits an iPad or 11” Macbook Air

lily-deanne-mezzo-3

ADDITIONAL FEATURES

  • Soft look and feel with clothing-safe materials and design
  • Top flap folds back to shooting position giving you full access to your gear
  • Rare earth magnetic closures on main flap and front pockets for silent access
  • Multiple pockets for personal item organization, expandable side pockets fit a water bottle or sunglasses case
  • Wide pass-through allows attachment to a rolling luggage handle
  • Highest quality YKK RC Fuse zippers for long-term durability
  • Adjustable non-slip shoulder pad, cushioned for all day comfort
  • Built-in organizer for pens and business cards plus a dedicated phone pocket
  • Reinforced padded dividers can be customized to fit your gear
  • Seam-sealed rain cover included for downpour conditions

WHAT FITS

  • 1 standard-size DSLR with mid-range zoom attached plus 2–3 additional lenses
  • Or use as a lens-changer
  • A complete Mirrorless camera system with 3–4 lenses and accessories
  • 10” tablet or 11” laptop fits inside a dedicated compartment
  • Example: Nikon D810 with 24–70mm f/2.8 attached, 70–200mm f/2.8 detached, 14–24mm f/2.8, 11” Macbook Air
  • Example: 5D MIII, 24–70mm f/2.8 attached, 70–200mm f/2.8 detached, 16–35mm f/2.8, iPad

SPECIFICATIONS

Laptop/Tablet Compartment: 
11.8” W x 8.9” H x 0.8” D (30 x 22.5 x 2 cm)
Internal Dimensions: 
12.2″ W x 9.4″ H x 5.3″ D (31 x 24 x 13.5 cm)
Exterior Dimensions: 
13.8″ W x 9.8″ H x 6.1″ D (35 x 25 x 15.5 cm)
Weight: 
2.3 lbs (1.0 kg)

Learn more and buy Lily Deanne Mezzo Here.

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)

Karin Gottschalk

Karin Gottschalk

Karin is a documentary moviemaker, journalist, photographer and teacher who conceived and cofounded an influential, globally-read, Australian magazine of contemporary art, culture and photography. While based in Europe, contributing to the magazine and working in advertising, she visualised a future telling the same sorts of stories with a movie camera and audio recorder. Now back in her home base in Sydney, Karin is pursuing her goal of becoming an independent, one-person, backpack multimedia journalist and documentary moviemaker. Mentorless and un-filmschooled, she is constantly learning and sharpening up her skill set.
Karin Gottschalk

Comments

  1. excellent review. I have one on the way. And yes I am a guy. While this bag has been designed for women in so many words, it goes without saying that it can also be used by men. I like the design of the bag and the fact that it can carry just enough. I use a Fuji Xt1 with a 35mm 2.0 attached, and 56mm 1.2 and 23mm 1.4, Nissin i40 flash, and all the other stuff minus the video gear that you probably carry.

    If I am going for the quick access, quick shot I usually have a 27mm 2.8 on the camera to lower its profile.

    So mine will be here in a few days and for now it looks like it will replace my 25 other bags, which are Ona, Thinktank, Peak Design, and Billingham.

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