“Think Tank Photo nails it across the board with the Lily Deanne camera bag.”
- Quality construction
- Soft, secure shoulder strap
- Easy access to gear
- Holds a lot of gear for its size
- Doesn’t attract unwanted attention with its purse-like design
- Genuine leather won’t hold up or last as long as higher-quality leather
Today’s camera bag companies are looking to expand their horizons by offering bags specifically designed with female photographers in mind. Sure, smaller, boutique bag manufactures have targeted the female demographic for years — but now the bigger manufacturers are looking to make their mark.
One such company is Think Tank Photo. Last year, the company introduced its Lily Deanne lineup, a trifecta of camera messenger bags made specifically for female photographers. I recently received one for review, and tested it out thoroughly — with a lot of help from my wife.
To create the new camera bag lineup, designer Lily Fisher teamed up with Think Tank Photo’s Co-Founder Deanne Fitzmaurice, herself a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer. Together, the two worked to design a camera bag that the company calls “the perfect marriage of function and style.”
The Lilly Deanne line come in three sizes: Lucido, Mezzo, and Tutto, as well as two color options: Chestnut Brown and Black Licorice. For our review, Think Tank Photo sent us a Chestnut Brown Mezzo, the mid-sized bag capable of holding a non-gripped DSLR, a few lenses, an 11-inch laptop or tablet, and accessories.
Upon receiving the bag from our reliable UPS man, the first thing that stuck out was the box it came in. Unlike other bags from Think Tank Photo, this one came in a decorative box that featured an image of its designers. Inside, the messenger bag was wrapped in robin’s egg blue tissue paper, to match the accent color inside the bag.
While this might seem like an unnecessary detail, it’s significant: Think Tank Photo took the time to create a package design targeted towards its intended demographic. My wife likened the packaging to a nice pair of shoes: It’s a small component, but one sure to please before you ever lay hands on the product.
The first thing that stood out was how well constructed it was.
Taking the Lily Deanne Mezzo out of the box, I was struck by how well constructed it was. Many camera-focused messenger bags are flimsy, to the point of falling over or collapsing on themselves when there’s no gear inside. Not this one. Made of 420D high-density nylon (the “d” is for “denier,” a measure of the density of fibers in a fabric), full-grain Dakota leather, and chrome hardware, the bag felt incredibly substantial from front to back.
On the exterior, the bag features a total of six pockets: three in front, two on the sides, plus the laptop pocket on the rear. Two of the front pockets are leather and close using magnets; they’re not large, but roomy enough for extra batteries, cables, memory cards, and the like.
Spanning the entire width of the front is a zipping pocket, which features the signature blue accent color. Throughout her time using this bag, my wife found this pocket useful for her journal, as well as her backup cell phone battery pack and miscellaneous cables.
Two expandable pockets on the sides are made from the high-density nylon, which is used throughout the majority of the bag’s construction. We used these pockets to store card readers, water bottles, cell phones, and even our dog’s leash when she accompanies us on a photo adventure. When the main flap on the messenger bag is closed, these pockets are still exposed, which makes them great for items you access often.
Going to the rear of the bag, you’ll find a big pocket that stretches the entire height and width of the Lily Deanne Mezzo, as well as a slot for your wheeled luggage’s handle. The rear pocket doesn’t feature any type of closure, but proved useful for various books that my wife carries around, even a large copy of Oliver Twist she was reading through. If you’re feeling brave, this back pocket could also serve as tablet storage, if you like to carry around both a laptop and tablet.
As impressive as the outside of the bag is, it’s the inside that will be doing most of the work. The entire interior is a vibrant blue that contrasts beautifully with both the Chestnut and Licorice exterior options.
The standard hook and loop dividers offer protection for whatever camera gear you stow away. We were easily able to carry a Canon 5D Mark III with a 16-35mm f/2.8 lens attached, a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II, a 50mm f/1.4, and an old macro lens in the bag with plenty of room to spare.
Extra room means that gear did wiggle around inside a bit, but that happens a little with all camera bags: lenses are round and pockets are square. To fix this, we stuffed a few extra microfiber cloths in the bag, which we always end up needing anyways.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a laptop smaller than 13” to test out, so we weren’t able to use the laptop/tablet pocket first-hand, but the padding is on-par with the most protective bags I’ve seen. I’d guess it could stand a solid ten-foot drop without any sort of damage to the electronics stored inside – but try to avoid doing that anyway.
A nice touch on the inside of the bag is a pair of elastic pockets on either side. We mainly used these to store keys and battery chargers, but they also fit a Canon 580EX II speedlight without a problem.
A nice touch on the inside of the bag is a pair of elastic pockets on either side.
When using the bag, we noticed this messenger bag was easier than most to access gear with. The zippered fabric on top of the main compartment offers a good bit of excess fabric and flares a little out, which makes it easy to grab gear on either side of the bag, a task that is sometimes more difficult with other messenger bags. Another aspect that aids in the easy placement and removal of gear is Think Tank Photo’s decision to use magnets on the main flap — no need to hassle with difficult buckles or loud Velcro.
Last but not least, it’s time to talk about the shoulder strap. A weakness for many messenger bags, the shoulder strap on the Lily Deanne Mezzo is incredibly well made. The strap itself is made of a seatbelt-like nylon, while the padded piece is made of full-grain leather on the top and a grippy mesh on the bottom. Both my wife and I carried the bag for hours and neither of us felt like it was going to fall off our shoulders or leave us sore.
Think Tank Photo offers a lifetime warranty to the original owner. So you can pass this bag on to the next generation of shutterbugs, but you’ll lose warranty coverage at that point.
Think Tank Photo nails it across the board with the Lily Deanne messenger camera bag lineup. It offers solid build quality, and although the leather bits might be at the lower end of the scale, you’d be hard pressed to find anything under $600 that doesn’t use it.
Is there a better alternative?
The only female-specific camera bag manufacturer that compares is Kelly Moore. That company’s camera bags tend to look more like purses than camera bags, however, providing a visually different alternative some may find appealing. That said, Kelly Moore bags are more or less handbags with a camera insert inside, whereas the Lily Deanne lineup is designed from the ground up for photographers.
How long will it last?
The bag’s full-grain leather might very well be the weakest point in terms of overall durability. The 420D nylon and internal padding used throughout the rest of the bag should stand up to ten years or more of solid use without problem, but the leather will most certainly show wear and tear over time — and scratches and scuff mark on full-grain leather don’t give it the “character” that a higher-grade leather would obtain with use.
Should you buy it?
Heck yeah. If you’re a female photographer looking for a quality bag from one of the most respected names in the business, any of the bags in Think Tank Photo’s Lily Deanne lineup is a wonderful option. Sure, there are smaller boutique designers with more colorful options, but you’ll likely pay double for the same protection. With the Lily Deanne Lucido, Mezzo, and Tutto selling for $200, $250, and $300, respectively, it’s a wonderful bang for your buck.
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