This review is for the medium sized version of the Commute 2011 (Amazon sometimes combines reviews)
This bag is the updated version of my first Timbuk2 bag, the Timbuk2 Commute 2.0 Laptop Messenger Bag and is intended to replace the older version. Building on the older version, Timbuk2 made a few refinements that would cause many to prefer this version over the older one.
As a part-time professional photographer, I wanted to carry my camera and a few lenses and flash (Nikon D300s, Nikon 17-35, Nikon 50mm, and Nikon SB-700) back and forth to my main job (office environment). I also needed to be able to carry associated work items such as files, pens, notepads, lunch, etc.... And, I wanted to be able to completely convert the bag between full photo use and straight up work and work travel use (more on that later). This bag, like the older version, is simply incredible in every regard. For perspective, I have owned bags from Lowe, Domke, Tenba, Crumpler, Swiss Gear, Think Tank, and nearly every other manufacturer, particularly those that make bags for photographers.
Every aspect of this bag, like its predecessor, exudes quality. Construction, durability, materials, all indicate this bag will last for many years even if abused. The zippers are among the highest quality I have used and very similar to Lowepro. The medium size of the bag was a perfect choice for me (I received it in Black- if that matters). Timbuk 2 bags seem to run larger and can be confusing at times. This bag is bigger than my previously owned Tenba Messenger Photo/Laptop Bag - Small (Olive), which is actually the medium in the Tenba line (they have weird sizing as well). There is an abundance of organizational pockets, interior compartments, softpadded laptop compartment to fit a 14" (projected). I love having the large main compartment. The bottom outside of the bag is rubber coated and the swivel strap joints limit twisting of the strap. The area under the main flap has a lot of storage/compartment space but for some reason, there are no quick access pockets on the exterior (no napoleon pocket). When fully loaded, weight distribution is perfect and the carrying handle makes a world of difference for short jaunts. I did purchase the Timbuk2 Phoney Strap Pad (I believe it should have been included) to replace the OEM padded strap that came with the bag. In my opinion, it distributes the weight better while providing a place for my Iphone as well as a reflective surface. This bag could easily be used to pack everything for a 3 day weekend.
This version does not incorporate a Napoleon pocket. Believe it or not, this feature adds a great deal of functionality to the bag and I sorely miss it. You can use it to store keys or items you may need to access while on the go, all without opening the bag flap. This version also includes two pockets on the front of the bag (under the flap) that will hold any smartphone device and protect the screen. The inside of the bag also includes a pocket that can hold a water bottle, or loose items, a feature I wish had been included in the previous version that adds even greater organization.
USE AS A PHOTO GEAR BAG
Now, onto the photography aspect. By itself, the bag probably could be used for photo gear without an insert just as any other bag could. However, for adequate protection, you really need an insert. Thats where the Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Insert comes in. This is a removable insert that is self contained and is one of the better inserts I have used. Amazingly, it puts most Domke inserts to shame such as Domke Domke 720-250D Digital SLR Camera Insert (Green) and Domke 720-230 FA-230 3 Compartment Insert (Green). The Snoop Camera insert is made of very high quality materials, well structured, well padded, compact, has a handle, and can be zipped closed. The internal compartments are completely customizable and will fit a full size DSLR with a battery pack (rare for a messenger bag), 3 FX large lenses, an SB-700 (or 900), and a bunch of other gear such as remote cord, memory card wallet, spare batteries, etc... Even loaded, the bag is not that bulky (unlike my Tenba). The insert fits perfectly in the medium size Timbuk2 Commute 2.0 and you can still easily fit files or magazines around the bag or behind it. When I get to work and I need to carry mostly work stuff, I simply take out the insert, put it in my large desk drawer and go to meetings or whatever. If I want to travel for the weekend, I can leave the insert behind and just load the bag with travel gear (of course, I then need to carry a separate camera bag). Perfect Solution all around in my opinion.
This bag could easily be used for street photography. However, I still prefer my venerable Domke 700-02A F-2 Bag (Brown Waxwear Finish) for street shooting. This choice is more a matter of pure taste and not functionality (there us no direct camera access on the flap of either bag) and the Domke has less organization. Maybe I think I look like Nick Nolte in Under Fire [VHS].
Either way- this bag is pure winner, and even better than the older version (which was incredible).
As usual, I will edit review if anything changes.