Review: Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Panorama Backpack
I’ll admit it - I’m spoiled. I started my experience using MIndshift Gear bags with the original Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Professional, and I’ve been spoiled by that experience. I love that bag, but wanted a smaller bag for one day trips or short adventures where I only needed only needed one or two lenses. The Rotation 180 is a wonderful bag, but its very bulky for a short jaunt through a city where you may only need a limited amount of gear. Enter the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Panorama.
I purchased this bag after numerous trips around the England, where I felt that the 180 Pro was too big for my needs. The Panorama, being smaller, is better suited for carrying a single dSLR body and one or two lenses with a tripod, while still having space for a light jacket or rain gear. The first time I really got to put this bag through its paces was when I took a three week trip through central Europe, with stops in Italy, Greece, Turkey, France and Spain. In these trips I needed something lightweight and flexible for the variety of terrain and environments I could encounter. I opted to leave the 180 Pro at home and carried the 180 Panorama the entire trip, and this review details my experiences with that bag.
PS - I am a firm believer that I need to put a lot of use into a product before I review it. At this point, the Rotation 180 Pano has covered over 3,000 miles of travel......
First, I love the bag. It is wonderful at many things, and is perfect for a lightweight hike with a limited amount of equipment. Where the bag struggles, however, is when you compare it to the features of it’s big brother, the Rotation 180 Pro. I realize it’s unfair to compare a $500 bag to a $200 bag, but some of the things I’ve come to love about the 180 pro are missing from the 180 Panorama, and those features become very noticeable. With that all said, let’s break down the bag in detail.
As we’ve come to expect with everything produced by Mindshift Gear or their parent company, Think Tank Photo, the construction on the 180 Panorama is top notch. Only the highest quality materials are used, and after three weeks of total torture (including more than one heavy rain storm and several encounters with mud), the bag looks virtually brand new. In areas where you’d expect to experience a lot of wear on the bag, such as the bottom, Mindshift Gear has put heavy duty tear resistant fabrics. It is a wonderfully constructed bag and I could probably pass it off as brand new despite heavy use.
The rotation feature of this bag is the big selling point - you can walk around with the camera stowed but quickly access it without ever taking the bag off. I fell in love with this feature when I started using the Rotation 180 Pro, and love it still on the 180 Pano. The belt slides smoothly one handed and the rotation pack is just big enough to hold my D800 with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens; however, the camera would not fit with the external battery pack in place. That’s okay - I purchased this bag for light travels, when I only wanted one or two lenses with me, and it does that well. My normal “deployment” was to carry my camera on my shoulder while stowing my 2nd lens (the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens) inside the rotation pack and do lens swaps that way. It worked quite well and left space in the main compartment for raincoats or light jackets.
Like the other Rotation 180 Pro bag, the 180 Panorama has a “safety leash” designed to keep the rotation pack from ever falling out of the bag. I like having the safety leash, but I think it’s a little too long on this particular bag; I often got entangled in the leash when securing the waist strap. It’s a fairly easy fix to shorten it, but having never encountered this problem with the other bag, it was frustrating to experience this problem (and it happened almost daily).
There is one other feature I wish for inside the rotation pack, and it’s a feature I’m shocked that Mindshift Gear overlooked…. a little clipping point for things like the memory card wallet. The only clipping point for something like that is in the top pocket of the bag, but I like to carry spare memory cards with the camera.
The rest of the backpack is well designed; it has one large main compartment big enough to easily hold two raincoats, etc. The normal deployment was to carry my wallet, cell phone, and jackets inside there, which pretty much filled the entire compartment. There is a small top pocket, which is actually fairly sizable and was great for holding business cards, spare memory cards, cleaning cloths, and other little accessories. There is one side zipper pocket deep enough to stash a water bottle, but it was actually designed for a CamelBak type bladder (I didn’t carry a hydration bladder for fear of puncture during such a long trip). There is also an external pocket that I think was actually designed to hold a water bottle, but it’s just way too small and bottles always fell out. I ended up using it to stash spare tissues and maps….
When traveling, comfort is king. While I won’t go so far as to say this bag is as comfortable during a long day as it’s big brother, the 180 Panorama certainly holds it’s own during a day of exploring. Of course, packing light and smart makes a big difference in comfort, and the whole point of purchasing this bag was for the small size and lightweight design. I would say fit is average for a busty woman - the Rotation 180 Pro is extremely comfortable on my small, yet curvy, frame, and the 180 Panorama, while not winning any awards for comfort, met my expectations during long 14 mile days.
When it comes to carrying a tripod with the bag, you have two options: 1) mount it with one of the two included methods or 2) mount it with extra accessories sold by Mindshift Gear. Although I own the accessories required for option #2, I didn’t plan to carry the tripod daily. Anticipating I’d only need it for certain environments, I opted to use one of the included methods of transport. Those methods are to strap it to the outside of the bag using the tripod “pocket” or attach it to the sides of the bag with the included strap and elastic bungee. The golden rule is to always put the heaviest items closest to your back, so I never mount the tripod on the far outside of a bag, and instead used the side mounts. These worked reasonably well, but certainly required the removal of the bag in order to access the tripod, which sort of defeats the point of having a bag where you don't have to remove it to access the camera….. If you use the extra straps sold by Mindshift Gear, you can mount the tripod in such a way that you don’t have to take the bag off, but I would have probably knocked over 1000 trinkets in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul if I’d used those mounts!
Houston, we have a problem. The Rotation 180 Pro comes with an elaborate and well designed rain cover that connects in such a way that you can access all the rotation features of the bag while still being waterproof. The same system is sold as an accessory for the 180 Panorama. Not realizing that the rain system was not interchangeable between the bags, I didn’t purchase the rain gear (it was also not made very obvious on their website that the two were not interchangeable).
Imagine my dismay the day before we leave and I’m trying to mount the rain cover with no success…….
It wouldn’t be terribly difficult to adapt the rain cover from the 180 Pro to fit the 180 Panorama; it would be a little baggy since the bags are different dimensions, but with a few Velcro attachment points, the rain cover *could* be interchangeable. I don’t care if it’s a little baggy - rain gear doesn’t have to be taught to work - it just needs to cover.
In a last minute frenzy of packing, I grabbed the rain cover that came with the Think Tank Photo Shapeshifter backpack. This is a simple rain cover with two synch cords - although I couldn’t use the rotation feature of the bag with this in place, at least it was something and it fit. I’m glad I brought it - at one point in Toulon, France, we were caught in a total downpour. I got so wet that my entire jeans, underwear, socks, and shoes were drenched (it took 4 days for my jeans to finally dry out….)! Even with the rain cover I did have, the bag got damp (though not soaked).
I’m going to get on a soap box….. if I spend almost $600 on a backpack, like I did with the 180 Pro, I expect as many things as possible to be backwards compatible from that bag to the other bags in the Mindshift Gear series. I understand some things, like the main compartment padded organizer won’t swap between series due to tremendous differences in bag sizes, but making the rain cover compatible between the two should only take a few pieces of Velcro. I hate feeling like I’m being nickel-and-dimed as a consumer and this is the first time Mindshift Gear / Think Tank Photo has disappointed me.
The Mindshift Gear bags are all designed for outdoor and adventure photography, so I think it’s a crime that the bag doesn’t include any rain protection. Even the crude rain cover that came with the Think Tank Shapeshifter was effective (and those bags retail for the same price). If you purchase this bag, expect to buy rain equipment for it or re-use something you already own, because the bag itself can only handle a light rain before the contents get wet.
Despite the frustrations with the rain gear, I am very happy with my purchase. I bought this bag to fulfill a niche (light day hiking with 1-2 lenses) and it does a great job at meeting that objective. It’s well built, comfortable, and works exactly like it should. If you’re looking for a lightweight and small backpack that can be used for light excursions with minimal gear, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Panorama. If you plan to carry alot of equipment or need something for longer hikes, you really should save up for the 180 Professional, because it is a spectacular bag. What you purchase really should be determined by the type of shooting you’ll be using it for, because the bags are similar in so many other features. Just know that if you opt for the 180 Panorama, you’ll be looking to purchase additional rain gear!