Photographers are gear whores. We love our gadgets and gizmos and are always looking to get that next best thing. I'm no exception - I own more camera bags than purses!
I've been on a quest for a great photographer backpack. Normally, when going on a long hike, I'll pack my gear into a designed hiking backpack, but these bags don't offer the protection for camera gear that I'd like. Additionally, the design of these bags can make it a real pain to get to your gear in a timely manner and require you to remove the backpack to access the compartments.
I own several camera backpacks, my favorite of which is the Think Tank Shape Shifter. It's a great travel bag and I can carry everything I need for several weeks of shooting. Unfortunately, it's not a great bag to hike with; it lacks a true backpacking frame and has no place for me to hold water while I hike. I've read about plenty of photography-specific backpacks that would solve these problems, but they were either too big for my female frame, or didn't satisfy all of my needs.
A few months ago I heard about a new company called MindShift Gear. They're owned/operated by the same folks who run Think Thank Photo (and I love all the Think Tank products I own), so I was immediately intrigued. They started as a Kickstarter project to build camera bags for hikers and got so much attention that they raised over $100,000 more than their goal! Clearly, there's a demand here that isn't being satisfied by the current marketplace!
The hallmark bag for MindShift Gear is their Rotation 180 Professional bag. What makes this bag so unique is that the belt harness can unclip from the back of your pack and slide to the front while you wear the bag, allowing access to your gear without taking the bag off. At first this seemed too gimmicky. I've never been a big fan of these "12-in-1 swiss army knife style do everything" bags and was pessimistic about how well this contraption would work. I was impressed, however, with the bag's layout and construction, so I decided to check it out at my favorite camera shop, which happens to be a dealer - Ace Photo.
My main goals when looking at the bag were to assess the fit (particularly since it's a bag designed for men and I'm a curvy woman!) and how well this bag rotation thing worked.
I was blown away by the fit - this bag is very similar to my high end backpacking bags in that every strap is adjustable in a zillion points, meaning I could adjust it to fit perfectly. The bag was very comfortable and the shoulder straps didn't lay awkwardly over my female curves (some competitor bags are known for being very unforgiving to busty women). In fact, with a few minutes of tweaking, I had this bag sitting like it was custom built for me, which was surprising since I've got a small 5'6" frame.
The rotation feature stunned me. Although the bag was empty while I played in the store, it moved very smoothly and was a one hand operation to move the belt bag back into place. The clip that holds the bag into the backpack is also operated magnetically, so you only have to get it close for it to snap back into place - very handy for a behind-the-back operation. I actually think this bag may work even better when fully loaded as the weight will help keep the bag in place.
Another important requirement for this bag is that it could accommodate my large format film photography as well as my digital photography. Much as I hate to adjust those padded inserts, this bag can switch between setups with minimal modification to those dividers (see below for load outs).
I purchased the bag and have been adjusting it at home, but haven't had a chance to test it in the field yet. However, I thought I'd share some initial impressions in a blog and update with a video blog in the future after I've put some serious miles on this thing.
I'm a photographer, so let's look at the bag in pictures (apologies in advance for the mediocre product photography- I do better with trees!)
The Finer Details
Load Out Testing - Digital
Load Out Testing - Large Format Film
So far, I'm very impressed with the bag, but need to take it out before I render a final verdict. The construction is top notch and there's no question this bag will last for a long time. The bag is packed full of little features, a number of which I've failed to mention up to this point (including the fact that the frame design allows it to free stand upright and the tripod accessory is a great arm rest).
I have one very minor concern as I go forward to start using this bag, but it really is minor (I'm digging for issues). When the tripod mounting system is used, it creates alot of straps that dangle in front. I see it as very likely that I'll get caught up in these straps or get them twisted under my shoulder, creating a nuisance when I need to fish them out constantly. Maybe I'll be proven wrong about that, but it's the most glaring flaw I see with an otherwise flaw-free bag.
I'm going to use the bag for a few weeks and will report back with a video blog, so stay tuned for more! I also plan to do a post with the bag outfitted for a weekend camping trip to see how it would fare for a solo overnight hike.
Note that I'm in no way affiliated with any company or product mentioned in this post. I paid retail for my bag and was not asked to review it, but did so because I hadn't seen many women talking about this bag, and our needs can differ. I also hadn't seen a conversation about using this bag with large format film, so hope to add to that discussion. You can buy this bag directly from MindShift Gear or use their website to find a dealer in your area.
Be sure to follow me on Facebook to see my future blog posts about this bag!