In my mind, no other piece of photography gear gets so much scrutiny, critical analysis, unfair criticism, and occasionally, off-color declarations than the humble photo backpack. To its credit it’s one of the great achievements in the annals of “tote-dom”, a marvel of modern manufacturing and design, yet we all wonder, “Will I ever find that one perfect photo backpack?” Obviously, we never will. We are all different - in our likes and dislikes, our wants and various needs, where we are going and where we have been, and of course, our own body types. Over the years I’ve read countless reviews and accounts of one bag being better than the other. Based on some of those writings and recommendations I was sure I would finally be completely satisfied with one backpack and my search would finally be over. Well, as my needs expand, I’m still looking. The main problem is that we all have selection criteria that differ and bag manufacturers must determine which of those they aim to satisfy. The other issue is what I call the “comfort factor”. Because of varying body types it is nearly impossible to design a bag that everyone will consider comfortable, especially when it comes to the shoulder harness.
It’s with these thoughts that I write my impressions of an innovative concept made by a company called MindShift Gear. I was recently sent for testing one of their Rotation 180° backpacks called “Panorama”. Let’s look at the Panorama a little more closely.
Construction & Fit
The main feature of the Panorama, and several other models made by MindShift Gear, is a patent-pending, waist-situated, compartment for your main camera and an extra lens. When not being accessed it is hidden away within the frame of the backpack secured by a magnet loaded tab. When you want to get to your gear you release the tab, pull on the compartment, and swing it forward in front of you. You now have a mid-sized space at waist level secured with a zippered flap that is easy to see into and makes grabbing your camera a quick affair. Simply unzip the compartment and you have instant access to your camera. The idea here is you don’t have to take the pack off your back, set it down, open it, and access your gear, close it back up, and put the pack back onto your backside. With the Panorama you literally don’t miss a step. The Panorama also comes with what you would expect from a good quality photo backpack. So, while introducing a novel design, it still functions like a standard backpack.
Overall the construction is excellent and the Panorama comes in a vibrant Tahoe Blue bi-color scheme with bright orange zippers and inner pockets (shown here). There is also a Charcoal bi-color with green zippers and pockets. Seams are well sewn and water resistant and each pack comes with a separate rain cover that easily fits inside the bag. I especially like the quality of the zippers; they don’t hang up, and open and close easily.
The shoulder harness is fully adjustable and supports the weight of the pack well. It is evenly distributed across the shoulders and when adjusted correctly and secured with the chest strap it is comfortable. The weight is evenly distributed across all points of the harness with no pressure points. There is plenty of padding and the fabric that lies against your back is of breathable materials. Accessing the rotational compartment is very easy. Simply reach behind your back and pull the tab downward. This releases the compartment whereby it can then be swung around in front of you at waist level. To put the compartment back in its hidden configuration you simply swing it back in place within the hidden compartment and secure the tab.
To test the Rotation 180° beltpack I loaded my full-sized DSLR Nikon D810 with an attached 24-70mm zoom into the interior. I also inserted my 16-35mm zoom as an extra lens. While it was a bit of a tight fit there was no problem accessing the camera or the lens. The real advantage of this concept - aside from being able to access your camera without having to set the bag down - is how easy it was to change lenses with the beltpack in front of me, and at the perfect waist level. I see this pack as being very useful when shooting in an environment where it would not be advisable to set your bag on the ground. If you shoot with smaller DSLRs or with a mirrorless compact camera you can fit even more gear in this compartment; maybe one more lens, or a flash unit.
On the top section of the pack there are two generous zipper compartments with an additional pocket inside the main (larger) compartment. These spaces lack rigid walls or padding and is designed to store a jacket or sweater, a handheld GPS unit, cell phone, maps & compass, snacks or lunch, and anything else you may need on the trail. You can opt to fit an additional rigid/padded camera gear compartment in this space that is sold as a separate accessory, which I mention below.
The MindShift Gear line of packs also incorporates a modular system of accessories that attach to their bags. While the Panorama comes with the ability to carry a light duty tripod, you can also get their optional Tripod Suspension Kit. This is a set of straps that hook on to the shoulder harness and the tripod at attachment points. There is also a Photo Insert Case that can be inserted into the upper compartment for additional carrying capacity for camera equipment.
There is a side pocket that allows the insertion of a standard water bladder for hydration while on the trail. It has a minimum 2 liter capacity and comes with a hole to thread the hose and valve out of the compartment for easy drinking access.
The MindShift Gear Rotation 180° Panorama photo backpack is a great design for those who like to move and shoot quickly, or who need to set up a tripod based shot with a minimum of fuss. It makes photographing on the trail easier to do spontaneously. A quick shift of the main waist compartment gives you instant access to your camera. Changing lenses becomes so much easier, that you’ll probably be more inclined to change lenses when the situation really requires it, giving you a measurable advantage in the field. I would even feel confident using this pack as a great solution for urban photography. From the outside this bag it doesn’t scream, “Camera inside!” When you are in a situation where you do not want to walk around with your camera in your hands or around your neck, the quick access compartment can really be a smart solution. I like the construction of the Panorama as well. With today’s materials bags are lighter, more water resistant, and more comfortable to wear. The Panorama is no exception. Finally, the accommodation for a water bladder is great and the optional modules give this bag more versatility and the ability to customize it for your needs. If you like to work with a light outfit consisting of one camera with one or two lenses this pack might just be what you’ve been waiting for all along.
Ernesto Santos is frequently out in the field backpacking. A Nikonians Expert and Master photographer, Moderator for many years, his landscape work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute and can be seen at www.esartprints.com
The MindShift Gear Rotation 180° products come in five models: Professional Deluxe, Professional, Panorama, Trail and Travel Away.
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