Camera bag manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to differentiate their products by making them lighter, more durable and more practical. They are also taking a more targeted approach to product design by tailoring them to specific photographic genres.
Mindshift Gear, with their innovative rotation180° series, has done just that creating a unique design that caters to active photographers on the move. I got my hands on a rotation180° Panorama 22L to put it through its paces in the mountains of Snowdonia, North Wales.
As a keen day hiker I always carry a rucksack that holds additional layers, food and drinks. After investing in my first DSLR back in 2008, and as I got increasingly more serious about outdoor photography, I struggled to combine the two hobbies due to the impracticality of camera bags for hiking and hiking bags for photography.
Most decent hiking backpacks have been designed to sit comfortably on your back thanks to padded or framed structures. Adjustable straps, including chest and waist straps, further support the distribution of weight. They are also designed with additional hooks and loops for attaching poles, sleeping bags or other loose items and have good access to water through well designed pockets for reservoirs or bottles. However, what they don’t have are specific access points or padding for camera equipment. Likewise my normal camera backpack, as good as it is, is not suitable for hiking many hours up and down mountains.
Luckily camera bag manufacturers have identified this gap in the market and over the past few years there has been an influx of bags targeted at active photographers and in particular hikers. Mindshift Gear has taken this approach to the next level with their rotation180 bags by designing a system that gives you possibly the best and most innovative access to your camera on the market today.
On paper it sounds like the perfect solution so read on to see how it fared in a real world test.
First and foremost it is very comfortable to carry with the straps quick and easy to adjust to your liking. Obviously, like any bag, the more equipment you load into it the heavier it will be however the bag itself is really well constructed, the stitching and zips are good and it is light enough to carry for long distances.
The Panorama 22L version I tested is geared towards mirrorless cameras and smaller DSLRs but I was easily able to fit my Canon 5D Mark III with a mounted Canon 16-35 f/4L side-on into the waist pack along with my Go Pro and some accessories such as spare batteries and memory cards.
Any lens with a large hood or wider than 77mm diameter may struggle face down and it was not possible to fit a second similar sized lens in there (e.g. a 24-70 or 24-105). However, a 50mm f/1.4 or similar sized lens would have easily fit.
I comfortably carried a Canon 5D Mark III, spare batteries and memory cards, Canon RC1 remote shutter release, Canon 16-35 f/4L, Canon 24-105 f/4L, Canon 3000V SLR & spare film, Mindshift Gear Rain Cover and Tripod Suspension Kit, Go Pro Hero 4 Silver, a torch, Lee Filters: 3 x ND filters and 3 x ND Grad filters, Landscape Polariser, MeFOTO Roadtrip Carbon Fibre, Water, Snacks, Hat, Gloves and Snood. Nb. This far more equipment than I would normally carry on a hike.
The USP of the bag is the rotation function of its waist pack and this is without question a nice piece of design. The magnetic clasp feels secure yet is easy to open and close and it is quick and smooth to pull the waist pack around to the front and access the camera thanks to a handle on the pack. I found it wasn’t quite as easy to slide it back into place as it would sometimes get caught when not quite far enough in to close the clasp.
Another thing to bear in mind with the waist pack is that it is essentially a stand-alone bag that slides into the backpack i.e. if you don’t have the waist strap clipped around you; the waist pack is not attached. As I realized the hard way, when you open the clasp and try to pull the pack around to the front it will fall. Thankfully Mindshift Gear has incorporated a thin, removable lanyard which connects the two bags so make sure this is always clipped on!
Moving onto the main compartment, this has decent space for food and some light layers. You can also purchase an optional ‘Photo Insert’ which fits snuggly into the compartment to carry additional camera equipment. Personally this is not something I would use but it does offer a decent customizable option for those that need it. Nb. On my hike I did carry a small, light film SLR in the main compartment and didn’t feel the need for this extra insert.
It is important to stay hydrated on long hikes and this bag has a couple of options to carry drinks. I don’t have a water reservoir so didn’t make use of that dedicated pocket but I did have a bottle of water. Unfortunately the pocket for the water bottle is not elasticated and it fell out a couple of times when I was taking the bag off my back. A relatively minor irk but it knocks some points off all the same.
Another area where the design excels is the range of tripod attachment options. That same side pocket can be used to hold the tripod but I preferred the strap and pouch on the front which was secure, adjustable and can be hidden away when not in use.
There is also the optional extra Tripod Suspension Kit. I don’t always carry a tripod on my longer hikes as I often don’t have time to use it and can do without the additional weight. However, when I do I carry a lightweight and compact carbon fibre MeFOTO Road Trip. Unlike the photo insert, I found the Suspension Kit to be something worth considering. It means your tripod is within easy reach and can be quickly stowed away when you are ready to move. Nb. If you are on trickier terrain i.e. scrambling up or down rocks, then I found it best to store it in the main pouch on the front of the bag so it doesn’t swing around.
Surprisingly for a winter day in North Wales I didn’t have any rain so couldn’t comment on yet another optional accessory – the Rain Cover. However I do feel that the cover being an extra cost is a disappointing move by Mindshift Gear. The other 'customisable' extras I can understand but as most bags come with a cover as standard then it is easy to feel short changed by this.
So in conclusion, after spending a day in the mountains with the rotation180° Panorama 22L, I found it to be an excellent bag if you are using it for the purpose for which it is designed i.e. day hikes with quick and easy access to your camera for shooting on the move. I’ve often been frustrated at the lack of practical options for carrying camera equipment on a day’s trek through the hills and mountains of the UK and this bag fills that function almost perfectly.
For most landscape photographers, or for that matter any genre of photography where you will take the bag off your back, the rotation system is not so practical. In these scenarios accessing the camera when the waist pack is not clipped around your middle means separating the two bags and this can be awkward. For this very reason (and coupled with its limited space) it is unlikely to ever replace your main bag – but then I don’t believe this bag is meant to.
So while there are a few areas where it could be improved, if you enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle and like to combine this with a passion for photography, then this bag will be hard to beat.
Product photography © Mindshift Gear