Late last year we received the FirstLight 30L – one of the latest camera bags from Mindshift and a member of a new line of bags from the company which is specifically designed for professionals looking for a bag that can carry their long telephoto lenses and other photographic gear.
If you are a travelling photographer who uses a 300/400/500 or even 600mm pro lens – the FirstLight line of camera bags was specifically designed for you. It was developed to securely carry these long lenses with one or more pro bodies and 3-4 (and in some configurations even 5) extra lenses and more gear.
Although we received the bag quite a few months ago we had to wait until we got the right lens for review – in this case the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 (see review) which although might not be the same size as some of the pro telephoto lenses from Canon/Nikon that this series of bags was designed to carry – is still a pretty substantial piece of gear and worked perfectly with the bag (to be honest it would have probably worked great with the smaller 20L as well but with less room for extra gear).
All of Mindshift’s products that we tested so far had great build quality but the FirstLight 30L seems to be even a little bit better with great materials and robust straps and padding and substantial zippers with useful hooks.
Everything about this bag screams quality but on the other hand it doesn’t look super expensive (which can actually be a bad thing in our view – depending on where you are and how safe it is).
Besides the actual build quality, there seems to be lots of attention to details with things like 11-point adjustable torso harness (in the back) allowing you to adjust the bag to any hight person. Also available inside the bag are large zipped mesh nets (we only wish there we also some small ones for small accessories, rain cover, padded handles (including one from the side) and more.
The top (padded) handle
On the outside of the bag you have several compartments of different sizes. In the front you have a medium size flat compartment for papers and other relatively small (narrow) objects – we didn’t find it to be particularly useful to be honest but maybe it can be in airports although someone standing behind you can open it quite easily.
Next there is a compartment for a 15″ laptop. This is a big step for Mindshift and the first time we see an entire compartment dedicated to a laptop (the Mindshift Horizon which we have tested here last year can carry a laptop but it doesn’t really have a dedicated compartment – sadly).
The small top hidden compartment
The only real drawback is that this compartment is not padded and the fabric here is thin. You can use a protected sleeve (which is a good idea in any case) but we think that Mindshift needs to pay more attention to protecting laptops on all its bags in the future – but at least we are moving in the right direction.
On the very top of the bag (facing the back of the bag) there is a small compartment that is almost hidden (took us some time to find it). You can put a small wallet there or your smatphone – but sadly not both (not with our smartphone and wallet at least), another small thing Mindshift should consider fixing.
There are more compartments on the two sides of the bag but we shall talk about them in the next section.
Tripod carrying (and water)
The FirstLight series excels when it comes to taking tripods, monopods and light stands. The 30L offers a side pocket on each side of the bag with enough room for a pretty large tripod or a bottle of water and more or less any monopod.
You do get another extra spot for taking a tripod – if you look at the front of the bag you have on the top a small concealed place for a strap and on the bottom a pocket which you take out of the lower part of the bag. In this way you can hold a very large tripod in the center of the bag – this prevents the bag from being imbalance to one side but it does pull you back – so if you are climbing a slope maybe you should consider not using this option.
Mindshift seems to be very aware of the need for water (they make hiking bags after all) and on all the bags we tested including the Firstlight there is a compartment on the side for a hydration pack (on this bag it is pretty large). If you prefer a bottle of water – any of the two side pockets can hold 1.5L bottles (and maybe even 2L although we didn’t test it).
Part of the hydration pack compartment
The main compartment of this bag is huge (this is a 30L bag with more or less a single huge compartment unlike the Horizon for example which has 34L but they are divided into gear and personal gear compartments).
So you are probably asking yourself what can you put inside – well the answer is a lot – we could easily squeeze a mid range camera + 200-500mm f/5.6 Nikon and another 5-6 mid size lenses + flash and some more accessories. Pros with say 500mm f/4 or 400mm f/2.8 should have no problem with this bAg from the official Mindshift image in the brochure which came with the bag (that you can see in the video). They will also be able to carry maybe 3-4 extra lenses and some more accessories.
Our 200-500mm Nikon + camera and lenses inside the FirstLight 30L
The compartment is not super deep – so for example our DIY cage with the top handle could not fit nicely inside (we were able to put it with the handle in the top compartment of the Horizon), so keep this in mind if you need to take thick items.
The compartment is very well padded from all sides giving a feel of protection to your gear – although unlike some of the old pro KATA bags (which we believe are no longer manufactured) the front part of the bag is not super hard – so this is not a bag that you can stand on without effecting your gear.
Finally the main gear compartment has 3 mesh nets on the inside of the cover. 2 larger ones and one which is a bit smaller (but still wide). They have zippers and feel great and are very useful. We could only wish that Mindshift would have divided one of them so it would be easier to carry smaller objects like batteries and memory cards.
Actual use in the field
Before we go to the conclusion here are a few words about our experience with the bag. As we mentioned we used it along with the Nikon 200-500mm lens which we took hiking and shooting birds on several occasions. We also used it to carry our video equipment when we went shooting in different locations.The bag isn’t light (especially when you have a large lens inside and several other camera/lenses and extra equipment on your back) but as long as you use both the waist strap and the chest strap and make sure the bag is set correctly (you can use the torso adjustment) you should do fine and so will your shoulders.
For the ladies (especially those with larger upper body) this bag doesn’t really offer that much in terms of comfort level (at least this is what we got from our wife who tried it for a short while and felt that the chest strap is not exactly comfortable), but to be fair – there are very (very) few bags that fit this body type and probably non of them are in this category.
The torso adjustment – good back support
This bag doesn’t have the quick draw of the rotation series (which we truly love), if you want your gear you need to put the bag on the floor and, open it and take the gear out like most other bags. We were kind of missing the tons of extra room for our personal gear that the Horizon has on the top compartment but this is a different type of bag and the target audience is also different (although even pro-shooter need to eat and change clothing if they are in the field for a full day in our opinion and they don’t have room for these things in this bag).
Generally speaking though – the bag functioned great and served its purpose of holding our gear in the field like a champ without giving us too much back/shoulder pain in the process.
So let’s conclude our experience with the Mindshift FirstLight 30L. We had this bag with us for quite a few months now. We used it both in conjunction with the new NIkon 200-500mm lens that we have tested here recently and as a general purpose camera bag for carrying our video equipment to and from locations.
Although the 200-500mm Nikon isn’t in the same size/weight category as some of the long telephoto pro lenses this bag can actually fit – it is still a pretty large lens and with a mid size camera it fills the bag nicely (although you still have some room for another lens or flash in front of it).
Pro bag for pro photographers – Firstlight
The bag itself is very comfortable, although with so much padding it isn’t super light (but we guess there is no avoiding this) and of course when we filled it up with gear we were looking at some serious weight on our back.
Luckily the back support and straps are great with lots of padding. We really suggest that you use the chest strap if you are taking lots of gear on a long hike – it really help reduce the strain from your shoulders.
There is very little not to like about FirstLight 30L, especially if you are looking for a pro bag to carry lots of photography gear and more specifically long telephoto lenses. We would like to see a bit more protection for the laptop compartment and maybe a slightly more room in the top compartment that can hold both a wallet and a smartphone together.
On a personal note – we usually prefer camera bags with lots of room for personal storage like the Mindshift Horizon – which is in our view, is the best outdoor photo bag that we have ever tested. However we fully appreciate the fact that other people have different needs than ours and more specifically there are people with longer lenses that need this type of outdoor camera bag.
With that said – we feel that unlike the rotation series, the FirstLight might be a great line of pro level bags – but it is less innovative and it enters a place in the market which already has quite a bit of strong competitors.
Talking about competitors this series cost a little bit more than some of the competition starting at $230 for the 20L and going way up to $330 for the large 40L version with the one that we have tested selling for around $280.
What we liked
- Very high build quality (pro level).
- Very well padded/protected gear compartment.
- Lots of room for gear (long telephoto lens + pro body + 4-5 other small-mid size lenses).
- Lots of options to arrange gear (plenty of dividers).
- Comfortable back support system.
- Lots of options for taking tripods/monopods/water.
What we didn’t like so much
- No padding/protection for the laptop compartment.
- Top compartment (for wallet/smartphone – a bit too small)
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