Earlier this year we received the Mindshift rotation 180° Panorama – the second camera bag by the American company Mindshift Gear aimed at the travelling/hiking/biking photographer. We spent quite a bit of time with this bag and came back with quite a few insights.
Update September 2015: check out how the MindShift Insert fit into the Panorama (and the newer Horizon) bags in the video below.
Before we start this review, a few general words. Hiking, biking mountain climbing and many other outdoor activities are becoming more and more common in recent years. There are also a growing number of photographers – both hobbyist and professionals who need to carry their gear with them on these kind of trips. We see 5 main requirements from any camera bag for this type of outdoor activities:
- The bag should be as light as possible but still maintain a good level of protection.
- The bag should be extremely comfortable to walk with over long distances (good back support).
- The bag should have an option to carry water (preferably a large amount).
- The bag should include enough room for both personal items (jacket, food and other items) and decent amount of photo gear.
- The bag should have a way to quickly take out the camera whenever it is needed.
You might also add things like good weather sealing (and a rain cover), different options for carrying a tripod and a laptop (and more recently tablets as well). We travel quite a bit, and although we would not consider ourselves pro outdoor shooters we have always looked for a camera bag that combines all of the above qualities and more. Sadly, most pro camera bag manufacturers did not really pay too much attention to this market segment. They either develop pro bags which are 90%+ gear (where on earth should a photographer put his personal stuff?!), or lacking in other areas (no place for water, laptop, tripod, or very little space for camera gear – or simply a bag which is too big and heavy to really take with you).
The Mindshift rotation panorama Obviously some of the requirements are contradictory (a bag with enough room for gear and personal equipment will typically not be very light and surly not very small), but in our view there is always a balance and for years we have been looking (in vain) for the bag with the right balance between all these requirements.
Enters Mindshift Gear. A company founded in California in 2012 by a group of photographers (some of which) came out of the established photography gear manufacturer ThinkTank. Their aim was to create dedicated products that will focus on outdoor photographers. With that goal in mind they established their rotation line which is based on a patent design for a belt with a special compartment that rotates around the user for easy access (see the video for a demonstration).
Mindshift started as a (successful) kickstarter project back in 2012 and raised $130k (well over its goal). Their original bag (still being sold) was the rotation 180 professional – a very large traveling bag with lots of room for gear, but this was a design that fits very serious outdoor photographers who needs to survive in the field for several days or more and need the large carrying capacity even on the expense of weight and size. We were looking for a much smaller bag – something that will be more suited for a day of outdoor activity, and when the company introduced the rotation panorama we immediately asked Mindshift to send us a sample for review – which it did, allowing us to bring you our impressions.
Photo gear compartment
We shall start the review with the most interesting feature of the bag – the rotating photo gear compartment. In our view this mechanism is so simple it’s pure genius, and it’s almost hard to understand how come it took camera bag manufacturers so many years to come up with this concept. Unlike many other innovations which only look good on paper or on the company brochures – this one really works – all you need is to have the belt closed (it won’t work otherwise), open the magnetic lock with one hand and pull the gear compartment. That’s it – you have your camera gear compartment right in front of you and you can take out (or back in) your camera. You can also switch lenses very very quickly – as you can see on the video – and this is – in our view – the really huge advantage of this mechanism over other quick draw bags that only allows you to quickly take out your camera from the bag.
There is of course a downside to this mechanism and that is that the gear compartment is small. How small? well you will be able to carry a camera and a lens attached plus another lens – and that’s about it (a small tablet will also fit and a few tiny accessories). What type of lenses can you carry in this compartment – something along the lines of a 24-70mm f/2.8 will fit but not attached to a pro camera (we tested the D810 and Nikon 24-70mm together and it only fitted on the side so you won’t be able to carry an extra lens this way – you can however use the D810 with a smaller lens and put the 24-70mm next to it). A smaller body (say D7100) and other lens combinations worked better – D7100 + 105mm macro plus a Nikon 70-300mm for example or even a D7100 and 70-200mm f/4 plus another smaller lens should work great. At the end of the day the rotation mechanism limits the size of the compartment on this bag – if you are going to need lots of photo gear – you might have a problem (unless you use the special insert sold separately – more on that later). For us – this was enough for some of our traveling but more restricting for others – so we would say that it is a good solution but not a perfect one.
The gear compartment is divided into two (you can remove the divider if you want. It also has a room for a tablet up to a size of 23cm over 19 cm (too little for an iPad, good enough for the 8″ version). There is also a green mesh net for filters, caps, a cleaning towel etc.
The compartment also has a strap which connects it to the bag so it will not fall by accident (it never did). Putting stuff in and out of the gear compartment is very comfortable when you are wearing the bag – its far less convenient when the bag is on the floor or a table. The bag itself is round (or rounded actually) on the bottom – this is done on purpose to make it easier for the rotation mechanism to be pulled (this is what Mindshift explained to us when we asked). The problem with that is that the bag doesn’t sit stright on the ground (or table or any flat surface) so you have to lay it flat down. We can live with that, although we can easily think of a way where the bottom of the bag will be straight while the rotation mechanism will be round (we did mention that to Mindshift and maybe they will come up with a better version in the future.
Unlike lots of pro bags which have very little and in some cases – no room for personal gear – Mindshift included a generous upper compartment that can hold lots of personal items (a jacket, book, chargers, wires, and much more from our experience). To be honest, after the rotation mechanism, this is probably our second most favourite part of the bag (with the side pocket coming third). The fact that this is a large compartment means that if you put lots of small items you might find yourself wasting time looking for them (especially at night). Mindshift did include a large green net mesh but for such a premium bag we would actually expect more ways to customize this rather large space (internal pockets, another mesh on the other side and possibly even a removable divider – the way we see it – the more customization – the better.
Other compartments / water compartment
Other than the large personal gear compartment there is also a smaller personal item compartment on the top – with room for a wallet (don’t use it in a place which isn’t safe as it is accessible from behind you), smartphone, keys etc. The final compartment is hidden on the right side of the bag and it allows you to put a water bag/pack (we tried 1.5 liter one). The space is kind of narrow and putting one in is not very convenient – but it did work. We actually prefer to take a water bottle and use it in the tripod pocket on the side (at least when we are not carrying a tripod there). We would suggest that Mindshift will make this pocket a few centimeters deeper – to fit larger drinking bottles (not everybody loves water packs and they are only good for one person and you rarely travel alone). The upper security cord for the tripod is also useful for securing a bottle in some situations.
There are two ways of carrying a tripod – on the back or on the side pocket. When carried on the back the tripod legs sit inside a hidden pouch (we demonstrate in the video how to extract it) and is held in place by a hidden strap (again see the video). We actually don’t like this option and prefer the side option although we can understand why larger tripods will probably be better balanced on the back. The side option which we used is super simple – put the base of the tripod in the pouch and secure the legs with the upper strap (this will change from tripod to tripod of course – ours is made from two parts and we carried the upper part in our personal gear compartment – large tripods will probably need different carrying methods).
We used the rotation 180° Panorama mostly for hiking. Walking a full day with a full bag uphill did not leave us with a backache which is a testament to Mindshift’s back support system.
The build quality of the bag is great. The materials are nice to the the touch and feel very high-techy. The zippers with their large holders (we first saw those on KATA bags) are really comfortable – the large ones are useful even when wearing thick gloves. The general ergonomics of the bag seem to be great – we didn’t have any problems adapting it to our taste (and height). The only minor aesthetic complaint that we had has to do with the lower back part of the bag on the rotation mechanism side. In this part some of the gear compartment is visible and not covered by the back of the bag – we are pretty sure Mindshift can fix this in a future version of the bag.
So does the rotation 180 panorama fulfill all of our 5 points for the ultimate traveling photographer’s backpack? the short answer is: no. The longer answer is that it is the closest any bag we have ever tested came to such perfection.
The rotation 180 panorama is light (2.9lbs/1.3 kg) and pretty well protected. It is very comfortable to use, has ample room for personal gear, two options for carrying water and two options for carrying a tripod and to top all of this, has the best system for quickly taking out (and back in) your camera. The same system also allows you to very easily switch lenses while standing without removing the bag from your back – something that no other backpack that we know of can do.
The rotation 180 panorama is also very well made, has a very modern design (which we like), and according to Mindshift it is also waterproof (we tested it in the summer), but you can also buy an extra rain cover (which in our opinion should have came with the bag, like many other bags at a similar price point).
So why do we still consider it less than absolute perfect? There are two main reasons. The first (and the bigger one – for us and probably for most potential users), is the lack of more room for photography gear. On the lower photo gear compartment you can carry a camera and a maximum of two lenses. This might be enough for some situations but not for any scenario. Longer lenses are also out of the question. We think that the lower compartment should be slightly bigger, capable of holding a pro camera (we tested the D810) with a pro lens (say 24-70mm) attached and another lens next to it (say 70-200mm f/4). This isn’t possible now, but we think it will require only a relatively minor change in the bag design.
No less important is the ability to carry more than 2 lenses. Mindshift sells a $40+ insert which you can put in the upper personal gear compartment where you can carry longer lenses and more photo equipment. We have mixed feelings about this solution (which we didn’t have a chance to try ourselves but we saw on some videos online). On the one hand its a useful way of carrying more gear (although you will need to pay the extra $). On the other hand you are basically left with no room for personal equipment – and for us this is unacceptable. One of the main reasons why we like this bag so much is the ample room for personal gear.
Our suggestion (which we already passed to Mindshift) is this – come up with a rotation 180 panorama plus version. This version will be taller (say 10-20cm or about 5-8 inches) and include another compartment for photo gear (just above the existing one in the middle of the bag). It will have its own zipper but you will also have the option to combine this compartment with the upper one for either more personal equipment or more gear. It will include dividers for short or long lenses and other gear. It will also include the second thing that we feel missig in this bag – a laptop compartment. Yes, most hikers don’t typically carry a laptop for a hike, but if you will take this bag on a plane for a hike/bike ride/climb anywhere on the planet – you will want to have your laptop with you – and at its current state – this is impossible – a longer (and slightly wider) version of the rotation 180 panorama should be able to carry a 14″ (maybe even 15″) laptop in a back compartment.
So is the lack of room for more gear and a laptop a deal breaker for us? no, not really. But this is probably because we are spoiled. We have quite a few good backpacks and we can choose the best one for the task. If you are only going to buy one backpack you will need to consider your needs a bit better (especially given the $200 price tag on the rotation 180 panorama). The questions that you need to be asking yourself are these: can I manage with a camera and two lenses (ones that do fit in the gear compartment) or alternatively, can I spare another $40~ for an insert and lose the entire personal compartment but gain more photo gear space? If either of those are O.K. with you and you are looking for a superb outdoor photo bag for a full day outside (and don’t need to carry a laptop), than the Mindshift rotation 180 panorama is possibly the best choice on the market today.
What we liked
- Light and comfortable.
- Revolutionary mechanism for taking out the camera and an easy way of changing lenses (it does work!).
- Plenty of room for personal equipment.
- Great build quality.
- Great options for carrying water and a tripod.
What we didn’t like so much
- Relatively little room for gear (unless you sacrifice your personal equipment compartment).
- The bag does not stand upright on the floor.
- No room for a laptop (but there is a room for a tablet).
- Minor aesthetics – the rotating gear compartment sticks a bit from the side.
Update: just as we were putting the finishing touches to this article, MindShift introduced two new members of the Rotation family – the MindShift Rotation 180 Trail and the MindShift Gear Rotation 180° Travel Away. The first is a slightly smaller version of the panorama with no option for an upper compartment being used to store gear using the extra insert. The second also has the same rotation mechanism but is not really aimed at photographers (it can hold a compact camera or even a small mirrorless but not anything bigger). We are still looking forward to the larger “Rotation 180 panorama plus version”…
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