Before I continue my lens reviews, my heart’s wish is to introduce my backpack to you. This little blue marvel changed my attitude towards photo backpacks and also my photography behavior when I travel. Want to know why?
I’d like to begin that review with the reasons, why I hate the classic photo backpack concepts:
- You have to put them down before you can access your gear
- Lenses can fall out of the backpack. You have to be very careful when you open the backpack or even have to lay it down to the ground to access your gear
- Many photo backpacks are not comfortable at all. There are exceptions, but especially the low-end backpacks are awful for your back when you put more than a nifty-fifty and a camera into them.
- You are always slow when you travel in a group with non-photographers.
- Most classic photo backpacks don’t have a daypack for food, clothes and other stuff.
- You have to unmount the Tripod to access the gear inside
As you can see, I found many reasons to dislike classic photo backpacks. During city trips and short excursions, I worked around that problem by carrying a normal (non-photo) backpack and a messenger bag for my camera. For longer hikes and holidays, I had to bite the bullet and took a photo backpack although I felt very limited by it.
Before we visited Indonesia last summer, I did some research to find a solution for these problems. The only backpack concept, that really convinced me, was the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180°-concept.
This is my own backpack, I didn’t have any contact to Mindshift.
- Exterior dimensions: 28 x 62 x 23 cm
- Daypack interior dimensions: 22 x 28 x 18,8 cm
- Belt Bag interior dimensions: 25,5 x 20 x 14 cm
- Weight combined: 1,8 kg
- Total volume: 34 liters
There are three versions of this backpack:
- Mindshift Gear Rotation 180° Panorama (Volume: 22 l,$199)
- Mindshift Gear Rotation 180° Horizon (Volume: 34 l, $259)
- Mindshift Gear Rotation 180° Professional (Volume: 38 l, $389)
The Professional is the “original” Gear Rotation and hit the market in 2013. It has the largest space and some additional accessories like a photo insert for the daypack, an additional top pocket or a tripod suspension kit (to carry a very large tripod next to your body). It has a very discreet design.
The Panorama is the smallest version and offers space for a camera with 1 or 2 lenses in the belt bag. Colors are a bit funky and it looks more casual. I’d recommend that one for people who travel with a minimalist setup. Have a look at Bastian’s review.
The Horizon is a Panorama on steroids. It looks as stylish, but has nearly the same belt bag size as the Professional and also a very large daypack. Choose this one if you don’t need the accessories of the Professional or look for a more stylish backpack.
For me, the Horizon hits the sweet spot between size, cost and design. It was also important to me, that my backpack still looks a bit like a normal, stylish backpack. On the other hand, I needed a large belt bag to cover a few focal lengths. This review is about the Horizon.
The build quality of the backpack is impressive. The used materials are very sturdy and scratch resistant. I hardly see any wear, even after one year of normal use, mountaineering on a dusty volcano and traveling to Indonesia for three weeks.
I cleaned the backpack in a shower after it was very dirty and the daypack was still dry inside. Although Mindshift doesn’t officially claim weather resistance, there is at least some protection for occasional rain without the rain cover.
The zippers work fine, but they don’t have smoothest feeling compared to the best zippers.
The Gear Rotation
The clue of this concept is the integrated belt bag, which contains the camera and lenses. This belt bag is usually stored in the lower third of the backpack.
The following image shows the locking mechanism. You just have to push a clamp downwards to release the rotation mechanism. This clamp is held by a magnet. This works securely and does not show wear over time.
You can pull the belt bag forward with the belt itself and a grip on the belt bag (grey stripe on the following image). This works very well. When you get used to this mechanism, you can rotate the bag forwards and backwards within seconds.
When the belt bag is in front of the body, the gear can get accessed very easy. It is possible to walk with the belt bag in front of the body when the situation requires fast lens switching. It is also possible to carry the belt bag without the rest of the backpack, for example when you go out in the evening or shoot around the hotel during holidays.
After the use of the belt bag, it can be rotated backwards in the same way as it got rotated forwards. The disadvantage of the rotating mechanism is, that the belt bag has to be pulled out every time when you want to access your gear, also when you don’t wear the backpack. It takes some time to get used to it.
The belt bag
The most important part of the Horizon is the rotating belt bag. It is built to the same high standards as the rest of the Horizon.
The interior of the bag can be adjusted flexibly by using two insertions for horizontal seperation und two insertions for vertical seperation.
There is also space for a Tablet PC or for maps inside the belt bag. My Samsung Tab S 10.5 for example fits perfectly.
How much fits inside the bag?
The bag is more spacious than it seems at first sight. I packed a sample configuration to give you an impression of how much gear you can fit inside:
Now, let’s have a look what I put inside:
- Sony A7II with L-Bracket, Canon nFD 2.8/28 and Novoflex Adapter
- Sony A6000 with FE 1.8/55
- Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21
- Samyang 2.8/8 Fisheye CSC II
- Canon nFD 4/80-200 L
- 4 Batteries
- 5 Memory Cards
My Indonesia configuration:
- Sony A7R with L-Bracket
- FE 1.8/55
- FE 4/16-35
- Samyang 2.8/8mm
- SEL 4.5-6.3/55-210
- SEL 3.5-5.6/16-50
As you can see, that is a decent amount of equipment. It is possible to cover many focal lengths. The height of the belt bag limits the size of the lenses that fit inside. For example: the Sony FE 4/70-200 G OSS fits into the bag, a Canon nFD 4/300 L is too long. Longer lenses fit into the daypack but I recommend to use a lens case then.
One very important aspect for photographers is the possibility to mount a tripod. The Horizon has two option here:
For big tripods, I prefer to use the central mount. There is a foldable pocket which is normally hidden, in this pocket the tripod holds securely. Two straps are used to keep the tripod in the position. The central position on the back helps to keep the balance while walking or climbing.
Furthermore there is the possibility to mount a tripod on the left side of the backpack – the opposite side of the rotation mechanism. There is a pocket where the tripod fits in and a strap to fix it. When only the central tripod mount is used, water bottles etc. fit into the side pocket.
Using the side position has the advantage that the mass is closer to the body, so it is carried easier.
One big benefit of this backpack is the rotation mechanism of the belt bag, which still works with the tripod attached in the central or the side position.
One very important aspect of the “Mindshift Gear Rotation 180°” to me is the daypack. More than half of the total space belongs to the daypack. This space can be used for clothes, more lenses, food or water. At my use I could fit all the stuff my partner and I needed for a daytrip.
I tried to show this, but the dimension is tricky to capture. I like the net for a computer, tablet PC or just to seperate important things. There is an additional quite big pocket on top of the backpack which I use for Filters etc.
It is also possible to install a drinking bladder, although I don’t have one to show that.
Most backpacks have a integrated rain cover. This is unfortunately not the case here, the rain cover is stored in a little pocket and has to be bought seperately. It costs 27,99€ at Amazon.de and $24.99 at Amazon.com
The mounted rain cover looks like this. It fits perfectly and I think that it is effective. The rotation mechanism still works with attached rain cover. There is also a small rain cover for the beltbag. So you don’t lose any functionality when you sue the rain cover.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the most important feature of every backpack: It’s comfort features. The image below shows the rear side of the backpack. There are three big memory foam pads which fit to the individual back form. These pads are also found on the belt and on the shoulder straps. They are very comfortable.
The position on the back can be adjusted with the straps on top of the shoulder straps. At least on my back the backpack fits perfectly once it’s adjusted.
The belt is quite wide and comfortable. Trekking backpacks sometimes have air between the backpack and the back of the person who wears it. This is not the case here which causes worse ventilation of the back but a better use of the backpack volume. This leads also to a very well balanced weight on the back and a perfectly fitting backpack. The downside is, that your back can get pretty warm and sweaty. This never disturbed me, but if you are sensitive to this, consider that for example the Jack Wolfskin ACS Photo Pack Pro (Amazon.de) has a net in the back but it lacks the handy rotation mechanism.
I really enjoyed to carry this backpack. It is the most comfortable backpack that I have, even my trekking backpacks are not as comfortable to wear. I carried this backpack for three days up to the summit of Mt. Rinjani and my back didn’t hurt at all (or at least not as much as my legs 😛 ).
This backpack changed the way I use my gear when I travel.
The rotating mechanism is super handy and works very well. I don’t hesitate to change my lenses anymore and I can even change them when I am walking in a group. Only this fact is enough to make this my favorite backpack, but there are even more advantages.
The backpack is very comfortable. There were hiking days I didn’t put the backpack down a single time during 6-7 hours, just because I didn’t need to. The important gear can be accessed easily by rotating the belt bag and it is also possible to access a bottle of water without taking it down.
The daypack is quite large, there is even enough space for stuff for more than one day hiking. At planes it could be used as hand luggage which is important to me. The belt bag has enough space for all the lenses I need, I even could carry two cameras, memory cards, batteries and a lens pen in the belt bag. There are two possibilities to mount a tripod.
Finally, the disadvantages: The rain cover works fine, but it is not integrated and must be bought seperately. I had to get used to handling of the belt bag when I was packing my bag or just wanted to get my things out of it quickly in the hotel. The belt bag always needs to be pulled out.
The price is steep, but reasonable in my eyes because the bag is unique and the build quality is great.
In my opinion, these minor gripes are nothing compared to the advantages it offers. If you always hated camera backpacks and lost time or shots because of them, have a very close look at the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180° Horizon. It is by far my favorite photo backpack.
Big thanks to my friends Anja & Michael (Flickr) who took the beautiful outdoor pictures of the backpack during their trip to the Harz.
Michael’s first impression:
“It is the best photo backpack, that I have ever used. If I will ever buy a new photo backpack, it will be this one. I can only criticise the haptics of the zippers and I would prefer to have an additional softer inlay for the belt bag for sensitive lenses.”
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