When it comes to outdoor photography, we’re used to seeing photo backpacks from MindShift Gear, but we usually turn to sister company Think Tank Photo for our shoulder bags. Think Tank does have some nice shoulder bags, but they’re really not optimized for the great outdoors, which is also true of their backpacks – great utility and construction, but aimed more at the streetshooter, than the nature photographer, which also applies to their shoulder bags.
Well, not surprisingly MindShift decided to divert a little bit of their attention to the shoulder bag, while not sitting idle where backpacks were concerned, and introduced a one-two punch in the new Exposure bag, practically alongside the smaller BackLight.
Where can I get more info, tech specs & order this product? (click on a bag)
How much is it?
BackLight 18L: $199.99
Exposure 15: $169.99
I’ve previously written extensively about the BackLight series, which, until now, consisted of two larger bags, first the 26L, followed by the 36L – the model number reflecting capacity, in liters. That makes this bag half the size of the largest version, at least in carrying capacity.
I still use the 26L, having gifted the 36L to a friend who routinely carries a load of gear, and when the 18L arrived, I thought it would be too small for my Tamron 150-600mm G2. I first tried the 18L out with my Nikon D500 attached to the new Tamron 100-400 (look for a review of this lens shortly). It was a perfect fit. Next came what I thought would be the impossible task.
On its own, the 150-600 settled in comfortably. But could I say the same when attached to the camera? Well, I did have to move a couple of the padded divers out of the way, but I managed a good fit. Of course, that shift in the partitions negated the use of the other half of the bag for a second camera with attached lens. Well, I could always carry a second body and lens separately – plenty of room for that.
In the backpack's factory configuration, when situating the camera with 100-400 attached (at the top of the bag, lens downward), there was plenty of room for that second body with attached lens (cradled from the bottom of the bag, lens upward). Long and short, I’ll still use my 26L for that monster glass and relegate the 18L for the D500/100-400 combo riding side-saddle with, say, a D610/90mm macro attached – and still have room for a Nissin flash.
You can read my earlier reviews by clicking these links:
BackLight 26L review
BackLight 36L review
I should point out that I was so happy with the BackLight 18L that I gave my trusty TrailScape 18L to a friend in favor of the new bag. I prefer the interior layout of the BackLight 18L, considering it will hold two cameras with attached lenses right from the get-go.
When it comes to shoulder bags, my preference runs to smaller bags. I find it more fatiguing when wearing even a small shoulder bag or sling bag than when carrying a fully loaded backpack. Still, a shoulder bag does come in handy on occasion. You won't carry a backpack to a formal occasion, or even when visiting friends. Not to mention, it's so much easier to stow a shoulder bag on the floor underneath or alongside your seat when dining.
I already own and use the perfect shoulder bag, Think Tank’s Signature 13 – elegant styling, functional, and small enough to carry just what I need for streetshooting. So I wasn’t about to make that bag redundant with the Exposure 13. Besides, the larger Exposure bag sported more spacious pockets – and I love pockets.
Still, the Signature bag lacks one thing that, to my mind, would have made it perfect: a waist belt to take the weight off my shoulder. It would have been very easy for Think Tank to have fitted the bag with a removable waist belt, but that probably would have run counter to the fashion statement that bag makes.
Fast forward to the Exposure series. These bags don’t feature a waist belt, but they come with the next best thing: a security tether, or what MindShift calls a "cross-body stabilizer strap." This keeps the bag from slipping off your shoulder – or swinging around and in your way when you bend down to shoot something low to the ground. It also prevents someone from pulling the bag off your shoulder. You can also wear the bag sling-style, which is how I’d been using it, and how it was primarily designed to be worn. The neoprene shoulder pad is sewn in and runs much of the length of the strap, rendering the strap well suited to either mode of portage.
This bag also features new materials that make it practically impervious to the elements, and the lid has flaps at either end to keep out dust, flying debris, and rain/snow. It does not have a zipped inner lid, a trademark of the Signature bags. However, the Exposure uses only a single plastic buckle for fast access. Some Velcro-type closure system wouldn’t have hurt, so you wouldn’t have needed to constantly snap the buckle shut. It’s a noisy prospect when you’re trying to remain quiet while focusing on birds or other wildlife.
As for the interior of the bag, it too lacks the finesse of the Signature bag, but, having said that, it does provide the needed protection. I was able to fit my D500 with attached 100-400, standing the rig lens downward inside the bag. With a shorter lens, the camera could have been supported by the dividers along both sides. Still, even with this long lens, the flap closed without any unruly bulge. BTW – carrying this combo was another reason, perhaps the main one, I’d opted for the larger Exposure 15. The Exposure 13 would have been too small.
I should also note that the Exposure 15 will carry a 15” laptop, along with a tablet. There are numerous other pockets, along with a luggage-handle pass-through so you can piggyback the bag on your roller luggage. A tripod is carried at the bottom – straps included. Also included is a rain cover, not that you’ll need it in a light rain, since the bag is sufficiently weatherproofed on its own. Oh, and if that’s not enough, there’s also a water-bottle pocket that will comfortably hold your average-size water bottle.
One advantage a shoulder or sling bag has over a backpack is that it allows immediate access to your camera gear. That precisely is what drives me to use a bag such as the Exposure 15 on occasion. With a backpack, you normally have to find a place to lay the bag down when it comes time to access or stow gear.
Well, not so with the BackLight series. You can still wear the bag, open the rear (main) flap, and access your gear. On paper, at least. As I found out with the earlier iterations of this design, this doesn’t really fit my shooting routine – and a reader concurred vis-à-vis her style of shooting. I find it faster and easier to lay the bag down. And if the ground is wet or muddy, then I’ll simply stow the lenses and flash I may later need in accessory pouches or in the pockets of a photo vest. MindShift may not have a photo vest (why not, guys?), but they do have a full line of pouches for pretty much anything you need to access on the trails.
I found myself using both bags in a variety of situations, not least of which was for bird photography. Both bags are thoughtfully designed, practical and durable, to say the least. And each should easily fit in the overhead bin, if not under the seat, on most commercial aircraft.
Who Should Use the BackLight 18L and Exposure 15?
Travel, nature, and wildlife photographers.
When traversing rough terrain or for long, strenuous hikes, the BackLight 18L is the clear choice, with its extra-comfy backpack harness system. On public conveyances, crowded streets, and travel involving a lot of walking on sidewalks or dirt paths in city, town, or village, the Exposure 15 shoulder bag would be my choice, for fast access, along with added security thanks to the tethered strap.
A rain cover is included with each bag, and both bags will carry a tripod, as well as a laptop (13" in BackLight 18; 15" in Exposure 15), plus tablet. And for those hot days, don't worry - each bag holds a water bottle.
And, they are very reasonably priced for the top quality you're getting.