There’s no question that, when it comes to outdoor photography, whether close to home or far away, my go-to camera bag is a backpack. Which is why I welcomed the opportunity to field-test MindShift’s new entry in their PhotoCross lineup, the PhotoCross 15. So, did the PhotoCross 15 meet all my expectations? Will it become my go-to camera bag on outdoor adventures? And what features set it apart from the traditional sling or backpack? Let’s see…
Photo backpacks aren’t for everyone or every occasion. Even hardened backpack users find themselves turning to a shoulder bag or sling bag to carry their precious camera gear. And if you’re looking for a modestly priced shoulder bag that also delivers on quality, then a good starting place is Think Tank Photo. And you might want to consider the new Vision series.
Test Report: Think Tank Photo’s Retrospective 10 V2.0 Shoulder Bag – Same Chic Styling, Look and Feel, with Added Features
There is something about Think Tank’s Retrospective shoulder bags that has to be experienced personally.
I’d previously tested the leather version of the original series and found it eminently suited to my trip to New York. (Read about it here.) But that was a small bag that I chose because it would fit inside my luggage. And even before that I’d worked with the original Retrospective. Yet another small bag.
This time I thought I’d go for something bigger, but not quite as spacious as MindShift Gear’s Exposure 15. And I certainly wasn’t about to tote around an even bigger shoulder bag, although, if you are of that mind, there are two larger versions of this bag available.
I was especially curious to see what improvements were made to this series. I would not be disappointed, though I did find room for improvement.
The Handy Water Bottle Pocket
A water bottle pocket has been added. I would have preferred a stretch mesh pocket, but I can see Think Tank’s thinking behind the design they used. A nylon pocket would not be in keeping with the retro-canvas styling of the bag. Either way, it now means you don’t need to add an accessory pouch just for a water bottle. You can, however, add a lens case by way of the loop on the flip side of the bag (more on Think Tank’s new lens cases in a later review).
You could hold a lens in this side pocket, but I would hesitate to do so for any length of time. There’s no real way to secure the pocket, and a lens could slip out when you’re not paying attention. You know what would have been cool? A sealable lid, via Velcro, a zip, or even a snap or clasp. But, again, it could come in handy when changing lenses, if not already occupied by a water bottle. (Here’s a thought. Attach a carabiner to the opposite side and your water bottle to that, if the water bottle provides some means by which you could do that.)
The one thing that bugs me, and I found it to be somewhat of a nuisance on Think Tank's Signature 13 as well, is the tuck-away interior flap that has been added to the new Retrospective bag. As I’d commented previously, I would have preferred a double-zip system. But I’m not sure that would have helped. And here’s why… The pliable shell of the Retrospective, while imbuing the bag with that retro-chic feel, makes it difficult to close the flap.
I recommend either not zipping the inner lid all the way once you arrive at your destination, or not using it entirely. If you take the latter route, it means using the noisy and somewhat resistant Velcro system to keep the bag closed. There are noise-silencers built in, but using them (and not closing the inner flap) means you leave the bag entirely open – not a smart move in a crowded bus or subway, or while dashing around town, or putting your bag down on an uneven surface where it may topple over. So you’ll have to use one or the other once you start shooting. But let me make myself clear: Until you arrive at your destination, unless you expect to stop along the way to shoot, use both means to keep the contents secured. You’ll keep dust and dirt out, as well as prying hands.
It may be picayune to quibble over this, and I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it, one way or the other. But, hey, I like to quibble over the small stuff. If the world smelled entirely of roses, we wouldn’t have carnations. Okay, not sure what that means, but maybe you do. Anyway, none of that matters in the long run. The bag does the job it’s designed to do.
Oddly enough, I find myself lately taking a shoulder/sling bag out, even on my nature walks, preferring it over my backpacks for immediate accessibility to my gear, provided I’m not toting a heavy load or very long lenses, and don’t need to carry a trail kit or light jacket.
Would I use this new Retrospective V2.0? In a heartbeat. Regrettably, I miscalculated. I thought I’d be able to fit my D500 with attached Tamron 100-400, but it didn’t prove to be a comfy fit. A deeper bag would have done the trick. So I’ll stick with my Exposure 15 for that rig. It wouldn’t be a problem if I carried body and lens separately, but I prefer having my gear at the ready – hence my rationale for using a shoulder bag in the first place.
All in all, as with its progenitors in the Retrospective lineup, the Retrospective V2.0 looks classy, feels classy, and, in short, is a class act. You’ll look good with this bag hanging off your shoulder or sling-style and you’ll feel good knowing your gear is well protected and within your grasp when the moment counts.
Test Report: MindShift Gear Impresses Us with Two New Outdoor Bags - BackLight 18L Photo Backpack and Exposure 15 Shoulder/Sling Bag
A Quick Look at the New MindShift BackLight 18L
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.
MindShift’s Exposure 15 Shoulder Bag
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.
It was nearly a year ago that I tested the progenitor to the BackLight series, the BackLight 26L, from MindShift Gear. That pack has become a staple in my stable of carrying gear, which includes a variety of MindShift and Think Tank Photo products. I’ve grown to rely on them for their utility and durability. And these days, I’ve been leaning toward smaller bags that limit what I carry. I prefer to arrive home after spending hours on my feet little worse for wear, and lighter loads allow me to do that. I also find I work faster and more efficiently if I can work economically.
Anyway, so this BackLight 36L arrives on my doorstep. It’s a full 10 liters bigger than the previous model, which I use mainly when shooting with my Tamron 150-600mm G2. In fact, what that translates to is, the 36L is taller, wider, and deeper. So the question you have to ask yourself when choosing between the two versions is, how much backpack do you really need?
But even before you go there, take a closer look at the pack and you’ll notice something different – something that sets it apart from other MindShift (and competitor’s) backpacks. Hint: it has to do with camera access. The name should give you a hint.
The Design - The Good and the Bad
In contrast to typical backpack designs, the BackLight employs a rear-access panel, rather than a front panel. (Front outer pockets hold a variety of other stuff, as we’ll see.). It’s a zipped, drop-down panel, but by giving you access to your gear from the rear, you keep prying hands away from your precious cameras and lenses. It may take a little getting used to at first if you’ve been using a more traditional pack, but, provided you’re not switching back and forth, as I am wont to do, you should have a firm handle on it after one or two outings.
MindShift will try to tell you that you can change lenses on the fly, without removing the bag from your body, thanks to this rear panel and a short neck cord found inside the bag. I tried it with the 26L. It didn’t fly. And with an even bigger and heavier bag, I’m not even going to attempt it. Frankly, I wish they would have removed that cord, since it always came undone on the smaller bag. And it was not very comfortable.
Room for a Laptop, a Tablet – and a Tripod
Rear access means you can carry a tripod centered over the front of the bag for better balance on uneven terrain. All the accoutrements are in place, but neatly tucked away top and bottom. Or you can carry the tripod on either side, with a water bottle on the opposite side. If you’re mostly traveling over flat terrain, side-carry is not a problem.
Keeping the tripod over the center makes more sense for the long haul, but it does get in the way when laying the bag down to get at gear. And if you carry a tripod, you definitely do not want to use that neck cord to change lenses while still wearing the bag.
I don’t know about you, but I never take my laptop into the field. Still, if that’s your preference, this bag lets you do that – inside a padded sleeve. Not only that, but you can also carry a tablet. The tablet sleeve isn’t padded, but the surrounding pocket is so voluminous that you’ll likely keep a jacket and other stuff in there to cushion against bumps.
While the Spectral series from Think Tank Photo may not share the same elegance as this company’s Signature series, the new shoulder bags do weigh in with a couple of nice features I would have liked in the Signatures. On the other hand, a few of the trademark elements found in the Signature would have been welcome additions to this bag. (Click this link for my review of the Signature Series.)
Still, all in all, the new bags have much going for them. I chose to review the smallest of these, the Spectral 8, since it’s primarily aimed at the mirrorless camera (as well as compact DSLR) user and I wanted to address a market segment I tend to overlook. The two larger bags, Spectral 10 and Spectral 15, address more robust DSLRs, but without grips.
The cover flap has a magnetic clasp. Nice touch. Pull a tab to release; just drop the flap back down and it should close on its own. I would have preferred this mode of closure to the metal buckles used on the Signature, although it doesn’t reflect the same level of chic. (I’m always afraid the metal buckles will come crashing down on the camera’s LCD when I use the Signature.)
Lift the flap and you come to a small outer sleeve that will hold a cell phone of any popular size. Behind that is a zippered pocket designed to hold an 8” tablet, or accessories, such as maps, a guide book, and such. Sleeves within the pocket will hold spare batteries and a memory card wallet. (The larger bags will carry 10” tablets, and the 15” bag will carry a laptop.)
Before we go inside, we encounter a secondary cover flap. As on the Signature, this one is zippered and designed to keep out prying hands, as well as the elements. Unlike the one on the Signature, it’s not pleated (which would have been nice – to accommodate lenses that protrude just a bit when standing on end).
Open this second flap to access your gear. You can leave it open and fastened to the cover flap via a Velcro-style hook-and-loop attachment, or tuck it into a sleeve inside the cover flap. To be practical, don’t tuck this inner lid away. Instead, use that additional pocket as a “secret” compartment for valuables (it closes with hook-and-loop fastener). By the way, I prefer this arrangement to the one used in the Signature bags.
If you use a sling strap that fastens to the camera’s tripod socket, you may be able to leave it attached, since there is enough room for it.
One convenience feature carried over from the Signature line of bags is the trolley sleeve (luggage-handle pass-through). This lets you easily piggyback the bag on your roller luggage.
Unlike the much more costly Signature series with its leather accents, the comfortably-priced Spectral series is low-key. Yet the Spectral does carry a certain degree of panache with it.
More important than looks is functionality. The bag wears well and is easy to work out of.
KEY FEATURES per Think Tank Photo
MATERIALS per Think Tank Photo
Exterior: All fabric exterior treated with durable water resistant coating while fabric underside is coated with polyurethane for superior water resistance. The bag also has YKK RC Fuse (abrasion resistant) zippers, 420D velocity nylon, double PU coated P600D, heavy-duty nylon tarpaulin, UltraMesh pockets, antique plated metal hardware, Fidlock mangetic buckle, 350G 3D air mesh, 3-ply bonded nylon thread
Interior: PE board reinforced removable closed cell foam dividers, 200D liner, PU backed nylex liner, 2x PU coated nylon 210T seam-sealed taffeta rain cover, 3-ply bonded nylon thread
PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS per Think Tank Photo
Test Report: MindShift Gear's PhotoCross 13 Sling Bag Is a Natural for a DSLR with Attached 150-600mm Zoom
If the PhotoCross 13, from MindShift Gear, can hold my Nikon D500 with Tamron 150-600mm G2 attached, imagine what other combinations of gear it can carry! That’s the surprising discovery I made on the third day working with this bag. But first allow me to detour for a moment with some thoughts on choosing between a sling and backpack for your photo gear.
Sling vs. Backpack
I routinely prefer a backpack for my photo adventures into the wilderness, and even on the streets of Chicago. More to the point, I’ve never been one to wear or even favor a sling bag when carrying camera gear, except when testing these bags. They are favored by the younger generation, I’ll give you that.
Granted, when I wear a shoulder bag, namely the Signature 13, I do so largely sling-fashion, but that’s only because the strap on that bag lends itself to easy portage in this manner. And I carry a light load (read more on the Think Tank Photo Signature 13 here.)
The problem with bags that carry the moniker “sling” is, in my experience, that the strap always cuts into my neck, largely due to a shoulder pad that is too stiff and inflexible. And many of these bags try to be a photo pack minus the backpack harness, meaning they strive to fit as much gear as possible, to the point where your neck and shoulder will hate you 15 minutes into your trek.
So when MindShift announced the PhotoCross, I approached it with some trepidation. Little by little, the bag started to grow on me. In the end, I may have found the one sling that fits me to a tee.
Choosing the Right Size
I immediately opted for the larger of the two new PhotoCross sling bags. In determining what would be a good fit, I began with the product photographs on MindShift’s website – the pictures showing the bags decked out with a complete array of gear.
The second thing I did (and do routinely) before requesting a sample bag for testing and evaluation is to watch the product video. MindShift (as well as Think Tank) keeps the introductory video short and sweet. I try very hard to read between the lines, but, I have to admit, they keep the dialog tight and to the point. So the only thing left for me to do was to order the bag I felt would be the right fit. And that was the PhotoCross 13. It proved to be the right choice.
PhotoCross on the Surface
Aside from a choice in size, you have a choice in color schemes. More realistically, it comes down to a choice in color accents. I chose Orange Ember, the other choice being Carbon Grey (hey, MindShift – this is the USA; we spell it “gray”! No need to get hoity-toity on us.). I would have been happier still with a bag that was predominantly orange, with gray (not “grey”) accents.
The color accents around the front of the bag key us into the zipper locations. There is an outside pocket, which I wish would have been pleated to accommodate a light jacket. But, as is, it’s still functional enough to hold any non-bulky extras you may need. There’s also a pair of smaller pockets inside this outer pocket. The other zipper leads to the main camera section, with additional pockets.
There’s also some accent stitching on the back – not that anyone will notice while you’re wearing the bag. Still, a nice touch. And there are other subtle color accents besides.
Okay, color schemes aside, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The body of the bag maintains a fairly svelte appearance. That’s not a fashion statement. That’s a practical feature. In the woods there’s less likelihood that the bag will hinder your progress in tight spaces and it won’t bump into people on buses and trains. Well, the tripod hanging off the back might, but you can always hand-carry it till you reach a clear path.
The PhotoCross Harness System
This sling pack features a one-piece, adjustable shoulder strap, with thin, air-circulating, mesh-covered padding lining much of the strap. There’s a stretch of similar padding extending out from the base of the bag, which falls against your lower back. I wish this padding ran the entire length of the strap for added comfort.
That same mesh lines the back of the bag. However, lacking the raised shoulder and lumbar pads usually found on a backpack, this really didn’t provide much cooling. But there’s a way around that (read on).
The shoulder strap has no buckles to fasten and unfasten. While fasteners do make it easy to remove the bag when you’re seated, in every other conceivable situation, they’re a nuisance – and a potential hazard. With gravity and inertia taking over, you may lose your grip on one or both straps when trying to snap the ends together, or when unsnapping them, with the potential for the bag to come crashing to the ground.
And to sweeten the deal, there is even a set of compression straps – one at the top, another at the bottom – so you can better tailor the shoulder strap and ultimate fit to your comfort level. By this means you can separate the bag from your back a bit more for improved air circulation.
What’s more, there’s no sliding shoulder pad that you constantly have to readjust. The padding is part and parcel of the strap, so it moves with the strap. And, again, the soft padding on this bag ensures your neck won’t chafe from a stiff shoulder pad. You may still find yourself adjusting the strap to optimize your comfort level, but that’s something one does normally when wearing any bag.
There’s also a tuck-away waist belt. It’s largely there in case you’re negotiating treacherous terrain and want to prevent the bag from shifting and throwing you off-balance.
Couple that with a pair of hand straps to help you get a better grip on the bag. Add to that, the bag employs reinforced box-X stitching at stress points on the main handle. And the stitching on the bag overall is immaculate, with nary a loose thread that I could find.
The PhotoCross 13 in Use
The bag is meant for a casual walk in the woods or on city streets, with a modicum of gear. You’re not going to get a gripped DSLR and long, fast lenses in here.
The main camera section has three, fully adjustable modules, with movable padded dividers (via Velcro-type hook-and-loop fasteners). What will that fit? I’ve carried a 70-300mm attached to the camera, a flash in the second module, and various accessories including sling strap in the third. Actually, you’ll be surprised at how much you can squeeze into this bag.
What’s more, I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to load my D500 and 150-600 zoom into this bag. It was a tight fit and getting this combo back in the bag while I was wearing it required a bit more of an effort than when removing the gear. It was also fairly easy to load this combo into the bag before donning it. I also managed to fit the Nissin i60 in a soft pouch on top when I'd started out.
If you’re wondering, if I had to remove the tripod mount on the 150-600, the answer is no. I inserted the camera into the bag lens first, camera grip upwards (portrait mode). And I rotated the tripod mount so it rested facing upwards, making it easy to grab the mount as a handle and pull up. Once out of the bag, the tripod mount was returned to its original position.
There’s also a tablet sleeve inside the camera section, lying against your back. I say “tablet,” not “laptop,” because I can’t see anyone schlepping a laptop of any size, unless it weighs no more and is no bigger than a tablet (contrary to specifications). I’m not even sure I’d carry a tablet, certainly not with the long-lens rig just described. Perhaps I would with a smaller, lighter load.
Because I wear hats, the hat does get in the way, requiring its removal when donning the pack, or removing it. A sling camera strap proved equally annoying when wearing this sling pack. I may try to sling the bag to the left and carry the camera at my right (for a fast grab – really, the only way to use a sling strap) and see how that works. Although I’ll probably just keep things as they are, being right-handed.
Given that the bag’s hand strap on top falls naturally in position for an easy grab with your right hand when the bag is carried to the left, I’m beginning to wonder if that wasn’t the intended carrying method. I gave it a quick try, but it didn’t feel natural, so back to the tried and true (subject to change without prior notice).
A third strap on the bottom would equal the score in terms of making it easy to grab and swing the bag around, but that may interfere with the integrity of the bottom panel, which is designed to be better resistant against wear to vertical placement and scraping of the bag on rocks and dirt.
All that aside, what’s important is that the entire time I wore the PhotoCross, I never felt as if it were choking me or cutting into my neck.
One thing I should point out. It may take a bit of trial and error to get the shoulder strap just the right length, while adjusting the compression straps for maximum comfort. For now I have the bag flush against my back at the top, but looser at the bottom, which seems to work for me.
Look for a review of the Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 soon.
When Kata first introduced the Bumblebee photo backpacks (distributed by Manfrotto), they soon became a favorite – at least for a time. What I liked about one bag in particular – and forgive me for not recalling the exact name – was its light-gray reflective exterior and the bright yellow (or yellow-orange?) interior that revealed every piece of gear stored.
Fast forward to the present. These bags no longer come under the Kata brand, being instead not just distributed by Manfrotto, but manufactured under the Manfrotto brand as well. The Bumblebee backpack I received kind of resembles the old Bumblebee, but that’s largely superficial. So has Manfrotto improved the backpack in the redesign? (Spoiler alert: read past the first few paragraphs to find out how I really feel about the bag. Don’t be dissuaded by my introductory comments.)
Preliminary Observations: New Pro Light Bumblebee-230
The reason I’d requested the larger Bumblebee-230 was because the 130 was touted for CLC mirrorless systems. And since I’d planned to use the pack with either with my Nikon D500, possibly with battery grip, or D610 and various lenses, the larger bag seemed the logical choice.
So the bag arrives. And now I remembered one thing that had always bothered me about the original bag. The design of the backpack harness adds depth to the bag and it extends out in front like someone who’s had a few too many beers. What that means is, this bag will very likely not fit in the overhead bin on any aircraft I’ve been on, despite claims to the contrary. OK, technically it may fall under carry-on guidelines. However, you can’t argue with airport personnel or airline crew, especially if you’re among the last to board – what they say goes, and if they say it’s not a good fit, it’s not a good fit. And this is not the time when you can turn around and shift gears to a sleeker, more airline-user-friendly bag.
Okay, forget about air travel. What about everyday use? Well, try using public transit with a backpack that sticks out as far as this one does. You won’t get many smiles from the people you’ve jostled. Then let’s head to the woods. As you attempt to negotiate narrow trails and dense thickets you realize it’s going to be a tight squeeze and you approach the hike with some trepidation.
That aside, the interior design is a bit odd. There’s an upper shelf with an aperture for a lens to stick through. But the aperture is not centered over the central channel in the lower part of the bag, so how exactly do you fit things properly? You have to shift one of the main dividers over to align everything.
What’s more, the interior is dark. And the foam is thick – too thick, in my opinion. Yes, I like my gear cushioned and cuddly in a pack, but the thick foam kind of imposes itself and gets in the way. It takes on a cavernous appearance.
Okay, you’re saying, pull out the upper shelf and stretch the two main red dividers to their full length. Well, guess again. These were apparently fitted for the 130 and they’re too short to extend fully top to bottom in the larger 230.
So, where does this leave us? Well, all is not lost. In fact, there’s quite a lot to be said for this backpack.
Now, What I liked About the Bumblebee-230
The pack is well constructed and will deliver years of good use. The backpack harness works admirably. I especially like the padded pocket in the padded waistbelt – keep a lens or flash here (a 70-300 will fit, although a flash would be a better choice, just in case you hit a lot of bumps in the road).
And the bag is comfortable. Which brings us back to the backpack harness. The waist belt does a beautiful job of keeping the weight off your shoulders. More to the point, it puts it on the hips – exactly where it should be. Few photo backpacks (or I should say backpack manufacturers) understand this, or even among those that do, few follow it in all their backpack designs.
Carrying a tripod comes second nature to this bag. There’s even a laptop sleeve. And there are enough pockets to house all essentials. Well, except for a jacket. The outer front zippered pocket should have been pleated to allow more room. I tried getting a lightweight jacket in there without luck.
I should also mention that there are two ways to get inside the bag. The upper and lower sections zip open separately. However, there is a flap that stands between the zippers on one side. Lift this flap up (it uses Velcro-type hook-and-loop material) and you can gain access to the entire interior with one smooth zip movement.
Field Report: Think Tank Photo's StreetWalker Series Photo Backpacks Take to the Streets as Version 2.0
I used my original StreetWalker for a long while, eventually replacing it with MindShift Gear’s TrailScape 18L when that bag came along. What I liked about the StreetWalker (version 1.0) was its small size: It could easily fit under the seat of a commercial airliner and would be a comfy fit in a puddle jumper as well. But when the TrailScape came along, I figured, Hmm, a bit bigger and a roomy outer front pocket for a light jacket – OK, I’ll use this one when I need a smaller bag.
Now that the StreetWalker V2.0 (SW V2) is here, I find myself switching back to this smaller pack. After all, if I need something larger, capable of storing a jacket and some extras, I still have my MindShift BackLight 26L, which I recently discovered will snugly hold my Nikon D500 with attached Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens (look for a review of both products soon).
Think Tank also sent me the new StreetWalker Pro V2.0 (SW Pro V2) – the larger sibling in this family, but not the largest in this series by any means. There’s an even more spacious pack, the StreetWalker HardDrive V2.0 (which fits a full-size laptop), and new to the lineup, the StreetWalker Rolling Backpack V2.0 (roller and backpack in one). The two largest bags looked tempting, but I felt that two bags was enough to deal with for now.
Inside and Out
The new SW V2 and SW Pro V2 are roomier on the inside than their original counterparts and slightly larger overall. Other than that, the new models add room for a 10” tablet on the bag. The tablet sleeve is the same size on both bags.
One of the problems I had with the original SW V2 (can’t recall if this also applied to the larger pack) was the small water-bottle pocket on the small bag. Think Tank addressed the issue in both V2 bags with an expanded, pleated zipped pocket behind the mesh pocket. Small water bottle? Use the mesh pocket. Large 32 oz Nalgene, use the zipped pocket.
I would have preferred that the pockets were pleated all the way around to the bottom. That would make an easier fit for a large water bottle and allow for a grommet at the base. A bottle with cold water subjected to a warm, humid environment will form condensation, and that condensation will pool at the bottom. A grommet allows the water to safely drip free of the bag.
The pocket on the left (with the bag on your back) has a small smartphone sleeve as well. I don’t know about you, but I carry my phone in a vest pocket, where I can easily reach it, not in the backpack, where it’s impossible to reach (unless you’re a contortionist) without taking the pack off your back. Some things appear cool on paper but are not very practical in the real world.
One of the more subtle changes revolves around the main padded partition. It’s now hinged toward the bottom to make room for a second camera with lens attached. Simply swing the hinged section over to the right to make room. When carrying two cameras with attached lenses, this provides for a well-balanced carrying situation, which your back will thank you for. Obviously, this reduces your ability to carry very long lenses, but, hey, you can’t have everything – unless you switch to a larger-size pack.
Any way you slice it, either bag is roomy enough to hold fast lenses attached to a DSLR, within limits. I would even venture to say that each bag could hold a medium-format camera, possibly with a lens, at the bottom. At the very least, the larger bag should hold two gripped DSLR bodies with attached lenses; the smaller one should accommodate one DSLR at the top and, on the bottom, one gripped body, each with lens.
Air-flow mesh padding in the back and shoulder straps was welcome relief on a hot muggy day as I found myself walking around several popular birding areas in the Chicago area, wearing the StreetWalker Pro V2, on a bird photography outing with a friend.
I had the SW Pro V2 loaded with my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 – lens attached, I might add, and resting comfy, cozy, and snug inside the pack. I also added a Nissin Di700A shoe-mount (which I’m also testing) and sling strap, that I sometimes left attached to the camera – or more correctly, the tripod mount for better balance.
And yes, I kept the tripod mount attached to the lens. Otherwise, you tend to forget these things when you need them, or misplace them entirely. I also find it much easier to carry the camera by grabbing onto the mount, although at times I may cradle the camera, varying with the moment or the situation.
The tripod mount was positioned fully downward inside the pack, an arrangement I found raises the entire assembly to the point where camera and lens practically hug the closed lid for a snug fit so things don’t bounce around. Still, as a further precaution, I tend to secure lens and camera with either an elastic band that attaches to either side surrounding and hugging the lens, or I position an unused padded divider over the lens barrel for this purpose. I should add that I left the lens shade reverse-mounted on the lens.
The lens being this new, I take one more precautionary step – I slide the packing Styrofoam collar that came with the lens in place beneath the hood, just as it arrived from the factory, to prevent distorting the hood. It’s probably overkill, I know, and I may discontinue this practice, but it stands for now.
One thing that bothered me about both bags: the lack of headroom above the camera. The D500 has a very deep grip. The Nikon D610 not so much, but it still had difficulty being comfortably seated in the smaller V2 pack. I almost gave up, till I realized I could reshape the central divider somewhat to make room. And that worked. I have the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 attached to the camera, and there appears to be room for a bulkier and longer lens in its place. The fit in the larger Pro V2 was also tight with the D500 in place, but not to the point where I had to make any further adjustments to the main divider.
As for comfort level, I’m not sure why – and this will no doubt differ with the individual – I found the smaller of the two packs rides more comfortably on my back. Perhaps it’s due to the heavier load packed into the Pro V2. Then again, I’ve loaded the BackLight with the same gear, and it was a smooth ride – as good as it gets. It may have something to do with the added depth of the SW Pro.
As a side note, I should point out that the added depth on the StreetWalkers offers one distinct advantage: It lets them stand upright easily, unassisted and without having to lean against something for support, without fear of the bag tipping over, which is certainly a plus.
FEATURES (per Think Tank Photo)
StreetWalker Backpacks V2.0
WHAT FITS (per Think Tank Photo)
StreetWalker Pro V2.0
MATERIALS (per Think Tank Photo)
PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS (per Think Tank Photo)
StreetWalker Pro V2.0
Internal Dimensions: 9.4” W x 17.3” H x 7.5” D (24 x 44 x 19 cm)
Exterior Dimensions: 9.8” W x 18.5” H x 8.3” D (25 x 47 x 21 cm)
Tablet: 7.7” W x 10.4” H x 0.4” D (19.5 × 26.5 × 1 cm)
Phone Pocket: 3.9” W x 7.5” H x 0.6” D (10 × 19 × 1.5 cm)
Weight: 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg)
Internal Dimensions: 9.4” W x 16.1” H x 6.3” D (24 x 41 x 16 cm)
Exterior Dimensions: 9.8” W x 17.3” H x 7.1” D (25 x 44 x 18 cm)
Tablet: 7.7” W x 10.4” H x 0.4” D (19.5 × 26.5 × 1 cm)
Phone Pocket: 3.9” W x 7.5” H x 0.6” D (10 × 19 × 1.5 cm)
Weight: 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg)
Peak Design’s trademark, if you will, is out-of-the-ordinary photo accessories. They made their mark on the photo industry with the Capture camera and lens clips, which heralded a different way of carrying a camera and lens – essentially attached to your body. Now they’re looking to do the same with their line of Everyday line of camera bags, specifically the Everyday Backpack. Did they succeed?
Perhaps I should begin by saying that, while I thought the Capture clips were a clever idea, I never found them very practical. At least not for my style of shooting. And there’s the rub. We each have our own shooting style, so what works for one person may not work for someone else, or, to look at it another way, what doesn’t work for me may work for you.
A Little Background
I’ve been working with photo backpacks ever since Ultimate Experience introduced the very first one several decades ago, in the pre-digital age (look it up, I think museums have a hall dedicated to it). That pack was well-constructed and very lightweight, but it had numerous shortcomings, to the point where I was happy when new packs started to arrive on the scene. Back then Lowepro stole the show. Today MindShift Gear is setting the benchmarks in outdoor/wilderness packs and Think Tank Photo in travel packs.
Anyway, when the Peak pack arrived, the first thing that struck me was, hey, this is one stylish bag. I was really curious to see how well it would hold up under actual use. I took a peek (no pun intended, well, maybe just a little) inside the Peak, and, again talking to myself, said, hmmm, let’s load this baby up and take it for a spin. So I did just that.
Peak sent me the ash-gray pack, which features leather accents. Too early to tell how this leather will hold up, but it does add a modicum of refinement any way you slice it. The charcoal pack is entirely fabric (sans leather accents).
The backpack harness consists of thinly padded shoulder straps, with sternum (chest) strap and waist belt. The ends of the waist belt are hidden in the outside pockets. If you have arthritic fingers, you may have a tough time accessing them – get a friend to help.
In addition to the backpack harness, the bag features a handle on each side, as well as on top – nice touch. On the ash bag, the handle is a composite of fabric and leather layers.
There are stretchable pockets on the outside hiding compression straps. You can use one pocket and its respective compression strap for a tripod, the other pocket on its own for a water bottle.
What gives the side pockets their stretch are elastic bands. I was able to fit a 32 oz. Nalgene water bottle in the pocket, but I fear that over time the elastic may wear and break. (Other straps are hidden away under the front of the bag, in a hidey-hole, so to speak.)
There’s also a zipped sleeve, accessible at the top, on the back, which will hold various accessories, a tablet, and laptop.
The main zipped flaps afford you entry to the camera section, one zipped flap on each side. And that’s where the story gets especially interesting. You can access the bag through a side flap by swinging the bag around to the front, sling-fashion, while keeping the bag attached to your body via one shoulder strap. This way you won’t have to put the bag down, which is a decided plus when you’re standing in the muck or surrounded by water or snow.
But before we look inside, I should also note that there is a stiffened top lid that also leads to the bag’s interior. The top lid has a magnetic closure. There’s no way to lock the bag, although the side zips do provide a modicum of security. Still, most thieves will get at a backpack through the top, not the side, and they’ll have little trouble doing that here in a crowded setting. I would recommend keeping a rain cover on the pack to help keep prying hands out, but, alas, none is provided. That’s another point of contention.
The interior of the pack features three, what Peak calls, “FlexFold” dividers, with Velcro-type hook-and-loop fasteners. You position these three dividers as shelves. They can be modified to hold more gear in a somewhat unusual fashion, without adding more dividers: Each shelf end folds upward, forming a mini-shelf. If you’re having trouble picturing it, think of bookends. That’s kind of how they look, if not how they function.
It looks and sounds really cool, but here’s the problem…
The upshot of this divider system is that you can’t fully customize the interior. For starters, bookending either side leaves less cushioning on the remaining end section of the modified shelf/divider. What’s more, the end sections offer rather flimsy support. It’s even possible for something small to fall over the edge of a shelf, into the gap left between shelf and side flap, since the ends just float there, with nothing to secure them to the sides.
On top of that, the FlexFold dividers can’t be repositioned horizontally along the shelf – they’re locked in place at each end. You either use them or you don’t. But you can’t further modify the amount of space devoted to each piece of gear – that is without moving the entire divider up or down. Unless you wrap, say, a lens in soft foam or bubble wrap to keep it snug.
With conventional dividers, you can form a virtually unlimited array of shapeable modules, more with some bags than with others. And you can even shape dividers around lenses, so they don’t move, no matter how much jostling they undergo.
There’s another drawback to this system. Actually more than one. You can access some gear on the top shelf through the lid, but the rest of the gear must be accessed through one of the side panels.
So, what happens if you have one short lens on a mini-shelf on one side of the pack and a second short lens on a mini-shelf on the opposite side? You have to open each flap. And that assumes that you remember where you put which lens. Not to mention, there’s always the possibility of forgetting to close one of the two side flaps that you’ve just opened – unless you open and close them one at a time. (This is where accessing the bag sling-style can actually prove to be more of a bane than a boon.)
One more issue I have with this bag. The dividers use a very dense closed-cell foam. Open-cell foam absorbs vibrations and is ideal for dividers when not overly spongy (that Ultimate Experience pack used very spongy open-cell foam). Closed-cell foam is better shock protection, which works great for the exterior shell and to some degree for dividers. (I’ve always contended that a layered mix of open and closed would be the ideal.) The dividers here are so dense that things just bounce off them. So if there’s too much room, a lens will bounce around – and you don’t want that. You want the lens as snug as the proverbial bug in a rug.
I should add that there is a way to set this divider system up so that one very long lens can stand on end from the very bottom of the bag, but I found it highly impractical. And again, you’d have to cushion the lens against being bounced around.
I also need to point out that the side flaps each have pockets. However, don’t overfill these, as that may get in the way of the gear you can store on each shelf.
I strongly recommend you view the video on Peak Design’s website outlining all the features of the bag. But read between the lines. It’s not all as smooth-sailing as the video would lead you to believe. (Click here for video.)
I’ve already outlined all my issues with the interior design of the pack (see Design: Interior). So no need to repeat myself.
I like the magnetic latches, despite the fact that you can’t lock them. But what I don’t like is that the flap is open at either end, which, in a torrential downpour or with gusty winds at the beach, means water or sand will find a way in.
The bag desperately needs a rain cover. It was shortsighted of Peak Design not to include one, or at least optionally offer one custom made for this pack. Finding one online that fits just right is just too iffy. Not to mention, third party rain covers advertise some other company. I’d like to think that Peak Design would prefer to promote their own products, not someone else’s.
When I tried the empty bag on, it was a comfy fit. And I initially made a point of mentioning that to Peak Design. Fast forward to my experience after I loaded the bag up and the experience was radically different.
I found the shoulder straps with a loaded bag dug into my shoulders. To keep straps from sliding off, which is typical of most packs, I employed the sternum (chest) strap. I found this equally uncomfortable. The one-piece chest strap hooks onto each shoulder strap (instead of two pieces snapping together) – sounds simple in theory, more troublesome in practice.
Then I added the waist belt. Using a waist belt is supposed to take some of the weight off the shoulders. It didn’t do that. There was no added support whatsoever. And the waist belt is too narrow and neither contoured nor padded.
To make matters worse, I noted that, had I been a stockier fellow, the straps would not have fit. This bag is not made for someone with a stocky frame. I also wonder how it would do with layer upon layer upon layer of heavy winter clothing. I didn’t have to dress for winter to figure that one out. It would be a tight fit, if that.
There are occasions when even a hard-nosed photo backpack user like myself must resort to a shoulder bag. In these times, sadly, backpacks may be seen as something other than the innocent carriers of your photo gear. There’s even one institution here in Chicago, namely Shedd Aquarium, where I’ve had the unfortunate experience of a security person literally ripping through my MindShift Gear photo pack to gain access, instead of simply using the zippers as intended – or asking me to open the bag. Happily, no harm done, except for some frayed nerves on this side of the inspection table (good thing MindShift uses high-quality hardware that resists such mistreatment). It was more intrusive than past TSA inspections I’d experienced (although maybe not as bad as some recently reported).
In the past, I was very happy using my Think Tank Retrospective 5 Leather bag, although over time I’d come to realize the small size was both a boon and a bane, keeping me from carrying too much but often proving too small for anything more than the minimum of gear. Even a 15-30 f/2.8 or 70-300 attached to a DSLR was too much and the 24-70 f/2.8 on the camera just barely made it. So it was time to trade up.
Thankfully, the Signature series entered the scene. Here I had a choice between two sizes. And this time I opted for the larger bag for one very good reason: The bag was longer and deeper than the Retrospective, but it still maintained a slim profile. That would remove the temptation to overfill the bag and also meant it would ride comfortably at my side, without bulking out.
What’s more, as I was soon to find out, I could shift the bag around to my back when wearing it sling-fashion. Of course, as a shoulder bag, it lends itself nicely to being worn over the shoulder. In fact, this bag is almost perfect. Almost.
Think Tank seems to have reinvented camera bag fabric when it came to the Signature series. This is a softly textured polyblend with the feel of finely woven wool. Unlike the Retrospective, this bag does not use Velcro-style hook-and-loop fasteners on the outside. In fact, I’d caution you to keep Velcro away from the exterior, as it may ruin that clean look (and, no, I didn’t test it, out of fear of ruining the bag). And if you’re wondering, the bag has been treated with a water-resistant finish. That aside, there is a rain cover included, which came in handy when I found myself pelted in a downpour.
Enhancing this bag’s sophisticated appearance are leather accents. Soft leather graces the bottom of the bag. And there is leather on the carrying handle and shoulder strap, as well as the fastener straps. The buckle fasteners are metal, not plastic, further heightening the impression of quality.
Advancing the impression that this is a well-crafted bag is this: There is not one stitch out of place, not one loose thread.
This is where the Signature bag really shines, for the most part. The entire interior is Velcro-friendly. You can reposition the padded dividers to your heart’s content. Better still, they are more heavily padded than the typical Think Tank dividers. What’s more, the two central dividers are supportive enough to hold a camera upright, with attached lens facing downward. And if you feel you need more dividers, they’re included. I originally put these in storage, since I found the original set of dividers did the job well enough.
Two things I did not like about the interior centered on the bottom of the bag. Instead of one contiguous cushioning base, there are two, what are essentially, padded dividers lining the bottom. And the bag lacks a stabilizing bottom platform to help keep the bag’s shape and prevent a sagging bottom, while offering enhanced protection to gear. So, I pulled the three extra padded dividers from storage and lined the bottom of the bag with them. Now the bag is firmer at the base and offers even better protection for my gear.
Keep in mind that a soft-sided bag is intended to be pliable. A heavily padded, stiff outer shell would make the bag less convenient to carry. The back of this bag is the most heavily padded, enough so as to cushion you against bumps and practically prevent anything from bulging out intrusively. The front of the bag is more pliable, so keep the top of the camera to the front. That also places the grip on the right, for a quick grab.
There is enough room in the Signature 13 for me to keep a BlackRapid sling strap attached to my Nikon D610. BlackRapid straps tend to protrude more than most sling straps when attached to a camera body, which is why it’s worth noting.
A couple of more points worth noting. Unlike the Retrospective, the Signature bags feature an interior zippered lid. Keep this zipped when on the move, prior to reaching your destination or when in iffy spots to keep out prying hands.
In theory, the top flap fully covers the top of the bag. In practice, the sides bulk out just enough to leave a tiny bit of the interior exposed on each side. Which is why you may want to keep the inner lid zipped when moving about, or in situations where dirt or debris or errant water drops or snowflakes might enter the bag.
And speaking of this inner lid. I would have preferred two zippers to make it easier to open and close more rapidly. That aside, Think Tank thoughtfully designed it so that it could be attached to the main flap for quick opening when unzipped. And they’ve added another option: You can tuck the lid inside the bag, so it remains out of the way entirely. I prefer the first approach, since you can leave it attached to the main flap and still zip it open and closed. This inner lid, by the way, is pleated, making room for a lens that may stand taller than would ordinarily be accommodated.
KEY FEATURES per Think Tank Photo (with my comments in italics)
GEAR CAPACITY per Think Tank Photo (with my comments in italics)
MATERIALS per Think Tank Photo
Exterior: All fabric exterior treated with durable water resistant coating while fabric underside is coated with polyurethane for superior water resistance. The bag also has 240D wool-like 195G nylon/poly blend, full-grain leather, antique-plated metal hardware, highest quality YKK RC-Fuse zippers, 550D polyspun, nylon seatbelt webbing, neoprene, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
Interior: 210D silver-toned nylon lining, polyurethane-backed quilted Velex liner and dividers, high-density closed-cell foam dividers, 2x polyurethane coated nylon 210T seam-sealed taffeta rain cover, nylon binding, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS per Think Tank Photo
The moment I unpacked this photo backpack and unzipped the main flap, I had a sense of déjà vu. I’d seen this bag before.
Then I took a look at my Think Tank Photo StreetWalker and realized where I’d seen this design.
The new TrailScape largely mimics the interior of the StreetWalker, or perhaps more correctly the StreetWalker Pro, since the dimensions more closely match that pack. But there are substantive differences. What are they? Read on.
The TrailScape – On the Outside
Gone are the two zippered side pockets found on the StreetWalker. They are wisely replaced by two roomier stretch pockets. Granted, some may lament the loss of these zip pockets, but I always found them a bit too cramped for my taste.
Instead, you now have room for a 32-oz. Nalgene water bottle on one side, counterbalanced by your tripod snugly secured by compression straps, with two feet (spikes retracted) resting inside the opposite stretch pocket.
On the front, there is a very spacious pocket that will hold a 13” laptop and a 10” tablet, not that I ever carry either into the field. But I do make use of these sleeves for maps, pads, and various accessories. There are also organizer pockets in this section.
In front of this large pocket sits another pocket, diminutive by comparison, designed to carry your sunglasses, with a very softly textured fabric lining that shouldn’t scratch. I’ve got a pair of those sunglasses that are so bulbous when closed that they require a custom case. They fit here. But I was so afraid they’d get crushed at some point, that I removed them and put them back in their hard case. In their place went my Giotto’s rocket blower.
The zippers run very smoothly. However, I would have preferred contrasting colors for the zipper pulls on the front pocket. Yes, the zip pulls, which are designed to be easily handled with gloves, are smaller on the pocket. But I did manage to grab them by accident. So my solution was to rest them on the side, with the main zips up top. Problem solved.
Because this is a trail pack, in contrast to the zips on the StreetWalker, the zippers are not interlocking (for the purpose of inserting a TSA lock). Besides, locking a bag only makes it that much more tempting to those looking to steal it.
There are four lash points on the front of the bag, but you’ll have to supply your own rope or bungee cord. If you need to carry stuff inside the front pocket to keep it safe from the elements, you can lash a jacket to the front of the bag. I keep a light jacket inside this pocket.
There’s a carrying handle on top – more of a strap, really, coming to rest on the back of the pack. While not nearly as substantial as the one on the StreetWalker, such straps have been used on other packs (I believe also from MindShift or Think Tank), and I’ve never known them to fail. Besides, in contrast to that other bag, this handle doesn’t add to the height of the bag – which could make a difference when you’re trying to squeeze into a tight overhead bin or under a seat. (By the way, if you’re going to carry the pack for any distance, by any means other than fully on your back with both straps, use one of the shoulder straps, not the carrying handle.)
On the Inside
This pack is not nearly as deep as even the original StreetWalker. What does that mean? Forget about carrying a pro-grip camera, unless you insert it face-up sans lens. That said, my Nikon D610 rides much more secure in this bag, because it’s less of a bouncy house (although, I must admit, I always secure the camera with a Velcro band over the dividers or I’ll seat another divider over the lens for a snug fit).
There are plenty of padded dividers. As is, this pack is fitted for a slew of lenses, accessories, and a flash. My dividers never sit in one place for very long, however. That’s the beauty of a customizable system.
There are also two mesh pockets inside the front lid for small, chiefly flat items.
The first thing I have to comment on is the backpack harness system and airflow/lumbar padding. In a trail pack, this is of utmost importance for your comfort and safety during long treks, especially over arduous terrain. While this pack is not meant for such outings, by its very nature, still, it’s comforting to know it will stand the test.
The harness system on the TrailScape feels better than the one found on the StreetWalker. The straps are wider at the shoulder. The straps on both packs are contoured top to bottom to fit the body nicely, but this one is decidedly a better fit.
As with the StreetWalker, the unpadded waist strap is removable. (Keep it inside the bag, or you’ll lose it. Better yet, leave it attached – reattaching can be a chore if you didn’t take notes on how the straps originally attached to the bag).
The sternum (chest) strap on the TrailScape is longer and a bit stretchy for larger chests or someone wearing lots of winter layers. On my initial outing, I didn’t find it necessary to use either the waist belt or chest strap. The pack rode comfortably on my back without requiring constant adjustments.
By the way, when you first get the pack, it’s important to loosen all straps. Tighten them when the pack is on your back, and adjust them once on the trail.
You’re probably thinking that it’s odd this pack doesn’t allow for a hydration bladder, whereas the more compact SidePath, which is essentially an enhanced daypack, will accommodate a bladder. I’m guessing, that, when you start with one basic design, namely the StreetWalker, it would be difficult to create a custom passageway for a drinking tube without destroying the solid fabric of that pack. And frankly, I’m not a fan of bladders, so this doesn’t bother me in the least. If you must use a bladder, MindShift has several alternatives available, currently the rotation 180 packs.
MindShift Gear first came on the scene with rough-and-tumble photo backpacks. If you wanted to go into the wilderness with your camera gear, this was the way to go.
But with time, the company has mellowed in its direction, it seems, and has started producing photo backpacks with more mass appeal. Is this a good or bad thing? Well, it depends on which side of the fence you’re leaning.
I, for one, like some of the more city-slicker-oriented designs for those of us who don’t spend days trekking into the great outdoors. But, then again, I lament that the company feels a need to trim down their packs at the expense of all-around utility.
Enter the SidePath.
The SidePath – On the Outside
Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to materials and workmanship, MindShift doesn’t skimp. Granted, a bag such as the SidePath doesn’t share the same go-anywhere body of this company’s heftier backpacks. After all, this bag was designed to be light on your back for light hikes, walks around town, and sightseeing. Toward that end, the materials are also lighter weight.
Where I feel MindShift has gone wrong with this lightweight pack is in the shoulder straps. They may be comfortable over several layers of clothing, but, as the day wears on, you may begin to feel it, especially if all you’re wearing is a t-shirt under those straps.
OK, granted, I did go ga-ga over the previous lightweight pack, the UltraLight. And I had used that bag for much of the year. But over time, I did notice a difference, especially after testing Think Tank Photo’s ShapeShifter V2.0 and MindShift’s Moose Peterson V2.0, with their heftier, more substantial backpack harness systems. And that made me long for those stockier backpacks.
But, then again, I’m a stocky person. Someone with a more slender frame will likely appreciate and prefer the lighter-weight of the SidePath. And, by extension, would be very happy with the existing shoulder harness.
On the Inside
This is a twin-tier design. That means that there’s a roomy upper compartment and a lower level. Traditionally, the lower level is where camera gear goes. Which is the case here. So you can expect the required padding and the customizable interior.
The upper level is where your personal stuff goes. It has a tent-like zipper flap. The front flap has an inside mesh pocket, which is quite spacious. There’s also a thinly padded sleeve to hold a tablet. Alternately, you can fit a hydration bladder in this sleeve. I personally avoid inserting a hydration reservoir inside a pack, for fear of leakage.
Who Should Use This?
Anyone out for a light hike, a walk around town, or sightseeing, or simply enjoying a fun outing with friends and family.
Despite my complaints about the lack of padding in the shoulder straps, they did manage to do a nice job. I would have liked a roomier top section, so I could fit a jacket in there with my extra gear, but I’m sure I could find a way to do that when push comes to shove. The lower section was a perfect size for my D610 and attached 70-300mm zoom. Alternatively, it would also carry my D610 with Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 attached just as snugly. If you don’t mind carrying camera body and lenses separately, you could fit more gear in here, provided none of the lenses were long or of wide girth.
I found myself liking this bag. Of course, when MindShift sends over their TrailScape, I may shift my attention to that roomier bag. Still, the SidePath does have a place among my other packs, but, more importantly, on my back. It’s compact, lightweight, and is the perfect solution for a day out with my camera.
Still, MindShift, you might consider coming out with a slightly larger version, with a heftier shoulder harness. That would be my perfect bag for sauntering about town.
Until now, my favorite photo backpack from Think Tank Photo was the StreetWalker. The original StreetWalker is compact enough to make it onboard practically any flight as a personal item, if you play your cards right. The Shape Shifter V2.0 might not make it as a personal item, but it will certainly fit in the overhead. Of course, you should check with your preferred airline prior to each flight, as carry-on regulations can change at a moment’s notice.
What sets the Shape Shifter apart from other packs is its morphing design. It starts out with a tapered look, but unzip the bag and it expands to hold your gear, going from 3 inches in depth to 7 inches. Apart from that, the bag wears just like any photo backpack.
An In-Depth Look: Let’s Start Outside
The Shape Shifter V2.0 has what’s needed for a comfortable hike or walk around town. Namely, it begins with contoured shoulder harness, sternum (chest) strap, and waist belt.
The included waist belt is not padded, but it works fine. It’s not removable in the usual sense, as it lacks clips. On the other hand, it can be removed with some effort. However, if you lift up the hook-and-loop-fastened bottom flap (which is padded to protect the bag at the bottom), you’ll reveal a hideaway behind the lumbar pad. If you don’t use the waist belt, then tuck it away. If you remove it, you can replace it with the padded Pro Speed Belt V2.0 (Think Tank, $41.75 - make sure to order in the right size). Instructions come with the pack for replacing the waist belt. The Pro Speed Belt is designed to carry extra gear, courtesy of the numerous attachment loops on the belt.
The back of the pack is comfortably padded, with an airflow design that makes it breathable. The shoulder straps are similarly configured to be breathable. And while the pack doesn’t have side compression straps normally found on outdoor packs, it does benefit from shoulder compression straps for a more personal fit. Another nice thing: the shoulder straps didn’t slip off my shoulders, which such straps have a tendency to do. That meant I didn’t have to use the chest strap, although to be thorough, I did carry the bag with all straps attached. It was a comfortable arrangement.
The main compartment has a single zipper. All other zippers are paired, and many are lockable.
If you want to use the pack as a daypack, for clothing and travel essentials, then you’d do best getting the Naked Shape Shifter. I would imagine that you could easily use the Naked Shape Shifter as a weekend getaway pack without adding any pouches. The Naked Shape Shifter is essentially the same pack as the one I tested, minus the sewn-in accoutrements.
Each Shape Shifter pack comes with a removable mesh water bottle pocket on the outside. I don’t know about the 15-inch Shape Shifter, but the pouch on the 17-inch version is large enough to easily hold my 32-ounce Nalgene. And the mesh means that condensation on the bottle’s exterior will be able to evaporate without the water forming puddles.
Before we open the pack, I did want to point out that the bag is surprisingly heavy, considering it lacks the usually dense padding inside and on the front and sides. But that’s also a sign of solid construction. As mentioned, the back is fully padded.
When expanded, the bag reveals an unpadded nylon shell along the top and sides. For this reason alone, I’d hesitate to take this pack on a strenuous outdoor hike where a backpack might be knocked about. But then again, that was never the design for this bag. It can easily take some jostling on a crowded bus or subway car.
Plenty of Pockets
One reason to love this bag: there are lots of pockets. First, there are 3 roomy pockets inside the front lid. Now move to the outside of the bag and you’ll find an abundance of pockets. For starters, there’s a padded sleeve that will hold a 17-inch laptop, along with a tablet in a separate padded sleeve – all in a section immediately to the rear of the main section. If you don’t carry a laptop, stick a jacket in here, or maps.
There’s a separate semi-padded tablet sleeve on the front of the bag. In fact, this sleeve offers protection for the camera gear, given the padding. I stuck the included rain pouch in a small upper outer pocket for additional padding from the front. There’s also an organizer pocket.
There’s even a pocket to hold the tripod legs, when carrying the tripod over the front of the bag (actually, this is the only way to carry a pod with this bag). That pocket can also be used for other stuff, since the included tripod straps should hold a lightweight tripod securely top and bottom (tripod straps included).
On the Inside
The expanded bag is deep enough to hold my rather girthy Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8. However, the bag is not really designed to hold a camera with attached lens, and for me that was originally the deal-breaker when Think Tank first introduced the original Shape Shifter. I prefer keeping one lens attached to the camera, so I can be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Still, not all situations require your camera to be constantly at the ready, and I was willing to give this a shot. And having said that, the new neoprene wrap may fit a body with a compact lens attached. I just didn’t feel it was worth the effort, since I’d have to swap lenses once I’d reached my destination.
In addition to the wrap, there are 4 pockets of varying size. I fit a Tamron 70-300mm zoom, Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8, and Nikon SB-700 flash in the pockets, with my Nikon D610 going inside the wrap. I still had one pocket available. I added a small padded divider to the bottom of the lowermost pocket to further pad that lens against bumps in the event I set the pack down a bit too hard. I would have done likewise with the other lower pocket had I used it. There was also room for a sling strap. If you have small lenses, simply wrap them well and double up to take advantage of the available room. Or if you stack them, add an unused padded divider or other padding between them. These pouches may be sewn in place, but they still leave room for some astute arrangements.
The 17-inch standard version leaves you plenty of room to throw in a jacket and some other stuff. And despite what you’re told in the introductory video on the Shape Shifter page, never ever put a water bottle inside a camera bag. And don’t put food inside the neoprene pockets, or you may find crumbs mixing with your lenses – a bad combination. For that matter, I wouldn’t put food anywhere inside the bag if you’re carrying camera gear—accidents do happen, and you wouldn’t want your trail mix mingling with your camera and lenses.
Working out of the bag was a charm. Granted, I still would have preferred to be able to use the bag with camera and my lens of choice attached, but I easily worked around that.
This bag comes in really handy if you don’t like to carry too much gear. You can still fit a second camera body in the pack, in place of one lens. But all in all, the gear carried is modest in scope and size. No really long, fast lenses here. This is a pack geared toward a DSLR, with or without grip. Most mirrorless systems will be swimming in the available space.
One recommendation. It’s very easy to forget to zip a bag or pocket. One solution is to standardize on how you employ the zippers. For faster access, the left and right zippers should meet at the apex or middle. When it rains, I tend to move them to one side. In other words, I keep all the zippers either centered or on the same side, so a quick glance can tell me that everything is secure. By the way, a rain pouch is included, but I use these only during a downpour. You shouldn’t need it in a light rain.
The Moose Peterson MP-3 V2.0 photo backpack marks a departure for MindShift Gear in two respects. First, MindShift doesn’t normally take on camera bags designed and previously marketed by a third party. And, second, the interior is different from anything MindShift has offered before now. The first marks a prudent step toward expansion, which, in today’s world, makes economic and business sense for a forward-thinking company. The second signifies a long-awaited and highly significant step toward making MindShift products more user-friendly and utilitarian.
As you may have figured out, this pack is the baby of wildlife photographer Moose Peterson--for wildlife photographers. It’s a vast improvement over the original Moose Peterson pack, which I’d reviewed some years back for a major photo magazine. And it stands head-and-shoulders above a similar design from another camera bag company. In fact, even hinting at any similarity is an insult to the Moose pack.
An Inside Look
Professional wildlife photographers use long, fast lenses. These lenses are, by and large (no pun intended), ginormous. But many photo backpacks are not designed to easily hold them, without sacrificing much, if not all, of the available space, leaving little room for anything else.
What makes this bag eminently suited to this pursuit is its tripartite design. The longest compartment is specifically designed around a long, fast lens attached to the camera or an even physically bigger lens on its own. Two smaller sections house the camera (when detached from the lens), along with a second body and even a third, several additional lenses, converters, a shoe-mount or two, and filters. When the main section is not fully occupied, there’s plenty of room for other gear. In fact, whichever size Moose pack you buy, it will comfortably hold at least one body with pro-grip, with lens attached.
Each item of gear is securely nestled in place thanks to the thick but flexible Velcro-friendly dividers—a serious departure from the dividers MindShift has been using in its other packs, and a welcome change. The new dividers let you customize the interior almost infinitely, with various-sized sections. The new dividers also do a better job of hugging and grabbing your stuff so it doesn’t slide around, or out of the bag, should you open it while it’s in an upright position. All this is safely contained within a fairly rigid, padded wall that encompasses the pack.
Protecting everything at the front end are three separate zipped access panels, which are padded. What’s noteworthy about these panels is that, rather than remaining open and exposing the contents to the elements, they drop back down. Just make sure to zip the panels shut before donning the pack. What would have made this even sweeter is if MindShift would have used the magnetic-locking clips, similar to the ones used on the Rotation packs, so the panels would stay closed. Then again, someone might see that as an encumbrance to quickly getting into the bag.
Is It Perfect?
This pack will also hold a tripod over the large front panel or on the side, using the mesh pocket. However, I’m sure you’d rather reserve this sizable pocket for a large Nalgene water bottle. Either way, it’s a workable arrangement.
There’s no space for a hydration pack. In fact, as comfy as the bag is to wear, it’s best use comes from taking short hops away from your vehicle or traversing mild terrain. It’s too bulky to negotiate tight spaces. Still, I’m pretty sure you don’t plan to use this bag on long, arduous hikes over treacherous terrain or to scale steep slopes. And even if you did, feel assured that the bag will remain steadfastly on your back.
There’s no room for lunch, a jacket, rain poncho, first aid kit, guide books, and other hiker essentials, unless you want to clear out a section of gear. A spacious front pocket or upper tier, where stuff like this goes, is lacking. There is a small pocket on top, where you can store filters, lens tissue, and the like, plus mesh pockets inside each flap, but none of these is well-suited to a sandwich or a change of clothes.
The Moose pack is perfectly suited as a bag you’d want to work out of. The self-closing flaps help toward that end. When laid flat, the pack serves as the perfect workspace. And it’s designed to keep you well organized. To say that this pack is thoughtfully designed would be an understatement.
I loaded the bag up with about 25 pounds of gear. I don’t usually carry this much gear around and dreaded the thought. Still, once I got over the shock of how heavy it felt when I first picked it up (before actually weighing the load), after donning the pack, I must say that it felt good. In fact, I’d noted that the shoulder straps didn’t slide off my shoulders. Sliding shoulder straps are a big bane on most backpacks. Still, to make carrying this load even easier, I cinched the included waist belt and sternum strap. The shoulder straps, by the way, are well padded to handle the load, as well as contoured and breathable for a comfy ride.
I should point out that the waist belt, while included, does not come attached to the bag. Slide it through the lumbar pad on back of the pack. You’ll note that the strap has two hook-and-loop strips. They attach to their counterpart on the inside of the lumbar pad, so make sure to insert the strap properly (the breathable mesh goes against your waist). The tapered waist strap is thin enough to be easily stored out of the way when not in use, but ample enough to give you the needed support and comfort.
You’ll note that there are no compression straps anywhere. They’re not really needed. Compression straps are required on bags designed for arduous hikes and backpacking. But to protect the zippers, at least around the circumference of the bag, there is a narrow rain flap, just wide enough to do the job, not too wide that it gets in the way.
Speaking of straps, I almost forgot to mention a few things. First, there are two padded carry handles – one on top, another on the side, so you can carry the bag like a suitcase. While I haven’t had the opportunity to test it out, the bag’s squarish design makes it well-suited for overhead stowage on most airlines. And to further your efforts toward that end, the shoulder straps tuck neatly behind the airflow shoulder pads that lie against your back. (In fact, that’s how the bag is delivered to you.) Also, you can wrap the waist belt and secure it in front, to maintain the bag’s svelte lines.
On the face of it, this Moose pack looks like a piece of handsomely crafted luggage. In fact, the pack appears so innocuous that there’s nothing about it that even remotely screams camera bag. Well, if you don’t count the tripod hanging in front…
MATERIALS (Mfr. specifications)
Exterior: For superior water resistance, all exterior fabric has a durable water-repellant coating, plus the underside of the fabric has a polyurethane coating. The bag also features highest-quality abrasion-resistant YKK® RC-Fuse zippers, 420D velocity nylon, 600D polyester, 1680D ballistic nylon, 320G DuraStretch mesh, nylon webbing, 350G airmesh, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
Interior: High-density velex, 210D silver-toned nylon lining, hexa mesh pockets, high-density closed-cell foam, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
I can’t remember ever using a camera holster. Fact of the matter is, I find them too limiting. More to the point, I’m a photo backpack guy.
Still, I was intrigued by the moniker Multi-Mount, so I opted to test out this new bag from MindShift Gear, one of my two favorite camera bag companies (along with Think Tank Photo).
I chose to review the largest holster in this new lineup, the Multi-Mount Holster 50. And when the bag arrived and I initially holstered my Nikon D610, my first thought was: big mistake. What was I thinking? This bag is too roomy for a camera without a pro-grip. I should have ordered this bag one or two sizes smaller.
So I let it sit around, and sit, and sit.
Until one day, when I was retrofitting a backpack to give to a friend.
Unlike some reviewers, I recycle my older camera bags. I even ask that the bag recipients make a small charitable contribution in place of paying me for the bag.
Anyway, I came upon a padded divider that I’d stored. That’s another thing I do. Some packs—not any from MindShift or Think Tank, I might add—are just not worth giving to anyone, so I gut them and keep the dividers for later use, relegating these bags to other purposes, or just leaving them in the laundry room for any takers.
Retrofitted to Suit My Needs
So, here was this wedge-shaped divider that turned out to be a perfect fit for the Multi-Mount 50. Well, almost perfect. To make this an even better fit, I added a thick pad covered in Velcro-friendly material to the bottom of the holster. Which now meant I could secure the divider on three sides using its hook-and-loop tabs. (And, yes, that pad came from yet another old pack.)
I wasn’t done. The holster included two narrow, thinly padded dividers. I don’t even recall where they were placed initially, but the first thing I did was to pull them out. It turned out that the wedge-shaped divider fell a bit short, leaving the top of the camera with the pentaprism housing exposed to bumps from anything sitting in the newly partitioned adjoining section. So I simply used these spare dividers to add to the height of the barrier. The arrangement was flexible enough to accommodate the top of the camera while isolating the two sections.
Granted, I probably could have used the two spare dividers alone, without adding anything, but the divider that I did add was thicker and of a heavier density and I felt it would do a better job of separating one section from the other.
Now I had room for my Nikon SB-700 flash in the ancillary section, with the D610 and attached Tamron 70-300mm zoom (or Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom) in the main, larger section. Could I do even better? (Note: the manufacturer recommends using the outside pocket for the flash, but I prefer keeping my flash where it would be better protected while on the move, then possibly sticking it in a photo vest pocket once I arrive at my destination.)
Room for More
One day I’d decided to do some macro shooting, replacing the zoom with my Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro. That meant I’d also need my Metz ring flash. Hmm, could I also make room for the SB-700 inside the bag?
Why bother with the SB-700? I’ve often used a shoe-mount in place of the macro flash. The trick is to use the flash in bounce mode with the dome diffuser (diffusion dome) attached. That produces a soft, feathered light that doesn’t overwhelm the subject or create heavy, disturbing shadows behind it.
Anyway, that step was simple enough. I added a layer of protection (another padded divider from the storage bin) over the ring flash and lay the shoe-mount on top.
Next I wondered if I could make room for a second lens. Okay, something would have to give. I removed the ring flash. After all, the shoe-mount had greater utility. The Tamron macro was still on the camera, but I also wanted to take my Nikon 60mm macro, and as luck would have it, this lens was compact enough to fit in place of the ring flash, with the shoe-mount again riding on top.
And There Was Room for Even More
There is a zippered inside pocket—mesh so you can see what’s inside. I stuck the rain cover and a filter (inside its case) in there.
I wasn’t done. I had an outside front pocket waiting to be filled. This space was relegated to anything that wasn’t easily damaged, which included batteries for the camera and flash, a white balance target, and Rocket blower.
I was a happy camper.
First, you’re probably asking, how easy was it to get at the camera, now that I’d crowded it in with all the extras? Very easy indeed.
I should point out that I’d attached a SpiderPro Hand Strap to the camera, with a BlackRapid Tripod Plate 70 at the bottom, which now lets me readily use a tripod when needed.
While the bag would have accommodated a neck strap on the camera, a sling that attaches to the tripod socket would have been a bit much for this configuration. I would have had to make room, at the expense of the second section.
The nice thing about this Spider wrist strap is that I’ve gotten so used to it that I no longer feel a need to hang the camera around my neck or deal with a long strap getting in my way.
Wonder how I manage to hold onto the camera with that wrist strap for long periods without a neck strap or sling? Intermittently I rest the camera in my free hand, relax my grip for a moment or two, and flex my fingers. Simple, really.
The holster comes with a waist belt. That made a big difference, securing the bag in place so it wouldn’t swing around as I bent over to shoot low when focusing on macro subjects. That meant that I wouldn’t constantly have to divert attention away from the subject and toward the bag in an effort to reposition the holster behind my back, where I generally like to keep it, rather than at my side. (Okay, it did slide around a little, since I don’t like to cinch the waist belt too tight, but it wasn’t enough to prove an annoyance as I was shooting.)
The waist belt also takes some of the weight off your shoulder. However, it didn’t go far enough. Because I’d weighed the bag down by filling it to capacity, I found myself having to swap out the shoulder strap for one with a more substantial all-rubber shoulder pad, which also did a better job of gripping my shoulder. (Again, another remnant from a bag relegated to the throw-away pile.)
That said, the shoulder pad on the shoulder strap that came with the bag is pliable enough so that it won’t dig into your neck when you wear it sling-style, if that’ how you prefer to wear a shoulder bag. The strap would also work well if you opted to wear the bag as a chest pack, with the strap draped around your neck. This holster bulked out too much for me to comfortably wear it in this fashion. That’s something I might have done with one of the smaller versions.
I didn’t even try the other carrying modes. Again, if this were one of the smaller holsters, I would have entertained the notion of attaching it to my backpack. The bag also comes with a pair of tether straps that let you secure the holster to the back of the backpack; in front, as a chest pack but this time in tandem with the backpack; and as a waist pack, attached to the waist belt of the backpack, albeit at the front, lower down than you’d normally wear a chest pack. By letting the Multi-Mount ride tandem with a backpack, you can keep the camera in the holster, at your beck and call, while the rest of your gear rides comfortably on your back.
What can I say? The Multi-Mount Holster gives you the best of all worlds, keeping gear safe and ready for use the moment inspiration strikes. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I do. I use it regularly. And now I’m glad I’ve got the Multi-Mount Holster 50, the biggest holster in the lineup, since it lets me carry enough gear to tackle whatever I expect to encounter during the day, or night.
A NEAT ACCESSORY
Keep memory cards at the ready with MindShift Gear’s Card-Again memory card wallets. The CF version holds 4 cards; the SD version holds 6. If you get the CF version, as I did, you can store 2 SD cards in each slot.
Field Report: MindShift Gear’s UltraLight Dual 25L Photo Backpack – Light in Weight, Heavy in Functionality
I've had a love affair with MindShift Gear photo backpacks from the first. Over time, with the introduction of newer packs, I’ve had to displace older ones – not because I disliked those older packs but because the newer packs more closely addressed my needs and style of shooting. Not to mention, I just didn’t have the space for all of them.
The Rotation180 Panorama pushed aside the Pro size pack, but was in turn replaced by the Horizon because this pack was of the right size to hold the camera/lens combos I often use stored ready for fast retrieval in that built-in rotating waist pack.
Then along came the FirstLight 20L, which I really liked, but it did not meet my needs for a pack I could use in the snow or in muddy conditions without laying the pack on the ground. So the Horizon stood its ground, even though I found it (and the Panorama) a bit on the heavy side.
More recently, MindShift Gear introduced the BackLight 26L, which lets you work out of the bag while still wearing it – hence a workaround when negotiating snowy or muddy terrain. But that pack wasn’t enough to push the Panorama and FirstLight out of contention. I still wanted a pack that would only carry a limited amount of gear while I was running around Chicago yet would also let me carry some extras - more than would fit in an outside pocket, as spacious as the one on the BackLight is.
Specifically, I often challenge myself to make the most of a one-camera-one-lens combo, which usually means my Nikon D610 with attached Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 primarily for landscapes and architecture, Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 for landscapes and street shooting, or Tamron 70-300mm for wildlife, or sometimes the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro for the obvious, but also for wildlife and scenic views with a different perspective.
Enter the UltraLight Dual 25L. Would I now being saying goodbye to my Horizon and FirstLight packs as well?
Light Weight But Not a Lightweight
The UltraLight Dual is not MindShift Gear’s first dual-tier system, since technically the Rotation180 series would also fall into that category. Then again, the Dual is not your typical two-tier pack either.
Two-level packs traditionally have separate top and bottom compartments – the bottom compartment thoroughly padded to accommodate a variety of camera gear, including one camera with attached lens; the top compartment unpadded for personal items (lunch, books, jacket, etc.), as is true here. Often, and applicable in this pack, the partition separating the two sections opens to let you extend one compartment into the other, for whatever reason (converting the entire pack to a daypack, for example).
Traditional two-tier packs feature either a clamshell camera section (opens like a clamshell) or a camera section that opens from the front. I used to like either design until I realized that opening a clamshell can become rather inconvenient if it’s top-heavy. And when the camera section opens from the front, the view or access inside was often obstructed in some way. And both designs required you to put the pack down.
MindShift’s UltraLight Dual builds upon a combination of two concepts: the dual-tier combined with a side-access panel. The side-access panel means you don’t have to put the bag down to get at your camera. Instead you sling the bag off the left shoulder, lift the bottom up so the bag is level, and reach over with your right hand, unzip the panel, and grab the camera. And to make things even sweeter, that camera compartment is actually a removable bag that comes with its own shoulder strap. You can even loop a belt through the back so it doesn’t shift as you’re moving about. The internal bag has its own zippered lid as added security (I usually leave this zipped only partially for faster access to the camera, unless negotiating rough terrain). If you keep the removable bag inside the pack, which makes more sense to me, rather than toting it on your shoulder, make sure to keep the outer panel zipped.
How I Use the UltraLight Dual 25L
First, I begin with a lens attached to my D610. That really doesn’t leave room for an extra lens or flash, so I do the next best thing. The Nikon SB-700 came with a nice, semi-rigid, padded pouch, which I now use so I can store the flash in the upper compartment. When I get where I’m going, I can transfer the flash to a pocket in my photo vest.
Now, with regard to extra lenses. That’s where the MindShift Switch Case comes in handy. I added some extra padding on the bottom of the Switch Case. This also goes into the top compartment. I can transfer this pouch to the outside of the backpack when needed. And if I need more lenses, I’ll find a workaround. For now, this is fine. As I said, I don’t usually run around with a slew of lenses. If I’m traveling, then I’d likely use one of my other backpacks. Which pack? Depends on where I’m going (Think Tank's StreetWalker is often my go-to pack for travel). Then again, I may just decide to take this one. You have to remain flexible, and owning more than one photo backpack allows me to do just that.
Features (my comments in parentheses)
Right off the top let me say that I’m not a shoulder-bag guy. In fact, I loathe shoulder bags. Want to know why? Look at any photographer who walks around stoop-shouldered from bearing the burden of a ton of gear on one shoulder. Even slung over the neck, it’s a wearisome weight to carry around. So why am I writing about Think Tank Photo's Retrospective Leather 5 shoulder bag, you ask?
Well, let me just add this. There is decidedly a place for a shoulder bag - for some people, on certain occasions. If I were a wedding photographer, I wouldn't want to show up at a wedding wearing the backpack I normally use.
But I’m not a wedding photographer. In my role as nature/wildlife photographer and travel/street shooter, I head out these days with one of my MindShift Gear photo backpacks. When I have to travel light, as when I'm flying, I carry gear in my Think Tank Photo StreetWalker pack, because it’s compact yet holds a fair amount of gear - and it will fit under the airline seat in front of me. Provided I’m not carrying my clothes in a second, larger backpack, that is - which would be the case in this instance. Toting two backpacks just didn't make much sense. Which brings me to this compact shoulder bag.
My Camera Bag Solution
For my recent trip to New York City, I needed a small camera bag, one that would easily fit inside the backpack. I wanted my hands free of any additional luggage and didn't want anything else hanging off my shoulder. What's more, if I'd decided to carry it separately, the bag had to be small enough to easily pass as my “personal” carry-on item when boarding the plane.
That carry-on backpack, by the way, was originally a photo backpack from which I’d removed the padded insert. And, no, it’s not one from Think Tank Photo or MindShift Gear – I’d never relegate those packs to such lowly a task. I’d stopped using photo backpacks from other manufacturers to carry photo gear because I realized that they were not as comfortable or as practical or as protective of my gear as these packs from MindShift or Think Tank.
I knew of one bag that would fit my needs for this trip. My solution was Think Tank Photo’s Retrospective Leather 5, the smallest size in this series.
What I Had in Mind for This Bag
On this New York trip I was planning to carry my Nikon D610 with Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC lens attached. And this bag was the perfect size for that. I wasn’t planning to take extra lenses.
I often set out with just one lens to challenge myself to explore the different perspectives and viewpoints in my compositions this lens would allow. What I especially like about this 24-70mm lens is that it’s image-stabilized. And it’s a great all-purpose lens, especially under dim lighting conditions!
What’s more, I don’t like carrying body and lenses detached because that slows down your response time immeasurably. Yes, carrying separate components – body and lenses - would have allowed me to carry an extra lens – but then what happens when you have to put the camera away, especially in a rush? There would be no room, unless you detached the lens. So why start out at a deficit was my argument! Not to mention, you may not be in a dust-free or weather-conducive environment when it comes time to attach or change lenses, or somewhere that you’re comfy letting your guard down while messing with the camera.
Oddly enough, I still had room for one more key item: my flash. I was able to comfortably stuff my Nikon SB-700 into the outside front pocket without bulking the bag out much. Yes, there was room for the flash inside the bag, but I found it hindered quick access to the camera, and worse, got in the way when trying to replace the D610 inside the bag. This proved to be the best and most practical carrying solution, giving me easy access to camera and flash.
(I should also note that I wear a photo vest - a great way to carry lots of small stuff, including a pocket camera, while getting around carry-on restrictions, although it does go through the airport security scanner, along with my bags.)
Retrospective Leather 5 Key Features
The leather Retrospective is a more elegant version of the all-canvas version released several years back. Not that the original wasn’t stylish in its own right. Still, leather, especially when it’s of good quality, does have a nice ring to it. And it’s considerably more fashionable. The leather series comes in three sizes, whereas the original Retrospectives are available in numerous configurations.
Here are the key features, from a Think Tank Photo press release (with my comments/observations added).
In the Field
For starters, the bag was a perfect fit under the seat in front of me, even on a relatively small commuter jet, Endeavor Air, to be specific.
Because the bag was so small and held a minimum amount of gear, carrying it was not uncomfortable in the least. In fact, I slung the shoulder strap over my neck. I hate it when a shoulder bag keeps sliding off the shoulder. I should add that the shoulder pad on this bag is quite nice, with strips on the underside designed for a secure purchase on the shoulder.
Still, simply carrying the bag on your shoulder invites someone on the street to grab it. Which is also a good reason for using a sling strap on the camera. And, thankfully, there was room enough for that camera sling strap as well inside the bag.