The PhotoCross Concept
The whole underlying concept behind the original PhotoCross was to use it as a sling bag, over your head, around your neck and across the chest. But there’s a second component that makes the bag even more alluring: a quick-access panel, or hatch, that lets you retrieve and return gear without removing the bag from your back.
MindShift’s BackLight series also has ready access in mind. While it’s a pack I use regularly, it fails to score points where quick access is concerned. I practically always find myself having to plant that bag on the ground or other nearby surface to get at my gear. And there are definitely times and locations where you can’t put a bag down.
Yes, I could stuff extra lenses and a flash into Think Tank pouches for fast access, but wearing pouches doesn’t necessarily lend itself to travel via local transit, such as the bus or subway, even if you leave the pouches attached to the backpack.
Enter the PhotoCross 15. Now, here’s where it may get confusing. The PhotoCross 15 is not a sling by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a backpack, complete with a backpack-style shoulder harness and all the accoutrements that go along with it. But perhaps I should take a step back…
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Think Tank Photo
How much is it?
$169.99 (available in a choice of colors)
For nature outings, you’d be best served by a backpack. For family outings or event photography, the shoulder bag will make a better impression. For street photography, either will work well, although you can get at your gear more quickly when using a shoulder bag – or a true sling bag.
Size-wise, this PhotoCross is roughly the same as MindShift’s Exposure 15 shoulder bag. Even though that bag can be worn sling-style, it’s still a shoulder bag, any way you look at it.
Size-wise, this pack comes in somewhere between MindShift’s BackLight 26L and 18L. The PhotoCross is also not as densely padded as the BackLight, which makes it lighter.
When weighed against the original PhotoCross 13 sling, this pack is roomier, but not much bigger. I had configured the sling to accommodate a DSLR with Tamron 150-600mm G2. When the new PhotoCross arrived, I handed that bag over to a friend, who also had the same lens – and he was quite happy with the fit. I’d decided to leave the new bag configured as it arrived from the factory, so it would comfortably hold my Nikon D500 with Tamron 100-400mm lens attached, cradled lens down in the center of the bag. A Nikon SB-700 and sling strap easily fit alongside, and there was room to spare, with enough dividers to fit more lenses.
Despite sporting a one-piece shoulder harness (joined at the shoulder), which arguably gives the pack a somewhat cheapened look, the harness system benefits from the addition of compression straps at the shoulders and on the padded hip belt, for a more contoured fit. Surprisingly, this feature is missing from the BackLight packs mentioned. I don’t think this bag will hold up under stressful conditions as well as MindShift’s more ruggedized bags, but, then again, it isn’t meant to. This is more a bag for the occasional hiker who goes on short treks over easy terrain. Still, should you find yourself on a long hike over rugged terrain, the bag does offer the needed protection, when packed properly.
Speaking of packing... One strong recommendation: if you pack loose items, pack them on the bottom. I did experience shifting (but only after reconfiguring the dividers, for reasons noted below), or secure them with extra dividers. I always have spare dividers on hand from old bags.
Also, keep in mind that this pack lacks the padded lumbar support of those other packs. Which means you may find it uncomfortable to wear for hours on end under hot, humid conditions. Aside from that, you should be fine.
A really admirable addition: this pack sports a weatherproof zipper (which is lacking in those other MindShift packs – another surprise). It’s a reassuring feature if you find yourself suddenly caught in the rain, although a rain pouch is also included for added protection under a heavy downpour.
There is, of course, a sternum (chest) strap, which I found useful, as the bag did have a tendency to slide off one shoulder, which is typical of many backpacks. I’m not sure why manufacturers don’t simply add non-slip patches on the underside of shoulder straps to hold them in place. Either way, it wasn’t a major concern.
The harness system employs honeycomb-style padding to make it lightweight. Considering you won’t be carrying a ton of gear in the pack, combined with sufficient width of each shoulder strap, the arrangement works perfectly for a comfy ride.
I didn’t find a need for the hip belt, but I’m always glad to have a contoured, padded belt at the ready. That said, it is removable, held in place with Velcro-style fasteners and buckles. It didn’t get in the way and was light enough that I felt it best to leave it in place. You know what happens when you remove stuff – you never find it when you need it. By the way, this is a true hip belt, meaning it hugs the hips, as is should, not one of those flimsy waist belts without any structure to them or which rest too high (improperly around the waist) to be of much use in taking stress off your shoulders.
While the bag will hold a 15” laptop, that just seems superfluous to me. At best, I’d take a tablet. What’s more, the laptop fits inside a sleeve inside the bag, against your back, which, without testing it, would seem to make it uncomfortable to carry. As noted, there is no padded lumbar support (which, again, makes this a bag for the casual user, not hardened trailblazer), but a mesh airflow design does help to cool the back. Since I didn’t use the pack in hot, humid conditions, it’s difficult to say how well this works.
The outside pocket did easily hold my windbreaker, and some extras. You can’t bulk the bag out too much, which is a good thing for air travel.
Now to address the key selling point of the bag: being able to load and unload gear while wearing it. I found it best to loosen the right shoulder strap prior to slinging the bag around to access the gear panel. The added slack in the strap made the process go so much more smoothly. When I tried retrieving gear without loosening the strap, I ended up contorting my limbs in order to unzip the bag. At the end of the day, I found it easier to plant myself on a bench, the bag alongside me, and stow the gear in a calm, collected fashion after stressing out over all the birds that eluded me.
One thing I found annoying: The dividers do not reach fully down to the bottom. What’s more, the narrow confines of the pack make it difficult to maneuver the dividers when readjusting them, to the point where I almost gave up trying – but finally managed it. I often drop my lens cap into the bag, so I’ll know where it is when gear gets stowed away. Irritatingly, the lens cap would slide beneath the dividers, so I’d have to go digging for it. You don’t have that problem with a pack like the BackLight, since the interior is fully exposed when the panel is unzipped. But I don’t even have the same problem with my shoulder bags, so, MindShift, what’s up with that?
After readjusting the dividers so they were flush with the base, that left room over the back of the camera (when cradled in position, with lens attached). And that allowed my flash to slide out of its spot and over and onto the back of the camera. The flash, I should add, was positioned near the top of the bag. I later moved the flash to the bottom of the bag and further secured it in place. So, MindShift/Think Tank, please re-think this divider system.
In contrast to the PhotoCross 13, this bag will easily stand upright. But you can use the sloping sides to lean the bag against a wall, or the back of a chair, without fear of it toppling over, should the need arise. And the bottom of the PhotoCross has added weather and wear resistance, although I would not stand the bag in a puddle.
Keep in mind that price reflects materials and workmanship, so, while not cheap, the PhotoCross 15 is a more economical buy when compared with MindShift’s BackLight series, giving you MindShift outdoor quality and performance without the hefty MindShift price tag.
All in all, I’ve taken the bag out on several outings to photograph a colony of Black-crowned Night-Herons and other birds. It never failed to deliver. The pack proved admirably suited to my D500 with attached 100-400 (with shade in reversed position). My gear was at the ready when I needed it – and I barely felt that I was wearing a pack on my back.
The PhotoCross 15 comfortably carried a DSLR with attached 100-400 zoom, plus flash and sling strap, with room for more. Could be configured to hold camera with 150-600 attached.
The right backpack will let you do your thing without impeding your movements or spontaneity. And the PhotoCross 15 proved to be the right bag at the right time.
Who Should Use the PhotoCross 15?
Nature & wildlife photographers, travel & street photographers, weekend snapshooters.
What I Liked
Not So Much