With a pair of big photo trips with needs for moderate amounts of gear approaching (including one that would have me returning with unknown new gear), I began planning for photo backpack needs. After having such a great experience with the MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L (a LOT of people are loving this pack and I recommend it often), but not needing quite that much capacity, I asked my Think Tank Photo / MindShift Gear rep. if they would be willing to send me a FirstLight 30L. They did and it was the perfect solution.
The FirstLight 30L is essentially the same as the FirstLight 40L, just with 75% as much capacity. Thus, I'll be borrowing a significant portion of the 30L review from the 40L review and many of the non-loaded backpack images are of the 40L.
When reviewing the 40L, I said that there are a mind-numbing number of camera backpacks on the market today and that B&H had 501 of them listed. Well, that number is now up to 612. While it is easy to design a photo backpack of any size, what separates the MindShift Gear FirstLight 30L from most of the others is the combination of design and quality. This is a high-grade pack ready for lots of hard work.
The very strong, thickly-padded carry handle is perhaps the most prominent feature on the top of the case. The top handle is important as this is how the pack is lifted to put an arm through the shoulder strap. Also prominent are the glove-ready stay-open cord-loop zipper pulls and the large, rugged zippers they are attached to. The zipper pull shown at the bottom of this image provides access to a thin pocket covering the top of the case. A small green tab hiding between the primary zipper pulls is used to separate the Velcro holding another small pocket closed, this one holding an adjustable tripod strap.
When carrying a heavy pack (or even a light one for a long time), it is ideal to have the weight of the pack riding on the waist. There is no getting away from our legs carrying the load, but including the shoulders in the job just makes the effort greater. With a hook-and-loop height-adjustable harness system, the FirstLight 30L can be adjusted to a very wide range of torso lengths. Additional adjustment straps enable the overall fit to be dialed in to individual needs.
The sternum strap is both height and length adjustable and, as always, the waist belt is adjustable in length. Three non-elastic webbing attachment points are provided on each shoulder strap and three elastic loops are also available.
While very light, the harness system provides a nice amount of cushioning everywhere it contacts the body.
A strong, modestly-padded handle is provided on the left side of the case. This handle is useful not only for carrying the case, but for assisting in taking the backpack off. Remove the right arm from the shoulder strap and take hold of this handle to lower the pack.
An adjustable elastic pocket at the bottom can hold, among many other things, a water bottle, tripod or monopod.
A pair of adjustable straps provided at the top and bottom are ideal for lashing in a tripod, clothing, hiking poles, etc. While considered compressions straps, these will only be useful for compressing what is held externally. Note that the backpack is rigid enough to not compress appreciably using these straps. A strong elastic cord is provided at the bottom of the side.
The right side of the FirstLight 30L is similar to the left with one big exception. In place of the handle is a large, zippered, expanding pocket designed to carry a 3L hydration bladder. This pocket can be used to hold other items as well.
The bottom of the backpack provides heavy duty webbing, useful for attachment purposes.
The front of the case, with a pair of thin, full-sized pockets, is rather smooth in appearance. The larger pocket measures roughly 11.5" W x 18.5" H (holds a 15" laptop) and the smaller pocket in front of the larger pocket has space for a rigid item that measures roughly 8" W x 13" H. Both of these pockets are sized to the full front of the backpack and have some additional space beyond their zippers that is not included in the measurements, but contents would need to be flexible to take advantage of this space. The two pockets share a roughly 1.5" depth, but there is some flexibility in how that depth is utilized. The outer material of this pocket area is not padded, so a padded sleeve is not a bad idea if carrying a laptop.
A tab at the bottom of the front is used to separate the hook-and-loop fastener holding the cupped nylon tripod leg holder and a cinch strap in a dedicated pocket.
The dimension table tells a big part of the backpack story: light weight and moderately large volume.
|13.8 x 21.7 x 9"
(35 x 55 x 22.9 cm)
|12 x 19 x 8.7"
(30.5 x 48.3 x 22 cm)
|11.4 x 18.7 x 7"
(29 x 47.5 x 17.8 cm)
|13.4 x 20 x 7.3"
(34 x 51 x 18.5 cm)
|11.2 x 18.1 x 7.1"
(28.5 x 46 x 18 cm)
|10.8 x 17.5 x 5.3"
(27.5 x 44.5 x 13.5 cm)
|fits up to 17" laptop
|fits up to 15" laptop
|fits up to 15" laptop
|6.0 lb (2.7kg)
|5.4 lb (2.4kg)
|4.4 lb (1.9kg)
The MindShift Gear 30L is a perfect choice for flying. As of review time, this backpack easily complies with USA airline carry-on size requirements. I've had it on 7 flights with no issues.
When listing the gear profile for this backpack, MindShift Gear states: "Holds 1 gripped DSLR and 4–6 standard zoom lenses, and 1 flash. Maximum lens size: 500mm f/4 lens detached or 400 f/2.8 attached."
The image below shows the FirstLight 30L loaded after a trip with some small items already removed to allow the larger gear to show.
Along with a pair of un-gripped Canon EOS 5Ds R cameras (note their orientation) are 4 mid-sized L lenses (16-35 to 24-105) and a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens. In a pouch above the 100-400 is a Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head and a variety of items including batteries, remote releases and rain covers. A Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Tripod and BH-30 Ball Head is attached to the side (and stayed on the pack in the aircraft overhead bins).
While there are larger photo backpacks, this one is sized to carry a nice amount of gear.
The lid, shown below (40L), also has generously-sized expanding mesh pockets for holding smaller items such as cables, memory cards, etc. The mesh makes these items easy to visually locate.
MindShift Gear lists the FirstLight 30L construction materials as:
"Exterior: For superior water resistance, all exterior fabric has a durable water-repellant coating; the underside of the fabric has a polyurethane coating. It also has the highest quality abrasion-resistant YKK RC-Fuse zippers, 420D velocity nylon, 420D high-density nylon, 1680D ballistic nylon, 210D nylon, 320G DuraStretch mesh, nylon webbing, 350G airmesh, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread."
"Interior: 210D silver-toned nylon lining, belly-o mesh pockets, high-density closed-cell foam, PE board reinforcement, 3-ply bonded nylon thread."
In addition to the materials being high quality choices, they look great as well. And, being very easy to clean, they stay looking good. My FirstLight packs have seen a lot of use, but they still appear practically as new.
The 30L's zippers are smooth and, especially with the large loop pulls, they are easy to use even with gloves on.
I often carry a significant value of camera gear in my backpacks and I have complete trust in Think Tank Photo and their MindShift Gear products.
As hinted to in the beginning of this review, we get a lot of requests for help in selecting a backpack. The MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L has been a great option for those needing to carry very large lenses, including a 600mm f/4 lens mounted to a pro-sized body (a snug fit). The feedback we've been receiving from those opting for the 40L has been excellent and thus a 30L came to live with me (I believe that one cannot have too many camera backpacks). The 30L is everything that the 40L is, except for having 75% of the volume (90% of the weight and 85% of the cost). If this backpack fits the gear you need to transport, it is an excellent choice.
If you like what you see in this case but don't need as much size, consider the FirstLight 20L option. When I need another smaller pack, that one is next on my to-try list.
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