I have used a lot of great camera cases and backpacks over the years, so it takes a lot to impress me. But, MindShift Gear, a sister company to Think Tank Photo, has done just that with the MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Professional. This pack is very innovatively designed with extreme quality of materials and workmanship found throughout the product. In addition, this may be the most comfortable backpack I've carried to date.
At the top of the innovation list and key to this pack's usefulness is the ability to access a rotating camera-gear-filled belt pack without removing the backpack from your shoulders. Or, with arms removed from the backpack straps, the entire pack can be rotated on the waist belt to a forward position where the contents of the upper section (camera or non-camera gear) of the pack can be accessed. This access means that you can get to your gear very quickly, but also-great is that you have full access to the pack without placing it on the ground. This means that the pack can be accessed anywhere you can stand, including in the middle of a stream, in a muddy field, on top of a narrow rock, on a staircase and in many more locations where you would not want to put your pack down.
MindShift Gear sent me the Rotation 180 Pro earlier this year and I had the perfect venue and weather in mind for testing it. That venue was Ricketts Glen State Park in Benton, PA and bright green spring foliage was on my to-capture list at this destination. The ideal weather conditions for shooting in this park are just after a rain storm – or during a light rain.
The water from the rain raises the water flow rate which makes the falls larger and heavy rains bring color from the forest floor tea/brew into the water. The wet rocks and foliage become more color-saturated. The cloudy weather creates a giant softbox over the forest (eliminating high contrast direct sunlight issues) and the low light levels combined with circular polarizer filter use allow for longer shutter speeds for motion-blurred water. The rain also chases most other people from the trails, providing clear, people-free views of the falls from any vantage point desired.
I had been watching the weather and this particular morning stood out. Here is the National Weather Service Forecast:
I don't take flash flood warnings lightly, and the radar view showed very strong rain at RGSP at 8:38 AM when I captured this screen (the red dot is RGSP).
But, the storm was moving east (normal behavior for this region) and the radar picture was looking much better at 9:07 AM. The storm appeared to have pushed to the east and I immediately headed for the park.
What I didn't know was that only part of the storm had moved east and the portion of the storm to the south (as seen above) continued in a northerly direction. That of course meant that I was under LOTS of rain and had near complete solitude (as no one else was crazy enough to be out on this day).
That also meant that I thoroughly tested the innovative design of this pack along with the waterproofness of the Rotation 180's rain cover. For much of the day, the RGSP falls trails had water flowing over them and much of the trail surroundings. Putting a pack down in the water would not have been a good thing to do. The Rotation 180 Pro allowed me to easily and quickly change gear as needed. It worked extremely well.
Pictured above are B. Reynolds Falls in Ricketts Glen State Park. The Rotation 180 played a big role in my capturing this image and many others I like on this very productive photo day trip.
Let's take a full tour of the pack and we'll start at the top.
At the very top of the Rotation 180 Pro is a near-full-width zipper with an easy-to-use single pull. This zipper provides access to a thin pocket that covers most of the top of the pack. Inside is a keeper clip for your keys, a memory card wallet, etc. A hook-and-loop-closed pocket lies under the zippered pocket and is accessed from the front of the pack. This is a good location to store the tripod straps and pouch when not in use.
Just behind/below this zipper is a substantial double-pull zipper that opens three sides of the top of the pack for interior access to the top section.
What you are seeing under the top opening in the above picture is the top of the optional Pro Photo Insert. This padded insert is sized ideally for the top section of the pack, provided padded-divider storage similar to what is found in standard photo backpacks, allowing the full size of the pack to be used for photo gear storage. I installed the Pro Photo Insert to fill out the pack for this photo session. Here is the Pro Photo Insert by itself:
When installed, some of the insert's contents (depends on how the dividers configured) can be accessed from the top as shown below.
Of course, if the insert was not in place, your jacket, lunch or other stored gear would be accessible through this opening. The top opening is most easily accessed with the pack on the ground.
Moving around to the back of the backpack:
A 1" wide nylon handle at the top makes lifting the 180 Pro easy. The handle is a bit hard to see in this image (it is a little easier to see in the above image), but the narrow, slightly-curved horizontal line between the two pairs of zipper pulls is the handle. The handle is lightly-padded and has a quality feel.
Located beside the handle, two pairs of securely-attached nylon loops are provided as attachment points for accessories such as the Mind Shift Gear Attachment Strap Kit. A single attachment loop is positioned just above the handle and another pair is located on the sides just above the waist pack.
Above the handle is a pair of adjustable suspension straps that attach to the contoured, high-grade shoulder straps. A pair of hook-and-loop-closed strap keepers hold the excess strap length out of your way (love this). The shoulder straps are thickly-padded and have an abundance of attachment points. The backpack straps attach directly to the bottom of the pack via a reinforced section at the front of the waist belt location.
Strap-width elastic pockets are found on the bottom of each shoulder strap. My iPhone 5 very comfortably fits in one of these. This would also be a good place to keep a small flashlight or anything else you want to have close at hand.
The sternum strap adjusts vertically by sliding on a nylon-covered tube on the inside of each shoulder strap and adjusts horizontally via the clip. The sternum strap clip features a built-in whistle and elastic is provided to allow the strap to stretch a bit as needed.
Just below the handle (top of the back) is a pair of zipper pulls that open up the top section of the pack – from the back. To use this zipper, remove your arms from the shoulder straps and pivot the entire pack to your front via the still-fastened waist belt. Unzip the top section zippers while the pack is pivoted forward and braced by the waist belt around your lower back. Both hands are free to access contents, you don't need to put the pack down on the wet or dirty surroundings and the pack will not roll off of the rocks while you are using it.
The above image once again shows the Pro Photo Insert installed and the image below shows the insert also opened.
Full access to insert-stored gear is available with both zippers opened. The insert is of course optional and the Rotation 180 Pro is shown below without the insert installed.
There is plenty of room in this section for clothes, food and other items you need to have with you.
The back of the pack is very thickly and comfortably padded. Airflow technology is used in the vertical middle section to help reduce sweating. The bottom section of the backpack, the part that rests most tightly against your waist, is also very thickly padded.
The back of the pack is rigid, insuring excellent comfort and facilitating the rotating fanny pack (described below).
On the right side of the pack, near the top, is a cinch strap. Use this strap and the matching left-side strap to keep the pack tight around the contents. Use of these straps can significantly decrease the overall volume of the pack when little gear is being carried in the top section as shown in the example below. A tight pack also can be used to stabilize the load in it – a load shift can cause a fall when navigating more difficult terrain.
Just below the cinch strap is a deep-pleated zippered pocket. The backpack rain cover comes stored in this location, though you can remove/relocate the rain cover and use the pocket as desired. This zipper and the pocket cover itself have weather-sealed coatings. The balance of the right side of the pack is consumed by the belt pack cover.
At the top/front of the Rotation 180 Pro is a tripod cinch strap and another tripod cinch strap is found at the middle of the pack. The tripod holder is suspended from the top via two attachment loops and attached to the bottom of the pack via two additional loops. The entire tripod holder is removable, but the cinch straps are not. This setup is very adjustable and secures even a larger tripod very nicely. Adjusted as shown, the pack sits upright properly with the tripod strapped in. Alternatively or additionally, the cinch straps can be used to lash in other items such as jackets.
A full-length zipper runs down the left side of the pack, providing access to a very large but thin pocket, useful for storing a light jacket or similar.
With the top section empty, this is how the pack looks with the cinch straps tightened:
The cinched dimension changes are obviously most-noticeable from the side as shown earlier in the review.
The left side of the pack features a pocket similar to the one found on the right side of the pack except this one extends to the full depth of the pack. Again, this pocket is deeply pleated, unpadded and zippered with the zipper and pocket cover having weather-sealed coatings. This pocket is designed for storing a hydration system/water bladder and a drinking tube hole is provided at the top of the pocket.
Outside of the lower half of the pocket is a large pocket made of a thin elastic mesh with a cinchable elastic cord at the top. This outer pocket is good option for holding a water bottle. A thick black elastic cord is located at the bottom of this side of the pack.
The bottom of the Rotation 180 Pro has 6 fixed attachment loops and two larger adjustable loops.
Rotating Belt Pack
The namesake rotating belt pack and how it functions have to be considered the most innovative features of this pack. A wide, thickly-padded waist belt is attached to a sizeable and also-well-padded fanny pack that rotates 180° (or more if you need it to) to allow very easy access to your camera gear inside it.
A 1" wide, padded nylon pull strap is provided on each side of the waist belt to facilitate rotation in either direction. The ease at which this belt pack rotates is surprising to me.
Easily blindly accessed with the right hand is a very innovative magnetic clip that holds a cover over the otherwise exposed end of the fanny pack. This clip attaches directly to the fanny pack itself while in place within the backpack.
To release the clip, only downward pressure from the thumb is required. To attach the clip, only a close proximity is required for the clip to magnetically grab and lock into place. No careful alignment is needed to make this happen in this not-easy-to-see position. The system works great.
A keeper strap is provided to prevent the fanny pack from rotating too far, though this strap can be unclipped if desired. Unclipping allows the fanny pack to be used alone.
The front of the belt pack has a thin zippered pocket that comes with a rain cover for the waist belt stored in it. Above this pocket is a heavy duty 1" lightly padded handle. Cinch straps are found on the sides of the waist pack.
To open the belt pack, two large zippers are provided. These zippers open beyond three sides, allowing the lid to open fully out of the way for easy access to the contents. The lid opens away from the person wearing it, making the contents easy to see.
Padded dividers are provided for separating and protecting the belt-pack contents. Two slim pockets are provided and a zippered mesh pocket is located on the underside of the lid. Here is an example of the pack loaded.
Shown above in the pack are a Canon 5d Mark III, 24-70mm lens and 16-35mm lens.
An unpadded zippered pocket is provided on the left-front side of the waist pack belt. This pocket is rather large for the location.
MindShift Gear built the Rotation 180 using attractive, durable, easy-to-clean materials that fit into the environment it is meant for – the outdoors. With rain covers for all parts, this pack is ready for whatever the outdoor environment delivers. I estimate that two or three inches of rain fell on me on the RGSP outing. None of that rain made it through the backpack's rain cover.
Plastic-covered-cord loop zipper pulls found throughout the pack are very fast to access and easy to use. The zippers are significantly-sized and smooth-functioning. The clips and fasteners are of modern design, most are adjustable in length and some are removable.
Will your gear fit? That is of course an important question to ask when buying a backpack. I typically suggest that people lay their gear out very close together on a table to determine if that gear will fit into the available interior space of a pack. And for that determination, you of course need to know the size of the pack.
|Exterior with empty exterior pockets||13.5" W x 22.5" H x 10.5" D||57 x 27 x 34 cm|
|Interior – upper compartment||12" W x 14" H x 8" D||30.5 x 35.5 x 20.3 cm|
|Exterior – belt pack only||13" W x 7" H x 7.5" D||33 x 17.8 x 19 cm|
|Interior – belt pack only||12.5" W x 7" H x 7" D||31.7 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm|
|r180 Pro Photo Insert exterior||10.5” x 7.5” x 13.5”||27 x 19 x 34 cm|
|Lens Switch Case exterior (retracted)||7” H x 4.5” W x 3” D||18 x 11.5 x 8 cm|
|Lens Switch Case exterior (extended)||10” H x 4.5” W x 3” D||26 x 12.5 x 9 cm|
Pro-sized DSLR bodies are generally 6.5" (165mm) high. The Canon EOS-1D X with an L-plate attached fits nicely in the belt pack in vertical orientation. Unless you are using a short lens (about 3.5"/89mm or less), you will not be able to load a camera and lens combo in lens-down position. This means that medium-sized gear including a camera will often be stored for quick use in the side-orientated position shown earlier in the review. One body with a lens attached, a second lens and a few supplies will fit nicely. This also means that the Pro Photo Insert may be desired if a second camera body with a lens mounted is going with you. A pair of smaller camera and lens combinations will fit and a smaller camera and lens combination along with multiple additional lenses will fit. Many lenses (possibly six or more) will fit if not attached to a camera.
Without the Pro Photo Insert in place, there is plenty of room in the upper section of the backpack for clothing and a big meal. The insert can be configured to hold a variety of gear combinations.
The overall dimensions of this pack slightly exceed the typical review-time-current US airline allowable carry-on dimensions of 9 x 14 x 22" (22 x 35 x 56 cm). Use caution if trying to get this pack onto a plane without checking it.
Here are the volume specs:
|Overall||2287 ci||37.5 l|
|Backpack||1807 ci||29.63 l|
|Belt pack||480 ci||7.87 l|
|r180 Pro Photo Insert||672 ci||11 l|
While it is not a featherweight backpack, the Rotation 180 Pro is quite lightweight for the comfort, protection and capacity it affords.
|Belt pack and backpack total||5.3 lbs||2.5 kg|
|Belt pack weight||1.8 lbs||0.8 kg|
|Backpack weight||3.5 lbs||1.6 kg|
|r180 Pro Photo Insert||.94 lbs||.425 kg|
|Lens Switch Case||.33 lbs||.17 kg|
r180 Pro Photo Insert
Included in the tables above and pictured/discussed earlier in the review is the r180 Pro Photo Insert. With this optional insert, most of the backpack volume can be used to store and carry sensitive camera gear, which greatly increasing the versatility of this pack. While the overall volume of the backpack can be used for camera gear, the maximum size of the lens you can pack is limited by the size of the belt pack and this insert. In other words, your 500mm f/4 lens will not fit in this pack as it would in a similarly-sized camera backpack with a more conventional configuration.
The Pro Photo Insert, with its handle, can be used for storage outside of the pack. Pack all of your gear in the backpack for transport. When you arrive at your destination, remove the insert and take only what you need with you while hiking.
Lens Switch Case
Want to store an additional lens and/or other items on the rotating belt pack? Add a lightweight MindShift Gear Lens Switch Case. This case locks onto the right side of the belt for easy access to any content fitting within the dimensions provided above. As indicated in the dimensions table, the Switch Case can be extended or retracted – via an encircling 450° zipper around the bottom of the case.
Retracted, this case holds up to a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IS L USM Lens with hood reversed and tripod ring in place with a lens plate attached. Extended, this case holds up to a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II L USM Lens with hood reversed and tripod ring in place with a lens plate attached.
This is a non-padded case with exception the belt-side having thin padding. A thinly-padded divider is provided on the inside of the case, ready to separate a pair of full-sized flashes or similar.
The front of the Lens Switch Case has a two-sided-zippered pocket with a smaller pocket inside. A zippered pocket on the bottom of the case holds a rain cover.
The back view of the Lens Switch Case shows the secure attachment system.
I've listed a lot of positives, but what are the downsides to this pack? If you are carrying only a lot of camera gear and not-too-much other gear most of the time, this pack is not as space-efficient as more-conventionally designed camera backpacks. This is also not the right backpack for very large lenses.
I would like to see a heavier duty mesh used for the left side bottom pouch. The zippers in the side of the Pro Photo Insert are located slightly under the outer pack when installed, making them slightly harder to access than they should be.
This is not an economy-priced camera backpack, though the price is reasonable when compared to similar grade packs.
The Rotation 180 creatively and securely holds the gear I need to take with me on a big photo hike and provides very fast access to that gear without the need to put the pack down, facilitating gear changes anywhere I can stand. The 180 holds this gear and provides this access with a level of comfort that I don't recall being matched in any pack I've used to date. On the trip to Ricketts Glen State Park, I carried this pack loaded for over 8 hours (nearly continuously) with some rugged hiking while shooting in the rain and standing in water much of the time with relatively low fatigue being experienced. Going forward, the Rotation 180 is my first choice for a serious hiking camera backpack.
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