Mind Shift’s ROTATION180° PANORAMA made by Think Tank has been on the market for a couple of years now, but is its unique quick access feature still useful, and who exactly is the bag designed for?
Adventure and Hiking camera bags often all get lumped into one niche: outdoor photography. The reality is that a lot of bags are designed with specific uses in mind, and it might not meet the needs of all outdoor photographers. I’ve stated in several of my articles that I’m a believer in the right tool for the right job. That means I don't want one bag that gets by as a jack of all trades, I want a couple of bags that do exactly what they are designed for exceptionally well. So, does the ROTATION180° PANORAMA perform exceptionally well?
To figure that out, we need to know who this bag is for, and that’s an active photographer. What I mean by that is the type of photographer who isn’t going to take the bag off very often or even have the time to take it off. A photographer who is shooting a marathon, bike race, or other types of sporting events where they are always on the go moving from one location to the next. Any type of trip or assignment that might require you to be agile and flexible in your movements while carrying your gear. Skiing/snowboarding, rock climbing, mountain biking, or even hiking that might require a level of scrambling.
This may also appeal to some travel photographers who are looking for something that doesn't look like a camera bag, specifically the charcoal color scheme, while having some security features yet easy access on the go. The waist and shoulder straps of a backpack make for a much harder target for thieves. They can cut a strap and just run off. It's very difficult for someone to unzip and grab something while in a crowd. However, the rotational system does maintain quick, easy access and a safe storage area for your most expensive gear.
If you are looking for a bag that carries a ton of gear to a location and then work out of that bag, this probably isn't for you. If you're looking for a bag to do multiple days hiking or camping, this bag isn’t going to cut it. If you are a wildlife or bird photographer that carries a large lens or full size tripod, this isn't a great bag for that, and that is OK, because MindShift also makes two other bag,s the Pro and Horizon, with a similar design and feature set. Maybe they are better suited to your specific needs.
So, why do I think this is who the bag was designed for?
Design and Comfort
Right away, you can see the Panorama's design is sleek and narrow, even for a 22L. The top and bottom both slope towards the wearer. This is so the bag, when fully loaded, won't get in your way, no matter how actively you're moving. The slim design helps keep the bag and all its weight close to your spine. When fitted correctly, this bag won't be swinging or moving around on you; it will be well balanced and move as part of you.
Like any good hiking pack, it has a real padded waist belt system, chest secure strap, and adjustable shoulder straps, while there are plenty of gear loops and attachment straps for Think Tank’s various pouch accessories like the Lens Switch Case. It would have been nice to see a dedicated pocket on one of the waist pads or shoulder straps. The empty weight of the bag is slightly heavier than a similarly sized hiking pack at around 2.9 lbs, yet still light enough considering the extra padding for gear.
It has what they are calling an airflow-padded back panel with an aluminum frame. I’ve done several trips with the bag and a ton of miles, up mountains, sand dunes, and just recently, 10 days hiking around Joshua Tree. I have very few complaints when it comes to the support of the bag and comfort while wearing it. I think a big part of this is due to the above mentioned slim design and just how well the weight is kept close to your spine. The airflow padding is comfortable when wearing just a T-shirt, but I’m not sure how much it contributes to the overall support of the bag. It does, however, do very little to keep your back cool or sweat free on a hot day, which I believe is the point of the “airflow” branding.
The bag's 22 L is broken up into two main compartments, the top zippered area, which makes up roughly 16 L of open space and the key featured rotational beltpack another 5 L padded for gear. Additionally, there is a stash pocket on the very top with plenty of room for snacks, maps, small camera accessories, or pouches, etc. You could easily fit an ultralight rain jacket or long sleeve shirt in there.
Along one side is a full-length, zippered pocket designed for use with a water bladder up to 3L in size. It also has the useful H2O cutout for attaching the tube to your shoulder strap. This is a well-designed pocket for a bag this light and small. Not only can you easily carry 3L of water, which a lot of camera bags just can’t do, the pocket isn’t limited to only that function. Often, I carry a separate bottle for water, especially when I don’t need the larger bladder. So, the pocket becomes the perfect place to stick my rain jacket or extra layer, like a wool hoodie. You could just as easily store longer items like a Joby Gorilla pod.
There are two different ways to strap on a tripod, which means you can also carry something like hiking poles, ice axes, climbing rope, etc. The main way is centered on the back via a hidden foot pocket and straps. I don’t like this way and prefer to use the second way, which is along the same side as the bladder pocket. At the top of the pack is an adjustable strap and a smaller pocket at the bottom with a small bungee cord. I simply put one foot into the pocket and strap it down. That works perfectly while keeping the pack balanced evenly.
The main 16 L compartment is completely open, roughly half the bags length, with only a mesh pocket along the back. I see this as a positive design. More often than not, I can’t pack a bag the way I want when forced to use pre-designed dividers or padding systems, no matter how well designed, especially since what I need changes greatly from trip to trip. There is plenty of room for a bulky jacket, pants, lunch, and anything you might want for a day trip. Additionally, there is enough room for extra gear if that is what you need. MindShift does make a padded divider insert specifically for this bag, but unfortunately, it is an additional purchase. The insert does fit the bag perfectly and allows for a large amount of gear to be carried if needed. It will fit a full sized 200mm lens or full gripped camera body like a 1D X II. Depending on lenses, you could easily fit 4 to 5 standard-sized lenses. You could probably fit a variety of different inserts in there depending on your own needs. That all being said, I have never found a need to use the insert. I typically pack the bag with two camera bodies, each with a lens attached, and occasionally a third lens. I will pack either an extra layer, jacket, or pair of pants depending on the weather and just place my 200mm and camera on top. This could also be a small drone, gimbal, or even small video camera rig. I have never had an issue with using the bag this way, and I find the versatility of the open space with an item of clothing or two more than enough protection. I have even been able to fit my Sigma 150-600mm lens in the bag in this manner. Of course, if you plan to travel with this bag as a carry-on, then I would recommend an insert of some type, but you could just take it out before hiking and still use it the way I do.
The rotational belt pack is a lot smaller than it looks, and the rotational mechanism takes up the rest of the size of the bag. At 5 L, though, I find you can easily fit a DSLR and 24-70mm attached with a few accessories or possibly a small second lens like a 50mm or 85mm f/1.8. That is how I pack it. You could also fit a body and two bulky lenses side by side. Or if using a smaller Sony or micro 4/3 setup, you might be able to get a body and up to three lenses. For me, the quick access feature means I want to pull out my camera ready to go. I will either have a long lens on a strap around my shoulder and then use the belt pack for my second body and wide lens or have the long lens packed away and still have quick access to my second camera. I wish the belt pack was just a little wider, as it almost fits the 70-200mm with camera attached in it. This would have given me the option to use a shoulder or belt clip for my second camera with a wide lens and quick access for the long lens. That would have been the ideal setup for my uses.
The biggest feature of the Panorama is its rotational quick access belt pack. As gimmicky as it sounds, it works well 90% of the time. Occasionally, I get it stuck, but usually, it’s as a result of rushing to get a shot and just pushing it out of the way. The magnetic clip always clips back into place on its own, and the door flap can be adjusted for how quick it snaps back. The belt system slides smoothly no matter what type of clothing I’m wearing. It has a tether in case I forget the belt clip isn’t clipped around my waist so it won’t fall to the ground. Yes, I have done that once or twice. The door flap does bulge out a little when properly clipped, which I find annoying, but this is more about aesthetics than function. It has never caused a problem. Most importantly, the belt pack can be removed and worn on its own. I think this is huge and a lot more useful than it seems. I use that belt pack all the time on its own, sometimes even when I don’t have the pack with me. I find it especially useful for things like rock climbing. It's a glorified padded Fanny Pack, but one that connects to a full hiking pack.
Overall, if used as intended, it works exactly as advertised. However, its biggest weakness is the fact that if you put the bag on the ground and then need to get into the belt pack, it is beyond annoying. It’s not hard, it is just clearly not designed for that. That is why I make a point of saying that this bag is for the photographer on the go. No other hiking camera bag I have ever used is better or easier at quickly pulling out a camera ready to shoot, then storing it and moving on. If this isn’t a scenario you foresee needing, thwn the rotational beltpack wastes space that could be otherwise used for more gear — more gear that you just can't access nearly as quickly, of course.
What I Like
- Overall slim design and light weight
- Durable material and water resistant
- Lots of open storage space
- 3 L water bladder pocket and cutout
- Plenty of straps, gear loops, and mounting points
- Optional Tahoe Blue Color
What I Don’t Like
- No waistband pocket
- Rain cover separate
- Padded insert separate
- The main tripod mounting system location (moved to the side would be better)
- The beltpack is an inch shy of fitting a 70-200mm and camera body (so close)
So what do I think of this bag overall? Well, I think this is a really well thought out and designed bag for what it was intended for that some team put a ton of time into designing a bag that does so much right but is too easy to overlook if you are not the type of photographer who benefits from a niche bag like this. If the main feature of the rotational belt pack is something you think might work for you, then I think you will be pretty happy with the bag. I would have preferred spending an extra $40 and getting the insert and rain cover as part of the bag; however, I almost never use them and have had the bag in the rain several times.