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Fstoppers Reviews the Mountainsmith Spectrum Split-Use Camera Backpack

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We don’t always need to bring four or five lenses, two camera bodies, and a portable lighting studio with us every time we leave the house. Sometimes it makes sense to own a lightweight secondary grab-and-go day pack that offers more than just camera storage. In this article I take a look at the Mountainsmith Spectrum, a $90 split-use backpack that’s ready to rock.

The Spectrum is a fairly slim two-and-a-half pound urban and travel bag with two main compartment areas. The top compartment is accessed through a buckled flap cover that overhangs the general storage area. The bottom compartment has a zippered side-bag access and features two removable Velcro dividers to separate and protect camera gear. Aside from the open-space compartments, there’s laptop storage, one small front pocket, one larger front pocket, a side slip pocket for drink bottles, and a rain cover storage panel on the bottom. Overall I found that there’s plenty of room for items needed in one day.

Lower camera compartment with two adjustable dividers.
Camera compartment with a flash and a mirrorless lens.
Camera compartment holding a flash, mirrorless lens, and a mirrorless camera with a lens attached.
Top compartment holding various accessories with room to add much more.

If one were to actually utilize all of the storage space of the pack with photo gear than it would probably end up being way heavier than what it was meant to be carrying. From my experience the bag is good for carrying essential photo gear — think one body, two lenses, and a couple accessories — and then other items such as a laptop or tablet, a rolled up sweater or beach blanket, trail snacks, batteries, toys, maps, sandals, a utility knife and flashlight, and other light items.

The exterior panels of the Spectrum uses water resistant 5,000 mm polyurethane coating and backing. It makes for somewhat of a slick bag, but personally I love it because it also helps keep everything clean looking. Dirt is more readily brushed off rather than rubbed in. If encountering some prolonged rain showers, the Spectrum has an easily deployable rain cover within the bottom panel. This covers the entire front, top, bottom, and sides of the pack, with a person’s body acting as a rain shield for the back. For a $90 backpack, I wasn’t really expecting extras like this to be thrown in.

Laptop compartment with a 2009 13-inch MacBook stored. The Spectrum can hold up to a 17-inch laptop.
Smaller front pocket storage.
Larger front pocket storage.

Wearing the Spectrum is pleasantly comfortable and has a good amount of padding on the back. For more stabilization while hiking there’s also an adjustable sternum strap and removable waist strap that can be buckled up. At the top of the shoulder straps they come together to form a carrying handle. I thought this was an interesting design and it works well for picking up and moving the bag quickly.

What I Liked

  • The exterior fabric is water and dirt resistant.
  • It comes with a removable rain cover.
  • There’s a good amount of various storage for day trips.
  • It has easy access to the camera compartment without fully removing the pack.
  • The camera compartment dividers are adjustable to customize space.
  • It comes with adjustable sternum and waist straps, and the waist strap is removable.
  • The bag has comfortable back padding and shoulder straps.
  • The yellow interior provides contrast to easily find items.
  • It can fit a large 17-inch laptop.
  • The bag feels very light and small while wearing.
  • Between the top and bottom compartments there is a divider which can collapse to open up the entire interior into one space.

What Could Be Improved

  • The soft fabric used in the camera compartment feels thin and loose and I do have concerns for longevity with this.
  • The backing wasn’t extremely breathable in humid weather.
  • The divider that splits the top and bottom compartments is collapsible but not removable.

Overall I really enjoy using the Spectrum for daily adventures. The quick access camera compartment is probably the first “quick access” that lived up to its name for me. It has great placement and is easy to unzip, grab what I need, and zip back up while hanging the bag on one shoulder. It was also easy to do lens changes in this same position. The bag can store a helpful amount of items but stays true to its purpose in its limitations.

The Mountainsmith Spectrum is available now from B&H for a reasonable $89.24.

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