I’ve reviewed a lot of MindShift Gear products in the past, but this is the first time they’ve brought a sling-style pack to the market so I was very curious to see what their take on it would be. MindShift is the sister company to Think Tank Photo, but their products focus entirely on the outdoor photography markets such as landscape, adventure, travel and wildlife photography. Pretty much all of the camera bags I use for work on a daily basis are MindShift ones, but I’ve never actually owned a sling before so I was excited to try one out when they said they’d send one over a few weeks before it officially launched.
I tested out the PhotoCross 13, but a slightly smaller PhotoCross 10 is also available. All of the features remain the same between the two bags so this review of the PhotoCross 13 is also applicable to the smaller PhotoCross 10, just imagine it a little smaller. For reference, the PhotoCross 13 has an 11 litre volume and the PhotoCross 10 is 7 litres. The numbers in the names actually refer to the size of electronic device that can be fitted into them, with the 13 being able to carry up to a 13″ laptop, while the 10 can carry a 10″ tablet. To be honest I think this is a little confusing and I wish they had named them differently because their other packs that come in multiple sizes, such as the FirstLight 20, 30 and 40 refer to the volume of the pack in litres. Most, if not all of their other packs carry a volume designation in the name too, such as the BackLight 26L. Not sure why they changed it!
I don’t shoot with a mirrorless kit, so the PhotoCross 13 that I tested was perfect for a DSLR setup. I think as a general rule that’s a good way to think about it, with the 13 suiting a small DSLR kit and the 10 suiting a mirrorless kit. There are ergonomic advantages to a sling style bag which we will get into, but as the weight of the bag increases, you will eventually run into the downside which is that weight is distributed onto only a single shoulder. I don’t think it would have been worth having a larger size than the 13, so they did a good job sizing these. If you need to carry more gear than will fit into these slings, a backpack will be a far more comfortable option.
The PhotoCross 10 fits an ungripped DSLR and one to two lenses, plus a 10” tablet, or a Mirrorless body and three to five lenses, plus a 10” tablet.The PhotoCross 13 fits an ungripped DSLR, two to four lenses, including a 70–200mm f/2.8, and some 13” laptops. It’s also worth noting that you can fit a 300mm f/2.8 and also Canon’s 400mm f/4 DO IS II in the the PhotoCross 13. You won’t find this mentioned on MindShift’s site but I tested it and it’s a functional way to use the bag. These two lenses are often used with extenders as relatively lightweight wildlife photography setups, and I can definitely see myself going light with my 400mm and a camera body for some hikes in the future. It’s nice to be able to have such fast access to the camera because you never know when a wildlife opportunity will present itself.
Ungripped DSLR and or or two small to medium lenses, or a mirrorless body and three to five lenses, plus a 10″ tablet.
- Internal Dimensions: 7.1” W x 12.5” H x 4.8” D (18 x 31.8 x 12.2 cm)
- External Dimensions: 11” W x 15.9” H x 6.3” D (28 x 40.5 x 16 cm)
- Tablet compartment: 8.2” x 11” x 0.6” (20.8 x 27.9 x 1.5 cm)
- Maximum weight (with all accessories): 2.1 lbs (1.0 kg)
- Shoulder strap length: 42.5–62.2” (108–158 cm) (includes length of product)
- Waist belt length: up to 61” (155 cm) (includes length of product)
- Volume: 7.5 liters
- Price: $114.99
Ungripped DSLR and two to four lenses, including a 70-200, a 100-400, a 400mm f/4 DO or a 300mm f/2.8 L IS (see photos).
- Internal Dimensions: 9.4” W x 14.2” H x 5.5” D (24 x 36 x 14 cm)
- External Dimensions: 12.6” W x 17.7” H x 7.1” D (32 x 45 x 18 cm)
- Laptop compartment: 9.1” x 13” x 1” (23 x 33 x 2.5 cm)
- Maximum weight (with all accessories): 2.4 lbs (1.1 kg)
- Shoulder strap length: 42.5–62.2” (108–158 cm) (includes length of product)
- Waist belt length: up to 63.8” (162 cm) (includes length of product)
- Volume: 11 liters
- Price: $129.99
Don’t fancy reading today? You can check out this video where I walk you through all the features of the PhotoCross packs.
PhotoCross Design Features
For a small bag, the PhotoCross series is really packed with features which really makes the price point very impressive. For this review I’m going to show you a ton of photos and we’ll walk through everything from one side of the bag to the other, starting with the mesh pocket on the side of the bag. Since the bag doesn’t have a water bladder pocket, this is where you’d want to store water for your hike and it’s sized to fit most 1L plastic water bottles as you can see in the photos below. I actually prefer to hike with the super light 1L flexible Platypus bottles, and these fit even better as you can carry a couple of them, or one and some snacks. Taller bottles such as the popular Swell bottles or Klean Kanteens will also allow you to carry a litre of water and some snacks in the side pocket. One of the included tripod straps can also be relocated to the side of the bag and used to secure a small tripod in this mesh pocket. The trick here is that you really need quite a short tripod for this to work, or the bag becomes quite unbalanced due to its small size. My Really Right Stuff TFC-14 worked a treat, and other travel tripods or monopods of a similar size would also work, but I wouldn’t want to use anything longer.
The other way to carry a tripod is on the front of the bag. I found that you could comfortably use a slightly larger tripod on the front of the bag than you could on the side, and if you don’t want to use a tripod the straps are completely removable which is always a nice touch. The straps themselves have good and bad points. The hardware is clearly robust and able to stand up to rigorous outdoor usage, and they are also long enough to strap much wider items to the outside of the bag, such as large winter jackets, or potentially a stuff sack with multiple items of clothing. The downside is that the buckles and strap adjustment hardware take up more width than the distance between the strap mounting points. This is a little hard to explain, but I think the photos make things clearer. Essentially, you can’t shorten the straps as much as you might want to, especially with skinny travel tripods such as the TFC-14 in the photos. The tripod is still secured to the bag and it’s not going anywhere, but I would like to have been able to secure it in place a little better. As it is, there’s room for it to wiggle around while you’re walking. Obviously this is totally dependant on the thickness of your tripod legs, but if the strap’s mounting points had been positioned further apart then this wouldn’t have been an issue at all.
As with all of MindShift’s bags, careful attention has been paid to making the bags useable in inclement weather. The bags come with a rain cover which is easily stored in one of the small front pockets, but even without that, the bag is very resilient to the elements. All zippers are weather proofed, the base of the bag is made of extremely durable and totally waterproof tarpaulin, and a small flap of additional material protects the zipper from getting clogged with dirt, sand and grit when you set it down on the ground. The PhotoCross packs also feature a new zipper pull that is easy to use when wearing winter gloves. I’ve not seen this zipper pull style on any of their other bags, but I really like it and hope we will see it in future products as well.
In terms of internal organization of camera accessories, there’s a total of 6 pockets as well as whatever you construct in the main section using the collection of included dividers. The inside of main flap has two small mesh pockets, and the zippered front pocket has two smaller pockets inside it which can be secured with hook-and-loop. I use one of these two pockets for the rain cover, and the second one for my memory card holder which can also be secured with a key clip. At the back of the main section you’ll find the flatter pocket for your tablet or small laptop. Personally I don’t think this is going to get used all that often because I can’t imagine anyone needing to take such a device into the setting for which this bag is designed for. Thankfully it doesn’t take up a lot of room if you aren’t using it, and I was still able to find use for it holding a few filters in MindShift’s smaller filter case, the Filter Hive Mini.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the PhotoCross packs is the harness system. As you can see from the photos, the strap is extremely wide across the shoulder which really helps to spread the bag’s load. The downside to a sling will always be the fact that weight can only be placed on one shoulder, but spreading that weight nice and wide makes this a pleasure to carry for a few hours, even when fully loaded. As with any sling, after some length of time there will become a point where you might start to feel as though the lopsided weight distribution isn’t good for your body, and a backpack would be better. Exactly when you reach that point is dependant on your fitness, the weight you are carrying, how often you stop to remove the bag while you take photos, and also the kind of terrain you are crossing. I personally felt as though I would have preferred my MindShift Ultralight 35L backpack once I reached about the 2.3-3 hour mark with a full load of camera gear and a tripod. For shorter hikes though, I’d have no qualms about grabbing this bag if it fitted the gear I needed, and I’d definitely wear it all day long if I was packing a smaller setup like my Fuji X100, or a single camera body and a lens for some lightweight landscape walks.
Whilst there is this downside to a sling-style bag, there’s also the huge benefit which is the speed at which you can access your gear. MindShift made big strides in camera accessibility with their Rotation 180 system on bags like the Panorama pack, but for smaller volume bags that system just wouldn’t make much sense. Quickly rotating the sling around to your front allows you to get at your gear in seconds which means you can capture images of fleeting moments, and also protect your bag from wet or dirty environments by not needing to put it on the ground.
These photos also clearly show the ultralight mesh and honeycomb design of the harness which makes it particularly comfortable on hotter days. Since the sling itself is quite small, it also leaves a lot of your back uncovered and gives you room to reposition slightly from one side to the other as you let other parts of your back get to the open air.
Another nice feature of the harness system is the inclusion of a stabilizing strap to go around the waist. It’s not always necessary to use this, but when crossing rougher terrain or moving at a very fast pace, it’s definitely useful. This strap is purely designed to stop the bag rotating around your back, it’s not a weight-bearing waist strap as you would find on a backpack. If you don’t want to use it at all, there’s a small pocket that it folds into on one side of the bag, and if you aren’t using the tripod straps, you can also stash them in the same hidden pocket.
Before I tested this bag I really wasn’t sure how a sling would fit into my kit. My main concern about these kinds of bags has always been comfort with a relatively heavy setup. MindShift quickly eased my concern on this front by providing easily the widest and most comfortable shoulder strap I’ve ever seen on a bag of this type, and also including a stabilization strap, something that was missing when I recently looked at the Peak Design Everyday Sling camera bag. I was also very impressed by how well prepared this bag is for life in the outdoors, when you consider the reasonable price point. The weather proof zippers and the waterproof tarpaulin base really make this bag stand out from other sling bags if your intention is to use it for outdoor photography. The waterproof base and fancy zippers are actually features we haven’t even seen on many of MindShift’s more expensive bags.
I won’t be picking this bag for every outdoor photo mission since a fully loaded sling is still a little less comfortable than a backpack on very long days, but for shorter hikes when I don’t feel like a need a lot of room for items other than camera equipment, the PhotoCross has definitely earned a spot in my closet. You should pick this bag if the idea of super fast access to your camera is appealing to you. I often feel like I take less photos when I’m hiking with a pack that needs to be removed in order for me to get to my gear. Sure, I’ll stop for those epic moments at my destination, but I sometimes miss out on photos along the way, particularly those candid moments of other people who I’m walking with. When it’s just a case of swinging the bag around to my front, as with this sling, I tend to take more photos of the day’s activities and the journey. You should also pick this pack if you need to carry gear in hotter climates! The small footprint on your back, combined with the very breathable materials used for the harness, make this a great pack when you anticipate high temperatures for your adventures.
Get a Free Gift From MindShift Gear (& free shipping)
As a friend of this site, you’ll get a free gift at the checkout if you spend more than $50 through MindShift’s online store, as long as you click through one of the links to their store on this page, like this one. Out of all the possible free gift options I recommend that you get the House of Cards memory card holder if you don’t already have one, this is the card holder I use every day (and previously reviewed here). I may make a small commission if you purchase from them after clicking one of these links, but as always, it’s greatly appreciated when you use these and it doesn’t cost you a penny more.