Rotation Backpack Giveaway
For the week of Sep 21st to Sep 25th you can enter our giveaway to win your own MindShift Rotation 34L (1st prize) or Rotation 22L (2nd prize). You’ll find the entry form at the bottom of this review.
MindShift Gear has launched a completely revised series of Rotation backpacks that replace the previous Rotation 180 series. You can back the project now on Kickstarter in order to secure a discounted price on the three new packs and various accessories.
For those that don’t know, the Rotation technology in these packs allows the lower part of the bag to be rotated out of the pack and around to your front, thus allowing access to your camera gear quickly and without needing to remove the pack. You’ll get a clearer vision of this feature as we move down through the review, and I’ll talk about the pros and cons of this unique system.
With the launch of the new Rotation series comes a change in the way the Rotation series is organized. The Rotation packs are now available in three sizes: Rotation 22L, Rotation 34L and Rotation Pro 50L. The original series started with the R180 Pro nearly a decade ago (it was actually MindShift’s first ever camera bag) and the series was gradually expanded over the course of several years, evolving slightly with each new bag in the range. With all three of the new packs being re-designed alongside each other, there is now a common design language and shared features between them all. The result is a much more cohesive collection, and a simpler lineup of just three sizes.
While there are three sizes in the range, all of them now have adjustable torso length, and the largest Pro 50L+ has some expandability to take it beyond the 50 litre capacity. With these features, the three sizes will easily cover people’s regular photo pack capacity needs.
Disclaimer: As I have been in the past, I was involved with the development of these new packs, as well as some of the marketing content for the bag’s launch. I pride myself on delivering honest reviews, so that is what you’re getting. I have not been paid to write this review, and MindShift have no idea what I’m going to say about the bag.
Table of Contents
- Out With the Old
- In With the New
- Rotation 180 System Explained
- Additional Pack Features
- Optional: Stash Master Pro
- Optional: Rain Cover
- Flying With the bag
- Compared to Other Rotation Pack Sizes
- Compared to MindShift BackLight Elite 45L
- Size Guide
- Where to buy
Out With the Old
With the launch of the new Rotation Pro 50L pack we are saying goodbye to the original R180 Pro pack that launched the MindShift brand in 2013. Of course we are getting a newly updated and improved version of the pack, so this isn’t a sad day, but I wanted to point out that these new packs do replace the old ones in the lineup. This also includes the R180 Panorama and R180 Horizon that are being replaced by the Rotation 22L and Rotation 34L respectively.
In With The New
In this review I’m going to be focusing on the Rotation Pro 50L+, but there will be an extensive comparison to the two other packs in the Rotation range. While I have plenty of experience with all three bags in the range, it’s the Pro 50L+ that I am most familiar with, having had one in my possession for close to a year before the public launch.
Rotation Pro 50L+ Feature List
- Rotating belt pack
- Torso height adjustment fits a wide range of body sizes
- Tripod carries easily on the front and/or side panels
- 10-point adjustable harness to fine tune how you carry your load
- Weather protection
- a. DWRcoatedfabrics
- b. zippercovers
- c. belt pack elements barrier
- Zoned harness system to maximize airflow, breathability and comfort
- Top pocket for quick access to essential items
- Large side pocket fits most 1.5L water bottles
- Internal load compression to keep your gear tight and close to your body
- Mountain axe/hiking pole loops
- Daisy chain attachment points to expand your load
- Expand your access: Attach accessories (sold separately) to the belt wing
- Enhance your protection: Rain cover for downpour conditions (sold separately)
- Dedicated padded sleeve fits up to a 15” laptop or a 3L reservoir in the front pocket
- Jacket-sized front stuff pocket
- Increase your capacity: The Stash Master Pro (sold separately) maximizes photo gear in the top compartment
- Rear panel access to easily grab extra photo or personal gear
- Floating top-pocket allows you to strap a rope or a jacket underneath
- Weather resistant zippers
- Extendable collar adds 6L expanding the total volume to 56L
- Waist belt zippered pocket for instant access to small items
Rotation Pro 50L+ Specifications
- Total – 50L (56L with expanded top section)
- Top section – 40L (46L with expanded top section)
- Belt pack – 10L
- Photo gear:
- Belt pack – One gripped Mirrorless or DSLR kit with 3-5 lenses or 24-70mm f/2.8 attached.
- Stash Master Pro insert (optional) – 1-2 gripped Mirrorless or DSLR with up to 70-200mm f/2.8 attached. Sony 200-600mm unattached and 3-4 additional lenses.
- Backpack Exterior – 13.8″W x 24-31.9″H x 11.8″D (35×61-81x30cm)
- Backpack Interior – 11.8″W x 14.1-19.3″H x 8.7″D (30×36-49x22cm)
- Balt Pack Interior – 12.2″W x 7.7″H x 7.1″D (31×19.5x18cm)
- Laptop Pocket – 10.6″W x 14.8″H x 1.0″D (27×37.5×2.5cm)
- Weight: 6.2lbs (2.8kg)
- Materials: Exterior: For superior water resistance, all exterior fabric has a durable water-repellant coating, plus the underside of the fabric has a polyurethane coating. It also has YKK® AquaGuard and RC Fuse zippers, 100D high-tenacity Triple Ripstop material, 100D high-tenacity Ace Twill, 1680D nylon ballistic bottom panel, triangle perforated high- density cross-linked angular foam, 580G honeycomb air-mesh, 350G air-mesh, nylon webbing, 3-ply bonded nylon thread.
- Retail Price: Backpack $459 / Stash Master Pro $74.95 / Rain Cover Pro $29.99
Rotation 180 System Explained
The main feature of the bag is, of course, the Rotation 180 system. This clever design allows you to get a camera in your hand in just a few seconds, and then stow it away again just as quickly. All while wearing the backpack.
To release the rotating belt pack you must first grab the dangling toggle on the right of the bag. A quick downward tug releases a magnetic latch and the side hatch springs open. Now reach with for the belt pack’s side handle with your right hand and swing that hand around towards your front. You might also use your left hand on the waist belt to help with the rotation, depending on how tightly the belt is done up around your waist. Up to this point, little had changed from the first version of the bag. If it ain’t broke…
Now the belt pack is reachable, unzip the lid and use the tabs on the side to break the magnets free and open the pack. Wait… magnets? They weren’t there before…
For these new Rotation packs MindShift have added a series of magnets around the lip of the belt pack lid. When you go to close the lid, these pleasingly strong magnets will suck the lid shut with a very satisfying “CLICK”. The general idea of this new feature is that you don’t need to use the zippers on the belt pack lid at all. The magnets are strong enough to keep the lid closed, and there’s no chance of it coming open when the belt pack is stowed away.
Initially I was skeptical about this, but in practice I was put at ease and found the magnets did a great job of securing the lid. Most importantly though, this small design change now makes it ever faster to access your camera. Instead of always zipping the belt pack closed, you can rely on the magnets. That means that when you do swing the belt around to your front to grab your camera, you no longer need to use both hands to open the zippered lid as you did with the original Rotation 180 packs. Now you can simply use a hand to grab one of several nylon tabs, and give a quick upward tug to release the magnets and open the lid.
With these magnets, there’s no doubt that this new version of the pack gives you even faster access to your camera. During my many months with the bag I have never had any issues with this feature, and I’ve come to really love it. When I’m travelling I do close the zippers on the belt for a little added security, but once I have opened them for the first time on a day of shooting, I then rely on the magnetic closure for the rest of the day until it’s time to head home.
Benefits of the Rotation System
Over the years of using various bags with the Rotation system, the biggest thing I have noticed is that I take way more photos when I’m wearing one of these packs. Just think about all those times when you have seen something cool and thought to yourself “I should probably take a photo of that”. But then you think about it, and you think about taking your backpack off and unzipping the camera compartment, you think about how it will slow down the group you are with, or you think about putting your gear down on the ground in the dirt. And by that time it’s too late. You never take that shot and just move on, telling yourself it wasn’t quite the right shot you were waiting for anyway.
With any of the Rotation packs, you can get your camera in your hand, take the shot and put the camera away again in less time than it takes to have all those thoughts. It really is that fast/ So not only do you take more photos, but you also have the chance to capture more fleeting moments of light and nature that would otherwise have passed by too quickly.
Without the need to take the pack off your back, you also gain some flexibility in where you can shoot. If you want to wade out into a river and then get your camera out, you can do that. If you want to take photos on a windy day at a beach, without fear of filling your bag with sand when you put it on the ground, you can do that. This gives you some additional creative freedom, as well as protection for your gear.
The final major benefit of the Rotation System is the fact that you not only have yourself a new backpack, but you also have yourself a new belt pack that can be comfortably worn any time without the backpack. I have worn mine on its own while rock climbing, and I have also used it in a small aircraft while doing aerial photography. You can even attach a strap to it and use it as a shoulder bag while you’re traveling and don’t want the large pack with you at all times.
Downsides of the Rotation System
It’s fair to say that the Rotation System does break the mould for typical camera backpack layouts. There are many benefits to the design, but there are also a few negatives that are worth considering before buying.
The first negative to the system is the added weight when compared to other similarly sized backpacks. Without an identical non-Rotation pack to compare it to, I have to make a bit of a guess here, but I’d estimate the Rotation System to add about a pound and a half to the weight of a pack. This includes the side hatch mechanism, magnetic buckle and some of the weight of the belt pack.
Though slightly smaller, the BackLight Elite 45L pack probably provides the closest approximation to a non-Rotation pack. That comes in at around the 6lb mark, compared to the 6.6lbs of the Rotation Pro 50L+. To have a better comparison, you must also add the weight of the Stash Master accessory to the Rotation Pro, which would take the total weight up to approximately 7.8lbs. There’s no denying that this added weight is a downside to the system, so you’ll have to weigh that against the benefits to figure out whether it’s worth it for your specific needs.
The second negative to the system is that there are probably going to be times when the piece of camera gear you need is not in the belt pack. Most people who are contemplating the largest 50L size are probably doing so because they want space for additional camera gear in the top section of the bag. Inevitably this means that sometimes you are going to have to take your camera out of the belt pack, and also access the top section of the bag to get to that other lens, or perhaps your filter kit. At this point you will have to remove you backpack – as you would with any photo pack – but once you have put it in the ground you’ll also have to pull the belt pack out. At first this seems kind of messy, and it certainly takes a little longer to do than if you were using a more traditional back panel opening system to get to all your gear.
Again, this is just something you have to consider before you buy one of these packs. Do the benefits outweigh that negative aspect? How often do you see yourself having to do that? Careful packing of your bag can offset this specific downside in many cases. You will always want to keep your wide zoom lens (16-35) and your standard zoom lens (24-70) in the belt pack. If you have a mid-zoom like a 70-300mm, keep that in there too. I personally keep a polarizing filter in there as well, along with my memory cards, batteries and a lens cloth. If you’re using longer lenses and happen to have a second body, keeping those together in the top of the bag can also minimize the times when you need to split the two sections apart.
Ok, now that we have fully dissected the main feature of this pack, let’s dig into all the other features…
Additional Features and Design
Beneath the top pocket is a draw-string closure that gives you top access to the main section of the bag. When flattened, the bag’s volume is 50L, but by filling this top section you can expand the capacity to 56L.
Floating, Removable Top Pocket
The top pocket of the pack is removable, and has a 4-point adjustment system that allows the top of the bag to expand upwards beneath it. There’s a zippered pocket on the top with a large glove-friendly zipper toggle, and a further zippered pocket on the inside. This interior pocket is split into two section, with the left-hand section containing a key clip that is also perfect fo securing your memory card wallet
Back Panel Access
A zippered back panel provides a second entry to the top half of the pack. Note that this section of the bag is a voluminous 40 litres, which would be a good size for an entire pack! You can opt to leave this top part of the bag open for non-photographic gear, or use the optional Stash Master camera insert that. you can see in my photos. The Stash Master will be discussed in more detail later in the review.
For the zipper on the rear access, MindShift opted not to go for any sort of weatherproof zipper, instead opting for a very smooth, large gauge of YKK zipper that’s partially protected beneath a flap of nylon. Weatherproof zippers are always a trade-off. They can be useful, but they never run as smoothly as a regular zipper so I’m fine with the choice that has been made here.
The harness on the Rotation Pro 50L+ is adjustable in nine different places, including a 3-stage torso height adjustment that will be a welcome addition for shorter or taller photographers. Shoulder strap padding is generously thick and uses a mesh ventilation system. Back panel padding uses a huge amount of mesh-covered ridged foam, similar to what you would find on a high-end hiking pack, and seen before on the BackLight Elite pack.
This foam material on the back panel is a welcome improvement over the original version of the bag that offered little in the way of cooling. The ridged design and light mesh covering makes a world of difference compared to the moulded EVA foam panels that are found on many other packs.
If anyone has used the BackLight Elite 45L pack before (review here), the comfort level of the Rotation Pro will be familiar. The two packs use the same straps and padded materials, although the Elite 45L does not feature any form of torso length adjustment.
Once you have dialled in all of the possible adjustments, carrying comfort is truly excellent, and definitely better than the slightly cheaper, smaller models in the Rotation range which do not use the same ventilated shoulder straps.
A tripod can be carried in two locations on this pack. Using the side straps and large side pocket is your best bet for a heavier tripod as it keeps the weigh closer to your spine and doesn’t pull you backwards. Alternatively you can use a pull-out tripod cup on the front of the bag, along with a hidden tripod securing strap that is stowed away in its own pocket. I personally don’t like this method of tripod carry. Not only does your tripod drag you backwards, but it also prevents easy access to the gear you have stored in the front pockets of the bag.
Belt Pack Details
The belt pack features a small zippered pocket on the top which turns out to be a useful place to store the optional rain cover. Opening up the pack we can see a zippered mesh pocket on the lid’s interior, as well as a padded flat pocket that is great for notebooks, field guides or small tablet devices.
Moving to the belt, we can see a small zippered pocket on one side and an accessory rail on the other side. Padding on the belt pack is generously thick.
The front of the bag features two storage areas. The first is a simple expandable stuff pocket that is perfect for quickly stowing layers of clothing. Cinch straps on either side of the bag allow you to compress this expansion pocket to reduce its volume.
The second pocket features Aquaguard zippers and a pair of glove-friendly zipper toggles. This gives you access to the front pocket of the bag, in which you will find a lightly padded 15″ laptop sleeve and a small hook and loop tab for supporting a water bladder. Cleverly, the zipper extends all the way down to the bottom on one side, making it easy to access smaller items at the bottom.
The open side pocket of the pack will hold a 1L Nalgene bottle. If you prefer to use a bladder, the Rotation Pro 50L+ is capable of holding up to a 3L bladder in either the front pocket, or the zippered side pocket. Both of these locations feature a hook and loop bladder attachment, and a hose exit port.
I appreciate having the choice between two bladder locations. If you use the side zippered pocket, note that this will likely make it a little harder to put a tripod into the open side pocket. For this reason, I have been using the front pocket when a bladder is needed because I prefer to carry my tripod on the side.
Optional: Stash Master Pro
The Stash Master Pro is an optional accessory that is designed specifically for the Rotation Pro 50L+. It will not fit into any other bags in the rotation range. Initially this is available in a discounted bundle during the Kickstarter campaign. When it comes to regular retail channels it should be $74.95.
This insert slots into the top of the bag and gives you the option to really load it up with additional camera gear. The main access to the Stash Master’s contents is through the zippered back panel on the top of the bag. You can also access longer lenses, or a camera with a large lens attached, through the top of the bag using the zippered lid of the Stash Master.
When testing this accessory out I was very pleased to find that my Sony 200-600mm lens fitted neatly inside. I have included some photos of that lens below because it gives you a good indication of size. For reference, this lens is 12.52″ long (318mm) and it just fits into the Stash Master while still being able to zip the top lid. You could fit a slightly longer lens, but you would have to be comfortable with not closing the lid.
I find that I use the Stash Master about 80-90% of the time. Even when I’m not putting camera gear in the top half of the bag, the extra organization of the insert is useful for all the other things I carry on a day out. Using the dividers to create dedicated slots for important gear really saves you having to dig through things to find what you’re looking for.
In general I use the Stash Master to hold my 200-600mm lens, my extenders, a second camera body, my binoculars, medical kit, Garmin GPS/InReach, USB battery pack, snacks, rolled up gloves/hat and my filters (stored in my MindShift Filter Hive filter case).
Although a shoulder strap is not provided, there are loops on the exterior that would allow you to connect one and use it as a shoulder bag. This could be useful when you’re travelling and not able to bring both a backpack and a shoulder bag with you. You might also find it useful if you try to fly with the bag and are asked to gate-check the pack due to its size. At this point you would simply attach a shoulder strap and place all your most expensive and precious gear inside. There might not be room in the cabin for the whole backpack, but the Stash Master will easily fit under any seat.
Should you buy the Stash Master Pro if you’re buying the Rotation Pro 50L pack? Yes, I believe that it’s worth the additional cost. Having already put nearly a year’s worth of usage on my prototype pack, the Stash Master has barely ever left my bag.
Optional: Rain Cover
Most packs from MindShift Gear come with an included rain cover, but not the Rotation series. I believe this is because the added complexities of the Rotation rain covers makes them too expensive to be included at the right price point. Unlike a regular one-piece rain cover, these covers come in two parts. One for the main body of the pack, and one for the belt pack. The cover retails for $29.99.
The answer to the question “do you need it?” probably depends on where you live, or where you plan to take it. I remember taking my original V1 R180 pack to Cambodia in the rainy season, and boy did I ever need it on that trip! In fact I have already used the rain cover on this pack on a couple of occasions while shooting down in the ever rainy Pacific Northwest. So I’d personally always want a rain cover for my bags, but your opinion on this might vary if you live in a dryer climate.
Flying With the Rotation Pro 50L+
This bag is not advertised as carry-on compliant because in most cases, it isn’t. While it’s possible that it might squeeze into dimensional restrictions with some carriers on internal US flights, you’re not going to find any international flights that will welcome this particular bag. I was also unable to see any internal Canadian carriers that accepted bags with these dimensions : 13.8″W x 24″H x 11.8″D (35×61-81x30cm).
Having said that, I have flown with it on several occasions because as photographers, this is so often the game we play! Although I did not experience any issues when I flew with the bag, I did carry that uneasy feeling with me throughout the whole journey. At any moment perhaps I would hear the dreaded words “Excuse me Sir, could you just try and put that bag in the cage please?’. Or maybe even worse: “Can you just pop that on the scale for me Sir?”
On the flights that I took, the bag was technically too tall and too thick to be compliant with the airline’s rules. Despite this, I was able to fit in into the overhead bins of a 737 without issue. In fact, I didn’t even have to put the bag horizontally and be that guy who takes up more than his fair share of the precious overhead space.
Whenever I’m pushing the boundaries of carry-on regulations I always try to make the bag look as small as possible. For the Pro 50L+ pack, the first step is to completely remove the top pocket of the bag. After that I made sure that every cinch strap was tightened down, and I removed all items from the front and side pockets to try and minimize bulging. On most photo packs I would also remove the waist belt and put it in my checked duffel bag, but the belt is not removable on the Rotation packs because it needs to be very firmly attached to the rotating belt pack.
You might wonder whether you could make the bag carry-on compliant by removing the belt pack and then perhaps carrying it as your personal item. I certainly had this thought myself, and although it doesn’t technically reduce the bag’s height (there’s an internal rigid frame), it would definitely be worth trying if you ever ran into any problems.
Although I have so far gotten away with it, my general feeling about flying with this bag is at some point it’s going to catch you out. It just looks a lot bulkier than some of my other bags (because it is), and I can’t shake the feeling that I only escaped unscathed because I wasn’t ever on a full flight. If you really want to fly with peace of mind, you might want to check out the smaller Rotation 34L.
Compared to The Other Rotation Pack Sizes
The Rotation packs are available in three sizes: 22L, 34L and the 50L we have been looking at in this review. If you have been drawn to this review because of the rotation system, it’s worth considering all sizes in the range to make sure you’re getting the right pack for your needs.
I have tested all three sizes extensively, so in this section of the review I’ll walk you through the differences between the three sizes, and make some recommendations as to which pack will suit which types of photographers.
To kick things off, here’s a quick comparative graphic that underlines the main feature similarities and differences between the three pack sizes.
Rotation Pack Feature Comparison
|Rotation 22L||Rotation 34L||Rotation Pro 50L+|
|Adjustable torso height||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Laptop carry||No||13" unpadded||15"|
|Front zippered pocket||No||Yes||Yes|
|Front stuff pocket||No||Yes||Yes|
|Rear panel access||No||No||Yes|
|Removable top pocket||No||No||Yes|
|Tripod Suspension Kit compatible||No||Yes||Yes|
|Accessories attach on waist belt||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Zippered pocket on waist belt||No||No||Yes|
Rotation Pack Capacity Comparison
|Rotation 22L||Rotation 34L||Rotation Pro 50L+|
|24-70mm f/2.8 attached||No||Yes||Yes|
|Additional gear insert||No||Stash Master Top Load||Stash Master Pro|
Rotation Pack Dimension Comparison
|Rotation 22L||Rotation 34L||Rotation Pro 50L+|
|Backpack Exterior||12.6"W x 20.5"H x 8.7"D (32x52x22cm)||13.4"W x 22.8"H x 10.2"D (34x58x26cm)||13.8"W x 24-31.9"H x 11.8"D (35x61-81x30cm)|
|Backpack Interior||11.2"W x 11.4"H x 85.9"D (28.5x29x15cm)||11.2"W x 13.4"H x 7.1"D (28.5x34x18cm)||11.8"W x 14.1-19.3"H x 8.7"D (30x36-49x22cm)|
|Belt Pack Interior||10.6"W x 6.7"H x 6.1"D (27x16x15.5cm)||11"W x 7.7"H x 7.1"D (28x19.5x18cm)||12.2"W x 7.7"H x 7.1"D (31x19.5x18cm)|
|Laptop Pocket||N/A||9.4"W x 13.3"H x 1.0"D (24x34x2.5cm)||10.6"W x 14.8"H x 1.0"D (27x37.5x2.5cm)|
|Weight||3.9lbs (1.8kg)||4.8lbs (2.2kg)||6.2lbs (2.8kg)|
The Rotation 22L is a small outdoor photo pack that suits someone using a mirrorless system or small DSLR with 2-3 small lenses. I’m providing the comparison here within the 50L review for purposes of completeness, but in all honesty I don’t think many people will be weighing up the 22L vs. the 50L. The two packs are hugely different in size and intended use.
The Rotation 22L is a great pack for short hikes of a few hours in duration, where you want to take a camera, a small travel tripod, some snacks and a couple of extra layers. Its small size also makes it ideal for highly active pursuits such as mountain biking. The weight of the pack is kept close to the spine, and doesn’t feel like its momentum will derail you in your pursuits. I gave this a try myself and was totally comfortable on a multi-hour ride with a camera body, 16-35mm and 24-70mm.
The benefit of the Rotation 180 system quickly came into play again while riding my bike, as I was able to stop my bike, swing the belt pack around to grab the camera for a few shots and get underway again without even dismounting. Come the winter I’m looking forward to using this smaller pack for cross-country skiing, too.
Having said not many people will be choosing between the 22L and the 50L, there might certainly be some people who are thinking of buying both the 22L and the 50L. If your gear closet has enough space, you could definitely make a good case for this because the two packs can be used in such different ways. If you’re a fan of the Rotation 180 system but can’t bare the thought of always carrying the huge 50L pack, having this pair is a nice balance. If I were to buy two of them, I’d definitely buy the 22L and the 50L, versus buying the 34L and 50L, or 22L and 34L. It just makes sense to have a larger size spread between them.
The Rotation 34L is an upsized version of the 22L, with three main differences. The first is that it adds a large zippered front pocket to the pack. This front pocket can be used for storing a water bladder and other outdoor gear, but it’s also large enough to hold a 13″ laptop. The pocket is unpadded, so you’d probably want to put the laptop into a neoprene sleeve for protection.
In addition to the front zippered pocket, you also get the same front stuff pocket that we have seen on the larger 50L pack. This is very useful for quickly stowing a jacket or insulated layer while hiking. In the smaller 22L pack the assumption is that you will stow additional layers in the main part of the pack. However, on the 34L pack you have the option of buying the Stash Master Top Load camera insert. This padded insert allows safe storage of camera gear in the top part of the pack, but consequentially means that these additional front storage areas are needed for your additional non photographic gear.
From the standpoint of camera gear carry, the 34L is a huge step up from the smaller 22L. In the 34L you can carry gripped bodies (DSLR or mirrorless), and the Stash Master Top Load accessory doubles the camera/lens capacity. It also provides safe stowage of larger lenses up to a 70-200 f/2.8 or 100-400mm / Canon RF 100-500mm.
Overall, the Rotation 34L is a serious pack that can easily be used by amateurs and professionals alike. If you’re weighing this up against the larger 50L pack, one thing of particular note is the carry-on compatible sizing of the 34L. Although I have flown with the 50L on a couple of occasions, it was technically larger than the regulated size and I always had that slight fear as I approached the plane.
Aside from this difference in overall sizing between the 34L and the 50L, the other main difference is the lack of back panel access on the smaller 34L pack. If you opt for the additional Stash Master Top Load for the 34L, access to it is done from the bag’s top zip.
On the 50L pack with the larger optional Stash Master Pro, its contents are accessed via a dedicated back panel zipper. This makes it slightly easier to access Stash Master-stored gear, especially if you have a lot of smaller items in there. From the back panel access on the 50L pack you see all the gear laid out in front of you. From the Top Load version in the 34L, smaller items have to be stacked on top of one-another.
Additional Comparative Photos
Compared to the MindShift BackLight Elite 45L
If you’re looking at the Rotation Pro 50L then there’s a good chance you might also be considering MindShift’s other similarly sized pack: The BackLight Elite 45L. These bags share the same design language, as well as much of the same material and hardware. The primary difference is that the BackLight Elite 45L doesn’t have the rotating belt pack section. Instead, the entire volume of the pack is accessed though a back panel opening in the style that you also find in packs from F-Stop and Shimoda.
In terms of carrying comfort, there’s really nothing to choose between these two bags. They both use the same harness system and foam back panel materials. If you want to carry larger lenses though, this configuration is likely to work better for you than the Rotation Pro 50L. The BackLight Elite 45L is also carry-on compliant for a much broader range of airlines and travel routes due to the slightly smaller size. There are also several travel-specific features to help make air travel smoother.
If you want to learn even more, I have written an in-depth review of the MindShift BackLight Elite 45L. That should answer all your questions, including going into more detail about those air travel features.
I’m only one size, so it’s always difficult for me to answer questions about pack fit for people that are much shorter or taller than me. Thankfully MindShift have created this useful graphic that gives some visual clues as to how each pack will fit people of different heights. Using the adjustable torso length on each pack, all sizes of pack should comfortably fit people whose height is between 6’4″ and 5’4″.
The Rotation 180 system launched the MindShift brand back in 2013. To this day, likely because they smartly patented it, there’s nothing else like it on the market. With the new versions of these bags MindShift have developed a product range with a nicely cohesive design language and a size to suit everyone’s needs. Looking at the range as a whole, the addition of torso length adjustment on all sizes of the bag is a big deal. When combined with the smart sizing choices, these bags will be suitable and more comfortable for a broader range of photographers.
Honing in on the Rotation Pro 50L pack that is the specific subject of this review, we see some nice refinements to the design of the original R180 Pro, although it’s definitely more evolution than revolution. I particularly like the magnetic closure features on the belt pack, as well as the new front stuff pocket and huge side pocket. If you’re looking for a big photo pack for professional usage, this is right up there with the largest ones on the market. With the removable belt pack you are also getting two camera bags in one!
A word of caution, though. For the Rotation Pro 50L to be the right pack for you, you have to want the Rotation 180 feature. I think it’s a wonderful system, but the inclusion of this feature really splits up the bag into two halves. On occasion that means that there will be something in the top part of your bag, probably a lens, that you want to put on the camera that is in the belt pack at the bottom. This will mean accessing both sections and potentially slowing you down. Thoughtful packing can often alleviate this, but it’s worth considering.
And don’t forget, if you like the overall style of the pack but have a large super telephoto lens that needs the full length of the bag, or you just don’t think you need the Rotation 180 feature, there’s always the BackLight Elite 45L pack. This is MindShift’s other top-end photo pack that uses all the same materials and hardware as the Rotation Pro, but swaps the rotating belt pack for simple back panel access to the entire volume of the pack.
Overall, this bag is exactly what you’d hope it would be. A refined version of a hugely popular and unique camera bag, that modernizes the design and adds a few new tricks to speed up camera access even more.
Where to Buy
At the moment the Rotation Pro 50L is available through the Kickstarter campaign for a very limited time. The campaign was funded in just a few hours and with MindShift/Think Tank Photo’s experience there should be no concerns with this. The bags are expected to ship in November for Kickstarter backers.
Of course if you decide to pledge on Kickstarter, you will be getting a significant discount on the bags compared to the retail pricing that will be available to everyone else online in December.