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MindShift Gear's FirstLight 20L Backpack


Dallas

MindShiftGear is the sister company to ThinkTankPhoto, a company I have come to admire and respect over the past couple of years, not only for the personal support they give me, but because they produce really good products for us photographers.

Recently they asked me if I would like to receive an early sample of their Sister company’s new FirstLight range of backpacks. These are designed to accommodate large lenses for various camera systems and come in three sizes, namely the 20L, 30L and 40L. Each size is designed to allow you to use it within the airline carry on dimension restrictions, as well as to keep your biggest glass safe, with or without a camera body attached.

A Very Comfortable Backpack

I opted to receive the 20L version of the bag for my mirrorless system. When it arrived I was immediately impressed with the design and also the attention to detail in the finishes. This somewhat slender pack is made out of very nice materials. The next thing that impressed me is the comfort when wearing it. I’ve used many backpacks in the past from a number of makers and they all had the same thing in common: they were uncomfortable to walk around with for long periods of time. This one from MindShift I can see myself being able to wear on long walks and hikes into the bush/mountains without much bother. It really is comfortable.

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What Can You Put In It?

The main purpose of the design of this bag is to accommodate your biggest telephoto lenses with some smaller lenses or other items on the sides. Currently my biggest lens is my recently acquired Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0. This lens is a bit of a monster weighing close to 2kg mainly because of its super fast constant aperture (a whole stop faster than the typical 70-200mm f/2.8 form other makers). In the image below you will see that it is attached to an E-M1 with an MMF-2 adapter and the massive hood is not reversed. Also in the bag are numerous other lenses, including the new 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO. The literature for the bag states that you can fit a 200-400mm f/4 lens in this space without a body attached, or a 300mm f/2.8 with one attached. I think you definitely can, plus you could also fit in a few other lenses too.

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Included in the bag shot above are:

Olympus E-M1 (sans grip)

Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO

Olympus 1.4x teleconverter

Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye

Olympus 75mm f/1.8

Olympus FL-600R flash (in its bag)

Panasonic/Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit

Panasonic 14-45mm f/3.5-4.5 (normally my 12-40mm 2.8 PRO would go in there but I was using it for these product shots)

Olympus 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 (upright)

For mirrorless users like myself it means I can take a variety of lenses from my system at any time and comfortably carry them in this bag. The first time I took it out with me I had 2 E-M1 bodies, one with this beast of a 35-100mm attached and the other without a lens attached. I had the 75-300mm II standing upright in one of the smaller compartments as shown and space/weight wasn’t an issue. I could have put a lot more in, but in the wisdom of my years these days I only take what I know I am going to use on a shoot. :)

Other Features

The bag comes with a few additional features that adventure photographers will find useful. If you’re planning on taking a tripod with you on your hike (which you should definitely do if you’re hiking for landscape reasons) you can attach it to the backpack with supplied straps that neatly tuck away in the top and bottom of the bag. At the bottom they have put a pocket that you can rest your tripod feet in so that it doesn’t slip off while you are walking.

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Above: this adjustable strap tucks away neatly into a slip pouch on top of the pack.

Built into the main flap are 2 large external pockets, the larger of which is able to accommodate a laptop and the smaller of which can be used to put other smaller personal items into. There’s also a small pocket just below the handle at the top of the bag.

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You will also see that the various strap lugs have hinged locks on them which when clamped down stop any creep that you would experience with the usual folding type strap lug.

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At the bottom of the pack there are some elasticated lugs that are useful to attach other items you might be hiking with.

Travelling With The FirstLight

An interesting feature with the Firstlight backpacks is that you can fold the waist harness flaps around and secure them with the buckle across the main flap of the case. This is quite handy for travelling and also if like me you will be using the bag on lesser walks where they will just get in the way. In my assessment of areas where I think the FirstLight can be improved I mentioned to them that something I would really like to see in a future backpack is the ability to completely remove the harness by zipper and possibly replace it with a sling. That would increase the utility of this range to cover not only outdoor photography that involves hiking, but also make the bag totally urban too.

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Final Assessment

This is a super pack for photographers with smaller kits who are looking for both utility and style in their camera transportation. One slight downside I have discovered with the 20L is that if you pack a camera with a grip attached it sits a little proud of the dividers. The flap will still close around the camera, but this doesn’t leave much space for you to fit your laptop into the front pocket. Granted I am using a slightly thicker 13” MacBook Pro (2012 non-retina version) which I always keep in a Thule protection shell, so for safari purposes this version of the bag might not be ideal for me. A slightly bigger 30L is currently on its way to me and will most definitely be my choice of bag for when I fly off to Botswana in September to join the Wild Waterways Safari.

If you have any questions about the FirstLight 20L please pop them in the comments below and if you are looking to buy one directly from MindShift using the link provided below you will be helping to support Fotozones. You'll also find all the technical details about the pack on that page.

Buy your FirstLight 20L using this link and Fotozones will get a percentage of the proceeds, which I will give back to the community in rewards for content contributors or prizes.

More photos:

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Adjustable harness height for the taller hikers.

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Side view showing pockets on the side that can be used to store water bottles and other items. I have the supplied rain cover in this pouch.

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I love these zipper tags. They make it really easy to open and close the pack. the handle on the top is also very comfortable to hold.

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Top quality nylon material is used on the pack.

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Looks nice and simple.  Question:  Does this pack have an internal spine or frame that allows weight to be transferred to the body via the waist belt?  Or, is all the weight carried on the shoulders?

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The back is fairly rigid, so there must be something in there. I can tell you that with the waist belt fastened you can hardly feel this on your back and because it is such a slender design it doesn't shift around the way many other back packs I have used do. Definitely would have come in handy on my iMfolozi trail in April, but alas I only got it in early June. I am planning another trail for later in the year, so I will use it on that one for sure. The 30L that I should be receiving next week is slightly deeper so will be able to accommodate E-M1 with a grip and it also has a water bladder compartment on the side - essential for hiking in the hot and dry parts of my province. 

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I'm still at a loss as to when exactly it was that bag manufacturers decided that either all cameras and lenses were waterproof, or that it will never rain when the bag is in use. To have an upward-facing, broad-toothed zipper with not even an attempt at a storm flap to cover it is the final statement in that formula, I would think.

 

I always considered pointless the half-arsed approach (started by LowePro?) of including a "rain cover" - a generally ill-fitting piece of lightweight waterproof nylon which screams "afterthought" at every fumbling attempt to fit it during the unexpected rainstorm as the interior of the bag and its contents gets drenched through the cool-looking but rather uselessly porous "ballistic nylon" shell and the wide-toothed zippers that also leak like sieves.

 

It defeats me as to why storm flaps over openings are now considered irrelevant and why the cool-looking ballistic nylon isn't simply backed with the rain-proof nylon material that the "rain-covers" are made from rather than having to manufacture one of those stupid things separately. It's not as though there's extra material involved, or indeed any extra manufacturing time needed.

 

My first camera bag was a student's model (i.e. cheap) leather bag with a storm flap lid and a snap-lock buckle closure (which I still have over 40 years later). It would happily sit in a rainstorm without letting any water in, and while the exterior needed to be dried as soon as possible to avoid mould, it went half way around the world through Africa and Europe with me without my cameras ever looking like getting wet while safely stored inside.

 

That was followed by a rigid aluminium case with a rubber gasket around the opening which was similarly watertight - even moreso, in fact. It was just awkward to carry around. In fact I bought that case at an insurance auction after a camera store in Melbourne City had their basement filled in 1972 by this:

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(the store was just behind and to the left of the photographer, Neville Bowler)...and I also still have that case, which was obviously shut during its submersion as it was totally dry inside, any damage was purely external mud. It safely carried all my cameras during my first decade in the business, until I bought a LowePro backpack in 1983.

 

Since then things have been on a downward slide, with nylon taking over - the first bags had a close weave nylon that was at least somewhat water resistant, and zippers had a cursory flap over them, but my first "ballistic nylon" (am I expecting to be shot at??) bag with its looks-over-function backpack introduced me to the new order where it apparently never rains, when after a day in the rainforest being pelted by this imaginary rain I found my D2x, in its position sitting upright on the bottom as the pack was carried, actually had water lapping its base, which had been cunningly turned into a shallow swimming pool by the zipper seam which stood about 5mm higher than the backpack's base. While the rest of the pack wasn't waterproof, it appears that Tamrac went to some lengths to make sure that the base was, and that water getting in from the porous top couldn't drain from the bottom until it got to zipper level.

 

I might add that none of these porous and supposedly tough ballistic nylon backpacks and shoulder bags have survived in a usable state, all variously having failures in the allegedly fail-proof porous zippers or the bullet-proof nylon itself, or the cheap, lightweight Velcro used on the interior dividers. I now use a technical vest with pouches from Lowepro, and while they're still not waterproof and come with an even more stupid individual rain cover for each pouch (cunningly hidden under the belt loops to the degree that it took two years for me to actually discover them), each year I simply saturate the things with silicone waterproofing spray. At least they have a flap-over design and no zippers, just a really strong Velcro fastener.

 

The one backpack that has survived is my KATA Bumblebee lightweight, also not quite waterproof but apparently made from some sort of fine-weave ripstop parachute material that is as strong as anything and has survived some fearsome abuse. The zippers, too, are of the usually fragile fine-toothed variety, but they have proved as tough as the exterior material. Appearances can be deceiving.

 

I write this here in the perennial hope that manufacturers might actually realise that rain does happen and not everyone is two steps from an awning or car when it does, and also that "rain-proof" doesn't have to mean "waterproof" to the extent that those few models available are taken to (think Lowepro Dry Zone) and be super expensive with fussy waterproof zip-closures that need lubricating with boasts that the bag "will float" in water, or be semi-rigid uber-expensive models like Pelikan's contribution. Also that "rain-covers" are an infuriating and fiddly afterthought that lets the whole pack design down.

 

Being a backpack, I really wonder at the designer's fantasy of how a backpack is actually used, and why it would be necessary for one to float if a hiker is wearing it. In all my walking days I have never been so deep in water that I needed my pack to float, but nearly every outing has required it to be weatherproof. As a result I am also so over "rain-covers".

 

This shot cracks me up - illustrating my point perfectly:

waterproof-backpack.jpg

(finding a solution before creating a problem for it :D  )

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Guest Michael Anderson

Posted

Very interesting and informative article, thanks for posting as I would have missed it's launch.

 

I am looking for a new backpack, I currently use a Think Tank street walker pro for my D4s (primarily because of the packs depth) and lenses and am regularly frustrated with the thin and flimsy dividers, are they any firmer and stronger on the Firstlight backpack you have tested? Otherwise it looks a great pack. 

 

I am interested in the overall size of the 40L and have been advised by the UK importer Snapperstuff that they have just received all sizes into stock.

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I just got the 30L today and its slightly larger than the 20L but a lot deeper and there are much more dividers than in the 20L. I think most people will like the 30L better than the 20L if they have bigger gear. The 20L is pretty good for mirrorless systems without grips though. I will be using both these packs on my weekend safari so expect a more indepth field test response when I get back next week. 

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Guest Michael Anderson

Posted

When you have some free time, could you please update your backpack experiences from the weekend safari. Thank you.

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I will do, Michael. I took both the 20L and 30L with me to carry all the gear and they did well. I am just a little behind on my editing and writing but am hoping to get back on track this week. 

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