For packing light on photo outings, my new best friend is the Backlight 18L from MindShift. For those not familiar, Think Tank Photo and MindShift Gear merged recently. So the MindShift products can be found on the Think Tank site. This line of products for outdoor photographers has the quality and features we’ve come to appreciate from Think Tank.
Why I wanted to try this backpack
After “retiring” from weddings and corporate events, I didn’t give up photography completely. I just gave up dealing with people. From Alaska’s brown bears to Utah’s deer, moose, elk, and bison, to insects in my own backyard, I consider myself a wildlife photographer. Some things never change though, and my animal photos are usually approached like portraits. Also, I can rarely find someone to join me, but actually prefer shooting solo. That generally means traveling light, so I can go farther, and be out longer.
What can you stuff in it?
To that end, the Backlight 18L is sized just right. My everyday kit is a full frame body (Canon EOS 6D) and a crop body (7D). For glass, I bring a 70-200 f/2.8, and a 24-70 f/4 with IS and macro(ish) mode. Toss in a 1.4x and 2.0x extender, and I can go from a wide 24mm all the way out to 640mm. Plus some decent closeup capabilities. Though I rarely take advantage of that entire range, it’s nice to know I’ve got most needs covered. And there is still room to spare, in case I want more speed, or something wider.
The main feature
By now, you’re probably wondering what makes the Backlight 18L special, besides being “just right” in size. Well, I don’t have to swap lenses between bodies too often. But I do need to switch cameras frequently. And in Utah, it’s either super dry and dusty, or very wet, possibly snowy. So I’m loathe to set my camera bag down, if I can help it. To that end, the Backlight’s rear panel camera compartment is perfect for me. With the waist belt on, I just spin it from my back to front, unzip, and access my photo gear. There’s even a little cord to go over my neck, which holds the lid up.
In addition to this useful feature, it’s also got everything most of us want in a camera bag. Zippered mesh pockets hold spare batteries, filters, and memory cards. On the very front, there’s 5 liters of storage for snacks, sunblock, and other necessities. Elastic drawstring pouches on either side hold a water bottle, light jacket, or your tripod. Of course, there are straps to keep that tripod secure until needed. In the bottom of the front compartment is a zipper which reveals a small pouch. On the top of the bag is another compartment with a buckled strap. They work together to hold a tripod as well. That can free up the side pockets. For Apple fans, a 13″ laptop plus an iPad fit, each with their own pocket.
Backlight 18L in use
I could easily write another 1,000+ words on the rest of the features, but it may be easier for you to visit the product page, which has a great video covering the Backlight 18L. What they don’t really touch on is what it’s like to use it. That, I can share. I’ve got maybe a dozen or so bags, so when I reach for the Backlight, I have plenty of other choices. My other backpacks are too big and bulky though. Shoulder bags are fine for portrait sessions, weddings, and family outings. Not so much for long hikes.
Once loaded, it’s easy enough to adjust the straps and get comfortable. Dual density foam over mesh keeps the shoulder straps from becoming a pain point. An air channel in the back keeps the perspiration at bay, as much as possible. On the hottest days, I get a pattern on my shirt matching the channel’s cutouts. Even with my broad shoulders, it’s not difficult to wiggle out of the straps and swing the Backlight around though. And that’s what counts. It’s just so convenient, and I can do it while walking, if the ground is even enough. The only time that doesn’t work so well is when I attach a tripod. Even then, that’s a non-issue. Because I usually have enough light to leave the tripod at home. And if I do bring a tripod, I just set the Backlight down on the included rain cover.
Really, it just does everything I need it to do. This is a well thought-out bag. I’ve even used it as my daily bag for work, and with the dividers removed, it’s a fine daypack or summertime overnighter, in a pinch. All the stitching is straight and tight, and it has a quality feel throughout.
MSRP is $199.99, and you can find it on the ThinkTankPhoto website.
9.4” W x 16.7” H x 5.5” D (24 x 42.5 x 14 cm)
10.6” W x 18.5” H x 7.1” D (27 x 47 x 18 cm)
8.9” W x 13.8” H x 0.8”D (22.5 x 35 x 2.1 cm)
8.7” W x 10.2” H x 0.6” D (22 x 26 x 1.5 cm)
3.5 lbs (1.6 kg)
How much can you really stuff in it?
- Holds 2 standard DSLR bodies with lenses attached and 1–3 standard zoom lenses
- Holds 2 Mirrorless bodies with lenses attached and 3–5 lenses
- Fits up to a 13” laptop and a 10” tablet
- Fits personal gear in the 5L front compartments
- Maximum lens size: 300mm f/2.8 or 150–600mm f/5–6.3 attached to a body
- Nikon D750 with 24–70mm f/2.8 attached, Nikon D750 with 70–200mm f/2.8 attached, 14–24mm f/ 2.8, 85mm f/1.8
- Sony A7 with 70–200mm f/2.8 attached, Sony A7 with 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 attached, 16–35mm f/2.8, 24–70mm f/2.8
- Canon 5D with 24–70mm f/2.8 attached, Canon 6D with 70-200mm f/2.8 attached, 16–35mm f/2.8, 100mm f/2.8
Available colors are Charcoal or Woodland Green.
I’d like to thank Think Tank Photo and MindShift for providing this Backlight 18L for review.