Category: Reviews

Photography

Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Professional – Review

It’s been a couple months now since I purchased the Rotation 180 Professional backpack from the folks over at Mindshift Gear (sister company of ThinkTank Photo).  I was hoping to get this review done a while back, but shortly after it arrived, my camera and such got destroyed by a wave and I was without for quite a while.  Didn’t have much of a chance to use it!  Now that I have had ample time to use it and run it through the paces, here’s my review. There are a lot of pictures to go along with this.

If you don’t want to read the full review here’s the short version. This is a fantastic backpack that is super comfortable both loaded and empty and get’s a highly recommended vote from me. You can tell there was a lot of research and thought put into this bag in every aspect. The only caveat I can think of is that it’s a little large for an every day bag, but that is not why I bought this one.

   

When I went looking for another backpack, I was after just couple specific capabilities.

  1. Needed to allow quick access to my camera and an additional lens
  2. Have enough room inside and attachment options for overnight camping gear

When I first heard about the Rotation 180, I was quite intrigued. It had this very cool sounding rotation piece that rotates from within the backpack to the front giving you access to whatever is in there without the need to remove the backpack. Living on the coast and frequently shooting in knee high water, this sounded great. The rotation part is the key feature of this bag, but it is chock-full of subtle features that make a huge difference.

When you put the bag on your back, buckle the waist strap, you are now able to rotate this pack around. There is this neat magnetic clip that holds the flap of the bag securely.  It’s surprisingly easy to use and can be done without looking almost immediately. There’s even a picture right on the strap for the clip to show you how to slide it out. When closing it again, you just have to get it close and it snaps right back into place. The rotating pack can be completely removed and worn by itself if you’re one that doesn’t mind getting the fanny pack jokes from your friends.  There is also a tether on the pack that keeps it clipped to the main bag so you don’t accidentally drop it or something, and it’s very easy to unclip for removal.

On the outside of the rotating pack, you’ll find a small pouch attached to t he strap that’s large enough to hold some smaller items like a flashlight, batteries, memory cards, or anything else you can think of.  On the front of the pack, you’ll find a pocket and inside is a rain cover specifically for the rotating piece.  Don’t worry, there is also one for the main backpack as well on one of the side pockets. It even allows for use of the rotating pack while being covered. This part was a wonderful surprise. I fully expect a quality bag to have a rain cover, but to include one for the smaller pack, and still allow full use of the rotation aspect was beyond what I expected.

Inside the pouch you’ll find a few removable dividers and a couple smaller more sleeve style pockets. This pack holds my Canon 6D with 24-105 attached, a 16-35 lens and still has enough room for some smaller items like a spare battery, filters, and things of that nature. There is also a mesh pocket on the lid/flap of the pack.  In the picture below you’ll see  my 6D with 24-105, a 40mm 2.8 pancake, Yongnuo 560II flash and a few filters. Since the dividers can be rearranged or removed, it’s easy to fit a larger lens in there as well if required.

There are pockets and attachment loops everywhere on this bag. There is also a handful of accessories you can purchase separately to go with the Rotation 180.  One such extra is the Tripod Suspension Kit. This suspension kit is a real easy and secure way to carry your tripod while still having quick access to using it. In fact, you can still leave the clips attached to the tripod and use it if you wanted to! You attach a strap with a loop to your tripod, then the straps themselves to the backpack, attach the clips to the loop, and place 1 or 2 tripod legs through the elastic loop on the side of the backpack.  This allows the tripod to be suspended in a comfortable way with very quick access.

There are two other ways you’re able to attach a tripod or anything of that nature to this bag. You can use the side pouch on the bag and secure it up higher with strap. I personally don’t use it this way since the weight makes it feel lopsided, but it is there if one were to require that.  The third way is with the removable tripod cup/sling on the front center of the bag. You can slide anywhere from 1-3 legs into the sling and secure it up higher with another strap.  My tripod legs don’t have the rotating locks, so it only fits one leg comfortably into the sling, then you can either do as I did and leave the 2 out front, or flip that and put them between the sling and the bag.

A smaller more travel oriented tripod would be a better fit for traveling distances than the one I’m using here. Even with it’s size though, it sits securely and out of the way when I can’t use the suspension kit.

Another accessory that I’ve purchased are the attachment straps for attaching additional items. With these I am able to attach my sleeping bag and tent and other items that typically don’t go in the bag.  Sure with all of this attached and full the bag weighs a fair bit, but it is still very comfortable thanks to all of the adjustment straps practically everywhere you can think of, and then some.

This bag has so many intricacies I’m going to forget a bunch of them. There are attachment loops on the shoulder straps, on the front of the bag, on the bottom of the bag, and on the waist strap that the rotation pack is a part of. The buckle on the chest strap even has a whistle built into it.

The part of the bag that rests against your back has thick padding that remains comfortable for hours on end and the same goes for the shoulder straps and waist straps. I’ve worn this bag for several hours and it never became uncomfortable. My body itself was getting worn out before I felt like I needed to adjust the bag or take it off. Comfort will not be an issue for most people with this bag.

The zippers are high quality, large and easy to use with or without gloves thanks to the loops on the end of each and every zipper on the main bag and the rotation part. There’s 2  pockets on each side of the bag, on one on the top of the bag. There’s also a larger one on the front of the bag that expands quite a bit and can easily fit a lightweight outer shell.  One of the side pockets is designed for a hydration pouch with a slot to allow the drinking hose to come out the top. The others are big enough to hold a few hats and gloves of varying warmth depending on the conditions you’ll be in.

Inside the main compartment there’s a ton of room.  There’s a padded photo insert you can purchase separately that can house loads of additional camera gear. I do not use this as it holds other items I carry with me all the time.  The large Cokin X-Pro filter set, my Neo overshoes, additional layers or clothing, and other items depending on the outing I have planned.

This is easily the best photo backpack I have used. It fits all the needs I was after and the rotation part truly is great.  It has been used many times in an environment where I simply could not take the bag off to change lenses or filters.  It is a bit large for short every day use, but when I settled on this bag, I had bigger needs in mind and it’s perfect for those. The only other downside that I can think of while using this for a couple months is that the rotating pack gets a little harder to rotate back into place when you pack it full/overfill it. However that isn’t what I’d consider a true negative since it works just fine if you use it within it’s limits and not over stuff it with to many large lenses.  It holds my camera and the 2 lenses I use all the time. Any additional lenses I throw into the main compartment.

Almost forgot to mention this aspect about the main compartment as well! You can access the main compartment through the top of the bag like a traditional backpack, or from the back of the bag. This gives you a huge opening to easily get anything in and out and pack accordingly without any trouble. Additionally, you can rotate the entire bag around so it’s hanging off the front of you and open it up to access those items without taking the bag off and setting it on the ground.

Here’s a few more shots of the various things about the bag.

MIndshift gear has just recently came out with their second bag called the Rotation 180 Panorama. This is a smaller bag that would be much more oriented for day trips and normal every day outings where as I consider the Rotation 180 Professional to be more of a backpacking/longer trip bag. Given what I love about this bag, I may pick up the Panorama and give it a shot as well.

The Rotation 180 Professional isn’t cheap, it starts at $389.99 for the bag itself with no accessories and goes up to $499.99 with all of the accessories. However, I do believe it is worth the cost for the features and quality you get.

Click the link above to read about the bag on their main website or to purchase one. If you want to look at some of the accessories and other items they have available, check out the link here.

As I’ve said before, I love this bag and would recommend it to anyone looking for a top quality and roomy bag that can be used for backpacking with photography equipment. The quick access to everything without needing to take the bag off are the key selling points for me and they work well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this bag whether you have one or may be interested in one. Have any questions? Leave them below and I’d be more than happy to answer them.

Reviews

Squarespace Review

 Squarespace homepage screenshot

     Are you looking for a quick and easy way to create and mange a great looking website?  You need to check out Squarespace. No, this is not a sales pitch, nor am I getting paid to write any of this.  Squarespace is exactly what their tagline says it is…….

Everything you need to create an exceptional website”

— Squarespace

     It’s really easy to get started, and they offer a free trial in which no credit card is needed.  You simply choose from a great selection of templates and start adding your content.  All of the available templates are very design centric.  They look great and show off different types of content very well.  You can organize the templates based on what they work best for, portfolio, business, blog etc….  don’t worry about which one you choose, as you can change it at any time and your content seamlessly switches over to the new template.  If you’re adept at coding, they do have a developers platform in which you can completely create a site from the ground up.  Even with templates, you are able to add custom code blocks and css to add functionality or make changes.

 Squarespace template selection.

Of course this site that you’re reading this on is a Squarespace site.  It is my personal site which houses a lot of different content.  Galleries, contact forms, about pages, custom pages and 2 blog pages.  With the unlimited plan, you get truly unlimited everything.  Unlimited number of pages, storage and bandwidth.  There are so many options you can do, it’s pretty crazy.  It is often touted that you cannot bring a Squarespace site down.  Normally if a small time blog or site gets published in a place where it gains a huge surge in traffic, the site just fails and goes down. This doesn’t happen with Squarespace. They have some genius way of scaling bandwidth when it’s most needed so your site never goes down as a result of a spike in traffic.

 Mobile screenshot with menu

One major benefit that comes with all Squarespace sites is the often talked about responsive design.  This allows your site to scale in a pleasing way depending on the screen size of the device you’re using. To the right is a screenshot of this site on a phone.  You can see the navigation menu becomes a dropdown, which when touched opens up a beautiful looking list of the pages. Makes it very user friendly on mobile devices.  Another fantastic thing that occurs, is Squarespace will resize your images to 7 different sizes to feed up only the proper size in respect to the screen size.  If you’re on your phone, you won’t be downloading huge high resolution files that take up an enormous amount of data. On your desktop, you’ll see the higher resolution versions.  This works great on tablets as well.  All of this is just built right into the platform and you don’t need to do anything to make it happen.

 Content Blocks

Adding Content…

 to your page is very simple.  You pretty much select “+Add Page”, tell it what type of page you want it to be, then select the content using content blocks that you want to add.  If you select an image or gallery, you comply drag and drop photo’s from your computer into the window and they are uploaded. If you want to add some text, select the text block and type away. Once you’ve added all the content you want to the page, you can drag and drop the different blocks to rearrange them, float them left or right and change it all around till your heats content.  If there are still some changes to be made, you can add some custom CSS to the page to fine tune if needed.  There is a lot of built-in social integration for most of the major social networks. My home page for example has my twitter feed, foursquare feed and 500px feed in addition to a collection of my blog posts to display the 3 most recent posts.

SEO is not something I’m all that familiar with except that I know it’s important when it comes to Google search rankings.  I DO know that SEO is a high priority for Squarespace and it’s integrated automatically so you don’t need to worry to much about it.  There are little things you can learn if you wish to increase search rankings with file names, captions etc… but the topic of SEO alone could go on forever and I know next to nothing about it.

 Style editor to adjust page settings.

With every template, you have access to over 300 fonts in the Google font library, changing the color schemes of links, backgrounds and all sorts of different elements on the page.  There is even Typekit integration if you have a membership there and want to use those fonts.  You can view a long list of options to change for the entire page, or you can click on the section of the page you are wanting to edit and you’ll see the options that apply to just that one section.

Some templates have additional options, and others have less, it just depends on what the developer of the template enabled.  Of course as mentioned before, you can add some custom CSS if you’re wanting to make a change that is not available by default.

Photography as any of my followers know, is a big passion of mine.  Having the options to display photographs in a beautiful manner is a key thing.  For this site, I chose more of a blog oriented template, but I still have a lot of photos.  With this template, the default gallery displays as a slideshow such as this.

However, you are able to add galleries so they display as a Slideshow, Slider, Grid or Stacked layout. You can adjust the speed in which images cycle, add thumbnails and change the spacing between images. For examples see the links below.  

Grid Layout 
Stacked Layout
Slider Layout

Customer Support…

     is another top notch aspect that cannot be over looked.  If you have any trouble with their service, send them an email and they always respond in a very timely fashion.  Doesn’t matter if it’s at 3 or 4 AM or middle of the day.  Their email support is 24/7 and 365 days a year.  They also have live chat support during certain hours on weekdays.  From my personal experience, I’ve always received a reply to a ticket within 30 minutes and often times sooner.

Not to long ago they added SmugMug integration allowing you to import albums from SmugMug galleries.  I ran into an issue where nothing was importing.  They were able to identify there was indeed a problem right away and they were quick to put the engineers on it to implement a fix.  This problem is not a common type to have, as it was something to do with the resolution of images on SmugMug being to large to import.  The fix for this problem did take a few days, but that’s because of the work involved in making a fix like this.  Throughout the few days, they kept me updated as to what was going on making sure I knew it was being worked on and I wasn’t forgotten. 

Other Notes…

     There are a couple additional features that I haven’t used as of this post that may be very compelling for a lot of people.  The biggest one being E-commerce.  Just a couple of weeks ago they announced built-in e-commerce for their business tier subscribers.  This is in partnership with Stripe for payments allowing you to setup an online shop to sell physical or digital goods.  As far as I know, there isn’t built-in fulfillment options yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is something in the works.  For me as a photographer, I could put up some pictures for sale at various sizes and mediums, people can purchase an item giving me the required information for shipping and printing, then I can send it off to the lab I get prints from.

Another item that may be useful is you’re allowed to have other people manage different aspects of your site. You can allow them full access to everything including settings, or as simple as content editors and comment moderators.

There is a built-in commenting system, or you can set it up with Disqus.  The social integration is really nice from making simple links to adding blocks with content from those services.  You also get some built-in analytics with most of the important information, or you can integrate it with Google analytics if you want to delve deeper into the viewer stats.

This is an entire content management system that’s hosted. No having to worry about updating your version of WordPress and breaking plugins, or worrying about all the hacks that come with badly written code.


Final Thoughts…

     As you can tell, I am a big fan of SquareSpace.  I am a small time user, not a web developer, and I think I was able to create a pretty solid looking website.  It’s constantly changing, and SquareSpace makes it easy to make those changes.  I have been very happy with how easy it has been and the responsiveness of the customer support.  The responsive design is top notch from my experience and looks fantastic on mobile devices.  It’s just a great option for someone who wants a good experience and is not a web developer or doesn’t have a lot of time to work on a website.

Having a free trial that doesn’t require a credit card, or anything other than an email address for that matter is great as well. It allows you to test it out in a full capacity to see if it’s right for you.  They have 3 different tier plans now that they’ve added e-commerce options.  You can pay month-to-month or yearly, and if you do pay annually, you get free domain registration.

Don’t take my word for it, try it out yourself and let me know what you think! I would love to hear from you in regards to your experiences and thoughts on the SquareSpace service.  www.squarespace.com