By Ellis Vener
Think Tank Photo makes some of the best thought out, best designed and best made carriers for photographic gear. Starting with the Airport Security roll-on case, and the Pro Modulus belt system, their core understanding of the way photographers, especially photojournalists, work shows up in the details of all of the Think Tank products I've tested. How would they solve the backpack problem? Carrying gear on your back makes sense if you are going to be out all day, but it's a pain to deal with. The pack has to come off your back so you can to get to what you want or to stow it away, and the part that spends the rest of the day next to you always ends up down in location muck and grit when you lay the pack down to gain access.
The rotation360˚ backpack is this company’s answer to these problems. The rotation360˚ integrates a large belt bag and backpack, with some extras thrown in. Unlike the Lowepro SlingShot, the entire bag does not rotate around to the front of your body, only the lower half. The design philosophy here is that once you are on the job, you’ll have your cameras out, hanging around your neck or shoulders, or on front on the built-in D-rings on the pack's shoulder straps.
Store the other lenses, flashes, etc., that you want to get to regularly in the beltpack. This pack will hold a 70-200mm f/2.8 or similar-size lens (barely) if you lay it on its side, or two to four smaller lenses plus small accessories like their Pixelrocket media wallet, batteries, pens, notebook, etc.
When you have it rotated to the front, the zippered lid opens facing you so that you can easily see everything inside. Other features on the belt include a squarish zippered pouch on the left side and loops to attach Think Tank Photo’s Modulus components. The weight bearing portion is a wide, flat pad that wraps around your body so the weight gets carried on your hip bones, not just your muscles, and it can be adjusted for all waist sizes, even over a heavy coat and sweater.
A locking mechanism keeps the pack in its place in the rigid frame in the backpack (above). When you want to rotate the beltpack to your belly, pulling one large handle covers the velcro panels in the belt, unlocking it. Rotate the bag back into its stored position and pull anther handle to uncover the velco and lock. To make sure it's locked there, yank on the big loops on the belt. For more safety there are heavy-duty locking straps. This system may seem like a Rube Goldberg invention at first, but it does the job. After a couple of outings I figured out how to make the velcro locks work, and after a couple more I really started trusting it. Once I got the hang of it, it made a lot of sense, but I’m still not sure why the locking and unlocking handles are on the same side of the belt.
Rigid Frame? Yep. The bottom of the pack is an open ended box that houses the belt pack. This is the revolutionary part of the design. When the loaded belt pack is stored back there, your shoulders bear the weight as well as your hips. This is in keeping with Modulus design that shifts the weight around to keep one set of muscles from getting tired. The rigid frame also means that when you have to take the pack off and put it down, it stands squarely and stably on its base, not lying on its back. The upper compartment can hold a Canon EOS-1Ds or Nikon D2Xs size camera and short- to medium-length zoom, plus a few more items.
The shoulder straps for the pack are nicely padded and include a plethora of attachment points, including D-rings on both sides and a snug elastic pocket just large enough for a cell phone, video iPod or a small GPS unit. Attaching the camera to the shoulder straps keeps that load off of your neck. If you carry your camera on front with a long lens attached you can use an optional strap (included) to keep that bouncing weight from smashing you in the chest if you have to run.
The rotation360˚ comes with one camera strap (I’d like to see them include an Upstrap rather than the one included) and more straps for carrying more stuff. The top of the pack holds a built-in rain cover that pulls down over the whole pack. Both parts of the pack have external small flap compartments and internal and external webbed pockets as well. The business card holder at the top of the pack is a nice touch.
As I said before, I’ve never been a big fan of backpacks. In general, I find them goofy. This one is different. It’s practical, and you can see that the designers at Think Tank Photo consider the way photographers actually work. It’s also—for a backpack—sort of stylish.