Update: July 2015: Even though this article is quite old, backpacks continue to be a popular topic. In 2012 I bought an f-stop Loka. Check out this comparison of the Loka (now Ajna) and MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon
Update Feb 2010: I've recently replaced my Think Tank Rotation 360 with a Think Tank Streetwalker HardDrive. I found I wasn't using the rotation feature of the 360 that much, and sometimes needed to haul a little more gear. The Streetwalker HardDrive is lighter weight than the Rotation 360, holds more gear, and can hold a laptop for airplane carry-on usage. The only thing I liked better about the Rotation 360 was the very comfortable, wide waist belt. For the Streetwalker HardDrive I added a Think Tank Pro Speed Belt. When I get to a location I can either shoot with the whole bag, or remove the belt and attach Think Tank Modular Components (usually just a Speed Changer, lens pouch, and water bottle holder). The laptop and spare gear stays in the backpack back in the room or in the car. So far this system has proved very versatile, and I'm happy with the change. If you decide to order any Think Tank gear, take advantage of this special link that will let you add a free accessory to your shopping cart!
Think Tank Rotation 360 Backpack Review
If you’ve been a photographer for a while, chances are you’ve tried a few different ways to carry your camera gear. Figuring out how to efficiently pack your gear for protection and easy access can be a challenge, but I feel like I’m at a point where my bag situation is pretty dialed in. Depending on what I’m shooting and how much I have to carry, I have 2 backpacks, 2 shoulder bags, and a beltpack from which to choose. I didn’t really need another camera bag.
And then I saw the Think Tank Rotation 360 online. The most innovative design feature of this backpack is the bottom section is actually a beltpack that can rotate around to allow easy access to your gear without taking off the bag – perfect for quick lens changes.
Going into orbit
I’ve been testing the Rotation 360 since January, and it’s really easy to use. The beltpack rotates around smoothly, and is positioned to provide a stable place to change lenses. Rotating the beltpack back into the backpack is also fast after you get used to it. There are well positioned handles on each side of the beltpack for a solid grip, and a quick little wiggle ensures it seats nicely back into position. There is a locking pull tab on the belt to help keep the beltpack in place, and you can clip the beltpack to the backpack for extra security when traveling. I am extremely pleased with how well the rotation feature works. Once you’ve tried this bag, you’ll notice how many times you set your regular backpack down in the course of a shoot to access your gear.
Get up, stand up
Speaking of setting your bag down, the Rotation 360 stands up straight because the bottom of the backpack frame is completely flat. My other backpacks have a propensity to topple over into the dirt, so I really appreciate this feature. The ergonomic carrying handle on the top of the bag is also nicely designed.
Protect Your Neck
I’m a longtime fan of Optech neoprene straps because they comfortably distribute the weight on your neck when walking. The Think Tank folks include what looks like a basic camera strap with the bag, and it attaches to the backpack’s shoulder straps. I’m such an Optech fan I wasn’t even going to try it – man, am I glad I did. The Think Tank strap has a small metal loop on each side. The backpack has metal clips on the shoulder straps – simply attach the clips to the camera strap ring and all the weight magically disappears from your neck. The clips are easy to connect, height adjustable, and store away neatly when not in use. Many pro camera bodies can weigh 5 pounds with a lens attached. When clipped to the shoulder straps, your camera provides a counter balance for the gear on your back. This setup not only protects your neck, but also really helps comfortably distribute the load by moving some weight to the front.
The part of the bag that contacts your back is quite comfortable due to a nicely designed back pad system. The padding in the lumbar area is thicker than other bags. In addition to being comfortable, the placement of the padding creates space between your back and the bag, which allows for ventilation on hot days.
The shoulder straps are comfortable and easy to adjust, as is the sternum strap. The beltpack strap is wide enough to help put some of the load on your hips, but not bulky. The belt strap attaches to the right of center, which keeps the clips from rubbing on your pants or belt buckle -- a small but thoughtful design detail. I’ve been on multiple 4-5 hour adventures using the Think Tank 360, and it’s the next best thing to having a sherpa.
A standard sized tripod can be carried by putting 2 legs into a mesh pocket on the outside of the lower backpack compartment. While the durability of mesh for this purpose concerned me at first, I found the tripod carrying system to work just fine. I secured the tripod with the built in strap at the top that's hidden in a zippered pocket when not in use. A bottom strap that's not built into the bag is included, but I didn’t find it to be necessary. For a more balanced load when carrying large tripods there is a hidden fold down pouch on the bottom of the bag.
How Much Stuff Fits?
The Rotation 360 holds 1-2 camera bodies, 2-3 lenses, flash and accessories. I’ve been carrying a Canon 5D with a 24-70/2.8L mounted in the top compartment, which I then pull out when I get where I’m going. A jacket and snack can then go into the space where the camera was. A backup camera body or extra lens can also go in the top compartment with filters or other accessories. In the beltpack I’ve got a fast telephoto prime lens for more reach or portraits, along with a 580EX flash, Lensbaby, lens cloth, and extra AA batteries. The bottom outside pocket of the backpack holds a cell phone, gels, notebook, pens, and business cards. The beltpack has a separate small built-in pouch on the side that’s perfect for quick access to important items like extra camera batteries, memory cards, and dark chocolate.
Carrying more stuff
You can attach Think Tank modulus components to the waistbelt for quick access. If you normally shoot with a standard zoom but occasionally need quick access to a telephoto zoom, mounting a lens changer right on the belt might be the way to go. If you prefer to keep your lenses in the backpack, you could use the space for a Lightning Fast flash pouch, or R U Thirsty water bottle holder.
The upper side area of the backpack also has room for modulus components. The bag is narrow enough where attaching extra accessories on the top doesn’t make it too bulky. Having a medium sized backpack that’s expandable is a good way to have a lot of flexibility when packing your gear.
The bag also comes with straps to attach a jacket to the bottom. It looks like a jacket might hit you in the butt when attached this way, but it actually works quite well. With your bag full of photo gear and a tripod on the back, putting a jacket on the bottom is actually a smart idea.
Talk About The Weather
The seam-sealed rain cover for the backpack fits nicely, and has a Velcro strap that goes through the beltpack hole to keep it secure. As you may want to use just the beltpack on occasion, it has its’ own built in raincover that fits well and hides away when not in use.
The lower tripod strap and bottom strap are not attached to the bag. I haven’t been using the lower tripod strap, and would decide if I needed to use the bottom strap before leaving home, so this isn’t a big issue. The bag also comes with a shoulder strap for using with the beltpack. I couldn’t figure out how you would carry the beltpack with the shoulder strap -- the folks at Think Tank let me know that the shoulder strap is for extra support when using the beltpack by itself to carry a heavy load.
In case you couldn’t tell already, I am a big fan of the Rotation 360 – it’s a versatile, thoughtfully designed bag. Think Tank president/designer Doug Murdoch and designer Mike Sturm have many years of camera bag experience and it really shows.
Innovative design and quality materials do not come cheap. The Rotation 360 retails for $279. There are certainly other camera backpack options in this size range for half the price. The quick access, comfort, and long list of useful design features make the Rotation 360 well worth the price. I’ll be getting rid of a couple of my current bags, and using the Rotation 360 instead. Having one bag you really like means less time spent packing gear, and more time shooting -- and that's a worthwhile investment.
To see the Rotation 360 in action, check out the product information including photos and videos: www.rotation360.com
UPDATE: A shorter version of this review was posted over on The Online Photographer.