Photography Backpacks Compared: MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon 34L vs. f-stop Loka

A couple of years ago, the Society Obsessed with Photography Backpack Perfection (SOWPBP) took a look at the specs of 16 different camera backpacks. As a result of this investigation, I purchased an f-stop Loka, and have been really happy with this bag. f-stop is replacing the Loka this month with the 40L Ajna ($318 with a large ICU).

I’ve had a long-term relationship with the nice folks at Think Tank Photo, and reviewed their original Rotation 360 bag for The Online Photographer back in 2007. I’ve used a few of their other bags over the years, including the Retrospective 7 and Streetwalker Hard Drive. I also loaded beer into an Airport Airstream and then gave it away.

MindShift Gear is the sister company to Think Tank Photo. MindShift now has 5 photo backpacks in their lineup with a rotating waist belt design. I was intrigued by the new MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon 34L [AmazonB&H] ($259) that is about the same size as my Loka. The MindShift marketing folks kindly sent me a bag for review. I packed up the Rotation 180 Horizon, and compared it side-by-side with the Loka.

photo Backpack Design

The key design features of the Loka (now Ajna) is f-stop's ICU system. The bags open from the side that rests against your back to reveal your choice of padded camera insert. This allows you to customize the ratio of photo & non-photo gear. The inserts are expensive, but the system provides excellent flexibility. Some photographers buy an additional insert for packing flexibility and gear storage.

f-stop Loka with Large Pro ICU. The empty section holds an EOS 6D with a 24-70mm f/2.8L lens mounted

f-stop Loka with Large Pro ICU. The empty section holds an EOS 6D with a 24-70mm f/2.8L lens mounted

The MindShift Gear Horizon 180º Horizon's piece de resistance is the quick access to your gear from the rotating waist belt. This design has made a quantum leap since I first tested the original Think Tank Rotation 360. The waist belt is held in place by a super trick magnetic latch. Push down and then rotate the waist belt around to access your gear. When you're done shooting, the latch makes it super easy to lock the belt.

f-stop Loka and MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon showing the waist belt open

f-stop Loka and MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon showing the waist belt open

The waist belt of the Rotation 180 Horizon is great if you need to switch lenses without putting down your bag. The rotation feature would also come in handy if you need to grab a flash or other accessories quickly. My EOS 6D just fit in the waist belt with the 24-70mm f/2.8L lens mounted. When packing the Horizon, I preferred to use the waist belt for carrying extra lenses and accessories. A body with a lens already mounted doesn't use the waist pack space efficiently. If you're using a smaller mirrorless setup, the waist pack will likely work really well.

EOS 6D with 24-70mm f/2.8L lens mounted inside the Horizon's waist belt

EOS 6D with 24-70mm f/2.8L lens mounted inside the Horizon's waist belt


The Loka has smoother zippers, but this may be because my bag is so broken in. Both bags have nice zipper pulls. The contrasting green color of the Horizon's pulls makes them easy to see. The Loka's top pocket opens more fully, and includes two small organizer pockets. I store business cards, change, phone charging cable, pens, and a small iphone mic in the top of my Loka. Things would be less organized in the Rotation 180 Horizon. Both bags have an integrated key holder.

The Loka has two small pouches inside the top pocket

The Loka has two small pouches inside the top pocket

Inside the Top Section

The amount of space left on the inside top of the Loka will depend on which Internal Camera Unit (ICU) you choose to hold your photo gear. I have a Large Pro ICU in my Loka, and this leaves room for some food, 2 extra layers, a hat and gloves.

f-stop Loka and MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon Inside Top Section

f-stop Loka and MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon Inside Top Section

The Horizon has more room. However, to carry as much camera gear as the Loka, I would need to use the extra camera insert (sold separately) in the Horizon. With the insert in place, the amount of camera gear I can carry is about equal to the Loka, but with a bit less room for food and layers. The MindShift insert will fit a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and is nicely built. The $44.99 price tag is very reasonable, especially compared to f-stop's expensive ICUs.

MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Photo Insert

MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Photo Insert

Inside top section space comparison with the Horizon's optional photo insert

Inside top section space comparison with the Horizon's optional photo insert

Both bags have mesh pockets in the top section. The Loka’s black mesh pocket is about the size of my hand, and located on the underside of the bag's lid. The Horizon’s mesh pocket is a full size green vertical pouch.

One downside of the Loka's design is that items can slip down between the ICU and outside of the bag. But maybe that extra energy bar will come in handy on another trip?

Outside Pockets and Straps

Both bags have a pair of compression straps near the top of the bag to make sure smaller loads are secure. The Loka adds a second set of compression straps at the bottom to hold small side mounted tripods or light stands. These straps can also help your water bottles stay in place.

The Loka has a single seam sealed vertically zipped outer pocket that’s just big enough for a very light rain shell or outer layer. The Horizon has a horizontal pocket near the top with slightly more width and depth. A small tripod securing strap tucks away neatly at the outside top.

f-stop Loka and MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon photography backpacks

f-stop Loka and MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon photography backpacks

The Loka has two sturdy, adjustable horizontal straps across the outside of the bag that fasten with a buckle. If you’re not using these straps to carry a tripod, they work really well for securing a jacket or extra layer. The Horizon doesn’t have straps on the outside, but there are daisy chain attachment points along the outer section of the bag. Both bags have accommodations for carrying an ice axe if you're trying to take photos of the abominable snowman.

Shoulder Straps and Sternum Strap

The Loka’s shoulder straps are sleek and comfortable, with just enough foam padding. The sternum strap adjusts nicely for my 6’1” height, and includes an integrated emergency whistle. The Rotation 180 Horizon’s shoulder straps have a more pronounced s-curve shape. The Horizon has slightly more strap padding than the Loka, but it’s less dense. The straps are comfortable, but I didn’t like wearing them without fastening the sternum strap. The sternum strap adjustability on the Horizon works well.

The Loka has plastic d-rings on the lower portion of the shoulder straps, but the Horizon does not. However, the Horizon does include a fabric attachment points further up the strap.


The Loka's back panel has slightly thicker molded foam at the top and bottom to provide extra comfort and breathability. The Rotation 180 Horizon has a much more ergonomic back panel, with excellent padding on the lumbar area, and two air channels between the middle and top foam sections. The slightly less dense foam of the Horizon is well suited to providing a balance of comfort and airflow.

f-stop Loka and MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon Straps

f-stop Loka and MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon Straps


Again the Loka's approach is to use thin, highly compressed padding on the waist belt, and the results are very comfortable. The Rotation 180 Horizon has slightly thicker but less dense padding. The Loka’s center buckle is solid and easy to use. The Horizon’s buckle is slightly smaller and less sturdy. Both bags tighten by pulling inward on the waist belt straps, which is a great design for dialing in the optimum fit. And even at 6'1" the waist belt sits properly around my hips on both bags.

The Loka has Molle attachment points on both sides of the waist belt for accessory cases. The Rotation 180 Horizon has a single strap attachment point on the side of the waist belt, but I’m not sure that I’d want to use it for an accessory case, as this may impede rotation.

Most importantly, when comparing the bags, I noticed that the Loka’s waist belt wraps a bit further around my hips towards the front of my body, providing greater support.


The Loka includes a lightweight aluminum internal frame that provides good rigidity and load transfer when the bag is full of heavy camera gear. The MindShift Gear Horizon does not have an internal frame, but the stiff plastic inserts provide a surprising amount of rigidity for their weight. I thought the Loka would be superior here, but the Horizon performs well.


The Loka routes hydration to the right, and includes a 3” mesh guide on the right shoulder strap for the hose. The Horizon routes to the left, and has a ¾” elastic band. The Loka is designed to store the bladder on the inside center of the bag, which seems a bit too close to my gear. You can get a hydration sleeve [f-stop | Amazon] to store your bladder in if you’re worried about drips, and at $12 it’s cheap insurance. The Rotation 180 Horizon stores the bladder in a separate zippered compartment on the left of the bag. This provides easier access, and less chance of leaking on your gear, although you give up a water bottle pocket on that side.

Speaking of water bottles, the Loka has an expandable mesh pocket on each side that can carry a large water bottle. The bottles can be secured with the lower compression straps. The Horizon has a non-expanding pocket on the left that is deep enough to not worry about a bottle falling out. This made me wish the Loka’s pockets were a little bit deeper. I tested both with a 27 oz kleankanteen. F-stop put bigger side pockets on the new version of this bag, the Ajna.


The Loka can carry a small lightweight tripod in a mesh side pocket, secured at the top with a compression strap. A slightly bigger tripod could be carried by putting two of the legs through the horizontal straps on the back of the bag. This works OK for anything up to a Gitzo 2 series, but is not ideal. There is not a traditional tripod cup on either the Loka or Ajna. This is a major design oversight, as there’s not a good way to carry a full size tripod.

The Rotation 180 Horizon has a nicely designed tripod cup that tucks away neatly when not in use. The Rotation 180 Horizon will work with larger tripods. There are 2 small straps on the outside of the bag to secure the tripod, and the straps tuck away when not in use. A really nice design.

MindShift Rotation 180 Horizon with tripod

MindShift Rotation 180 Horizon with tripod

Carrying a Laptop

Neither of these bags has a dedicated laptop compartment, but I have carried a 13” MacBook Pro in both. A computer fits between the ICU and back panel of the Loka. You'll probably want to use a sleeve, or consider the Large L/T ICU that has a padded laptop compartment. My computer fits just fine in the top section of the Horizon. Even with the additional camera insert in place, there’s just enough room for a 13" Mac in the green mesh pouch. An iPad Mini fit inside the Horizon's waist pack, too.


Neither bag comes with a rain cover. Mindshift's Horizon rain cover is $24.99, and f-stop’s cover is $22 [f-stop | Amazon]. I use a light weight and compact Sea to Summit rain cover on my Loka.


The Loka has loops that will take additional gatekeeper straps [f-stop | Amazon]. These allow you to mount a sleeping bag to the top for a quick overnight photo blitzkrieg. The Rotation 180 Horizon has additional daisy chain attachment points on the back. If you need more capacity than what will fit in the Horizon, consider the larger, more expensive, and versatile MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Pro [Amazon | B&H]


Both of these bags are light, really well made, and comfortable to carry. The choice boils down to how the design philosophy fits your photography style. 

If you travel to a location, put down your bag, and shoot for a while, the f-stop Loka (now Ajna) is more versatile at balancing photo and non-photo gear. I also found the shoulder and waist straps slightly more comfortable. The Loka's downsides are the price, product availability, and tripod carrying capacity.

If quick access to your gear is a priority, or you shoot in wet/muddy conditions where you don't want to put your bag down, the MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon 34L [Amazon | B&H] should be at the top of your list. The waist belt with magnetic quick release buckle is a really great design.


iPhone and iPad Night Mode: How to Turn Down Your Brightness Even More

Whether you're looking at photography on your phone late at night, or out making your own photos under the moonlight, sometimes your iPhone or iPad is just too bright. This quick tutorial will show you how to turn your iPhone and iPad brightness down even more than the default settings allow.

This helps save battery life, and prevents eye strain. Night mode doesn't require any apps -- it's just a creative modification of your iPhone or iPad's built-in features.

Note: You need iOS 8 to set up night mode.

  • Go to Settings -- General -- Accessibility -- Zoom and switch Zoom to On.
  • Using 3 fingers, you triple tap on the screen to get the dialog box.
  • Choose Full Screen Zoom, and then make sure the zoom slider is moved all the way to the left.
  • Hit Choose Filter on the menu, and then select Low Light. Your screen will magically get darker. Triple tap again with 3 fingers if you need to get rid of the pop-up menu.

    So now the zoom feature gives you a way to dim your iPhone or iPad screen. But that takes a lot of steps. Let's make it easier by making a shortcut:
  • Use the link at upper left to go back to the Accessibility settings.
  • Scroll to the bottom, and hit Accessibility Shortcut, and select Zoom.

Now you can triple tap on the Home key to enable and disable night mode on your iPhone or iPad. If the screen is too dark in night mode, just use the brightness slider to dial it in.


Sony a7R vs. Canon EOS 6D: Long Exposure Noise Tests, HDR Bracketing, Panoramas and More

I've wanted to try the Sony a7R ever since I read Fred Miranda's review on using the a7R with Canon lenses. In addition to a sizable jump in resolution over the Canon 6D and 5D Mark III, the a7R's 36 megapixel full frame sensor reportedly has better dynamic range. The ability to lift the shadow details in underexposed a7R files is really impressive. Not having an optical low pass filter also makes these files quite sharp straight out of the camera. The a7R's sensor has offset gapless micro-lenses to help with wide angle corner performance.

Would these benefits improve image quality, resolution, and workflow for my type of shooting? What were the trade offs? I rented a Sony a7R and Metabones Canon to Sony adapter from to find out.

360 Panoramas: Sony a7R vs. Canon 6D

I often shoot 360 panoramas in 4 shots on the EOS 6D with a Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens. The final file is 10,500 x 5250 (55 megapixels). The same lens and shooting pattern on the Sony a7R results in 14,000 x 7,000 (98 megapixels). This resolution gain allows more zooming online, and bigger prints. The 6D would require 6 shots around, 1 up, and 1 down to achieve this resolution.

The a7R files look sharper out of the camera, and wide angle lens edge performance is just as sharp at the edges as the 6D, if not better. The ability to lift shadow detail without a noise penalty is really impressive.

HDR Bracketing: Sony a7R vs. Canon 6D

For those of you who shoot HDR, it's important to note that the a7R's exposure bracketing options are more limited than on Canon.

Canon EOS 6D: Versatile HDR bracketing options Set your own exposure level increment in 0.3 stop intervals. Decide whether you want 2, 3, 5 or 7 shots.

Sony a7R: Fixed/Limited HDR bracketing options 0.3 stops/3 shots - 0.3 stops/5 shots 0.5 stops/3 shots - 0.5 stops/5 shots 0.7 stops/3 shots - 0.7 stops/5 shots 1.0 stop/3 shots - 2.0 stops/3 shots - 3.0 stops/3 shots

Most of the time, a 3 shot bracket at 2 stop intervals is enough for what I shoot. Occasionally I'll shoot a 5 shot bracket every 2 stops with the 6D. That's not an option on the a7R. Considering the added dynamic range of the a7R, perhaps the 3 shot 3.0EV bracketing would work OK though.

Conclusion: Despite the bracketing limitations, the a7R's extra sharpness, resolution, and dynamic range could be a big plus for the 360 panorama shooting that I do.

Long Exposure Noise: Sony a7R vs. Canon 6D

For night photography, having a camera that can produce clean files without the need to run long exposure noise reduction (LENR) is really helpful.  When LENR is turned on in most cameras, noise reduction runs after your exposure finishes.

If your shot is 5 minutes, the camera runs noise reduction for an additional 5 minutes before you can shoot again. During that 5 minutes that camera takes a dark frame that is used to subtract noise and hot pixels from your photo. This process is great for image quality, but can significantly cut into your productivity and battery life.

I know from experience that the Canon EOS 6D is clean in the 6-8 minute exposure range without using LENR (as long as the weather is cold). I was curious to see how the Sony a7R stacked up for night photography. I ran the cameras through a series of tests with long exposure noise reduction (LENR) turned off. The body cap was on. The ambient temperature was 66 degrees. The ISO was set to 100 on both cameras.

Noise Test Results: Sony a7R vs. Canon 6D

For exposures of 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 2 minutes, both cameras produced clean files. There was little to no performance compromise for leaving LENR turned off in both cameras.

3 minutes: The 6D still looks good. The a7R is just starting to show faint traces of noise and hot pixels. Nothing objectionable.

4 minutes: The 6D is just starting to show a few signs of noise and hot pixels. The a7R has a bit more noise now.

6 minutes: The 6D is still fine at 6 minutes. The Sony a7R has noticeably more hot pixels by this point. Enough to where you'll spend a few minutes with each file cloning them out.

8 minutes: The 6D still is still good. The a7R has reached the breaking point, with additional hot pixels.

10 minutes: The 6D has a bit more noise now. You'll need to clone a few hot pixels, but it's still usable. a7R = nope.

15 minutes: The 6D is past my comfort level for noise at this point. The a7R has galaxies full of hot pixels.

Conclusion: The 6D is good for long exposures up to 8 minutes without LENR.  The a7R is good up to 4-5 minutes. This gives the 6D the advantage for shooting long star trails in one shot, and for doing star trail stacking using less shots.

Turning on Long Exposure Noise Reduction

I also ran some tests with Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR) turned on in the camera. Both cameras were perfectly clean on 5 minute, 8 minute, and 10 minute exposures.

15 minute exposure: The 6D still looks great. The a7R file shows a few hints of noise.

30 minutes: The 6D shows some luminance noise that will benefit from additional noise reduction in post, but is still usable. The Sony battery died during the 30 minutes that noise reduction was running. The file was still saved on the memory card, but without any noise reduction.

Other Considerations

Battery Life: Canon is the clear winner here. Both cameras started the tests with a fully charged battery. The Sony battery died during the 30 minute exposure test. The Canon battery still had 40% capacity left at the end.

When the Sony a7R LCD screen is active, it does not turn off all of the way. Even when the screen appears blank, it's still slightly lit up and using battery life. Switching to the EVF may not help, and also makes reviewing images a pain. Advantage: Canon

Timer Remotes: There are a wide number of timer remotes available for shooting long exposures on Canon. Sony doesn't have a remote with a built-in timer, only an expensive manual option. There are only a few third party remote options for Sony, and I'm not aware of anyone who makes a wired remote with a timer. Advantage: Canon

Focusing: I haven't tested the a7R under full moon conditions, but did find Sony's focus peaking feature to be an excellent tool for daytime landscape shooting. Canon's AF is better for faster moving subjects. I don't use AF very much, so this is not really an issue.

Lenses: Canon DSLR's have a wide range of high quality lenses available. You can also use Olympus OM or Nikon lenses on an adapter. Native full frame Sony lens options are much more limited, but Sony's E mount will take a wide variety of lenses with an adapter. If you want to keep autofocus, the adapters can be expensive and AF slow. For landscapes this isn't a problem. For wide angle lenses, having a quality adapter is important to maintaining sharpness across the frame. Advantage: Canon

Size and Weight: The a7R is 5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9 inches and weighs 14 ounces. The 6D is 5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8 inches and weighs 27 ounces. The 5D Mark III is 6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 inches and 30 ounces. Saving a pound in your gear bag is nice. Advantage: Sony

Build Quality and UI: No problems for me here with either camera, other than needing to test the a7R to make sure there are no light leaks during long exposures. The Canon has a slight edge in UI, but the Sony is pretty intuitive.

File Size: The 6D's CR2 files are about 20 MB each. The Sony a7R ARW files are about 37 MB. Memory cards and hard drives are inexpensive. The a7R RAW files are referred to as "visually lossless" but they do throw away some data to keep the file size down. I have seen one example file where the quality of a star trail shot was affected by the Sony's lossy file type. Something to keep an eye on. Advantage: Canon

Shutter Shake: Much has been written about the a7R's shutter design causing soft photos with long lenses at shutter speeds between 1/30 and 1/125. Luckily, I don't even own any long lenses. WTF: Sony

Price: The a7R lists for $2300, but can be bought new for as low as $1865. Make sure to budget $150-400 for an adapter if you're planning to use Canon lenses on the a7R. This brings the Sony in around $500 cheaper than a 5D Mark III, or $500 more than a 6D.

Final Thoughts: The Sony a7R has a few notable quirks for the types of shooting that I do. I also shoot 1-2 minute night panoramas at ISO 800, and the Sony doesn't perform well for long exposures at higher ISOs. For now, I'm sticking with my EOS 6D. It will be interesting to see what Canon has up their sleeves with the rumored 7D and 5D Mark III replacements.


A brief statement on backpacks for hiking with photo gear from the Society Obsessed with Photography Backpack Perfection

How many photography backpacks does it take until you find the right one, or does the right one even exist? The Society Obsessed with Photography Backpack Perfection (SOWPBP) was formed earlier this week to cope with a particularly daunting task -- to find the perfect photography backpack for serious outdoor adventures. We're not talking about a walk in the park, or moving your backpack 500 yards from the car. This theoretical backpack must be comfortable enough to wear on a 10-15 mile day hike, or walking around an abandoned mining area for 8 hours in the middle of the night. For comfort, the typical photo backpack can't hold a candle to an internal frame pack with a proper harness and waistbelt.

Of course it's possible to use a light and comfortable backpack like the Osprey Stratos 26, and fit a dSLR with two lenses inside using a Mountainsmith Cube or Clik Elite Capsule. But often our photography adventures require carrying more camera gear than this setup will hold, including a reasonably large tripod. The bag must be designed with photographers in mind, not a retrofit.

What makes a perfect photography backpack for serious hiking?

The SOWPBP approaches their work methodically, and a crack team of backpack analysts has gathered their initial research data below. Let's take a look at the requirements, and the preliminary results.

Here are the selection criteria in order of importance:

  1. Fit and Comfort: The harness and waist belt must be comfortable for someone who is 6'1". The waist belt must transfer weight to the hips, and the bag must have a comfortable sternum strap. The fit of the bag is #1 on the list for a reason.
  2. Capacity: Enough room for 1-2 camera bodies, 3-4 lenses, accessories, an extra layer, and food. A laptop compartment is not necessary.
  3. Padding & Weight: Enough padding to protect the gear, but not so much that the bag is unnecessarily heavy.
  4. Water: Easy to access while hiking. Ever old school, a hydration bladder is not the Society's preferred way of carrying water.
  5. Tripod: Ability to carry a large tripod if necessary (Gitzo 3 series).
  6. Rain cover:Effective, easy to attach, and packs out of the way.
  7. Size: Although airline travel isn't the primary purpose, staying within carry-on restrictions allows extra flexibility (22" x 14" x 9", or 45 cubic inches).
  8. Style:From flashy to mundane, how are the aesthetics?
  9. Straps:Attachment points for accessories.
  10. Stands Up: When you set the bag down, it stands up.
  11. Price: A good bag is worth a little bit more, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Hiking Backpacks for Photography: The Contenders

The backpack list is sorted by brand. The preliminary top picks pictured above are inbold:

  1. Burton Zoom Pack - The Zoom looks to fit the requirements reasonably well. While the capacity is smaller than a Contrejour or Loka, this bag may be worth a look unless you're tall. The waist belt is apparently at stomach height for anyone 6' or taller. [12" x 22" x 8", $155]
  2. Calumet BP1500 Large Backpack - Fits many of the requirements, and may be worth a look for those needing to carry a lot of gear. [12" x 22.25" x 9.5, 6.4 pounds, $211]
  3. Clik Elite Contrejour 35- One of two technical climbing/skiing internal frame backpacks on this list, the Contrejour 35 has the proper harness and waist belt of a backpacking bag. There is side access to the camera compartment when you're wearing the bag. To access the rest of your gear, set the bag down on the front and access the gear through the back (which keeps the part that touches your back clean). Running the Contrejour 35 against the requirements, this bag looks like a serious contender as long as you don't want to use it as carry-on luggage. [12.8" x 24.8" x 11.5", 4.1 pounds, $305 street]
  4. Clik Elite Venture 35 - The Venture works well for 1-2 bodies, 3 lenses, accessories, an extra layer and food. The waist belt is very comfortable and the harness worked great for me at 6'1". Tripod carrying is secure, the bag is light, and the price is reasonable. The camera compartment is close to the same size as the Medium ICU in the F-stop Loka. The top compartment is quite roomy -- I could fit an extra layer, food, and a panohead with a lot of room left to spare. [24" x 12.2" x 8.6", 3.5 pounds, $239 street]
  5. Crumpler C-List Celebrity (Medium) - A low-key and stylish bag that's a nice size and looks to have a reasonable waist belt. The tripod carrying system looks good, but the bag is heavy, and does not appear to have a way to carry easily accessible water. [13" x 20" x 10.6", 7.6 pounds, $300]
  6. Dakine Sequence - Haven't seen a photo of the waist belt, but the styling is nearly a deal breaker unless you're 20 years old. [11" x 21" x 8", 5 pounds, $140 street]
  7. F-Stop Loka - A technical climbing/skiing pack with an internal frame that fits all of the requirements really well. The Loka features swappable Internal Camera Units (ICU) that makes the bag very flexible when deciding how much camera gear vs. other stuff you need to pack. We're currently testing this bag and it's very comfortable. The only downsides are the wait time to get one, and the price. [12" x 22" x 8.5", 4 pounds, $340 with one ICU, rain cover sold separately]
  8. Gura Gear Kiboko 22L - The Kiboko looks like a really well made bag, and the butterfly opening design is attractive for shooting in dirty environments. These bags seem to fit the requirements quite well. However, the way the bag opens looks like a deal breaker because you can't carry a tripod on the center of the bag, which is a must for long hikes. [14" x 18" x 9", 4 pounds, $380]
  9. Kata Bumblebee 220 PL and Beetle 282 PL - These bags meet most of the requirements pretty well, but are a little bit on the heavy side. The 282 is slightly wider and shallower than the Kata 220, and technically just over carry-on size. The 220 and 282 are listed here just for reference because the 222 PL (below) looks like a better bet. [220 -- 13.4" x 20.5" x 11", 6.5 pounds, $280] [282 -- 14.8" x 20.5" x 10.8", 6.6 pounds, $290].
  10. Kata Bumblebee 222 PL - A little bit wider and deeper than the other Kata bags on the list, and also 1.5 pounds lighter. Perhaps slightly small capacity wise, but the rest of the requirements look pretty good. The gray and white color scheme is bound to get dirty quickly though. The Kata 222 UL is an ultralight variant of this bag that comes in black. The 222 UL can't carry tripods on the center, which is a good thing because it's $399. [222 -- 15.2" x 20.5" x 11.8", 5.1 pounds, $260]
  11. Lowepro Vertex 200 AW - The Vertex fits most of the requirements, but is close to 3 pounds heavier than much of the competition. This heavily padded approach is not conducive to backpacking. [12.6" x 18.5" x 10.2", 7.3 pounds, $350]
  12. Lowepro Pro Runner 350 AW - Replacing Lowepro's CompuTrekker series, the Pro Runner is much lighter than the similarly sized Vertex. This bag and its larger brother the 450 AW look to be contenders if they have a comfortable harness and waist belt, although the 17.9" height makes me wonder if this bag will work for tall people. [13" x 17.9" x 10.4", 4.7 pounds, $170]
  13. Mountainsmith Parallax - This pack is crazy deep at 15", sticking out 4-5" more than any of the other choices here. The photos of the tripod carrying system show strapped under the bag, which does not seem ideal. The size of the harness system does not look good for tall people. [11" x 18" x 15", 5.4 pounds, $130 street]
  14. Naneu K4L- The K4L seems to fit many of the requirements well. We have no experience with this brand, but are curious to see one of these bags in real life. Amazon and B&H are both listed as dealers on their site, but neither has the bag in stock. [14.25" x 21.5" x 9.75, 5.2 pounds, $230]
  15. Tamrac Cyberpack 6 - What is it about Tamrac? Tamrac bags seems retro, but not in a good way. This backpack may be perfectly functional, but we just don't like how it looks. Maybe you can help explain the je ne sais quoi of Tamrac? [13.5" x 17" x 10.25", 5.8 pounds, $180]
  16. Think Tank Streetwalker Harddrive - A really great design that fits almost all of the requirements. We've been using this bag for 2 years on all kinds of adventures. Unfortunately there is one glaring deal breaker for long hikes -- the lack of a proper waist belt. Even by using Think Tank's speed belt system in conjunction with this bag, the waist belt does not transfer much weight to your hips. If hiking is not your concern, this is a great bag in every other respect. [11.5" x 18" x 8.5", 4.5 pounds, $190]

Further Research

Thanks for supporting the Society Obsessed with Photography Backpack Perfection's further research by making your backpack purchase using the links above. We have made inquiries to the manufacturers of the top contenders on the list to request a backpack for rigorous field testing. If you've used one of the backpacks on the list for extensive hiking, we'd love to hear your thoughts. And if you know of a bag that fits the requirements that isn't on the list, please let us know.

Update 7/14/2015: See a comparison of the f-stop Loka (now Ajna) and MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon.


Bodie Night Photography: 5D Mark II Wide Angle Lenses and Noise Reduction

Bodie at night: 1927 Dodge truck and gas pumps -- by Joe Reifer
Bodie at night: 1927 Dodge truck and gas pumps -- by Joe Reifer

The 1927 Dodge truck and gravity gas pumps are a popular subject for photography at Bodie ghost town. This 24 minute night photograph was taken during the 2011 Mono Lake Night Photography Festival.

Wide angle lens for night photography

I shot the entire night at Bodie with a Canon 5D Mark II and an Olympus OM 18mm f/3.5  lens. The Olympus OM system lens can be used on the 5D II with an OM-EOS adapter. The Olympus lens is small, light, and easy to zone focus at night. At an aperture of f/8 or f/11 the lens is quite sharp across the frame, and offers better edge performance than Canon zooms. The Olympus lenses also have a different signature look than other wide angle lens choices. The 18mm is hard to find and can be expensive. The Olympus 21mm f/3.5 is a more readily available, reasonably priced alternative. The 24mm f/2.8 is also quite good. If you prefer a standard wide angle to a super wide lens, the Olympus 28mm f/3.5 is a stellar performer at f/8, and can often be purchased for less than $50. My adapter for the 28mm cost more than the lens!

Image stacking and long exposure noise reduction

Four exposures of 6 minutes at f/8 ISO 200 were combined for the final 24 minute image. There were about 25 night photographers shooting at Bodie -- exposure stacking was very useful for removing people and light painting from the foreground. Using this stacking technique also meant that I did not have to run long exposure noise reduction (LENR) in the camera. This helps productivity and battery life.

5D Mark II Auto setting for long exposure noise reduction (LENR)

Photography instructor Scott Martin let me know about his experiments with the Auto setting for long exposure noise reduction (LENR) on the Canon 5D Mark II. Normally I do not recommend letting the camera decide what to do, but Scott's LENR experiments may prove otherwise. There are 3 settings for LENR:

  1. Off -- long exposure noise reduction does not run on any shot.
  2. On -- long exposure noise reduction runs for the same amount of time as your exposure. A 10 minute shot with LENR set to On will run noise reduction for 10 minutes after the exposure ends.
  3. Auto -- long exposure noise reduction will run if the camera determines it's necessary, for the amount of time necessary to optimize the image.

Here's the really interesting part -- noise reduction won't necessarily run for the same amount of time as the exposure. Auto LENR runs for as long as necessary to reduce noise -- this could be shorter or longer than the original exposure time.

I'd like to thank Scott for sharing his Auto LENR research, and I look forward to my own testing. If you have experience with the Auto LENR setting I'd love to hear how exposure time and temperature correlate to when noise reduction kicks in, and how long Auto LENR tends to run.


Canon 5D Mark II wide angle lens sharpness issues

Canon 5D Mark II wide angle lens sharpness issues -- by Joe Reifer
Canon 5D Mark II wide angle lens sharpness issues -- by Joe Reifer

Both images are 1/350 at f/11 ISO 200. Both are 100% crops (1:1 view) in Lightroom. The images have identical post-processing. So what's the difference?

In the on the left the bridge is near the center of the frame, in the image on the right it's along the right edge. After extensive focus testing, this copy of the Zeiss 21mm produced results that were consistently soft in the background about 10% of the way into the frame. Here's the problem in a nutshell:

Camera and lens manufacturing tolerances may not be tight enough to produce consistently sharp results with wide angle lenses on high-resolution cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II.

I've now tested 3 copies of the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 and 2 copies of the Canon 24mm TS-E II, and only 1 out of the 5 lenses was acceptably sharp across the frame. Unfortunately, the 1 lens that was sharp was a rental. Three of the lenses were soft on the left edge of the frame in the background at f/8-f/11, and the Zeiss above had the same issue but on the right side.

The Zeiss 21mm and Canon 24mm TS-E II are both extremely sharp lenses, which seems to exacerbate the problem. The mountains in some of the photos I took yesterday were very sharp everywhere except the right 10-15% of the frame. Because everything else is so sharp, this makes the out of focus area even more apparent.

If you enjoy shooting with wide angle lenses and make large prints, this may end up being a problem for you sooner or later with high resolution 35mm digital. If you're thinking about upgrading to a 5D Mark II, or buying a new wide angle lens, here's a very important article to read:

"This lens is soft" and other facts -- by Roger Cicala of

In addition to the excellent article above, Lloyd Chambers' subscription site has some informative articles including Brand new blur and Testing Guidelines.

The bottom line: buy from a vendor with a good return / exchange policy, and carefully test any lenses after purchase to make sure they're sharp on your camera body.


Think Tank Airport AirStream Bag Giveaway: Part 2

Zabriskie Point (Haunted) — by Joe Reifer
Zabriskie Point (Haunted) — by Joe Reifer

To celebrate their 5th anniversary, Think Tank has graciously provided an Airport AirStream rolling camera bag for me to give away to one lucky reader. Last week was part 1 of the contest, where you guessed how many PBRs I put in the bag. Here's part 2:

  1. What general direction is the camera facing in the photo above, North, South, East, or West.
  2. If you win the bag, what cool photo location will you bring it to next year.
  3. Are you willing to report back about your trip, and have an image featured on this blog [Hint: Yes is the right answer].

Please submit your answers in the comments field below.

Deadline: Thursday, 11/18 at midnight Pacific Time.

  • Comments are moderated, and may take a few hours to appear. No need to submit more than once.
  • The winner will be notified by Tuesday, 11/23 and the bag will ship out by the end of the month.

Update: And the winner is....

Jim Masse from Waterboro, Maine

Jim answered part 1 correctly -- 25 cans of beer in the time-lapse video. He also had the most interesting answer to part 2, Kathmandu, Nepal. Plus when I looked Jim up online, he had a great bigfoot photo as his Facebook icon. Congratulations to Jim, your bag will be on the way soon!