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MindShift Gear BackLight 26L first shoot review

Colin
December 20, 2017

MindShift Gear is the sister brand to ThinkThank Photo and is the brand behind the Rotation 180 series of bags.

Highlights

With a focus on outdoor and adventure photographers and the BackLight series of bags is the latest addition to their line up, also the brands first back panel access pack.

There are three main ways camera backpacks are set up (well actually four if you include Mindshift’s Rotation system); front panel access, side panel access and rear panel access. Each has its pros and cons, but the main advantage of back panel access bags is that when you need to put your pack down to pull out your camera, the straps don’t touch the ground. This especially important if your shooting in a location where the ground is wet or muddy, ie outside.

Also because the camera access is on the rear of the bag, it leaves the front open for storage laptops, tablets, extra layers, food, hydration bladders, etc.

Unfortunately, there are negatives to this system the main one being that given there is a hole on the rear of the bag, it makes it pretty difficult for adjustable harness systems so if the bag doesn’t fit you well you’re out of luck.

Rear panel access also makes it impractical for suspended mesh venting systems, and their carry capacity is a touch smaller the front access packs because the zipper needs to pass under the shoulder straps.

With 26L of carrying capacity, there is a surprising amount of room for gear inside the BackLight, and it happily engulfs my Canon 5DMKiii with a 100-400 MKii lens attached, five additional short lenses and various other gear. It’s not designed for pro-level bodies like the 1DX or Nikon D5 and might just be deep enough for a 5D or 7D with a battery grip.

There is also a cavernous front pocket with dedicated sleeves for a 15in laptop and tablet. This pocket is seriously huge and will fit heaps of layers, food and might even be big enough for a bivy.

There’s also an additional smaller pocket on the front and a very tight zippered pocket on the top of the bag.

Its got compression straps on the sides, daisy chains on the front, attachment points ice axes or trekking poles and water bottle pockets on either side too.

The insert is fixed with customisable padded dividers, and empty the bag tipped my scales a 1.74kg / 3.84lbs.

As with all MindShift, bags the BackLight 26L has the hidden tripod cup, which sees a small pocket for the legs and a top strap which tucks into a small pocket in the top of the bag. You can also utilise one of the water bottle sleeves and the compression straps on the side of the bag too.

One feature I’m not so sure about is the elastic strap to wrap around your neck in the back panel. The idea behind is so you can hang the bag off your waist and get to your gear without having to actually put the bag down, adding some ‘rotation’ to the bags feature set.

I’m not so sure this is actually a feature, mostly because you can do this with any rear panel access bag. So far every time I’ve zipped and unzipped the camera compartment the elastic band has stuck in the zipper.

I’ve only taken this bag out a handful of times to date, and I’m planning to take it down to the Tour Down Under with me at the beginning of January. Keep an eye out for for the full review post-race.

Where to Buy

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Peak Design Clutch first shoot review

Colin
December 18, 2017

I am a big fan of Peak Design camera straps. They are comfortable to wear, but the real drawcard for me is their customisability with the quick release system.

Highlights

Using the brand’s Anchor Links you can swap out camera straps or attach them to different parts of the camera quickly yet securely. They are light, small and tough, and I literally have them attached to everything.

The Clutch isn’t a traditional strap per say, but more of a hand strap which utilizes this system.

 

Quite often you don’t need a strap, and especially with one of my most used bags the Mindshift rotation 180 Horizon the camera insert is a bit tight and a strap actually gets in the way when you’re trying to quickly access your gear.When I use this bag, I often run strapless, but I am always terrified I’m going to drop my camera, and the Clutch seems to alleviate that fear.

I’ve been using Peak Designs nifty hand strap for a few weeks now and it literally has not left my camera body since.

No drops

First and foremost the Clutch allows you to ditch the strap and provides a sure grip at all times. If you cinch it right down over your hand you don’t even really have to grip the camera.

In use, I prefer the Clutch to be a bit loose as when I sinch it down I struggle to reach the AF-ON button on my 5DMKiii with my thumb.When not shooting you can also use the Clutch as a handle to carry the camera with.

So far, the only real complaint I have about the Clutch is that it takes up the attachment point on the right side of the camera, and doesn’t utilize the Anchor Links.When I do use a strap I prefer to have it attached to the top camera anchors, bar when I’m using a long lens, and with the Clutch attached there is no room on for an Anchor Link.This is only a minor complaint given that the Clutch also utilizes the Capture plate that’s always on my camera anyway, where a shoulder strap can be attached.

The build quality seems top notch and the Clutch’s exterior is made from the same material as whitewater rafts and the hardware is made from Aluminium.

I’ve only just got the Clutch and I’ll be spending some quality time with it over the next few months. Be sure to check back for a full review.

Where to buy

Amazon

Peak Design

EGlobal Digital Cameras AU

 

 

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MindShift Gear rotation180° Horizon 34L – long term review

Colin
October 13, 2017

The MindShift Gear rotation180° Horizon 34L camera pack has been in rotation among my stable of packs for 8-months now and it has seen use everywhere from the mountain bike trails of Nerang to the Main Range Backcountry near Thredbo.

Through that period of time, the fast camera access has been a boon, while at other times the whole rotation system complicates actually getting to your gear.

You spin me right round baby right round

First and foremost the rotation system is without a doubt one of the fastest and most secure ways to carry your gear. The only other option might be a touch faster is Peak Design’s Capture Pro, but for me personally having a body and lens flapping around on my chest as I descend single track on a MTB shoot, or skiing chasing athletes is unnerving.

The rotation system, on the other hand, offers some piece of mind that your gear is zipped safely into a padded insert on your back. The camera insert doesn’t hold a whole lot of gear, with only enough room for a Canon 5DMKiii with a lens attached, a spare short zoom or prime and maybe a small card or filter wallet if you’re particularly skilled at Tetris.

The whole idea of the rotation system is to allow you to access your gear without putting your bag on the ground, and I found this particularly useful location scouting and when shooting from the bike.

Particularly for location scouting, it allows you to roll up to a potential location and have a look around, take a few test photos with different lenses, zip everything up and head to your next spot much faster than with a standard rear entry bag. The other big advantage to the rotation system is if it’s wet or muddy, you don’t need to put your bag down to get to your gear.

However, when you do put your bag down, the rotation system becomes problematic. For example, if you’re using a tripod, you have to take the tripod off the bag, and finagle the insert completely out of the bag to get to your camera.

The insert itself is completely separate to the pack and beyond a small last resort tether, can be used as a hip pack. I’ve also used it travelling as a small carry on bag.

However, because the waist belt and camera insert are not actually connected to the rest of the bag if you are carrying a decent amount of weight no matter how tight you hip belt, your shoulders still end up carrying a good portion of the load. I do wish the shoulder straps were a bit thicker to better distribute the weight.

What about the rest of the bag?

The top of the bag is cavernous, with plenty of room for spare layers, tools, a bivy and whatever else you may need on an adventure. There is a small mesh pocket, which I would use to keep track of smaller items like food, a small first aid kit and power banks.

Should you want to to take a telephoto zoom lens or other gear that won’t fit in the waist belt, the top compartment is perfectly sized to fit one of MindShift’s Panorama insert. I don’t actually have one of these, but the removable insert from my Thule Perspektiv Daypack which is roughly the same size fits like a glove. 

The top pocket is perfect for things like your phone, GPS/Beacon, and has a key keeper too. I do wish there was a mesh pocket similar to the one in the main compartment in the lid so that things aren’t free to roam around inside the pocket.

On the front of the pack, there is a large pocket which is great for storing things like rain layers and there is a sturdy nylon daisy chain on the front of the bag for attaching other accessories.

The bag has compression straps on either side and a clever system for attaching a tripod. At the top, there is a quick release strap and a small cup that supports the legs to that it’s not swinging all over the place as you walk. Even better when not in use there are small velcro pockets that hide each component so they don’t catch on things.

Tripods can also be mounted to the side of the bag using the water bottle pocket to wrangle the legs.

Speaking of water, there are provisions to carry a bottle, something large like a Nalgene or Yeti Rambler 36oz, but there is also a pocket for a 3L hydration bladder complete with a velcro to hang the bladder as well as routing for the hose.

Final thoughts

This bag fell into an interesting space in my arsenal and was really useful on projects where I didn’t need to tote a whole lot of gear along with me. When I needed to haul a lot of gear I would still rely on something like my F-Stop Tilopa BC, but for travelling light, the Horizon suited me well.

Every time I went location scouting this was my go-to bag, and even a few commercial assignments for cycling brands where I could get away with only taking short lenses it was perfect.

Same with when I would go out to shoot personal stuff or wanted to have my camera handy on a day hike. Even with the ability to stow more gear in the top using a separate insert, it’s not a feature I really used as I felt like it complicated things.

Over the past eight months, I have abused this bag, dragging it through bushes, rain and snow and it’s even seen a few plane trips too and so far, it’s showing no signs of wear.

This pack offers ample room for gear, even on a professional level depending on the job. If you’re shooting on something from Canon’s 1D series, or need big glass this isn’t the bag for you, but for those shooting on smaller gear, and mirrorless systems I think Mindshift have hit a home run with this bag.

Priced at US$260, it’s one of the best ways I’ve found to always have quick access to your gear, but also have it well protected no matter what adventure you’re on!

Where to Buy

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How I Got the Shot: Crash Bang Boom Lightning Strom

Colin
January 23, 2017

Lightning is a frustrating beast, mostly because capturing a decent photo almost complete luck. Not only do you need to have the shutter open at the right time, but also have the camera pointed in the right direction. On top of that, if your including any foreground features you have to hope that the lighting will work with your composition.

Further, quite often when there is lightning it’s raining and a wet camera is no good to anyone. Also, getting struck by lighting would be a pretty terrible way to end a shoot.

How I got the shot

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In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had some pretty fantastic storms here on the Gold Coast. For this shot, I was actually able to set up a camp chair on my balcony and sit with my camera completely protected from the storm, and it was pouring let me tell you.

There were actually two storms and as it always seems to go, when I would set up facing one, the other would offer a wild electrical display, and when I would move it would swap.

So, the planets and stars aligned and I managed to catch the perfect bolt. Here’s the details

Gear:

You may be wondering why I’m using wireless flash triggers for a shot that clearly does not use any off camera lights, nor artificial lights for that matter. A while back I worked out how to hack my Phottix Odin Triggers to serve as a shutter release. It’s proved to be super reliable and a great way to eliminate camera shake on long exposures, without having to actually purchase a shutter release.

Exposure:

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Post Processing:

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I’m not one to over engineer or manipulate photos, and the overall edit for this was pretty simple. As with every image, the first think I did was a few basic contrast corrections.

There is a bit of junk at the bottom of the frame, that I had planned to remove. I wanted the lower cloud shelf to create a ‘floor’ for the image, so rather than taking the time to remove all of that I just darkened the whole bottom of the frame with the graduated filter. Not only does it draw your eye up, it gets rid of all the distractions and cleans up the image.

After that, I used the radial filter to darken the corners a bit to emphasize the brightness and contrast of the lightning bolts.

Back to the cloud floor, there is some fantastic texture in the clouds, so with the adjustment brush, I painted in a bit of Dehaze to bring out some of the detail.

Update:

Another fantastic lighting storm came through, and I snagged another banger. This time is was mostly heat lightning, with only a few bolts striking the ground.

Heat lightning definitely makes the process easier because the clouds are always alight. Check out the result!

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Super skunked by the super moon

Colin
November 16, 2016

The Supermoon has been all over the news this week and it seems everyone on earth was excited for it, except Neil Degras Tyson.

As a photographer, the opportunity to capture something that may not happen again for another decade is what I live for, and so I went the whole nine yards. I came prepared and spent almost an entire day scouting  to find the perfect location.

The Moon

The moon is a tough one to shoot because this time of year (in Australia) it doesn’t actually cross the entire sky, it rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest. The other difficulty with shooting the moon is you need to capture it near the horizon to create a sense of scale, rather than just a blurry spotlight in the sky.

So my plan was to find a spot where it looked like the moon was going to graze the top of Mt Warning. In trying to find this perfect location I drove almost a full lap around the mountain to find a spot where everything lined up perfectly and I could make the image I had in my head.
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After I’d done all of the scouting in passing I’d joke, “I bet it will be cloudy” – I would end up eating those words. The entire day the sky was clear on the Gold Coast, but about an hour before the moon rise clouds rolled over the horizon, and of course they blocked the moon.

Having spent so much time scouting for the first location, I didn’t put together a contingency plan to capture the moon set, facing the other direction. I drove around for a bit trying to find a somewhere to come back to in the morning, but location scouting in the dark usually doesn’t work so well. Lesson learned, don’t forget about plan B!

There is a bright side, I did get a nice sunset!

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Behind the Shoot: Oceanway Ride

Colin
November 7, 2016

It’s been a hectic couple of months for me, and I feel like I haven’t stopped moving. If you’ve been following me on social media (shameless plug please follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) you’ll have seen I shot the Oceanway Ride, a new charity ride here on the Gold Coast to raise money for the local surf lifesaving clubs. Starting for Surfers Paradise it followed the Darren Smith Memorial Route, a 55km out and back ride mostly along the coast.

Also making an appearance was the one and only Phil Ligget, the voice of cycling who MC’d and mingled with the riders through out the day. As a cycling fan, I was a bit star-struck, to say the least

The Promo

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Even though it was only a quick shoot I’m stoked on the images I got for the promo shoot. I had plans to organize a dawn shoot at a great spot here on the Gold Coast, but that went out the window when the events organizer called me in a panic saying she needed images in two days time to meet a deadline.

Not having organized riders I frantically began searching for someone to help me out, and luckily Peter Spencer of GC Bike Fit stepped up to the plate! The morning of the shoot it looked like it was going to be a gray miserable day, but the clouds broke and it was bluebird!

The shoot went off without a hitch and I was able to deliver the images by five o’clock that afternoon. That’s gotta be a record for planning, executing and delivering in three days.

The Ride

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As it always seems to work with cycling events they start well before dawn, and the Oceanway ride was no exception.

The plan was to chase the riders down the coast stopping at a few key locations to capture the riders as they passed by. Usually, that would mean the organizers have a photo-moto and driver to shuttle you up and down the course, however, that was not the case.

Lucky for me a friend was happy to drive me up and down the coast in exchange for a case of beer and man I’m glad I had him. If I would have had to stop and park the car every time I wanted to take a photo it would have been a more stressful morning than it already was.

If was fast and furious run and gun shooting, and when I say run and gun I was leaning out of the windows of the car literally running full sprint to the spots I wanted to shoot from as to not miss riders go past.

The Gear

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My gear for the day was my trusty Canon 5DMkiii, Canon 24-104 f/4L, Canon 100-400 f/5.6-6.5L, Canon 8-15 Fisheye f/4L and a new addition to my bag the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART. I was amazed how much I used the 35mm, on the day and it has proved to be an extremely useful addition to my bag!

Also, a godsend on the day were my Hoya Circular Polarizers. The ability to cut out any glare on the water as well as from the road surface made a huge difference for quite a few of my images.

Check out a few of my favorite images from the day, or click here to see my full gallery from the day!

[envira-gallery id=”1891″]

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Behind the Shoot: Pittwater Council

Colin
April 18, 2016

For those of you who’ve been following me on social media, you’ll know I just was down in Sydney working on a project for Pittwater Council.

The council contacted me just after I moved to the Gold Coast wanting photos of people riding bikes in recognisable areas of Pittwater, specifically large hero images to be used throughout an upcoming council document.

As Pittwater is one of my favorite areas of Sydney I jumped at the offer and immediately began wrangling riders and scouting locations to shoot.

With this being a fly-in-fly-out assignment I was worried about inclement weather, but lucky for me my rain jacket stayed in my bag the entire weekend.

The Kit

The project involved everything from action landscapes to very setup portraits and required a large kit. I’d organized an assistant for the longest day of shooting, but I still didn’t want to lug big strobes and battery packs around, so instead I opted for every speedlight I owned and plenty rechargeable AA batteries.

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See I wasn’t kidding about the batteries

Gear:

The Shoot

Kids

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After I picked up my bags and grabbed the rental car I headed straight out to do some scouting. I had most of the day to scout, but had scheduled my first shoot of the trip for that afternoon.

They say, ‘never shoot with kids or animals, because you won’t be able to direct either of them.’ Having worked as a Ski Instructor I know how much fun it can be to work with kids, but I also know how difficult it can be to get them to do anything – I was pretty worried about this part of the shoot

Same as skiing, if you put a bike under a kid and tell them to ride around for a while they’re stoked until they get tired, and then they cry.

Lucky for me the bike stoke lasted until we were packing up, and the kids only started crying as their parents tried to wrangle them home.

It was quite grey throughout this shoot, and some of the photos were pretty dull and lifeless. Remember all of those speedlights and batteries I packed? This is exactly why, a couple of strategically placed flashes can be the difference between a muddy boring photo to one that is full of life and contrast.

The Roadies

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As part of the brief Pittwater Council wanted large format hero images, so basically ‘bike landscapes’ – big scene little rider.

We had two locations to cover, Whale Beach and Chruch Point. The plan was hit Whale Beach at dawn to catch the sun coming up over the ocean, and then run over to Chruch Point while the light was still good.

These are the photo’s I was the most excited for, what respectable photographer doesn’t get excited for a dawn shoot?

I’d organized a group of riders from the Manly Warringah Cycling Club to help me out, and they were awesome doing as many hill repeats as I asked. It was fast paced and a little bit stressful as we only had so much time while the light was good.

From a technical standpoint this section of the shoot was pretty simple, with the focus being on composition and a quick shutter. I did use flashes for some fill on a couple of occasions, but for the most part I didn’t need to mess with lights.

Special thanks to my assistant Zacc for chasing me around with heavy gear and driving the rental car as I hung out the back.

The Family

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After we finished with the roadies, Phil from Pittwater Council brought his wife Lara and their cute baby daughter Ashley to be my ‘utility riders’ and ‘happy family on bikes.’

The light was still quite harsh and this is where the speedlights came in handy. In almost every shot from this section of the shoot, I was shooting into the sun and using one LumoPro speedlight, with a flash disc on the end of a 10ft light stand, held directly above the subject(s) just out of frame as a fill. This provided a flattering soft light and awesome results.

The Kids Part 2

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By this time in the shoot Zacc and I had been going for about 14 hours. The council had organized some teenagers to shoot with around Avalon Beach.

Having no idea what I was in for, when some surf groms showed up on bikes I was stoked. The light was becoming glowy, golden and getting better by the minuet. This section of the shoot was a breeze, the teenagers were awesome models and hardly required any direction to get the shots we were after.

The Commuters

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I got to catch up with my friends Kath and Fiona as they were my ‘fast commuter’ and ‘slow commuter.’ Pretty straight forward, I’ve shot both of these gals before so they know how I like to run things, and other than saying, ‘again’ don’t need much direction to get the shots.

The Take Away

Every shoot I do I learn something, and this shoot was a challenge. Not because the weather conditions, or because I had a precious model who was a pain to deal with, or even that the shooting was that difficult.

The hardest thing was the logistics of coordinating all these separate groups of people, some of whom I didn’t meet until the day of the shoot – it’s actually pretty scary to depend on people you’ve never met.

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Photo: Phil Gray

It was a stressful weekend, but just about everybody was on the ball. As the way things often happen one of my subjects had something come up last minute, and couldn’t make it to the shoot leaving me unable to fill their slot on such short notice. Fortunately I gotten plenty of great images from the rest of the shoot, and wasn’t stressed for images.

Overall the shoot was a massive success, and we came up with some fantastic images. Massive thank you’s to Pittwater Council, Phil Gray and family,  Alexis Kaless, Brad Ward, Evan Snow, Peter Mcnamara from Manly Warringah Cycling Club, Dave Musgrove and Cell Bikes, Kath Bicknell, Fiona Dick, and Zacc Larkin; I couldn’t have pulled off this shoot without each and every one you.

Check out my favorite shots from my weekend with Pittwater Council

[envira-gallery id=”1553″]

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