MindShift Gear Backlight 26L review

The Backlight 26L by MindShift Gear is a medium sized backpack for photographers made by the same company that makes the ThinkTankPhoto range. It’s priced at $249.99 (around £200 exec VAT).

Like a lot of photographers, finding the right carrying solution for your gear is a tricky proposition. And of course its dictated by the gear you’re carrying and the location you’re working in. Rollers are great for working from out of a car when you get to the location easily, but as soon as you have to move away from it (which is often the case), then a backpack is the most appealing solution. However most backpacks are limited in some way, being either clumsy to work from or not being able to accommodate some crucial piece of gear all that effectively. Invariably, the option is to combine two pieces of luggage, especially one for the computer only and the other for the camera and paraphernalia. 

For example, the similar size (25L) F-Stop Guru is one of the most versatile and stealthy photo-packs available but it doesn’t hold as much camera gear as the Backlight 26L and while it does have room for a laptop in theory – there’s no padding for it. If I’m not using the car I have to remember to find my Crumpler padded sleeve – itself a component of of superb laptop backpack, or pack the laptop in a ThinkTankPhoto My 2nd Brain Briefcase 13 – a purposed design briefcase which can hold everything for your 13-inch MBP/MBA including a medium sized Wacom tablet.

Check prices (affiliate links)

WEX Photo (UK)

Amazon (UK)

B&H Photo (US)

Amazon (US)

As one of four in a range that differ really only by capacity the Backlight series has one or two unusual features that make it standout from the crowd. Firstly, it’s designed so that that you can work out of it while it’s still attached to you. Secondly, the Backlight 26L is one of the few backpacks that can also accommodate a full-sized 15-inch MacBook Pro – the industry standard for tethering (but by no means the only solution) – though I ought to say at this point that you can really combine both of those benefits simultaneously. 

Straight out of the box, the MindShift Backlight 26L is notable for its weight – or rather, lack of it. It weighs next to nothing but Mindshift claim 1.8kg (3.9lb).  Entry to the camera gear is via the rear, under thewell-padded and comfortable harness. Not only does this design provide a level of security from potential pick-pockets (if travelling) it means that when working from it the harness and amply padded hip belt isn’t face down in the dirt.

Inside, the bag adopts light grey colour nylon taffeta fabric. In other words, it’s easy to see into every corner even when the light fades – why bag some manufacturers continue to line their bags in black nylon beats me. And there are plenty of dividers – more than you’re likely ever to need. They’re thin but closed cell and effective when the gear is packed tightly. As the mid-sized model, and the best selling according to Mindshift, it can hold a fair share of gear – easily a couple of bodies and several lenses but if like me you have lots of filters, flash, triggers, cleaning kit and a remote release like this then it starts to fill-up quickly. Still for a targeted and organized job, it’s the perfect size – by that I mean not too heavy. 

As stated earlier you can even access the gear without taking it off  – you simply tighten up the padded belt the  unhook the harness. If it’s really heavy you might want to keep one on! Then unzip the back – there’s an elasticated cord to throw over your head to keep it out your way. I’ve never really used it that way often, but you could if you need to.

Around the front there are plenty of tie-points for like an ice axe or two where appropriate, as well as walking poles, or even a couple of Manfrotto Nano lighting stands. There’s also tripod strap for a small-ultralight tripod such as one of the Gitzo Traveller series. Mesh pockets complete with tie-cords either side are invaluable and can be used for various things throughout the day such as water bottles or as ideal temporary stash pockets for a mobile (cell) or keys, lens hood or caps or full-sized flashgun even. 

Inside the zip access there’s space for a thin windproof or waterproof jacket. On the rear wall there are two lightly padded pouches – one for an iPad and the other for a 15-inch MacBook Pro or a slate or similar. At the bottom of the same pocket, there’s room for the power brick and a few cables and such like. And there’s a second flat zipped pocket on the front for other items – how much though depends on what’s stuffed in the large pocket. With carefull packing of the main pocket so as not to exert uneven pressure on the computers it’s large enough for maps, or a guide book maybe. Remember its location is a bit vulnerable to wandering hands and it’s this side that will get pushed faced down into the dirt when opening the camera side, so a little thought here is required – you don’t want put anything valuable or delicate in there. 

Downsides are few for a backpack – to access the cameras you’ll be laying potentially heavy gear on top of the laptop – if it’s stored away that is. If you’ve packed a jacket carefully in the front it will provide extra padding when laying the pack down to access the camera gear – but it is in it’s own padded pouch. If you’re working indoors or the location isn’t too inhospitable you can always remove the computer first!

The other is the internal depth, it’s not enough for a pro-camera with a built-in battery pack – you must lay it down on its side taking up valuable space. If that’s crucial try the deeper Backlight 36L at $289.99 or even larger Backlight Elite 45  instead. Be warned though, that model comes in at a thumping $399.99.

Pros

  • Light in weight
  • Comfortable shoulders straps and padded belt
  • Can be spun around and accessed while the belt is secured
  • Room for both 15-in MBP and tablet
  • Large front pocket (9l) for personal gear/clothing
  • Room for two bodies and three or four lenses

Cons

  • Not deep enough for pro-body with battery pack
  • Laptop in potentially vulnerable position

Check prices (affiliate links)

WEX Photo (UK)

Amazon (UK)

B&H Photo (US)

Amazon (US)

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