By Dan Ballard
“For those of you who don’t want to read this entire article, the rotation180° is the best photo bag that I have ever used hands down. While there are a few small issues, overall I can’t recommend it highly enough.”
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Finding a great photo bag is difficult. It seems that no matter which bag you end up with, there are always major compromises. I have purchased more bags then I can count over the past 15 years trying to find the perfect setup.
So what makes a great photo bag? In my opinion: easy access to your photo gear, comfort and plenty of space all top the list. Great quality, thoughtful design and useable features follow directly after.
The most common type of bag on the market right now is the photo backpack. Unfortunately, they rarely meet the criteria above. It is the lack of quick access to gear that makes most photo backpacks unusable for me. While they can be comfortable and many have plenty of space, you generally have to set the bag down to access your gear. It is amazing how often this causes issues. I see my workshop students constantly setting backpacks down and walking away as they shoot. They always end up further from the bag then they realize, and often find themselves running back when a battery or memory card is needed.
Because of this, I have always preferred more traditional shoulder camera bags that either hang on your side or front and have used these for years. They allow quick, easy access to all of your gear, without having to take anything off or set anything down. As you move, it moves with you. It takes only a second to grab a new memory card or battery.
Of course there are issues with shoulder bags as well. The biggest being comfort, followed by lack of room. Using a heavy shoulder bag for any length of time, or carrying one on a long hike, can be miserable. It can also be difficult to find a place for a tripod.
So that was the choice. You either bought some sort of photo backpack that was very comfortable and had plenty of room for extra items but were forced to remove the bag to get to your gear, or you dealt with a small, uncomfortable shoulder bag with very little extra space.
Why I like the rotation180°
Enter the rotation180°. It basically takes the best elements of both types of bags and combines them. You get the comfort and space of a backpack with the ease of access to your gear of a shoulder bag. Just grab the side of the main backpack and pull. A small inner bag slides around the waist strap to the front, allowing quick access to all of your most important gear, without needing to take off the main backpack. It is basically a backpack when you don’t need your gear, and a traditional shoulder bag when you do.
The rotation180° is pricey, but it is also extremely well made. It’s right up there with the top outdoor backpack brands that last for years and years. I have put mine through the ringer for close to two years now and it still looks brand new. I’m not sure how they could improve the quality. Considering how many years of use the average photographer will get out of it, I feel like it is well worth the price.
Ease of use
When you actually have it on your back, the ease of use is great—about as good as it gets. You have access to everything in the small sliding bag in about two seconds. For me, that includes my lenses, batteries, cards, filters, cable release, and lens cleaning cloth. If you need access to the top of the bag, just remove the shoulder straps and rotate the entire bag to the front. It is not quite as easy as rotating just the small bag, but it is still very fast and painless. That gives you access to everything else in the bag.
The only issue is when you don’t actually have the bag on your back. It is a pain to get to your gear when the bag is in the back of the car, for example. While it is not a big deal, it can be a hassle when all you want to do is grab a memory card from your camera and you can’t just unzip a zipper and get it. This is a pretty small complaint though, and well worth the trade-off to have your gear almost instantly when you are actually shooting—when it really matters.
For day trips and general shooting
The rotation180° really shines for day hikes and general shooting from the car. There is plenty of room for all of your camera gear, plus anything else you might need for the hike or the day. It is big enough for extra water, jackets, rain gear, an umbrella, etc., yet it’s small enough that it is not a pain to load and unload.
For multi-day backpacking trips
Using the rotation180° for multi-day backpacking is a bit of a stretch, and if you want to use it for that purpose you need to pack extremely light. That being said, I absolutely love it for two to three day trips. If you have light enough gear (read: crazy expensive), you can fit everything you need in the bag, plus food for three days, without issue. I have done a few four-day trips with it as well, but that is really at the edge of its limit. If you want to do quick, light, overnight or two-day trips, I can’t recommend it enough (assuming you have very high-end, lightweight backpacking gear).
There are so many straps, hooks and attachment points you can basically strap anything on that you want. The fact that the bag is so well made means you can load it up with much more weight than is intended and not worry about damaging the bag.
If you are backpacking for more then four days, you will probably want to use a shoulder bag with a much bigger backpack for your camping gear. It is tough to fit enough food in the rotation180°, along with all of your photo and camping gear, for more then four days.
For international travel
Being able to carry the rotation180°on the plane is great! It fits well in the overhead compartment. I carry my main body and lenses, tripod and other basics and I still have plenty of room for my headphones, iPad and food for the plane. If you have a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, it will easily fit in the top compartment as well. While I still have to check a bag with my backup body and other less important gear and clothing, it is great to have everything that I must have with me in a very comfortable backpack.
Overall, I love the rotation180°! It makes my life and my job so much more comfortable and manageable. I have super easy, quick access to all of my gear in a very comfortable, well-made setup. I rarely have to change bags for different situations. I am very impressed with the amount of time and thought put into making this bag a usable tool for photographers. From the built-in rain covers to the very effective tripod holder, to numerous pockets for storing anything and everything, it is nothing short of amazing.
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Dan Ballard is a Zenfolio Pro Team member and an internationally known travel and landscape photographer based in Denver, Colorado. His extensive portfolio of award-winning images takes you on a journey to some of the world’s most beautiful and far-reaching corners. For more information, visit his website at www.danballardphotography.com.