Travel becomes more and more difficult due to the airlines limiting baggage and enforcing rules about weight limits more strictly. In some parts of the world, this is compounded by security concerns and restrictions on what can be carried aboard an aircraft.
Trying to travel with not only diving gear, but also heavy and bulky underwater imaging equipment is becoming increasingly troublesome. There is a large number of posts on the Wetpixel forums seeking and providing guidance about how to best manage these issues successfully.
The key guiding principle for me is that I must be able to get in the water and shoot when I arrive. When I travel, I do so in order to take pictures underwater, so arriving at my destination without my camera gear is a deal breaking problem. The only way to guarantee that it all arrives is if it travels in the cabin with me.
For many years, my go-to solution has been Think Tank’s excellent Airport Accelerator camera backpack. This has sufficient capacity to carry an SLR and housing, along with enough gear to ensure that when I arrive at my destination, I have sufficient gear to enable to shoot. My bag is a veteran of many trips and has been a stalwart and essential part of my camera gear.
With age though (!) carrying 25 kg (55 pounds) of camera gear in a backpack is becoming a greater challenge. Whilst the Think Tank bag does an excellent job of being quite covert, it does become hard for my back to manage. I have noticed that wheeled carry-ons often get weighed at check in, so ruled them out.
MindShift Gear is Think Tank’s range of camera bags specifically designed for outdoor photographers. These are “proper” backpacks that have advanced carrying systems designed to shift loads on the trails and in the wilderness all day. This ability to carry heavy loads in more comfort lead me to investigate them as an alternative.
MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L
The FirstLight 40 is “is designed for the traveling photographer ferrying large camera bodies and telephoto lenses in and out of airports and deep into the world’s most remote places.”
Built around an internal shaped aluminum torso stay, it has a contoured 11 point adjustable harness that can be adjusted for different torso lengths and the straps are both padded and contoured for comfort. It has a substantial waist belt that allows the transfer of weight from the shoulders alone to the hips.
It also incorporates all the load carrying refinements like load lifter straps on the shoulders, waist stabilizer straps and a sternum strap. All of these can be adjusted to suit the individual.
Other trail oriented features include a hydration pocket, rain cover, water bottle/accessory pocket with cinch closure and tripod or monopod mounting systems.
Travel features include an unpadded tablet or laptop (up to 17”) pocket, two front stuff pockets for travel, a top zippered pocket, three grab handles and the shoulder straps and waist belt wrap to front for compact storage in overhead compartment.
Perhaps most crucially, the FirstLight 40 is carry-on compatible for domestic and international flights.
Internally, it has adjustable high-density closed-cell foam dividers. It is deep enough to allow a large SLR housing (Seacam Silver D500) to be comfortably carried vertically with only the strobe ball mounts removed. Similarly, large strobes can be It is significantly deeper than the Airport Acceleration.
It has 3 large translucent mesh pockets on the lid for smaller objects and accessories.
I was able to load the following into the FirstLight 40:
- Seacam Silver D500 housing with Nikon D500 body inside
- 2 x Seacam Seaflash 150 strobes
- Seacam Compact dome port
- Santi 6Ah heated vest battery
- Seacam 45° viewfinder
- 2 x Inon Z240 strobes
- 4 x Seaflash 150 strobe batteries
- Senheiser radio microphones
- 2 x S6 strobe sync cables
- Lacie Rugged 2TB hard drive
- Fisheye Fix Neo focus light
- 16 Eneloop batteries
- 4 x 20cm Seacam strobe arms
- Lacie Rugged 2TB hard Drive
- 4 x Nikon EN-EL15 batteries.
It would be untrue to say that it was not heavy! It weighed in at around 15 kg (33 pounds). However, there is no doubt that it is relatively comfortable to carry even with this weight. Given that it is important to make our carry on bags appear lighter than they actually are when checking in, the carrying system actually helps avoid getting weighed. Perhaps the only improvement would be some way of actually making 15 kg feel like 5 kg (11 pounds)! Of course, if the bags are weighed, there will need to be some rapid explaining!
The bag seems to fit perfectly in the overheads on both large and small aircraft. The padded straps and carrying system do mean that it is a tad more awkward than the Airport Acceleration, but they can be stowed away by inverting them and wrapping them around the bag.
The grab handles are located on the top, side and bottom of the bag. These make handling the bag in an airplane’s cabin much easier.
The FirstLight’s laptop holder is unpadded. This makes it lower profile, but offers no protection to the computer. MindShift recommends that the contents be protected in a sleeve.
It is constructed of 420D velocity and high-density nylon, reinforced with 1680D ballistic nylon. The fabric feels light and supple but so far, there has been no signs of wear and tear.
When used in conjunction with the CineBags CB27 Lens Smuggler, a complete SLR underwater photography system can be carried as a carry on with reasonable ease. This is an important factor for those who need to ensure that your gear will definitely arrive at your destination.
The MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L is available from your local Think Tank/MidShift Gear retailer or via MindShift Gear directly.
The MindShift Gear FirstLight 40L was supplied free charge to the reviewer for review purposes.