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Gear Review: MindShift Gear MP-1 V2.0 and MP-3 V2.0 Photo Backpacks

MindShift Gear MP-3 V2.0 photo pack

When MindShift Gear told me they’d be sending me a new Moose Peterson series backpack for review, I was expecting to receive one bag.  Instead, I got two, the large MP-1 V2.0 and the medium-sized MP-3 V2.0.  So it’s taken a while to finish up this review, as I wanted to have a chance to test both bags in the field 1.  Read on to see my impressions of the latest “big lens” bags from MindShift Gear.

 

Top Flap Design

Twenty years ago, photographer Moose Peterson designed a photo pack using the “Moose Ears” flap design.  Rather than having one accessible compartment, as we’ve seen with most photo packs then and now, Peterson split his pack up into separate compartments covered by smaller top flaps.  This design allowed for better partitioning and the ability to keep unused gear sealed away from the elements, and has been copied by other manufacturers in the years since its debut.  Recently, Peterson and MindShift Gear partnered together to redesign this bag, resulting in version 2.0 of the MP-1, MP-3 and smaller MP-7.

This was my first time using a “top flap” (or Moose Ears) style bag, and I believe this design element may dictate whether photographers choose a pack in the MP series or another photo pack, so let’s discuss that first.

MindShift Gear MP Series

MindShift Gear’s Moose Peterson bags feature separate compartments accessible by “Moose Ear” flaps.

As I mentioned in my previous photo pack review, space and portability are major concerns for me as a traveling big lens photographer.  So the first question I need to ask of a bag is, “Will my 600mm f/4 lens fit inside?”  Followed by, “Will I be able to carry it on any airplane?”  In the case of the MP-1 and MP-3, the answer to the first question is mostly positive.  My 600mm fit inside the largest compartment in both bags.

Some photographers like to travel with a camera body attached to their lens.  In the gigantic MP-1, this is doable on the 600mm.

MindShift Gear MP-1 fits a 600mm with body attached

The MP-1 fits a 600mm f/4 lens with camera body attached.

But wait, will it fit even with the lens hood attached (and reversed)?  Believe it or not, yes.

MindShift Gear MP-1 fits a 600mm with body attached

Though it’s a tight fit, even the lens hood can stay on in the MP-1. Notice the bulge from the tripod foot when closed.

One problem I’ve faced with single compartment bags is that the large lens hood is so wide that it makes any flanking storage space unusable.  Bag dividers typically get squished and there’s no room for additional lenses or bulkier gear.  This has led me to put my lens hood in my checked suitcase whenever I travel.  With a big lens like the 600mm f/4, width is usually a bigger issue than length, and in this case the lens hood and large tripod foot make for a tight fit.  But even in the medium-sized MP-3, the lens still fits.  Owners of the 500mm f/4 or smaller big lenses should have no problems.

However, it is not possible to attach a body on a 600mm in the MP-3, and I suspect even a 500mm would not fit with an attached body in the medium bag.

One of the major selling points of this bag design is the ability to keep bodies on lenses in the bag, so that you can access gear quickly 2.  One of the things that drew me to this design is the idea of being in the field—say, driving around in dusty Africa—and having my gear out of the elements until it was time to shoot.  Protecting equipment from dust or even rain until the very last minute would be a nice option to have.

However, I found “quick access” to be a little less realistic than I imagined, or what’s advertised.  There’s no question that the Moose Ear flaps allow you to tuck your gear away.  The problem, when it comes to a camera and lens combo that is ready to shoot at a moment’s notice, is fitFirst, you’re not going to be able to fit a big lens with the lens hood extended and camera body attached inside the big pocket, even in the MP-1.  But even the smaller pockets aren’t quite big enough for an attached body/medium lens combo.  Look how my 1D Mark IV and 100-400mm lens fit in one of the smaller pockets of the MP-1.

100-400mm with attached body in MP-1

My 100-400mm lens and camera body barely squeezed into one of the MP-1’s smaller pockets.

Lens hood reversed, of course, but it was still a very tight fit.  I really had to jam the body in there.  It would be the same fit with my 70-200mm 2.8 IS lens.  Smaller lenses may work fine (again, with the lens hood reversed in most cases), but in this case the body was too wide to comfortably fit in the pocket.  So I imagine the “quick access” feature works well for camera bodies without a battery grip and slightly less-bulky medium lenses.

I took the MP-1 to Yellowstone for testing.  Though I wasn’t going to Africa any time soon, I could emulate the safari drive experience in Yellowstone, with my gear loaded into the camera pack in the front seat for quick accessibility (since there are times when I shoot park wildlife from the vehicle).  I quickly discovered the inconvenience of having fully-assembled gear that wouldn’t quite fit inside the compartments, and this is what I ended up doing.

Lenses and cameras in the MP-1

If you truly want to be ready to shoot with extended lens hoods, your assembled cameras and lenses will not fit in the MP-1’s compartments.

Though I suspect this is slightly more stable than just laying the lenses on the car seat (how I normally travel around Yellowstone), it’s not necessarily more convenient.

So I concluded that quickly-accessible and ready-to-shoot big gear is a bit of a pipe dream.  But this doesn’t mean I disapprove of the compartmental and Moose Ears design.  In fact, over the course of the four weeks or so I used the MP-1 and MP-3 in the field, I really grew to appreciate the idea of segregating my gear in the bag.  I could leave lesser-used lenses and accessories in an unopened compartment, and generally things were much better organized.

And perhaps more importantly: overall, I actually felt like I had more room inside these models than I have had in comparably sized photo bags I’ve used in the past.  So there are definite advantages to the top flap design.

 

Size Comparison

You’ll remember that my second important question about a photo bag pertains to how it will work as a carry-on.  Any wise photographer refuses to check camera gear on an airplane (excepting tripods) whenever possible.  It’s too precious to lose or damage in checked baggage.  So portability and fit inside the cabin, either in the overhead compartment or under the seat, is of paramount importance.

MindShift’s Moose Peterson series comes in three sizes, and the MP-1 and MP-3 are the only packs that will fit big lenses.  The MP-1 is huge, about as big as you’d want to go for a camera backpack.  As a size comparison, I placed it with my Think Tank Airport Security roller, currently the largest bag I own.

MindShift Gear MP-1 and Think Tank Airport Security bags

The MindShift Gear MP-1 (right) is about the same size as the Think Tank Airport Security rolling bag.

As you can see, they’re very similar in size.  Based on my experience with the Airport Security bag, this means the MP-1 will fit on US domestic flights as a carry-on.  But internationally or on smaller commuter planes?  Forget it.  So even though I used it in Yellowstone as my main bag this spring, if I had flown out to the park (I drove from Seattle) the bag would have been too big for the smaller planes Horizon Air uses.

The MP-1 fits a lot of gear, and the MP-3 also seems to have a bit more room than similar-sized single compartment bags.

MindShift Gear MP-1 camera bag

The MP-1 holds a lot of gear. Pictured here: 600mm f/4 lens (no hood) with body attached, 100-400mm lens with body attached, 24-70mm 2.8, 17-40mm, flash, memory cards, 1.4x teleconverter, batteries, portable storage device.

One other important thing to note about the MP-1.  When it’s laden with gear, it’s heavy.  Though the handles are solidly constructed and the pack does come with a basic removable waist belt, this is quite a load to haul around either by hand or on one’s back.  For a bag and load this large, wheels are a major advantage.  If you know you’ll be doing very little air travel, or that you will be required to haul your gear on trails, then the MP-1 starts to make sense as a big photo bag.

The MP-3 is much more reasonable as a travel-specific big lens backpack.  Here you can see the MP-3 (center) compared to the MP-1 (right) and the Think Tank Streetwalker HD 3.

MindShift Gear MP-3 compared to the MP-1 and Think Tank Streetwalker HD

The MP-3 (center) next to the larger MP-1 (right) and the similarly-sized Think Tank Streetwalker HD bag (left).

The MP-3 compares favorably to the Streetwalker in terms of length.  The Streetwalker is a pack that I can take on pretty much any plane around the world and fit it either underneath or overhead.  The MP-3 is a little wider, on account of the separate interior compartments (which, as stated, are an improvement over a single compartment bag like the Streetwalker), and when I took it to Chile it traveled quite well.

 

The Smaller Details

When I first started to look these bags over, I marveled at some of the finer details.  MindShift and Peterson put a lot of thought into many smaller details, and this is expressed in some of the MP series’ better design elements.

The MP-1 and MP-3 both come with a number of accessories.

MindShift Gear MP-1 accessories

Accessories include a rain cover, extra divider inserts, portable storage pouches and a removable waist belt.

The rain cover and extra divider inserts are commonplace among most of the bags from MindShift and Think Tank.  Also included are the aforementioned removable waist belt for longer hauls, along with something I had never seen: removable storage pouches.

The MP bags already have a fair amount of storage.  In addition to the copious amount of space in the compartments, each top flap has zippered storage pockets built in.

MindShift Gear MP-1 interior storage pockets

The MP bags have interior mesh pockets under each flap.

These are ideal for smaller accessories like cables, memory cards or extra straps (including some that come with the bag).  But if that’s not enough room for you, you can use the additional removable pouches for added storage.  These pouches have velcro backing, so they can be mounted just about anywhere on the interior compartment of the bag.  A brilliant feature.

The waist belt in both bags is fairly rudimentary.  It’s not padded, so neither MP pack will be mistaken for a true hiking pack, unlike the MindShift FirstLight series bags.  But even a little bit of support can help ease the load from one’s shoulders, so it’s a nice addition.  There isn’t really a good place to tuck the waist belt, so it’s best to lay it at the bottom of the large interior compartment or inside the side pocket (which is more often used for a water bottle or tripod feet).

Speaking of tripod storage, these bags offer two options for hauling a tripod or monopod.  Your support system can be mounted either on the back or side of the pack.

MindShift MP-1 tripod mount

There are two different ways to carry a tripod on the MP photo packs.

I really appreciated the tripod strap system, which has some subtle details that take it to the next level.  The “slots” for your straps actually have velcro on the inside, so when you slide your strap into place, its matching velcro fastens to the bag and prevents shifting.  On top of that, MindShift included the hinged strap clamps I liked so much on the FirstLight pack, for better tightening.

MP-1 tripod strap tightening clip

MindShift Gear uses these great clips on their straps to ensure tightness.

Another detail that I really liked was the hidden backpack straps.  Often when we travel, pack straps can get annoying, flopping about and getting caught on things.  With the MP bags, you don’t have to worry about that.  The pack straps can be tucked away under a padded velcro cover, making for a nice compact travel bag.

MP-1 backpack straps tuck away

The MP series backpack straps tuck away securely.

The MindShift MP series of packs really excels in these smaller details… to a point.  After putting the bags through their paces in the field, I found a few shortcomings.

 

What’s Missing?

First and foremost, a laptop pocket.  In order to make room for the larger compartments and for hiding the backpack straps, MindShift has sacrificed a place for laptop storage.  This is something I love about my Streetwalker HD bag, and even the MindShift FirstLight 30L has an exterior pocket that fits smaller laptops or tablets.

These days I rarely travel with a laptop any more, instead hauling my iPad and Kindle around… but there’s no dedicated pocket that fits these either.  When I traveled to Chile with the MP-3, I was forced to tuck tablet and eReader inside the large lens compartment.  And they did fit… but the iPad barely made it.

iPad barely fits in the MP-1

A full-sized iPad was taller than the MP-1’s main pocket standing up (it was too wide to lay flat), but I could still close the zipper.

An iPad Air or smaller tablet should fit inside just fine, but just keep in mind that you won’t have a dedicated place to store them… they’re going to get tossed around with your big lens or other gear 4.

Another missing design element I mentioned in my FirstLight bag review is also missing from these bags: metal eyelets on the corners.  This would be a useful small detail that could allow a traveler to attach a shoulder strap as an alternative carrying method.  I’m still waiting for photo bag designers to add this function, which would add a degree of versatility to any photo pack.

My final criticism is something that relates to an important aspect of travel: security.  As a traveling photographer, I want my gear to be as secure as possible.  We’re not carrying around thick steel suitcases handcuffed to our wrists, so it’s not as though camera bags are the best deterrents against thievery.  But even small things can help slow or deter thieves from even trying to access the valuable equipment inside.  Short of stealing the whole bag, I expect any thief to work hard at getting my gear.

There are a few ways to slow down criminals.  Some Think Tank bags have a combination lock built into the main pocket, or even a security cable that’s attached to the bag with an additional combination lock, allowing bags to be secured to furniture.  Their zippers include small metal loops for travel padlocks, something MindShift also thought to include on their main zipper for the FirstLight series.  Plus, the zipper pulls are metal, in case a bag owner wants to lock or secure the pulls themselves.

The MindShift MP series has none of these features.

There’s an additional element that compounds the lack of security: those handy separate compartments.  The downside to having three separate spaces to store bodies and lenses now means you have three separate compartments to lock up.  With other camera packs, I just needed one lock to secure the gear inside.  Now I need three.

And due to one particular design choice in the Peterson series, this isn’t easy to do.  Instead of using metal zipper pulls, MindShift installed leather pulls.  These have small loops on the ends through which a travel padlock ring will fit, but the leather is so inflexible it actually makes it difficult to fit two pulls over one lock ring.

Travel lock on MP-1 zipper

Travel locks don’t fit well on the MP bags’ thick leather pulls, and the leather is less secure than metal pulls.

With normal metal pulls, I could actually use one lock to secure two pockets.  In this case I have trouble just securing one.  Plus, a leather pull would be much easier for a thief to cut through than a metal pull.

On the FirstLight bags, MindShift also employed non-metal pulls, opting for large fabric and plastic loops.  Convenient for pulling, but less secure than a standard metal pull.  At least the main pocket in the FirstLight series still had the small metal loop built into the zipper base, but even that is missing here.  The MP series of bags really fall short when it comes to security features.  I don’t believe the safety of my gear should be sacrificed to better fit the nature-themed aesthetic of these bags.

 

Verdict

There’s a convenience and user-friendly element to the MindShift MP-1 and MP-3 that will appeal to many photographers.  For those seeking a better-organized pack, with better protection against the elements for lesser-used gear, the top flap compartmental design has distinct advantages over most other bags.

The MP series excels in its construction (solid padding, strong handles), look and many of the smaller, more subtle features and accessories.  Both packs feature a number of small details I’d love to see in other bags, from the hidden backpack straps to the extra velcro-attached pouches in the interior.  However, the absence of a dedicated laptop/tablet pocket could be a drawback for some travelers.  The lack of a security-friendly zipper design is a misstep for bags that otherwise feature a lot of forward-thinking design concepts, and should be a priority fix for MindShift with future iterations of these bags.

In general, I think the MP-3 in particular is a pack that any traveling long lens photographer should consider when planning a wildlife photography trip, including any travel on smaller planes.  The MP-1 may be the industry champ when it comes to available organized space in a big lens camera pack, but due to massive dimensions and weight when full, it’s probably a bag geared more toward earth-bound travelers (driving trips) rather than those doing a lot of air travel (especially overseas).

 

Buy the MP-1 and MP-3 Packs

Purchase either the MP-1 or MP-3 packs from MindShift Gear using these links, and you’ll get a free gift with your purchase:

Read more about the MP-1 V2.0 and see more photos.

Read more about the MP-3 V2.0 and see more photos.

(Purchases via these links help support my business.)


See my other reviews in the blog.

Notes:

  1. The MP-1 went to Yellowstone with me, and a few weeks later I took the MP-3 to Patagonia.
  2. From MindShift’s website: “Three compartment system allows you to keep lenses attached providing the quickest way to access gear”
  3. Currently my favorite photo pack, and also nearly identical in size to MindShift’s FirstLight 30L that I reviewed previously.
  4. Unless you used the extra divider inserts to create a separate pocket, which may be possible without taking up too much space.

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