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Think Tank Photo now shipping innovative rotation360  
Friday, December 1, 2006 | by Rob Galbraith

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Rotation Revolution: The Think Tank Photo rotation360 pack, modeled here by a seven-year-old member of the Little Guy Media team. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Think Tank Photo is now shipping the latest edition to their line of camera bags for working photographers. Called the rotation360, the new backpack incorporates an innovative beltpack that can be slid to the front for easy access to lenses, flashes, filters, memory cards and other accessories, then slid back around and secured into place at the base of the backpack, all without removing the pack from your back. And thanks to the clever design of the rotation360, you don't need to be a Cirque du Soleil contortionist to make it work.

In fact, once we became proficient at the art of releasing and spinning the beltpack, we've found the rotation360 to be a wonderful way to move about and do photography that involves a lot of moving about. For field shooters in particular, this camera bag is worth a look.

Introducing the rotation360

The rotation360 is an 11 W x 19.5 H x 9.5 D (28cm x 50cm x 24cm) pack that's comprised of an upper backpack (that stays in place on your back) and a lower beltpack (which is designed to glide around your waist from back to front and back again, hence the bag's name). Think Tank's copious product information on the rotation360 makes the bag's objective clear: provide the carrying capacity and comfort of a backpack without this bag type's main drawback: you typically have to take off a backpack to access any of the gear within.

The company describes the rotation360 as a blend of backpack and beltpack. And while that's true, it has quickly evolved here into a replacement for a shoulder bag and small backpack, since we generally find beltpacks (sometimes called waistpacks or fanny packs) to be an inferior gear carrying method once they are loaded up with more than a couple of pounds of stuff. But the rotation360 beltpack is a different story: because it's always supported by the backpack, even when it's spun out to the side, the pants-lowering effect of the beltpack is all but eliminated.

We got our first look at this bag several months ago, before Think Tank had finalized the name, so in email exchanges with company president Doug Murdoch we resorted to calling it The Holey One. That's because the key to making the removal and replacement of the beltpack work with relative ease is the hard-sided frame beneath the backpack. And, when the beltpack is riding around front, well, the animation below shows why The Holey One is an appropriate nickname.

The Holey One: Think Tank Photo's Doug Murdoch demonstrates the three steps to rotation360 nirvana: 1) release the velcro lock, 2) slide the beltpack around to the front, and then 3) access your gear. (Photos courtesy Think Tank Photo)

How does the rotation360 work? As you can see above, it's a matter of pulling the unlocking tab on the waistbelt to release the beltpack, sliding it around front, accessing your gear through a zippered top-loading compartment, then sliding the beltpack back into its carport and pulling the locking tab to secure it again. As noted earlier, it does take a bit of practice to master the movements involved, but it's entirely doable. The gallery below contains a picture of the locking velcro bumps inside the backpack frame and the companion velcro openings on the beltpack. The mating of these two is what keeps the beltpack in place.

But wait, there's more. Taking a page from the Ginsu knives folks, Think Tank has engineered a wealth of other features into the rotation360 package. Some are standard equipment on bigger Think Tank packs these days, including a tripod/monopod holder, rain covers (one for the entire backpack, and another for the beltpack itself when it's being used separate from the backpack, which is possible), multiple rails for attaching accessory Modulus components and a semi-translucent business card window.

New in the rotation360 is a system for anchoring one or two camera straps to the shoulder harness (the bag comes with a thin camera strap, similar to the Domke Gripper, that's designed to quickly attach and detach from clasps on each shoulder). It also comes with a strap that will keep a belly-level camera from bouncing and another strap for tethering a coat or stuff sack to the base of the backpack frame, for additional carrying capacity. This is also the first Think Tank backpack to feature a deep-groove airflow system between your back and the pack. And finally, the rotation360 will fit overhead or under the seat of most commercial aircraft.

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Gallery: Views of the Think Tank Photo rotation360 pack. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos courtesy Think Tank Photo and by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Additional Observations

So far, two things should be clear: we really like the rotation360, and it has a lot of features beyond its signature revolving beltpack. Here are some additional observations:

Keeping it clean One of the things we appreciate about Think Tank Photo's bag designs is that they tend to be clean and simple, right down to the grey and black colour scheme. This is not only more pleasing to the eye, but it also contributes to their bags' less-bulky, less-attention-grabbing appearance. And we prefer to work, as well as make it through airport check-in lines, without attracting too much attention.

While the rotation360 retains the neutral shades of the rest of the Think Tank Photo line, the bag's various additional straps, loose mesh pockets, a particularly-long adjustable waist belt that includes four pull tabs/handles, Modulus rail and accessory pouch, a sternum strap, click-locks to secure the beltpack to the backpack when not in use - all of this and more adds up to a much-busier looking Think Tank product than we're accustomed to. And in a crowd of photographers, you can count on a heap of questions and comments when they look over and see your backpack has a hole in it!

It's still a Think Tank Photo bag - there's no Kata-style ruffles or Crumpler garishness, and everything works as intended - but as it ships it's a bit cluttered in appearance. Fortunately, (Think Tank representatives, please stop reading here) a pocket knife provides a partial cure. We've excised what we deemed to be superfluous straps and click-locks from just about every camera bag we've ever owned, and have scheduled the rotation360 for minor surgery too.

Securing the beltpack In addition to the velcro system that keeps the beltpack from wiggling free of the rotation360 base, a short strap and click-lock on either side of the bag can be used to further secure the beltpack in its resting position. So far, however, the velcro doesn't seem to need the help. When Murdoch first demonstrated the bag, we noticed that after he pulled the locking tab to engage the velcro, he would give the beltpack a quick side-to-side shimmy. This has the effect of pressing more velcro hooks and loops together. We tried it, and it greatly increases the sticking power of the velcro, after which the beltpack really does stay put.

Stand at attention The rigid frame and four rubber feet at the base of the rotation360 means the backpack is stable when standing vertically.

Take the weight The main attraction of the rotation360 is of course the revolving beltpack. But the included camera strap and the speed with which its O-rings can be clasped to the shoulder harness is also a great feature. If you like to carry a digital SLR around your neck all day, letting the shoulder harness take the weight of it makes the camera seem noticeably lighter. And, if you favour thin, grippy camera straps, the one included with the rotation360 is actually quite nice.

(The included camera strap will also be a separately-available item from Think Tank Photo, with its release slated for January 2007, says Murdoch. Simply called The Camera Strap, it will come in either blue or grey trim and will have a manufacturer's suggested list price of US$25).

Try before you buy The selection of a camera bag is a personal, even emotional thing for some photographers, and the rotation360 is so darned different than it's likely to elicit reactions both for and against. We're firmly in the for camp, but you may not be. Our strong recommendation is that you slip one on for size before you hand over your credit card, or at least purchase it from a retailer with a friendly return policy. If you do choose to try before you buy, be sure to spend a minute getting the shoulder harness adjusted properly, since we've found that the backpack is comfortable and the beltpack works as advertised only when the rotation360 is sitting fairly low, at least relative to how we would normally wear a photo backpack. Also, if you don't have a lot of gear to carry, you might look at a sling bag, such as those in Lowepro's SlingShot line, as another way of keeping your gear behind you until you need to access it.

Conclusion

The rotation360 is available now, at a manufacturer's suggested list price (MSRP) of US$279 in the U.S. (the actual selling price of Think Tank products tends to track closely with MSRP). For a complete tour of the rotation360, be sure to visit the rotation360 microsite at Think Tank Photo.

Revision History
Added information about The Camera Strap (December 6, 2006)

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