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Thread started 15 Jul 2007 (Sunday) 19:01
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Think Tank Rotation 360 Backpack Review

 
Scunner
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Jul 15, 2007 19:01 |  #1

Let me start by warning you that this is a looong post! The attention deficit amongst you can skip to the "Conclusions" section, some 2,600 words down...

I’ve been using a Crumpler $7M Home for the past year or so, and while it’s perfect for quick lens changes and overall accessibility, after a few hours it does tend to fatigue my back and shoulder, especially if I’m packing my 70-200 2.8 IS.

My company decided to send me to a conference in Vegas in June, and being out West, I took the opportunity to take some vacation time and go to San Francisco for a week. Obviously, photography was high on the priority list, so that got me thinking about bags. The Crumpler would be perfect for Vegas; no need for the 70-200, just my 10-22, 17-55 IS, and flash. But for San Francisco, I could see where all three would be needed, and if I was out until dusk, then I’d be bringing along my tripod too. The last thing I needed was backache to keep me from enjoying my favourite city in the world.

I quickly came to the conclusion that a backpack was the way to go; it’d be easy on my back, and allow me to move easily through airport terminals, city crowds, and more importantly, uphill. The disadvantage that almost every backpack has is that you have to take it off to access its contents. That’s fine for planned landscapes, but street photography is much more dynamic, and stopping to change out takes a lot longer than it does with a messenger bag.

Cutting to the chase, I found a link to Think Tank’s site in another POTN post and stared, mouth-agape, at the product page for the Rotation360. In essence, it’s a backpack and a belt pack all-in-one. With the quick pull of a release strap, the belt pack rotates out of the bottom portion of the backpack, allowing you quick access to its contents. Perfect!

Expensive? Yes. Intrigued? Definitely. For the next few weeks I went back and forth on a number of options, including Think Tank’s Airport Acceleration and Airport Antidote, but eventually, the Rotation 360 was the one that I ordered.

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The expensive finery that is Think Tank's Rotation360 backpack. Our wallets suffer for our art.

Specs

I was surprised by the relatively small size of the backpack when it was unpacked. It measures approximately 19” tall, 11” wide, and 9” deep. An immediate concern was its weight; at almost 6lbs, it’s twice the weight of the Crumpler when empty. Then again, when it’s on your back fully packed, the weight will be evenly distributed and feel less than a shoulder bag, especially over time.

The quality of construction is excellent throughout. The outer backpack seems to be made from Ballistics Nylon, with heavy stitching on all straps, mesh pockets, and zippers. The zippers are heavy and slide easily.

Top

The top of the backpack has two zippered pockets, a heavy duty handle, and a business card holder. The front zippered pocket contains a strap and buckle to secure the top of an attached tripod. The back pocket contains a rain cover which, very cleverly, covers almost the entire backpack, except the belt pack section. The belt pack has its own rain cover. With both rain covers in place, you can still rotate the belt pack out of the backpack! Awesome.

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Rotation360 with Gitzo 2540 attached, and a slight change in white balance!

Front

The inside of the top compartment is lined with Velcro loop material, allowing you to position hook dividers in any configuration. In the photo below, you can see I’ve got my 70-200 with hood reversed, RRS BH-40, 580 EX flash, and an Epson 2000. There’s also a mesh pocket for accessories. Even with the top compartment fully loaded as you see here, I was still able to fit a lightweight jacket (for the chilly Bay mornings) and some granola bars to snack on.

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The lower front pocket isn’t very deep, but allows you to store pens, filters, and various other small accessories. It’s zippered on three sides, and Think Tank has thoughtfully added nylon side panels to stop contents from falling out. The front of the pocket also has a mesh pocket for attaching a monopod or tripod. And in case you have a longer tripod, there’s even a tripod cup hidden behind the front mesh pocket which you can pull out.

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Front pocket and lower tripod strap

Sides

Both sides of the backpack have heavy –duty nylon rails, used to attach Think Tank’s modulus components, such as their Lens Changers or bottle holder. Also on either side is a locking buckle which can be looped through straps on either side of the belt pack to prevent it from rotating out. When I was out shooting, I detached the buckles, but when I was travelling, and didn’t have the belt tight around my waist, I normally locked the belt pack in place.

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Side view of the Rotation360 with the belt pack locked in place. The modulus rail is above the side buckle.

Back

The back has some very thick padded supports, covered in a breathable mesh material. They were very comfortable on long hikes, and because the pack wasn’t squarely on my back, air could flow through the gaps.

On most other backpacks, the only feature about the shoulder straps worth mentioning is how comfortable they are when fully loaded. On the Rotation360, that’s a given; they’re thick, comfortable, and covered in the same breathable mesh as the back pads. The full length of the strap is padded, which is good for both tall and not-so-tall individuals. But being a Think Tank backpack, the straps have another couple of excellent features.

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The thick padded supports help minimise dreaded SBS - Sweaty Back Syndrome.

Each shoulder strap has a stretch pocket which can be used to hold a cell phone, MP3 player, or CF card holder. I was able to put my iPod in one pocket and the earphones in the other, which was great for train and bus rides.

One of the best features of the backpack is that you can attach the camera to the metal clips on the shoulder straps, so that the backpack fully supports the weight of your camera, and not your neck! A camera strap is supplied which has two metal rings on either side. These rings attach to spring-loaded clips on the shoulder straps and allow you to go completely hands-free. The clips are on adjustable straps which can be raised or lowered to be most comfortable for you. This saves you from neck strain during a long day of shooting, and also means you can walk around, camera at the ready, without having it in your hands at all times. The additional weight was negligible, and was actually very comfortable.

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You can attach one SLR to each of the metal clips, or suspend one using the included camera strap. Your neck will thank you!

If you have two SLRs, you can attach one to each ring clip, using both rings of the camera strap. I don’t have two SLRs, so I can only imagine the neck strain some of you guys must deal with, toting two cameras and lenses around all day!

There’s another strap included for use with longer lenses (such as the 70-200) if you’ve attached the camera to the shoulder straps. This allows you to strap the lens down against your body, preventing it from swaying or bumping up and down as you walk. I really could have used this with the 17-55 2.8, but never did. I kept forgetting, and left the strap in my hotel room!

Belt Pack

This is the true innovation of the Rotation360 - having a built-in belt pack which can be rotated out of the backpack. The left side of the belt has a nylon strap with two large and understandable icons sewn into either side; pull it in one direction, and it unlocks; pull it in the other, and it locks.

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Pullest thou the Holy Locking Strap of Santa Rosa. To the left thou pullest to unlocketh. To the right and thou will locketh. Up shall thou not pull, and down is right out.

Continued...

Gordon

Camera : none atm :(
Lenses : 17-55 2.8 IS, 85 1.2L
Other : Speedlite 580EX, Epson P-2000, PIXMA Pro 9000

  
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Scunner
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Jul 15, 2007 19:01 |  #2

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Fully unlockethed, proceedeth thou to rend the belt pack from itseth (?) backpack.

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Belt pack removed from the rest of the backpack. It's not quite as messy when it's on your waist!

The front of the belt pack has a zippered pocket for flat items only. I kept a lens cloth and a folded map in it. On either side of the belt pack is a mesh pocket with bungee cords to keep contents safe inside.

The main compartment of the belt pack has Velcro loop material on all four sides to divide up how you please. It comfortably held my 30D with 17-55 2.8 attached, hood reversed, and 10-22 with hood reversed. It also held my spare battery, lens caps, wireless remote, flash diffuser, and GND filter holders. There’s also a clear plastic zippered pocket sewn into the “lid”.

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The belt itself consists of a wide nylon strap with a snap buckle, and a larger ballistics nylon support belt which has another modulus rail, a zippered pouch, and the locking mechanism. I’m a 36” waist, and there’s plenty of strap to spare, so I’d guess this would fit someone up to a 42-44” frame. The larger part of the belt is sturdily stitched onto the back of the pack, and examining this reveals how the belt pack locking mechanism works.

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The hook velcro exposed in the rear of the belt pack...

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...and the loop inside the belt pack cage they "hook" up with.

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When you unlock the belt, these pieces of plastic are pulled in place, separating hook from loop. You may also experience a change in white balance.

In the photos above, you can see two strips of Velcro hook in the rear portion of the belt. When the locking strap is in the “locked” position, the belt pack is securely attached to the thick Velcro loop pads in the rear of the backpack. When you unlock the belt, two pieces of plastic are pulled into place, separating the hook from the loop. Very bloody clever! The manual that comes with the backpack (and the online videos) suggest creating a secure lock by “wiggling” the belt pack back and forth with the hand straps to ensure that the hook and loop make firm contact. This does indeed work. Grab both straps, pull them forward (in the direction you’re facing), and wiggle, and the Velcro does its job. Sure, I got some strange looks from folks down on Pier 39, but that’s not out of place in San Francisco!

Inside the main compartment of the belt pack is another rain cover, this one solely for the belt pack. With the rain cover in place on the backpack and the belt pack, the belt pack still easily rotates out of the backpack.

There’s a rail on the right side of the belt pack, and I used this to attach my Lens Changer 75 which holds the 70-200 2.8 IS comfortably. Word of note though – if you drop the 70-200 with hood reversed into the LC75, hood-first, you’ll have to wiggle the hood out past the bungee cord to take the lens out. Easy in, not so easy out, just like a lobster pot. With the LC75 in place, this meant that I had all my lenses out of the backpack – typically the 17-55 on the camera, the 10-22 inside the belt pack, and the 70-200 in the Lens Changer. The add-on comes with its own rain cover, and an elasticated bungee cord to keep it closed. When I was travelling from Las Vegas to San Francisco, I had the 70-200 in the main compartment of the backpack (as pictured), and either folded the Lens Changer inside the main compartment, or attached it to the side of the backpack (not the belt pack) and stored the various backpack straps, a rocket blower, and a flash diffuser. It’ll even take a bottle of water if you so desire!

When the Lens Changer or any other modulus attachment is on the belt pack rail, the belt will only rotate in one direction - anti-clockwise. I didn’t find this to be a big problem, once I remembered it was there! With nothing on the rail, the belt rotates clockwise or anti-clockwise, and being left-handed, I found clockwise the easiest.

Since the belt pack comes completely out of the backpack, you can use it on its own if you don’t need the full backpack. They even thoughtfully included a shoulder strap to use with the belt pack alone. I used it to great effect this way in Las Vegas, where I simply didn’t need the whole kit and caboodle.

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The whole kit and caboodle

In Use & Conclusions

You’ll notice from the photos that the backpack seems to be free standing without any support. That’s because there are rubber feet on the bottom of the pack. The section that houses the belt pack is made from hard plastic and metal, covered by more ballistics nylon. You can put the backpack on the ground, fully loaded, and it will stay vertical. Anyone who’s been to the Maritime Museum pier near Ghirardelli Square (or any place where seagulls enjoy the freedom to poop as they please) will understand just how appreciated this feature is! It meant not having to change my shirt before I went to Scoma’s later that evening!

The backpack was heavy for the first day or so, but I quickly became accustomed to the weight. I was able to walk uphill without too much exertion, and having the camera supported by the shoulder straps gave me a sense of security that if I lost my balance, I wouldn’t have to drop the camera. I even rented a bicycle from Blazing Saddles on Pier 41, and rode across the Golden Gate Bridge and up into the Marin Headlands, complete with backpack and tripod, and never felt off-balance or unstable. Yes, having the backpack made the ride up Lincoln Blvd to the bridge and then Conzelman Road to Battery Spencer strenuous, but it was soo worth the effort! I honestly don’t think I could have used my $7M Home with anywhere near the same level of comfort on that bike ride, as I did with the Rotation360.

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A spectacular day in the Marin Headlands. Bicycle and Rotation360 providing foreground "interest".

In practice, the belt locking worked like a dream, and being able to rotate the belt pack out to swap lenses was a smooth process after a couple of practice runs. Once the belt pack was out of its shell, I found it quite comfortable to walk around like that, with the pack on my hip. With the Lens Changer 75 attached, and the belt rotated out, alternating between the 70-200 and another lens while walking became second nature. With the camera body fully supported by the shoulder straps, I was free to rummage around in the various pockets, pulling out a circular polarizer here, a filter holder there, and never once felt hindered. With any other backpack, I’d have to take it off first.

In recent times, luggage restrictions have become a major concern for serious amateur and professional photographers. Even with something like a Pelican, I’m not sure I’d trust my camera equipment to checked luggage. Think Tank’s website states that the Rotation360 will fit in the overhead compartments of most airliners, with the exception of some commuter jets and CRJs. I don’t know about the commuter jets, but the CRJ-700 I was on had no problems accommodating my backpack.

For the first time with a camera bag, I really didn’t mind that it screamed out its purpose. The Crumpler may be significantly more discrete, but I’m pretty sure that by the end of my trip, my shoulder and back would have been screaming out for a chiropractor.

Cons? I don’t consider this to be a downside, but I know others may; for the price you pay, it doesn’t hold as much as, say, a Kata or Lowepro of comparable size. You lose a fair bit of space and storage flexibility by having the backpack split in two, as it were. The largest lens the backpack will comfortably accommodate is a 70-200 2.8. I doubt that a 300 f/4 would fit, so that pretty much rules it out for the birding/wildlife crowd. Having said that, carrying more obviously means more weight, and I found that what I had with me was 100% perfect for my style of shooting, which is landscapes, candid, street photography, and architecture. When I first received the backpack, I was apprehensive that I’d made a mistake, but after using it around San Francisco, I’m fully convinced that I’ll be using the Rotation360 until the damned thing falls apart. The degree of freedom, comfort, and functionality that it provides is unsurpassed, in my opinion, by any other bag. Get over the hefty $280 price tag, and you’ll have a camera bag for life. If you need more motivation, think of it like a good tripod; you can spend and spend and spend before you come to something like a Gitzo, or you can save yourself the money in the long run, and go straight for the best.

I offer my highest praise and thanks to Doug Murdoch and the Think Tank team for producing such a wonderful backpack.

Gordon

Camera : none atm :(
Lenses : 17-55 2.8 IS, 85 1.2L
Other : Speedlite 580EX, Epson P-2000, PIXMA Pro 9000

  
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MazerRakhm
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Jul 17, 2007 10:39 |  #3

Wow, a very thorough review of what looks to be a unique bag. I'd have thought about this one if I didn't just get a new bag.


Thanks for looking!
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squiress
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Jul 17, 2007 11:05 |  #4

Based on a couple of brief comments/reviews here I acquired one of these and am waiting for Samy's to send me my first hang-on lens bag. I got the 75 popup to hold a 400 5.6 on the right side of the pack. Camera will only rotate left as you indicate. Like you and the other brief reviewer I was surprised at how small the bag part is in first impressions. It seemed to me a first blush that there was more harness than bag almost. It is tremendously built though and I continue to like the concept. I have used the belt pack alone on more than one occasion. Like you I get camera with lens and hood inverted and additional lens with hood inverted in it plus a small space in between for extra battery and CF cards. Camera is 5D with 17-40, and extra lens is 24-105. Tight fit, but not too tight (I do turn off camera to make sure nothing stays on through accidental pressure).

I think the relatively high price per cubic foot of storage is really apparent when you add the remaining items to make this all come together. The bag itself at $280 is really only the starting point. With additions it gets to $400 pretty easily. Still, you gotta like the well thought out design. Very comfortable. Thanks for the thorough review.

Stew


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Cathpah
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Jul 18, 2007 01:33 |  #5

wow...that's a heck of a review.

thanks for taking the time to do this!


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michael_
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Jul 18, 2007 02:34 |  #6

excellent review best yet for a backpack


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Scunner
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Jul 18, 2007 11:40 as a reply to  @ michael_'s post |  #7

Thanks for the positive comments so far. :) It's not quite your standard backpack, so there was plenty to talk about.

When I get some free time, I'll add pictures of me wearing it with the belt pack rotated out, camera hanging from the shoulder straps, and with the lens changer attached.


Gordon

Camera : none atm :(
Lenses : 17-55 2.8 IS, 85 1.2L
Other : Speedlite 580EX, Epson P-2000, PIXMA Pro 9000

  
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dougrb
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Jul 19, 2007 09:25 as a reply to  @ Scunner's post |  #8

When my accessory list expands, I will certainly be obtaining this fine backback. Thank you for the in depth and well writtn review !

Doug


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squiress
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Jul 24, 2007 06:05 |  #9

I just got in the 75 popdown lens case for my 360. I had hoped the 400 f/5.6 would fit without opening it up but it was about 1/2" short. It unzipped easily (better than a lot of expandable luggage I've used) and the lens dropped right in while still being quite easy to extract with its Lenscoat cover on (something it wouldn't do in the stock Canon case). I very much like the way it hangs on the bag's mount point. A flap and nylon flat strip go into two different areas on the hang point and then the flap velcros back to the case at two points. No way for it to come undone by snagging on tree limb.

As expected this begins to fill out the upper part of the pack into something resembling my Lowepro bag. It's loppsided though so now I will add a shorter lens case or water bottle case (most likely the non-popdown 75 to the left side to still allow rotation out that side). I now also now know how the mount points work and if the rest of the lens changers and accessory bags work like this I will fill up this thing with appropriate storage.

Finally the lens case came with rain cover as well and for the first time I read the Thinktank no nonsense warranty - if it breaks, they'll fix it - period. Gotta like that.

When I get the next lens case added I'll post some pics showing how they attach and the balanced look with both cases attached.

Thanks to Samy's Camera in SoCal for not only having it in stock but at a better price that anyone else I looked at.

Stew


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Scunner
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Jul 24, 2007 10:48 |  #10

squiress wrote in post #3601260 (external link)
I very much like the way it hangs on the bag's mount point. A flap and nylon flat strip go into two different areas on the hang point and then the flap velcros back to the case at two points. No way for it to come undone by snagging on tree limb.

I too was impressed by how securely the Lens Changer (or any of the modulus components) attach to the rails. Feed the velcro fastener through the back strap on the rail, and the white plastic "tongue" through the smaller strap on the rail, and velcro the sides in place. Unless you applied an extreme amount of force, there's no way that 75 is coming off the belt!

Finally the lens case came with rain cover as well and for the first time I read the Thinktank no nonsense warranty - if it breaks, they'll fix it - period. Gotta like that.

They really stand by their products, and that's a nice change these days. Thanks for the update on the popdown 75. :)


Gordon

Camera : none atm :(
Lenses : 17-55 2.8 IS, 85 1.2L
Other : Speedlite 580EX, Epson P-2000, PIXMA Pro 9000

  
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MDJAK
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Jul 24, 2007 20:54 |  #11

Last year I met Doug Murdoch at the PhotoPlus Expo at Javits. I've already got one of their waist bags, and at that time bought their belt system.

Doug is a great guy. He was wearing the rotation and showing how it worked. It was very inventive.

Your review is excellent. You could easily be working for a magazine.

mark




  
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Jeffrey_yeyu
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Jul 25, 2007 19:10 |  #12

I also just bought this bag from samsy shop , but the bag didn't come with the camera strap . This make me feel carzy . I love the design of hang the carmera on my shoulder !
The guy of samys told me I have wait until Friday




  
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Scunner
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Aug 05, 2007 20:36 |  #13

MDJAK wrote in post #3605259 (external link)
Your review is excellent. You could easily be working for a magazine.

mark

Thank you for the kind words, Mark. I've only written one other review, and that was for the Pixma Pro 9000 printer on Amazon.com. I submitted it, complete with photographs, but it somehow disappeared into the digital ether, never to see the light of day. Some of the photos made it, however.

I enjoyed writing this review, and am appreciative that in this age of quick impact writing and "TLDR" attention spans, people took the time to read it.


Gordon

Camera : none atm :(
Lenses : 17-55 2.8 IS, 85 1.2L
Other : Speedlite 580EX, Epson P-2000, PIXMA Pro 9000

  
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WorkingClassHero
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Aug 05, 2007 21:22 |  #14

Superb review. I'm looking for a new bag, and we seem to shoot mainly the same subjects, so I'd love to see the photos of you wearing and using it. Thanks for taking the time to write this.


ALAN
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Poindexter
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Aug 06, 2007 13:37 |  #15

I saw one in a camera shop this weekend - very nice backpack, albeit a little small for my needs. Think Tank really builds some quality stuff. I can see how this would benefit someone nicely who is only carting a light load.


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Photography-on-the.net Digital Photography Forums is the website for photographers and all who love great photos, camera and post processing techniques, gear talk, discussion and sharing. Professionals, hobbyists, newbies and those who don't even own a camera -- all are welcome regardless of skill, favourite brand, gear, gender or age. Registering and usage is free.