F-Stop Ajna vs. Lowepro Whistler vs. Clik vs. Mindshift

In Gear by Jim Harmer9 Comments

A bunch of camera backpacks used by attendees of our Improve Photography China trip.

The current trend in landscape photography is for gear storage in a backpack with a rear entry flap (meaning the part of the bag that touches your back when walking has a zipper around it that opens up to the largest compartment). F-Stop Gear makes several popular bags amongst landscape photographers such as the Loka, and now their Ajna bag. However, Lowepro makes the Whistler bag and Clik makes a Contrejour bag with similar designs, prices, and specs.

After considering all three of these bags, I decided to purchase the F-Stop Gear Ajna with Red Bull colors and a Large ICU.  It was an expensive purchase ($388 including shipping), but I hope for this bag to become my daily driver and to fix some frustrations I have with my current bag.  

However, I've also owned the Clik Elite Contrejour 40 backpack (non-2.0), so I can compare both of these bags well.  I have not actually owned or used the LowePro Whistler camera bag, so I'm relying only on the specs and reviews of other Youtubers for that portion of the review.  One of these days I should email them and ask to get a review copy.

F-Stop AjnaLowepro Whistler 450Clik Contrejour 40 2.0
Current Price (at time of writing)$368 (with shipping and large ICU from fstopgear.com)$291 (on Amazon)$379 (on Amazon)
Weight5 lbs (2.2kg) with Large Pro ICU7.3 lbs (3.3 kg)5.25 lbs (2.4kg)
External Dimensions23.5" x 13" x 10.5"12.2" x 11.9" x 22.5"28" x 13" x 13.5"
Volume40 liters45 liters40.1 liters
Laptop Space13" laptop OR hydration bladderUNPADDED 10.5" x 7.5" outer compartmentNone
FeaturesSwitchable camera compartment, and very lightweight.Extremely weather proof. Less expensive.Convenient side and back access. Aluminum frame distributes weight well.
ConsFewer overall featuresWay too heavy. The smaller Whistler 350 is not much lighter either. No water bladder compartment.No laptop compartment.

As you might expect… mine's the really muddy one.

Why I'm Switching from My Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Bag

I have been shooting with the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Backpack for the last two years.  There are a lot of things to love about that bag, but also a few things that are somewhat annoying.  No camera backpack is perfect.

The main reason why I bought the F-Stop Ajna is because I also bought a Sony a7rii which has significantly larger full frame lenses than the Fuji gear that I've been using for the last few years.  The full frame gear simply won't fit well in the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon that I currently have, so I needed to make a change.

I really like the accessibility of the bottom kangaroo pouch on the Mindshift Gear bag.  It's convenient for getting to filters or your camera while wading in a stream for example.  However, when you want access to your camera and you don't have it on your back, you have to flop out the bottom pouch and have it spread around on the ground to get to your gear.  It's a great bag for hiking, but a poor bag for leaving on the ground so you can shoot for a while.

However, the Mindshift Gear bag has held up well to two years of abuse, it's lightweight, stylish, and very functional.  After two years, the only way you'd know the bag isn't new is a very tiny tear in the side that I got from slipping on the wet rocks of a stream in Zion National Park, and lint balls on the back panel.

Why I Chose the F-Stop Gear Ajna

Improve Photoraphy writer Kevin Jordan did a great in-depth review of the F-Stop Ajna bag a few months ago.  I've been looking at the F-Stop Gear Ajna for quite some time, and after Nick picked one up and liked it, I was even more convinced that it would be the perfect bag for me if I ended up switching to Sony full frame.

There are five primary reasons why I picked the Ajna.

  • It has a laptop compartment, which Kevin Jordan told me fits his 14″ Lenovo laptop
  • It's light weight
  • It's carry-on compliant on nearly every airline
  • Fits the gear I bring most (camera, trinity of lenses, tripod, laptop, one speedlight and a trigger)
  • Rugged good looks

The weight of the bag is a significant factor for me.  Most of my photo shoots are not out of a car where I can leave the bag in the back seat and just take what I need.  More often, I'm on airplanes, backpacking through different countries, going on hikes with my family, etc.  I don't want to carry any more weight than is necessary.  However, don't be tricked when buying an F-Stop Gear bag, because the listed weights for the bags don't also include the ICU weight.

For me, the ICU system from F-Stop is a bit confusing and a drawback.  I like the thought of being able to switch out my ICU to match what I'm packing, but I don't think that would really benefit me very often.  Most of the time I'm bringing the same camera gear and would just use the normal Large Pro ICU.

Also, F-Stop has been plagued with inventory issues for YEARS.  I can remember when the company was first launching that they sent me a marketing t-shirt and swag to try and get some “blogger love.”  Marketing does not seem to be F-Stop's problem anymore.  Their bags have become very popular and the larger problem has been keeping them in stock.  Lately, however, I've found their gear in stock more and more often, which is great to see.

Unfortunately, F-Stop doesn't sell on Amazon, which is a bit of a pain.  I really like ordering everything from Amazon so check out speed and return policies are predictable.  Check out the F-Stop Ajna on their website.

Annoyingly, F-Stop Bags (as well as Mindshift) are not available in the UK as well as several other major countries.  Get on it, F-Stop.  Improve Photography has millions of readers around the globe. Oh, and you're crazy for not making Nick Page one of your Staff Pros yet.

F-Stop Ajna and Large Pro ICU

LowePro Whistler 450

The Lowepro looks to be an extremely impressive bag with more features and a better build quality than the Ajna; however, it's extremely heavy without even putting gear in it.  The bag itself weighs 7.28 pounds!

You could load up an F-Stop Ajna bag WITH a Sony a7rii and the bag would STILL weigh less than the LowePro Whistler 450.  Ouch!

Another significant drawback to the Lowepro is that it has no laptop compartment.  I am baffled by how many camera bag manufacturers continue to release bags without laptop compartments.  Almost every photographer who comes to shoot with me on the free meetups I do around the world brings a laptop with them on the trip.  I personally NEVER travel without a laptop.

However, the LowePro has significant features as well.  First of all, it's not just rainproof, it's monsoon proof.  You could almost SCUBA dive with it (no, not really).  The outer material is made from a very thick water-resistant TUP material.  It comes with a detachable rain cover, but I can't imagine it would ever be necessary to add.

One other cool feature on the LowePro is that it has dividers in the camera compartment that are also little pockets.  You can stick smaller items like a Sony RX100 v (my vlogging camera) into the divider.

Clik Contrejour 40

I used to shoot a lot of different Clik bags.  In fact, I went to the Click headquarters in St. George, Utah to meet with some of the Clik people once.  They seem like a great company with good people.  I can't remember for sure, but I believe they gave me a Contrejour 40 for review.

Overall, I liked the Contrejour.  The original had a small laptop sleeve that would barely fit a 12″ laptop, which I liked having.

The part that I didn't love was the metal frame inside the bag.  It made the bag too large to be a carry-on (you can often get away with it, but I don't like to risk it because I HAVE been checked before).  Also, the frame sometimes rubbed on my shoulders or back.

I do like the styling of the Clik Bags.  The black bag with the red accents looks really nice.  I also like that they always include a sewn-in rain cover on the bottom of their bags.

Also, while the bag isn't fully carry-on compliant, the tall size does make it comfortable for taller people so the waist belt doesn't ride up too high like it does on some other bags.

Watch my Youtube review of the Contrejour 40 (original) below:

 

Are These Backpacks Carry-On Compliant?

Both the F-Stop Ajna and the Lowepro Whistler 450 are carry-on compliant for almost all airlines.  They may be 1″ too long on any one of the dimensions, but I'm taking into account that if the flight attendant makes you put your carry-on in the dreaded metal “bag size checker” thingy, you could squish it a little.

However, the Clik Contrejour 40 is not carry-on compliant on ANY major airline anywhere in the world.  It's just too tall.  Also, since it has a metal internal frame, you can't squish it at all to make it fit.

Obviously, you can get on 99% of flights even if your bag is a few inches too long.  I've certainly been on tons of flights where they let me on with too large of bags; however, it just takes one time of getting a dreaded green tag and your gear could get damaged.  I like knowing that I can always squish my gear into the little metal bag size checker.

For reference, here are the sizes of the bags:

  • F-Stop Ajna  –  23.5″ x 13″ x 10.5″
  • LowePro Whistler  –  22.5″ x 12.2″ x 11.9″
  • Clik Contrejour  –  28″ x 13″ x 13.5″
Air France21.7" x 13.8" x 9.9"
Alaska Airlines24" x 17" x 10"
Delta Airlines22" x 14" x 9"
Icelandair21.6" x 15.7" x 7.8"
JetBlue Airlines22" x 14" x 9"
Southwest Airlines24" x 16" x 9"
United Airlines22" x 14" x 9"

About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.

Comments

  1. How long did it take for you to receive your bag and ICU? From placing the order to delivery? I wanted to place an order but I’ve heard they had delays.

  2. Have you looked at the Mountain Smith Tanuck 40 bag? Along with the other “bags” and “icu’s” in the line. It looks pretty sweet and may be the next bag I get to replace my Mindshift 180 Pro. I don’t think it’s carry on compliant due to it’s size as well though, but it’s fairly close.

    1. Author

      Zach! Why have you done this to me!??! I hadn’t seen that one and now I’m wondering if I made the right call. That bag looks really awesome! Hmm…. I might hit them up for a review.

      1. Please do! Reviews are hard to come by on it right now. I’d love someone with a good hands on review…. unless I buy it first!

  3. Just purchased the Mindshift 180 Horizon and literally returned it the same day. Quality was poor and it could not fit my Nikon D800, 24-70, 70-200, 16-35, and teleconverter. Poor choice after using an Elite Clik35. Just purchased the F9 Red Bull Ajna with the medium shallow ICU. I love the Click but the idea of removing the ICU during trips it’s awesome. The bag it’s high quality like the Elite series and I can use it during the summer and my often many winter BC ski trips. 👍👍👍👍F9 makes good quality stuff. Also considered there​ Loka.

    1. Author

      Yeah, the Horizon isn’t a good fit for most full frame cameras. The Mindshift Rotation 180 Pro is a better size for that. But I did get annoyed about trying to get access to the lower portion when not wearing the pack. I think you’ll like the FStop Ajna better.

  4. Hello from Australia. I just bought the F-stop Lotus, which is their 32L small size with a medium ICU. Unfortunately we don’t have Clik available here. I am just getting into photography with an Olympus MFT system, so I don’t need a large bag to fit the gear, but I work as a scuba guide in the polar regions, one month in the Arctic and one month in the Antarctic each year (the rest of the time I have a normal desk job). I was looking for a bag that could fit both the camera gear I needed for the trip, plus space for a jacket, documents etc for travelling on planes, but that I could reconfigure once on the ship to just take the camera gear I needed for the day, plus the rest of the equipment I need to carry (radio, first kit etc). I’ve used it for a few long hikes and day trips, and just walking around In the city – I have no complaints. I would have gone the Anja, but it was just a bit big for my needs (MFT body, 2 lenses, spare batteries, a couple of filters). My 13 inch laptop fits easily.

    FYI – The salesman told me that F-stop have gone bust (have also seen some news arcticles) so stock, at least in Australia, is very low and they don’t know if they will be able to get anymore. The plus side is that these bags are really marked down.

    1. Author

      @Andrew – Yeah, I heard that F-Stop was dying as well. They have had absolutely absurd supply chain issues over the last few years as well as poor customer service. But I heard that they are starting to get on the right track now.

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