“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
Jack Kerouac, 1958 – The Dharma Bums
Well, one day I’ll find the right bag, and it will be simple… Any photographer with even the faintest hint of gear-lust will admit to their never ending search for the photographic Holy Grail – not the perfect camera, or even the perfect lens, but the Perfect Bag.
I haven’t been involved with photography for very long (at least compared to some…) but I’ve already gone through my fair share. I’ve used brands like Lowepro, Kata, Crumpler and ThinkTank Photo. I’ve had backpacks, slings and shoulder bags. I even went through a period using an old J. Boag & Son Brewery worker’s satchel – I don’t think I’ve ever seen heavier canvas. During this time I’ve also gone through several bushwalking rucksacks – from Kathmandu, Osprey, Aarn and finally One Planet (this may seem irrelevant but bare with me!).
What I’ve learned during this time is that I can’t stand fiddly design. Some brands (Kata and Osprey, I’m looking at you) seem to think that adding ‘Features’ is the best way to get stock off shelves. Given that they’re two of the biggest players in their respective fields they may have a point, but nonetheless I’ve seen nothing to convince me that Features amount to anything more than Stuff to Break in the Field. Unfortunately, it seems that this mentality has caught on with the masses and it’s almost impossible to go into a camera store today and see anything but over-padded, over-designed sacks that scream Camera Bag.
Now, this brings me to Domke. I’ve owned and used several Domke products – first a couple of 802s (Mum ‘borrowed’ the first as a laptop bag…) and then a canvas F-10, and I’ve just replaced the canvas version with the identical model in waxed Ruggedwear. Domke is a bit of an oddball in today’s photographic industry. They use minimal padding, avoid zips where possible, favour canvas over synthetics, despise graphics and have a website from the dark-ages (try getting your head around the F-5XC internal layout…).
But what they do really, really well is design camera bags that work brilliantly in the field.
I don’t think the Domke F-10 is quite the ‘right bag’ I mentioned above, but it’s bloody close. Aesthetically it’s old-school, but in a workman-like way completely at odds with the stiff-upper-lip, Harris Tweed of Billingham (sorry to all you Hadley fans…). I’ve carried mine through the backstreets of Mumbai, Ahmedabad, New York, Amsterdam, Madrid and Paris, and I’ve never had a moment of hassle… For a street shooter I think the old adage of ‘not looking like a camera bag’ still carries weight, and the F-10 pulls it off beautifully.
Size-wise it’s a perfect fit for a Micro Four Thirds kit with a few primes, or even a couple of zooms. I hate traveling with too much weight over my shoulder, so if you’re the ‘bring everything’ type then this isn’t the bag for you. That said, I find it big enough to take enough kit to get the job done and be comfortable while doing it, and that’s what matters to me.
It’s layout it simple functionalism at it’s best. It has one large centre space with two velcro dividers, protected by a flap held in place by a length-adjustable metal clip and a large strip of velcro. I’ve read criticisms of both the clip and velcro so I’d like to talk about that for a moment. First, having owned several Domkes over an extended period I can assure you that the clip loosens and one-handed operation becomes second nature. I like the velcro because it stops the whole bag falling open when you grab the handle and haven’t fastened the clip. It also protects against sneaky hands. If you don’t like it go and by another strip of velcro from Spotlight and block it off – not rocket science…
There’s one largish zipped pocket on the front of the bag, big enough for an iPad Mini, a couple of spare batteries, filters and whatnot, a small zipped pocket under the lid that I find perfect for spare memory cards and cables, and a flat, open pocket on the back of the bag that’s great for tickets, street maps and so on.
Build quality is typical Domke – straightforward and dependable. Material and workmanship are both first class with some really nice design touches, like the heavy canvas strap that runs continuously under the body of the bag for a bit of extra security. If you’re coming from a classic canvas Domke it’s worth noting that the Ruggedwear version is considerably lighter – time will tell how it holds up… For what it’s worth the bag comes with a little thing of wax to reapply the Ruggedwear finish.
However, there are two build quality issues I’d like to address. First, while the rubber thread in the strap is a great idea and works perfectly to keep it on your shoulder, it does not stand up to heavy use. The thread has started to break up on my previous canvas F-10 (after 2.5 years of heavy use). Likewise, after heavy use the interior padding stops sticking properly to the velcro dividers. The disappointing thing is that in every other way there’s no reason to think that the modern Domke’s wouldn’t last for the decades that you hear about from old-timers. Dare I say that ‘features’ have got in the way of timeless design?
– Simple functional design
– Fantastic build and material quality
– Understated aesthetics
– Zips where you need ’em, flaps where you don’t
– Lighter Ruggedwear canvas
– Gripper strap doesn’t last
– Internal velcro doesn’t last
Anyway, enough babbling, here’s the pictures you really wanted 🙂