Finding the perfect camera bag is like trying to find the holy grail. Talk to most photographers and they’ll recount tales of how many bags they’ve had and how they are still searching for the one that satisfies all their needs. And therein lies the problem. Different photographers are looking for different things from their bag and this is largely driven by the genre of photography they pursue. A street photographer, probably using a compact camera system and a couple of lenses, needs a small lightweight shoulder bag whereas a landscape photographer is looking for a backpack that will hold various amounts of equipment and personal items like rainproofs, clothing and perhaps some food and drink. The problem is that many photographers overlap into different genre so you can start to see the conundrum.
Over the years the number of manufacturers has mushroomed and the styles of bags has exploded in an attempt to help satisfy those needs.
However one manufacturer has a design which has been around for 40 years and which has achieved legendary status. Enter the Domke F2, the original shooters bag designed by Jim Domke himself and introduced in 1976. Sure there have been slight developments in the material used but the basic principles remain.
The bag was used by photojournalists around the world because its ethos was based on a no frills, functional approach which enabled photographers to access their gear quickly and get the shots. And make no mistake the gear was there to be used not cossetted away in a highly padded bag sealed in with a multitude of zips and flaps. The old adage "if it ain’t broke don’t fix it" could have been written for the F2. But in truth it is a bit of a marmite bag, you either love it or hate it.
So what did I think when I tested the bag over five days in Paris?
I guess I should start by stating what I was looking for in a bag. As a travel photographer my first criteria was a shoulder bag. With the need to frequently change lenses a shoulder bag is much more convenient to use, a benefit which I believe outweighs the comfort of carrying a rucksack style bag when walking long distances. I use Fuji X series cameras and lenses and want the bag to hold two bodies, each of which has a lens attached, to save time and always be ready for the shot. In addition I wanted to carry a couple more lenses and other accessories. I have been using a Billingham Hadley bag, which is also a highly reputable bag, and whilst this is a lovely bag and superbly made, I was finding it a tad small and I had to stack lenses in order to fit them in.
My F2 was the Rugged style of waxed cotton which looks lived in from new. One of the key features that you notice immediately is how lightweight the bag is. This is a function of the lack of thick padding which itself divides opinion with photographers. Some will say there isn’t sufficient protection but I disagree. I never felt that after subjecting the bag to airline, metro and bus travel that my gear was in anyway likely to be damaged.
The next thing that is immediately apparent is the sheer amount of gear the bag holds. The F2 is shipped with a 4 compartment divider which can be placed at either end or in the middle of the bag. With two cavernous end pockets and a couple of smaller pockets at the front of the bag there should be ample room for most photographic needs. In my case this enabled me to fit two Fuji X bodies with lenses attached, two further lenses, flash, lens hoods, Lee Seven5 filter kit, cloths, SD cards, cable release and head torch. All this was contained in the main compartment and front pockets leaving the end pockets to hold other items like hat, gloves, bottle of water, snacks, mini tripod and a travel umbrella. There is also a slip pocket at the rear of the bag to hold maps, papers or even a small tablet.
In truth I felt that when the bag was filled like this it was a little long, however I think it’s better to have that facility to fit in those extras when you require them.
The construction of the bag was quality and the Rugged version is supplied with it’s own tin of reproofing wax. I wouldn’t say that the bag is waterproof, perhaps weather resistant is more appropriate, and you would need to fully pull the flaps down to prevent problems in a torrential downpour.
The wide webbing strap incorporated a non slip feature on the underside and was extremely comfortable to carry. As a user of compact system camera I really liked the low profile (height) of the bag. All too often bags are simply too deep meaning you either stack lenses or you waste a lot of space. The F2 certainly optimized its space and I found that with limited padding the bag seemed to conform to my body. There were however a couple of occasions when I had to turn cameras around because I could feel them digging into my side. But with a quick change that was soon sorted. Another point to be aware of is that because of limited side reinforcement the gear does sag towards the middle of the bag.
The other benefit is that the top of the bag can be used as a lens changing platform without the need to remove the bag from your shoulder.
The bag was certainly very easy to use, deserving of its name the shooters bag. Pull up the cover flap and all my gear was immediately accessible and, when required, the two metal clips simply secure the lid in place, no zips, no fuss, no delay.
If the padded base and compartment section are removed the bag can be flattened to fit in a suitcase should you wish to transport your gear to your location in a roller case.
So my verdict after 5 days use is that I’m impressed. The F2 holds all the gear I need plus some essential extras, though perhaps some might be tempted to carry too much. I felt my gear was protected adequately, it was a dream to work from and comfortable to carry. I did find the bag a little long and the end pockets a little baggy but then it held all those little extras that my Billingham couldn’t. In terms of weather resistance it coped admirably with the showers we encountered on our trip but I would like to test it in a downpour to assess its resistance to water.
Jim Domke certainly designed a classic 40 years ago and the fact that it’s stood the test of time and still performs superbly means that I would have to rate it as Highly Recommended.
The retail of the Domke F2 Rugged as at today is £139.00