Domke F-Series Bags
Note: all photos are of the Domke F6.
The Domke F-series bags are classic ‘shoulder’ camera bags and I tend to use them when I need to carry a fair amount of kit and where the pace is going to be reasonably sedate. I may also expect to be putting the bag down a fair amount and working from it as a ‘floor-based’ kit carrier.
They are constructed from weatherproof canvas (although they do make ballistic nylon versions). This means that they are relatively quiet to operate and do not make that nasty synthetic scraping sound as they rub against other fabrics. The fabric is also nicely malleable, which means the bags take form around your hips/side as you carry them, which improves comfort. Some bags are padded boxes and these are not. When first starting out in photography, like many, I was seduced bags that touted superlative protection and snazzy materials (usually with bright colours). However, what many such bags have missed (and this is much, much harder to market) is ‘real world field utility’ under the sort of conditions street, reportage and documentary photographers actually face. The result is that I now use the very bags that seemed least appealing to me when I started out.
Right, back to Domke F-series bags. Thankfully, the available colours are pleasantly innocuous and will not damage your retinas. Instead blending into normal clothing, or (in my case) the environments I work in. I went for olive, but they do a good navy blue, black and ‘desert’. For me personally, there have been times that I’ve needed to hide and so nice muted and natural colours are always going to be my favourites (and yes, I do often wear clothes with similarly muted colours for the same reason). Additionally, if bags don’t particularly contrast the clothes you wear, they are less conspicuous. The F-series do not look like expensive camera bags, although they are well made. They look rather like generic utility bags.
Rather than using a padded ‘shell’, which gives the entire bag a rigid feel, they make use of padded inserts and a padded base, but unpadded exterior walls and top.
The inserts comprise of multiple cells with fixed dimensions (which is less flexible than the likes of Lowepro) that are held in place with Velcro.
In the larger bags, the inserts can be moved around quite a bit, but less flexibility is possible with the smaller bags. This means you end up with a combination of padded sections and unpadded sections. The unpadded ones still sit on top of the padded base, but only benefit from thick canvas for side impact protection. Individual cells within the inserts are big enough to fit my porky Canon 85 f 1.2 L II with the reversed hood attached (just) so big enough for any lens you’re likely to own.
The overall combination of padded and unpadded sections, means that compared to the ‘super padded’ kind, you have a much smaller bag for carrying a given amount of kit.
Personally, I have never enjoyed carrying something that feels like a beach cooler box, so this balance of qualities works for me. Bags need to provide some protection, but some seem to be designed with high-speed car accidents in mind, or falls from the top of Everest. If you are careful and hold onto your bags, your own personal wellbeing is likely to be the greater concern!
Access to the peripheral pouches is simple. Across the F-series range, some pouches have Velcro and others are just ‘drop pouches’ There are also zip compartments. All are very handy for accessing ancillaries, or whatever you have placed inside. Its back to basics stuff and you’ll not be fighting with peculiar fasteners.
There is no Velcro on the main compartment. The F6 and F2 utilise high quality metal clips. This means no loud tearing sounds that can be heard from a block away while you are trying to put a subject at ease (or work silently in a dangerous place).
The weight of the metal clips and the flexible nature of the fabric means that even when not secured, the top drapes nicely into position and the bag remains closed to dirt and debris. The one area you do have to be careful is with those metal clips. If you have any exposed glass surfaces in the bag, just be careful not to clonk them with the clips. It shouldn’t happen (and there are no sharp edges on the clips), but it is possible.
The straps are nice broad canvas with an inserted rubber ‘thread’. It grips, but does not scrape. There are no huge buckles or other stuff to remove ears when you unsaddle! I like my ears. It can also be adjusted very quickly. You can buy pads for the straps, but I’ve never felt the need. If was am going to carry super heavy loads over long distances, I’d use a different bag.
Another subtle benefit of the canvas construction is that they pick up scars after difficult experiences (like we do) and after time look weathered and a bit tired (hopefully unlike us). This means they don’t scream, ‘please rob me’. This particular bag is about 4 years old and has some fading due to sunlight.
I’ve got both the Domke F6 and much larger F2 model. The latter is quite large and carries the largest and most extensive kit I would ever considering walking around with and the F6 is my rangefinder/compact kit bag. In the F2 I will sometimes go out with the Canon SLR, plus 85 1.2L and a Mamiya 7 kit. With the latter, it would be a couple of Leica M bodies and bunch of lenses.
So there you have it: the Domke F-series bags. They are not perfect, but they fulfil their role beautifully and at a very reasonable price. Mine are here to stay and I don’t doubt will last many more years. They’re not flash and they won’t stand out on the camera shop shelf, but if your needs are anything like mine, they deserve a good look.
…. however, if I am going to be more mobile and need a more ‘dynamic bag’, you’ve guessed it, I use a different series of bags – Lowepro Slingshots to be precise. I can transfer most of my F2 contents into the Lowepro Slingshot 200 in about a minute and the same goes for moving from the F6 to the Slingshot 100. This means greater speed and less thinking for me. Four bags, but only two systems. This keeps things simple and if it won’t fit int the F2 or Slingshot 200, it doesn’t come along!
I do not use or particularly recommend the Slingshot 300, because I think it is too large and can contain too much kit for the single strap. If I can load up the 200 to the point of discomfort after a few days shooting, then the 300 is too large for the same strap.
I’m going to be writing up the Lowepro Slingshots soon….