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Road Tests

Road Tests :: Domke F-5XB Camera Bag

by , May 13, 2011

Road Test | Domke F-5XB Camera Bag

A simple camera bag that has some secrets…

Needless to say, as a Carryologist, I have plenty of bags. In fact, I often seek out excuses (“opportunities”) to purchase new bags. Last fall, I was visiting New York City for the first time to attend an event at the United Nations. The event was just one day but I was spending close to a week in the Big Apple doing what I do best – eat. I love going to restaurants and when I do, I always try to take pictures. Without discussing the myriad of issues with food photography, the one I was most concerned about was how I would carry the camera into the restaurant.

I have dedicated camera bags; everything from a Lowepro backpack to a Crumpler Five Million Dollar Home. I am very conscientious of how I present myself. It’s imperative to me that I maintain a level of respect for the restaurant and the other patrons, so I know I would feel just ridiculous walking in with a bag or pouch made of ballistic nylon or sporting bright colors and buckles.

How could I carry a digital SLR, an extra lens, a notepad, pen, and some misc accessories? I’d like a bag that was small as possible, classy in its looks, does not draw attention, and would not look out of place both in the city and in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Through a week of research I came across Domke bags. The brand might sound unfamiliar to you but its parent company shouldn’t. It’s owned by Tiffen, which all of you should know at least from their filters. The bag I picked was the F-5FXB Shoulder & Belt Bag in the RuggedWear line.

When it arrived, I knew the bag was for me. It measures 10″ wide 4.5″ deep and 7.25″ high. It has a velcro closure. There’s an externally accessible sleeve for accessories you need to reach quickly (i.e. cleaning cloth). The main compartment is closed with dual zippers with large, easy-to-grip, tabs. The inside is fully padded with a soft material. There’s an additional slot inside for more accessories. I commandeered a divider tab from my Crumpler and placed it inside the main compartment to separate my camera body and extra lens. Works like a charm.

Highlights

Size: So what do I love so much about this bag? First of all, it’s the perfect size. I carried a Canon 40D, 50mm f1.4 prime, 28-135 lens, cleaning cloth, lens pen, Lamy pen, Moleskine notebook, extra battery, extra memory card, and business cards. Honestly, this is all I really need for the few hours during a meal. I am really not digging the trend of moving towards large bags, especially ones with the lack of pockets for organization.

Shoulder Strap: The strap is great. It is just long enough to wear over the shoulder and have the bag hang comfortably and securely next to your waist, giving you a natural place to rest your hand. It also can be extended to go across your chest. But, it doesn’t go too much longer than that. Pay attention because this is key: there is not unnecessary slack in the bag. Some bags have so much strap material I feel they are made for 8 foot tall giants.

Another great feature of the Domke F-5XB is the grip material on the strap. As you separate the two buckles to extend the strap, you expose this really interesting gray rubber material that looks woven into the strap. It’s not a padded sliding cover that you see on most messenger bags. Instead, this is built right into the strap but, and this is genius, it only exists exactly in the area that touches your shoulder. It’s not present by your lower body or even on the reverse side. It is only grippy where it needs to be.

Zipper: I know this sounds like a silly thing to be highlighting but these are some seriously nice zippers. Of course they are YKK from Japan but what I love is the size. The tracks are large which means, at least in my experience, smoother and quieter operation. The bag also has large zipper tabs which are great to get a grip on especially in winter, when you’re wearing gloves.

Rugged: I know this is what you’ve all been waiting for. The F-5XB is available in a variety of colors but the specific variation I purchased was part of the RuggedWear line. What makes the bag rugged is the material – it’s made of breathable cotton canvas. It comes with a tin of wax which you can apply, then heat, to create a water-resistant barrier. With proper care, this bag should last a lifetime in all kinds of acclimate weather. Did you pick up a Barbour jacket this winter? This is the bag for you.

Lowlights

Honestly, not much to dislike about this bag except, perhaps, the price. I purchased mine for just under $80 from Amazon and compared to other bags of the size, this is a pretty high price point. I also think that the bottom could have used some tabs or different material since it’s the one that will get dirty quickest, touching various dirty surfaces.

Best suited to

Short photgraphy sessions: It works great for outtings where you know you won’t need access to more than 2 lens, a flash, or tripod. If you are doing a large photoshoot, you probably already have a larger bag for that. This is for a walk through Central Park or taking portraits for a friend’s wedding. Or, food pictures during lunch or dinner.

Classy gatherings where you need to be discrete: If you’re covering a sports event, people almost expect you to have the AP vest and lens holster. But when you’re at a nice function, you want to be as discrete as possible.

Not suited to

Carrying a lot of gear: If you need to carry a lot of gear, especially more than 2 lenses, flash units, tripods, charger, etc, this bag is a bad fit. It also (only) has 3 compartments so those looking for dedicated pockets for keys, sunglasses, water bottle, pens, etc are out of luck.

Any niggles?

Would love to see it come with just one divider tab for the main compartment. Also some more color choices (muted orange, navy, charcoal, etc) would really be nice.

Any envy for a similar bag?

To be honest, I have not had much luck finding classically-designed, straight-forward bags. I love “tactical” as much as the next guy but sometimes you just want a simple bag. I think things are looking up though, as designers are embracing the “throwback” mantra of simple-is-better. Though much larger in size and a different format, I am really digging the Incase Ari Marcopoulos Camera bag. The messenger bag has a very muted look and is very purposefully designed to hold a camera.

Conclusion

You know how we roll at Carryology. We love well-made, simple gear and the Domke F-5XB is no exception. It rocks a rugged, classic look, is weather-resistant, comfortable to wear, holds just enough gear, and doesn’t draw unnecessary attention. The price-point is a little high but you pay for quality and the bag will last you a lifetime.

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