Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Domke F-3x - 5 months on

It's hard to imagine that I once just carried one body, and one kit lens, and that was it. Incredible. One year later, it's one gripped body, 2-3 lenses, 2 small light mods, a flash, notebook/pen, plastic rain cover, cleaning stuff, and various other bric-a-brac. And I'm still travelling lightly! Obviously, the original nylon Nikon-branded shoulder bag which could hold one consumer body sans grip and one lens (and maybe a small prime in a pinch) would not do. A well-timed trip to New York brought me to photography mecca, B and H (an ampersand is official, but for some reason Blogger refuses to let me use it). Steps away from my hotel, I would wander around, listening to the conveyor belt, the stereotypical New York accents, and the mind-boggling selection of gear. I could spend several months inside perusing the shelves. Maybe I'm just weird like that.

I was hunting for a bag that was low-profile-ish and large enough to grow into. I also wanted to spend less than $70. That is tough criterion, especially when a nice Think Tank bag can run upwards of $170. I was looking at various Tamrac, Lowepro, Tenba, and other offerings. I was enamored with none of them, and all gave off the "high-tech" smell. By chance, I was wandering around the used section of B and H when I found it: a lightly used Domke F-3x with a divider missing for $69.99. Coming from the world of padded, waterproof, high-tech bags to an unpadded canvas satchel was difficult, so I asked for some advice from an employee. My answer was swift, direct and typically New York: "Get the Domke, that other bag is shit." Point well taken.

I've now used this bag for 5 months. At the time, I thought it was ridiculously large. I mean, it is billed as a "Super Compact" bag, after all. This was not idea of super compact. I had only one body, one zoom and one prime. I was starting to think I made a mistake. Over time, however, I was slowly converted to the cult of Domke.

It collapses to a small size when it's not stuffed, and magically enlarges when you do need to stuff it to the gills. Now, when stuffed to the gills, I have a D90 with grip, 18-105 lens attached, 50mm f/1.8 AF-D, 70-210 Series E f/4 telephoto (manual focus, baby!), SB-600 in its case, homemade flash softbox and various other small objects. And the guy at B and H pointed out that I could get a seamstress to modify it as my needs changed. Good point. I like hax as much as the next nerd.

It hugs my body (well, my ass) when it's on my shoulder, and while it isn't totally low-profile, it doesn't automatically tag you as the guy with the camera. I could have my camera in a lunch box, but I think a line needs to be drawn between low-profile and functionality. At least it's not a Billingham.

The lack of padding isn't really that big of a deal. I mean, I used to baby my stuff but now I throw it around like a real pro. 30,000 actuations does that to a person. The gear has not been damage for lack of padding. I naturally end up a bit more careful when you're aware of the vulnerability of the gear. I find myself putting a hand around the bag to cradle it from harm, and I find the motion quite natural. More room for stuff and lighter bag. I can deal with that.

The single clip used to hold the flap down takes some getting used to, and some breaking in the soften. Wrap the ring the clip attaches to with gaff tape. It really helps to protect the metal and also to minimize noise from the metal parts jangling while running.

The shoulder strap is wide and imbued with rubber thread to keep it from slipping, which is a godsend. I bought the optional Postal Pad with it as well as an insurance policy if the lack-of-padded-strap was a dealbreaker. I leave the pad at home now. It just ruins the streamlined feel of the plain bag. I find it also doesn't add much to the comfort side. Mind you, my bag is still comparatively light. Those will FF bodies and f/2.8 zooms might disagree with me. It's only $13, and you can always sell it for food if you don't need it.

A new Domke F-3x in Canada would cost $190. I would have put the missing divider aside anyway. I think I got a pretty good deal.


Light, low profile, retro, "expandable", comfortable, machine washable.


Needs swivels on the shoulder strap, needs better handle (it's a skinny bit of cotton strap that's flat and unsuited for carrying with one hand. As a short shoulder strap, it sort of works.).