Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's not like other bags, so know what you're buying.
The Long Version:Domke bags are different. They're not like the Think Tank or Crumpler bags that I also use on a regular basis, and they're not like the box full of Lowepro and Tamrac bags that I have in my closet. They aren't heavily padded with lots of movable dividers, and aren't made from plastics that have been woven until they act like fabric. They're soft bags made from canvas in natural colours, with simple metal clips and understated styling. They're the comfortable, broken-in jeans of the camera bag world.
Arrayed in the photo above is a good garage-sale's worth of Olympus gear. The E-1 (reviewed) with a battery grip is about as big as any sub-$10k camera on the market; the rest of the collection is the 11-22mm wide angle lens, 50mm f/2 macro, and 50-200mm telephoto, which is a kit that can accomplish just about anything. The Lensbaby 3G is fun to have, the Ezybalance (reviewed) makes the world look right, and the little Manfrotto tripod was well worth the money. But since this is a camera bag review, the next photo probably won't be a big surprise.
For a bag that really isn't very big, the Domke F-6 holds it all easily. If I got rid of the tripod mount on the 50-200, I could stack the 50 Macro on top of the lensbaby, and free up a pocket to hold a flash or another lens. My 1.4x teleconverter could be stacked under the 11-22 without any problem at all. I can fit a couple of batteries, my Pelican 7060 flashlight, small Pod beanbag, and sunglasses in the front zippered pocket without getting rid of the tripod. The pocket under the top flap holds my wireless remote, bubble level, and other odds and ends. There's also a slash pocket along the back for maps, travel documents, or a few DVDs on their way back to Queen Video.
My Domke F6 is the only bag that I've ever really liked on a personal level.
But take a good look at the construction of the bag. The canvas is all that there is. The bottom has a little padding, and there's an insert with four padded compartments that can be shifted from side-to-side within the bag, but this is essentially an unpadded bag. If you want your gear wrapped in foam rubber and body armour, look for something from Kata or Crumpler instead. If you don't mind carrying a bag that loses a lot of its capacity to padding and always feels like you have a Coleman cooler strapped across your back, they're an excellent option. Some people will want the feeling that their gear has more protection when they're working or traveling, but it was my three-week trip through Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Los Angeles that made me really appreciate the Domke's versatility. I never went anywhere without my camera bag.
The "Classic" series of Domke bags are made from canvas, and they come in a few different colours. Mine is "Sand," which is probably the most popular, but others may include blue, black, and green. There's also the Ballistic series made from nylon, but it's the natural canvas that gives this bag its charm. It's the only camera bag that I have that actually changes shape because of what's inside of it, and that makes it very comfortable to carry. It moves naturally, and is organic in a way that Crumpler cases and strawberries are not. It's just a charming little bag that holds quite a lot.
I've had my Domke F-6, which is A Little Bit Smaller, for over a year now. It's the bag that I carry when I go to the zoo, with either a tripod stuck over the shoulder strap, or my monopod tucked through it and secured with a biner clip for good measure. It's been around the world, it's been on weekend trips, and it's been through the washer/dryer several times as well. It's endured it all with a slightly rumpled charm.
But just like a comfortable pair of jeans, I don't always fit into my favourites from last year. I've decided that it's time for me to look for another Domke, because I need one that's just a little bit bigger to hold my 35-100 lens. A very wise man once wrote "nobody ever wished that they bought a camera bag that's just a little bit smaller." Notwithstanding the wisdom in that, it's amazing just how big a little bag can be.