I am one of those few lucky people who has found the perfect camera bag. And beyond it being just the perfect camera bag, it’s also the perfect bag for so much more than just carrying my camera. This miracle bag, this thing that I love, is the Domke F-802 Reporter’s Satchel. Minimal, lo-fi, bare-bones, plain, humble… however you want to emphasize its simplicity, this has been my bag of choice for many, many years.
I’m partial to Domke bags to begin with, but I like the F-802 satchel the most because of its versatility. It can accommodate camera systems of so many different shapes and sizes, as well as other items completely unrelated to photography. Compared to more traditional shoulder-bag designs, this bag is more of a messenger bag; it has a large flap to cover the tall interior. It’s a strange shape to get used to at first, but once you do, it’s hard to go back to shallower, wider designs. Another reason I like the shape of this bag so much is that it fits the kind of gear I work with. It holds my Mamiya 7 II with two lenses perfectly. It holds my Mamiya RB67 with two lenses perfectly. It even holds my Linhof Super Technika IV with two lenses perfectly. And besides a body and two lenses, there’s always room to spare to hold several rolls of film or some film holders, a pocket up front to hold my light meter, and another pocket to hold whatever other accessories I might need (maybe a flash, maybe my eyeglasses, or maybe a water bottle). This bag is perfectly suited to more minimal shooting kits with one or two lenses total, especially when you’re actively shooting and walking, which describes how I tend to work.
More than its ability to contain my typical shooting setups, what I actually like best about the Domke F-802 is that it’s the best bag for holding more than just camera gear. I’m an advocate of minimal packing when traveling, but I’m also a film photographer. It’s a contradictory lifestyle, but someone has to live it. When traveling, this veritable Mary Poppins bag can somehow accommodate more than a week’s worth of clothes, toiletries, a Mamiya 7 II, two lenses, and 25+ rolls of film. I’m impressed every time I pack for an upcoming trip at how much I can manage to fit into this slender bag. It is the sole bag I brought on multi-week trips to China, Peru, Sweden, the Southwest USA, and several other places in the world, and it’s also the first bag I reach for when just going upstate for the weekend. I’ve also used it as a bag for grocery shopping, where it perfectly holds entire bunches of kale and chard, long leeks, whole pineapples, and 5-lb bags of rice.
What makes it so perfect, though? Besides its shape, which I described above, it’s also the modest materials and inconspicuous appearance. It’s a bland black canvas bag with minimal padding. It’s crushable. The two front pockets seem endlessly deep and wide. The front zip pockets also seem to accommodate anything I could ever want to fit in them. The huge rear slip pocket is also sized to hold anything from a 13" MacBook Pro to a folded jacket to a ream of paper. This pocket is mirrored in the middle of the bag, just in front of the main compartment, which is a perfect spot for separating narrower items like papers and cables. And then there’s the famous Domke gripper strap, which is sewn directly onto this bag, compared to larger sized bags with a removable strap. I’m a fan of having the strap sewn on since there’s less hardware rattling and a better, less bouncy feel when carrying the bag on long walks. As cliched as it sounds anymore, I like this camera bag because it doesn’t look like a camera bag. And maybe I also like this camera bag because it doesn’t even feel like a camera bag. It’s really just a lightly padded messenger bag with a surprisingly good amount of storage space. What more could you really want from a bag?
Let me know what camera bag you love in the Comments section, below.