Book review 1; Stay This Moment

There are always early influences that drive and help focus us when we take on any long term endeavour. These influences are pivotal to our development. Some are remembered frequently, some work away at our subconscious quietly, either way they are part of the puzzle that is us.

There were many, many (many) books in my formative years in photography. They were my inspiration, my tuition and often my haven. Lofty goals, feeding unrealistic expectations blossomed from these tomes, but don't we all strive for too much to reach enough. Possibly the getting of wisdom is recognising when/what is enough.

"StayThis Moment" by Sam Abell was not the first book I purchased, but was the first book that changed my view of how and why I photograph on a fundamental level.

Sam Abell once said in an interview "I believe in the staying power of the quieter image". This simple sentence freed me to take my images as they felt right. Early influences pushed and pulled me in many directions, but Sam's comment strengthened my own belief that you don't have to control, simply watch and wait and the image will come as it should. 

This was a long time ago mind you, so actually doing that was patchy at best, but the seed was sewn.

A time when his thinking and the inspiration of his technique resonate strongly with me is in Japan. Even with a long (20 year) gap between the first influences of his work and my own discovery of Japan, his way of seeing and philosophy is often on my mind. It fits very well with both the photographic subject matter and the Japanese way of life.

Sam championed strong light, early or late and especially the rare light before a storm breaks. My wife knows what I mean when I say "Sam Abell light". This did not stop him mastering all light. Many of his strongest images are in subdued or poor light.

Another practical idea of his that stuck with me was to compose from back to the front. This is a good tip for those why want to do documentary work as the image on a single plane can be literally single dimensional if over used. Allowing the total story to be told in a single image is a special and difficult technique to master. It is worth the effort.

The book itself is divided up like a retrospective portfolio, with chapters on Places (Canada, Russia, Japan), specific assignments (The West, Gardens, Shakers) and collections of miscellaneous images under a common umbrella (Canoeing, Faraway Places etc.). Most of the images follow Sam's career with national geographic, with some private, unpublished and earlier ones mixed in. They range from 1970 to the late 1980's. This is not a comprehensive work, but rather a "best of" up to a point in his career of review before change. I followed NG magazine for a few years, looking out for the names I knew, but Sam's work only featured a few times more. He went on to be a picture editor for the magazine and I think taught and lectured.

The reproduction was excellent at the time of publishing, true in feel and texture and beautifully bound. It lacks the pictorial "polish" of newer books*, but maybe dodged the bullet of over processing that many older works, recently republished suffer from.

He worked with Kodachrome and Leica's, sighting 28mm as his favourite focal length, but using 24-90mm also. 

Below are some badly copied images from the book. I am not going to try harder for a couple of reasons. The first is out of respect for the work. They are not mine, so they will not be manipulated by me, nor are they ever going to be as good as the sanctioned images in either the book or the internet. They are simply and roughly added as a taster. Assume a richer and deeper palette (and no sheen on the pages).

My very first blog post was entitled "Lemons and the Kremlin". The image above (bottom left) was the inspiration for the title. the image of the cowboy branding was used as an example by Abell in a Popular photography interview as an example of "back to front" composition. The sitting cowboys are in perfect "Sam Abell" light.

These images remind me that brilliant images and inspiring compositions are all around us. Michael Kenna does the same with mono. There is always something to photograph, just look and see.

I hope I have learned from him to be gentle, respectful, watchful and clear in my vision. 

This is not the only book he published, and I have two more, One on gardens and one on the process of image construction, but this is the seminal work of a unique image craftsman in my opinion. 

*Many of my older, favourite books are near technically perfect in my memory, but fall far short of perfection when viewed years later. I think this false memory haunts a lot of passive film worshippers also.

The Domke F802. The Bag that had to be.

Most of my bag purchases are based on 60% desire, 30% practicality and 10% limitation imposed by the price/need equation. This has lead inevitably to lots of bags for lots of situations but no right bag for just "getting everything there and being organised".

The latest quest started innocently enough. I am off to Japan in April and thought I might come across a special, bespoke version of one of my favourite bags, so some refresher research would be a good idea. The thing that kept coming up was that of all the bags I have, there is not one I can work from with everything I need properly compartmentalised and ready to go. What is the point of a bag that theoretically holds every thing, but only in it's "broken down" configuration (most brands are guilty of this when advertising, but we need to know the real capacity for a working photographer). I do not want to have to fish out a flash from under three other things, have no where to put a lens during a change or have to change and re change lenses rather than have them ready to go, on a body. You want to be able to just drop things into their assigned spot without that very unprofessional look of not having enough hands.

One of the beauties of M43 gear is that you can carry that SLR kit you always wanted to use, but could not comfortably lift. My work kit is usually an OMD (+JB grip) with 12-40 Pro mounted, OMD (+JB grip) with 40-150 Pro mounted, 2 primes (25/75) with the option of one these being on a third camera, 1-2 flash units with controller, a little flash, flash modifiers and the possibility of adding 1 or 2 more lenses for long days (imagine carrying that in Canon or Nikon). I also need my cards and batteries organised and easily accessible and space for a note book, keys and a decent size diffuser/reflector that are preferably outside of the main compartment. I like also the bag to hold it's shape when full. Picky much?!

And there you go. Note the almost 100% adoption of metal, screw in hoods. The 40-150 in particular sits nose down a bit better with a rigid hood, but the original is excellent for landscapes as it retracts easily for filter use.

And there you go. Note the almost 100% adoption of metal, screw in hoods. The 40-150 in particular sits nose down a bit better with a rigid hood, but the original is excellent for landscapes as it retracts easily for filter use.

This came out of the blue. I had rarely even looked at the F8xx series and really did not understand them that well or even overly like the look of them.

The think that made the Domke perfect and superior to all other contenders is the size of the outside pockets (frikkin' huge) and the ability to add two (or more) pouches when needed. The bigger pouch can hold an older 80-200 f2.8 and the smaller one easily holds a big flash or a protected 75-300 zoom. As you can see, nothing is cramped. The cameras are smaller than the average SLR, but the big lens, flash units and other stuff are all full scale. The flash guns can still fit in their protective cases or two can fit in one pocket. The Pen can go into a soft case for protection or be mounted on a prime lens in the main bag and the second prime put in the pocket. 

No doubt my entire kit (above plus another OMD and Pen mini with two more primes) could fit to get from A to B, but as a working kit everything above has its place.

With Tenba insert. It even matches.

With Tenba insert. It even matches.

One of the other bags that came up during my research junket was the Tenba Messenger. The bag was good, but it lacked the needed pockets. The insert (Pro 2) was however available on its own for peanuts ($21 U.S.). If Domke had made this insert for this bag it could not have been a better fit. Length is perfect, width is ideal and gives the bag more shape. The height is just right for my gear although I think big SLR cameras might sit on top of the insert if mounted on longer lenses. The flap eared dividers allow two bodies to sit on top, protecting the central section and the internal small dividers allow a few arrangement choices (I have one hard up against the end of the insert to hold a few filters or a cleaning kit and the second splits the middle section to separate the two primes.

Anything taken out, goes back where it came from. 

The slim front pocket can hold an Ipad or fold down diffuser, newspaper or small laptop and there is one on the back slightly larger. Because of the soft canvas materiel of the bag, the front pocket moulds to hold some quite large items.

The top flap protects all of the internal area with weather resistant canvas (already tested at a swimming pool where I knelt on the top flap and the water "beaded" well). The flap is split into two halves, each big enough to put a clenched fist into. Watch this flap though as on my first day using it, I forgot to zip up the battery side and the contents dropped into the back pocket and onto the floor.

One thing I was not sure of and could not find any evidence of is the attachment of the pouches (901/902) even though Domke says they can. Yes they do. The two velcro strips are placed to be a good, tight fit on the side part of the "all around the bag" shoulder strap and the bag has a clip on the side to keep it's profile slim that can be clipped onto the supplied metal ring for extra security. The small pouch fits within the profile of the bag, the bigger one slightly wider.

The bag is not as hip hugging as say an F3x rugged wear, but the hardened top and semi rigid shape is still comfortable, while keeping it's integrity.

I went for a green one over black (or tan) for the following reasons.

It is cooler (temperature that is - fashion I will leave up to you), the Domke logo matches the bag, where on the black one it is red, the black canvas fades at a different speed than it's straps, giving older bags a dark grey canvas/yellow brown strap look (been through that with my old F2), while the green tends to age evenly, the green does not scream "computer bag", indeed it looks a cross between a casual satchel and army surplus bag re tasked and finally, I already had two green pouches that had never been used. 

The "perfect" M43 bag tends to be small, as the original premise (and promise) was for a light weight travel or street camera kit. As more and more people are starting to use mirrorless gear professionally, the reality is that you will get the odd larger lens. Remember, an empty space weighs nothing, so more room is seldom a waste. You can still make the most of the overall smaller form factor to comfortably carry your ideal kit, configured how you want. I once owned basically this kit in Canon*. No way could I carry it all comfortably or carry it in a "ready to go" configuration, so I would usually limit myself to 2-3 lenses and hope for the best. 

When full of the above M43 gear, the bag is not overly heavy and yes, it holds it's shape. it stays slimmer than the usual box shape bag and is easy to access. People have even commented on it, not realising it is a camera bag.

Another cool thing is the price. $135 au from Photo Video Extras (Australia), delivered in 3 days or $99 US from the usual suspects. This makes it cheaper than any other option except the basic Tenba satchel, now discontinued.

*Full and crop frame body, 17-40L, 35L (this would now would be a 40mm saving considerable weight), 50 macro, 85 f1.8 (or 100 macro), 135L and/or 70-200 F4L, 400 f5.6L.

The Filson Field bag medium, The other Filson

"Before there was the Filson field camera bag there was the Filson field bag (medium, green)."

A long search trying to find the perfect bag almost ended with a non camera bag. The Filson's caught my eye at a time when Billingham's were looking too "nice" and Domke's too "ordinary" and ONA bags too "almost, but not quite".

I decided I wanted rough 'n ready, but did not want to wait 10 years for a Billingham to get there.

My search coincided with the launch of the Filson camera bag range. The McCurry was far too big, the Harvey...not sure, but the original field bag looked the goods. Getting Filson in Australia is a bit of an issue. The freight from Filson was quoted at over $100 making the bag $400+ Australian! No Australian stockist and huge price variances on ebay etc. meant a long and frustrating search. Eventually I found one reasonably priced in one of the big American camera stockists' catalogues, so I built up an order and grabbed it. 

Love the look of it, the workmanship and styling, but I overlooked some small issues. I knew I needed an insert. No problem ($30 in the order for the bag), but the non camera bag design meant long straps, noisy buckles and a small entry point to improve weather sealing. All annoying one way or another.

A total disaster? No, not really. The bag is a lovely travel bag for a non photo specific trip. I don't use the insert, but just throw a camera in on top of some clothes. Part of me really likes this dynamic. It's a bit more old school and less precious. It is for the traveller who is showing more interest in the people they meet and places they see, than the working photographer. My wife made me some little padded bags years ago that I use if I want to add an extra lens or two.

The Filson camera field bag was released not long after (or I missed it when researching earlier), coming out in a darker caramel twill than the light camel colour of the field bags. This became my standard camera bag, but it has to share the job with others.

The Bag

The Field bag and one image with the Eos 30 for scale.

The straps are long, designed to allow "stuffing" of the bag. I have seen these attached to motorcycles as panniers, really filled to bursting. The chocolate brown leather work is thick, not slim like a Billingham, and soft to touch. Years of wearing in before wearing out. In strong light, the colour looks a little washed out, think dark sage crossed with spruce green.

A nice feature is the rear mounted lugs. They allow the bag to sit well when worm cross bodied. The back pocket is fairly shallow, so putting in an ipad is possible, but not as safe as in some bags. The bag also has two fairly useless side pockets, that are far too short to put anything precious in and won't hold a medium sized water bottle. Maybe a cloth or compass? The front pockets are excellent for safety, but are not huge and a bit fiddly to get to.

The second image above shows the insert. It works as it should, but somehow I feel it misses the point. While the camera field bag harmoniously suits it's purpose, the field bag is just not a made to measure camera bag. It is a rugged, general purpose bag that can also hold a camera while looking good doing it. Maybe larger gear in a taller insert would work better.

Why do I like it? I just do. Not everything we enjoy needs to be perfect or a perfect fit. Some things make you come to them, adapt and find a use for them.

Beauty and the beast, A Domke Duo.

My association with Domke bags goes back to their earliest days. When I first became interested in photography, the brands serious photographers lusted after were Domke, Billingham and Lowe Pro.

Billingham's were the Rolls Royce of bags, Domke's were the character filled journalists bags (designed by one) and the Lowe pro bags were the work horse problem solvers.

None of the brands had a lot of choice, Domke being the worst (best?) offender, with only the F2 at first, then F1 and F6 bags. I purchased two things in the late 80's that stayed with me for a long time. A Manfrotto 055 (still going but owned by someone else) and a black F2. The F2 has been given away, gifted back and used more or less consistently for 35 years and is pretty much the only thing that has not changed through my whole photographic life.

The only other Domke I own at the moment was a purchase of weakness. When in Japan last year I found a bag that I had not seen before, a F3x rugged wear olive. The rugged wear bags are lighter and more weather resistant than the standard canvas Domkes, but have only been available in brown with light trim as far as I knew. Japan has a special relationship with Domke, often getting special edition or bespoke bags for their market. I left the shop empty handed, but returned soon after. To put this into perspective, I was in the process of clearing out a lot of bags, two Domke f3x's (canvas olive and ballistic) included, so getting this was a little crazy.

Enough history, lets look at bags. Age before beauty, the F2.

Looking a bit aged (and dirty), the F2 black canvas.

Looking a bit aged (and dirty), the F2 black canvas.

Notice the colour variations? The main strap has been replaced because it faded a yellowish brown like the front straps and the anchor straps. It is a bit of a badge of honour having a faded Domke, but was really a bit too ugly for my tastes. Now I have to wait 10-15 years before the strap matches the rest! The bag still sits up proudly after all of these years.

Above is a detail shot of the most worn part of the bag and the "lid" pocket (great for valuables), the front straps and amazing "postal" shoulder pad. All Domke shoulder straps come with rubber veins running their length to eliminate slipping. The shoulder pad is very good at that also and is very efficient at absorbing downward pressure. The fluffy mess on the right is left from me cutting of a label clumsily, years ago.

What does it hold?

Simply put, enough gear to make your back ache, but doing it better than most bags its size.

The left hand image, shows it has room for a lot of M43 gear, but tends to swallow it. The compartments are fully flexible, with lots of options to buy (the main insert is even a replacement) and the bag hip hugs well even when full. Domke padding is light and thin, but effective. No doubt I could get a lot more in, especially if I use the end pockets that would hold a camera body with a short prime lens on. The end pocket shown has a neoprene lens bag for added protection and I have lined the bottom with thin foam for drop protection (my F2 has the old rigid wood panel with rubber coating floor). Nothing I have ever put in a Domke has ever been broken.

The right hand image is to show the height using the EOS 30 with grip for scale. Easily enough to hold a medium long lens upright (my 40-150 is on the right) or a pro Canon/Nikon body. All of the early Domke bags were designed for pro SLR's with motor drives and F2.8 zoom lenses or fast primes (I always picture in my head a pair of F3's and 20/35/85/180 kit).

The two front pockets are roomy enough for any phone, notebook a medium sized flash etc. The back has a full length pocket capable of taking a full sized ipad, but without protection.

Complaints? Only my usual one about a weather resistant pocket on the back without a top cover or drainage holes and I have been worrying for years that things will fall out of an open front pocket, but they never have.

Loves? Durability, consistency and functionality...big time. It sits really well on the hip.

Things that can be both good and bad. Carries lots, looks old and worn and is thinly padded.

Now the F3x.

The less rigid, rugged wear look. Remember this bag is only a year old.

The less rigid, rugged wear look. Remember this bag is only a year old.

Already looking like a worn in bag (probably why newer Domke bags don't seem to take with me, as they look too new compared to the F2), the rugged wear olive F3x is a darker, less military surplus and smoother looking fabric than the regular canvas version. 

As you can see from above, with nothing removed, it will squash into a suit case easily, but probably put it into a plastic bag as the fabric can leave waxy stains in some clothing and smells a little "musty", especially when recently re waxed. The lid also has a pocket, very secure for small important items and a back pocket big enough for an ipad (again no rain flap or drainage holes, grrrr). Note the two lugs for an optional carry handle or waist belt (the F2 has these as well).

The F3x only has one front clip*, making it easier to access quickly.

What does it hold?

 

Again the Canon Eos 30 with battery pack is used to show height as the Olympus cameras are swallowed.

The first slide is the standard configuration. The two inside pockets are canvas and extend all the way to the bottom, but are not anchored down. This is important as it gives the user more flexibility and allows some padding to be added to the bag's floor (like a folded scarf- handy thing to have) as the F3 only has a foam padded bottom. Again this bag swallows small gear. The lens in the right hand pocket is the 40-150 f2.8, so any older f2.8 or newer F4 full frame tele zoom will fit. My first F3 was purchased with a small full frame Canon kit in mind, which is what they were designed for.

If pushed it could hold 3 bodies, 17/25/75/40-150 f2.8/12-40, mini ipad, phone, note book and some flash gear, all with good access and would look surprisingly unstressed. It would also need the postal shoulder pad!

The second image shows the bag with a Domke optional insert, ideal for small lenses and the third is the same idea with a Billingham small, short insert. If you intend to carry two bodies use a bit of padding in the bags back pocket, as a rear placed body with lens on tends to stick into your hip.

Another set up that has worked is to use an F2 insert and push the big pockets aside making a a standard 4 section compartment.

The side pockets are huge, holding a camera body (the EM5 with grip in the one above is barely touching the sides), large prime, small zoom or flash at a pinch, but are again unpadded.

Unlike the F2, the F3 has a single front pocket that can easily hold an ipad and is weather sealed when the flap is down.

Complaints? The same back pocket one (if I wanted a bucket I would have bought one). The smell and slightly greasy feel I thought would bother me more, but really does not. The fabric is clearly softer and thinner than the canvas bags, so longevity will not be as good (probably longer than the camera industry as we know it). The shape and size are not ideal for mirrorless cameras, but the beauty of mirrorless is the easy to use size.

Loves. It feels like an unobtrusive old friend. 

*

A few thoughts on other Domke bags I have owned.

The F6 is basically an F3 without side pockets. It is a nice little bag, ideal as a mirrorless kit bag as it is more square than tall, so small gear does not disappear inside. the front pocket is zipped also.

The F5b is, I think the ideal day bag for a mirrorless street kit or a small SLR kit. Even though it is tiny, it carries easily 2 OMD cameras with small to medium primes attached to each or a smallish (75-300) tele zoom. If I had one it would be coming to Japan next trip (maybe it will come back?).

The F5c. This is a "Tardis" of a bag. The design is odd, but brilliant. They have taken an F5b, added another floor, but given it a front entrance on the ground floor. You can put the same load as the F5b in the top and up to 3 prime lenses or equivalent in the bottom behind the front door, giving you depth without the need to empty out the bag to access the bottom (except the rugged wear F5xz that lacks the front access possibly due to the zip not being as water proof as the fabric?). It comes with two, narrow, three part, jointed dividers to create steps, straight lines, "L" shapes or "U" shapes inside. I once carried a 5D mk2 with a 35 f2 mounted and 85 f1.8 in the top, a 17-40 L in the lower compartment and a 70-200 F4L lengthways from the top down and it did not feel heavy. My only slight dislike of the F5 bags is the zip top, but the large velcro flap usually makes it unnecessary. 

F8. Looks like an F3, but is really small. Watch out for this one as it is really too small to be useful and images of it can be misleading. An OMD, 45mm and 17mm filled up the inside compartment and the other pockets only held batteries or filters!

F832. Not sure what I was thinking, but this one is a monster. It looks lovely and actually is, but it is designed for journalists with pro SLR cameras, big lenses with hoods in shooting position and large lap tops etc. Not me at all.

The finishes of the bags can vary a bit. The Ballistic can feel sumptuous in the bigger bags (F2-3), smooth and soft to touch, but much thinner in the smaller bags (F5's). The rugged wear is thin and comfortable against the body as long as the greasiness and smell do not bother you. I don't notice the smell unless I lock the bag in a cupboard for awhile and the greasiness is really only an issue when the bag is freshly done (it comes with a tin of wax).

The canvas is interesting. Many who own older bags say the canvas has lost some of it's weight in newer bags and the F6 I purchased a couple of years ago did feel a lot lighter, but I vaguely remember my first F6 (1990's) being lighter also. The F3/F8 olive bags and lens bag purchased 3-4 years ago are softer feeling than the old F2, but are also 30 years newer.

Are they for everyone? Probably not, but they are popular (often copied), respected and do the job they are designed for. For a very long time as it turns out.

*The clips are wrapped in tape to stop noise. Hate noise.

Hope this helps.

The Filson Field Camera Bag

Camera bags are my nearly out of control passion. I am pretty sure that my love of photography became linked to the process as much as the results in my early years and some things became intrinsic parts of the process. Cameras are the obvious first cog in that wheel, but I am not alone in sighting camera bags as another. 

Yes I do have a problem. I have tried all major brands, most styles and any solution that seems reasonable to get the perfect balance of form and function (it does not help that I keep changing camera systems and therefore bag needs).

Winners have been the Domke F3/2/6 and various other models, Billingham Hadleys and the odd Kata, Lowepro (Pro Messenger especially) and other "nylon" bags.  My only keeper up until now has been a 30 year old F2 Domke that has had constant but not heavy use, but is always there if I need it (my wife hates it though!). I remember buying it and a Manfrotto 055 when I got my first job in a camera store in the 80's and both are still going!

Taking the mantle into the next period of my photographic life are a trio of bags. A Domke special edition F3 Waxwear in olive from a trip to Japan, a Lowepro Pro Tactic 350 as a transporter bag and a Filson Field Camera Bag. Each has their place and uses. I will start with the most used of the three - the Filson.

Last year, after a bit of a search that included the Web, Japan and all of the suppliers in Australia, I picked one up at a good price from a store in Florida (can't remember the name, sorry). Ironically the store was recommended by Mike Johnson on his blog "The Online Photographer" (a real blog), after myself and others responded to his post about camera bags. He was looking for a bag better than the ONA or Temba he was reviewing, to replace an ancient Billingham (the best sort), and the Filson range looked to be perfect for him. They also filled the criteria of being American made, important for him and reassuring to me.

Filson do a couple of specialist camera bags in conjunction with some iconic National Geographic photographers, but they also do a camera version of their classic "Field Bag". 

In my eternal quest for the perfect bag, I bought a Filson "Field bag" in Olive green a couple of years ago. I loved the "idea" of it, but found it a bit impractical. Others have used them successfully as camera bags, but not me. It serves now as a life long over night or gear spill-over bag and has an interchangeable leather strap that sees some service on the camera bag (more about that later). 

untitled-6090177.jpg

First up lets look at the features of the bag.

The above image shows the bag, in the caramel tin cloth/canvas twill combo, in its standard configuration. The only thing that is not as the bag comes is the Domke shoulder pad. This pad fixes one of my few complaints about the bag that I will go into below. This one has had about a year's gentle use (I don't see the point in reviewing something that has not been regularly used in its intended environment). The darker front and top flap, as well as the back pocket are  tin cloth fabric. This light and weather proof wax fabric is comfortable and flexible, but can feel a little greasy if you want it to provide the maximum protection. Mine has been let go in that area, so the greasiness is mostly gone, but the protection in heavy rain may be compromised slightly. Domke uses a waxwear cloth that is similar, but Filson's is less greasy, has no musty smell and is a heavier/more rigid cloth and the ONA cloth is a cross between the weight/texture of the Filson Twill and the tin cloth.

The lighter sides and base are made of their heavy 22oz twill to give the bag a longer life as the twill is about twice as heavy as the tin cloth.

The leather is thick, the heavy bridle type, about twice as heavy as Billingham leather and more leather looking (Billingham leather can look a bit "vinyl perfect" for my taste) and it is very pleasant to feel. You really get the feeling of a "20 year+" bag, but unlike a Billingham, it starts out how it intends to finish. Billinghams take a while to get that worn in look, usually about 5-10 years!

The strap is made of smooth and slippery seat belt nylon. It is a good width and plenty long enough to allow wearing across the body. I tried the matching Field Bag leather strap (available separately), but have now gone back to this strap with the added Domke shoulder pad.

This is my "B" configuration. The outside straps are clipped on to the front pockets so they don't hang out the front. The top flap still does a good job of covering the insides. 

The inside is a simple 3 adjustable divider design. This is perfect for my current kit, being 4 prime lenses and 2 bodies as a rule, (and will also take the f2.8 Olympus zooms I now have) but occasionally I switch bags to a Domke F2 or Pro tactic 350 back pack if I carry more to a location. It kind of holds my personal ideal, but sometimes I want the safety net kit for big jobs.

There is a large rear pocket, two small, secure side pockets for keys, batteries etc. and a zippered internal pocket, but that is all. No secret compartments or tablet storage here, just a camera bag for cameras. The internal lining is a smooth and slippery nylon that feels protective and pleasant. I have a bit of a habit of customising bags with assorted bits from other old ones, but not this bag. It actually feels like a real shame to mess with it.

I have always found it hard to reconcile the images or descriptions of what actually fits in a bag comfortably and accessibly with the actual gear being used. I will try to provide a couple of images to help here and follow that up with some context.

Ok. So as you can see above, the bag is fully loaded with my "maximum comfortable kit" for a day shoot. The lack of a fifth compartment is fixed with a little divider bag my wife made for me years ago. I also put the other strap on to show how well it matches. The size of my gear allows a universal switcheroo system (anything in/anything out) and lots of room for scarves as extra padding etc.

The next shot has the same kit out of the bag. To put this in context, an OMD EM5 with a JB grip is about the same height as a Canon 70d or Nikon d7100 body without grip, but not as deep. The 75mm lens mounted on one camera with generic hood is about the same size as the Canon/Nikon equivalent and the 75-300 is much the same size as any other "budget" tele zoom. There is another 2-3" of height to be used here (also note the nylon lining detail). I have placed the big lens on its own in and outside of the bag for more context. The liners do not have the annoying flaps that are always in the wrong place, but this also means you have to be careful when two adjacent things are taller than them and rub together.

Will the Filson hold a 70-200 f2.8 from one of the major brands?

Yes, with the hood swapped out for a small metal screw in or reversed. It will easily take the smaller f4 versions and bulky primes. The bag has plenty of room for my gear, but is designed for approximately a 2 SLR with 3 lens/flash kit, in a "ready to go" configuration or a bit more if some is broken down.

Will it hold a Pro SLR body with a wide angle zoom, hood on?

Yes to that also. It may lose a spot for something else, a 1D with a 16-35L/70-200L/flash and spare prime or second, smaller body could work.

The front pockets hold large items, but it is a bit of a stretch to put in a lens as the pocket will probably not shut. Batteries, a charger/small flash, a compact camera, filters, a phone or a large note book are fine. These are not the gear swallowing Billingham Hadley or Lowe Pro Messenger pockets, but they don't suffer from the over stuffed, finger pinching tightness of the ONA bag pockets.

Likes.

I love the colour, feel and look of the bag. The Filson light tan twill is a bit light for my tastes, but the caramel tin cloth is much more worn in looking. After a bit of use, the bag sags a little when loaded, but never loses its shape (with my gear anyway) and fits comfortably on the hip. How a bag looks is not important. No, that's crap, actually it is, it really is. You may as well like your stuff. It is also elegantly simple.

It's not too "camera/computer bag-ready for the taking", but probably looks plush enough to get taken anyway, so still be careful. The bag lets you feel like a pro, but one that has a casual way of viewing the world. A bit old school, but not too "army surplus".

It is well enough, but not overly padded. Coming from a Domke bag users perspective it feels positively "fat" with protection, but not over stuffed like ONA. The base is lined with something shock absorbent, but I keep a scarf (pictured) in one of the compartments for a bit of extra "drop the bag" confidence. Would it take the drop from shoulder height onto concrete test? Probably not without some extra padding, but not many bags will and those that do have other issues.

Comfort and carrying are excellent. I do not know what makes one bag better on the shoulder than another, but Billingham, Domke and Filson have the secret. I have found myself wearing this one on the shoulder rather than cross body and enjoy the way it sits.

It is made to last. The workmanship is a full level above brands like ONA and on par with, but different to, a Billingham and their support (in the U.S.) is excellent. It will last as long as my old F2 Domke and outlast their newer bags, especially the wax wear ones. There were a few loose threads sewn into the leather trim, but no wonky stitching or poor finish.

(Minor) Dislikes.

A little thing first. I may be missing something here, but why do (many) bag makers put a rear pocket on their bags that is weather proof and then don't bother to put either a flap cover over it or holes in the bottom to let the water run out! Really! Nice bucket guys.

I also don't understand the use of the tin cloth on the back as it will wear faster than the twill (but then the water run off issue will go away, I guess!). Why use the sometimes greasy and thin tin cloth on the only part of the bag that will rub against you all day?

The shoulder strap irritated me. When wearing a light shirt, the strap slipped and rubbed a bit. I thought it was just me at first (I am a delicate petal as my wife always tells me), but after a while it really became noticeable. Having tried the more comfortable leather strap, I switched back to the nylon with a Domke shoulder pad and it is now the most comfortable set up I can remember using.

There is nowhere to put even a small tablet except the exposed rear pocket unless you lose a camera or lens space. Not an issue for me.

One more divider would have been good for small camera users. I am aware that the Filson target market is the rugged Nikon/Canon SLR user and the American market for smaller mirrorless camera systems is still small by comparison, but how much for one more divider? 

Would I replace if it was lost? Yes, absolutely. Does it make my photos better? Probably not, but it provides the best, cleanest and least cluttered work method I have used in a while and it feels good to seen using it.