Book review 2; Photo Techniques May/June 1997

As my second book to review, I have chosen….a magazine. Not even a magazine title as a publication in total, but a single edition of that magazine.

The May/June 1997 edition of Photo Techniques magazine changed my life.

In this edition, Mike Johnston introduced a concept to the western world that he and John Kennerdell, a colleague and contributor had been discussing for a while.

It seems John made him aware that the Japanese had for many years categorised lenses with more than the usual measures of quality. They took careful note of the qualities of out of focus blur different lenses rendered and their effect on the images made. They even named the types of blur they discussed.

John Kennerdell, who was living in Japan at the time, had noticed a habit of local reviewers referring to the out of focus (OoF) areas of an image with terms such as Ni-sen (cross-eyed), rather than simply ignoring them all together as reviewers in the west did. Many photographers all around the world used terms like the “draw” or rendering of a lens, but there was little clarity to that thinking other than on a lens by lens basis.

The irony was, the Japanese had been making lenses for a sharpness hungry western consumer, while at home, they often preferred German glass for its less measurable characteristics.

The editor of Photo Techniques, Mike Johnston, decided to make Bokeh* the theme of the May/June 1997 edition. It is important to realise, the term Bokeh and even the line of thought it created had never been used in western photography before this point.

In hindsight, it was a brave move. The predicted result would have probably been a foot note in photographies “odds and sods” ledger, but on a scale no one expected, the concept took off to heights unprecedented. There is now seldom a lens review or conversation to be had about lens character or performance that does not have an element or reference to Bokeh in it. Many lenses now made with Bokeh (or at least one form of it) as their primary design objective. As the article explains, some companies were already trying to satisfy this deeper need of Japanese photographers, by incorporating Bokeh into their designs. Canon seems to have made “good” (smooth and controlled) Bokeh one of the parameters of their new EF lens range as two of the lenses specifically mentioned in the article were from their early “ugly duckling” range. Bronica is also mentioned specifically along side the German makers.

Unassuming, classy and modest, this periodical was an automatic buy for me along with Camera and Darkroom, mostly for the articles about photographers current and retrospective or advanced technique as well as the dry wisdom of David Vestal. Pretty good condition considering. I still have a hoard of 50 or so mags from this era, as they are far too precious to me to toss. It is amazing how relevant they still are.

Unassuming, classy and modest, this periodical was an automatic buy for me along with Camera and Darkroom, mostly for the articles about photographers current and retrospective or advanced technique as well as the dry wisdom of David Vestal. Pretty good condition considering. I still have a hoard of 50 or so mags from this era, as they are far too precious to me to toss. It is amazing how relevant they still are.

Sorry about the rough and ready pics, but I am not going for archival quality, just the feeling of the actual mag.

It took 28 pages before it got to the main article spread, but I was instantly hooked. It had the perfect combination (for me) of being relevant information, a reveal of mysterious secrets and eminently applicable technique. It did not hurt that at the time, I was using two of the lenses in the samples (100 f2.8 EF macro, the old one, and the first EF 35 f2) and it also referenced a brand I had just moved out of, but had great fondness for, Zenza Bronica.

It took 28 pages before it got to the main article spread, but I was instantly hooked. It had the perfect combination (for me) of being relevant information, a reveal of mysterious secrets and eminently applicable technique. It did not hurt that at the time, I was using two of the lenses in the samples (100 f2.8 EF macro, the old one, and the first EF 35 f2) and it also referenced a brand I had just moved out of, but had great fondness for, Zenza Bronica.

Even though I loved the article, I and I guess everyone else out there had little idea how important this would become. Mike followed this thread up in later years on the Luminous Landscape site and others, but this is ground zero. My instant reaction was “some lens very bad, some lens goood :)”, so even I, a fan, did not really get the intended meaning. All Bokeh has it’s place. More recently the 3D vs flat argument has surfaced, which I think is closely linked to Bokeh, so maybe we are entering phase two?

One of the strongest lessons I learned from the article, one sadly forgotten in more recent times, is that Bokeh, in it’s  many  forms, is important in almost every photographic situation that has any amount of OoF area regardless of focal length, aperture selected or distance. There is no right or wrong, nor a fixed formula to achieve that mythical, ideal look. The point to take away, is that Bokeh, however you like it, may only be achievable under some conditions and these may change with any slight variation in lens use of the very same lens.  The frame bottom right was from a “Bokeh king” semi wide angle used at a medium aperture and focussing distance, not wide open and up close as is so common these days. This kind of talk does not wash with many currently, but is at the essence of Bokeh and it’s true exponents.

One of the strongest lessons I learned from the article, one sadly forgotten in more recent times, is that Bokeh, in it’s many forms, is important in almost every photographic situation that has any amount of OoF area regardless of focal length, aperture selected or distance. There is no right or wrong, nor a fixed formula to achieve that mythical, ideal look. The point to take away, is that Bokeh, however you like it, may only be achievable under some conditions and these may change with any slight variation in lens use of the very same lens. The frame bottom right was from a “Bokeh king” semi wide angle used at a medium aperture and focussing distance, not wide open and up close as is so common these days. This kind of talk does not wash with many currently, but is at the essence of Bokeh and it’s true exponents.

Oren Grad followed up with an overview of the terminology used at the time, which has now grown and changed into more westernised terms like “feathered”, “onion ring” or “solid”.

Oren Grad followed up with an overview of the terminology used at the time, which has now grown and changed into more westernised terms like “feathered”, “onion ring” or “solid”.

Then the more technical article, that I must admit I have not properly read as I find this type of thing efficiently removes the joy from something as intuitive and emotional as Bokeh.

Then the more technical article, that I must admit I have not properly read as I find this type of thing efficiently removes the joy from something as intuitive and emotional as Bokeh.

Lots of this. Too dry for me, but technically sound stuff and the foundation of the future math and understanding. Ahead of it’s time really.

Lots of this. Too dry for me, but technically sound stuff and the foundation of the future math and understanding. Ahead of it’s time really.

There was lots of other good stuff in there as usual. Inspiration abounds, but the Bokeh article cemented this edition into modern photographies history. It is kind of weird that no mention is made of OoF elements in any of the articles, except the ones that only talk about it. This was about to change.

There was lots of other good stuff in there as usual. Inspiration abounds, but the Bokeh article cemented this edition into modern photographies history. It is kind of weird that no mention is made of OoF elements in any of the articles, except the ones that only talk about it. This was about to change.

And the final word by Mike. Of note is his description of using the EF 35 f2 lens.

And the final word by Mike. Of note is his description of using the EF 35 f2 lens.

I must admit to being ignorant of the influence Mike Johnston had in the photographic world at this time, but after this article, I became very aware of him. He was a strong voice in the Camera and Darkroom, Darkroom and Photographic Techniques > Photo Techniques and many other books and periodicals.

The very first blog I went looking for when I went “online”, was anything connected to Mike, which turned out to be The Online Photographer. Here you can find a lot more by both he and John Kennerdell, including the article called “in defence of depth” or the anti Bokeh as super shallow DoF only, rallying cry and “A little lens tale” that highlights both long draw Bokeh lenses and lenses that put natural three dimensionality ahead of sterile fault correction (coming to much the same conclusions as Yannick Khong but this time without defined terminology).

Their can, their worms, their cross to bare I guess, but I am glad I was in on the ground floor.

*A term he coined, taken from Boke-Aji or the “flavour of the blur”, used in Japanese art, shortened to Boke with an added h for pronunciation to make Bo as in bone, -Keh as in kettle)

Think Tank Turnstyle 10L V2

The perfect bag….

No such thing, but some are better than others at the job they are designed for.

The light travel sling bag has been on the radar for awhile. I know as well as anyone who shleps gear all day that even a few kg on the shoulder seems to double in weight over a day. Heat or cold force tough decisions, as do places where going unnoticed and out of the way is important.

Shoulder bags have their place, but travel is not one of them.

The TT Turnstyle 10L (chosen as the best fit for me out of a 5L and 20L) in Charcoal fits almost all of my needs perfectly.

The main compartment holds bigger M43 gear (EM1 with 12-40 or 12-100), a second body with/without mounted lens and a third lens option. All are in the “ready to go “ configuration, so not reversed hoods or caps needed.

EM1 with 12-400, EM5 with 75mm and little prime on the end.

EM1 with 12-400, EM5 with 75mm and little prime on the end.

Deceptively tall, accommodating my 75-300 easily and any other lens but that one mounted on a camera.

Deceptively tall, accommodating my 75-300 easily and any other lens but that one mounted on a camera.

The internals are divided by three tall and one short divider (one removed for this kit and the small one on the floor for added cushioning). They are thinner than Lowepro ones, but stiffer and more padded than Domke. The velcro is very tight and grippy, not the sort that will fuzz up with repeated changes (like a Billingham insert). A small Billingham 2 lens box divider will fit in one section also for an all primes day.

The internals are divided by three tall and one short divider (one removed for this kit and the small one on the floor for added cushioning). They are thinner than Lowepro ones, but stiffer and more padded than Domke. The velcro is very tight and grippy, not the sort that will fuzz up with repeated changes (like a Billingham insert). A small Billingham 2 lens box divider will fit in one section also for an all primes day.

Almost a deal breaker for me, the rear padded ipad pocket will hold an ipad mini, but only “naked”. Mine is on a protective case and would not fit. This pocket is however ideal for sensitive documents being the nearest contact point to the body and well hidden.

Almost a deal breaker for me, the rear padded ipad pocket will hold an ipad mini, but only “naked”. Mine is on a protective case and would not fit. This pocket is however ideal for sensitive documents being the nearest contact point to the body and well hidden.

Then I discovered the bigger internal one. All sorted. This could hold a naked full size ipad.

Then I discovered the bigger internal one. All sorted. This could hold a naked full size ipad.

The front pocket will hold several small items like a phone, note pad, pen, map, batteries, cards etc. It is flat, but roomy.

The front pocket will hold several small items like a phone, note pad, pen, map, batteries, cards etc. It is flat, but roomy.

The broad and very comfortable strap runs up-down when worn at the back and makes the bag feel effectively weightless. I am not sure a fully loaded 20L would feel the same, but it would definitely feel lighter than a shoulder bag. The strap is easily adjustable which is good as the bag feels better when tighter-higher up the back, but a lower sit gives more “swing around” room when fiddling with gear. The only thing I would add is a small strap anchor for an optional phone or utility pouch to be placed on the front.

The broad and very comfortable strap runs up-down when worn at the back and makes the bag feel effectively weightless. I am not sure a fully loaded 20L would feel the same, but it would definitely feel lighter than a shoulder bag. The strap is easily adjustable which is good as the bag feels better when tighter-higher up the back, but a lower sit gives more “swing around” room when fiddling with gear. The only thing I would add is a small strap anchor for an optional phone or utility pouch to be placed on the front.

A handy top strap. The bag stands up well when full, if loaded sensibly.

A handy top strap. The bag stands up well when full, if loaded sensibly.

The optional stabiliser strap and rain coat pocket. I will remove the strap as the bag will not be used for extreme sports. This can also be used to turn the bag into a fanny pack. It would also allow for small utility pouches or a water bottle pouch to be added.

The optional stabiliser strap and rain coat pocket. I will remove the strap as the bag will not be used for extreme sports. This can also be used to turn the bag into a fanny pack. It would also allow for small utility pouches or a water bottle pouch to be added.

Overall the bag feels better finished than many others I have tried and has the feel of long-term sturdiness that is reassuring. It is also nicely classy in a low profile, modern street kit way.

Not only is this bag ideal for a small kit over long distances, but it manages to become effectively invisible when not in use.

Lowe Pro Inverse 100 AW review (well sort of)

There are a lot of very good photographic back packs on the market. It seems to be the growing trend in camera bags, even more than the problem solving sling type.

The problem with them is quite often, no matter how well made, clever or durable they are, they are only made for a day trip or extreme sport event. As a long term hiking pack, they are nearly useless as they prioritise camera gear over survival gear, leaving only a small area for food, camping and trekking gear, almost as an after thought.

What if you need to carry a small “at the ready” camera kit and a heavy expedition pack?

Peak Designs and others offer a lot of handy clips and straps, but that still does not cover the slightly bigger kit (2 lenses, filters etc) some shooters need at hand when trekking. It is desirable for some to be able to take a serious image quickly, with all their options at hand without taking off their heavy pack each shot and/or they like to have their camera protected in a padded bag, not out in the elements.

Some people even skip a good shot out of effort induced laziness….not mentioning names.

Here is a little solution I came up with a few years back when re-purposing my bag stash for an anticipated trip to Nepal. My 80L pack was going to be full, but obviously camera gear would be the bulk of the point of going for me, so I needed the big pack and a separate, but integrated camera bag solution.

The Lowe Pro Inverse 100 and 200 bags have been around for a while. To be clear this is NOT a new bag review, but different concept and application for an old bag.

No, it’s not thirsty. The tongue hanging out is it’s weather shield cover.  It also comes in basic black and a fetching Cobalt blue.  Note no fanny pack wings, just bag. The clips at the front are the restraining straps for the front flap pocket. When pushed out fully the gap created can hold a camera body or lens while changing things out or expand the capacity of the front pocket. If the rain cover is removed, the pocket will hold even more as the two pockets occupy the same space.

No, it’s not thirsty. The tongue hanging out is it’s weather shield cover. It also comes in basic black and a fetching Cobalt blue. Note no fanny pack wings, just bag. The clips at the front are the restraining straps for the front flap pocket. When pushed out fully the gap created can hold a camera body or lens while changing things out or expand the capacity of the front pocket. If the rain cover is removed, the pocket will hold even more as the two pockets occupy the same space.

They are bulky extreme sport “bum bags” or “fanny packs” by design, but can double up as shoulder bags and in doing so provided a solution to my problem. The thickly padded “wings” can tuck away in a large padded waist loop at the back. To be honest I hated to do that as the bag became very deep, almost round, especially the 100 model, so it fell into disuse.

Very big and well padded. The wings that fold into this are also quite thick and heavy. You can also see where the shoulder strap attaches. It is slightly off angle to make the bag better for cross body wear than shoulder use. Once attached, the bag can be moved anywhere on the front or side hip as needed. Another small bonus is the padded waist loop can cover the bigger pack’s waist strap clip, adding comfort.

Very big and well padded. The wings that fold into this are also quite thick and heavy. You can also see where the shoulder strap attaches. It is slightly off angle to make the bag better for cross body wear than shoulder use. Once attached, the bag can be moved anywhere on the front or side hip as needed. Another small bonus is the padded waist loop can cover the bigger pack’s waist strap clip, adding comfort.

Looking at the impossible combination of a waist mounted bag, sharing the same waist as the support strap for a heavy expedition pack, I had a rare light bulb moment. Taking one of my wife’s quick-unpick tools, I unpicked the stitching from the wings. They came off neatly. The wings had tightening straps that as fate would have it, neatly met each other in the middle of the bags back, allowing them to act as designed, tightening the bag in or loosening it off when the front flap is deployed for added work area.

Under the strap at each end is the standard water bottle pocket which could be used as small lens pouches with some padding added.

Under the strap at each end is the standard water bottle pocket which could be used as small lens pouches with some padding added.

The basic bag holds my expanded day shooting landscape kit, with options.

Inside; A Pen F with mounted 12-100+hood (this can be mounted face down also, but I have lost one of the matched dividers), 75-300 and filters/batteries/accessories in the front flap. The front pocket can be pushed out giving the user an extra spot to put detached hoods or lenses etc. when fiddling.  In the past it held a 5dII with 17-40 f4L and 70-200 f4L (hood inverted). The 200 model has basically the width of another large lens or body extra and can even hold a body with large FF superzoom or pro tele mounted. The capacity can also be expanded if Domke thin walled dividers are used.

Inside; A Pen F with mounted 12-100+hood (this can be mounted face down also, but I have lost one of the matched dividers), 75-300 and filters/batteries/accessories in the front flap. The front pocket can be pushed out giving the user an extra spot to put detached hoods or lenses etc. when fiddling. In the past it held a 5dII with 17-40 f4L and 70-200 f4L (hood inverted). The 200 model has basically the width of another large lens or body extra and can even hold a body with large FF superzoom or pro tele mounted. The capacity can also be expanded if Domke thin walled dividers are used.

The above combination is an example of a landscapers “day” kit. If using it for an expedition trekking, it would be an OMD with 75-300 and OMD with 12-40 both mounted and ready to go. Plenty of room for spares in the main pack, but this would be enough to handle anything I come across while trekking. Full frame or APC users could easily do a body with super zoom (28-300) and fast prime or wide zoom and macro tele/portrait lens and a compact camera.

Handy tripod, monopod or jacket strap. This is the usual overly hopeful accessory option for big tripods, but with light weight M43 cameras with gentle electronic shutters, I actually can carry a useful tripod here.  Notice how big the side pockets are potentially. The right one is a big water bottle size, the left a thinner, mobile phone or note book size.

Handy tripod, monopod or jacket strap. This is the usual overly hopeful accessory option for big tripods, but with light weight M43 cameras with gentle electronic shutters, I actually can carry a useful tripod here.

Notice how big the side pockets are potentially. The right one is a big water bottle size, the left a thinner, mobile phone or note book size.

Optionally, if travelling light, it can still be supported by a smaller day pack or simply worn cross-body on it’s own. Ed. The waist belt from my Pro tactic 350 with extra pouches also works if the fanny pack configuration is desired.

Working in the industry, I am more than aware of the ridiculous range of bags available. This exercise reminded me that when you have enough bags (more than enough according to my wife), the needed option is probably close at hand with a little lateral thinking.

Problem solved for me. Maybe an option for you to.

There are also plenty of images and reviews of the bag on line in it’s natural form.

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 made with roughly 60% desire, 30% practicality and 10% what is available with limitations imposed by the price/need equation. This has led inevitably to lots of bags for lots of situations but no right bag for just "getting everything there and being organised".

This 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 could be a good idea, you know, just to see what is out there. No harm.

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. I had some of these work bench” bags, such as the biggest Lowe Pro, Pro Messenger, Domke F832, or Billingham Hadley large when I had full frame Canon*, but they drifted away as the gear reduced. To be honest none were ideal anyway.

What is the point of a bag that theoretically holds everything, but only in it's "broken down" configuration (most brands are guilty of glossing over this when advertising, but what we photographers need to know is the real capacity for a working bag with useable kit). 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 over or have to change and re-change lenses/hoods etc rather than have them ready to go. 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 have, 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, the little Olympus flash, flash modifiers and the possibility of adding 1 or 2 more lenses (75-300, 45) 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 is preferably outside of the main compartment.

I also would like 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 bag came out of the blue. I had rarely even looked at the F8xx series other than an ill advised purchase of an 832, which was way over sized for my kit and really did not understand them that well or even overly like the look of them. Another issue is, they all look the same in the photos, but are hugely different in reality.

The thing that made this Domke superior to all other contenders is the size of the outside pockets (frikkin' huge, ideal for dumping even big lenses in a hurry) and the ability to add two (or more) accessory pouches when needed (optional extras that as it turned out, I already have). The bigger pouch can hold something the size of an older Nikon 80-200 f2.8 and the smaller one easily holds a big flash or a soft bag 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 size. 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 (Domke bags are tough, but not super thickly padded) or they can be mounted with a prime lens in the main bag and a second prime in the same pocket (again in a little padded bag). 

No doubt my entire kit (the above plus another OMD and optional Pen mini with two more primes) could fit to get from A to B, but as a working kit everything above has its “ready-to-go” 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 and I was more familiar with the Domke feel and durability. 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.

The length and width of the insert is ideal and gives the bag a more rigid 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 a longer lens. 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, between the front pockets and main compartment, can hold an ipad or medium sized fold-down diffuser, a newspaper or even a small laptop and there is one on the back slightly larger. Because of the soft canvas materiel of the bag, the front pocket flexes 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, laying on a wet floor and the water "beaded" off 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 quietly and perfectly into the big back pocket. I only discovered them after frantically searching back at the shoot site.

One thing I was not sure of and could not find any evidence of online was the possibility of attaching of the two pouches I had already (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 is very slightly wider.

The bag is not as hip-hugging as say an F3x, due to the hardened top panel, which is about 2” wide, but is still comfortable and the panel helps the bag keep it’s shape (something the Filson Field camera bag could do with). 

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

  • It is a cooler colour (in temperature that is - fashion I will leave up to you).

  • The less obvious Domke logo matches the bag, where on the black one it is red, drawing more attention, although they pick off easily.  

  • The black canvas fades at a different speed than it's straps, giving a dark grey bag/yellow brown strap look as they age, while the green tends to age evenly from all evidence. I have been through that with my old F2, but it did take 10+ years before it became obvious.               

  • The green does not scream "computer or camera bag", indeed it looks a cross between a casual satchel and army surplus bag re-tasked.                                                                                         

  • I already had two matching green pouches that have 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 system. As more and more people are starting to use mirrorless gear professionally, the reality is you will get the odd (relatively) 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 large kit, configured how you want and take handy things like spare clothing or a book as needed (the front pockets will hold a rolled-up shirt!). I once owned basically this kit in Canon*. No way could I carry it all comfortably or with it "ready to go", 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 it holds it's shape, to the rigid top panel and the insert. The smaller cousin to this bag, the f803 also has the rigid top, which I feel I would not like on that smaller bag, but on one this size, it is a real boon. 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 U.S. from the usual suspects. This makes it cheaper than any other option except the basic Tenba satchel, now discontinued.

A final word on Domke bags, especially the “magic” of their design. They are the only brand of bag that I actually look forward to wearing in/out. The older they get the better. Like an old pair of jeans, they fit like no other and become an old friend, even dirty marks become like earned battle scars. The Domke’s seem to look even better with wear sometimes, where some damage seems a shame on the Billingham’s in particular.

The issue I had with Billingham bags, was the 10-15 year “breaking in” period. They seem too well designed for staying “nice” for too long. They looked dirty easily, but not worn in/out. Filson bags come a little worn in already, which is great except some of the bags history is not yours.

*Full and crop frame body, 17-40L, 35L (this would now 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, loved by world travellers and still a favourite of many. Domke's were the character filled photo journalists bags (and designed by one) and the Lowe pro's were the work horse problem solvers and outdoor expedition bags.

None of the brands had a lot of choice, Domke being the worst (best?) offender, with only the F2 at first, then F1 (bigger) and F6 (smaller) bags, all basically the same design. 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 in 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 just 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 of my sordid recent history, lets look at the bags.

Age before beauty, the F2.

Looking a bit aged (and dirty), the F2 black canvas from 1980 something.

Looking a bit aged (and dirty), the F2 black canvas from 1980 something.

Notice the colour variation. The main strap has been replaced because it faded a yellowish brown like the front 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, with a veteran swagger, even after all of these years.

Above is a detail shot of the most worn part of the bag and the inside "lid" pocket (great for valuables), the front straps and the amazing "postal" shoulder pad. All Domke straps come with rubber veins running their length to reduce 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 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 a replacement) and the bag hip-hugs well even when full and an advantage of the canvas, like leather is that it gets better with age, not just older.

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 pancake lens on. The end pocket (open) 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, which I put down to the feeling of “bag awareness” they provide.

The right hand image is to show the height using an old EOS 30 with grip for scale. Easily enough to hold a medium long lens upright (my 40-150 is on the right with metal hood on) 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 FM2's with drives and a 20/35/85/180 kit).

The two front pockets are roomy enough for any phone, notebook a medium sized flash. The back has a full length pocket capable of taking a full sized ipad or small lap top, but without a flap or any 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 something will fall out of an open topped front pocket, but nothing has. Oh and the metal flap clips that can whack a camera pretty hard (fixed with a little tape).

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. It is also much lighter in weight.

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 on some clothing and it smells a little "musty", especially when recently re-waxed. The lid also has a pocket like the F2, 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 frame 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- always a handy thing to have) as the F3 only has a thin foam padded bottom. Again this bag swallows small gear which can be an issue with the non anchored compartments. I have had the little 45mm "migrate" from one to another. The lens in the right hand pocket is the 40-150 f2.8, so any older f2.8 or newer F4 full frame 75-300 tele zoom will fit. My first F3 was purchased with a small full frame SLR kit with a pair of F4 “L” series lenses and a fast prime 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 to OK access and would look surprisingly unstressed. It would also need the postal service 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 bag;s back pocket, as a space challenged body with lens on tends to stick into your hip.

Another set up that has worked is to use a square F2 insert and push the sewn-in pockets aside making 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 again are unpadded. A large pair of long balled-up sports socks floats around in them.

Unlike the F2, the F3 has a single, slightly bigger 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 that 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 zippered also.

The F5b is, I think the ideal day bag for a mirrorless street kit or a minimalist-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 panel, 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 most online images of it are misleading. An OMD, 45mm and 17mm filled up the inside compartment and the other pockets only held batteries or filters. It is the only Domke I have ever owned that looked over padded for it's size.

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/F802 olive bags and lens bag purchased 1-5 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 and the only two scars my OMD's are nursing came from an un-taped clip striking them pretty hard.

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 strap 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 an ONA bag's 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 top flaps, popular with some makers, 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 can 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 one 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. If still using Canon, my old 5Dll+40mm, 70D+85mm, 35L and 70-200 f4L would fit easily.

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 some 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 lush 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 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, Think Tank and Filson know 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. 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 constantly as I moved 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 thinner 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.