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?!
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.
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.