[Photo credit: Think Tank Photo]

[Photo credit: Think Tank Photo]

A couple of weeks back I caved and ordered a new photo bag. The problem was that my little Domke F-10 was just a little too small – perfect for one body and 1-2 extra lenses, but nothing more. And my canvas messenger bag and BBP insert was a little too big – great for carrying the full kit to a gig, but too much to hike with. It’s the Goldilocks dilemma, the search for a bag that would be just right.

What I really wanted was a bag that would let me bring an E-M5 body and some combination of 3-4 lenses and/or a flash. I’m frequently out with the 14mm, 35-100mm, and left wishing that I also had the 25mm for JUST a little wider view, and maybe the Takumar as well, because those bugs would make a great macro image. And until now it’s been a matter of creatively shoving more into the Domke, or having the messenger bag banging against my hip the whole time. And it finally got old.

Feeling very scientific, I jotted down the interior dimensions of my my current bags and then split the difference to arrive at the approximate dimensions I was looking for. And then the search began…and went on for a while. Because there are a LOT of choices out there and not many of them are designed for mirrorless gear. (Although that’s starting to change.)

[Photo credit: Think Tank Photo

[Photo credit: Think Tank Photo]

The bag above is the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 30i, which is one of three bags that Think Tank has just released that are designed for m4:3 and NEX users. I considered the 30i pretty seriously but finally turned it down in favor of the Think Tank Sub Urban Disguise 20, which in many ways is almost identical, and to my mind a little better looking. It arrived and I put it to immediate use, really wanting to like it.  (It also has lousy reviews on Think Tank’s own site, for whatever that’s worth.)

And I do. Mostly. Sort of. Or at least I really do want to. It’s an attractive, well-made bag that’s got a lot going for it:

  • it’s comfortable to carry (huge selling point right there)
  • the shoulder strap stays in place while hiking (another huge point in its favor)
  • the bag tucks in nice against the small of my back while walking
  • it’s sturdy and well-made
  • it has more than enough camera/lens storage
  • it comes with 2 big velcro divider in the camera compartment, and 2 more extra dividers
  • it comes with a rain cover (not that I’ve ever needed one, but hey, still nice)
  • it’s a slick looking bag

The problem is that, despite all those great qualities, there are just enough little things that bug me about it that, each time I use it, I’m left wanting to love it but can’t quite get there. And the little things bug me:

  • like the front flap, which is more for show than any functionality, although it does cover the pocket where the rain cover is stowed
  • and speaking of the rain cover, which cannot be removed and is kind of bulky, taking up half the underside front pocket
  • then there’s the outer front pocket which only holds thin stuff, which isn’t so useful
  • and the fact that on the camera compartment, the narrower ends don’t have velcro, so I can’t subdivide the end sections to fit my smaller lenses (so what are those extra dividers actually for?)
  • the way that the camera section opens, which might be the worst design ever

[This photo has nothing to do with this post.  It's just nicer to look at than another bag photo.]

[This photo has nothing to do with this post. It’s just nicer to look at than another bag photo.]

A few notes on that last point: TT bags all seem to share this design feature, which on paper seems like a good idea: the top of the bag opens away from your body (backwards from how most bags work), so that while you’re holding it the opening is between the flap and your body, which should make it a lot easier to reach in, get gear, etc, as opposed to reaching OVER the flap the way most bags do.

Except it’s terrible. I hate it. Hate it. The rest of that list bugs me, but the damn flap I hate. It SHOULD be easier and feel more natural, but it’s not. I find the angle awkward. And it’s impossible to get at the zippers and work them when they’re mashed against my body. Good idea, terrible results – like the second Iron Man movie.

And so, alas, the TT SUD20 is listed for sale online. If I can get $50 back out of it I’ll be happy. And my second attempt at a Goldilocks solution is on its way from B&H: a Domke F-6 Little Bit Smaller bag, in the same olive color as my F-10.

I like the simple canvas construction, the lighter padding, the snap hooks on the front. I like how rugged they are and the simple, no-frills design.  I don’t like how the interior (at least of my F-10) generates so much lint. And while the straps aren’t the most comfortable the US Postal Service strap pad I sprang for should negate that.

Photo credit: tiffen.com

This whole Domke revelation is new to me – before my F-10, all of my bags for the past 7 years had been Tamracs. Some I loved and others were just good and functional, but the experience was always positive. So I always went back to Tamrac when I needed a new bag. But when I switched to m4:3, suddenly nothing fit right – all the Tamracs were built for big gear, at which they excelled. Which, no surprise, means they sucked with small gear. I had also grown tired of the thick padding they (and almost every other bag maker) used, and with the ballistic nylon to an extent. So when I discovered Domke, I was hooked.  It was nice to get a little bag that had some give to it, that molded itself to my body, and that looked more like Army surplus than a camera bag.

However, there is an embarrassing end note to this story: while cleaning out my archived email this afternoon, I found a receipt, RMA request, and return confirmation from B&H, from back in March.  For a Domke F-6.  Oops…  I have no memory whatsoever of having ordered one of these bags before, but the paperwork doesn’t lie, so clearly I did indeed not only order one, but also returned it, presumably because I wasn’t happy with it.  This must have happened during my initial m4:3 shopping mania, when I was probably looking for a small bag, the niche that my F-10 ended up filling.

Kind of makes me feel like a dumbass for getting so excited over the prospect of having an F-6 as my Goldilocks bag now.  All I can say is that, hopefully this time it fits my needs better than I felt it did before.  Because I’d be too ashamed to return it to B&H a second time.  So here’s hoping!

 

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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