A S C R A P B O O K O F S O L U T I O N S F O R T H E P H O T O G R A P H E R
Enhancing the enjoyment of taking pictures with news that matters, features that entertain and images that delight. Published frequently.
30 January 2015
We have, after decades of dissatisfaction, developed a sophisticated theory about camera bags. Somewhere behind the sun, above the rain, over the rainbow -- somewhere else, that is -- there may be the perfect bag. But in the world we inhabit we are lucky to find a bag appropriate to the occasion.
Over the years we've stockpiles a number of bags, each for a different occasion:
• We use a Lowepro TLZ 1 holster big enough for a dSLR on our short hikes and walks around town.
• We use a Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5 compact bag for longer outings with a m4/3 or smaller camera.
• We use a Lowepro dSLR/Video Pack 150 AW backpack when we carry a dSLR and tablet on a day trip.
• We use an expandable no-name briefcase to carry a laptop and m4/3 or smaller camera when we're flying.
• We use a big green Cabelas duffle bag for packing up multiple cameras, strobes, lenses and anything else in the car.
• And we use our flexible old canvas Domke for anything else.
Different collections of gear for different shoots require different bags. It's as simple as that.
NEW DOMKE BAGS | Back to Contents
Our first bag was a Domke.
Jim Domke was a staff photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He cleared the kitchen table one night and designed a canvas bag he could work out of quickly and even when he was on the run. That's the legend.
The Domke bag became a line of camera bags, all canvas with a padded bottom and various pockets and attachable accessory bags. We've used our compact model since Jimmy Carter was President.
But a lot has changed since then. In bag technology, too. So when Tiffen decided to update the Domke concept last year, we were more than just a little excited. Imagine breeding a Think Tank Photo bag with our old Domke, we thought.
The result is a new line of bags that do echo some of the best features of the old Domkes while introducing some of the innovations of current bag technology.
Tiffen sent us two bags to test. Over the last couple months, we've used the small Crosstown Courier in the Metro series as our holster/compact bag for adventures in the city. And we've used the Herald in the Journalist series for our no-name briefcase for more extensive travel.
CAVEATS | Back to Contents
A few things to point out right away:
- Tiffen's online specifications for the Crosstown Courier and the Herald bags is not entirely accurate. We'll point out the differences we've found as far as these two bags are concerned, but we are surprised the documents have not been updated. So beware.
- To use the bags comfortably, we had to replace the shoulder straps. More about this later (including recommended fixes) but there's a mind-boggling design failure that makes the included strap unpleasant to use.
- By design, the bags tip to the outside when you lift them by a shoulder strap. That is intentional, Tiffen told us. "Yes, the bag will lean slightly forward with nothing in it or with a balanced load. This was designed in conjunction with wearing the bag cross body." But it can be not only disconcerting but a liability with a top-heavy load. More on this below, too.
We don't think any of these are deal-breakers, but they were unpleasant surprises.
MODELS | Back to Contents
Tiffen's Next Generation Domke home page lists four different series of bags.
Those series, each with their own models, are:
- The Journalist Series ($269.95 to $349.95) is a shoulder bag designed for run-and-gun situations. It includes the Chronicle (pictured above), the Herald and the Ledger.
- The Metropolitan Series ($229.95 to $379.95) is a durable, yet portable bag to keep up with city excursions. The series includes the Crosstown Courier and Metro Messenger.
- The Viewfinder Series ($249.95 to $289.95) features Director and Image Maker models, designed as traditional shooter's bags.
- The Adventurer Series ($159.95) consists of the Trekker, Domke's smallest and lightest bag.
We thought most readers would be interested in learning about a bag small enough for day trips and another big enough for air travel. So we tested these two:
- Crosstown Courier Ruggedwear Military (M-CROSS-RM), available for $187.88 at B&H.
- Herald Ruggedwear Military (J-HERAL-RM), available for $266.05 at B&H.
No, they aren't inexpensive bags. But the quality of construction merits the price tag.
FABRICS | Back to Contents
Tiffen supplied both bags in the Ruggedwear fabric. There are, however, other options. The full list includes:
- Canvas (a natural canvas)
- Cordura Black
- Ruggedwear Black, a waxed canvas duck
- Ruggedwear Military, a green waxed canvas duck
None of these fabrics is waterproof. And strangely, no rain hood is provided. Both of our bags do have side rain guards, which are simply fabric ears that extend upward on the sides to shield the interior from rain.
The water-resistant Ruggedwear fabric, which we really like, is waxed canvas duck, a soft, finely-woven fabric which has been finished with a wax. A new bag feels slightly waxy but it quickly wears off. Tiffen supplies a tin of refinishing wax to touch up the bag and restore its water resistance.
After rubbing a small amount of the wax into the fabric, you work it into the threads using a soft cloth an a warm air source, like a hair dryer on low.
FEATURES | Back to Contents
Both bags share a few features.
- A padded sleeve fits an iPad or 9.7-inch tablet (although the Crosstown Courier is barely big enough)
- A GearProtex customizable insert system, which includes padding as well as pockets
- Silent Touch Velcro fasteners prevent that ripping sound
- Detachable shoulder strap, which you should discard anyway
- Rear trolley strap to hold the bag against the extended handle of rolling luggage
In addition, the Crosstown Courier features:
- Room for a dSLR with a lens attached and an extra lens
- Detachable side pouches
- Front expandable pouches
And the Herald features:
- Holds dSLR with a lens attached and a 70-200mm lens
- Two expandable exterior side pouches
- Dual expandable front slip pockets
- Leather grip handle
A CLOSER LOOK | Back to Contents
Let's review a few of these features a little more closely.
Shoulder Strap. The strap itself is a nice, 1.5-inch wide fabric with some non-slip threads woven into the underside.
Unfortunately, its plastic snap hooks mate poorly with either bag's plastic D hooks. The D hooks are not smooth and rounded like a brass one might be but squared off with flat surfaces.
We tried facing the snap hooks in and facing them out but both arrangements resulted in the same issue. As we walked around with the bag jostling on our hip and the strap across our chest, the snap hook would catch on the squared-off D hook and thump against our chest.
We have a lot of bags. We've seen snap hooks like this before. But we've never seen squared-off D hooks.
We tried using various hooks between the the strap and the D hooks but unless they were rounded themselves they just amplified the problem.
Our solution was to use a Think Tank Photo holster strap  with brass snap hooks that were large enough (and rounded) to smoothly navigate around the D hooks' corners. That worked for both bags.
We also tied an UPstrap  to one of the bags but we can't really recommend that. The two pieces that attach to the bag are quite long and the shoulder piece is difficult to adjust. But the fabric connection solved the problem, too.
If you don't have a spare strap to use, you might pick up a couple of snap hooks at the hardware store for about $10. But try them at the store because the D hooks make this a tricky problem to solve.
Tablet Slot. We were indeed able to squeeze an iPad 2 into the padded (but not zippered, as the documentation shows) tablet slot of the Crosstown Courier but it was a very tight fight. The iPad had an original Apple cover on it, the barest protection. We really weren't comfortable packing that and our Nikon D300 with 18-200mm zoom at the same time.
That's because the Crosstown Courier is a pretty narrow fit for a medium dSLR like the D300. We had no trouble with a Rebel XTi, a smaller dSLR, or a m4/3 camera.
So we wish the Crosstown Courier was another half inch wide.
The Herald had plenty of room for the iPad, though.
But we were hoping the Herald, which looks like a briefcase, would accommodate a 13-inch MacBook Pro in its zippered slot but no way. It's about two inches short in length.
And there really isn't room inside the main compartment either. That, after all, is where your camera gear goes.
Trolley Straps. These are just fabulous, period. Every bag should have one.
On both bags they are the same 1.5-inch fabric as the shoulder strap sewn across the back of the bag with a gap to let the telescoping handle on your rolling luggage slip through.
We doubt we'd use this on the Crosstown Courier but it's very welcome, even essential, on the Herald, which is something you would take to the airport.
Side Pouches. Both bags have side pouches but on the Crosstown Courier they're removable, which can make the small bag even more compact.
The Crosstown Courier side pouches are ingenious.
They feature a mounting tongue  that slips through two loops on the bag and under the pouch is just as secure and yet easy to remove. We used one for our sunglasses and left the other off.
And the wide mouth  makes it easy to get things in and out but the flap covering the mouth attaches securely with Velcro so there's no danger of anything falling out.
The pouches on the Herald (illustrated in the next section) are expandable, though, so they aren't a big inconvenience when empty. A zipper running around the length of the sides releases the extra space just like an expandable suitcase. They also have small pockets piggybacking on the larger expandable pouches.
Tucked-in Flap. On the Herald, Tiffen says the pouch flap "tucks in for anonymity." We're not sure just what that means. Only one flap has the Domke name on a label sown to it. You can slip the flap into the pouch instead of Velcroing it to the outside, so it does "tuck in" to hide the name. But it isn't something you'd normally do.
Here we show the Herald flap open with the piggybacked pocket and the main pocket expanded.
GearProtex Customizable Insert System. If you disklike those metallic gray inserts common on other luggage systems, you may like the GearProtex system. It's a soft yellow fabric that grabs black hook-like material to form whatever compartments you want.
You can run with or without the system. We did both, trying to gain a little space in the Crosstown Courier for our D300.
There are a number of accessories pieces you can use to build out your insert, including a pocket, which is included with the Herald. Mainly we just appreciated adding a compartment wall.
Only one divider is included with either bag. That's enough for the smaller Crosstown Carrier. But you can't really compartmentalize a big bag like the Herald. In that case, we resorted to lens wraps to keep things separated.
Front Pockets. Both bags have dual front pockets that leave a handy gap where they meet in the middle which we used to clip a pen, a stylus and a lens cleaner.
The pockets are expandable with a snap button on the outside that keeps them closed up. They don't evenly expand though (the outside side is deeper than the inside side).
Because the Herald is a bigger bag, its front pockets (click on 3) are larger.
Keyring Holder. The Crosstown Courier's keyring holder  is inside the back outer pocket  rather than as a clasp (which would have rubbed the user the wrong way), which is what the documentation shows.
Tipping Forward. Load the bag and lift it by the shoulder strap and it will lean to one side, the top tipping outside the strap. Tiffen did this intentionally by placing the D rings lower on the bag's sides than usual. The bag leans forward even when empty, as our photo shows.
In the photo the strap hangs perfectly perpendicular while the bag itself lists to the right.
If the weight of your load is below the D rings, this isn't a problem. It works as designed, hanging comfortably at your hip.
But our D300 with a long zoom put most of the weight above the D rings so the bag always seemed it was in danger of tipping over. It never did tip over, but it always felt unbalanced.
So we're no fan of that design decision either.
Bottom Padding. Both bags include a Styrofoam pad in the bottom of the interior for extra protection as well as a receiver for the GearProtex and PocketFlex system.
IN THE FIELD | Back to Contents
We found the Crosstown Courier, which we strapped on for long hikes, to be very comfortable. It's lightweight and compact, the ideal size. And if we didn't need a side pouch, we could remove it, making our load even smaller.
It gives us quite a few more pockets than our holster (which has just one), so we often left our holster at home, preferring the Crosstown Courier.
And even on occasions when we would usually just strap a camera over our shoulder, we preferred to use the Crosstown Courier. The extra pockets were just too convenient.
We were worried about access to the main compartment, though. There's no flap, just a center zipper. You always feel as if you are doing a Caesarian section with that design. But the zipper extends to the edges of the bag so you can get in and out of there fairly efficiently.
You do rub your gear against the zippered opening getting things in and out, but no harm is done.
The Herald was roomier.
Not quite as roomy as our ancient fabric briefcase, a giveaway at a 1997 investment conference we did not attend (but had bag connections). We've fit a lot in there over the years. Laptop, adapters, camera, lenses, books, papers, mouse, thumbdrives, external drives.
The Herald is smaller and more single purpose, although not entirely so.
But we fit our Nikon D300 with 18-200mm zoom tightly into the main compartment with an SD-800 flash in its case and two primes, one on top of the other. We added an iPad to the padded zippered compartment on the outside using the gap between the front pockets as a pen holder for its stylus. We put things like filter cases and extra cards in the roomy front pockets, too.
That left a little room for personal items. Glasses in their case in one end pocket. A notebook in the front pocket alone with a wallet and a phone.
There's still another end pocket and small piggyback pockets on both those (good for microfiber cleaning cloths or a WhiBal) and the flap has a zippered pocket, too. There's another open pocket on the back side as well, which might be handy for paper boarding passes and magazines.
We were not surprised, though, when we lifted the loaded Herald and it leaned outward a bit. But you have some control over that on the Herald. Adjusting the hook strap can center the handle.
When we snapped our Think Tank strap onto the D hooks, the Herald did raise straight up. That's because the D hooks are at the top of the bag's sides. So we were happy about that.
CONCLUSION | Back to Contents
Better hardware, no tipping, a rain cover, more room for tablets and laptops. There's room for improvement in the New Generation Domke.
There's not much you can do about making more room for tablets and laptops but you can provide a better strap much as you might for a camera. And you can provide your own rain cover, too.
It's unfortunate at these prices that you have to do that, though.
But if you do, you'll find yourself with a very nice bag, flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of gear. So, with some important reservations, we did like the bags. Three out of four photo corners.