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Most photographers have a dirty little secret: a closet full of camera bags. That’s because no single bag can meet every possible need for carrying your gear. Backpacks are great, but they can be awkward to work out of and don’t fit into tight spaces easily. Roller bags are perfect for airports and carrying lots of gear, but they are cumbersome to use for street photography. Shoulder bags are easy to work out of, but they can get really heavy if you pack a lot of gear. Belt packs are really nice, but you can’t carry everything in them as they quickly get overloaded.
I’ve used just about every style of bag, and most of the time I end up using some combination of backpacks and roller bags, depending on how I’m traveling and what I’m packing. The one style I don’t typically use is the shoulder bag; for me, I usually have too much stuff to comfortably carry one for extended periods of time. However, when Tiffen USA contacted me about testing one of the Next Generation Domke shoulder bags, I thought it might be a nice way to pack a mirrorless kit.
Shoulder Bags: Pros & Cons
Shoulder bags are by far the easiest bags to work out of, because they are held at waist level. They are also really easy to pack in cars because they have a relatively compact size and a rectangular shape, without a lot of protruding padded straps. That makes shoulder bags ideal for working out of a car and packing underneath the seats or in the overhead bins of most aircraft. My only complaint with shoulder bags is that when you pack a lot of gear in them (you can get really big bags in this style), they get very uncomfortable to carry around when fully loaded.
The Domke Ledger (Journalist Series)
The Ledger bag is the smallest of Domke’s Next generation Journalist series of camera bags. It’s described as the “grandchild” of the classic F-6 bag. It holds a DSLR with lens attached, and one or two extra lenses. It easily holds a mirrorless camera and lens and two or three extra lenses inside. It offers expandable end pockets and a padded front pocket that can hold a small tablet (think iPad mini). My iPad fit in the rear pocket but protruded slightly. That would be fine for travel in most cases but I probably wouldn’t roam the streets with my iPad hanging out of the bag.
The Domke Next Generation bags come in either Cordura nylon or waxed canvas “Ruggedwear.” I tested the Ruggedwear version. The waxed canvas is sturdy and yet quite flexible. The bag included a tin of waterproofing compound should the bag need to be re-weatherproofed. There are rain flaps on the inside of the main compartment to help keep water from leaking in, but the top flap does not completely seal off. The interior of the bag is well-padded and can be custom configured via removable dividers.
The top flap is secured by metal buckles. There is also a zipper along the top flap that makes getting into the bag easy if you need to grab a small accessory without opening the main flap all the way. The end pockets are divided and if you unzip them, they expand quite a bit. You could easily fit 4×6″ filters into them with no problem. The end pockets have velcro inside the flaps to secure them.
The shoulder strap is wide and secures to the bag via plastic D-ring clips. The inside of the strap has a non-slip rubber grip. I found it to be fairly comfortable in the field.The bag also includes a secondary strap that can be removed.
The Ledger bag included three dividers. One main (large) divider, one smaller one, and a “pocket” divider. The dividers are unique in that they incorporate velcro around their edges instead of on flaps. This makes them fairly easy to reposition, but it also makes them come loose easier than traditional dividers. For the most part, though, it’s not a big deal. The unique “Pocketflex” divider can be placed anywhere inside the bag, either as a divider, or along an inside wall to create a small pocket. It has velcro along three sides, and is perfect for holding small accessories like a remote release or business cards.
The rear pocket is unpadded. As I mentioned, it will (barely) hold my full-size iPad. Inside this pocket is a snap key-ring strap that’s perfect for holding your keys or anything that can be attached via a tether or loop, like some memory card wallets. The padded front pocket is designed to hold a small tablet, and there are two additional unpadded front pockets.
The front of the bag has a metal name plate with serial # and bar code. When you register your bag with Tiffen/Domke, it can be traced back to you via a lost and found website (should someone report it).
Comfort in the field
When I tried this bag, I had my Fujifilm X-T1 in it with two lenses. I had no fatigue whatsoever hiking around Garden of the Gods for a few hours with it. When I put my D810 in it, the bag becomes quite heavy. However, in field use you’ll have the camera and at least one lens out of the bag and around your neck or on a tripod most of the time, which lightens the load. As a small shoulder bag, I really had no issues with comfort. I could imagine that the larger bags would get uncomfortable if you were hauling lots of gear over the course of a day.
Conclusions and Rating
Construction: 5 stars
This is a really well-made bag, and you can tell. Everything about it screams quality.
Design: 4.5 stars
I really like the expandable end pockets. But for a bag that claims to hold a tablet, it really ought to be just a little taller to accommodate a full-sized iPad. Otherwise, it’s exactly as a shoulder bag should be.
Value: 3 stars
The Domke Ledger sells for around $300 at site sponsor B&H photo. For a small bag, that’s a lot of money. Quality aside, at this price, I’d like to have received a couple of extra dividers to further customize the interior compartments.
Overall rating: 4-stars/ Recommended
If you are looking for a small, rugged shoulder bag to carry a travel kit or mirrorless system, the Domke Ledger is really nice. It will hold quite a bit of gear, and is very easy to work out of. I thought the Military (olive) Ruggedwear fabric with red and black trim looked sharp, too. My only complaint is that $300 is a lot of money for a small bag, but you get what you pay for in terms of overall quality.
Many thanks to Tiffen USA for providing me a test bag.