Domke F5-XC Review
The Domke F5-XC is almost the perfect street photography/journalism bag. It doesn't scream out that you're a photographer, a hobbyist, or a tourist. It's got a sleek, narrow profile, with a classical canvas look, and it's just large enough to hold two Nikon cameras, three lenses, an extra camera battery, a flash, extra AA batteries, an extension tube, a remote control, an SD card case, and three rolls of film. Or as this fellow managed a  5D with a few lenses and some accessories.




 




 
 

If you're creative you could probably squeeze in more gear by using camera body caps to free up more space. I reckon that would allow you to get in another lens, or a light meter, or more film. While Domke does make larger bags, this one is just the right size that it doesn't look like you're in desperate need of a pack mule, or like you're heading for a hike into the concrete jungle. In many ways it resembles Indiana Jones' satchel--sleek, classical, and comfortable.



Nikon FE with a 20mm f4 and a Nikon D40x with a 50mm f`1.8 MKII.

While the wax version looks more "rugged" than the canvas one, they are the same bag. Unfortunately, not the same price. The Wax version in Canada goes for 189CDN +15% tax from Henry's. Amazon.com currently has the wax version at a huge discount at $83US; the regular price is $159US. The Canvas version can be had for $80US from Adorama with free shipping. 

Both versions include a front flap with a wide piece of Velcro on it. Some may find the noisy Velcro annoying, but I see it as a blessing. If you forget to zipper up the bottom compartment, or the main top zipper, the Velcro on the flap will keep everything closed, keeping your gear safe and easy to access. That is one cool thing about this bag, especially for those of us who need quick access to our gear or for those of us who forget to zip up our bags.



Dark blotches are flags sewn on my bag

The inside of the bag is nothing but soft fabric, which makes it highly customizable, especially if you buy extra inserts from Ebay, Goodwill, or other stores. It plays nicely with Velcro; however, if you keep changing your configuration it does get "fuzzy". The way to resolve this is to shave off the fuzziness by using a cheap electric fabric shaver. It's pretty easy to do as you can turn the bag inside out due to the lack of thick/solid padding.  


Some possible configurations (there are many more if you buy 3rd party inserts).
Image (c) Tiffen/Domke



Unfortunately, this lack of padding is also its only weakness. If you drop it with your cameras and lenses in it, you better hope your insurance covers your gear. I bought extra padded inserts on Ebay and modified the bag a bit to make it more padded. One thing I plan to do is tear the fabric at the top, and insert some sheets of foam to give the bag more padding on all sides without compromising its highly customizable inside. It won't take long, and I can have it professionally sewn back together for about 8US in Seoul (probably about 15-20 from a tailor/seamstress back in the US/Canada).
 

 
 


Pros:
  • Small, sleek design
  • Its size is deceptive; it can hold more gear than you'd think...
  • Comfortable strap (can be more so with the USPS shoulder pad)
  • Metal clips and ring holding the strap to the bag
  • Durable canvas material (water resistant--easy to also spray more water repellent on it)
  • Great Velcro front flap, though a bit noisy
  • Nice pockets for accessories
  • Washable (its small size and lack of thick padding make it easy to throw in the wash)
  • Totally customizable with DIY/Ebay padded inserts (can be modified easily to suit your needs)
  • YKK zippers...they've been in the zipper business for decades
Cons:
  • Very lightly padded (it would suck to drop this bag with your gear in it)
  • No USPS shoulder pad...should come standard with this bag
  • Not for the landscape photographer, those who need to carry all of their gear, and those who prefer backpacks
  • Included inserts are nice, but should include more Velcro to allow more customization
Conclusion:
I highly recommend this bag. It looks great, it doesn't scream that you're a photographer, and the zippers, Velcro, and design are just right for walking along the streets of any city. It certainly beats having something on your back or a huge bag, like my Lowepro Nova Pro AW4.