Once you have a camera with a few lenses and accessories, you need a way to carry around all of those things. I’m often doing so in urban areas and quickly gravitated to messenger bags. There are many variations on the messenger bag theme, but many included a laptop sleeve that was of zero interest to me. The other problem was that most camera bag companies have baffling web sites that appear to deliberately obscure important information like bag sizes behind layers of Flash menus.

Domke’s models seemed like good fits for my needs, and my first purchase for an Olympus E-500 with a few lenses was an F-803. This bag measures 13” x 4” x 9” and comes with a tall, padded, vertical compartment that held the Zuiko 50–200 f/2.8–3.5 with a reversed lens hood. The remaining room in the main compartment fit the E-500 body and the following lenses: 14–54 f/2.8–3.5, 50 f/2.0, 7–14 f/4.0, and EX-25. One front pouch held an FL-50 flash, and the other a circular polarizer filter and a few other accessories. Even with all this gear, the bag was comfortable to carry all day and kept everything close at hand. It hugged my side in museums and metros and didn’t draw attention. It has enough padding to protect the contents but not so much to make the bag bulky. One of my lady friends commented that it looked like a fine “man purse.” This was particularly true after it broke in and picked up a few scuffs. That’s not to say that it’s a poorly constructed bag: it’s a rugged product built to survive years of abuse.

I later purchased an E-3 and needed a bit more room due to the larger camera body. My first thought was to get an F-802, which measures 15.5” x 4” x 12”. The added length seemed fine, but a three-inch taller bag seemed like it would get awkward, both for carrying around and for finding items down at the bottom. I really liked the sand color but wanted a bag that split the difference between the F-803 and F-802.

The answer was a J-803, a black nylon version of the F-803 that measures 13.5” x 4.5” x 10” and fit my E-3 kit perfectly. Domke also makes the F-901 pouch, which attaches to the sides of the bag and adds additional room if needed. You first need to cut the seams that secure the strap to the side of the bag so that you can secure the pouch’s velcro closure around the strap. The F-803 ships without this stitching, but you need to cut it manually with the J-803. The F-901 also has a handy belt loop, and I wear a pair of them when photographing weddings to carry an extra lenses, batteries, and CF cards.

I’ve since switched to a Nikon D700 system, and the J-803 is doing fine. The only problem is that the vertical compartment is too small for the lens hood of the Nikkor 70–200 f/2.8 VR. It now lives in the main compartment instead of being reversed on the lens in the vertical one. That 8.5” (215 mm) long lens is also as tall as will fit in the vertical compartment.