Camera Bag

Billingham Hadley Small Pro Review

004_Billingham-Hadley-Small-Pro_DerekClarkPhoto.jpg

My day to day small walk around camera bag for the past two years has been the ONA Bowery in Dark Truffle leather. I also have the ONO Prince Street (also in Dark truffle) but my Hasselblad stuff lives in that one. I still really love the Bowery for the amount of gear I can fit in such a small space, but I felt like trying something new.

My friend John Summers had given me an insert for a Hadley Small a while back and I’ve used it in various bags, including the Christopher by Millican and recently in the F-3x by Domke. The size of that insert is perfect and almost identical to the Bowery. So after looking at various small bags from many different manufacturers, I kept coming back to the fact that I was looking for something that would either take the Hadley Small insert or have the same interior size. So being the genius that I am, I finally realised the bag I was looking for might just be a Billingham.

Not being too into the beige thing and wanting to be a lot more stealth; I opted for the black bag with black leather details. The original Hadley Small is still available (£159 in the UK), but the new Hadley Small Pro was released last year (£199 UK) and has some really worthwhile additions to the original bag (more on this later).

The Hadley Small Pro is made from Billinghams FiberNyte material, which has a layer of rubber sandwiched in the middle of its three-ply makeup. This makes the Hadley range permanently shower proof, no need to apply wax or use an additional rain cover when out in the rain. My bags always get soaked at some point, so this will be a really handy feature. The strap on the original Hadley Small was stitched to the side of the bag, but the Pro has a removable strap via leather fasteners. I would rather have the older method as I don’t trust straps that are removable. This is mostly due to the ONA Bowery strap coming undone loads of times as I lifted it from the passenger seat of my car. This resulted in the destruction of a Fuji X100F when the Bowery hit the deck. My Bowery now has zip ties holding the clasps on the strap permanently shut. Time will tell if the Billingham is more secure than the ONA, but it is absolutely solid right now and should stay that way as I won't be removing them, causing the leather to soften.

The handle is fairly rigid and easy to grab. It’s riveted and stitched to the top of the bag which has an internal support

The handle is fairly rigid and easy to grab. It’s riveted and stitched to the top of the bag which has an internal support

Another new feature on the Pro is the addition of a handle on the top. This is ideal for that passenger seat scenario and a great feature to have. I would make sure the lid is secure before using the handle, but at least the Hadley Small Pro doesn’t tip over, spilling everything onto the ground. .

Two more new features on the Pro are found around the back. The first is the welcomed addition of a luggage strap so that it can be slid over the handle of a rolling suitcase. All bags should have this in my opinion.

Waterproof zip keeps iPads or documents dry and the luggage strap is really useful

Waterproof zip keeps iPads or documents dry and the luggage strap is really useful

Just above the luggage strap, you will find the waterproof zip for the rear document pocket. This is a super handy pocket that will keep documents or iPad Mini 100% dry. Well worth the price difference between the Pro and the older model.

027_Billingham-Hadley-Small-Pro_DerekClarkPhoto.jpg
020_Billingham-Hadley-Small-Pro_DerekClarkPhoto.jpg
018_Billingham-Hadley-Small-Pro_DerekClarkPhoto.jpg

The main compartment of the Hadley Small Pro (and also the original Small) is one open space that can be used as it is, or with the included insert. This is one of those bags that feels bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. I can easily fit my X-Pro2 with the 35mm f2 attached, X100F with lens hood, and two lenses stacked in the third partition (I have the 50mm f2 and the WCLX100 wide angle converter lens). Two cameras and four focal lengths (28, 35, 50 & 75mm in FF terms) is fantastic in such a small bag and there’s even enough room in there to include the pancake 27mm too. Or I can leave the 50/2 at home and take my X70 for a bit of shooting from the hip. The insert is held inside the bag using a single stud fastener at the front. It has a padded hinged lid to protect gear from things falling on top..

This is everything I have in the Hadley Small Pro. The Fuji X70 gets swapped for the 50mm f2 sometimes

This is everything I have in the Hadley Small Pro. The Fuji X70 gets swapped for the 50mm f2 sometimes

The front pockets are held shut with stud fasteners and are really great for a bag this size. Both are roomy and can be expanded or reduced in size by fastening a stud at the outer side. This also creates a makeshift pen holder. I can put my passport sized Midori Travellers Notebook, pens, wallet, memory card holder, phone, spare batteries, and Apple Airpods in there with space to spare. 

The leather and brass fixings ooze quality and should last a lifetime. I opted for the black leather on a black bag, so the fixings are also nickel plated. It’s almost criminal to not show off the leather like on some of the two-tone bags, but I need something that doesn’t draw attention. I was almost tempted by the green version though as they always look really nice on the web.

The front fasteners as extremely stiff due to the excellent quality of leather and can be awkward and time-consuming to open, but it should just take a short amount of time to loosen up to the point of opening the bag one-handed.

OPTIONAL ACCESSORIES

I opted to buy the SP40 leather shoulder pad at the same time as the bag. Not having tried the bag before, I wasn’t sure if I would even need a shoulder pad, but I thought it was better to be over prepared than have a sore shoulder. The pad is as well made as the bags and is easily attached or removed by two heavy-duty stud fasteners. The underside of the pad is grippy and curves around your shoulder perfectly due to grooves that allow it to bend without kinking.

013_Billingham-Hadley-Small-Pro_DerekClarkPhoto.jpg

CONCLUSION

The Hadley Small Pro is an ideal bag for smaller kits. Leica owners or mirrorless shooters alike will love it. I have a backpack for my more demanding shoots, which is where my X-T3, X-T2 and most of my other lenses live (including the bigger red label f2.8 zooms). But for day to day walking around documentary and street shooting, this is an ideal bag. It’s waterproof and versatile and I'm looking forward to using it on a few trips abroad this year.

I also have a Tenba Cooper 13 Slim that I use when I need to carry my 13” MacBook Pro with me. The Cooper has been a fantastic bag, but I might try a Hadley Pro or a Hadley One to see if it would work as my mid-sized bag. Life would probably be a bit easier using different sizes of the same bag...I think.

Pros. 

  • Top Handle.

  • Luggage Strap.

  • Rear waterproof pocket.

  • Removable camera insert.

  • Good amount of padding.

  • A generous amount of dividers (unlike ONA).

  • Good sized and expandable front pockets.

  • Comfortable to wear on long walks.


Cons

  • I would have preferred leather on the base or some sort of wipe clean material.

  • Leather tabs are a bit short to get a proper grip when opening the bag.

  • Difficult to open one-handed (this might change as the leather softens).

Find out more at www.billingham.co.uk

Domke Or An Ass? : The Domke F-3X Review

006_DerekClarkPhoto-Domke_F-3X.jpg

Watch any Hollywood films featuring photojournalists and chances are there will be a Domke in there somewhere. I rewatched an old documentary on YouTube recently called 'The Photographers (a film about National Geographic photographers) and all of them were using Domke. I've been using the F-3X for a couple of months now as my every day carry around camera bag and have also recently used it while traveling to the Czech Republic.

A Brief History Of Domke
You can download a free ebook by Jim Domke from the Tiffin website for an interesting and detailed history of the Domke company's beginnings, but here is my very short version. Skip this section if you have no interest in the past.

Jim Domke was a staff photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer back in the '70's. Frustrated by the hard shell camera cases available at the time, which were made for setting down and working out of, rather than working out of while it was on your shoulder. Mr. Domke started using fishing bags, which although offered little to no protection, did allow him to work out of and swap lenses on his cameras. Fishing bags were also soft and adjusted to the shape of the user's body.

He then went to a manufacturer and showed them his fishing bag but asked them to make him a similar thing but with a few modifications to suit photo gear. The Philadelphia Inquirer liked the bag so much that they ordered the bags for the rest of the staff photographers. They even started to sell them as an add in the paper. This went well until advertisers started to complain because it conflicted with their own products. So the New York Times stopped selling the bags and Jim Domke was in business. Many photographers made requests for modifications, so the original version went through a few changes until the Domke F2 Shooters Bag as we know it today, was finalized. The F-3X is a similar style of bag to the F2, but a little smaller. Domke is now owned by Tiffen

002_DerekClarkPhoto-Domke_F-3X.jpg

Waxy As A Waxy Thing
My first impression of the F-3X was not exactly what I had expected. Having looked at many pictures on the web, I decided to order the Rugged Wear wax canvas version because it looked as though it would become really beat up looking very quickly. I had read various reviews and comments about the wax finish, with some saying it was too waxy (greasy) and some saying theirs had no residue problems. So when mine arrived I was a little disappointed that the wax was indeed a bit too heavy. Nobody wants to get wax all over their hands and then have to handle cameras and lenses. So I left the bag outside, hoping the sun would burn the wax off. The F-3X instantly looked wet. Over time the wax has worn off and I'm sure when I eventually give it a scrub in the shower (Domke recommends this rather than putting it in a washing machine), the wax feel will be gone. A tin of wax is supplied with all Rugged Wear bags, so it can be reapplied if required.

F-3X Build Quality
I was a little surprised when I first held the lid of the F-3X up to the light. The wax canvas material was much thinner than I had expected. I bought the bag from Amazon and my initial thought was that it might be a fake Domke (to shoot all that fake news). But on closer inspection, I noticed how well made the bag is. The single clip on the front to hold the lid of the bag closed is solid and with a bit of practice is easy to work with one hand. It's not always necessary to use the clip though as the lid also has Velcro.

One of the most impressive features in the build quality front is the shoulder strap and handle. The latter is a simple canvas strap that comes in really handy when lifting the bag to and from the passenger seat of a car. It can also be unclimbed and reattached to a couple of D rings on the back of the bag. I think this is to allow the bag to be held onto the handle of rolling luggage. I managed to do this fine while the handle was in its normal position. In my opinion, the handle is a little longer than it needs to be.
The shoulder strap is impressive in a few ways. It isn’t noticeable because of the side pockets, but the shoulder strap actually goes around and under the bag, so it is actually supported from the bottom, rather than from the sides. That isn’t the full truth though, because the strap that goes under the bag and the one that hangs from your shoulder are two separate straps. The good news is that they are joined together by really tough plastic attachments. The underside of the strap has two strips of rubber to grip your shoulder and keep the bag from sliding off. This works really well. I also purchased the optional Post Office Pad which has a thick rubber padding and makes a huge difference in comfort when carrying a fully loaded F-3X. Jim Domke copied the shoulder pad used on the bags of US postal workers bags.

The F-3X In Real-World Use
The only way to really know how good a camera bag is and how well it functions in the field is to use it. So I've carried the F-3X with me every day for the last couple of months, using it for everything except for a couple of shoots where I needed to use more kit that would fit in the Domke.

This is the original Dome configuration. Great to work out of with a little amount of kit, but very little padding

This is the original Dome configuration. Great to work out of with a little amount of kit, but very little padding

The F-3X is a strange shapeshifter of a bag. It's happy with a little kit or a lot of kit and molds nicely to the shape of your body. I must admit that I haven’t used the bag in its usual setup, which is basically two thin canvas hoops that are sewn in the sides of the bag. These look like two lens pouches. A single lightly padded square with Velcro at either side is also supplied. This pad connects both of the side pouches and sets the bag up as a two camera and two lens configuration in the main compartment. The downside with this setup is that there is very little protection for the gear and to top half of the bag is wasted space. See the next section for my two preferred ways to set up the F-3X with optional inserts

021_DerekClarkPhoto-Domke_F-3X.jpg

The F-3X has a good amount of pockets for storing all sorts of kit. The hidden one under the main flap is really handy to store cash and passports as it has a zip. I can only guess that this was the pocket Lindsay Addario used to store her passport when she was kidnapped in a war zone a few years ago. Although her kidnappers went through her Domke, they didn't find her passport and she was able to pass herself off as an Italian photographer (rather than an American one). Read Lindsay's great book called 'It's What I Do' for the full story.

The front pocket is the large single space variety, rather than sewn up into two smaller ones. It functions well and is good for sunglasses and memory card wallets etc. But it's the side pockets that are the jewel in the crown. Two many bag companies either make the side pockets too tight or forget to include them at all. Not Domke. The side pockets on the F-3X are large enough to carry lenses or water bottles. I bought a pet treats pouch from the local pet store (beats me too), which holds any of my Fuji primes snuggly and with extra padding. A climbing chalk back is basically the same thing.

One major flaw of the Domke Shooters Bags is the way they design the top lid and the lids on the side pockets. In both cases, the material is cut too narrow at the end that attaches to the bag. So the side pockets have gaps that rainwater could get in. Likewise, there can be gaps on each side of the top lid unless you take the time to pull each stretch the lid out over the bag. In the case of the lid, unlike other bags that have flat lids, the F-3X is stitched so that it forms a little roof.

Two Ways To Set Up The F-3X With Aftermarket Inserts
Like I said, the Domke setup doesn’t protect gear much and has a lot of wasted space too. Although the side dividers are sewn and can’t be removed, they easily fold flat against the sides of the bag leaving one large compartment. So I've been using two different aftermarket camera bag inserts depending on what my needs are.

The Dome F-3X with the Hadley Small Insert keeps the bag nice and slim. The centre space holds my X-Pro2 and 35mm f2 attached.

The Dome F-3X with the Hadley Small Insert keeps the bag nice and slim. The centre space holds my X-Pro2 and 35mm f2 attached.

The Hadley Small insert (above) was given to me by my friend John Summers and is the same width as the main compartment on the F-3X. I can divide the insert up into three sections and get my X100F, X-Pro2 with the 35/2 attached and X70 with the WCL-X100 underneath. That leaves a bit of space in front of the insert for a book and still leaves all the pockets free for extra lenses and batteries etc.

The Koolertron (above) is an insert I bought on Amazon especially for the F-3X that is almost exactly the same size as the main compartment. I also have this one divided up into three compartments. This insert gives a little more room for longer lenses, so I can have my X-100F with the WCL-X100 attached and the X-Pro2 with anything up to the Fuji 90/2 attached. Again this leaves the other pockets for lenses or batteries etc. Click HERE for a link to the Koolertron on Amazon UK.

Traveling With The F-3X
I chose to use the Hadley Small insert for my trip to the Czech Republic. The Koolertron is great for holding lots of kit, but because it’s almost exactly the same size as the main compartment (and fairly rigid), it makes the F-3X a bit boxy and I wanted it to be soft and easy to carry. I wanted it to sit on my hip and mold around me, making it easier to move through crowded spaces and busy public transport. I made the right choice.
My Bose QC25 headphones fit in any of the end pockets and the hidden zipper pocket in the lid allows me to put my watch, cash, and passport in there as my bag goes through airport security. I don’t need to worry that someone will grab my cash if I get stopped at security. The rear pocket is ideal for my iPad mini and all the hotel and travel documents that I print out just in case I need them (I also keep digital versions in Evernote). I don't think the Domke is a bag that will attract the attention of thieves. It doesn’t look like, nor is it an expensive bag. It’s a really functional travel camera bag.

001_DerekClarkPhoto-Domke_F-3X.jpg

Conclusion
Domke bags may not be for everyone. Even if you like Domke, the Rugged Wear version may not be for you. I would say it's best to see them in the flesh at a proper camera store (if you can find one of those). The F-3X is a winner for me and I'll be using it a lot. This bag was never meant to be my every day carry around bag, so I'll be going back to my ONA Bowery for that. But my Domke is so versatile I can see this as my go-to bag of choice for a number of situations. Like ONA bags, the Domke bags just get better looking after lots of use and abuse. I can't think of a better camera bag for traveling either. My F-3X already looks as though it has been on the road for a long time. Maybe I'll do a follow up to this when it starts to get really frayed at the edges and has a few battle scars.

Positives
Shapeshifter
Large side pockets
Hidden pocket with zipper
Grab handle/luggage strap
Great for inserts
The strap goes under the bag
Rear pocket fits iPad Mini or paperwork

Negatives
Wax is too waxy
Flaps are too small to keep rain out
Very little padding

You can find the F-3X at the Tiffen website HERE.

ONA Bowery Bag In Dark Truffle Leather

I've had an ONA camera bag on my wish list for a while. It was originally the Street Prince in Dark Truffle Leather that I had in mind, but I couldn't get one in the UK at that time. I asked a friend to pick me one up in the US last year, but the dealer was too far from where she was staying. I ended up buying a Tenba Cooper 13 Slim instead, which I'm still using and love, especially for travelling as it has a sleeve to fit over the handle of rolling cases and it has a pocket at the front big enough for my Bose QC25 headphones.

So when a trip to London appeared on the horizon, I found out that The Classic Camera stocked a selection of ONA bags in various styles and finishes. I still liked the Street Prince and even considered the Berlin II, but I've been on the look out for something small that would force me to carry less gear on a day to day basis. I have a backpack for shoots where I need a lot of kit, but for street photography or just a go anywhere bag, I was in need of something smaller, but with enough space to hold a few accessories as well as two or three X-Series cameras with lenses attached.

I kept coming back to the Bowery and was drawn to the leather versions especially. The Antique Cognac looks good (it looks much better in the flesh than it does on the internet actually), but I loved the look of the Dark Truffle leather version. I liked the Tan canvas version when I was looking at them at Classic Camera, but I knew I wouldn't get it out of my system unless I bought the leather one.

I paid the £219 at The Classic Camera and resisted buying a Leica M6 (for now) while I was in the shop. I ended up carrying the Bowery around in it's box for six hours that day while I shot some London Street Photography with the X70 and X-Pro2.

BUILD QUALITY:

 The leather ONA bags are made to wear-in really quickly, so if you want one to stay looking as new as the day you bought it for many years, leather ONA bags are not for you. But if you want your bag to look as though you've been using it for years, even though it's fairly new, then look no further because ONA is definitely what you're after.

Build quality on ONA bags is fantastic, in fact I would say it's the best I have seen on any bag! The leather versions especially look as though they would last for many years, possibly out lasting me. The leather is thick and tough and the rivets and buckles are chunky and already look aged, which is in keeping with the rest of the bag.

WHAT FITS INSIDE THE BOWERY:

The Bowery can hold a lot of kit for such a small bag. The leather version is a good bit heavier than the canvas one and as I said earlier, the purpose of this bag for me is to travel lighter on a day to day basis when I don't have a shoot that requires larger lenses. But I can basically get all of the following into the Bowery. I don't always need this amount of gear, but it's good to have the option.

  • Fuji X-Pro2 with the 35mm f2 attached
  • Fuji X100T (with lens hood)
  • Fuji X70 (with lens hood)
  • GoPro (under the X70)
  • Moleskine (Evernote edition) Notebook
  • Parker pen
  • Apple Earbuds (headphones)
  • A couple of spare batteries
  • Short iPhone cable
  • 2 spare SD cards (in their cases)
  • Business cards and bank/credit cards
  • Lens cloth

Here's a short video showing how I fit all this inside the Bowery.

CONCLUSION:

This Bowery is a really cool bag. It feels great over my shoulder and has that rare quality of feeling lighter than it actually is. I was tempted to buy the wax version because it was a good bit lighter and felt and looked great, but I knew I would still have had gear lust over the leather version, so I'm glad I bought this one. The Dark Truffle is the one for me, even though ONA are now doing a black leather versions too.

These bags are not inexpensive by any means, but will last for years, and even though they will get scuffed and worn very quick, they will look as cool as an old Leica that's worn down to the brass. I would highly recommend paying a visit to The Classic Camera store if you happen to be in the London area, I know I'll be back there on my next visit to London. If you're on the fence about buying an ONA bag, just take the plunge. You won't be disappointed.