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Sunday, 17 May 2015


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Excuse my skepticism, but: the Filson Harvey bag is yet another that expects me to thread and buckle a strap to close the main flap -- no thank you -- and appears to have a big thick snap on the back exactly where the bag rests against my body -- again, no thank you. The two outside end pockets also look to be too narrow and deep to be really useful -- also a major flaw in my ThinkTank Retrospective 10. (I'm getting these details from the images at B&H.)

These kinds of details seem to feed into an old fashioned look that puts functionality in second place.

The McCurry bag, on the other hand, appears to avoid all of those flaws.

But of course nothing is certain until one actually hefts each bag in person. I've bought bags based on the images and been disappointed with how they work in practice.

I'm now on my third Domke F-3x bag (because they're canvas, I always wear a hole in one corner when they rub my jeans, but they still last several years). The Domke perfectly holds my SLR with attached lens plus another lens in the main compartment, and outer pockets hold all kinds of accessories. (I cut out the interior dividers using kitchen shears.)

Everything I have seen Filson make is top notch. I wear their shirts regularly, they last forever, fit right. Love em. Vests too.

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that the perfect camera bag cannot be made. My own requirements are so contradictory as to be impossible to satisfy. I want something small on the outside, but ample inside. It has to be supple, but tough. Easy to get into, but secure. With enough pockets to store God knows what, but without being fussy. Anonymous to the sight, but nice to look at. With a comfortable strap, but not a large one. A handle to carry by hand, but one that doesn't get in the way. And, of course, it has to be affordable.

I haven't tried every brand of bag made, but I have to conclude with the number of bags available for sale that it must be damned daunting for a bag manufacturer to find a sweet spot. I mean: if in the end David Allen Harvey had to try and fail several dozen bags, and finally resorted to designing one himself, is there any hope for the rest of us?

We have two bag and pack producers here in Duluth, the well known Duluth Pack, and over on the West Side the upstart Frost River. Both make all their stuff in town. Duluth pack makes a few not great camera bags. Frost River makes none, but their stuff is great, and you can easily buy foam inserts if you want them. I bought a small satchel for my EM1 and decided it looked too "urban pretender" as a camera bag, so my wife uses it for a purse and she loves it.

What we obviously need now is the "Mike Johnston" bag.

The reviews at Amazon and B&H Photo are not very favorable for the Filson bag.
I don't have a camera bag. I use a single lens camera, and carry extra film rolls, etc. in my pockets.

I'm thinking of producing the Tardis Bag. Bigger on the inside than the outside. Blue only, of course.

Thanks for writing about Filson, hadn't come across them before.

Re Joe Holmes & "Excuse my skepticism, but: the Filson Harvey bag is yet another that expects me to thread and buckle a strap to close the main flap -- no thank you..."


" -- and appears to have a big thick snap on the back exactly where the bag rests against my body..."

Good points, the (slightly smaller?) Camera Field Bag they make looks as if it fixes both those areas. Still has the small end pockets which some will be OK with some not.


Bags are cool, but I would like to see a post on your top 50 books :)

Yah! Another win for Filson. I still prefer the camera field bag, but which ever does the job!

Buying a perfect camera bag (maybe if we stopped calling it a bag we'd get a better result) should be like buying a perfect suit. Select the material, the style and the hardware and have a craftsman build one that fits your gear perfectly.

Like a fine suit, you likely need more than one bag depending on the occasion. But each would be perfect for the occasion.

This will be costly and you may find that you limit your gear purchases to equipment that will fit your bag. So be it.

The Filson McCurry Tote is actually the best secret from the Magnum/Filson Series. It's cheap and amazing, I use it on my work, when carrying a Konica Instant Press, Sony A7, Sony A99, 3-5 lenses, 10 bat's and all the accessories. Really take a look, it's one of the most discrete bags in the market.

Best wishes.


I love the Filson bag. I read all the critical reviews, re snaps, ripping, buckles everything. All bunk as far as I can tell. One year with me and it's like new. Maybe better than new as the fabric breaks in. I'm done searching for a bag. I carry my em1 with 12/-40, 40-150. And a 25 1.4, plus a flash and iPad. Best bag I've had. Like it better than a billing ham for me. And no contest compared to the nylon fantastics.

The best bag I ever used you cannot buy. It was never sold to the general public. It wasn't even a camera bag. My favorite bag was a US Navy Corpsman bag. This was during the Vietnam War. They still make a similar bag but it's just a cheaper version of that bag from the 60s.

My was stolen and with it went my favorite lens - a 55mm Macro Nikkor.

The first photo on this web page shows a corpsman with the bag: https://lastpatrol.wordpress.com/going-for-the-look/medical-corpsman/

The idea for this camera bag came from the David Douglas Duncan book: I Protest.

The book I still have. A classic.

I like my Domke's, all three of them. (I know, I'm an amateur.) Not perfect for every application (no bag is,) but then I haven't tried every Domke bag. Yet. If I did, could I coin the phrase "I Harvey-ed the whole Domke line"?

With all due respect to David Allan Harvey and Steve McCurry, among the photographers I admire and respect the most :

2/3 off the price. Three times as good.

Filson also make a Camera Field Bag. It does not have a celebrity name attached to it. It looks to be more like the Curry bad but with a narrower profile. I've had my eye on it for a while but keep thinking the Domke still works.

I have researched and seen the filson bags. Meh!

I've been a Filson customer for about three decades and have always found their products rugged and durable. Their waxed cotton canvas products are heavy, though. Filson's customer service has been consistently excellent. I examined their new camera bags in their Seattle store and thought that they were too large and heavy for me and my dslr gear. In Seattle I discovered Tom Bihn (http://www.tombihn.com) and would consider putting one of my Tenba or Domke inserts in a Tom Bihn case. Finding the right, not even a perfect, bag is like questing for unicorns. The search continues.

Bob Krist designed a nice camera bag that was produced by L. L. Bean many years ago. It was sufficiently stylish, didn't look like a typical camera bag and held a lot of stuff. The bag was as deep (70 -220 with hood on deep) as it was wide, one lens thick. It worked well for an SLR with lens attached and two other lenses. It was adding a fourth lens that became an issue. You had to stack two shorter lenses vertically.

I now use Thing Tank belt and pouches when actively shooting (concerts, weddings, events) and use a 5.11 tactical bag when I need to put equipment in a dedicated bag.

I like Gura Gear bags, I have one of their original Kiboko backpacks, great for traveling and would look at their Chobe to work out of but I think it is too small for a full DSLR kit.

I've been dragging the Filson Harvey Backpack all over NYC for the past year...best backpack I've ever owned. Both the backpack and the messenger are made of the same material and sure can take a beating.

PS - Your choice in bags isn't the only thing you might have in common, as David has been shooting extensively with the X-T1 lately.

I'm a bagologist myself -- the addiction goes far beyond camera bags, by the way -- and the fundamental problem is that people think the bags are for *them,* when in fact the bags are for situations. The same bag is not good for car travel, plane travel, street carry, studio work, etc., or for work in wet tropical forests as opposed to sandy deserts or the Arctic winter. Plane travel can require different bags, depending on what kind of plane is involved. (From Santa Fe airport, all of the planes are small regional jets, on which many normal carry-ons will not fit.)

When traveling by car, I carry a roller bag for a big pile of equipment, and why not? I have the space and don't bear the weight. I'll also take a carry bag with me, and move equipment between bags as I need to. Planes require different bags, depending on where you're going (European airline carry-on standards are different than those in the U.S., and third world standards are different again.) When I'm shooting street, I most don't take a bag at all.

So you really have to figure out first what you're doing, and then which bag(s) will meet the requirements. I'm very skeptical of places like Filson that makes shirts and jackets and then break out with a camera bag, even on the advice of a well-known bagologist, because all of us work under different conditions with different requirements, and any one guy is going to have his own biases depending on the work he is doing, and even such things as his physical size and age. I'd prefer an organization that has actually done a lot of research on different *situations.* Even with my preferred manufacturers like Think Tank and Kata, you find biases -- Think Tank is influenced mostly by PJ style work, I believe, while Kata seems to me to be influenced by people deeply interested in equipment protection (the military?) rather than capacity.

My other object to Filson (and I think a lot of outdoors people share the problem) is that their clothes and bags are old-fashioned, heavy, and don't work as well as modern fabrics. They may have kind of a lumberjack vibe, for urban lumberjacks, but I'd rather keep myself and my equipment dry and warm. There are fabrics that'll do that; oiled or waxed canvas is not one of them.

It seems that camera bags have not kept up with the configurability of modern cameras!

You know Mike, I only use a bag to carry cameras and "stuff" so working out of the bag is not a concern...mostly.
So, like my luggage, my bags are usually very wear friendly, like my Safro/Domke knockoff and my buying a $225 bag is a bit like my wearing Armani suits...not in the cards or my wardrobe.
It's ok for dem utter guys, but not for me and I do make a living at photography.
So, like my old customer Jim Domke, I just make do kind of.
Just my two centavos.

Dear Mike,
For years not having 'the right' bag has been the bane of my traveling life...
Samsonite for years have made very good 'photographic bags' I'm on my
second but they don't seem to sell them in all countries.
The last one I bought was in Singapore and before that the UK
Just really good well made bags for my Leica and or Olympus kit but just about large enough for my Pentax 67 And a hefty tripod...

Back in the "0-decade" there was a website that compiled photos of people's camera bags with their gear packed so that people could see "real world" configurations, perhaps somebody who was smart enough to bookmark it could provide a link?

Bellamy curates a great series here: http://www.japancamerahunter.com/category/in-your-bag/

And just to reiterate... shoulder bags are painful. Get a backpack or roller.

@John Camp - I agree, bags/cases are for situations. One bag will not be best for everything, as I think we all know.

Regarding Filson - I'd never heard of them until last September when someone on RFF posted about some of their bags being on sale. My curiosity got the better, and I bought a close-out model of the medium field bag (no inserts) for $100. I wasn't expecting much, and was pleasantly surprised, to the point where I've been using it for a fair amount of travel as a transit bag for my RF kit and other odds and ends. When out shooting, I work out of a customized CourierWare X-small messenger (another product handmade in the USA by a guy who will mod to your needs, within reason) yet still bring along the Filson for daily necessities, like water, a light jacket, etc...When it's not full, it smooshes down pretty flat and stays against the body, which I like (not a fan of padded camera bags).

I've been a Domke fan for a couple decades, but the Filson feels like it will last longer than a typical Domke canvas product (has Domke quality gone down a bit recently?)

The bag got me interested in Filson's other products, to the point where I made a visit to a local store to try some of their wool coats. My preference is normally GoreTex, but their wool products were nice too (though haven't bought any, yet). While maybe not as high tech as modern synthetics/membranes, wool has useful properties in adverse conditions. It also doesn't melt when campfire embers land on it... :)

I am a sucker for canvas and leather. Wonderful materials. Or maybe just nostalgia laden materials. But "Otter Green and Magnum Black"? Don't you wish the marketing people would stay the heck of the way sometimes?

...any bag for a working pro, shooting on the fly, that has buckles you have to unbuckle, is a non-starter...

This bag is a real champ! I've been shooting out of one for about 6 months and it can comfortably carry:

A gripped D750 w/ 58/1.4G & 35/1.4 Sigmalux + acc

A Rolleiflex 2.8E & Sony A7 plus 1 or 2 lenses.

A Rolleiflex 2.8E + Meter & a non-gripped D750 + prime of choice.

1 Beaulieu 4008zm super 8 camera + lens, film and meter.

The side pockets perfectly fit a Rollei filter kit, but do not fit an SB-900. Even more comfortable would be a pair of sunglasses.

The back of the bag has a mesh pocket which I can imagine ripping apart soon, but it hasn't yet. Hopefully when it does it'll just add to the look of the thing. It ages very well and could use a few rain drops to get into prime condition. I had previously been working out of a Think Tank Retrospective 30 which was so roomy that I would overload it. This bag doesn't let you do that, and so is much less taxing on the shoulder.

I also have the 'Photographers Backpack' which carries a good deal of gear comfortably. Has some flimsy dividers but I've found the whole thing padded enough that it doesn't matter. Hopefully, my bag search is over (for a while).

I had been somewhat familiar with the Filson name in the context of moderate climate outdoorsy/fishing accessories, mostly the latter. Re-marketing fishing bags to other bag-obsessed interests makes complete sense for Filson (as it did for Billingham). But it makes little sense for today's photographers. These canvas bags are heavy, droopy, inflexible, and offer far less practical utility than designed-for-photo brands like Think Tank or LowePro.

No thanks. If I want to catch a trout Filson will be my go-to. If I want to catch an image...naw.

I note that the Amazon description states: "Made in USA and Imported." Perhaps the club is getting even more exclusive.

I use a fishing bag for my 10x8 large format gear. Waterproof, heavy duty, and a fraction of the cost of a "proper" camera bag.

Filson are in the business of selling dreams of course, like lots of other companies. In the case of the Harvey the dream is of becoming a character akin to a cross between Indiana Jones and Tim Page - the travel, the danger, the artistic flair, the sexual magnetism: life on the edge.

I so wanted to like the Harvey, but then saw it only came with one divider, and it can only be attached smack dab in the middle. Seriously? I opted for the Camera Field Bag, but found it just too deep for a Fuji kit, and yes the side pockets are too tight for much of anything. Sold it, and for the second time I bought the Domke J803, added an old Think Tank Chimp Cage insert, and I'm done! For daily carry or travel, it just works. Two bodies, 2-4 lenses, batt's etc. in a narrow profile. Some complain about Domke's clip closure, but I've quickly learned to open and close it one-handed, no sound of ripping velcro. iPad fits in the rear or interior pocket. I'm done buying bags. No, really. I swear.


Any amount over $150.00 for a camera bag is simply paying for "high style" in my opinion. I don't need anything like that. Usually a workable bag can be had for little over $75.00. I will say I don't bring the "kitchen sink" with me when I shoot and my equipment does not complain about not riding in style!

I have a couple of LowePro bags that have been in use for about 25 years now. Can't kill them. But it really is embarassing showing up to a photographer gathering with them because they aren't some fancy, ritzy bag.

However, my favorite bag of all is one that I replaced with another one when the first one wore out on me. The Canon 200EG is below bargain basement price. It takes 60 seconds to get rid of the Canon logo and it looks totally blah. Frankly, it's one of the best bags at any price. I'll buy another when this one wears out.

I agree with another commenter that a bag should be task oriented, not photographer oriented. No one bag serves all purposes.

The anecdotes in the featured comments, about the Magnum photographer and the traveling pro photographer, were very enjoyable.

I sometimes cast a lustful eye at my friend's Billingham bags and tend to see them as reasonably priced when all is taken into consideration. But the best camera bag – as in the best bag for a certain set of uses for me – I've yet come across is a messenger style Finnish Army canvas gas mask bag. Last time I checked they could be had surplus for $10, sometimes even with the gas mask included. For the photographer who uses a simple and relatively lightweight setup and values a tough, flexible bag, the nassellaukku is hard to beat.

It has no padding, but I usually keep a fleece winter hat in mine to put the camera in, since it seems gratuitous to have the camera just rubbing against whatever other stuff I put in the bag.

I'll carry it even if I'm only using the one camera body with one lens. I much prefer having the spare batteries and SD card, for example, in a bag rather than in a pocket.

To Roberto Alonso: the Prestige tanker spill occured in november 2002; the Nikon D90 came out in september 2008. Did you mean the N90?

I just purchaced a very similar bag (used for fishing or utility) for $12.00 at "Cabela's.
It hold 2 aps-c cameras 4 lenses a flash and all the other things I need. Size is 14X9x7.

Regarding Roberto Alonso's comment:

Nikon D90? Not in 2002. According to DPReview, it was, "Announced Aug 27, 2008"

Perhaps an F90?

I love camera bags. I could probably give Mr Harvey a run for his money. Right now I'd have well over 50.


I now have three bags I'm using regularly. Only one of them is particular satisfactory.

Partly it's the problem of being a generalist -- I own too much gear, and take only a small part of it on any given shoot. Partly it's probably being too short of money to casually buy bags at several hundred dollars a pop to see what works out.

I'm wondering about backpacks, and I'm wondering about roller bags. The concept of transport bags, used just to transport gear and NOT to shoot out of except in a secure place like a studio is starting to seem attractive.

When I put my D700, 24-70, 70-200, SB-800, and teleconverter (and usually something else like the Sigma 12-24 or the Nikon 85/1.8 or the Nikon 135/2 DC) in my Think Tank Retrospective, the darned things is nearly cylindrical; I keep finding Think Tank bags are too small in some dimensions and they get pushed out by the load, making them look like stuffed pillows of one shape or another (with very mainstream equipment).

But the Olympus EM-5, Lumix 20/1.7, Oly 45/1.8, and Lumix 14/2.5 all fit rather neatly in the very small Crumpler 4 Million Dollar Home (that naming scared me away from even looking at those bags for a while; luckily they're on the cheap side, not super-expensive).

Wow, never knew how expensive camera bags could be. Been using a 6-pack sized beer/picnic cooler for a number of years; through various countries,and airports. Needed a "climate-controlled" container for my 4x5 setup when I used to shoot film.

John camp nailed it. And to top it off, the poseur bags of canvas or whatever are ridiculously overpriced, and with a wanker/hipster vibe. Go tamac or lowepro.

Long time backpackers may know that Filson was famous for making the best (and nearly legendary) wool pants.

I had this bag, a birthday gift from an amazing wife, and disappointedly returned it. It was too small - it would fit no larger than a 13in macbook, not my 15in, and could hold a small mirrorless body and 2 lenses, a bit more w/o a laptop. The size might have been manageable - it's a small bag, meant to blend in, but the quality wasn't up to what I was used to from Filson.
I have a jacket that can stop bullets from them, a hat, and a few other items - amazing stuff my son may indeed wear at some point. But the bag fabric was thin to the point of fragile, and the strap hardware was flat out cheap - good zippers, but strap loop and strap hardware proper were shameful. Their regular, non-magnum photo bag is built very well, but the name must have cost a dear penny. My Domke still is a better built bag.

I feel obliged to say that Filson's customer service is top-notch - they took the bag as a return without complaint and offered to send a replacement. Great company, this bag just isn't up to the high standards that my beloved Tin Cloth jacket set.

Ah, the joys of a faltering memory! I got my Nikon models mixed up and the two gents calling me to task are certainly right. I guess it was a D100, not a D90 inside that bag. I do recall clearly that at the time I was shooting the then mighty D1x, now a beautiful paperweight, and it struck me as odd that such a reputed photographer was not using a pro body (D1, X or H).

Frank P: http://www.cambags.com

These days there are a lot of youtube videos of varying quality that will also give you a good idea of how bags carry things.

All camera bags seem to share the same basic problems ... they are too big, too small, too stiff, not stiff enough, and the wrong general shape.

In general, if it doesn't fit in a Domke satchel, you didn't need to take it with you anyway. Unless you did.

I use various thin unpadded daypacks and courier/musette bags and stuff cameras and lenses into the relatively thin, padded ThinkTank inserts. Done.

Bizarrely, or rarely at least, I actually use some things mentioned in an article here!

The Finnish gasmask canvas bag is a handy size and has a built-in waist-strap, as well as the shoulder strap. I find that it is a bit too floppy to get stuff out of easily and hence sub-optimal for photo use. I also have a British NBC-haversack (designed for a similar function to the Finnish one, but several decades later) that is both more padded and more rigid than the Finnish bag, and is ok as a lunch-bag.

My main camera-carrying bag for years now has been one of two Courierware bags, either very small or not-quite-so-small (depending on what I want to carry), with padding only on the bottom and with seven pockets. It has a shoulder-strap, a top handle, velcro-closure on the flap and a very good design. They are also ridiculously robust and unobtrusive.

I really don't understand why someone wants to pay a lot of money for a make-up bag with limited functionality for our intended (photographic) purpose.

My favorite camera bag is one that's old, dirty & beat up--that way, no one thinks there's anything worthwhile in it. And that's the way I want them to think...


In the David Aschkenas site you linked to the other day, there's a portrait that has what looks like a box in the background saying Filson Shoes. Just thought I'd mention it for no particular reason.


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