Domke Metro Messenger Bag: Your shoulder-carried digital darkroom

1034956I’ve always envied pros wandering around with their classic Domke photo bags. Sleek, practical, and oozing history, they were also rugged enough to take a beating anywhere in the world. However, whether because I needed to lug large lenses, carry a laptop, or have a bag with enough padding so that I could check it in a pinch, there was never a Domke that fit my needs. Until now. The new Domke Metro Messenger bag is perfect for a traveling photographers “walk-around” gear and laptop. I’ve been using one for a few weeks, so I have plenty of experiences with it to share with you…

First and foremost, the bag looks cool and works well. It is intelligently designed form end-to-end. It feels “long” – both because it is narrow so it needs to be long to carry a good supply of gear, and because it is designed to fit quite a large laptop. Once you get used to the long, narrow, shape it fits and wears well. I like having the flexibility to use the flap or top opening, as well as the easy access pockets on the end and the rear. The separate laptop compartment is nice for making it easy to snag your computer from the bag when it’s stuff into the overhead on a plane. The bag also does a great job of sitting upright. Many similar bags fall over easily unless they are packed very carefully.

The bag holds enough gear for me to shoot on most days – 1-2 of my mid-size DSLRs, 2-3 lenses, a flash, and some accessories. As with my other bags, when I’m actually using it for shooting, I keep the weight down by leaving my laptop in the hotel room and only carrying a tablet. The extra space is great for guidebooks or documents. The bag definitely won’t be for everyone though, as it has its plusses and minuses. Let’s take a look at the features and what I liked and wasn’t so keen on:

Feature-rich!

The bag is packed to the gills with features, including:

  • Top access in addition to flap
  • Open rear pocket for documents, a hat, etc.
  • Expandable zippered side pockets, for chargers, filters, pocket-sized accessories, small water bottle
  • Stacked front slide pockets for miscellaneous pens, business cards, etc.
  • Key “leash”
  • Rear strap can be used to hold bag on your roller handle
  • Numbered identity plate for tracking if lost or stolen
  • Side rain flaps to keep water from dripping in around main flap
  • Padded zippered tablet sleeve fits up to 14.25 x 9.5
  • Foam-lined laptop cargo pocket with double zipper
  • "Quiet" system hook and loop silencer – can either attach tightly or silently for event shooting
  • Expandable front pockets using snaps – although I found the snaps were quite stiff, so they needed two hands
  • The Domke flap tucks in for anonymity
  • All zippers are YKK®
  • Comes with 2 dividers – although you can purchase a wide variety of additional dividers and pockets as accessories

This is a Retro design, for good and not so good

IMG_416080The Domke Metro Messenger is very obviously a throwback design. If you never admired a Domke bag, or never owned one, then it may not be the bag for you. Personally, I love the retro look, but there are a few places where it makes the bag a little less convenient than some of its modern competitors:

  • The shoulder strap is a simple cloth strap (with little rubber nubbins to prevent slipping). It is certainly fine, and probably will last forever, but the lack of padding makes it much less comfortable than similar bags with padded straps. I may “cheat” and take one of the padded straps from another bag to use with it.
  • The bag is fairly heavy for what it holds. Certainly that is part of what makes it so reliable and rugged, but it also doesn’t make carrying it any easier. For comparison the Domke Metro Messenger weighs in at 5.25 pounds, while the Think Tank Urban Disguise 50 (which also holds a 15” laptop alongside camera gear) is under 4 lbs. In fairness, even though both bags spec that they hold a 15” laptop, the Messenger is longer, so it has a more generous laptop compartment. So we could compare it to the Think Tank Urban Disguise 60, but even that weighs in at a lighter 3.7 - 4.4 lbs.
  • The metal snaps for the main cover can be somewhat noisy as you bounce around. Certainly there are modern designs that wouldn’t have that problem, but then again they are really sturdy and easy to snap.

The bag does have plenty of modern touches, like removable padded dividers, a “key” leash, and lots of small pockets. My only problem with the dividers is that while they are flexible, they don’t have any pre-defined bend points the way the ones from LowePro and Think Tank do. Those “easy bend” flaps make it simpler to place a camera body with lens pointed down in the bag and have the wider (grip) side rest on the flap. I think with some work I can accomplish the same thing in the Metro Messenger, but so far I haven’t really mastered that part.

Don’t be fooled by the name: It can be used as a shoulder bag

Domke Metro Messenger Camera Bag (Military Ruggedwear)Don’t be fooled by the name Messenger, thinking that the bag can only be used as a “messenger-style” bag (slung over the opposite shoulder) like the Think Tank Sling-O-Matic. The bag is equally at home as a shoulder bag (although you can of course put the strap over your other shoulder to use the bag as a sling bag.

The bag is available in black, ruggedized black, or “military” (a sort of artsy green reminiscent of the Retrospective bag blue from Think Tank). I liked the green because it is a nice change from the typical black photo bag, and doesn’t look as much like it contains valuable equipment.

Is the Domke Metro Messenger bag right for you?

If you’re really looking for a professional “briefcase-style” bag, then I can heartily recommend the Think Tank Urban Disguise 60 (or one of its smaller siblings like the Think Tank Urban Disguise 50 if you don’t need all the room of a 60 for a 17” laptop).

Looking for something less expensive?

All the rugged glory of the Domke Metro Messenger doesn’t come cheap. The version I think is coolest, the Military color, will run you $349, while the Black is $343, and the Rugged Black is $380. If you’re inspired by the concept but don’t want to shell out the money, you can either look at the Domke Herald (room for tablet only) or the Think Tank CityWalker shoulder bag as less expensive options.