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A Retrospective on Camera Bags (With a Twist)

Over the past 50 years, I’ve traveled with and depended on a variety of bags, starting in the late ’60s with a fishing tackle bag from Abercrombie & Fitch. Then I discovered the series of beautiful canvas and leather Brady Bags, made by hand in England since the late 1800s. While Brady now makes dedicated camera bags, my career favorites were the Ariel Trout and Gelderburn models, designed for fishermen and still in production. Artisanally made and now quite expensive, I don’t think they’re what I’d carry around the world today.

From there, it was on to the first version of the Domke Bag, designed by Jim Domke, a photojournalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He based his design on (no surprise) a fishing bag that he had been using. He wrote about its development a few years ago, and mentions several names you’ll surely recognize, including our old friends Marty Forscher and David Burnett. The Domke brand has grown (now owned by Tiffen), but new players have entered the market, and to my mind and experience the bags from Think Tank are game changers in many ways. Their latest is a line of camera bags called Retrospective v2.0 (there’s the twist I mentioned), and here’s why I’m such a satisfied customer:

Think Tank Retrospective bag, in profile First of all, they don’t call attention to themselves. As I wrote some time ago, you never want your bags and straps to shout “steal me”. If they do, make it a priority to replace the offending parts… or cover them with several patches of gaff tape so they look worn-out.

Secondly, these bags make the best use of Velcro and useful compartments I’ve ever seen. The available sizes are each designed to accommodate and protect a different configuration of gear, including tablets and laptops, which they make very clear on their website. I find that the Retrospective 5, the smallest in the line, is perfect for carrying my Fuji X-E2, two lenses, an iPad, and various chargers and accessories. My Nikon D800 would be equally well-served by the Retrospective 7.

Think Tank Retrospective bag, open with Fuji camera

Other thoughtful touches abound: Every bag comes with a rain cover even though there is real moisture resistance in the bags’ fabric itself; the shoulder strap is incredibly comfortable; there are zippered pockets where you need them; Velcro-secured flaps can be disengaged where you need to keep as quiet as possible; and the bags really conform to your body while carried over the shoulder.

I suppose I should apologize for carrying on, but I find these Think Tank bags to be nothing short of brilliant!

Think Tank Retrospective bag, as camera support

Henry Wessel Passes Away at 76

A lengthy and well-illustrated obituary appeared in the New York Times a couple of days ago for Henry Wessel, who died at 76 in California. Photo District News has also posted its own obit. I’ll leave it to you to read about Wessel and his essential role in what has come to be known as the “New Topographics” movement in photography. There are plenty of links on line, in case his name and work are unfamiliar. The Pace/MacGill Gallery is a good starting point, as well as this Artsy gallery (which contains links to other examples of the style Wessel helped create).

But, what caught my eye in the NYT article, and what I didn’t know before, is that he was a firm believer in the ‘one camera/one lens’ approach to photography and that, in his case, it was a Leica (rangefinder, of course) fitted with a 28mm optic. And that’s precisely what I was writing about in my recent post, which featured the Leica Q camera with its 28mm Summilux lens.

Leica — From A to Q in 93 Years

At some point in the 1970s, I was returning to New York City from Buffalo after finishing an assignment. Middle of winter, a lot of snow, no planes flying, and a slow train was the only option. At some point, I was passing time by cleaning all my gear, and two of my cameras were Leica M3s. The conductor stopped to chat, and his first question was, “are those Leicas?”

After I confirmed that they were, his next words were something to the effect that he had a Leica that he’d brought back from World War II, but that it didn’t work. He added that if I could “use it for parts,” he would mail it to me and I’d send him fifty dollars. I stayed calm, said yes, and a few days later there it was: a Leica Model A, from 1925, first year of production. And it didn’t work—but only because there was a small chip of film caught in the shutter curtain! Quick work with a pair of tweezers, and it works fine to this day. Although I haven’t used it in decades, it still gets cycled every couple of months.

1925 Leica A

Along with this almost-a-century-old treasure, my only surviving Leica is a perfectly-functioning M6 (with three superb lenses). Even if the body sits on the shelf, these optics get used all the time on my full-frame Nikon DSLR, thanks to a custom-machined adapter made in the ‘70s by Marty Forscher’s team at Professional Camera Repair (and, yes, I know that a number of companies today make adapters for just about any lens to almost any camera system).

And just as important, the Leica lenses are fantastic on my mirrorless Fuji X-E2. Taking advantage of the Fuji sensor’s 1.52x crop factor, my 50mm Summicron becomes an incredibly sharp portrait lens. The three images in this report were made with the Leica 90mm Tele-Elmarit on the X-E2.

Anyway, a few months ago, I made a (truly) major investment: the Leica Q. Its full-frame mirrorless sensor is mated to a non-interchangeable 28mm f/1.7 Summilux. As you can see in the photos, the camera is elegantly simple, with few controls, and built with the quality you’d expect from Leica. There’s even a macro option on the lens. I would be very comfortable traveling the world with this camera alone (plus my iPhone, of course).

Leica Q (top)

Photographing with ‘one camera / one lens’ is wonderfully liberating in itself, and evokes the way that for most of photographic history, pictures were made. On my first day at the AP in the late 60’s, my editor, Dan Grossi, (do a Google search for his WWII pictures) said something I’ve never forgotten: “At the Associated Press, we don’t take pictures, we make pictures.”

I’ll be posting some images made with the Leica Q very soon.

Leica Q (front)