By Joan Sherwood
The Domke Chronicle, part the Next Generation Journalist series, has to be one of my favorites of the many camera bags I’ve tried in recent years. I’ll admit, though, that my love for the bag is based largely on aesthetics and my partiality for rugged canvas material that will age and soften over the years. There’s a romance to its texture that ripstop nylon just doesn’t deliver.
Domke bills the Chronicle as the grandchild of the F-2, the bag that Jim Domke had custom made for his own use in 1976 and which is still one of Domke’s most popular bags. The Next Generation Chronicle inherits the side pockets, non-slip Gripper Strap made of durable cotton webbing, and the steel snap hooks from the F-2.
The current Domke F-2
Modern modifications include double-zipper top access, expandable zippered side pockets, expandable snap front pockets, a web strap across the back for mounting on a rolling cart handle, a padded zippered tablet sleeve that fits devices up to 11x8 inches, side rain hoods, and the removable padded shell and three dividers from the Domke GearProtex Insert System.
The GearProtex shell is actually five separate rectangles of padding that attach to each other and to the interior of the canvas, so you can use the whole thing or just the panels you want or remove it entirely. It also comes with a .5-inch-thick bottom-stiffening foam pad that adds a layer of impact protection for your gear.
I’m very impressed with the divider system. Even though the attachment surface is only along the edge of the divider instead of the half-inch flap most bags use, it’s extremely secure. It’s so grippy, in fact, that it can be difficult to place the divider exactly where you want it. Try folding a piece of paper around it until you get it in the right spot and then remove the paper barrier between the hook-faced edge and the padded wall.
Each of the pocket flap hook and loop fasteners come with a Quiet tab that you can fold back, which eliminates the fastening element, but also does away with the riiiiipp noise also associated with hook and loop closure systems. The side pocket flaps can also easily tuck into the pockets for easier access to those compartments. I use one of them with the flap tucked in and the zipper expansion unzipped to hold a large 24-ounce water bottle, but it could just as easily hold a lens that you wanted fast access to during a shoot.
I can’t say I think the side rain flaps would be impervious to foul weather, but they are definitely better than not having them. The non-slip Gripper shoulder strap is my favorite so far of the non-slip strap designs I’ve tried. It’s grippy enough to stay on one shoulder, but not so grippy that it rips the hair off the back of my neck if I decide to wear it in a cross-body configuration. However, the plastic attachments for the shoulder and grip straps are substandard in comparison with the rest of the bag’s materials, construction, and design. I would happily pay more to have these swapped out with metal hardware. Twice when I’ve used the grab strap, the plastic clip has come undone on one side, and this without even a moderately full load of gear in the bag. That could be disastrous if you weren’t paying attention right in that moment of lifting. The problem is that the thinner plastic of the clip can easily move to the side and slip off the attachment ring. The shoulder strap clip is more beefy and doesn’t have this problem, but I’d still rather have metal than plastic.
This is a rugged, functional bag that has just enough compartments and features to make it cool but not overly complex. Granted, at a $349.95 street price, I believe you’re paying a little more for some status and style on top of that functionality. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth the investment for you. The Chronicle comes in Canvas Khaki/Black, Cordura Black, RuggedWear black, and RuggedWear military.