Domke Photo Vest Lives Up to Expectations

Photographers live in the NOW. If you don’t have just the right camera loaded with just the right kind of film with just the right lens on it, then you are likely to come up with memories, not pictures.

Three generations of Domke bags
Three generations of Domke bags

A photographer named Jim Domke was given the assignment to come up with a camera bag that would suit his fellow photographers at the Philadelphia Inquirer in the middle 70s. He had a prototype ready for the 76 Republican Convention.

Domke bag became the defacto standard

Domke bags from top

The Domke F-2 Camera Bag became an instant hit with not only his staff, but photographers all over the country. We needed something that would hold multiple lenses that could be grabbed in an instant; plenty of pockets for film, filters and junk. It needed a wide strap that would hold onto your shoulder without digging in or sliding off. It needed to be water resistant and it had to be able to stand up to the abuse of travel and spot news.

When I traveled, I might check my clean underwear, but my Domke bag went carry-on. After all, if my equipment didn’t get there, it didn’t matter if I did.

Three generations of bags

The foreground, frayed bag was my first, bought shortly after it went on the market in 1976; the top bag is probably 20 years old and the middle bag, owned by Son Matt, is about five years old.

There are a few subtle differences among them. The new version, for example, comes with a padded insert that Matt didn’t like. Somehow or another, I ended up with it, and he has the canvas one that was in the original bag.

I didn’t like working from a bag

The Domke bag was the best of the bunch, but I didn’t really like using a bag.

  • It put a lot of weight on one arm.
  • It interfered with the camera strap if you were working with cameras on both shoulders and around your neck.
  • It made it hard to work your way through a crowd.

Fishing vestI bought fishing vests

They had lots of pockets, they were fairly inexpensive and they distributed the load more evenly than a camera bag.
I owned several of them over the years.

The darned thing must have shrunk

When Wife Lila and I headed out to New Mexico, I dug out my old fishing / shooting vest from the back of the closet. It probably hadn’t been used in about 20 years.

I don’t know exactly how it could have happened, but the thing managed to get smaller while hanging up. It certainly didn’t fit that tight when I was on the street.

It was time to check out the Domke Vest

Matt in Domke vest
Matt in Domke vest

The Domke PhoTOGS Vest was everything the cheap fishing vest was and more. It claims to be khaki, but I think it’s more of a greenish gray. Not a bad color, just not khaki as I know it.

The fishing vest had lots of pockets, but they tended to be a bit shallow. After they got some wear on them, the pockets started to get a little thin and I worried about a lens popping through the material at the worst possible time.

The Domke vest is made out of fairly heavy cotton. I think it’ll take a lot of abuse before I’d get concerned about fraying.

Heavy, but cool

Domke mesh back
Domke mesh back

The heavier material is offset by cotton mesh on the front and back to let out heat. I don’t think I’m going to need the hand warmer pockets anytime soon, but it’s nice to know they are there.

It fits a little longer than a fishing vest, but I think it looks better.

A large fit Son Matt and me. (If it’s a little too big, it has waist adjustment tabs to pull it in a bit.)

Pockets on the inside, too

Not only does it have pockets on the front and back, it has large, usable pockets on the inside, too.

Domke Vest Deep PocketsOK, it doesn’t have a soft pad to stick my fishing flies in, but it DOES have little loops for wire holders near the top. It has a raised collar to keep the camera strap from rubbing your neck, and the tops of the shoulders have rough stitching that will keep the strap from sliding off.

Because photographers carry more weight than fishermen, the overall cut of the garment is designed to distribute it over a wider area. It even has a clear plastic window held on with Velcro that can hold press ID. (If you don’t need to display an ID, then it comes right off.)

The only thing that’s lacking is a hook on the back to hang it up.

It’s obvious that the person, who came up with the specs, had spent a lot of time on the street shooting pictures.

The Domke Vest lives up to the Domke name

I paid $64.95 for my Domke PhoTOGS Vest on Amazon (plus shipping), but I don’t regret the amount. It’s a piece of equipment that will outlast me. (If I can keep the shrinking closet from attacking it or one of my sons from “borrowing” it.

9 Replies to “Domke Photo Vest Lives Up to Expectations”

  1. After seeing the domestiques in the Tour de France stuff up to eight water bottles down the back of their jerseys, I have a “sinking” feeling that you will turn this Domke vest into a riding jersey just so you can carry even MORE stuff when you hit the streets.

  2. In these days of digital photography and zoom lenses, I don’t carry as much stuff as I once did. My Nikon D-40, Canon FS-100 video camera, a polarizing filter, a couple of spare memory cards, a digital recorder and a stack of business cards is about it.

    I COULD just about get by with a cycling jersey with its three rear pockets most days.

    When I’m on the bike, the cameras go in my Arkel small handlebar bag until I need them. It would be nice to have a longer /wider /faster lens, but it would mean more length and weight.

    The D40 is just about perfect on the bike, even if it means I miss some shots because of the lens.

    (Think Son Matt has a future as a fashion model?)

  3. There are two more benefits to the Domke bag.

    First, it doesn’t look like your stereotypical modern camera bag. It’s not made of nylon or Kevlar and isn’t backpack black. It doesn’t scream ‘I have lots of expensive camera equipment and I’m going to take the kids picture at Disney World’. Professionals recognize it as a camera bag but I’m not sure your average thief would.

    Second, it makes a great diaper/baby bag for dads. It has a lot of helpful, divided storage and isn’t sissy girl cute. It looks good over the shoulder unlike something in pastel, adorned with butterflies.


  4. Up to eight? Keep watching. The last time I checked, the number was 17 water bottles in one jersey in TDF.

    Which has nothing to do with Matt modeling what looks like a great vest.

  5. My former chief lab tech, Hilary, wrote to say that she wasn’t looking for a shooting vest (even if they WERE available in princess models like the bulletproof vests I bought for female staffers).

    She’d rather have a Domke bag, but she thought the standard F2 pictured above was too big. She bought the smaller F6.

    Here are her impressions of the new bag:

    Nice bag, just the right size for me. Small enough to carry around anywhere, light enough even when it’s full. Has enough room for the camera, couple lenses, filters, other small accessories, my ipod and my Kindle. Only thing I miss that my other bag has is the small nylon mesh pockets. I kept my individual filters, extra cards, batteries in those little pockets and they were handy because I could instantly see what was in them. I might be creative and add mesh pockets to the Domke. I really like the green now and I’m glad I got it rather than the tan.

  6. Nice post which the fishing vest had lots of pockets, but they tended to be a bit shallow. After they got some wear on them, the pockets started to get a little thin and I worried about a lens popping through the material at the worst possible time. Thanks a lot for posting.

    1. I’ve been using the vest for going on four years now. It’s holding up well. I highly recommend it if you are a vest person. One of the few things I wish it had was a hook or loop in the back for hanging it up when you aren’t wearing it.

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