Domke F-5XB: A minimalist shooting bag. One year review

The Domke F-5XB (700-52A) is a very popular bag with photographers and it’s a perfect fit for shooting with a minimalistic setup. It’s very well built and has a “no bullshit” philosophy that’s perfect for grab and go shooting.

I have used this bag for a year now, and it’s the perfect time to share my thoughts on this nice piece of gear.


If you have ever googled for a recommended camera bag, you probably saw many mentions of Domke bags. One of the most popular models is the F-5XB, a little bag that is very popular with mirrorless users.

The bag is indeed a small one, and fits mirrorless gear much better than regular DSLRs. I got this bag for walking around with nothing more than a small camera, my Fuji X-E2, and my personal items like wallet, sunglasses, etc.

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For me, it’s been a perfect fit. I enjoy using this bag and how the small size forces you to choose your gear and accessories carefully instead of just carrying everything you can. I like this minimalism, it somehow makes me want to take my camera outside more frequently.

Another positive consequence of this smaller and minimalistic look is that the bag blends very easily with different situations and outfits. It can look old and beaten, or trendy and hipster, depending on what you need.

Reliable build

The build is very solid and yet flexible to carry many more things than you would guess. The canvas material is only stiff at the bottom, where a padded base keeps the bag from flopping, which makes it super flexible for those unexpected items you have to carry some times.

Giant YKK zippers.
Giant YKK zippers.

My favorite part of the build, though, is the gigantic zipper which make closing and opening the bag unnecessarily fun. The zipper both good quality but also with no harsh ends that could scratch plastic in your gear.

The loops for the removable shoulder strap are also top notch, and they also work great as pull tabs, expanders to hang more stuff, or simply style elements.

The strap has rubber woven in to prevent slips. Some times it works too well.
The strap has rubber woven in to prevent slips. Some times it works too well.

Speaking of the the strap, it’s a removable one! I love removable straps because they let you minimize the footprint of the bag on a whim. Plus, if you ever find a better strap you can change it. For some reason, the metal joints also feel stronger than simple sewing. I know that doesn’t necessarily work like that, but I like the feel and look of removable straps with metal connectors.

My only complain about the build though is that the included dividers are too tall and end up catching the internal sewing with their super strong velcro. I fixed this, at first, by setting the dividers more carefully and later on by swapping them with the ones in my ThinkTank Photo Mirrorless Mover 30i. Oh, well.

The dividers connect to any of the surfaces on the inside of the bag, which happen to be all the padded ones: thick padding in the bottom, front and back.

By the way, the bag is made in the USA. I like this simply because it’s (hopefully) less likely it was the result of a sweat shop.

The RuggedWear finish

The bag comes with a wax finish called RuggedWear. As soon as you receive the bag you might notice it feels a bit oily. This is normal, the feeling will go away in a day or two of using the bag. It might take a bit longer if you live somewhere humid.

I suggest using a dry non-shedding cloth to remove any excessive wax feeling. I never had wax stains or other problems so far.

Refinishing wax included with the bag.
Refinishing wax included with the bag.

The bag comes with a tin of refinishing wax, my bag needed a refinishing after about 4 months of constant use, and I haven’t refinished it since then. It’s still ok 7 months later.

You can tell it’s time to rewax because the fabric starts feeling like regular cotton, losing its humid, cold, feeling.

When I applied the wax again I used a toothbrush but quickly realized it was a terrible tool. I suspect a sponge might be better, but that time I simply used my fingers. The wax is not hard to apply, spreading it evenly is the problem. I got the best results as the wax got warmer from the friction of my hands.

9 months after the last waxing, the bag still looks good (but it could use another waxing soon).
9 months after the last waxing, the bag still looks good (but it could use another waxing soon).

Drying is a different story and if you live somewhere with high humidity, like I do, it’s a bit trickier. I aired the bag for a few days but since progress was slow, I tried with a hair dryer in the lowest heat setting. This helped accelerate the process but I still had to hang the bag for a few more days, plus, the velcro is sensible to heat so it was a somewhat tricky shortcut.

Looking back, and planning for the next refinish, I think the trick is to warm the wax and only then apply it. The application was certainly easier when my hands started to generate friction and heat. Same with the drying, I think the long wait was due to having too much wax on the surface, poorly absorbed because of having been applied too cold.

On a curious note, I haven’t found a single mention of how to refinish the bag in any Tiffen material or website. Googling only lead me to this blog post by Jose Velasquez.

A note on velcro

One big complain you can read everywhere Domke bags are reviewed is that the velcro they use is way too strong. I disagree that this is a deal-killer. If anything, it reinforces the fact that they use top quality materials.

Generous velcro patches.
Generous velcro patches.

However, I do agree that the velcro can be too big or strong for many situations. The solution is very simple though: get some velcro, cut it to size, and cover the velcro in the bag. I did so with some ultra cheap velcro straps I got from China on eBay ($5 for about 100, with free shipping).

Velcro patch to reduce its strength.
Velcro patch to reduce its strength.

I use the bag like this and it’s the perfect balance between convenience and safety for my use.

The way velcro works on the bag is that the strength of it lets you carry the bag unzipped in case you want quick access to it but don’t want to walk around with nothing securing the contents of the bag. This comes in handy more often than not.

Some example setups

My usual setup when using this bag is to carry my Fuji X-E2 with the XF 27mm F2.8 lens, or the XF 18-55mm F2.8. You can fit both lenses but I prefer to choose only one and stay true to the minimalism the bag inspires.

In addition to my Fuji, I usually throw in my wallet, keys, a Field Notes notebook, a pen, sunglasses, sunscreen, a battery, etc. This fits fine and doesn’t feel like abusing the bag or my back.

An optional setup is to go out with my Canon 600D with a single lens, attached. I usually grab my EF 50mm F1.8, or the pancake EF-S 24mm F2.8. Any of these fit perfectly, although it’s definitely a bigger carry than my Fuji and eats a little more space.

A special note on the versatility of the bag is that you can remove the dividers and then use it as a simple “man purse” with a bigger notebook, water, etc.

Conclusions

The F-5XB is a great bag for minimalist shooting and daily use. I find myself using it almost everyday whether I’m carrying a camera or just a notebook.

If you are considering it, I highly recommend you go ahead and give it a try.

Pros

  • Great looks: blends into almost any situation and place
  • Top quality build: zippers, padding, fabric.
  • The wax finish is cool looking and weather resistant.
  • Made in the USA, so you know it’s not made of lead.
  • Removable strap, pull tabs, expandable loops.
  • Versatile for non photo setups.

Cons

  • Velcro needs intervention if you want it to be quieter.
  • You’ll have to eventually refinish the bag if you want to keep the RuggedWear look.
  • Default dividers are less than ideal.