I have the perfect Leica camera bag. Because it hasn’t been made for twenty years, out of paranoia the bag will wear out, I keep buying other bags. They always disappoint me and end up hanging empty on hooks on my wall.
Years ago, the suitcase and travel bag company, Eagle Creek, made a small amateur camera bag. Although not designed for the Leica, the bag, is 99% right for the rangefinder shooter. From my experience, no other company has done this. Not Billingham, Ona, LowePro, Tenba, Artisan & Artist/Black Label, Think Tank or even Leica themselves. And now that most photographers shoot large SLRs the likelihood of someone making a great, small rangefinder bag is getting even slimmer.
I’m going to describe what I like about my bag. I know it’s unfair since they don’t make them any more. But hopefully my thought process of why this bag works will give you some ideas of what’s important to look for when you’re shopping for a camera bag.
I travel a lot. Because of the two bag carryon restriction with airlines, the bags I take on the plane are a roll-aboard with clothes, and a backpack with gear, including my cameras and computer. I need a camera bag that fits easily into my Ivar Zug 30 backpack and leaves room for other things. I’ve described the Ivar pack in the “In The Bag” post. I want the smallest camera bag possible that can carry the gear I need with me.
My Eagle Creek bag holds two bodies, one with a 35mm lens and one with a 50mm lens, both with hoods attached.
In another divider I also carry a 90mm and a 28mm lens joined together with a two lens coupling ring that Leica used to make. Sometimes I replace the 28mm lens with a 21mm.
If you don’t have the older Leica coupling ring, you can make one using two rear lens caps. Epoxy the caps together back to back, and also rivet them for safety.
The bag zips open at the top for easy access to the gear. There are slots on the outside of each end for LenPens and a Sharpie marker.
On the front of the bag is a flap with a zippered pocket. If you shoot film a pocket with a zipper for the exposed film is critical. No other fastener is safe enough. So many “professional” camera bag companies never understood this.
If you’re shooting digital this pocket is perfect for batteries and cards. Like my film, I want my cards safely zipped into a pocket. The front flap lifts up and there is a second zippered pocket where I keep viewfinders and spare lens and body caps. Behind that zippered pocket is an open pocket that’s great for flat things like a notebook and media pass. In this pocket I also keep a small tool kit with a few extra parts for my M6’s.
Bodies: Two Leica M9 or M6 bodies, or one of each – depending on what I need.
Lenses: A 28mm Elmarit Asph, 35mm Summicron Asph, 50mm Summicron, 90mm Summarit. Sometimes a 21mm Voightlander.
Finders: A 21mm, 28mm, 35mm and a 1.4x viewfinder magnifier for using the 90mm lens. The magnifier’s expensive, but indispensable. It’s next to impossible to use a 90mm lens on a Leica without it. I also carry a 1935 vintage Leica Aufsu waist level 50mm finder.
I keep my M9 electronic support kit in a pouch made by Think Tank; the Cable Management 10 V2.0. In it I have two battery chargers and three spare batteries, plus a car adapter cable for the battery chargers. There are 3 SD card holders, one empty for exposed cards. There is an SD to USB adapter. Because I travel often to Europe I include two European plug adapters. I grab this small bag when I’m shooting with my M9s and know that I have everything I need with me.
When I’m working in the street I don’t want much with me. I just want a bag that’s big enough to put my camera away if I need to, or to maybe carry a second lens. I want a zippered pocket for film or spare SD cards and batteries. And I want it SMALL. I tried several small commercial bags and none of them worked. I finally converted an Eddie Bauer waist pack into a street shooting bag.
I’ve been using it for years. I hot-glued cutout pieces of foam sheeting to make a cradle to hold and protect my camera. The bag has a zip pocket in front and a second in back. With a very short strap I carry the bag under and just behind my armpit. It’s always out of the way.
I discovered great shoulder pads called EuroPad or ErgoPad. They’re available on Amazon. On my Eddie Bauer bag I use the 1 1/2″ wide pad. I use the 1″ pads on my Leica camera straps to keep the cameras from slipping off my shoulders.
The Billingham Stowaway – Needs an insert to separate gear effectively. Holds only one body with lens, plus two additional lenses. Lens hood must be removed. Taller than it needs to be for Leica rangefinders. A bit heavy. Extra pockets are small and tight and not useful for much.
The Billingham Hadley Small and Leica Branded bag – Bought them and sent them back. They’re just bags that hold your stuff. Not very cleverly designed in terms of safe pockets. Bigger than they need to be for what they hold.
Ona Bowery – I don’t own one, but I went to the store to look at it. The leather model is heavy. Also, it’s just another bag with dividers and no place to put much of anything else. This is the last bag on this list I would choose.
Domke – The smaller Leica-size bags are poorly designed. They are small and will hold your camera, but that’s about it.
Black Label Oscar’s One Day Bag Mark II – is an Artisan & Artist outer shell with a divider insert made by Black Label. The removable inner divider is much better than the red fuzzy Artisan & Artist interior. Actually this isn’t a bad bag. It holds everything it needs to.
For me the problem is it’s too big to fit easily into my backpack. Everything this bag holds fits into my smaller Eagle Creek bag, which also rides closer to my body when I’m carrying it. If I had to choose a different work bag though, it would be this one.