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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author


“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  


Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 


Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."


I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!


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The Perfect Bag; The Impossible Dream
Old 03-17-2011   #1
Bill Pierce
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The Perfect Bag; The Impossible Dream

I keep wondering how people carry their cameras and related gear. In the old days, a lot of us use to use the Brady Trout Bag. You’d pick one up at the Queen’s Fishery in London before you headed out to somewhere else. It was a nice camera bag, and a day off in London helped minimize jet lag.

(And almost everyone had to listen to the clerks say, “Mr. McCullin was here a week ago.”}

The cutter for Brady left to go on on his own and make bags specifically for photographers. And that is why the first Billingham bags looked very much like the bags used by trout fishermen.

The other popular bags were the Domke bags. Jim Domke was a newspaper photographer who made his own bags, then bags for his envious friends and, finally, bags for a business. The Domke F-2 was pretty much the standard bag for the photographer who had to carry more than would fit in a trout bag or a wanted a bag that was compartmentalized.

But cameras have changed. Some very good cameras are very small and some very good cameras (DSLR’s) are very big. I still use a Billingham. It looks like the trout bag, except this one is much smaller. It carries a Canon G10, S90, cel phone, tape recorder, glasses and batteries, e.t.c.. Traveling light with a big DSLR, I still use a Domke. But it’s the smaller Domke F-8. It will hold a DSLR body and 3 or 4 lenses plus a lot of misc. stuff. It’s advantage - it doesn’t look like a camera bag.

But, face it, that DSLR with its autofocus lenses is one big camera compared to its early film counterparts. Multiple bodies, many lenses and a few accessories aren’t going to fit in what we think of as a “normal” bag. Even if I can cram everything into an F-2, it’s too heavy. Hanging on one shoulder, it makes sure I’m even more off balance than normal.

These days, I use backpacks to carry my DSLR rigs. Sounds silly, but I have almost as many backpacks as camera bags.

When I look around among my friends, i think we accumulate even more bags and packs than we do cameras, always looking for the perfect bag or the impossible dream. Any thoughts outside of “Bresson only carried one body with a normal lens, and he was great.”
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Old 03-17-2011   #2
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I only carry one body - at a time - CV R4A or R2A with a bunch of lenses. I've been using a small Courierware bag for this.
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Old 03-17-2011   #3
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Domke F2 for me. Takes everything from small to bulky.
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Old 03-17-2011   #4
Michiel Fokkema
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Ive been using a Thintank rettrospective 30 for some time now. Imho it is as close to perfect as it gets.


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Old 03-17-2011   #5
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I use this: http://www.maxpedition.com/store/pc/...9&idcategory=4 in black. The big center pocket holds film, several lenses, & my Nikon F2 or Leica IIIf just fine. Lots of pockets for the rest of the doo-dads I need to, or might want to, carry daily and having a quart of water along is nice plus as well. Best combination of camera bag and man purse I've found yet.

I've got a largish Domke clone that I use to carry my LF kit.
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Playing and learning daily with: 4x5 Crown Graphic, Leica IIIf w/ 50/2 Summitar, Nikon F2 Photomic w/ 50/1.4 & Olympus E-PL1.

"Some people are 'the glass is half full' types. Some people are 'the glass is half empty' types. I'm a 'the glass is full of radioactive waste and I just drank half of it' type. And I'm still thirsty." -- Bill Mattocks
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Old 03-17-2011   #6
Dave Jenkins
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As you say, no such thing as a perfect bag. I've given up on finding one.
Dave Jenkins

My new book: Georgia: A Backroads Portrait http://blur.by/1gg1SMt
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Old 03-17-2011   #7
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I have a very nice Billingham 225, it carries a Fuji GS645 and 2 m43 cameras along with some film and a few batteries. I don't want a much bigger bag I want to keep weight down and 2 cameras is plenty, I leave one body in the Hotel.
Life is a series of photographs surrounded by the worthless bits

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Old 03-17-2011   #8
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I've been surviving on 2 BBB bags (small and large), and so far so good. I never go out with more than 2 lenses or 2 bodies, so this set up has been adequate. I have a good number of shoulder bags and a few backpacks, but if you ever find that perfect bag please let me know. I'm thinking of picking up another perfect bag soon...
VC Bessa R3a & Leica M4-2
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Assorted unRF SLR's
Sony FE seems to be calling me

For Pete's sake, they're all good. Just get out there and shoot with what you've got!
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Old 03-17-2011   #9
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The perfect bag hold two profesional cameras and 6 lenses, lunch, water, & does not look like a camera bag.

When full it weighs less than 2 pounds.

When you find one, I will pay $1000 for it, cameras not included.
In the mean time I will keep looking.
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Old 03-17-2011   #10
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I use a Newswear small fanny pack. It's slim but still capable of carrying a few primes and film with a couple pockets for odds and ends. After carrying gear around in a Domke F2 and wrecking my left shoulder, a small fanny pack around the waist is a revelation. I can walk around all day and never notice the weight. I can also wear a jacket over the fanny pack and nobody is the wiser that I'm carrying my gear. Wish I knew about Newswear 10 years ago.
James Natchwey uses Newswear as does Christopher Morris, among many pro photojournalists. Not only are they amazing photographers but also wise when it comes to managing the logistics of photography.
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Old 03-17-2011   #11
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Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
When I look around among my friends, i think we accumulate even more bags and packs than we do cameras, always looking for the perfect bag or the impossible dream. Any thoughts outside of “Bresson only carried one body with a normal lens, and he was great.”
My first thought is I was glad to see the 'more bags than cameras' comment. I've lost track of how many different bags I have, and often have 2-3 in the car when going out. I have a couple bags I like for my DSLR, one is a backpack that's hard on the back, and I really need a larger one. The other is just right for the body and 3 lenses about the size of a Nikkor 105mm or smaller.

What I really long for are bags that will work for my film bodies. Even back in the 80's I didn't have that satisfactory of a bag. I really need something suited to my Leica M6 and some lenses (right now I'm using the small bag mentioned above). It would also be good to have good bags for my Hasselblad and my Horseman View Camera as well. For the Hasselblad I picked up a used bag at a camera store that gets a lot of old junk in, but it doesn't have room for a 2nd or 3rd lens. For the Horseman I have a cardboard box.

One question I have is what are the people with Micro-4/3rd's cameras using, or do they normally only have one lens? This strikes me as a potential answer for a bag for a Leica. Really at this time, this is the main piece of photo gear I need. Every bag I look at is so oversized (or too small).

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Old 03-17-2011   #12
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Ok, here is how we do it for 2 different kits (#1 - Nikon DSLR kit with 2 bodies, 5 lenses, 2 flashes, and accessories & #2 - Leica kit with 1 body, 1 lens, film, filters, and meter):

Bags primarily for the Nikon DSLR Kit:

Think Tank Airport Addicted - Stores and transports the entire Nikon Kit.

Airport Ultralight - Airline under-seat carry-on for that can hold almost the entire Nikon kit and the Leica too.

Think Tank Modular Belt System - For working events.

Lowepro Omni Pro with Hard Case - for carrying a medium size kit anywhere we might want a hard case.

Lowepro Primus Minimus - Backpack with photo gear storage in the bottom and general storage in the top, which we use around town if we want to carry some photo gear (1 camera, 2 lens, 1 flash) along with a bunch of non-photo gear.

Billingham f/stop 2.8 - Out-and-about waterproof bag for 1 camera and 2 large lenses (f/2.8 zooms or f/1.4 primes)

Billingham L2 Alice - Out-and-about waterproof bag for a camera with a lens attached.

Leica Kit:

Billingham Hadley Small - carries the camera with lens attached, 10 rolls of film, 6 filters, meter, caps, journal, spare batteries, etc.

I think that there is no one perfect bag unless you are sporting just one camera and one lens. If you have more than that, then there will be variations on the kit you will want to carry. This is just what we have settled on after some trial and error, and it works for us.
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Old 03-17-2011   #13
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Originally Posted by codester80 View Post
I use a Newswear small fanny pack. It's slim but still capable of carrying a few primes and film with a couple pockets for odds and ends.
Are you using this with a Leica, or something else? This is why I started reading this thread! That's an interesting solution!

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Old 03-17-2011   #14
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Apart from it being pretty obvious from the multiple discussions on this topic over the years that there is no such thing as a perfect bag, it really depends on where your mindset is to begin with.

If you go out with one or two P&S or rangefinders with one or two lenses then its easy to be content with a single bag. Once you have rangefinders, SLRs, multiple format cameras, more lenses than you would ever carry on a single outing, and shoot anything between street to landscape the bag problem just escalates.

Basically, I think the shoulder bag is the best style to actively shoot out of - irrespective of its problems. Bum bags and things like Newswear are a compromise between carrying a lot of heavy gear and having workable access, but they ARE a compromise. The biggest issue Ive ever had with this style of bag is that its impossible to get down low to take a shot (at least quickly and fluidly). Ive actually got a Thinktank belt and harness system. It works well for carrying kit, especially SLR lenses and as long as you keep the packs away from the front, you can get down low easily. The problem is that it increases your width to a point that moving amongst crowds becomes difficult.

Backpacks dont work for shooting out of at all but are great for getting equipment for point A to point B - transporting or landscape comes to mind.

Even going back to shoulder bags, the big problem is managing the overall weight and bulk. Im often amazed at some of the images Ive seen posted here showing just how much kit people manage to squeeze into their shoulder bags - not an approach I could ever use to shoot out of as I need some working space. I have a Billingham Presstop 306 which is a large as I would go with a shoulder bag and only use it when Im working with the Mamiya 7s. Its great for that but becomes a struggle if Im also trying to carry a 35mm rangefiner kit.

There aint no such thing as a perfect bag. Its horses for courses and once you accept that and know the trade offs youre making it becomes a little easier.

Im actually about to move apartments and Im being reminded about just how many bags I have as I use multiple boxes to pack them
Craig Cooper
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Old 03-17-2011   #15
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the perfect bag?

my next one, of course!
i don't know what art is...but i know what i like.

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Old 03-17-2011   #16
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For RF gear it's all you'll ever need. Although I don't have a M2/3/4/5/6 or glass. I've got a FED2 I carry in the large pouch with Jupiter12 attached and finder along with an Industar 26 and light meter. The second pouch holds roughly a dozen rolls of film.
I can also switch out and put a Nikkor-S 50mm,Nikkor 24mm and a Vivitar 135mm lenses in the large pouch with film in the smaller pouch.
There is also a larger fanny pack available that adds an additional pouch. Newswear also sells accessory pouches with belt loops so you can add more pouches. They've also got chest rigs which carry a lot of gear. Google Newswear and check them out. They're prices are pretty good and the stuff is made in the USA. They've got a couple videos of Christopher Morris using them to shoot Obama at the White House.

P.S- Got to agree with Craig about the tradeoffs of bags. After years of carrying around everything but the kitchen sink, I've streamlined to the essentials. Found it has actually improved my photography because it's forced me to use what I have instead of using everything but the kitchen sink on each shoot.

Last edited by codester80 : 03-17-2011 at 22:18.
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Old 03-17-2011   #17
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Some things never change. Brady Ariel trout fishing bag (small)

Contents of the Brady on a day in Feb 2011 by mandoflex, on Flickr

Last edited by Lflex : 03-18-2011 at 01:54.
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Old 03-18-2011   #18
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Like everyone else here I have more camera bags, than some woman own shoes...

I have yet to find one bag that will rule them all, but in order to maintain my sanity and preserve my bank account I've settled on a compromise: 'Best of Breed'.

Basically the success of a bag seems to be directly proportional to the amount crap you intend to carry about and the social standing of the area you are traveling to.

I don't shoot with a big DSLR, so my needs are more analog...

My standard kit is

1 - 2 x M bodies with 2-3 lenses (28/35/50)
1 x Nikon F2 or F3 with 1-2 lenses. (50's)
Sometimes I will go crazy and take along the Rolleiflex, in which case one camera always travels in hand and the second M usually stays home.

Hoods, caps, pens, meter, iPhone, small notepad, tiny GPS, mini tripod , mini umbrella and up to 20 rolls of film.

Interestingly I've come full circle and my main bag has become a green Billingham L2 that I bought about 10-12 years. This is second bag I ever purchased and I use it more than any other. I'm not even sure if they still make this bag, but IMO it's going to take an awful lot to make one that is better suited to my needs. This bag handles my standard shooting kit perfectly.

The L2 is the squarish model and given it's relatively compact size it is astonishing how much gear this thing will swallow.

The big drawback of the Billingham is that it's not exactly a low key item. They tend to look like something and it's not a diaper bag. When new they look quite expensive and even after years of use they still have something of that college professor look to them. So, it's not really the bag you want to take along, if you are shooting on the wrong side of town or headed for uncharted territory and want to avoid getting mugged. Also for some reason Billingham tends to scream 'Leica inside!'. On more than one occasion a TSA employee commented on how many Leica shooters seem to use the same bags...

For those occasions there are better choices like this...

My second most used bag is not really a bag, but a simple waist pack that I picked up about 6 years ago... This pack has been everywhere with me. It weighs nothing and can be slung over your shoulder or across your chest like a regular bag. Obviously you can also wear it around your waist, as it was intended to be. It has no padding, but I put a piece of foam on the floor of the pack, so it doesn't go 'clank' when I put it down.

It will hold an amazing amount of gear. The most I was ever able to fit in there was 2 x M-bodies with 3 x lenses and a Hasselbald Xpan with 45mm, plus film.

I have a very small one of these for when i go out with only one body and it's too hot to wear some sort of jacket. In that case it holds a second lens, film and my phone.

Here's a snap of it. I think it was $19.99...

I have two other bags that I use if I need more room.

One is a nicely worn blue Donke F6. This is the first bag I ever purchased, also about 12 years ago. The F6 will carry enough gear to send you to the chiropractor, but I love it. It's comfortable, low key and does everything you need it to. It's like an old friend.

The third bag is a Donke J-803. This is a relatively compact black nylon bag, which looks like your average book bag. For a while these were very hard to find. This was the third bag I purchased. The great thing about the J-803 is that it is 1 inch deeper than the regular canvas 803, so you can drop a Rolleiflex in there, without exerting a lot of pressure on the lens carriage. You can fit a ton of gear in this bag and it also hangs very nicely. Very low key and the nylon makes it fairly water resistant. A very good bag, unless you need to stow something like a D3 with 24-70.

One of the best features of all three of these bags is the way they hang.

The Domke bags seem to wrap themselves around your body and mold to your waist. Also the way the strap goes under the bag seems to work some magic and makes them very stable. They are also very lightweight.

The Billingham L2 also hangs just right. It doesn't get in your way and the interior is so well laid out that you are never searching for anything. It's also massively padded without feeling like you are carrying around a brick. I love the rain flaps, which helps keep out the elements and prying hands...

The waist pack is brilliant. It looks like crap, is super compact and holds exactly as much gear as you really need.

And finally like everyone else I have a large backpack and Pelican case for transporting everything during a move.

The only backpack type bag that has ever tempted me was the Lowepro Slingshot (?). You can wear it like a backpack, with one strap, but it will zip open on the side so you can use it like a regular bag, when shooting. It's a backpack / satchel hybrid. The only problem is that it allows you to carry a ton of gear in great comfort, so you will always be tempted to take more gear along than you really need. In which case you will spend more time juggling focal lengths than actually taking pictures. It also really looks like a camera bag. But they are great if you have to carry a lot of gear and want to save your back...

My standard bag that I take to work everyday is a large Billingham Hadley.
It holds a Macbook Pro and Leica in the satchel pocket.

Last edited by Harry Lime : 03-18-2011 at 01:22.
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Old 03-19-2011   #19
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I am using the Deuter "Spider" backpack with an insert that just fits the bottom of the bag. Since I do a lot of walking, the shoulder bags that I have tried always give me a stiff neck after an hour or so. The backpack also leaves both hands free and I can bend and twist without the shoulder bag slipping off. The tripod is carried in one hand when moving from A-to-B. No perfect solution for the tripod as it's too big for the backpack...

As an extra, I can also pick up (carry) a couple of bottles of wine on the way home...

For the medium format camera, it's also an insert in a canvas hand bag that just fits in the bicycle basket (the big basket on the back of the bike...).

Canon 5DII, 35 f/1.4L, 85 f/1.2L & 70-200 f/4L
IIIf, Canon 28 f/2.8, 50 f/1.8, & 135 f/3.5
MP, 28 f/2.8 ASPH & 50 f/1.4 ASPH plus CV15 f/4.5
Pentax SPF, SMCT 28 f/3.5, 35 f/3.5, 55 f/1.2, 105 f/2.8 & 135 f/3.5
Nikon F3HP, AI'ed Nikkor-H 28 f/3.5, & Nikkor-P 10.5cm f/2.5
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Old 03-19-2011   #20
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Domke F-5XB for most Leica M carry. Domke F-803 for Leica M carry on airline trips. Domke F-6 when working with a bit more gear, and/or for Nikon DSLR plus lenses. Various Tamrac lens-bridge bags for SLR gear. Lowe-Pro Nova 1 for the XPan. Lowe-Pro backpack, but I quit using it after I picked it up with the zipper open and everything fell out.
May the light be with you.
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Old 03-19-2011   #21
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Originally Posted by codester80 View Post
After years of carrying around everything but the kitchen sink, I've streamlined to the essentials.
I agree. The problem is that I have too many goodies. The cameras and lenses have become a goal in it self. The addiction to gear that I have makes it hard to do the choices. I use the Billingham Alice when the kitchen sink stays home. Works for both the Leica two lens outfit or the Rolleiflex.

But then came the wonderful Pentax 6x7. Love the pictures it can do but hate the backpack or the bulk of heavy body and two lens outfit in a big bag.

I am making an exciting trip in eight weeks and have not yet decided what to carry...
I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.
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Old 03-19-2011   #22
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Anyone know anything about these? I'm fighting the urge to hit the 'Add to Cart' button!

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Old 03-19-2011   #23
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I agree - there is no perfect one-does-it-all. If one is out on a shoot and lot of access to the bag (and fast) is needed, then probably some of the dedicated waist or shoulder back or even a special harness with lens cases on the belt is the solution. I do not have any of those. But if you are on the go and do not access the bag too often than a messenger type bag makes a does a great job.

As I already mentioned elsewhere - I got a slightly modified Courierware Messenger Super Deluxe 'small' bag and it is really great. Light, very durable, looks rather cheap (it was not) and uninteresting from out side.

It is one size larger than the Figitalrevolution BBB2 (which is also made by Courierware) as I chose it for my Mamiya 6 setup. For 35mm rangefinder with a few lenses a smaller bag would be enough.

I actually wrote a review and it is now on cambags.com.

It can even be used with a compact 4x5 camera:
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Old 03-19-2011   #24
Gary E
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Originally Posted by Vince Lupo View Post
Anyone know anything about these? I'm fighting the urge to hit the 'Add to Cart' button!

Now why did you go and do this for? Some of us are not as strong as you to fight off the urge of Bag GAS...

But, they do look really good and not camera like. I wonder why they said if you are in HK do not click pay by paypal now? I'm hoping they sell this in HK as I'm heading there in May. I'll wear my camera bagless and hopefully come back with this one
VC Bessa R3a & Leica M4-2
Yashica D TLR
Assorted unRF SLR's
Sony FE seems to be calling me

For Pete's sake, they're all good. Just get out there and shoot with what you've got!
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Old 03-19-2011   #25
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Usually I carry one body and one or two extra lenses.
Also I have some film an my mobile in the bag.

Therefor I don't need something big.

My girlfriend gave me the Olympus Pen Retro bag for Christmas and it definitely full fills my needs perfectly.

And it's cheap
Kind regards,
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