A classic reinvented? Domke Chronicle Review
Domke Chronicle Ruggedwear Review
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Domke has a long history of making bags that to serve the needs of working photographers. From day one, Domke bags have been designed for accessibility, durability and style that intentionally avoids attracting attention, and have enjoyed popularity with generations of pro photographers. A few years ago, after gathering input from professionals and longtime customers (myself included), Domke introduced the Next Generation line, bringing modern updates to its classic bag.
For a little background, I've used a Domke J-2 (a ballistic nylon version of the F-2) as my standard DSLR working bag for almost 15 years. I don't use it to carry every little thing. I don't use it when I want to travel light and fast. I don't use it when I'm going to be hiking up a mountain. But I use it when I know I'm going to be in and out of my bag all day long. Weddings, kids' birthdays, family reunions and the like all require quick and easy access to bodies, lenses and accessories. The J-2 has served me well for years and despite its age, still looks and functions well enough that I could take it to a wedding tomorrow.
As a long time user I was interested to see what the Next Generation bags had to offer. Since the Chronicle is the Domke Next Generation bag closest in size to my old J-2, I figured that was a good place to start. Domke even calls the Chronicle 'The grandchild of the F-2.'
- Exterior: 15.75" (L) x 7" (W) x 10" (H) (40 cm x 17.8 cm x 25.4 cm)
- Interior: 12.25" (L) x 6.5" (W) x 9.25" (H) (31.1 cm x 16.5 cm x 23.5 cm)
- Weight: 4.2 lbs. (1.9 kg)
- Fabric/color choices: RuggedWear Black, RuggedWear Military, Canvas Khaki/Black and Cordura Black
- Fits a medium DSLR and 2-3 lenses plus accessories
In many ways, the Chronicle, and much of Domke's Next Generation lineup, is very similar in design to its classic bags. That being said, there are a number of upgrades, some minor and some more significant. In use, the Chronicle will feel familiar to anyone who has used a Domke bag in the past. The Gripper Strap on your shoulder, side pockets for accessories, metal snap hooks to close the main compartment's flap, and a removable grab handle strap are all there and just as useful as ever.
The Next Generation bags bring a new fabric to the Domke lineup, Ruggedwear. Ruggedwear is a waxed-canvas fabric that Domke claims combines toughness, water resistance, and a retro 'well-worn' look. In my book, it's pretty good looking and seems as tough as my other Domke bags. The top access zipper makes grabbing your camera or changing a lens significantly quicker. This is a feature I highly value on my shoulder bags and feel that it is exactly the kind of functionality that other Domke bag users will value.
The expandable side and front pockets reduce overall size of the bag while still giving you options for tucking in that one last piece of equipment. A redesigned top flap and side rain hoods offer more reliable protection from the elements. The velcro 'silencers', small flaps that cover the velcro closures and keep them from making noise, are a neat idea, but I have to admit that I have yet to use them. The antique stainless hardware is a nice upgrade. Sadly, the plastic clips that attach the grab strap are a significant downgrade. They feel flimsy enough to break in the very near future. I wish Domke had used their traditional metal clips.
|New plastic clip on the left, classic metal clip on the right.|
Moving away from Domke's standard 1/2/4 section inserts, the Next Generation system offers an extensive system of internal divider options. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different ways you can set up the Chronicle. It comes with three dividers, two full width and one half width (along with one movable 'pocket'). The dividers have velcro edges and stick to the sides or to each other in just about any position you choose. If those provided do not give you enough options, Domke sells additional dividers along with pockets, pouches, and padding that will help you set up your bag in just about any configuration. The Chronicle only comes with three of these dividers, which I feel is too few considering its price tag. I would have liked to see 1-2 more dividers included.
Like my Domke J-2, the Chronicle has a well padded and removable baseplate. Unlike most older Domke bags, the Chronicle has four padded 'walls' around the sides. This has the advantage of giving your gear an additional measure of protection that it wouldn't have in a softer-sided traditional Domke bag. It also has the effect of giving the bag more boxy structure than the older bags. The Chronicle doesn't form to your hip or back when carrying it. Sure, you could remove the walls, but unlike the J-2 with its inner lining of velcro or the F-2 with its inserts, the Next Generation divider system has nowhere to attach without the 'walls.'
The gear capacity of the Chronicle is really dependent on how you set up the dividers. My default for shoulder bags is to have a large space on one side for a body+lens and then the lens dividers over to the other side. For me, this is the best compromise between maximizing space and still being able to quickly grab my camera. This was how I set up my old J-2 for every wedding I shot and it is how I set up the Chronicle. With this layout, I was pretty easily able to carry my 6D+ 24-70/2.8, 16-35/2.8, 70-200/2.8 a speedlight and assorted other small accessories.
By setting up the dividers so that things are a little more tightly packed, you should be able to also fit in a spare body or a couple of prime lenses pretty easily. A mirrorless kit is almost swallowed by a bag this size and generally I would suggest something smaller (perhaps the Domke Next Generation Herald). But depending on the body you use and the number of lenses you carry, the Chronicle could easily haul a lot of mirrorless gear and keep it accessible.
New vs Old
Historically, I have thought I preferred the less structured shape of the J-2. It hugs my side better and feels as if I can move through crowds more easily. But in recent years I have come to realize a few things about shoulder bags. Past a specific size, a big shoulder bag is just a big bag no matter what. While a bag like the J-2 might protrude slightly less than the Chronicle, they are still pretty big. Furthermore, a more structured bag is a lot easier to actually use while working. The added stiffness aids in getting gear in and out; you aren't fighting with the bag to get a lens back into its divider.
"For as much as I've always respected the world-weary photojournalist look of the older Domke bags, I think the Chronicle is just a little more classy looking"
Finally, the more rigid design of the Chronicle makes it unlikely to tip over when set down on the ground. Overall, I could work with either of these bags. The J-2 (and the F-2 before it) has had years of hard use proving its worth. However, the Chronicle has enough important improvements that I would choose it if I had to pick just one. To be honest, for as much as I've always respected the world-weary photojournalist look of the older Domke bags, I think the Chronicle is just a little more classy looking, particularly in the Ruggedwear fabric.
What's the Bottom Line?
The Domke Chronicle Ruggedwear is a solid, well-designed bag that should stand up to the abuse that serious photography can dish out. And let's be honest, updating a classic can be difficult. Look at the historical joke that 'New Coke' has become. Domke, however, has stayed true to its soul with the Next Generation line and most specifically, with the Chronicle. Most all of the updated features are solid improvements with very few misses.
Yes, this is a premium bag at a price that starts to edge close to the truly high-end offerings out there. But this is not simply a fashion accessory either. At the end of the day, just like the old F-2, this is a bag one can work out of. It is a bag that should be as at home coming out of a staff photographer's trunk as it is at a wedding or portrait session. Most everything you truly need out of a shoulder bag is here, and there's very little that you don't.
What we like:
- An update of a classic functional design
- Overall construction quality
- Made in the USA
- Top zipper access
- Expandable side pockets
- Velcro silencers
- Extensive divider system
What we don't like:
- Premium price tag
- Plastic clips on grab handle
- Too few dividers included
- Boxy shape