My New Daily Carry Camera Bag – ONA Prince Street

I’ve never been one to care very much about stylish camera bags. As long as I had something durable that I could organize neatly, that has been fine. I justified my position by thinking that a cheaper, more tatty looking bag was less likely to attract attention and get stolen. And hey, cheaper camera bag, more budget for film, right?

That was my position until my last wedding shoot anyway.

The groom, who I know to have impeccable taste, greeted my wife and I when we arrived. He took one look at my wife’s decade-old Kelly Moore full grain leather bag and said “Hey, nice looking camera bag!” Clearly he was impressed and it was a nice way to kick off our evening photo shoot. But then I saw his eyes scan over to my tattered and faded olive canvas Domke F-6. It has some sentimental value because it was gifted to me by photographer Joey Pasco and is pushing 20 years old. The shoulder strap is ragged and frayed along the edges, as are some corners of the bag. There are even a few holes and threadbare spots on the bottom. I could see my client’s face drop with a quick and obvious assessment as he politely swallowed his disapproval and steered the conversation elsewhere.

A few dire details of my two-decade-old Domke F-6

It’s possible that I read too much into his reaction, but it wasn’t the first time that I felt a little underdressed with the Domke, walking into a nice restaurant with a frayed and threadbare camera bag while wearing wingtips and a button-up does exactly the opposite of why I use this worn bag – it actually draws, rather than deflects attention. The Domke just isn’t consistent with my look or environment much of the time. And it doesn’t really reflect the person I want the outside world to see. But worse, I was beginning to wonder if my beloved, tried and true Domke F-6 was making me look unprofessional to clients. Could my appearance even cost me work?

Where a brassed Leica might look storied, a tattered camera bag just looks like you need a new camera bag!

Recently, I got drinks with photographer Ben Eisendrath. He was carrying an ONA Bowery Street bag and told me that he has several ONA brand camera bags, of varying sizes and styles and he really loves and endorses them. He even made an appearance on their website. What I liked about the look of Ben’s bag and the other ONA bags I’d seen is that they have a simple, rugged, masculine style about them, yet they also look refined enough to command the respect that my faded and frayed old Domkes seem unable to cull.

ONA makes some compact daily carry bags like the Bond Street and Bowery Street. But my real goal was to replace the mid-size bag that I use for paid shoots but that I can also walk around downtown with. Something that would be good for family photos, engagement sessions, concerts, or anything like that where I would be taking one or two cameras and one or two lenses with ten or twenty rolls of film. And then go out for drinks afterwards.

ONA Prince Street olive canvas with dark truffle full grain leather and solid brass fasteners

I decided to order ONA’s Prince Street bag in waxed olive canvas and dark truffle full grain leather. It’s very similar to the large Brixton bag but a bit smaller – something that seems to walk the line between serious shoot and daily carry. A capable but low profile street photo bag. It’s a little taller but not as wide and deep as my Domke F-6 and shares its same basic form and some of its features.

What I am liking about the ONA vs. the Domke so far is that the ONA does not stick out from my body nearly as much as the Domke did. The ONA holds a little less volume, doesn’t look, and is not as physically bulky. This is because the ONA’s dimensions favor height instead of width. The difference does make a tighter fit for my usual belongings and the bag is better suited for rangefinders and compact SLR’s as opposed to full sized SLR’s, DSLR’s or medium format SLR’s. Typically, if I’m using two cameras, one is in my hand or around my neck and needn’t be bagged anyway. So this arrangement is fine. What is in the bag also fits more snugly than other bags I use. The ONA’s slimness seems to encourage bringing only the essential items and caring for them well. I like that.

Two ten-roll film cases + 1930 Leica w/ 50mm Elmar + M6 TTL + 50mm Summicron
Two ten-roll film cases + Nikon F2sb w/ 105mm 1.5 AIS
One ten-roll film case + four Zuiko lenses + Olympus OM-1n

The canvas of the ONA is more heavily waxed than the Domke. Whereas the Domke is very soft and pliable, the ONA is stiff and rigid. While I used to enjoy the softness of the Domke bag, which is often touted as a selling point, this lack of “structure” causes the bag to deform and sag when loaded up and carried. Almost as if it’s got the space but not the strength. The ONA’s rigidity seems to aid carrying somehow. Though the ONA is heavier than the Domke, it feels lighter and more agile on my shoulder, more a part of my person and less a heavy extra thing to carry. I’ve noticed that I forgot that I was even wearing it a few times. I think this is because the connecting points of the shoulder strap remain at a single distance on the ONA thanks to it’s rigid shape, instead of flexing back and forth as they do on the the Domke bag whose contents always also seem to be shifting slightly. The rigidity and height-oriented shape also keep the ONA looking more stately and proper to me. Whereas a loaded up Domke can look slouchy, lazy and fat.

The Domke is a slouch!

It must be said that with all that wax sealant in the ONA canvas, the material very easily takes on scratches and rub marks. Some may like the easily created “patina,” or aging effect while others may not. To this point though, one thing I’ve found that I don’t like about any of my Domke bags is that the dyes that they use seem to fade very unevenly and harshly with UV exposure. The marks that show on the ONA tell a story of how the bag is touched and used. The fading of the Domke just looks unkept to me. Only time will tell how the ONA canvas and leather ages but it seems designed to wear like and old pair of jeans or cowboy boots, gathering character.

Both bags feature some lined and unlined panels. The Domke is lined with a thin nylon fabric, which, on occasion has soaked through with rain. This could very well be due to my lack of attention to reapplying any kind of sealant to it, but it has happened. The lined panels of the ONA are lined with more canvas, or in the case of the main interior pocket, a soft, fuzzy material that holds its Velcro dividers as well as provides some cushion for gear and structure to the bag that the Domke doesn’t offer. There are images on the ONA website of their canvas bags being completely soaked on the outside and everything dry inside. I think the Domke could do this on its better days also but weather protection will likely last longer with the ONA. And the additional padding, while reducing space for equipment, of course, better absorbs hits and bumps than a single layer of canvas like the Domke.

Domke hardware close-up

ONA hardware close-up

While both bags are made of canvas, much of the “hardware” on the Domke is PVC plastic with some steel alloy but with the ONA, everything is solid brass. I’ve never had any issues with the plastic parts of the Domke cracking, bending or even showing any wear. In fact, only the steel hardware on the F-6 shows any wear (paint) but the plastic parts look brand new, 20 years later. The brass on the ONA, of course, looks classier but it also feels smoother in operation. It’s corny but I also like that I’ve got a bag holding brass cameras that is also fitted with brass. There is just something congruent about this.

One thing I’ve come to love about Domke is the accessory US Post Office Shoulder Pad. I primarily use it with my F1-X but wondered if I might want to use it with the ONA since the bag is technically heavier. Again, though ONA won me over. While the longest shoot that I’ve taken the ONA on so far was only about 4 hours of wearing the bag, I am very happy with its shoulder strap as well as the seemingly inferior and thin all leather shoulder pad that is built into the Prince Street bag. The Domke shoulder straps seem to be made out of a thicker canvas than the type used for the the panels of the bags. Their straps also feature several rubber threads that run the length of the strap and supposedly assist in gripping the strap onto ones shoulder without slipping. All this sounds fine but what I’ve found is that the straps have or perhaps develop some amount of elasticity to them.

ONA dark truffle full grain leather shoulder strap

ONA shoulder strap and logo close-up

What this means is that as I’m walking, the bag itself is not only flexing due to the soft nature of the canvas but the strap itself is stretching and retracting back and forth with my steps too. It’s slight but I find it annoying. And again, I didn’t realise how annoying it was until I wore the ONA. Their canvas bags are equipped with a strap that appears to be similar or perhaps even the same material as that of a car safety belt. How rad is that?! There is absolutely zero flex in this strap and feels as secure and unbreakable as a goddamn automotive quality strap. This might be my favorite practical feature of the bag. And that thin leather shoulder pad that I thought I’d be replacing, I don’t see that happening. I don’t know what it is, though the leather is a good inch thinner than the Domke accessory pad (which is made of foam rubber and of course, doesn’t look as nice), the ONA pad is very absorbent and comfortable. I do have to say that it’s somewhat difficult to slide the shoulder pad along the strap to change its position but it’s not annoyingly so.

One major criticism that I have for the ONA Prince Street is the design of the main cover flap. The interior corners have these “webs” that fold into the bag when you close the flap and straighten up when you when open the flap. These appear to be included to both help the front flap open fully to the contents of the bag while perhaps offering some weather protection, but I have my doubts about how they’re implemented. I fear that they could potentially guide water into the bag like little funnels during a heavy downpour.

ONA front flap “webs”

At the rear corners of the main flap, three panels of fabric, the flap, the liner for the flap and the web are all stitched together at this point. I’m sure that whoever sewed the bag did as clean a job as possible given this complex intersection of fabrics, but the otherwise clean, straight stitching lines of the flap are compromised here, on a visual level.

Strangely the front flap is just not wide enough to fully cover the opening of the bag. Whereas the Domke front flap covers this to the point of almost being excessive and imprecise, the ONA is just slightly too conservative to fully enclose its contents in some cases. Depending on how the flap sits, it sometimes creates little open areas to the main compartment of the bag. No amount of wax sealant will stop water from entering a direct, open hole of course.

Likely, the webs would actually protect the contents of the bag in any light precipitation and if I were concerned about water getting in at any point, the webs can be inverted so that they stick out of the bag, ridiculous as this may look on a cosmetic level. I am also finding that there are ways that I can fold and press the top of the bag, as well as tighten the front adjusting snaps, in order to mitigate my concerns about the width of the front flap. I’ve been out in the snow and rain a couple times with the ONA and haven’t observed any instances of my concerns actually occurring. The canvas sheds water keenly and snow hasn’t stuck. It may also just be an unlikely set of obstacles for weather to make its way into the bag. I feel that the design of the front flap could use some improvement if for no other reason than to instill stronger confidence though. A design more like the ONA Sedona might be wiser for photographers expecting to use their bag in trying weather conditions.

ONA Prince Street bag with a typical payload

Overall, I’m very happy with the ONA Prince Street messenger style camera bag. My wife likes it and while I’ve yet to receive any compliments from anyone else, that is kind of the point. I opted for the understated canvas version instead of a flashy all leather one precisely because I want to keep a lower key look that is still respectable. It’s debatable as to if I could have achieved the same effect by just picking up a new Domke F-6 sans holes and frayed edges. But I think the ONA is a better investment and will still look and function well in 20 years instead of requiring another replacement. Also, anyone who actually takes the time to give the ONA a second look will be likely to notice that it is indeed finely crafted. I may even pick up a couple of matching ONA dark truffle leather neckstraps for the two Leica’s that I pretty much leave in the ONA Prince Street at all times. And that brings me to the real takeaway of my review.

Whatever camera bag you choose, and whatever your reasons for choosing it, to me, the mark of a good camera bag is that it feels like something more than just another place to stow your equipment, but that it feels like the home of your equipment. And that is exactly what the ONA Prince Street bag has quickly become – a home for my favorite Leica cameras, where they are safe, easily accessed and well-presented.

Many thanks to Ben Eisendrath for the recommendation

And thank you for reading. Happy shooting.

Follow, Favorite, Like, Add, Insult, Contact Johnny Martyr 

     

17 thoughts on “My New Daily Carry Camera Bag – ONA Prince Street

  1. What a great review! I think people often undervalue the importance of a good bag. This is the thing that not only protects your gear, but makes it easy to get in and out of when you need to use your camera or lenses. Not to mention, they look gorgeous! Well done, Johnny!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I guess I have a bag problem as one photographer remarked. Since I shoot mainly fixed lens, the bags I’ve seen are either too big or too small, lol. I can usually just carry it but it’s nice to be able to put it away so as to not scare the Maitre’D.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I only shoot primes and have an increasing appreciation for smaller cameras/lenses. I have a couple Domke F-8’s for just one camera/lens and some film. ONA makes a couple single camera/lens bags also. I am going to try to use this ONA Prince Street as my ONLY bag with the exception of big shoots. It’s probably a never-ending struggle!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t shoot professionally so it’s not a huge deal but I’m going to investigate your recommendations. I’m usually carrying some other stuff so I’m always back and forth on the size issue 😐

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting question – yes, my M6 TTL easily slips into the front pockets with a generous amount of space on either side and above. The front flap on my Prince Street also closes and latches shut just fine with the camera in the front pocket, without readjusting the straps.

      I hadn’t considered using the bag this way. I wouldn’t advise it though because protection would be minimum since there’s no padding or lining here. For me, personally, I want the front and sides of my bags to be able to hit and get hit without threat to my gear. Part of the reason I keep my film cases on either side of the main pocket is to keep the cameras/lenses away from the exterior panels of the bag and surrounded by other stuff as much as possible.

      I suppose that if the main compartment were filled and I wanted to bring along a cheap back-up like a Leica CL or a IIIf, I wouldn’t feel bad about putting a body cap on the camera and tossing it in one of these pockets, but I wouldn’t see any good reason for stowing an important/valuable camera there.

      I’d be curious what you had in mind with this though, maybe I’m missing something!

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    1. I had read this previously but just to verify, I referred to the link below which also gives a rundown on how they’re made. ONA bags are assembled in the Dominican Republic but materials are sourced globally (as I understand from another link that I don’t remember right now), and designs are from America. All of ONA’s bags are named after streets/areas in New York in honor of their headquarters.

      https://onabags.com/pages/how-an-ona-is-made

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  3. Johnny,
    The intent is to replace Domke’s smaller bag – F6 maybe? That bag holds two film M cameras and an M8 as well as four lenses – 21, 35, 75, and 135 – finders, film and spare batteries. Two cameras have lenses attached – the 75 and the 135. The Ona bag could replace that if two bodies were stored in the outer pouches.

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  4. Johnny,
    You didn’t get the memo? You’re a creative — you’re allowed to have a tattered Domke bag. It’s part of the compact creative people follow. Who cares about the expression the button-downed wingtip wearing person gave you? His type has been around forever. I bet some church tour guide back when DaVinci was painting The Last Supper complained that the artist didn’t dress well for the corporate sponsors.
    People expect you to LOOK like a photographer. Barneck Leica? A well worn bag? Hat on backwards? We’re getting our money’s worth. Heck, Picasso wore pants with horizontal black & white stripes. That made quite a fashion statement in the French countryside.
    Now, if the bag had holes in it large enough that a Summicron lens could fall through, then I’d say get a new bag.
    I’ve used Domke bags since their inception. My 803 bag had to be retired. It actually has a through & through bullet hole made by a drunk cousin. (The bag was empty, the pistol wasn’t.) So ratty looking, but I still have it after 33 years. Since I know work with a single M2 or my M4-P and a single lens, I find the Domke F-5 meets my needs.
    The ONA bags are well designed and constructed. It’ll serve you for many years. Good luck with it.
    And, if you have time, check out Picasso’s pants.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Johnny, I have a couple more thoughts on this. Canvas, especially the better-made kinds, is one of those products that looks better over time with age and wear, so your new bag should just keep looking better and better. How well it will hold up, I’m not sure and it probably depends on the quality of ONA’s stitching and materials, as well as the quality of the fabric itself…the provenance of which is obscure. If ONA (or Domke) were saying they sourced their fabric from British Millerain, Mount Vernon Mills, Humphrys, or any other well-regarded (and long-established) textile manufacturer, then I’d have a better idea of how long any bag would last. One problem with waxed canvas though, is that it’s kind of hard to clean, and no doubt will pick up dirt and grime over the years. But the patina it accumulates through age will be wonderful…perhaps that’s a matter of perspective and taste. And as cotton is an organic material I’m sure that there will be a built-in lifespan to any bags made with it.

        Regarding longevity: going from one company to another but staying with the same material isn’t likely to give you a longer lifespan. Especially when you’re going from a company that manufactures in USA compared to a USA company manufacturing elsewhere. With all due respect to ONA, I don’t trust “American” companies that offshore their production to a third-world country.

        Looking at the pics of your Domke bag, I can’t find any fault in how it’s put together, just that there has been considerable wear to the corners and the fabric itself has come apart. I know that Domke offer a few different series of bags in different materials, the one that I bought myself back in 2020 is made from Cordura which is DuPont’s brand-name ballistic nylon, incredibly abrasion-resistant (like, modern motorcycle clothing is made from it); I have a couple duffel bags made from the same stuff. Sadly Domke stopped making my bag (the Director) but they have the Journalist series which they say is made from ballistic nylon (provenance unknown) so if you’re worried about a bag lasting longer than the 20 years of your last one I’d say look into the J-2.

        Style-wise though it’s anybody’s guess how that black nylon bag will look with whatever outfit you usually wear on a shoot or out at the local brewery. My tan Domke Director bag gets by with whatever I usually wear and I’d be unashamed to pair it with a suit at a wedding, but then I’m more concerned with protecting my equipment and it had better be understood by anyone looking at me that the protection of my gear comes way before whether my camera bag goes perfectly with the rest of my outfit. And I will say that modern materials will look a bit more modern. But I agree with Daniel that the bag should be what you require technically and to hell with what anyone else thinks of your aesthetic choices.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Joe, it seems that you are much more knowledgeable regarding textile manufacture than I – these are interesting thoughts/insights.

        To your points – yes, I can find no fault in the construction of the Domke either. It certainly did its job and I have no qualms with the brand. My move to the ONA for this particular bag (I still have several others) was nearly purely cosmetic with the expectation of equal or better experience/usability.

        As we obviously can’t see yet what 20 years of wear will do to the ONA, the main functional difference is that the ONA is inexplicably more comfortable. I really had no idea that carrying as much stuff as I like to carry could be done so, so effortlessly yet seemingly safely as well.

        As far as throwing clients’ concerns about my appearance to the wind, I don’t want to mischaracterize the single interaction that I detailed as a turning point in this blog. It was a very minor moment. He’s not superficial and was not casting judgement. I made what I think was an important observation in that moment though, which, of course is what photographers are supposed to be good at doing!

        I don’t think the Domke offered superior protection, comfort or style over the ONA. Yet with the ONA, I seem to have all three. There’s no weighing of style over function going on here.

        And while nobody’s going to criticize a shooters’ photos because of the style of their camera bag, they are going to make decisions about if and what they hire us to do based on our aesthetic presentation. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

        Photography, is literally, all about image, right?

        Liked by 1 person

  5. It would be the perfect bag if only there was a top handle. Drives me nuts having to pick up the bag by the strap, potentially tangling or spilling contents. I clip a short strap from another bag to both ends of mine. Works, but not ideal. Otherwsie, it’s a great bag.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you mean that the ONA Prince Street should have a handle on the top of the front flap, as opposed to connected to the brass rings on either side of the bag? I have found that those handles can throw the contents across the room so I’m surprised to hear that you seem to be describing the opposite. When the handle is attached to the top flap, if the flap isn’t secured and you lift the handle, the bottom-heavy bag will often tip. At least that has been the case with my Domke F1-X. My wife once, accidently threw my Leica M6 about a foot down and three feet across a marble floor because of this! So for me, the arrangement of the ONA Prince Street handle is exactly what I prefer.

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