To get one thing out of the way: I, personally, know far more bag collectors among male photographers than among ladies. For rangefinder fans, Leica has so far offered quite a few bags, one was launched only recently. But let’s keep up the M Files spirit and look at alternatives: it there something as a perfect bag for a rangefinder kit?
Photographers and their bags: It’s often a complicated relationship. Some have life-long companions, but many others change them frequently. After all, you are not out and about with the same kit all the time unless you are a die-hard “Das Wesentliche” purist. So, horses for courses. Note the plural.
This is about a perfect bag for a rangefinder kit — not about the annoying ones
In this article, I share some experiences with bags, and I will focus on three use cases: minimalistic kit with just a rangefinder body with a lens attached; small kit with one body, three lenses and a few accessories; medium kit with two bodies, a total of four lenses and some more accessories. In all cases, I needed space for a spare battery, a small iPhone, and a notebook with ballpoint pen. So, which could be the perfect bag for a rangefinder kit?
Leica has offered several bags over the years
Of course, Leica itself has worked on an answer to this question for decades. Only recently, the company launched a new bag. And I am sure their bag experts have asked themselves thousands of times what is the perfect bag for a rangefinder kit. At any rate, bags have been in Leica’s programme for a long time. It is evident that all these bags tried to offer a good compromise between practicability and stylishness, and they reflect the aesthetics of their times.
Some Leica bags I am showing below. It goes without saying that these items were hardly made in the Wetzlar or Solms works. One recent bag, expressly designed for an M kit, has a Billingham tag. Another cooperation exists (or existed) with the US-based manufacturer, ONA. The latest addition to the Leica bag range, however, comes from a non-disclosed supplier. But we are here in the M Files, so let’s turn to non-Leica products.
When it comes to the perfect bag for a rangefinder kit, it’s all about size and material
For the sake of readability, I will concentrate here on three types of bags that I will classify in one dimension as “miniature” (body with one lens), “small” (one body with lens and two extra lenses), and “medium” (two bodies and a handful of lenses). In the other dimension, my scale is “elegant” (leather), “classic” (canvas), and “technical” (nylon and similar). Of course, Jono Slack’s wonderful classification of bags would have been much more fun, but I want to spare you the burden of following me into dead ends. And, of course, a non-leather bag can also be elegant, just as one made of canvas can be highly technical.
In these categories, I intend to show products that convince me personally. Some of them are expensive, some others aren’t at all. In the end, the cheapest bag is the one you are using for years, and the most expensive is the one that lies around because the first use was already the last. In so far, prices are relative. And this even more if you’re putting it into relation to the value of what’s inside.
The perfect bag for a rangefinder kit, part 1: Miniature
The smallest kit you can think of consists of one camera and one lens. Even if the pockets of your coat are spacious, in the case of an M-Mount camera and lens with a full frame sensor or film, a certain size appears to be inevitable. Into my bag I put my good old Leica M (Typ 262) and the old Summicron 50. Both camera and lens are a bit bigger than today’s M10 and M11 models and most other M-Mount lenses. So, where they fit in, almost any other one-camera-one-lens combo finds space if you are not going for the wide-angle Summiluxes or telephoto lenses. I add what I usually also need in my bag: notebook, pencil, iPhone.
Technical: LowePro Film Organizer AW
The most surprising solution for this kit might be a bag that is long discontinued, but it has grown on me. It is, no joke, called “Film Organizer” and comes from LowePro. It was designed to be a storage for film. But its dividers ensure it is also a petite photo bag. Mind you, it is not really padded, but the integrated rain cover in the bottom compartment actually cushions the one or other bumpy landing quite well.
And this bag is a space miracle. I have already transported an Olympus OM-2 an two small additional lenses on mountaineering trips! The rain cover makes the bag fairly waterproof. The Film Organizer weighs only 265 grams when empty, which makes it the first choice for long walking trips. It should be easy to find a strap to carry it over your shoulder. It’s a shame that you can no longer buy the LowePro Film Organizer new. I have not found a real replacement for it so far.
Classic: ONA Bond Street
This is, I think, the smallest bag from ONA. It comes in leather or canvas, I opted for canvas. The waxed fabric has a coarser weave than Billingham, but it is also very robust. The bag has very softly padding and a lining with a smooth fabric on the inside. Scratches on the equipment should therefore be not too much of a risk. The bag comes with a divider so that you can create two compartments — even for a camera with a small lens and an additional second lens if you wish. But then there is not much room for all the other important bits and pieces.
A protected, spacious front pocket and an open back pocket offer space for this and that. Two more small pockets are on the sides, but they are narrow and deep, so you can only use them for long small items such as pencils and so forth. The buckle on an adjustable leather strap opens and closes easily and quietly. The textile shoulder strap is detachable via a type of carabiner. The bag weighs 679 grams and is also suitable for other purposes. It costs about $190, but I do not know if ONA continues to produce it.
Elegant: Oberwerth Boulevard Compact
Oberwerth is a German company that produces luxury leather bags, especially for Leica users. No wonder, some of their bags cost as much as others spend on a camera. The Boulevard Compact is one of their more affordable offerings, and it comes in a rather fine leather reminiscent of gloves. I am still reluctant to take this beautiful item into tough conditions. I am sure the bag will cope with it, but it will not look as elegant afterwards.
The Boulevard Compact is more on the big side within the “miniature” range, but with its two compartments, it best accommodates one camera with lens and a few accessories. The textile, black-red strap is fixed to the bag and feels soft and sturdy at the same time. A spacious front bag is under the generous flap. The bag closes with beautiful Loxx buttons “known from historic Porsche cabriolets”, as Oberwerth states. The Boulevard compact weighs in at 450 grams and can be found for about €450. It appears to be discontinued, but other Oberwerth options are manifold.
The perfect bag for a rangefinder kit, part 2: small
The next biggest kit it what I take out most often: A camera with one lens attached and two more in the bag, here an M10 Monochrom with the Summicron 50 attached, the Summicron 28 and the Summarit 90 in the bag. Add three filters and a spare battery, and you are ready for almost any rangefinder photography project. With most M-Mount lenses smaller than the candidates I chose for this setup, any of the small bags will be good for a one camera, three-lens outfit. The accessories are as usual.
Technical: ThinkTank SpeedChanger V 2.0
ThinkTank has built up a reputation in just a few years with particularly well-thought-out, user-friendly photo bags. Many of them are part of a system, but they usually also work in a stand-alone mode. The big advantage of the SpeedChanger is the super spacious front pouch. Several smaller pockets complement it. Otherwise, similar in size, this sets the SpeedChanger apart from the “miniature” LowePro Film Organizer. You can easily put everything else than the camera and lenses into the front compartments.
Unfortunately, the Speed Changer is designed more to be worn on a belt and less so on a shoulder strap. So, you have to find one with reliable hooks. The latches for them are not ideally placed, but it works. My bag weights 327 grams, which I find quite light. The Speed Changer is now in version 3.0 as part of ThinkTank’s belt carrying system and costs – when available – about €75, including the fixed rain cover.
Classic: Billingham Hadley Digital
Need I say a single word about this classic? Billingham bags, made in England, have long enjoyed an almost legendary reputation. They are usually made from canvas, but sometimes also from a somewhat lighter yet hard-wearing synthetic fabric called FibreNyte. The Billingham Digital is one of the manufacturer’s smallest bags, and it is certainly quite a space miracle. The camera and lenses all fit into the main compartment, which can be cleverly adjusted using dividers, while the rest goes into the extremely spacious front compartment.
The adjustable fastening with a simple but efficient leather strap offers the necessary flexibility. The lenses can be stowed on top of each other on one side or next to each other on both sides, depending on whether the body is placed in the bag with the lens facing downwards or upright with the lens facing forwards. The Hadley Digital weighs about 530 grams in canvas and minimally less in FibreNyte. It comes in various colours from £152 including VAT. A very recommendable source is Red Dot Cameras, London. Ivor Cooper is a real Billingham expert.
Elegant: ONA The Bowery
The ONA The Bowery Bag is probably the best known product from this company. This bag has a rather distinctive, elongated and flat shape. It almost seems as if the designers had the Leica M and other rangefinder cameras in mind when they developed this bag. If so, they have unfortunately forgotten a second divider. As a result, the bag has two relatively large compartments, each of which can hold a camera with a lens attached. If two lenses are to share one of the compartments, it makes sense to pack one of them in a microfibre bag or similar so that they do not damage each other.
The workmanship of the ONA leather bag is excellent. The lightly waxed leather feels very sturdy and soft at the same time. The same can be said for the shoulder strap. It can be removed, for example, to carry the bag in a larger piece of luggage. Otherwise, the bag is plain with a large front pouch and a closure with a classic buckle on an adjustable strap. The ONA The Bowery bag is comparatively heavy at 960 grams. It costs around $329 in leather or $209 in canvas.
The perfect bag for a rangefinder kit, part 3: Medium
One analogue and one digital camera, four lenses, films, viewfinders, an attachable light meter and a charger – more gear will hardly be needed even on a long journey. I can fit Leica M4 and a Leica M10 Monochrom body into the bag, one with the Summicron 50 and the other with the tiny Voigtländer Ultron 35, added the Summarit 90 and the Super-Elmar 21, the Visoflex electronic viewfinder and the excellent Zeiss 21 optical viewfinder. The light meter is the small attachable Hedeco Lime Two. All in all, a comprehensive kit for all kinds of photographic purposes. Of course, any other Leica body might also fit in and most other M-Mount lenses as well. And again, the usual accessories also belong to the setup. Assuming that this equipment might go on a longer journey with you, I added a charger plus cable for the M10.
Technical: ThinkTank Speedtop 15
The ThinkTank Speedtop bag series is arguably the most modern in this selection. These shoulder bags can be worn in several ways. Their most striking feature, however, is the cover that opens, unlike most other bags, away from your body. This may sound strange, but it offers, in combination with a well-thought-out magnetic closing mechanism, superfast access to your camera. The ThinkTank15 is the second-smallest bag in the series but offers a handle and two expandable side pouches. They are not covered by the lid, but you can put in any item that can get wet or dusty, for example a small drinking bottle.
The Speedtop 15 may be a few centimetres too high for most rangefinder cameras, but it offers more space than any other bags I am showing in this article. You can organize the interior in several ways. The various small compartments hold the small bits and pieces. Two pouches in the cover turned out to be particularly helpful. A soft cushion on the body side makes the bag comfortable to wear, and at 800 grams, it is not heavy. The SpeedTop15 comes with a rain cover and costs about €135, street prices often a bit below.
Classic: Billingham Hadley Small
The Billingham Hadley Small is a true classic. It has been around for many years, and it fits perfectly a two camera kit. The extra lenses find their place stacked in the middle compartment. This insert can be removed (making the bag a stylish companion for non-photographic trips) and bought separately. Theoretically, you could even have several insets with different layouts/fillings and just fix the one that is momentarily in use into the bag. The excellent front pouches offer enough space for all the shown accessories. Again, the bag is available in canvas or FibreNyte. I tried both, and both proved to be weather-resistant in the most inclement conditions. Look also at the Hadley Small Pro which features a top carrying handle which many photographers prefer.
The bag is pretty full in my use case, so you might prefer to pack in a bit less or to select the next bigger Billingham bag, the Hadley Pro. The Hadley Small (681 grams in FibreNyte, a bit more in canvas, plus 85 grams for the optional £42 shoulder pad) is available in several colours including the iconic khaki. at Red Dot Cameras from £190 VAT included. The upgraded version Small Pro comes with a handle (very, very, very helpful!), a flat back pocket, and the shoulder strap is detachable. If you’re new to the party, get this one. The £27 extra is more than well invested!
Elegant: Rock’n’Roll Havana Small Leather
Rock’n’Roll bags is the business of a real Leica enthusiast, Evris Papanikolas, a film director and photographer. He started making camera straps after he needed a leash for his dog, found a nice one in waxed leather, had it altered in a shoe repair shop and equipped with two split rings. Macfilos had a hand in this when our editor, Mike Evans, discovered Evris’s first straps in the Skiadopoulos Leica store, Athens in May 2015.
By now, Evris offers an outstanding range of camera straps and has also built up a very nice range of camera bags. The Havana Small is medium-sized and comes in both canvas and leather. The leather is of excellent quality, and the whole bag oozes sturdiness. I am still a bit reluctant to expose it to the elements, but I know from Jono Slack that these bags offer perfect protection for any camera. Read his article here; I am planning a long-term review of this bag in 2024.
The bag closes securely with two leather straps that work similarly to Billingham’s. With the shown content, the Havana Small is at its capacity limit, and as the two lenses share one compartment, it is a good idea to put one in a microfibre bag. The notebook needs to go into the back pouch, which has no rain protection. The Havana Small has a cotton (and not microfibre) lining, so it is not as soft as other bags inside but much sturdier. The Havana Small is available from €235 in canvas without VAT, and for €295 in leather (960 grams, 200 more than the canvas version). Watch out for sales in Evris’s online shop!
The perfect bag for a rangefinder kit, part 4: Large
Is something missing beyond “medium”? I guess we love our M-Mount gear because everything is so compact, don’t we? Where “medium” ends on this chart, “small” begins for many other systems.
But before we move on to my final thoughts: Do try these bags for other cameras as well. M-Mount gear is similar in size to many Fujifilm products. Even Micro Four Thirds equipment might fit in well (once more we see, M-Mount cameras and lenses are really compact for a Full Frame system). On the other hand, my good old Olympus OM-1 and the Zuiko lenses have also roughly the same dimension (so compact are they).
Travel tip: The Billingham insert trick
This one comes from our editor and represents an unusual way of using Billingham’s inserts. When travelling, he removes the insert from his Hadley Small Pro and slots it into carry-on luggage, often the Tom Bihn Synapse 19 backpack. The Billingham insert fits perfectly inside the Synapse. He then packs the flattened Hadley Small Pro in the hold luggage for use at the destination. Often, though, the backpack is used as a day bag, in which case accessories or, say, a sweater can be packed under the Billingham insert to keep the camera gear to hand.
Conclusion: Is there the perfect bag for a rangefinder kit? There are!
We have seen: There are many ways to solve one problem. You can stow the camera horizontally or vertically in your bag. You can opt for fast access or maximal compactness. You can go for extra space in your photo bag for some extra items, or you can keep it super slim. Either way can be right. There is something like a perfect bag for a rangefinder kit. But it will not be the same for every person and occasion.
But which bag would I take to the proverbial desert island? I think, it would be the ONA Bond Street if I need something small. The Billingham Hadley Digital if I were to take a bit more material. For maximum flexibility, the Rock’n’Roll Havana would be my choice. But your mileage may vary. Options to choose from are manifold… quod erat demonstrandum.
What do you think? Which is your favourite photo bag and why? Or do you use none? What was your biggest mistake with the purchase of a camera bag? What was your biggest positive surprise? Are you more for elegance in a photo bag, or more for maximum understatement? Any secret tips for a perfect bag for a rangefinder kit? Any warnings for your esteemed readers?
The M Files: Get in-depth knowledge of M-Mount lenses, cameras and suitable accessories
The M Files is an ongoing project on Macfilos that focuses on photographic equipment with or for Leica M-Mount, made by companies apart from Leica or which are otherwise not part of Leica’s M system. It follows a more or less encyclopaedic approach without being scientific. The focus is always on the real-life use and usability of cameras, lenses and other items. Products covered by The M Files include cameras, lenses, viewfinders, light meters and more. Brands on the growing list include Contax, Konica, Minolta, Rollei, Voigtländer and Zeiss.
Die M-Files: M-Mount-Objektive, -Kameras und passendes Zubehör jenseits von Leica M
Die M-Files sind ein Langzeit-Projekt, das sich auf Foto-Ausrüstungsteile mit oder für Leica M-Bajonett konzentriert, die von anderen Firmen als Leica hergestellt wurden oder die nicht zum M-System von Leica gehören. Es verfolgt einen mehr oder weniger enzyklopädischen Ansatz, ohne wissenschaftlich zu sein. Der Schwerpunkt liegt immer auf der praktischen Nutzung von Kameras, Objektiven und anderen Produkten. Zu den in den M-Files besprochenen Produkten gehören Kameras, Objektive, Sucher, Belichtungsmesser und mehr. Einige der Marken auf der wachsenden Liste sind Contax, Konica, Minolta, Rollei, Voigtländer und Zeiss. In deutscher Sprache erscheinen die Inhalte auf www.messsucherwelt.com.
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