I received the good news that Leica was fixing my Monochrome’s shutter, replacing the sensor glass, and giving the thing a general tune up. The additional good news was that it would all be free. The bad news was they estimated the repairs would take 18 to 20 weeks (and this 8 weeks after sending it in). Regardless, this gave me the green light to buy a bag for my Monochrome. I believe that every camera/camera system needs its own shoulder bag home suited to the way I use that camera. Every camera has an infrastructure that needs to be contained and organized along with items of more general utility that live in camera bags. If you use more than one type of camera and constantly swap cameras in and out of bags, then very soon you’ll find yourself trying to put a Nikon battery into a Leica or attach an M lens to an F mount or find yourself without a flashlight or pen at some critical moment.
When the Monochrome developed a shutter issue in India it had been living in an old black Domke F3x. This is my all around favorite camera bag and my M-P 240 generally lives in a brown, waxed canvas version. The F3x wasn’t quite right for the Monochrome, however. Or, to be more precise, for the specific way I wished to use not only the Monochrome but, at times, a Leica system in general.
Upon returning to Washington, I straightaway took the Monochrome into the Leica Store downtown on F Street and they sent it in for repairs. I started doing research on which bag I wanted and came to a conclusion. For once, I did not want a model of Domke bag. I kept coming back to the Ona Bowery Bag and, specifically, the gorgeous special Leica Edition, the one made of cognac colored Italian leather with a crimson red interior and a tiny, discreet little red dot on the outside. It wasn’t cheap (at $279) but good camera bags never are. I almost bought it a few times but was holding off until I got news about the repairs. Then, when I found out my camera was being fixed went to buy the bag and, lo and behold, all of the special edition models were sold out. I had waited too long. A few appeared on E-bay for over $500 (ridiculous) and the regular Bowery Bags are attractive as well but I wanted the one with the crimson insides.
One day I found myself in Dominion Camera and Photo Lab in Falls Church, Virginia. I needed to make a couple snapshot-sized prints for my boys’ school and discovered it is nearly impossible to make a simple print around D.C. I remembered seeing Dominion Camera few years earlier, realized I wasn’t far away, and decided to check it out. Well, to make a long story slightly shorter, while they were making my (excellent) prints a few minutes before closing, I saw they had the Ona Berlin II Leica Edition bag on display (a beautiful bag but not the one I wanted). I asked if, perchance, they might have the Leica Bowery anywhere, the owner said he thought they did at another location. They did and they called me to pick it up the very next afternoon.
Aesthetically the bag is beautiful and practically it does what I wanted it to do perfectly. The Domke F3x is not an overly large bag. It is perfect for a working bag, when I am off in the wilds of Uttarkhand following the Ganges, photographing for an NGO in El Salvador, or documenting a demonstration on the streets of D.C. But there are times when I would be more likely to have my camera with me if all I could carry was the camera, a second lens, a small notebook and pen, memory cards and an extra battery. This is exactly what the Bowery Bag is designed for and it does it perfectly.
First of all, let me say that it is a terrific looking bag. The cognac colored Italian leather is gorgeous, obviously top quality, and the scarlet interior (which also lines the back notebook/tablet pocket, was worth waiting for. Unless you are an utterly dedicated minimalist, this isn’t the only bag you take on safari. It is, in my opinion, perfectly suited for why I bought it: to carry just what I need, in the city, and to do so with a little extra style and panache.
You might not be able to find a Leica edition Bowery Bag (as I may have gotten the last one in existence) but the bag comes in a wide variety of colors and materials. There are various Italian leather versions in four different colors, a black nylon version for $169.00, and 10 colors of heavy waxed canvas. I saw several of these, incidentally, at Dominion Camera and they are very handsome and very well made. The material appears to be of excellent quality and online photos do not do them justice. There are also some other unique special editions worth exploring on the Ona website. The waxed canvas Ona Bowery Bags go for about $149.00, the regular leather ones for $249.00, and the Leica Editions retail for a $30.00 premium. The differences between the regular bags and the Leica Editions are mostly aesthetic but, looking at the dimensions listed online, it appears that the Leica edition is, in fact, slightly larger. I’ll reiterate that this isn’t a large bag in any edition and an extra inch or half inch might actually come in quite handy.
Ona also markets the Bowery Bag as a dual use product: first as a shoulder bag and second as a camera bag insert — in other words a padded container to protect your gear within another, larger bag. I don’t know if I will use this or not but I tend to compartmentalize everything so the idea appeals to me… Of course you can put almost any smaller bag inside a larger bag but, to be fair, the Ona Bowery is a rectangular shape that could be easily slipped into a tote or other non-camera bag.
I think that in general, an Ona Bowery Bag would make an excellent choice for anyone looking for a smaller carrying solution for a rangefinder, mirrorless, or streamlined DSLR rig.
With the Monochrome still in the shop (undoubtedly being re-forged in the sacred fires of Mt. Wetzlar) the Bowery is now housing my M-P 240 with 35mm ASPH Summicron, 50mm Zeiss Planar ZM, a Field Notes journal and pen, and a slim leather Leica memory card case. It’s a compact, stylish package ready to go out the door when I am roaming the savage political jungles inside the beltway. If I head off to any jungle type jungles I’ll probably swap everything back into the Domke. And when the Monochrome returns from being serviced, it will find that it finally has a home of its own. FP