You may have heard of FOGG or you may have not, you may indeed own a FOGG or you may not. I have known of FOGG camera bags for several years and have always admired the apparent craftsmanship that goes into making these beautiful satchels and pouches.
I say “apparent” because until a few days ago I had never actually handled one let alone owned one, well that has now changed having just purchased a ‘b-laika’ from Robert White Photographic in Poole. I can say with all honesty that the craftsmanship and quality of materials used is of the highest order. As a long term user of Billingham bags I was surprised to find a bag of higher quality, make no mistake the Billingham range of bags are wonderful in their own right but FOGG take quality to another level. The easiest way for me to describe this would be that “Billingham are like Jaguar cars whereas FOGG are like Rolls Royce”.
Talking of Rolls Royce, FOGG bags are not only the camera world equivalent in terms of quality but also price! The adage “you only get what you pay for” is as true today as it has ever been, if you are prepared to spend the considerable amount of money needed to purchase a FOGG you can rest assured you will be buying a hand crafted item made by two people using only the finest materials available to them and with the utmost dedication to their craft and the end result. That end result in my opinion is without comparison such is the finish and attention to detail.
That “attention to detail” can be seen in the close up image above, not a single stitch is crooked or out of place, there are no ‘loose ends’ to be seen. The shoulder strap goes right under and around the bag and as such eliminates the possibility of its binding failing because it is not stitched and terminated on the side of the satchel as is so often the case with many other brands.
The strap is made of heavy weave cotton, its buckles from solid brass. The cotton canvas is waterproof, the traditional full grain leather hide used is vegetable-tanned, vat-dyed , oil impregnated and has a wonderful aroma. It is this attention to detail that reinforces my view that FOGG satchels and pouches are the finest available and worth every penny.
It’s a similar story on the inside too, the material used for the lining is natural linen. The base, sides, back & front of most satchels are padded using high-density, closed-cell foam and the adjustable dividers use quality Velcro fasteners.
Once again the stitching is impeccable and each satchel or pouch is individually numbered. The number along with the model name is hand written onto a sewn-in leather tag. FOGG keep a record of this numbering so you can always find out in what year your satchel or pouch was made.
As seen in the image above the sides of the satchel extend upwards so that when you close and secure the top, they fold down and inwards with the intention of protecting the contents from possible inclement weather. This is yet another example of the attention to detail and well thought out design of FOGG satchels & pouches.
On the satchel shown ( b-laika ) there is also a zippered compartment in which you could store for example a wallet, credit cards, small notebook or other small documents. There is also a larger front pocket with a Velcro securing flap in which you could store filters, film, memory cards, car keys or other such items, very useful.
In the image below you can see that there is also an external open pocket with retaining tag to the rear, which can be used to store a city street map or brochure. If the stockist does not have your satchel or pouch of choice in stock it will be ordered for you and if this is the case it will be possible to have your name written on the I.D. tag too if you so wish.
After several weeks of checking sizes, making paper ‘mock-ups’ and indecision I eventually took the plunge and bought a ‘b-laika’. I wanted a satchel that would hold both of my Leica M3 with attached ‘M-grips’ and also my 24mm Asph Elmarit, 50mm Asph Summilux & 90mm Elmarit. At first I was not sure if the ‘b-laika’ would hold all of that, on paper it may just fit but it looked as if it may be a close call so I also considered purchasing the ‘b-sharp’.
The ‘b-sharp’ is a slightly larger satchel and looked as though it would be the better option, but I really wanted to keep the satchel as small as possible and in this instance every single centimetre counted….. arrgh! which do I go for ?
At this point I must mention the staff at Robert White, whilst price is always an consideration, for me the overriding factor in any purchase I make is 1) The quality of the item, 2) Staff knowledge 3) Customer service. I can say with all honesty the knowledge, helpfulness and customer service ethos of the staff at Robert White is second to none.
At the end of the day only I could decide which satchel I should buy and this was a decision I had to make over the telephone as a visit to the store would have meant a 260 mile round trip and time I did not have to spare. Over several telephone conversations and emails spanning some two weeks the staff took the time to check the satchels for size with some rangefinder equipment they had in stock and email the pictures to me, for this I am very grateful as it helped enormously with the decision I had to make, that’s what I call proper good old fashioned customer service. Decision made I trusted my judgement and opted for the ‘b-laika’, it turned out to be a wise choice too for it is the perfect satchel for my needs.
So what does the b-laika hold? Well after several ‘divider adjustments’ I have finally settled on the configuration seen above. As you can see both M3 bodies are stored with a lens attached to each, one with the 50mm f/1.4 Asph Summilux, the other with the 24mm f/2.8 Asph Elmarit and hood attached. The central compartment stores the 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M along with a boxed roll of film and the 24mm viewfinder in its pouch which is on top of that roll of film. This configuration is a comfortable fit being neither too loose nor too tight in fact it is just about perfect. If I were to remove the “M-Grip” from each body I could no doubt fit an even larger diameter lens in where the 90mm is housed, or perhaps two on their side, one on top of the other using the ‘trap door’ included with the satchel.
What about other configurations? Well using my equipment as mentioned in the above paragraph I have also found it possible to configure the bag in the following ways without straining it in any shape or form:-
In this configuration one M3 “body only” with grip is stored on the left, the other with grip and 50mm f/1.4 Asph Summilux is stored in the centre. To the right I have stored the 24mm f/2.8 Asph Elmarit with its hood attached and below the ‘trap door’ under the 24mm is stored the 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M. The viewfinder for the 24mm is stored in the front compartment.
Another almost identical setup can be seen in this image. The difference being the M3 with 50mm Asph Summilux is facing forward as opposed to facing sideways, the satchel is deep enough to allow this and does not bulge .
In the image to the above the 90mm Elmarit can be seen under the ‘trap door’ divider. The 90mm fits in ‘snugly’ and I would say it is the longest lens that will fit when lying on its side.
Another possibility is seen here below, Both M3 bodies are housed with lenses attached. The 50mm f/1.4 Asph Summilux and the 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M.
Below, you can see another possible configuration. That is, both M3 with 50mm Asph Summilux and 24mm Asph Elmarit and hood attached. One of the M3s also has the 24mm external viewfinder mounted. Stored between them is the 90mm Elmarit-M.
Although designed with the Leica M system in mind the ‘b-laika’ naturally can be used to carry other systems too. I have found that it is also the perfect size for my Olympus ‘OM’ outfit as can be seen in the image below.
With Olympus in mind, what’s in the satchel? Basically everything you see in the image above. The image below shows you the layout. The centre houses an Olympus OM4Ti with 50mm f/2.0 Zuiko macro attached. To the left is a 100mm f/2.0 Zuiko and to the right is the 28mm f/2.0 Zuiko which sits on top of the 135mm f/2.8 Zuiko. The latter two are separated by the ‘trap door’. There is also room above the 100mm for another lens, or a few rolls of film.
With the exception of the Zuiko 28mm f/2.0 all the lenses are of the larger (for Olympus) 55mm filter thread diameter, yet the ‘b-laika’ has no problem accommodating them all. I dare say a similar sort of outfit by another manufacturer would also fit, such as Nikon FM3a, Canon F1n, Contax S2 but I have not tried them as I do not own or have access to them. The ‘b-laika’ would also be a great satchel for a Micro Four Thirds system as such equipment often mirrors the Leica M in terms of size.
The ‘b-laika’ is a beautifully compact satchel, its proportions are just right for carrying a rangefinder or manual focus 35mm SLR with up to four lenses or even a compact medium format camera such as a Hasselblad 500 series with 80mm lens and standard film back. And you can see in the image below just how compact a satchel the ‘b-laika’ is. The Billingham shown below is the ‘Hadley Small’, itself a very compact satchel and probably my favourite of the Billingham range for that reason. The ‘b-laika’ is slightly smaller yet manages to hold almost as much equipment as the ‘Hadley Small’.
So is FOGG the ultimate camera bag? Quite possibly yes, in my opinion the FOGG ‘b-laika’ is the perfect satchel for a small to medium Leica M, Micro Four Thirds or traditional manual focus 35mm SLR outfit. Yes it will not appeal to everyone, some will not like the ‘traditional’ appearance, others will baulk at the price but for those who like myself appreciate the craftsmanship, quality of materials used, are looking for a satchel to last several decades and are prepared to pay for it I can think of no finer make.