I'd have to agree with Timothy that finding a good old-fashioned canvas bag is a difficult thing in fashionable times. Looking around a few stores to find one led me to the conclusion that most of them are printed and/or are adorned in colours that would make Cyndi Lauper blush.
I had used my Deuter backpack for ages as my 'walkaround' bag but the inconvenience of having to take it off just to get a roll of film or to change a lens, made it pressing for me to find a small bag to use while walking around. My Nova 5 is for work and screams "CAMERA BAG" from a mile away. I also dislike the bag's un-necessary bulk and having to zip and un-zip the bag to reach for my stuff. The backpack was similar; you'd have to unzip it to get to equipment. Not zipping it could lead to costly 'spills' onto the roadside. Opps... there goes another Leica... oh well. Did I mention I dislike zips? The backpack also had to be dismounted from my shoulder to reach the main compartment. Anyhow, after some stalking through various shops, I finally stumbled on an unlikely candidate: a Billingham L2 (Alice) with pure black on black finish.
Billingham hasn't garnered a reputation as a brand in Malaysia, partly due to poor marketing and partly due to the product lineup over the last 30 years. Most associate Billinghams with olive/khaki coloured canvas bags with brown piped leather trim on the edges. Well, they've started to move off into other colours (finally!). Think of them as Domkes but with British finesse...
If you're a street shooter, the L2 would probably fit the bill quite well, especially if you're using a rangefinder. The bag doesn't have the superfluous 1001 pockets n zippers found on the Nova 5. The main material is waterproof canvas, including the straps which are woven on old style looms which compress the threads to make them super strong. The strap has NO padding but this has never bothered me at all since it will gradually 'adjust' to the contours of your shoulders. In contrast, the padding on my Nova5 has since gone all limp and just slips off my shoulders. They aren't replaceable either. Canvas will last years and a shoulder pad is an option if you still like to have one or you can easily DIY one yourself.
Space at a premium?
Compared to the Nova 5, the L2 is surely a LOT smaller. To date, it is the smallest camera bag I've bought. However, bare in mind that rangfinder users typically don't carry more than two or three lenses at most. Many just carry one lens and lots of film. The L2 easily holds one rangefinder usually mounted with a 50mm + shade, one pocket for another lens (where i keep my 90mm) and a tiny auxiliary pocket next to it where i bundle the camera's strap. Yet another smallish pocket can hold either filters, more film and perhaps a phone or wallet. The side pocket is large enough to hold more film, a notepad, a pen + travel documents. For most rangefinder shooters, this is pretty much all they need to carry. No need for laptops, CF card readers, spare batteries, battery chargers and all the associated cabling. That's best left to an IT department to handle!
The L2 uses a lining (with no felt) so there won't be any dust problems (unlike other Billingham bags). Padding is kept to a minimum; just the centre where the equipment is, the sides are just lined making it less bulky and highly discreet. It reminds me of an old school bag. There is only ONE smallish badge at the side under the strap lug that may give it away but it too, is black.
I hate zippers... always have. The L2 employs leather fasteners that hook on to a rivet should u want to strap it all in place. You can quite easily leave it unhooked to just put your hand in to take stuff in and out. Zippers are also notorious for scratching equipment and ones hands if they're metallic or worn.
The black stuff.
The black canvas is waterproof and can handle rain with ease. Water just falls right off the material without soaking it. The Nova 5 unfortunately, turns into a giant sponge in the rain. The excess moisture turns it into a fantastic breeding ground for fungus if you do get drenched outdoors. The sides of the L2 merge with the top flap, and is cut precisely to provide shielding from the rain. Old world, but it works and the workmanship is fantastic. Remember you're not supposed to swim with it, but walking in the rain is fine!
The Billingham isn't the kind of bag one would use to check-in luggage at an airport since it lacks the all-round padding one would expect for the rigors of abuse (or just baggage handlers having a bad day). But it definitely serves its purpose as a discreet walkaround bag for rangefinder users. The bag does come with one more additional insert for you to configure the interior even further. For the price, a 5 year guarantee is included.
The lack of oversized badging or other tell-tale signs of a camera bag make it an attractive option for those wanting to lay low when out in the streets. Expect to pay around RM700 for one but I'd recommend the L2 to anyone who just wants a well made bag that does what it's supposed to do.