Bags and cases come in all shapes and sizes. In most instances, you’ll have no problem finding at least one bag or case that will protect your gear and fit the dimension requirements, but what do you do when you find ten or twenty possibilities?
The type of case you purchase for big bulky gear, such as lights, stands or boom poles will be quite different from the bag you might purchase for your camcorder. Likewise, shooting locked down on a tripod or on a set provides for more flexibility than shooting run-and-gun on location.
Many Micro Four Thirds (MFT), DSLR, or camcorder users often prefer backpacks, bags, or holsters. Larger drone users usually prefer hard cases, while small drone users tend to like backpacks. For most shooters, the optimally sized bag or case will fit your camera, lenses, and accessories without much extra space. Personal preferences for closure mechanisms such as zippers, Velcro, or latches will also affect how quickly you can access your gear.
I usually recommend that buyers read product reviews before a purchase, but bag and case reviews often complicate matters. Most reviews are generally the same: everyone either loves or hates the bag or the case they purchased. What’s important to remember is that, in most occurrences, the reviews were not written with your personal preferences in mind. At the end of the day, choosing the bag or case for your gear should be based on how you intend to use the gear and your unique circumstances. This buyer’s guide should help clarify some important considerations when making your purchase.
We all want the work we do to be taken seriously by others, even if our work is seriously funny. When you get to a shooting location, the people you meet there will often start to form an idea of what your footage will look like before you even turn on your camera, so those bags and cases you bring in not only organize, protect and carry your gear; they make a statement. You want those first impressions to be positive. They will help set the tone for your shoot and often your whole project.
Hard vs. Soft
The first obvious advantage to hard cases is that they are crush proof; however, cases are only impact resistant to a certain degree. Some manufacturers will include impact resistance information in their specifications. Many of the larger hard cases have telescoping handles and wheels for easy transport. Hard cases are great for storing and transporting gear because they offer more durability and more protection in challenging environments including snow, water, dust and sand. They also tend to be stackable which is great for storing a lot of gear in really small spaces.
In many instances, the decision of hard versus soft will be affected by the type of gear you are carrying and how you plan on using the gear.
All the advantages of hard cases create disadvantages in terms of portability. Even though many hard cases have wheels, they can be very heavy. In many instances, the decision of hard versus soft will be affected by the type of gear you are carrying and how you plan on using the gear. Having your camera in a backpack or in a bag slung over your shoulder is incredibly convenient. Additionally, Velcro, zippers, and latches all become factors in how quick and easy it is to access your gear.
Pic Foam vs. Custom Foam vs. Dividers
Pic foam comes in blocks that are just like perforated paper only in 3D foam. You just tear off the little cubes that prevent you from slipping your gear down into the foam block. This creates a semi-custom system for protecting your equipment from rattling around and getting damaged, particularly when being transported in hard cases. Sadly, foam is not forever. Over time it will start to break down and often dry rot, turning into troublesome dust. Foam also doesn't fair well when it gets hit by water, dust or sand. Sometimes, the foam can be vacuumed or set out to dry, but often it must be replaced. The good news about pic foam is that it’s not very expensive to buy a new block and start over.
Custom cut foam, predominantly seen in hard cases, is probably the best at protecting gear, but it does cost a bit more than other solutions. With that said, there are quite a few drone cases on the market for some of the more popular models, that feature customized foam at a very reasonable price. Custom cut foam does have the same issues as pic foam when it comes to water, sand, dust and age. With custom cut foam, you’ll have to find a replacement or a company that can cut foam for you. You can also always choose to replace it with pic foam.
Dividers are typically made of soft fabric and can be wiped with a damp cloth when necessary. Dividers can be flexible or rigid and are often padded. They are more durable than foam, but they lack the same level of protection. Dividers are often included in soft-sided bag and backpack style cases.
Water Resistant vs. Waterproof vs. Submersible
While both you and I can easily deduce the meanings of these words, the industry has a somewhat different and technical view. Many water resistant bags won’t protect your gear from a heavy downpour. Some bags feature an additional rain jacket you can place over the bag. On the opposite end of the spectrum, waterproof and watertight hard cases from several manufacturers will float; there are even technical specs on how long some of these cases will stay above water.
For Your Consideration: Manufacturers and Models of Bags and Cases
With many of these manufacturers, it was hard to select just one bag or case, particularly when thinking about protecting all types of production gear. In many instances you'll see several items I really liked from a manufacturer; however, I did try to select one item to highlight that was unique or had interesting features.
Domke is known for fashionable, lightweight durable bags designed with the camcorder, DSLR or MFT user in mind. Retailing at $260, the Domke Ledger, one of their largest bags measuring 11"L x 6.5"W x 7.25"H, is compact and deceiving as far as the amount of gear it can hold. The bag design is incredibly intuitive, featuring a padded tablet sleeve as well as a unique system of dividers and pouches that attach via Velcro, making the bag completely customizable. Additional pouches and dividers can be purchased separately, making this shoulder carry bag one of the best available.
Tamrac Anvil Super 25
Tamrac has a variety of backpacks and bags including some sling style packs. I am partial to the Anvil series backpacks because the belt can detach from the pack and turn into a belt system by moving and utilizing removable pouches from the pack onto the belt. Additionally, more ARC cases are available for purchase so you can attach more to your belt. The Tamrac Anvil Super 25 is designed to carry a DSLR with up to an 800mm lens or up to a 500mm with the camera attached to a battery grip. The Anvil series comes in various sizes and prices with the Super 25 retailing for $192.
LowePro Photo Sport BP 300 AW II
Lowepro is designed both for outdoor enthusiasts and shooters on the go. Specializing in backpacks and bags for DSLRs and MFT cameras, they also have some nice selections for drones and action cameras. Lowepro bags are very affordable; they features some incredibly economical, entry level bags like their Adventura SH100 which costs only $15. My personal favorite is LowePro's Toploader Pro 70 AW II. Retailing at $66; it's a great ergonomic design that provides instant access to your camera.
LowePro’s standout product, however, is the LowePro Photo Sport BP 300 AW II. This bag provides compartments for all of your gear as well as food and other outdoor supplies. There's even space for a bicycle helmet and attachments to hold tripods or ski poles. The feature I like most is the hydration pocket that will accommodate a 2 liter Camelbak. Retailing for $140, this pack will meet all of your active, outdoor shooting needs.
Sachtler Dr. Bag-5
Sachtler has a great reputation for making strong, durable tripods, but they also offer soft-sided bags for camera gear, audio gear, lighting and tripods. Sachtler's Dr. Bag-5 has an extra wide opening like one of those old fashioned physician’s bags but with modern features like customizable rigid dividers and internal LED lighting. While the Dr. Bag comes in multiple sizes, Sachtler's Dr. Bag-5 is the largest size with an internal length of 25.6 inches. Built to fit an ENG or cinema camera rig including matte box, battery, and microphone without the need to detach anything, it leaves you free to grab your camera out of the bag and start shooting. It retails for $368. An optional Sachtler Snaplock Wheel and Trolley system can provide some needed shoulder relief, and it retails for $77.
Tenba Shootout Action Pack 14L
Tenba has a very large assortment of rolling cases and bags including those for professional monitors, computers and cinema cameras. For those of you who love messenger style bags, they have a very fashionable collection that includes space for a laptop and camera. I am really into organization, which is why I like the Tenba Shootout Action Pack 14L which can fit up to four GoPro cameras. It was designed to compartmentalize your cameras, mounts, cables, batteries, poles and assorted parts. It even has a padded middle sleeve suitable for a laptop or a hydration system like a Camelbak. It retails for $200.
Vanguard VEO 37
I like Vanguard's Havana line of bags and backpacks because they are very reasonably priced, and they don't really look like camera bags. Following in this tradition is their Vanguard VEO 37, which is the ultimate large messenger style bag that can fit a DSLR with the lens attached, two additional lenses, and a thin 11-inch laptop or tablet. The unique offering of this bag is a bottom compartment that can house and conceal a compact tripod or monopod. Retailing at $50, it's definitely one to consider if you want to travel as a shooter incognito.
Porta Brace VV-MVKIT Video Vest Modular Kit
Porta Brace manufactures a wide selection of both hard cases and soft sided bags for gear ranging from camera to lenses to lighting. They even have some grip bags that are exceptional for storing and organizing gear such as their Grip Organizer-LG bag which retails for $259.
Some of their most unique offerings are wearable bags such as their Hip-2 Lens which is designed for a zoom or two prime lenses. The ultimate in wearables is their Porta Brace VV-MVKIT Video Vest Modular Kit. Designed with DSLR or MFT users in mind, this unit is made of breathable yet water resistant Cordura nylon. Retailing at $251, this modular vest kit puts your camera and accessories in easy reach while ensuring that you never leave your bag behind.
Manfrotto Pro Light Rolling Organiser LW-99W
Manfrotto makes a variety of bags and backpacks including soft-sided cases with wheels. Known for their tripods, it’s no surprise that they also have some really nice padded tripod bags that range in price from $55 - $140.
I really like their Manfrotto Pro Light Rolling Organiser LW-99W, which retails for $350. Designed for light kits, this easy to maneuver, lightweight, rolling bag protects your lighting gear from rain, sand and dust.
ORCA Audio/Mixer Bags
While ORCA makes bags, backpacks, and soft sided rolling cases for cameras and accessories, their sweet spot is their Audio/Mixer Bags. In a variety of sizes and some mixer model specific, these bags can also be paired with the OR-40 Sound Bag Harness which distributes the weight of the bag better, making for a much more enjoyable shoot. The harness retails for $152, and the ORCA Audio/Mixer Bags range in price from $125 - $675.
CasePro Drone Cases
From backpacks, to carry-on cases, to wheeled hard-shell cases, CasePro makes models for some of the most popular manufactured drones such as DJI, Yuneec, and Autel. Many of the cases and backpacks feature custom cut style foam designed for a particular drone model. Prices range from $120 - $550.
Pelican Classic-V Series 5RU Rack Mount Case
When it comes to hard cases, Pelican has a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The majority of their larger size cases include handles and wheels. Additionally, many are designed for stacking. Pelican has a great reputation for producing virtually indestructible cases; carrying a lifetime warranty, most of the cases are waterproof, dust-proof, and crush-proof. Many of the cases feature O-rings as well as pressurization valves. The specs for each case include important factors such as weight limits for buoyancy.
Purchase options are usually with or without foam although the foam fitted cases are superior as far as protecting your gear. The foam on the smaller cases are usually pic foam while the larger cases tend to have foam for custom cutting. Pelican is even offering an option now where you can upload your foam specifications, and they will custom cut it for you.
Pelican’s most unique offering is their rack mount cases which are perfect for editors on the go who need to bring along a powerful system and lots of hard drives but need extra protection for very sensitive gear. With an 80 – 100 pound load capacity, the Pelican Classic-V Series 5RU Rack Mount Case features shock mounts, four removable heavy duty bottom casters, stainless steel handles and coupling catches for secure stacking. Retailing at $1,850, it has everything you'd expect from a Pelican case and so much more!
Nanuk Nano 330
Featuring a lifetime warranty, Nanuk offers a large, colorful line of hard cases that are watertight and rugged; their specs on temperature range and buoyancy are impressive. All of their cases also note TSA travel specs. Their Wheeled and Long series cases feature reinforced metal padlock holes to secure your gear when traveling. Many of the Nanuk hard cases feature both a handle as well as a convenient shoulder strap. Personally, I like the various colors of their cases because I find the colors helpful in immediately knowing what's inside instead of squinting at a label written on board tape.
Offering a wide assortment of cases to fit the gear you own, optional accessories available for purchase include pic foam or custom cut foam, padded dividers, waterproof aluminum or Lexan panels, and custom labeling or printing on the cases. Several of their cases are suitable for both top and bottom panel mounts for customizing production gear while still remaining waterproof.
The Nanuk case I like the most, though, is the Nanuk Nano 330. I consider my phone one of the most valuable cameras I own. Water resistant and waterproof phone cases can provide a lot of protection; however, they can't protect it from extreme elements. Fortunately, the Nano series can! It also features a strap which you can use to connect it to your arm, belt or camera bag. Online retail prices seemed to vary between $25 - $45 depending on the color.
Finding the right bag or case for your gear can be challenging, particularly if this is the first bag or case you've ever purchased. Try to consider how and when you'll be using your gear and what you envision as the most convenient way to carry it all. When I think of the bags and cases for my own personal gear, I find that that I travel and store in hard cases, but I actively shoot with soft-sided bags or backpacks. I still use many of the first bags and cases I ever purchased, and every one that I own is storing some piece of gear. From my own experiences, I can honestly say-- don't skimp on your bags and cases; it will help ensure your gear lasts a very long time!
Artisan & Artist
Black Label Bag
Think Tank Photo
W. H. Bourne is an award-winning documentary filmmaker.