What do Mayhem, the Discount Double Check, a talking duck and a set of good hands have in common? They all spark a discussion about insurance, and why ensuring that your home, car and other valuable assets are covered is a good idea. Over the next few pages, we're not going to sell you on the laurels of liability coverage, or contemplate the continuation of your term life insurance; rather, we want you to take a good, honest look at the way you carry around your camera equipment. Are your goods in "good hands?" If they're not, we'll give you a few options to protect against mayhem while out on location, without the need quack yourself up while double checking the safety of your stuff.
Evolution of the Camera Bag Market
As camera equipment has gotten lighter and more cost effective for the aspiring video producer, the way we transport our gear has gotten easier as well. Video camera equipment used to require massive shoulder-slung satchels that were heavy, clunky and didn't fit very well in trucks, through doors or into storage lockers when not in use.
The industry standard in the broadcast ranks for much of the evolution of the video era was PortaBrace. Founded in 1972, these American-made, iconic blue bags were the workhorse of photojournalists for decades with little to no competition. Premium craftsmanship and sturdy construction made them a premium product meant to protect exorbitantly expensive equipment. If you owned a BETAcam, you owned a PortaBrace bag to lug it around.
As camera equipment has gotten lighter and more cost effective for the aspiring video producer, the way we transport our gear has gotten easier as well.
As the cost — and consumer grade availability — of camera equipment came down more competitive levels, the camera bag market gained momentum as well. Companies like Petrol, Sachtler and Manfrotto saw a need in the markets they were playing in — camera support equipment — and started to introduce equipment bags that may have beat PortaBrace in cost, but not necessarily quality.
For the budget-conscious consumer looking to embark into the world of professional video production, competition meant companies would need to design products that fit the demands of their customer. And from this once monopolized marketplace came a booming business that delivered innovative solutions to a suddenly competitive industry.
Function Meets Fashion
While the early days of camera bag fashion meant video producers were likely side-saddled with a signature monochromatic menagerie of duffle bag like totes, consumers wanted bags that met them in the middle. Shoulder mounted bags evolved into backpacks, which evolved into towable cases, which started to feature pops of color, multiple access points and quick flip options for easy entry to equipment on the fly.
Petrol bags, for instance, feature a heavy dose of backpack style camera bags. Ranging in price from around $200 to $430, Petrol offers a nice range of backpacks for the video producer who demands a lightweight pack that features customizable layouts and sturdy, breathable materials.
Manfrotto offers a long lineage of quality dating back to the 1960's, when founder Lino Manfrotto, an Italian photojournalist and advertising photographer, yearned for a quality product that met his uncompromising standards. While Manfrotto himself may not have personally designed the bags his namesake offers today, his influence is embedded in the stitching and manufacture of the company's bags. The company sells an exclusive line of National Geographic branded camera bags that have been tested by some of the best video and photography professionals in the world, but with a price tag starting around $100, Manfrotto delivers high quality products for the producers who have a firm grip on their purse strings.
The market leader in camera bags most certainly offers a wide range of options, and in more than just their signature blue. PortaBrace bags come in a variety of sizes, feature rigid back design and soft back for the road warrior seeking a spine-friendly backpack, but also should sling and towable, wheeled cases as well.
While soft cases are ideal for the video producer on the run, something you need to contemplate is a case that can withstand the occasional clank in a cargo hold, or even take a bullet for you — if you're an extreme videographer or embedded with an infantry division. In that case, many manufacturers have tried, but few have matched the structural superiority of Pelican.
Pelican cases are ideal for video producers who travel often, are in harsh weather environments or find themselves needing to protect very delicate items. The company was founded by a diehard scuba diver who wanted to ensure his dive flashlights transported safely, then saw an opportunity to expand his product offering to the shipment of computers, gaming equipment, cameras and even military grade weaponry.
The differences between soft and hard sided cases are a simple: one is intended for ease of access, while the other is meant for the ultimate protection; one type will squeeze into tight spaces in an overhead bin, the other will keep your gear safe if it's dropped out of an overhead bin during a hard landed in the Outback. Whichever type of case you choose, keep a few of these following features in mind.
Packing For Production
The type of camera bag you need will depend primarily on the types of video work you produce. If you do the majority of your work out of your garage-turned-studio, then investing hundreds of dollars into a fleet of Pelican cases may not be a wise use of your budget dollars; if you find yourself traversing multiple time zones every week chasing a demanding client, then spending the extra money for a hard-sided case that can withstand the wear and tear of globetrotting would be a wonderful way to protect your gear.
Additionally, think about how you're going to get your gear from one location to another. Are you shooting solo? Have a team of interns who can lug your gear for you? If you're like most of us, you're likely running and gunning on your own, so being able to pack all of your necessities — and fun accessories — into one or two cases is the preferred path.
For instance, the Sachtler Campack Plus ($373 USD) features customizable velcro compartments that adjust to your equipment needs. Carrying a Canon 7D with three lenses, a Tascam DR60 audio recorder and a couple of Sennheiser wireless packs? This backpack can adjust to safely and securely store your stuff, while also providing a pocket for your 17" MacBook Pro and external hard drives; perfect for cutting your content while on the go.
Nearly all camera bags offer removable, customizable liners that can be adjusted to fit your preferred layout, while many offer extra pockets and compartments perfect for story extra batteries, cables, manuals — or perhaps most important — business cards.
Cameras and lenses aren't the only assets that need to be protected while you grow your video production business. If you travel with lighting equipment, you know how one blown bulb can darken your day. Pelican offers an excellent lineup of production equipment cases that can be customized using the company's patented foam lining, but other players are in this game as well that offer alternatives that you want to consider.
Dynalite's 0670LW Equipment Case offers a wide range of layouts that can carry flashes, light stands, tripod heads and a variety of other production necessities. With a price tag around $250, this bag may be a cost-effective alternative for your lighter loads in need of safe keeping while in transit.
Why Bags Matters
Whatever your project calls for, keeping your equipment safe from your office or studio to the location where you're shooting is a lot like having home, auto or life insurance. You may not actually need all the bells and whistles your case offers, but you'll sure be glad you had them when going through a TSA checkpoint and the officer inspecting your camera bag unintentionally tips the bag over while feeling around for explosive residue.
You don't need a celebrity spokesperson or CGI lizard to tell you why protecting your gear is important to your bottom line. In the 15 minutes or so you took to read this article, you could have easily just saved a whole lot of money on replacing your camera equipment. Investing some capital into camera and equipment bags could mean the difference in you pumping up your wallet, or being that guy who put your hot grill into your truck, only to have it blow up in the parking lot during the big game.
Are you protecting yourself from the rigors of the road? If you are, good for you; if you're not, consider taking out an insurance policy in the form of a multifunctional camera bag that will give you the peace of mind you need to keep your equipment in good hands — your own.
One of the greatest calls any video producer can get is from a client asking them to pack up and head out on an adventure to capture and tell their story. For some, that means getting in the car and driving a few miles across town; for others, that means grabbing a passport and packing for global adventures. For U.S. based producers, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) offers tips on its website on what you can and cannot carry through security checkpoints. Learn about the TSA's policies here (http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/packing-tip).
Additionally, most domestic airlines offer discounts to commercial video producers traveling with video equipment. Few know about the discounted media rates for checked luggage, which can save you hundreds of dollars per trip, so be sure to check your airline's checked baggage policies. Typically, any bag over a certain size or weight, as well beyond the allotted number of bags per traveler, can be locked in at a flat rate. If you're working on a tight budget where every dollar counts, this tip will save you big time next time you head out on your video production adventure!
Dave Sniadak is the communications manager for a Minneapolis-based airline. His video services usually find him working with his head in the clouds — literally.