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Production Equipment Reviews: Flight Cases & Bags (a working review)
(Review update for 2015)
One of the areas that can be easily overlooked when purchasing equipment, be it lights, Cameras, Audio Gear, Cables and all manner of accessories, is the humble bag or case to carry it in. After more than 35 years of working in the creative industries using protective cases for all manner of equipment we narrowed our choices down to a selection of products. Clearly, individual needs will vary but this review may prove helpful to those pondering such issues especially when you consider how costly these products can be.
Wheeled Flight Cases:
Professionally built wheeled flight cases are fairly light (for their size) yet extremely strong, and a good quality make will last for many years. While you can order these cases in various “off the shelf” configurations you can also have them custom made to suit your needs. Road Trunks, as seen here are very popular as they can be adapted using partitions and internal trays to accommodate all types of equipment. Quality castors with brakes are an absolute must, as cheap offerings will fall apart under load fairly quickly. You also need to make sure that the cases have well placed handles for ease of lifting.
At the end of the day, these cases are built not only to protect but to make transportation of large amounts of equipment easy, as long as there are no issues at the given location. While “used” cases are often seen for sale, do choose carefully.
Advantages of the Wheeled Flight Case:
Of course, flight cases really come into their own when you need to use a large amount of equipment for a particular video/film shoot and clearly it is much easier to pack and decant equipment from one or two wheeled boxes as opposed to a collection of bags and various cases. Flight cases are easy to move from one location to another (see disadvantages below) and are protected by edging and bull nose corners keeping equipment safe, particularly in transit.
Another useful side to these wheeled platforms is; we often use them as a dolly, such as tracking individuals down a corridor or such like. Just make sure the floor is smooth and that a good camera holding technique is used to create a convincing shot, there is nothing worse than seeing a poorly executed dolly/tracking shot.
Another obvious use for a hard case is that it can be used to stand on, particularly if the camera is high up on a tripod or similar mount platform.
Disadvantages of the Wheeled Flight Case:
A flight case really looses its appeal unless it’s large enough to pack a reasonable amount of equipment within. Clearly this will require at least two people to lift and the vehicle you use will need to be large enough to accommodate the case(s). On location, small lifts, stairs, narrow doorways or difficult room layouts will make things either impossible or very difficult. We find that our 700x400x400 cases usually do quite well in most circumstances and can still carry a good amount of equipment. The larger 1000x500x400 cases are great for certain locations but useless for others.
Is it Worth Building my own Flight Case?
Of course that question depends on your DIY skills, available tools and space to construct your case(s) and your ability to source quality Marine Ply and fittings. I would suggest a good look at “used” or “demo” cases from a reputable flight case company and then a careful inventory of what it would cost for everything needed for you to make the same case to a similar standard. While making the case will probably be cheaper, you may find that the savings does not warrant the time and energy that will be required. Beware of “homemade” style cases made of chipboard, these are inevitably heavy and will not last the rigors of regular transportation.
Pelican Style & Storm Cases:
Generally made from resin, these cases are built to take horrendous abuse as well as being completely water proof. There is no doubt that Pelican or Storm style cases are one of the most popular ways to protect valuable or delicate equipment. We have several pelican cases that range from the general carry case to the wheeled transporter style case.
Advantages with Pelican Style & Storm Cases:
These cases are definitely at home in hostile environments and have even survived missile strikes in war zones, quite an endorsement for protecting precious equipment. Rafting down the Amazon and the case slips into the river, no problem – cases are fitted with air pressure valves and are sealed tight. Pelican cases tend to be used to protect specific products such as a camera, monitor or other such delicate components. I have to say with all honesty that we actually don’t use our Pelican cases that often, certainly not for general work throughout the UK – however there are times when we need to transport cameras, monitors and audio equipment where maximum protection is required against particular elements and for that they do an excellent job.
Disadvantages with Pelican Style & Storm Cases:
For their size they are heavy and the wheeled transporter types are very heavy and that’s before you put any equipment into it. Another issue is, given the cost of these cases (not cheap) they actually can’t hold very much kit. It is important to remember that, to keep fragile equipment safe from internal damage you need reasonable padding around the inside edges as well as the case bottom and lid. Other complaints from users are that the catches, while fabulously secure and chunky, if you don’t have strong fingers you could easily hurt yourself opening and closing them – they are a very tight fit. At the end of the day much will depend on the type and amount of equipment you use and the environments / circumstances you are working in.
Compressed Card Cases:
These cases are made from a compressed card material; they are light weight, strong and very durable. We have two box style cases (not sure if you can get these particular products anymore) we purchased 25 years ago and they are still in reasonable condition despite having travelled to various countries in the hold of aircraft, industrial locations and such like. Divided into three compartments they are able to take a useful amount of kit. Because there is a little “give” in the material you don’t need to use such a thick foam protective inner lining as you do with the resin style cases. Despite being made of compressed card they do have a tough plastic outer membrane and while you would not want to submerge them in water they will protect equipment from a light rain shower. For “run of the mill” type work where not a lot of kit is required but ease of manoeuvrable is important, these boxes are great and good value for money.
There are so many bags, wheelie cases, and backpacks on the market that it can be hard to decide what to choose. We have tried wheelie type backpack cases with mixed results when hauling equipment around abroad. However, for those who are carrying lightweight video gear this is definitely a popular choice. Certainly, if this is the route you are going to go I would definitely recommend the purchase of a good quality product with good quality stitching as anything less will not last long for the busy traveller. Be warned, if you will be putting your video kit backpack to regular use, do not buy cheap… it is without doubt a false economy.
Hard cases are not much use for camera operators who are filming on the move, who need to keep the camera protected but at the same time need to have quick access. Depending on what I am doing I use a Storm Jacket to cover the camera, this enables me to sling a heavy 2/3” broadcast camera over my shoulder, keep it protected against dust and weather conditions, and yet be ready for quick operation. This cover however will do nothing to protect the camera from a knock or heavy rain. Tougher camera jacket protection is available from makers such as Porta Brace and Petrol. These purpose made claddings are designed for camera protection in arduous environments but once again they are not designed to keep the whole camera dry in a rain storm, for that you would require a camera rain cover.
In the pictures you see bags from Porta Brace and Petrol and these are excellent for protecting camera and audio equipment. These cases are designed to be “fit for purpose” and are good for light protection duties as well as making it more comfortable to carry equipment. While these products are not inexpensive, depending on your work duties, cheap carry bags will not only do a poor job of protecting expensive equipment; the bag itself will likely begin to fall apart pretty quickly.
Of course, there is also the place where you may not want to advertise the fact you are carrying professional equipment and that clearly will be down to your own ingenuity and imagination. Certainly we have used standard non-descript carry bags, backpacks and shoulder bags stuffed with a mix of equipment and clothes. Where required we have wrapped certain items in bubble wrap or used bits of hardboard partitioning for extra protection. Also useful are photography type vests where you can load yourself with all kinds of smaller bits of kit. Hopefully they will not start weighing people at the airport!!!
Have you ever bought a case and then found that you really don’t use it? I think that is certainly one of the most common issues people have when trying to decide what type of product to purchase. Clearly, the ability to go into a shop with a helpful assistant who will allow you to try out different cases is very much a bonus, but most folks don’t have those facilities on hand.
Certainly, the purchase of what would be recognised as an industry standard case or bag will definitely hold a good resale value. The fact that those type of products are generally very well made, if looked after they can look as good as new even after many years of use. It’s a fact worth considering when thinking of opting for a less expensive model. Once again, it will all be down to your own needs.
Just as no camera or microphone does it all, so there is a range of cases that are best suited for particular conditions of use and to that end for those that can afford it, having a selection of cases to choose from is the ideal solution. While the needs of the freelance operator and that of the larger production company will be very different – without a doubt, having all your equipment organised, safely protected with ease of transportation and ease of use on location goes a long way to keeping unnecessary strain out of a hard days work. If you are a busy individual/company, proper case management is a small price to pay.
Stewart Menelaws (Director of Photography)
You can read some more in-depth reviews on XDCAM products by choosing from the review links below.
"You can also read interviews Stewart has done for "The Producer magazine".