So this morning I tweeted “After 11 years of working, I am finally feeling content with the way that I pack most of my gear” and a friend said that deserves a blog post. So here’s my first blog post in several months.
Packing gear can be a pain, and I think it is an ever evolving process. You get new gear and you need a place for it to go. You have different types of shoots, different travel arrangements, etc, and what worked one day for packing may not work for another. I think the key is to have bags that can be repurposed for different things. I don’t think my packing system is perfect now, but I am at a point of being content with how it functions, and allows me to know where my stuff is when I’m shooting.
So here’s an overview of some of the key pieces of my packing arsenal, how I use them, what I like, and what I don’t like.
A backpack is important to have. When walking at length (like through an airport) it is great to have your most valuable items well supported on your back. Make sure to get a backpack that can fit in most overhead compartments on airplanes. I currently have the Kata Pro-V 410 PL. To be frank, I got this as a warranty replacement for a Kata HB-270 which I had for a few years, but then the zipper broke. Luckily Kata has a great lifetime warranty and they sent me a brand new backpack (the HB-270 had been discontinued). I like the different pockets on the 410, and I feel like I can fit more. You can access the side pockets from the outside or the main compartment, which is nice, but means that you need to make sure more zippers are closed before you pick it up. The downside, though, and this is a biggie, is that the shoulder straps, which are made of this cool, high-tech looking foam rubber, are quite uncomfortable and really rub at your skin (even through clothing) in a bad way. For this reason alone I would likely not buy this one again, but in terms of it’s functionality for carrying things, it does work. There are countless companies that make great camera backpacks.
I use this bag in a couple different configurations. When I am using my other camera bag, then this backpack functions to carry power (batteries/chargers) and zoom lenses.
When I am using my camera stripped down (sans external recorder… or if I am checking the KiPro in another bag) then I use the backpack like this to fit camera, charger, batteries, and 3-4 lenses. Since I don’t use my KiPro all the time, this is a great way to travel with the camera, and also a great way to fly with it as I can bring my most valuable stuff as carry-on. It can fit the laptop in there too, but that does make it VERY heavy.
Camera Shoulder Bag
Not everyone needs a shoulder bag for your camera. I really wanted one that could fit my camera when it is rigged out with my KiPro as I was tired of having to “build” it every time I got to a shoot. I got this Petrol Deca Dr. Bag and honestly this is probably the only piece of gear luggage that I bought that I feel emotional about. This bag works absolutely perfectly for the Sony F3 on rails with the KiPro, and has just the right number of internal compartments, that seem to fit exactly right to hold other accessories like the EVF, follow focus, hand grip and external monitor. I can pull this camera out and within 60 seconds have it on sticks or on my shoulder ready to go. The bag itself is very stiff for a soft bag and I feel the camera is well protected from any crush injuries. It also has a cool built in LED strip. I thought this would be a silly feature, but it actually comes in quite handy. If you use any bigger cameras or frequently rig them to be larger, check out this bag.
LED Lighting Case
I’m so happy to be using LED lighting frequently as they are light-weight, run cool, are often natively daylight balanced (and can be gelled for tungsten) and are fairly compact. While I still prefer the look of tungsten lighting to LED, these have become my most used interview lights because of the convenience that they offer. I have two of the Chinese brand ePhoto CN900s which are MUCH cheaper knock-offs of the LitePanel 1x1s. While the construction is not as sturdy as the LitePanels, they have been working hard without any issues. I carry them in a Pelican 1600. I can stack 2 of the 1x1s and probably still have room for 1 or 2 smaller LEDs like a LitePanel MicroPro or Switronix Torch.
I opted for a case without wheels, mainly because the 1610 (the slightly larger version with wheels) weighs almost 10lbs more, and I figured that A. I have several cases with wheels so EVERYTHING can’t roll at once, and B. I usually put everything on a roller cart. That said, if I did it again, I would probably get the 1610 with wheels, as it would be nice to have your camera on your back, two tripod cases (one with 4 lightweight stands) on your shoulder, pull the light case and be ready to go in one trip.
A Pelican 1510
Every shooter needs a Pelican 1510. Or two. Or three. This is the perfect, hard roller, that is carry-on approved on most airlines. It can fit cameras, lenses, audio, you name it. I originally bought it for my 7D and lenses when I was shooting with that a lot. It has changed to be a single compartment audio case for mixer, mics, windscreens, cables, etc.
I think this case is best suited with the dividers, as foam is a pain, and it is such a useful case, that you’ll want to reconfigure it regularly depending on what you are doing (unless you do buy 2 or 3 of them). I’ve used it as a checked bag for many things in different configurations. My buddy even manages to use his to carry a Sony FS700, 5D, and lenses as a carry-on.
(Sidenote: That giant, black phallic tube in the case is a protective Mic Tube for my shotgun mic. It is stupidly large for what it is, way bigger than what I expected and totally unnecessary.)
A Lens Case
This could easily be a Pelican 1510, as that makes a great lens case. I recently got a custom cut foam case from Duclos lenses. It is a Pelican IM 2600 with custom inserts. If I’m flying somewhere, this case stays home as I want to carry-on my lenses with the camera, but on local shoots, having a case like this where all the lenses are easily identified is invaluable. You can call to an assistant to go grab lens X, and there is no question about where it is and which one it is. Lenses can be expensive, so keep them safe.
Big Lighting/Accessory Roller Case
For lights like Arris, Lowels, Moles, etc, bigger tungsten hot lights, you need a good sturdy case. My 12 year old Arri Softbank kit came in a GIANT, heavy case, which I found impractical, although it was certainly sturdy. For the last 6 years I’ve been using this Kata OC-88 (which is discontinued, this Kata bag, is its replacement). I use this bag in many different ways depending on where I’m going and if I am flying or driving. This bag has been beat to hell on many flights and trips. The wheels have started to crap out, but I think it’s had a good run and is about as sturdy as you’re going to find for this type of case.
If I’m driving and I want my whole Arri kit I pack it like this, with the 4 Arri lights, 4 stands, and Chimera.
If I’m flying and therefore generally checking my LED kit, then I’ll use this case for a tripod, maybe 1 or 2 Arri lights, and maybe put some audio or grip gear or even my clothes. The tricky thing with this case, is that it is very easy to go over the 50lb mark, where airlines hit you with a large overweight baggage fee. If I’m going with just LEDs, then I can do a tripod, some lightweight stands, and some other gear in here and be just at 50lbs.
So those are the essential pieces. Of course there is more. Duffel type bags for cables and grip gear, tripod bags, a Pelican 1620 for my large production monitor, and then lots of items that can’t be packed (like C-stands and larger stands). I think there is always room for improving when it comes to packing gear, but I think I’ve finally hit a point where I feel that my gear is efficiently organized. For now.
Hopefully this helps you guys and gals. Happy Packing.