"Bags and Boxes"
piece about camera bags (September TDJ)
got me thinking about transport
impedimenta for video. Most
camera people I know have a shoulder bag to carry
around all the important
little stuff, like a PDA, a cell phone, a GPS,
a Leatherman, a Walkman,
and a passel of CDs or cassettes. Sometimes the
bag gets filled with
other, less useful items, like camera batteries,
spare tapes and directions
to the location.
are now generically known as "run bags."
You can get ready-to-run
bags from makers like Domke and PortaBrace
(whose products come small, medium, large,
extra-large, curvy and boxy).
Or you can go to your local luggage store and see
what they have in the
way of a canvas shoulder bag. Eons ago, I bought such
a generic bag, green
in color, and rather capacious in a compact sort
of way. We quickly dubbed
it "The Green Bag." Over two decades this wonderful
carryall served me
well on five continents, through three presidential
campaigns, two papal trips,
three arrests in revolutionary Iran, and myriad
On occasion, it required some attention from
our neighborhood shoe
repair shop; a bit of canvas here, a patch of leather
there, a shiny new
zipper. But a couple of years ago, the old Green Bag
was getting a bit too
ragged at the edges, a bit too tatty to safely transport
my stuff, and beyond
economical repair. With great sadness I retired
the venerable holdall,
and it now reposes in a dark corner of my closet.
It was replaced
with a rather nondescript, purpose-built run
bag. Whereas The Green
Bag had gobs of character, this new thing has none.
It does its job well,
but, well, it's just not something you could come
to love. I use it grudgingly.
While the run
bag comes on board the plane (along with
the camera) as cabin baggage,
the rest of the gear rides in steerage beneath
us in the cargo hold.
This is why hard cases were invented. I
once watched a baggage crew at JFK unloading a case
carrying our spare VTR.
It was not a pretty sight. The guy inside the fuselage
passed the case
to the guy on the conveyor. Only the second guy missed
it. So I got to
watch the case plummet (in slow-motion no less) eight
feet to the tarmac.
Fortunately, there was no damage, except to my
Bill Pierce and many other photographers, I used
Halliburtons. However, in the
mid-'70s I was introduced to Samcine Cases. These
were custom-built hard
cases made by former Rolls Royce "panel beaters"
in England. They were
constructed from unusually tough pebbled-aluminum
sheets, welded together,
with extra-strong hinges and latches. They were,
and are virtually
indestructible. Over the years, I put together
a fine collection of
these handmade hard cases (boxes, as the English like
to call them).
Some were standard sizes, others I had tailor-made
for specific equipment.
Whenever we passed through London we tried
to stop by Samcine to
see what they might have lying about. Once we bought
a rifle case made for
the London Metropolitan Police force's SWAT-team sharpshooters.
It was perfect
for my lighting kit. Every Samcine we ever bought
is still in service.
cases are still made today by CP Cases in
the UK (www.cpcases.com
). As wonderful as they are, the problem
with these cases is
the cost. They are very expensive $300-600 each.
In recent years,
a very good and much cheaper alternative
has come on the Market
the Pelican case. These heavy-duty molded plastic
boxes come in a variety
of stock sizes (and colors). The prices start
around $100 and rise to
only about $200 for the larger ones. They come standard
with "pick and pluck"
cubed foam pads so you can easily, quickly and
neatly arrange the interior
to fit your specific needs. Solid dividers are
also available as an
accessory. And, the Pelican cases are waterproof! I'm
not sure you'd want
to take one of these scuba diving with you, but isn't
it reassuring to know
you could? A
Pelican has a black knob on the front. This, I discovered
the hard way, is
the "purge valve."
to the States from an assignment in Manila,
we went to pick
the Pelican off the baggage carousel and noticed
the top and bottom was dented
in. This box contained all our shot tapes and we
feared our ramp friends
had gone on a rampage and squished the thing with
Someone who knew about these things pointed out the
"Turn that," he said. I did, and suddenly the Pelican
was hissing loudly.
This action happened right in front of a ticket
agent, who was none
too happy about the peculiar sound. "Why is your
case hissing?" she demanded
to know. I wasn't sure. Then it occurred to me
that with the case
fully sealed, the change in air pressure when we
landed caused the box to
partially collapse, and now that the valve was opening,
it was equalizing
itself. I explained this to the agent. She
remained skeptical and
called security over just in case. They pursued the
black box, opened it
and went through all the tapes. Seemingly satisfied,
they sent us on our
a lot of Pelicans to house our rental
gear and we've never had
a failure. Once a latch got broken, but that was easily
repaired. I don't
think these things look as nice as my Samcine boxes,
but they sure work
well, and are well worth checking out when you need
to safely transport
your most precious photographic paraphernalia.