Packing Gear for Flying

I have been flying with an array of stills and video gear since 2007. Ever changing baggage rules between airlines and countries present an ongoing challenge for me. I want to be sure I take what I need without over or under packing. Its tough finding that sweet spot so I find myself way over preparing to avoid forgeting something. Reminds me of one of my late fathers favorite sayings, "You're trying to stuff 5 pounds of sh*&t in a 2 pound sack."

I've tried all kinds of bags and packing configurations. What bags do I check? What bags can I carry on? Is it better for me to ship via UPS, FedEx or DHL and how reliably and affordably? Then there are customs rules that not only vary between countries but also between agents. Which agent do you select and are they having a good or bad day. Its a roll of the dice. 

I have found myself successfully packed leaving the US only to find that when I leave another country, I have to reconfigure, on the fly, at the departing airport. Ive missed flights and even bought new luggage at the airport (you'll never find a deal there) to meet per unit weight requirements only to pay for an additional bag. How about some standardization?

My solutions are constantly evolving. I must say that the new breed of cameras can help as they get more capable in smaller packages. The smaller form factor also play a role in balancing performance with travel friendliness impacting which camera I might consider buying.

I will share my latest "packing & space engineering" strategy with the hope of saving someone else from the same grief.

If you've flown more than a few times, you've realized the potential for delayed baggage or worse, lost baggage. I'm afraid checked bags are similar to a hard disk failing. it's not if, it's when. So you have to plan accordingly. The balance is carrying on what you minimally need to accomplish a shoot in a worse case scenario . 

I've just upgraded my Panasonic AF100 in lieu of the Canon C300. My stills camera is a 5DMII. Both cameras share my Canon L lenses without the need for adapters as well as use the same memory cards. Ive also found that I can shoot without an external field recorder since the C300 records 4:2:2 internally at 50 MB/s. I used an Atomos Samurai (lovely field recorder!) for my AF100 and initially, with my C300. The XF codec in a MXF wrapper was not initially supported by FCP X but that was remedied by Canon's XF plugin release now compatible with FCP X. My point is that with this new equipment, I can travel lighter.

As far as carry-on bags go, I have been using the Think Tank Airport International v2 for about a year now. The US model is bigger but does me no good for International travel which has smaller bag carryon rules. I figured it best to get used to a travel system that hedges my bet for all my travel. If I were to overhead two travel systems, one for the US and one for International, I am just begging to forget something moving the gear across.

Below is my International Airport v2 bag. I am still impressed with this bag & gear combination.

Airport Internatinal v2

Contents shown above in Think Tank Airport International v2:

  • Canon C300 w/handgrip attached (no lens)
  • Canon C300 Monitor Unit
  • C300 is mounted on Zacuto C300 Baseplate
  • Canon 5DMII w/Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L attached
  • Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L II IS
  • Sennheiser HD380 Head Phones
  • Canon 50mm f1.2 L
  • Charger & three batteries for C300
  • Charger & two batteries for 5DMII
  • Rode NTG-3 Shotgun mic w/XLR cable & foam cover
  • 4x32GB CF Cards in Pelican CF Card Holder

That gives me two cameras, pro audio, nice range of lens, batteries, etc.; a minimal kit yet powerful kit. It is amazing that this amount critical gear is now small enough and capable enough to fit in a carry-on. This was not the case a few short years ago. On small planes, there are times I cannot carry his bag on but at the very least, I can gate check an know the bag is traveling with me.

My other carry-on bag is a Porta-Brace Director's Cut Laptop & Sun Visor bag I cannot say enough about Porta-Brace. I own 7 of their bags. 

DC-3V Director's Cut
Sun Visor for Mobile Computing

Ive never used the sun shade in the field but pretty cool if I ever needed and also offers extra padding.

Laptop Cable & Charger Pass-through
DC-3V Director's Cut Inclusion

Super comfortable padded shoulder strap

Contents in Directors Cut Laptop Bag Above:

  • 15" MacBook Pro
  • Bose QuietComfort Headphones
  • HyperMac Battery backup
  • iPad
  • Misc items such as ibuprofen and any prescriptions (again, you want these with you)
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Chargers, cables, projector & power  adapters, business cards, etc

Porta-Brace bags and cases are a bit on the expensive side but worth every penny; true pro gear. They just never fail. The only issue I had was with a zipper on the Director's Cut Wheeled Production Case. I arranged to ship back to Porta-Brace. They replaced ALL the zippers to the heavier gauge for the entire bag at no cost. You will never go wrong with their bags. The Wheeled Production Case is soft sided and too large to carry-on. Ive checked it for flight a few times but mostly use this when driving to a location. I prefer this next Porta-Brace hard shell case for my other lenses, matte box etc.

Hard Case BaggageI purchased a Panasonic AF100 in May 2011. Panasonic and Porta-Brace teamed up and released the PKB-275PV Portabrace Hard Case and removable soft interior case with divider kit which was specifically designed for the AF100 and accessories. It has a software interior case as mentioned with a pull up handle and wheels easily rolled from the car to the airport check in counter. I really liked the case so adapted as a hard case check in bag for accessories after selling the AF100.

photo 2-2

Contents shown in PB Wheeled Hard Case w/Soft Interior:

  • Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye
  • Canon 24mm f1.4 L
  • Canon 85mm f1.2 L
  • Canon 100mm f2.8 L IS macro
  • Canon 2.x Series II Extender
  • Canon 1.4x Series III Extender
  • Genus Matte Box w/French Flag
  • Schneider Filter Kit (5 glass filters)
  • GoPro with bracket, extra battery and back display
  • Sennheiser Evolution G3 100 Series Wireless Mic Combo
  • Sennheiser  SEMD42 ENG Handheld wireless mic
  • Mic Flags for promotion
  • Rode Windshield for the Rode NTG-3
  • Leatherman Tool
  • C300 Top Handle
  • Several VariND Filters
  • Additional 5DMII chargers & batteries
  • Misc tools, AA batteries, air bulb, sensor cleaner
  • Zacuto 15mm rails + extensions for C300 low profile baseplate I keep on the C300

I check this baggage through with my personal luggage which is usually one bag leaving me the two carry-on bags described above.

Tripods and Sliders

coming soon

Lights, Stands, Reflectors

coming soon

ATA Carnet - Merchandise Passports

When traveling internationally, if you are carrying more gear than your normal tourist., you may be stopped by customs to inspect your bags. This happened to me on a recent trip thru Amsterdam. I was held up for about an hour and the very nice girl allowed me to pass through. I posted on twitter asking for advice on how to avoid such hassles. I received good insight to things like, press passes not issued by a reputable bona-fide media company may not be recognized everywhere. Good advice as these can cost up to $300 USD and the web is filled with ads for generic press cards. 

Den Lennie of Fstop Academy suggested that I many want to look into getting a Carnet. This was the first time I had heard of this so did a bit more research.

An ATA Carnet is a merchandise passport that helps with hassle free exports. I am in process now learning more but this seems to be the best bet for international travel. 

For more information on an ATA Carnet in your country, please click here for an ad describing the service and who to contact .

(adding more soon…please email me via contact form with any questions)

Additional References

For more information on this topic and more,  please check out my much more traveled  friend Philip Bloom, a 20+ year veteran. His recent post describes similar challenges but with more detail and more gear. See his latest post here. Philip also has an older post from 2009 with very helpful information. 

Preston Kanak is an accomplished filmmaker and time-lapse photographer. Please see his post on similar topic: 

How to Protect Your Camera When Traveling
4 Highly Effective Ways to Protect Your Camera When Traveling

© Randy Noland 2015