At Spectrecom travel forms a large part of our work. We regularly have crews coming and going to shoots in London and across the UK. We also send them further afield – we’ve sent crews to Africa to film documentaries for Tusk, we’ve filmed motorsport in Belgium, we’ve been to China, Singapore, Paris, and New York to name but a few. So it’s fair to say that our equipment racks up some miles. Traveling so frequently, the type of bag we use is critical – not only for protection and transportation of the equipment but to make sure the crew aren’t overloaded and can easily carry what they need without injury.
I’ve been managing the filmmaking equipment at Spectrecom for many years and I’ve had a chance to see what works and what doesn’t. When it comes to equipment, you don’t cut corners. Buy what does the job, but if you buy cheap, you’ll end up replacing your bags every year. Normal suitcases and are only designed for a couple of flights a year, and with light things inside. Equipment is much heavier and travels more often. And it’s not just baggage handlers, outside scrapes and weather you need to think about – your bags need to survive your equipment bumping around inside too. Filmmaking equipment is heavy, often made of metal and will easily poke holes in inappropriate bags. I can’t recommend enough, that you get the right bag for the job.
At Spectrecom, we either take a van to a shoot or fly to a location – so we lean towards bags and cases that we can also use for transporting equipment on aircraft. They need to be strong, lightweight and have wheels.
Traveling with Lights
Even as LED lighting becomes increasingly common, lighting equipment is still among the biggest, heaviest, and bulkiest equipment you have to transport.
When it comes to lighting bags, I have three requirements:
1) It needs to be long. I like a bag long enough to fit the larger type of lighting stands and a camera tripod. In fact, lighting bags make excellent camera tripod cases. Regular tripod bags are just too flimsy to protect a tripod in the hold.
2) It needs to be a roller bag. The better bags out there have replaceable parts, and that’s why it’s best sticking to a well-known brand. The wheels of a roller bag inevitably stick out, and odds are they’ll be the first things to get damaged, or just plain worn out. Cobbled streets are a killer to a plastic wheel. You may pay more initially for a well-known brand, but you’ll be able to replace parts
3) It must be a semi-hard case. Soft lighting bags are useless as they can’t really be wheeled around – you might be able to use an external trolley, but that’s not very convenient for airplane use, or running in and out of taxis. A fully hard flight case may be robust, but the weight of those metal cases will use up half of your weight allowance, so the semi-hard cases are the best compromise between protecting your kit, and weight.
What do Spectrecom Use?
Photo flex Roller cases
They come in two sizes, built very solidly with very versatile compartments.
These are great cases for getting around with. – They’re long and they’re also useful for packing away camera tripods to go in the hold of planes.
We also use large Peli-cases for lighting equipment. – They offer solid protection for your equipment and the larger sizes can fit much larger lighting heads. They can also come with a built in handle and two roller wheels for easy transporting. One of ours has been on so many trips, and completed so many miles over many, many years, that the wheels had worn down to almost nothing; one quick call to Peli and they sent a replacement straight out, under warranty and good as new. That is why Peli is the brand of choice when it comes to robust, portable cases.
It is worth noting that Peli-cases do weigh a lot more, which impacts on your luggage allowance. However, Peli do now have a lightweight range that is well worth looking into.
Travelling with Cameras and Lenses
We have a two-pronged approach at Spectrecom. We have large camera bags for working in our studios or on location shoots. And we have camera rucksacks for when we’re flying abroad. We always take the camera and lenses in the cabin with us, instead of the hold, since they are the most important pieces of kit.
What do Spectrecom Use?
F-Stop Camera Rucksacks
These are quite simply the best camera rucksacks money can buy, for many key reasons:
1) Their unique system uses ICU’s – Internal camera units that are like small camera organisers within the main bag. This makes them extremely configurable.
2) The main opening is on the back, which makes more sense than you’d think. For instance, if you’re hiking to a vantage point through the wind and rain, the opening is against your back and stays dry. When you put the bag down to get to the equipment, you put it on its front. Then, when it goes back on your shoulders, the clean bit is against you, not the dirty bit. Why aren’t all rucksacks designed this way?
3) They have a very comfortable design. The ergonomics are spot on, and even with a lot of weight, the bags are very comfy on the shoulders
4) Robust build quality. The zips are water resistant and the materials are strong. We’ve had our f-stop bags many years, they’ve been scraped against walls, in aircraft holds, in the desert, snow and rain, yet they continue to work just like they did when they where new.
Spectrecom use the F-stop Loka bag, with the large ICU. We can just fit a stripped down FS7 camera kit in one, with space left at the top of the bag for personal effects, and room to slide in a laptop for backing up your data. They have plenty of pockets for hard drives and batteries, and the side pockets are perfect for carrying water bottles – essential for any kind of travel work. On top of all that, the Loka meets most airlines cabin size allowance too.
We highly recommended F-stop bags. Currently F-stop make an ultra light Loka bag, that shaves off a few kilos, as well as a new bag called Anja, which squeezes in a few more litres of storage, while still being cabin friendly. Both would be worth a look if you regularly travel with filmmaking equipment.
This small peli meets flight cabin regulations, making it perfect for transporting anything that needs maximum protection. We use Peli 1610’s to transport our smaller prime lens kits, like our set of 6 Zeiss ZF.2 lenses. With lenses, it’s always best to get custom cut foam, so the lenses are held securely and safely inside, protected from any potential impact damage. You could also use these as camera bags, for DSLRs and smaller cameras. As they’re Peli cases, and can support a lot of weight, they also make great stools when you are stuck at a busy airport with no seats!
Bags are not the most exciting thing to think about – but it’s important to make sure your equipment is protected and safe, and a well-made bag suitable for purpose, is a worthy investment.
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About the author
Pete is straight out of our Directors Roster and has worked with us on hundreds of projects. We doubt there’s anything about filmmaking that he doesn’t know.