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09-05-2013, 06:21 AM   #1
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How to best cushion camera and lenses while traveling internationally?

First I'm not sure if this is the best area for this question.

What is the best way or best practice for packaging lens and camera body for traveling via airplane? I have a large hiking backpack that I'll be placing them in along with clothes, toiletries etc. I assume that carry-in is better than checked luggage in terms of protection. I assume there is a better way then wrapping them in jeans! Most of my lens were purchased without a box or a sleeve/bag. Is the best solution to buy generic (do they make hard ones) sleeves and bags for them? I'd like to get a camera bag but unfortunately I won't be able to carry three bags on the plane.

09-05-2013, 06:31 AM   #2
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Yeah, I think the best solution is the generic hard cases. Beyond that, you might be able to find PVC tubes you can use - cap one end or both, use bubble wrap to securely cushion the lens inside.

Hardware stores often have machines they can use to cut threads in the PVC to accept a screw-on cap. Not all do, but it's an option. Perhaps a bulky option. Otherwise, the bubblewrap combined with t-shirt wrap might be acceptable. The hard case will protect from pressure, the clothes etc. should be sufficient for vibration/impact protection.

You can also find older lenses online via craigslist, ebay etc. which come with the nice old leather cases. The lenses might not be worth too much anymore, but those cases are really nice.

You can get generic soft cases from various suppliers like Tamrac.
09-05-2013, 06:52 AM   #3
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I always take my camera equipment in the carry-on, lenses in lens pouches. When travelling domestically I don't check luggage. Flying internationally there is no way I would put camera equipment in my luggage. Of course, I don't travel with half a ton of glass.

That's partly why I have a Pentax in the first place
09-05-2013, 06:55 AM   #4
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I put them in my smaller camera bag and pad it up with clothes so that it is in the center of my carry on.

09-05-2013, 07:05 AM   #5
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When I've traveled recently I've done two things - one, put my smaller bag (Camera with zoom, room for flash or one more lens) in my computer bag, or just carried the camera with lens in the computer bag on its own. I haven't been on the plane with more than that.

I'd have to think very hard on which bits of gear to take overseas, I would keep it all in the carry-on as mentioned above (now that I think about it).
09-05-2013, 07:22 AM   #6
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Always carry on. Always. Lens pouches should be fine. If you are a little concerned, buy some cheap neoprene fabric and make some extra wrap for them. Works very well.
09-05-2013, 07:44 AM   #7
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Another point to consider regarding carry-on vs. checked luggage besides vibrations, rough handling by baggage handlers, potential theft, temperature and pressure fluctuations in the cargo hold, etc. is the very real potential for lost luggage! I just returned this week from Fort Lauderdale. When we arrived, we found out that our checked bag was not on the plane! Thankfully, they just missed a cart at DFW, and my bag was delivered to me the next morning. Imagine if I would have had my camera gear in that bag! I did have my travel tripod in the checked bag though, but thankfully, it was still in the bag when it arrived.

Although I did not fly internationally, I would have packed my gear the same. Since it was just a vacation, I chose a medium camera bag with good internal padding and took my K5, 55-300, Sigma 70, Sigma 30, DA15 Ltd, flash, 3 batteries, and few other small items. I kept the bag at my feet instead of overhead so that I could monitor for any vibration from turbulence and then just pick it up and place it in my lap. If I needed more gear, I would have taken my larger backpack and did the same thing.
09-05-2013, 07:52 AM   #8
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Grab one of these and tuck it away in your carry on.

NEW Ciesta Flexible Camera Partition Insert BAG Large FOR DSLR SLR Brown | eBay

09-05-2013, 08:26 AM   #9
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I have a camera back pack that I cary one. Its a generic bag with those velcro ended dividers. I have flown (including many international flights) many times with that as one of my carry ons and have never had a problem
09-05-2013, 09:23 AM   #10
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When I came back to England from Japan I put as much gear in a Hakuba backpack as I could and took it on board as hand luggage.
I had a few manual lenses (80-200, 75-150, 200) in soft cases packed with socks and 4 film bodies(ME, MZ5, MZ10,MZ-3) packed in t-shirts. I positioned them in my suitcase close to the top of where the handles are.
I also had my Manfrotto tripod in there which I positioned at the bottom where the wheels are.
My suitcase is the hardshell type which needs to be able to withstand a few knocks especially the way the luggage can be thrown around at times.
It did bother me that they were in my suitcase, but no room left in my hand luggage.
I was also carrying a guitar which came on board with me as I refused to let that go with my suitcase.
I checked all the stuff when I came home and everything is fine.
However, putting camera gear in suitcases isn't something I'd recommend unless there's no other choice.
I'd say your stuff will be ok wrapped up well in your backpack. The only time hand luggage leaves us is when it goes through the x-ray machine.
09-05-2013, 09:57 AM   #11
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I do a ton of international travel with a ton of gear.
There will come a time when some gear will have to be checked or be out of your sight.
It will happen.
The only way to avoid that reality is to carry such a small amount of gear, that you won't get hassled as far as carry on.

Unfortunately/fortunately, I don't buy camera gear to leave at home so I have massive amounts of gear that I take with me.

UK 2012 Adventure

Take as much gear as possible on your person, and what you can't take and have to check-in, make sure that you layer your protection, and take into consideration if your bags are going to be out in the weather or crushed.

I don't recommend putting anything wrapped with clothes that will be gone through if the x-ray reveals something the TSA/Security folks have to search for. The TSA/Security folks will grab a piece of clothing, and if your lens rolls out of it onto the concrete, then "oh well".

It's much better to have a "checkable" piece of luggage that is specific to your camera gear.
TSA/Security inspections are hardly done alone.
If someone opens your case, and the only things in it, are camera gear, then anyone that sees the inspector putting something in their pockets will know it wasn't a pair of underwear!

Many people recommend the Pelican case route, but a Pelican case SCREAMS, "Hey, look at me! I have something valuable and delicate inside!".
I prefer bags that look like the thousands of other black bags that go through the airport each day.
Kinda "Nothing to see here".

I use the products from Think Tank - especially the Airport Security v2.0.

Airport Security V2.0

The bag holds a ton, and I can customize the dividers. I also put my lenses into their respective bags so I have another layer of thermal/shock/moisture protection.
Also having the lenses in cases/bags gives me a little more protection in that the inspector doesn't see exactly what lens it is without taking it out of the bag.
If they take too much time going through my gear, someone will notice.

Ultimately I mix various think tank products and carry as much as I can on the plane with me.

Last edited by LaurenOE; 09-05-2013 at 10:03 AM.
09-05-2013, 11:23 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by LaurenOE Quote
It's much better to have a "checkable" piece of luggage that is specific to your camera gear.
TSA/Security inspections are hardly done alone.
If someone opens your case, and the only things in it, are camera gear, then anyone that sees the inspector putting something in their pockets will know it wasn't a pair of underwear!
Maybe, depending on where you are going. I'm not entirely sure that reasoning will hold up going through e.g. Nairobi. Or maybe I'm just too distrustful...

Not saying you're guaranteed to lose your kit that way, but I'm not willing to risk mine. And even if you get everything there's no saying when you'll get it. A couple of times I've picked up the last (outbound) missing bag at my local airport on my return home.
09-05-2013, 04:04 PM   #13
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I hate to disagree with one of our more prolific and respected posters but, unless you are a professional who has massive insurance and expensive protection gear, never, never, never put high value items in checked luggage. The airlines even put that in writing. No airline will accept responsibility for such items being damaged or lost. The contract of carriage is very clear about that. If something goes missing or is damaged, you are on your own. If you simply must carry every lens, light and extra body you own, do as the pros do, ship it Fedex or some other bonded shipper.

As to the original question, I travel a fair bit by air - a large chunk of which is international. By coincidence, I am packing now for a few weeks wandering the rural areas of Hokkaido. I have a combo backpack-laptop case that has a fair amount of space. Computer, extra drive, cables, chargers, my Kindle and what-not go in one section and a Crumpler Haven insert in another. Camera gear gets trimmed down to what I need for that trip and then goes in the Haven or in the padded lens sleeves Pentax and Sigma include. I have a little room left for a few other essentials like prescription meds and a jacket and that bag goes under the seat in front of me. All clothes, personal stuff and a travel tripod go in my wheeled rollaboard that can be gate-checked if necessary but which usually goes on board and in the overhead bin. That's it. I'm good to go for up to a month on the road. Just plan on visiting a coin laundry once in awhile and you don't really need very much "stuff." I've maintained gold or higher airline status for about 15 years and never resorted to checking baggage except when I had to take a lot of mountaineering gear and THAT got checked, not my cameras.

If you don't have padded or hard sleeves for larger lenses, they are available. A Google search turned up several possibilities.
09-05-2013, 04:20 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Newtophotos Quote
How to best cushion camera and lenses while traveling internationally?
This is how I've been doing it for the last 50 years. Tight, compact and you can just add socks till you get the protection you need. For normal use I just need one. By sock I mean a heavy duty work sock. Need protection against humidity or moisture just drop the hole thing in a well sealed plastic bag. Much more space efficient than commercial stuff.

My Sigma 105 macro with hood packed this way:

Last edited by wildman; 09-30-2013 at 04:13 AM.
09-05-2013, 04:21 PM   #15
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If you are forced to put lenses or camera bodies in checked luggage because you can't fit it in carry on, then you are taking too much gear.

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