Blue Collar Chic Camera Bags. A discovery made when buying a flush valve at the hardware store...The real bag deal...

I have seen the light. I am a convert. I will never again spend outrageous amounts of money on ultra-trendy-snobbish photo luggage again. Well, unless our day rates double in the next few months....

But seriously! I've got stuff from Lightware, Tenba, Think Tank, and even Tumi. I've got a Kata rolling case that flips the old saw about "looking so much bigger on the inside." Mine seems capable of shrinking internal space.... All of these equipment cases above were "designed" for photographers but they were also designed to be quick wallet draining devices.

Now, I'll admit that the Think Tank Airport Security Case does roll nicely and it fits in the overhead compartment of any Southwest Airlines plane. I'll have to buy a slightly smaller one for international flights, flights on parsimonious airlines and most of the puddle jumpers. And I'll admit that my big, Pelican cases do a great job protecting gear in the belly of those planes, and more importantly, in the hands of airport baggage handlers but....... All of the stuff listed about can start at $400 and go up.

But the truth of the matter is that most commercial photographers aren't flying that often. Not like we did in the 1990's, or the earlier part of this century. The talent pool spread out and the buyers have much better tools for searching localized markets for talent. No, most of the time our very, very expensive luggage is enjoying local, "domestic" duty with out of town trips coming less frequently. We've also changed the way we shoot and the way we pack and we need bags that go beyond just a bunch of cut-outs for lenses and bodies.

I don't know about you but I'm tired of spending hard earned cash on something with wheels that helps me drag some cameras and a few lights from my car into my client's building and back out again. These bags aren't taking bullets from insurgents, floating away in tsunamis and we're not tossing them out the side doors of jet aircraft. We just need stuff we can cram full of gear and get through the doors with. I just want bags for most stuff that are functional, mostly water and dust resistant and have good, unstructured space inside.

The new bag initiative started when I took a walk through a big box hardware store looking for some pliers, a few monkey wrenches, and a flush valve. I came across the Husky brand tool section and looked at their hand tools. Then I turned around and found myself face to face with the Husky bags. I looked and then I took a second look. Mostly at the prices.

I found a bag that was a good match for the all purpose grip bag I'd purchased at a cinema supply store in Los Angeles. The "film industry" bag was $149. The same basic product from Husky, aimed at working craftsman and construction workers, was priced at a whopping $19.99. When I got back to the studio and compared them I could see that the Husky bag used thicker material and had a shoulder strap that the more expensive bag did not. That bag instantly filled up with XLR cables, cable "cheaters" and audio rigging gear. I've used it out and around and it's perfect.

The next time I was in the hardware store, on some other domestic mission, I went back for another look at the Husky bag inventory. That's when I discovered the "hold-all" in the front position of the image above. Its interior is voluminous and it too comes with a shoulder strap. I had an assignment coming up that required me to shoot portraits on location so I bought it for the princely sum of ......$29.99. On my shoot day I packed in 3 Manfrotto 3373 small light stands stands, with stand adapters, two umbrellas, three battery powered flashes, a set of Cactus radio triggers, Two Olympus OMD EM5-2 cameras and a bevy of small lenses, huddled together in some neoprene bags. Essentially everything I needed for the shoot except for a tripod and a Westcott collapsible soft box for small flashes. The unstructured interior allowed for about 50% more capacity than one of my "pro" luggage options, all the insulation/padding. Was the gear unprotected? Naw, it was riding in the car and then on my shoulder. No pounding included in this project.

With the early success of the first two "investments" in Husky paraphernalia I started gliding by their website, you know, just to look. And that's when I found WHEELED CASES. See the one behind the hold-all.

It's cavernous on the inside and, to all appearances, uses the same extendable handle system as the most expensive cases. I'm using some thin sheets of harder foam as dividers, where needed. The wheels are also 50% bigger so the whole case rolls easier. The exterior material is denser than that used on a Think Tank or Tenba case and holds its shape well. On a recent job I loaded the rolling case with two large Nikon bodies, three lenses, two Panasonic cameras, a laptop, lots of extra batteries, two flashes and a couple of books. I still had ample space to add more.

These bags are made for people who use tools. Like hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers and all kinds of other stuff that I have no real knowledge of. Since they are designed and made for years of daily use they seem to be stout and reliable. I like the heavy duty zippers across the top and I like the fact that the bags have bright red tops. It make them easier to see when they find their way into the backs of closets or dark corners of ballrooms. I also like that they are ultimately unpretentious.

Yes, I was feeling pretty darn smart and just like a guy who's discovered something none of his peers have discovered yet. That was until my cinematographer friend dropped by the house to drop off some gear I'd lent him. The entire back of his SUV as filled with various sized Husky bags and cases."Oh Yeah,"  he said, "We've been using these in the film industry for years. They're great. And you'd be surprised at how cheap they are..."

Did I forget to mention that the rolling case is about $70?  Yeah. $70 buck for a first class rolling case. Sold. Or rather, bought!

Husky, the anti-Billingham. Function versus fashion.

One of the original Craftsy Photo Classes and 
still one of the best! 

I met Lance a couple of weeks ago in Denver
and found him to be really fun and knowledgeable 
this class reflects what he teaches in hands-on
workshops in Ireland and Iceland, as well as 
cool places around the U.S.

How to make what we shoot into a cohesive
train of visual thought.


Dave Jenkins said...

Welcome to the party. I've been hauling my grip stuff around in a workman's bag since the '90s.

Anonymous said...

Yes! Right on the money with your observations. I used to buy "camera bags" in a camera store,almost always overstuffed with padding making them tiny in interior space. Or floppy leather, nylon bags that had zero padding and zero structural integrity.The prices for these bags are, well, crazy.Its easy to purchase just the right thickness of foam if you want it and the usual thin lens bags work fine to protect lenses. Big box hardware stores - the place I shop for camera bags and other "stuff" that is photo usable but meant for other uses around the house.

Patrick Dodds said...

Kata bags: reverse tardis effect. Except that, rolling my car over on the way back from photographing a wedding last year, whilst a fair bit of stuff got written off, including the car itself, the cameras in the Kata were entirely unharmed.