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Carry-on roller case: hard or soft shell?

Peter E , Nov 16, 2009; 12:06 a.m.

I am thinking about getting an airline carry-on size (max 9x14x22 inch) camera case with rollers. The basic decision is between a hard shell (e.g. Hardigg iM 2200 Storm Case with padded deviders or similar Pelican 1510 case) or a soft shell, e.g. Lowepro ProRoller, Tamrac Speedroller. The hard shells are rain and dust proof, but I assume the deviders and padding in a Lowepro or Tamrac protect the content better when the bag is dropped and from vibrations (e.g. rough roads). The Lowepro can also be used as a backbag. Any recommendations or insights? Thanks!


Michael Liczbanski , Nov 16, 2009; 12:13 a.m.

Soft, unless you anticipate checking it in or otherwise need a hard case (for instance to sit or stand on it.) You'll never squeeze as much stuff into a carry-on size hard shell wheeled case as in a wheeled soft case. Check the ThinkTank line of rolling cases. Also, 22" is too much for international travel on non-US carriers, which is important only if you plan on going abroad.

Robert Scrivener , Nov 16, 2009; 12:37 a.m.

I have a Pelican 1510 with padded dividers and it's a dream. I wish it had backpack functionality but it doesn't. It makes up for that by seriously taking care of my equipment. The dividers have a core of closed-cell foam, very dense. The bottom is very thick, and a fat eggshell type piece of foam fits in the top of the lid to protect everything from bouncing up. I used some leftover pick-n-pluck foam to level out all of my lenses so they're all the same height from the top of the case. I have three bodies with grips; one kit zoom; one 80-200 f/2.8 zoom; 28, 50, & 85mm primes; and a 17-35 f/2.8, plus a small flash & radio trigger setup and a memory card wallet all tucked very nicely inside and all very accessible.
That's the max amount of stuff I could fit in it.

The case is awkward to mobilize and shoot out of. I tried it once and don't ever plan to do it again. It's ideal for setting up somewhere, then getting stuff out of... Like at a wedding ceremony, covering a live show.. stuff like that.
My cases are orange :) Can't miss em when I'm shooting an event

Constance Cook , Nov 16, 2009; 08:53 a.m.

I've been traveling with a Lowepro Proroller for years. It has every advantage including the pull-out, angled rest that allows it to sit upright but slanting back so your cameras, lenses, etc. don't fall out but are easy to get to.

Although the outside is treated to be water repellent, I wipe it twice a year, wait a couple of days for it to dry thoroughly and then spray it with Scotch Guard. It still looks absolutely new. I've treated my Tamrac Daypack the same way and it too, looks new after 16 years of heavy travel. I can't think that I would give up my Proroller for anything else.


mark schafer , Nov 16, 2009; 12:23 p.m.

The hard shell cases attract the most attention (to be door checked on small planes or when the overheads are full), but offer obviously the best protection. Great for dusty or rainy destinations. On the other hand the soft sided solutions do carry a bit more equipment and i love and use the ThinkTank products. And re. size i would look for something that's only 20" on it's longest side, makes for easier overhead storage (i.e. fits into Continental's bin the short, deep way in) and they work on international flights as well. I personally prefer to fly with a Tumi case for clothing etc. and additional or larger photo items, and a shoulder bag or backpack for the cameras, which i just place on top. Now if i need to check my bag i still have the camera gear under the seat in front of me...Just a thought.

Edward Ingold , Nov 16, 2009; 12:41 p.m.

Rollers, hard or soft, are much more likely to be rejected as carry-on luggage, mainly due to weight. If you must check a bag, only a hard case will protect camera equipment sufficiently. I've never been asked to check a backpack, regardless of weight (or country). If you have to remove it, one trick is to put it in front of the check-in counter, out of sight. Try not to turn red in the face when you put it back on ;-) If you do carry-on (airlines, that is), remove any accessory holders for tripods and such, which make it impossible to roll even a legal-sized bag down the aisle.

Hard cases weigh more and have much less interior space than their soft-sided counterparts. You can get partition kits for Pelican cases to replace the more common pick-and-pluck foam, which recovers a lot of space. If you must check equipment, get an hard case big enough to do some good (I have a Pelican 1560 for video gear). An hard case is also essential if you travel by canoe, snowmobile or dog sled (or any place it might get dumped into water, snow or mud).

Scott Ferris , Nov 16, 2009; 12:48 p.m.

Far and away the king at the moment for carry-on rollers is the ThinkTank Airport International V2. They are superb bags with so many thoughtful features, obviously designed photographers.


Peter E , Nov 16, 2009; 10:47 p.m.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far. This would be in addition to a smaller backbag, so probably used only on domestic flights.

Scott Ferris , Nov 16, 2009; 10:57 p.m.

Domestic only and you are laughing (link)

I could live out of this bag :-)

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