When flying with camera gear, I always carry it on the plane with me.
At least the most expensive and highest importance gear goes with me.
But, just because I want to carry the gear onto the plane does not prevent the airline from forcing a gate check of a typically-large roller case, even if it falls within dimensional compliance.
The scariness of this scenario was reinforced to me recently when I watched gate checked bags sliding down a very long tube, landing with significant force at ground level.
So, I take precautions against being forced to turn over a camera case at the gate.
The first precaution I often take is using the airline's credit card to buy the flight tickets.
This move typically results in priority boarding privileges.
United Airlines and American Airlines (my two most-used airlines) charge an annual fee for their cards, but another benefit these cards provide is a certain number of free checked luggage bags on each flight.
A flight or two a year generally equalizes the credit card's annual fee.
While there are generally a lot of people flying with priority boarding passes, getting in line early within this boarding group has always insured that I can stow my largest case in the overhead storage,
avoiding a gate check requirement caused by lack of storage space.
Another key to avoid gate checking is knowing the size of the planes that you will be flying on.
The smallest plane on your trip is going to be the limiting factor.
If flying on a small plane such as a regional jet, this can be a problem (especially if it is the first leg of a multiple flight trip).
The isle seat on the side of the plane with the most side-by-side seats may have the largest storage option – under the seat in front of you.
In this case, know what size case fits here – a full-size hard or rigid case will often not fit.
With large-sized planes booked for all of my commercial airline flights and priority boarding passes in hand, I was comfortable taking a full-size roller bag as my carry-on to Alaska.
The Think Tank Photo Airport Security V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag
TTP sent me this case a long time ago, and I have used it with great frequency since, leaving many of my other cases to gather dust.
This trip involved a mix of travel (including float planes, various boats and an SUV) and in-the-field use of camera gear.
While the Airport Security is not my first choice for backpack-style carry, it provides this option and I carried it full of gear for many miles in the Katmai National Park back country on this trip.
The straps work fine.
Aside from having a large capacity, including the ability to hold a 600mm f/4 lens with a pro-sized camera body attached (snug fit), this case provides very solid protection for the contents
and the build quality was something I had a lot of confidence in.
The lead image for this post shows most of the primary items I carried in this pack while traveling.
I removed a 15" sleeved laptop and some other odds and ends (including some spare clothes) prior to taking this picture.
The laptop fits in the outside pocket or, to save some dimensional space, inside in the shown load configuration.
In the case, starting at the top, is the
Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
mounted to the Canon EOS 5Ds R
Canon BG-E11 Battery Grip
I talk about my reasoning behind the camera and lens choices here:
My Wildlife Lens Selection for Katmai National Park, Alaska
My Camera Selection for Katmai National Park, Alaska
From left to right across the bottom of the case are the following:
The Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
was along for my ultra-wide angle needs (didn't end up using it much).
The Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Lens
earned its ticket to travel from its excellent image quality at a wide aperture.
Night sky photography its primary intended purpose.
The Canon EOS M3
Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
mounted made the trip.
With Canon EOS Rebel T6i
-like image quality, this tiny camera with the 18-55 gave me a very compact general purpose kit to use
when I could not (or did not want to) take a full size camera and also provided a backup under the same circumstances.
The EOS M3 proved a convenient choice for photographing from commercial airplanes (you do this, right?), from float planes and for a part-day salmon fishing trip.
In Lowepro Lens Cases under and beside the M3 are Canon EF 1.4x
2x III Extenders
While I have no regrets from bringing these, I did not use either on this trip.
The 600mm lens was enough, but you never know when a unique situation calls for more reach.
An Arca-Swiss Z1 Ball Head
is fit into the bottom right divided section of the Airport Security.
This head was chosen because ... it is my current favorite – it works great and reliably so.
While I don't usually have room for tripods in my carry-on cases, I usually include my primary ball head because of its dense weight.
Keeping my checked bag under the 50 lbs. limit is usually a challenge.
Numerous circular polarizer
neutral density filters
can be seen in the two backpack images shown.
My "personal item" carried onto the plane was a
Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Pro
This pack is ideal for maximizing the camera gear carried onto the plane and great for lower volume needs on location.
Shown in this pack are a pair of 5Ds R bodies, one mounted to the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
(amazing lens, again, see the lens selection link above) and one mounted to the
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens
, a great handheld landscape lens.
The other two lenses shown in this pack are the
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Both are best-available for landscape and other needs.
Lots of additional accessories were along in the carry-on packs including well over 1TB of memory cards, many batteries, chargers, power supplies and including power supplies, charges,
external hard drives
I always carry an empty water bottle through security and fill it from a water fountain before the flight, insuring adequate hydration for a long period of time.
Not seen in the two backpack images are a pair of tripods that were along for this trip.
My favorite all-around tripod is the Gitzo GT3542LS
It is an extremely rigid, strong, lightweight, reliable tripod that is easily up to handling the 600mm lens kit.
Nested inside the legs of the larger tripod was the Gitzo GT1542T Traveler Tripod
Acratech GP-s Ball Head
mounted (great little head).
The second tripod served as backup, permitted use of two simultaneous tripod setups and offered an ultra-lightweight tripod for those times when the full-size option was too much.
This little tripod could have handled the 600mm setup if necessary.
A pair of empty Lowepro Toploader Pro
cases were placed over both ends of the nested tripods with their
open lids providing protection for most of the sides of the tripods.
Clothing provided the balance of the protection necessary for the tripods.
Large lenses are far easier to use on a gimbal mount and the Wimberley Tripod Head II
is my first choice.
I packed this head in a padded case inside my checked bag.
The above image shows the Airport Security in action in coastal Katmai National Park
I like to keep my gear clean – The Airport Security can be seen here on The 1 Cheap Accessory that should be in All of Your Camera Bags
I always have these along.
My Alaska trip itinerary, in brief, involved a flight to Anchorage, SUV rental, driving to Seward and then Homer and float plane flight to coastal Katmai National Park where I stayed on boats for 4 nights.
After flying back to home, a 1/2-day side trip to fish the Kenai River was in order and then on to Denali National Park for a few days.
There is very little I'd change in my packs if I were to do this trip again.
Have any questions? Ask them in the comments section below!
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