They might not be the most headline-grabbing products, but choosing the right bags and cases can effectively save your professional skin by ensuring your gear is fully protected.
Not surprisingly it’s the gear that sits firmly at the sexy end of the spectrum that grabs all the headlines when it comes to working out the kit you need to be investing in to be able to run a successful filmmaking business. So that means the likes of cameras, lenses, stabilisation products, lighting and audio gear, but ultimately how are you going to get all of that on location? Once there, how are you then going to protect it from the inevitable knocks and bumps that arise on a shoot and also make sure that it’s properly protected against the elements?
Enter bags and cases, and these are indispensable accessories that need to be chosen with as much care as you might select a camera system to work with. There’s a huge variety of products on the market and, by taking the time to find the ones that suit your way of working and which are comfortable to use and to carry around while offering the essential security you need, you’ll set yourself up for the best possible user experience.
No single bag or case is likely to cover all your requirements, of course, and you need to be looking carefully at the kit you’re taking with you on specific jobs to then work out the most efficient way of getting it safely there and back. Do you need to be mobile and to have the means to carry everything around with you on location, or is it more a case of making sure everything arrives at a single location in one piece so that you can set everything up from there? A run ‘n gun operator might need to fit everything into a single case or backpack that can go everywhere, while a film crew might be filling an entire van with the gear they need, and they’re not concerned if the cases they’re working with add massively to the weight since they’ll have a team to help carry it around.
“There are so many different types of storage solutions on the market to choose from,” remarks CVP expert Jake Ratcliffe, “and some of them are really versatile. Common types that creatives tend to consider include shoulder sling bags, rucksacks or roller bags or cases, and the most popular brands are the likes of Sachtler, Manfrotto, Think Tank and Peli. At CVP we stock everything from bags that can accommodate a DSLR and a couple of lenses through to full cinema packages and we’re always more than happy to sit down with someone and to go through their individual requirements to find the best solution for them.”
The prime things to be looking for in a case or a bag include the comfort level that’s provided and the quality of construction, which also ties into the amount of protection that’s going to be delivered. All of these things need to be considered and all can be crucial in terms of whether a particular product is going to be up for doing the job you need it to.
Comfort might not sound especially crucial, but if you’re going to be carrying a heavy bag around with you for long periods then it’s really important that it comes with adjustable straps that won’t dig into your shoulders, the balance has to be right and you’ll want everything to be easily accessible. Backpacks work really well and come with a variety of compartments and adjustable dividers that are designed, via liberal amounts of Velcro, to be set up by the individual to take account of their specific needs while out on a job. Look for those bags that have been well thought through, and which might have separate small pockets that enable such things as memory cards and spare batteries to be easily located, and a compartment to accommodate a laptop or tablet is a fairly essential consideration these days. Modern bags can be surprisingly lightweight while still being super strong: do check details such as the sturdiness of the seams and the quality of the zips, since these are regular places where failure occurs and they will almost certainly shorten the life expectancy of the product if they fail and could even potentially lead to the kit inside being damaged.
So much comes down to personal choice. If you’re someone that likes to travel light, perhaps with a single camera body, a couple of lenses, maybe a gimbal and some audio accessories, then a medium-sized bag will be plenty big enough to hold everything you need. You could also go for a bag that doesn’t shout about the fact that you’re a professional and invite unwanted interest. Companies such as Peak Design produce products that look as though they could just as easily be containing your essentials for a weekend away, but inside they’re fully set up for holding a wide selection of camera and video gear.
Making a Choice
The very fact that there are so many choices to be made is one of the reasons why it makes so much sense to talk to a retailer that has experience of a wide range of products, and if you take the time to explain what you’re looking for then the team at CVP is sure to be able to offer some suggestions based on real life feedback.
“What to look out for when buying a storage solution will depend on your needs,” says Jake. “This could be things such as weather or waterproofing, handle design, overall comfort or interior layout design for your kit. There are so many things to think about and, although we don’t keep a huge number of bags in our showroom, we do have stock of some of the more popular ones and first-hand knowledge we can base recommendations on should you need our help.
“Our go-to showroom bags are Arri’s Unit bags, which are specifically designed for the filmmaker. They’re not entry level prices – the medium sized model comes in at £237 with the VAT included – but they come packed with well thought through features, such as a fully padded interior and reinforced edges, and they’re covered in durable waterproof fabric, with an additional waterproof rain cover for use in extreme weather conditions. There are also removable accessory pouches that attach to fabric hook-and-loop fastening strips on the underside of the lid, or these can also adhere to the sides of the main compartment if required. Overall, in my opinion they’re fantastic bags.”
Dedicated video bags, such as the Video Workhorse from Think Tank, come packed with features designed to support the filmmaker. For example, it’s possible to fit a fully-rigged camera or camcorder into the bag, so that it can be lifted out and used immediately when required, saving huge amounts of time. The top lid is also designed to open wide for 100% access to gear. The Workhorse 21 model costs £239 and is a good compromise in terms of size, having room inside for popular models such as a Canon C-Series camera, a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, a Red Epic/Scarlet or a Blackmagic Cinema Camera.
Another option from Think Tank is the cleverly designed Video Rig 18, which costs £306. This again has been designed from the ground up for video producers, and not only can it accommodate fully assembled camera rigs but it comes with adjustable, articulating and reinforced camera stabilisers to provide a custom fit for the inevitable awkward sizes.
“When you’re thinking about what to go for then I would start out by stepping back and looking at what you want the bag to do for you,” says Jake, “whether you’re thinking of shooting in a run ‘n gun style, whether you need something to travel with or maybe you’re looking to carry everything you need for a more involved shoot in one larger case. Then make a full pros and cons list that covers all of the features and design extras you feel you really need and take a look at the options that are out there to find a bag that really ticks all of the boxes for you.”
Overseas travel is another area where you might need to consider which kind of bag will best suit your needs and here one of the main things to be thinking about is the protective qualities of the product you choose. “Picking storage that’s suitable for travelling is incredibly important,” says Jake. “Arriving at a location and finding that your kit has been damaged en route is not what you want, so there are a few things to think about. Is your storage going in the main cabin with you in the overhead locker, or are you checking it in to the hold? What you plan to do will completely shape your decision and the airline you’re flying with will also play a part, since this could limit the size of the case you want to be stowing in the overhead locker.
“I would never suggest checking in a soft bag unless what’s in there can handle a proper beating, so for hold storage you need to look for a hard option, something like a dedicated Peli case. They may be heavy, but what they give you in terms of protection and support for your kit is a worthy trade-off for most.
“With big and robust units such as the Pelis, the storage system inside the case is just as important as their rugged exteriors. We work with several custom case makers to provide bespoke solutions for people who want custom foam for their particular kit line-up, and that’s the way you’re going to get the best protection. Peli also offers a TrekPak insert, which is available for around £150 or less, and this gives you the option to create custom grids that exactly fit your kit: it’s a really neat solution.”
As a filmmaker himself Jake has a few first-hand tips regarding what to take out in the field on a working shoot. “If you’re a filmmaker that doesn’t necessarily require quick access to your gear then a well thought through shoulder sling or roller would be my go-to choice,” he says. “I like to avoid heavy rucksacks when possible, as your spine is a precious thing!
“I would also always try to avoid rolling a bag or Peli should it have lenses inside: always carry these cases where possible to avoid the chance of damage. For the most part, video productions will involve the use of more accessories and odd bits and pieces than if you were shooting stills, so I would also look for a bag with a varied selection of pouches so that you can organise things to make sure you can reach them quickly.”
If you ever imagined that choosing the right bag or case was a simple and straightforward job, and that you would simply work with just the one style and size, then get ready to think again. There is a lot more to this area than initially meets the eye, so take your time, be very sure what you’re looking for and ask the experts for their input as well.
We take a look at the principles of Run ‘n Gun filmmaking, look at the essential kit you need for this genre and find out more from the CVP experts about the techniques you need to master.
One of CVP’s resident team of technical experts, and a self-confessed camera nerd who gets way too excited over kit, Jake’s background mirrors that of so many creatives these days. After graduating with a degree in photography he took up a freelance career and found that many of his clients were asking for video services so, rather than turn the work away, he started to teach himself the filmmaking basics. Having been based at CVP for four years now, Jake epitomises the ‘equipment agnostic’ approach of the company and devotes his time to advising customers who might be looking for impartial feedback on which products to invest in as they look to make the same journey into motion.
Think Tank’s Video Workhorse bag is a professional tool, with easy access and padded dividers.
Peak Design bags are tailor made
for pro kit but outwardly don’t look like they contain valuables.
The Arri Unit bags are the go-to products stocked by CVP and they’re full of great features.
Think Tank’s Video Rig 18 case allows you to carry a camera that’s been fully rigged.
One of the key things to be looking for in a case is quality of build and a design that allows easy access.