What's In My Camera Bag and How to Fly

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Robert Watcher, Aug 13, 2016.

  1. Robert Watcher

    Robert Watcher Mu-43 Top Veteran

    OK so everyone seems to be creating "What's in My Camera Bag" vids. Sometimes they are fun to watch, but for someone like me who finds little interest in showcasing or bragging about what gear a photographer has - - - I have refrained from making such a video.

    However reflecting on the subject of "The Best Way to Fly With Camera Gear", I decided to create my own "What's in My Camera Bag" video on Youtube - - - but not with the purpose of displaying what specific gear or brand that I own, but to allow those who love photography and love to travel and are worried about what they can take with them and maybe have some fears about the safety of their gear - to hopefully find a tip or two from my experiences of traveling abroad over the past 8-1/2 years to destinations where I stay for extended periods of time.

    Because we travel and live on a limited budget, my wife Anne and I always choose the cheapest flights possible to travel on. For us over the past 8 1/2 years, this has been primarily Spirit (economy airline) and a few times American Airlines and Delta.

    Firstly - I personally would never allow my gear to be stored as Checked In Luggage that is placed in the cargo bay underneath the passenger area. It simply is not worth the potential loss of very expensive gear. Let's face it - even a basic camera and lens have a value of $600 or $700 with tax. But generally there is a lot more potential financial loss than that.

    So over the years traveling, I have had several situations with my general Checked In luggage that has been stored in the cargo area and is the reason that nothing goes in that luggage that I can't easily replace or do without for a week or two:

    1 - Luggage bags have been thrown around and smashed up.
    2 - Luggage bags have not been misplaced and after the hassle of signing papers and providing locations to the airline - received them a couple weeks later - unfortunately on one occasion I had camera and computer charging cables in that bag which created issues for a couple of weeks.
    3 - Luggage bags have been unzipped and remained that way when picking up on the conveyer belt.
    4 - Twice items have been missing from our luggage. Sending in complaint emails to the airline resulted in no response.
    5 - On one occasion my luggage bag was soaking wet right to the centre of my tightly rolled clothes - just as if the bag had been sitting in a swimming pool for a day.

    I just can't imagine how furious I would be if I had decided to take a chance and place some of my gear in those bags when those situations arose.

    On any of these airlines that I have chosen to fly on, I am always allowed to take on to the airplane, one Carry On (goes in the overhead bin) and one Personal Item that goes under the seat in front on me. A little secret that I have found that many people who take camera gear with them, aren't necessarily aware of or don't think to take advantage of - is that it is possible and in my mind actually preferable to use the bag containing your camera gear, as your Personal Item.

    There are actually many advantages to using that approach. One important one being that it doesn't seem to matter what is in the bag considered a Personal Item (as long as the items comply with TSA standards) - as long as it fits under the seat, there are no hassles with the airline attendants bothering you or even really having to worry about weight from my experience. I have never been asked.

    Here are a few things to consider with using overhead storage (Carry On) for your photography equipment:

    1 - What if the airline is full and you can't find a space to fit your bag. It will have to go underneath with your Checked In luggage.
    2 - With some of the Boeing jets we have flown on, my overhead suitcase will only fit in the right side overhead compartment. My Checked In bag fits the required dimensions, but is a tad too long for the left side compartment. So what if there were no spaces left on the right side - I would be required to have my bag Checked in and into the cargo hold. Actually you will probably run into this situation at some point so it is a good tidbit to know. If you can't fit your bag in the overhead bin because it is a little too long, try the compartment on the otherside of the plane.
    3 - What about if you have to take a connecting flight along the way? Generally they are smaller planes with tighter size restrictions.


    On this trip to Guatemala, boarding the plane in Dallas with a long line of people behind us - we were told the flight was full and that my overhead luggage bag had to go into checked. I had no recourse and was worried enough because even though my camera gear was safe in front of my feet - my Zoom5 audio recorder, microphone, and my wife's 17" PC were in that overhead bag and not really packed for abuse. Fortunately all came through unscathed. As well, our first flight from Canada to Chicago was with American Eagle on a 50 seat Embraer jet.. The overhead compartments were too small for the standard overhead size. I had no choice but to concede my overhead luggage to checked.


    I really find value in my Lowpro Mini Trekker backpack and use it as my Personal item. It slides under the seat of every plane I have been on. I purchased it 9 years ago, specifically to fit under an airplane seat - knowing the maximum dimmensions allowed. As for weight limitations? I have never been asked. I make good use of the sternum strap when walking distances. That totally takes the weight off my 60 year old body and allows me to bend and pick up things and even sit in a chair without the straps falling off.

    Within that Camera Bag, I have more space to pack all that I need for my extended trips. Currently I am packing inside the main compartment Olympus EM-1 with grip, EM-10, and because I had the space EPL-1 with Holga lens - 14-42 and 40-150 kit lenses and 45 f1.8 - Youngnuo flash - a set of wireless flash triggers - Bose Bluetooth speaker, 4 - 2TB usb3 Hard Drives (I store all data files on external drives - only apps on Macbook) - card reader, glasses, 2 camera battery chargers (I got rid of the cords) - 4 extra camera batteries and a stack of AA's, cables for cameras and HDMI cable with macbook adaptor - my Samsung phone and iPad 4. My 13 inch Macbook Air slips in the back outside pocket and computer power cords and camera manual go in front outside pocket.

    The only thing I can't fit in is my recording gear - so I have a small zippered bag that I put in the overhead Checked In luggage bag, that holds my Zoom5 Recorder and large diaphram condensor mic and shock mount. I want anything valuable, with me at all times. I fill this bag up with underwear, socks, set of clothes and anything to get me by if my big luggage bag doesn't show up for some reason.

    Hope this has some value to you. Happy travels.

    Last edited: Aug 13, 2016
    • Informative Informative x 4
    • Like Like x 2
  2. jimr.pdx

    jimr.pdx Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 5, 2010
    near Longview ~1hr from PDX
    Jim R
    Haven't watched your video yet, but great advice here. We haven't traveled in a while but hope to get back to it soon; my foggy memories of the distant past are showing their age!
    • Appreciate Appreciate x 1
  3. turbodieselvw

    turbodieselvw Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 29, 2010
    What do you use for your chargers, now that you have gotten rid of the cords?
  4. Robert Watcher

    Robert Watcher Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Great Question - one for an upcoming video I will be posting. Charger cables - the bane of all photographers LOL.

    I am using a section from an old Macbook or iPad power cable.
  5. Robert Watcher

    Robert Watcher Mu-43 Top Veteran

    One note that I should make here - is that while I use this Lowepro backpack for my professional work because I need much more gear with me - - - for my travel work, this camera bag is only used to get the equipment to the destination and store the extra equipment and then to fly it back home.

    On a daily basis where I only take one camera and an extra longer focal length lens with me, I have a simple shoulder bag (I picked it up for $5.00 at Staples years ago) that I take empty in my luggage bag. With it I can walk around without having to hold my camera and can also carry a bottle of water for refreshing me and if Anne has me stop at a grocery store for a bag of needs - I can pack quite a bit in the big pouch for an easier walk home.

    I always wear this shoulder bag to the front as shown on the photo. Both for ease of access and for security where everything is in front of me and within my grasp.


    I used to use this same Shoulder Bag before I shot with small Micro 4/3 cameras and had big SLR's and Lenses:

    Travel and Street Photography in Costa Rica (at 10,000 feet) with my shoulder bag

    Travel and Street Photography in Nicaragua with my shoulder bag

    • Like Like x 1
  6. turbodieselvw

    turbodieselvw Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 29, 2010
    looking forward to your upcoming video on the charger cables. the olympus charger and cables take up too much room.
  7. turbodieselvw

    turbodieselvw Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 29, 2010
    OMG! I just went on your website and found your cable solution! It's so simple. I didn't realize that the end of the ipad charger fits in the Olympus charger.
  8. Robert Watcher

    Robert Watcher Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Isn't that crazy. So simple. I took the shots a few weeks ago when I found out about it, and uploaded the pics to my blog hoping to get at an article - but haven't yet. But at least you can tell from the pics. Good.
  9. turbodieselvw

    turbodieselvw Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 29, 2010
    It's so simple. Thanks for the tip!
  10. Robert Watcher

    Robert Watcher Mu-43 Top Veteran


    My camera bag measurements are a bit under 17" long, a bit under 13" wide and around 9 inches in depth. Those measurements fit under any airplane seat that I have flown on so far. The weight of the empty bag is quite light at only around 2-1/2 pounds when empty.

    I just weighed my camera bag full of what I take as shown in the video. It weighs just under 20 pounds in total. I have never once been questioned about the measurements or weight of my camera bag when I am claiming it as my personal item. But if that is a concern or if claiming it as your Carry On luggage and you are worried about having the measurements and weight questioned at the airport - by as an example taking out 3 of the external hard drives, my heavy Bose bluetooth speaker, my 3'rd camera and the Olympus E-M1's vertical battery grip, and the big flash - - - I am down to around 12 pounds. That's still got my 2 cameras, 3 lenses, iPad and Macbook Air, same number of batteries and other goodies. I don't think that it should be too difficult to stay within just about any of the airlines guidelines. I know that some restrict Carry On luggage that goes into the overhead bin, at 15 pounds.

    Anne and I have a portable scale that we purchased cheaply at Walmart - that we always carry with us. If you are worried about keeping within airplane guidelines when making decisions on what to take with you or what camera bag to use, my best advice is to get one of those scales and put all of the gear that you have and want to take with you, gently into a bag and hook the fishhook on a knot at the top and find out what everything weighs. And then you could start taking items out or adding items as needed.
  11. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    Just as an FYI, there are a lot of airlines worldwide that don't formally allow personal items in addition to a carry on.

    My ideal travel setup is an F-Stop backpack (the Loka and Guru I have are both carry on compliant) with an ICU. The Small ICU is big enough for my e-M1, 12-40, 50-200SWD with TC and adapter, Sony A7r and even an RX100 in a scuba housing plus batteries for all the cameras. It's a bit snug, but it works.

    If the flight is full, the ICU slips out of the backpack and goes in the cabin with me.
    • Winner Winner x 1
  12. Robert Watcher

    Robert Watcher Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Thank you for your feedback. When you mention a lot of airlines worldwide that don't allow personal items - - - have you had experience with such ones? Could you let us know which ones you have used that won't allow a Personal Item - especially if they are major ones?

    The reason that I ask is that from my experience and from my research on the subject - I find that in fact most airlines allow both one Carry On and one Personal Item - whether that may included at no extra charge, or charged for. Of course it would always be wise to go online and verify before heading out on a trip.

  13. mattia

    mattia Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 3, 2012
    The Netherlands
    Check every airline is my recommendation. The big carriers generally still allow a personal item, but not all; Emirates, for example, allow one piece of hand luggage with a maximum weight of 7kg (15lbs), the Asian low costs in Indonesia officially had a 5kg (11lb) limit and one piece of hand luggage, and quite a few low cost carriers operating in Europe have a strict 1 bag policy for hand luggage (so your call whether to go big or small). EasyJet and Transavia don't allow it, officially, Wizz air and RyanAir do, but all the low costs will often force a gate check do the flight is full.

    I'm less familiar with US carriers.
    • Like Like x 1
  14. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    The carry-on requirements can vary widely. As Mattia notes, it's best to check each airline you'll be using in advance to make sure you'll be able to get through. Lighter and smaller is better.

    International Carry-On Size | Kaehler Luggage

    BTW, the tip about using the "duckhead" from the MacBook or iPad charger for the Olympus charger has been mentioned in the forums before. One can order 3rd party ones from amazon.com, and other places. I use them too. I wish Olympus just made their chargers more compact and with built-in folding prongs.
    • Like Like x 1
  15. dancebert

    dancebert Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 18, 2014
    Hua Hin, Thailand
    I flew Eurowings in May. Website says one item of cabin baggage is allowed. That's all I had because that's all I usually have.
    • Like Like x 1
  16. skellington

    skellington Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 4, 2013
    Atlanta, GA
    • Informative Informative x 1
  17. PakkyT

    PakkyT Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2015
    New England
    Fortunately for me, my travel bag is typically a single small backpack which fits my camera gear, a book and newspaper/magazine or two, and my other small electronics (iPad, GPS data logger, a travel power strip, etc.), and assorted small personal items (car keys for the car left at the airport, sunglasses, etc.). Backpack fits under the seat in front of me so I can usually avoid dealing with overhead bins completely (during winter a winter coat can be crammed in anywhere up there).

    For my camera gear, I go rather light. E-M1 with Panny 12-35/2.8 mounted, IR converted E-P2 with 9mm fisheye body cap lens mounted, then the super light 40-150mm R and the 17/1.8 prime. I also bring my FL-36 flash but am thinking about picking up a Neewer NW320 as an even smaller travel flash. All my other flashes, lenses, and various accessories typically stay home. Most of the stuff goes into cheap neoprene cases and are all tossed loose into by NON-photo specific backpack. A small towel goes in the bottom of the backpack for a bit of added cushion but also you never know when a small towel might come in handy. :)
    • Like Like x 2
  18. dancebert

    dancebert Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 18, 2014
    Hua Hin, Thailand
    I read the OP and wife fly the "cheapest flights possible", usually on Spirit. Never flown that airline. Their site says 'shortcut boarding' gives 'early access to overhead bins'. Would that not significantly reduce the possibility of one's cabin baggage having to be checked? Also increase the odds one could find room for their personal item in the overhead? I've got long legs, so that one would be important to me. Shortcut boarding is $5.99 per person, each way.
  19. Robert Watcher

    Robert Watcher Mu-43 Top Veteran

    I am perfectly fine the way that we have been flying for our extensive travels over the past 8-1/2 years - - - and recommend consideration to that method for the reasons that I have put in the post. Experience is generally more useful than facts I feel. But I do appreciate and agree with some of your thoughts. Thanks for the replies. It broadens the topic.

    • Like Like x 1
  20. Antonio Correia

    Antonio Correia Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 19, 2016
    Setubal - Portugal
    Very good thread ! :)
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.