The last quarter of 2016 is going to see some major changes as far as my studio is concerned, and with that in mind I wanted to find some hard-shell gear cases so I could house and organize the gear I use the most. I've been using cases by Seahorse for the last ten months, and I figured I'd talk a little about them and how I'm using them.
Read more after the cut:
I'm a bag freak. I love camera bags. Shoulder bags and messengerbags and leather bags and backpack bags and rolling bags and bagsBagsBAGS! I can't get enough of bags. Once I transitioned over to Think Tank(StreetWalker HD backpack, Airport Security rolling bag, Airport International rolling bag [I haven't reviewed the Airport bags but know this: get them.]) around 2010/2011 my searching was pretty much done. I love them.
After 12 years of being in the same space, my studio situation is going to be changing in the fall of 2016, and I had been thinking of investing in some hard cases with foam inserts that I could customize and store most of my usable gear in. Something a little sturdier and hard-shell than the padded Think Tank stuff. I've also been doing more location-based commercial work, and having a uniform set of gear in matching hard-shell cases that can take abuse as I move gear in and out of the car on jobs was also another need. So I started to look around.
Pelican cases seem to be the industry standard when it comes to hard shell camera cases. Pelican supplies to the US Army, and whenever I see behind-the-scenes photos of other photographers, usually it's a Pelican that the gear is sitting in. However, Pelican also comes with a pretty high price tag, and I wanted to be a little more thrifty and try to pinch pennies where I can. I realize that the gear going in these cases is worth a considerable amount of money and that is worth the premium price for a series of Pelican's, but everything I do is cash-&-carry and with the number of cases I wanted, the Pelican's just cost too much for me.
During my searching, I came across Seahorse cases. They look just like Pelicans. I wanted something really obnoxiously bright and Seahorse had a safety-caution yellow color that I loved. I wanted a color that I could see right away and the yellow absolutely stands out. Seahorse has the SE920, which fits right in between the two standard Pelican case sizes (the 1510 & 1650). The Seahorse's measurements are 10.1 inches x 24.3 inches x 16 inches. Where those two Pelican cases range in price from $170 (without padded foam; an additional$60) to $220, the Seahorse SE920 was available for $105.00 (with 2-day Amazon Prime shipping) including the pick 'n' pluck foam inserts. Five Pelican 1510's with foam would cost $230each (total: $1,150) whereas the Seahorse's would run a total of $525 for five cases. That is half the price for the same number of cases.
Each of the 920 cases have roller wheels. They are some sort of mix of rubber wheels and hard plastic. They don't feel as robust comparatively as the wheels on my Think Tank roller bags, and I'm wondering how long they will last going over pavement. Because I use a Rock n Roller cart, I'll probably never see them die, because they won't be wheeled around separately all that often. Each case has a pop-up handle on the back so you can grab it and wheel with ease. Rolling them seems good but the glide isn't as buttery smooth as my Think Tank bags. But that is comparing apples to oranges. Think Tank uses rollerblade wheels. These don't.
They have two closing snaps. These cases in particular came with locks on each snap that can be closed with a plastic key. Each case comes with two plastic keys. Feels pretty secure when locked, but you can add your own padlock or key-lock on them as well, as they have holes for them, which can add additional reassurance. Especially if you think someone on set might have sticky fingers.
I ordered one as a test. If I wasn't happy with the quality I could return it and I could keep looking. But it arrived and it's a really nice case for the money. So I went ahead and ordered four more of the 920's and once they all arrived I started getting them plucked for my gear.
Pick-n-Pluck foam is kinda neat; they come in sheets of pre-scored foam squares all attached together. You simply grab one with your fingers and kinda "pluck" or pull it out from the rest. Once you get the hang of it, you can pluck more out at a time, and it's really easy once you get the hang of it. HOWEVER, word of warning: spend some time with your cases and figure out your arrangement prior to starting your picking and plucking. You don't want to pluck yourself into a corner. Miscalculating the layout can be expensive, as a new set of foam tends to run somewhere between $60-110 depending on the case size. That can be a pricey mistake. I guess you could say you'd be plucked ;) What I did during this process was laid all the gear that I wanted in each case on top of the top layer of the foam, and arranged things until I found a layout that allowed every item to fit the case and also left a little "buffer" area between each item for padding. I started plucking slowly. Once I got the hang of it, I was a plucking master.
Here is how I have my cases laid out:
Case 1 contains my camera bodies, lenses, memory cards and other lens related items. You can see how I left some "buffer" area between each item so they weren't bumping into each other. The cases are fairly deep, so with some of the lenses I was able to double stack them (example: I have a plastic camera dslr lens underneath the 28mm lens). Also: having those excellent LenzBuddy lens caps make it very easy to see the focal length of each lens.
Case 2 contains all my smaller, portable flashes and speedlights. My Sunpak 120J, my Lumedyne flash, my Canon 580EX and some various Vivitar 284's live in here. I'm able to keep my charging cables for my Sunpak and Lumedyne under the head of the Lumedyne.
Case 3 is my three Alien Bee B800 units. Normally I leave these at the studio, but the last few gigs I've had on location in Boston have needed a little more power, and now I can easily transport all three in one case.
Case 4 is my accessories case. Reflectors, power cords, grids, cables, barn doors, clamps, gaff tape; anything that I'd need that accommodates the rest of my gear goes into this. Also not pictured are my little zippered cases that hold my batteries, chargers, triggers/receivers and speedlight cords. All the extra shit gets tossed in this case.
Case 5 is all about film gear. The Toyo 4x5, the Hasselblad, various polaroid and film backs, some prism viewfinders, light meter, and the old brass 4x5 lens. Cable releases and stuff can be stored underneath some of the gear since the cases are pretty deep. Look at that Hasselblad. Loooooook at it. how can you not love something that gorgeous?? Omigod I love that camera.
In addition to the SE920's for most of my gear, I've also been doing a little bit with LED lighting and video. The LED panels that I picked up last year are too big for the 920's, so I needed something a little larger. That is where the SE1220 comes in.
The SE1220 is a pretty big mutha. It's measurements:
Outside Dimensions: 27.90"L x 22.27"W x 15.10"D
Inside Dimensions: 24.87"L x 18.50"W x 12.75"D
The 1220 was a bit more money coming in at $188.00. Originally I didn't order a foam set for the 1220. My thought was I could take all the leftover foam that I plucked out of the other 920 cases and glue those back together to make the padding I'd need for the 1220. After spending a whole plucking frustrating day trying to glue the pieces back together I discovered that this foam doesn't glue, and logistically I couldn't figure out how to build up enough foam for the 1220, so I went ahead and ordered a foam set. After the frustration of trying to make my own foam set, when the real set did arrive and snuggle right into the case, it clearly became worth the $70. Unlike the 920's, I didn't do any price comparison with the 1220. I found the cheapest price on Amazon in the yellow color and ordered it from there.
Case 6: the oversized LED/video case. This holds my two LED panels, some circular grids, power cables, microphone, assorted video cables and shit and the thin slit on the bottom has gels, hard plastic color gels, etc.
How are they working? These guys are working like gangbusters.
Sitting on a RocknRoller cart, getting ready to head to a gig
It's also nice when you are working with someone and they are grabbing stuff for you/putting things away. It's very easy to see what goes where when the padding shape matches up with what you have. Remember those little piece-puzzles you had when you were a kid; fitting a certain-shaped piece into it's corresponding hole? Same thing here. Match it up and everything is golden.
One thing that I haven't quite figured out is Seahorse says these cases are "slotted" for stacking so that they kinda fall into place on top of one another. I stack them three and four up here at the studio, but I've never really felt them "fall" or "lock" into place when it comes to stacking them. They work fine when stacking, and I never feel like they are going to slide off of each other, but I've yet to feel them "lock" into place to make stacking extra sturdy. Maybe I'm just doing it wrong.
Things are going to be changing for me studio-wise in the coming months. Since there is going to be an interim, the gear I use the most might be stacked in a spare room, or a closet, or...somewhere. Having these hard cases is going to help keep me organized and keep the gear protected. I love the yellow color. It makes my logo stickers on the cases stick out really well (I'd like to get much larger square stickers to put on the fronts of the cases, but that will be something I get to much later), and they are easy to identify. They feel solid and secure and I'm pretty sure they'll take a beating and the contents will be safe as houses inside.
These things are plucking awesome.