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I started writing this post earlier in the week—-right after my Chicago Bears vs. Philly sideline shoot, and I hadn’t had a chance to finish it, but last night I shot the USF #10 ranked Bulls vs. Pitt from the sidelines, so I thought I’d go ahead and finish off the week with it (the top shot above is of Pitt Running Back LeSean McCoy just after scoring a touchdown during last night’s game).

So here’s where my problems started: I need to take five bags with me on my flight to Chicago to shoot the Bears vs. Eagles. They are:

  1. My Camera Bag
  2. My Lens Case (the 200-400mm is so big is has it’s own separate case with shoulder strap), but at least I can strap my monopod to the case.
  3. My laptop bag (I have to have my computer, right?)
  4. My rolling overnighter luggage (I have to take clothes)
  5. My Think Tank gear belt for shooting on the sidelines

Of course, we’re only allowed two carry-ons on the plane. The easy choice was to check my overnight luggage bag (which I did), and since I was only going away for one night, and didn’t have to pack much, I took apart my Think Tank belt, and put it in my overnight luggage as well.

That still left with me three carry-ons (one over the limit):

  1. My Camera Bag
  2. My Lens Bag
  3. My Computer Bag

…so something had to get checked or left behind. My first thought was to use a backpack camera bag that would hold my camera gear and my laptop, but on the sidelines of a game, you don’t really have any place to store your gear—your stuff has to stay with you (which is why I wanted to try out my new Think Tank modular gear belt).

So, here’s what I tried: Pelican makes a case called the “Pelican Case Cruzer” (see the photo below from Pelican’s website) and in the main compartment you store your camera gear, and up in the lid is a panel, and inside that panel is a cutout sized for an Apple 15″ MacBook Pro and an Apple Power Adapter. Plus (and this is a big plus)….it rolls!

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I loaded mine with two camera bodies, a 24-70mm f/2.8 Nikon lens, a 10.5 Nikon fisheye lens, a 50mm f/1.4 prime lens, an SB-900 flash (hey, ya never know), an Epson P-5000 photo viewer/backup, and an assortment of back batteries, cables, and other stuff that rolls around in your case.

Pros: This actually solved my main carry-on problem, because now my camera gear and computer were both in one crazy-rugged, rolling carry-on. It’s small size is really great, because it’ll fit in the most any overhead, or under your seat if need be. The inside dividers are completely configurable, so you can set it up exactly like you need it. Plus, it looks cool (and looks count).

Cons: Every camera bag I’ve ever owned had a zipper pouch area, or a zippered pocket, etc. where you could store extra batteries, cables, and all that extra little stuff, but with the Case Cruzer you don’t—it’s just configurable dividers and that’s it. I really miss that little zippered pouch (even more than I imagined). Also, it’s just a little too shallow, so you can’t fit a Nikon D3 without laying it down flat, which takes up a lot more room (notice in the photo above, how they have the Canon body lying flat), and the same with Nikon’s new SB-900s. The other downside is that while it’s designed to hold your Apple power adapter, it’s not really designed to accommodate the cord (especially the longer white power cord), so I had remove that part of my adapter and toss that in with my camera gear. One more con: there’s a “lack of laptop access” challenge since your laptop is stored in your camera bag. If you need your laptop during your flight, you have to pull your whole bag down, which is a bit of a hassle, since it’s so heavy when fully loaded.

All in all, I pretty much liked Case Cruzer, and it did work to get me down to two carry-ons, but it’s just not quite 100% there. I wish I could design two camera bags myself; a “Nikon shooter’s bag” and a “Canon shooter’s bag.” But in the meantime, this will have to do.

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I wanted to take my “Think Tank Modular Belt System” out for a try (you can see it in the photo above from Sunday’s shoot—it wears like a belt, with different compartments for different lenses and accessories). But here’s the new problem–how do I get it to Chicago? I don’t know what everybody else does, but I packed it in my checked luggage. There’s probably a better way, but I don’t know what it is. Anyway, the Think Tank system absolutely rocks for Sports Photography. I hate carrying a camera bag over my shoulder, and on the sidelines, there’s really no place to store yours safely, so you have to lug it around (but nobody does, because nearly everybody has a Think Tank system around their waist).

Anyway, I’m amazed at how well it works; how handy your gear is, but most of all how it distributes the weight so well that you forget you even have it on. Really brilliantly designed and thought out. I still don’t know the best way to get it to the sidelines, but I sure like having it (and I used it for last night’s USF game shoot).

I also packed two of the greatest inventions known to man; Gel Knee Pads. They are absolutely invaluable!!! (I bought mine at Home Depot, and they have the word “Gel” on the front, under a clear plastic part of the pad).

So, to recap:

  1. I checked my overnight luggage
  2. I packed my Think Tank belt and cases in that luggage, but that only worked because I didn’t have much to pack for just an overnight trip.
  3. I used the Pelican Case Cruzer to hold my camera gear, and my laptop and power cord, and I carried that on the plane.
  4. My second carry-on was the Nikon lens case, so I made the “two-carry” limit no problem.

So, you can see how hard it’s become to travel with photo gear, and because of the very real worries of theft from checking camera gear in your luggage, you really have to take your gear on board as a carry-on. Also, I’m pretty queasy about shipping my gear by Fed Ex to my shoot, especially if all I can do is ship it to the hotel I’ll be staying at (I’ve had hotels turn down or refuse a delivery to a guest for no apparent reason).

Anyway, if there are any other sports shooters out there who have come up with other ideas for getting your gear to the event, and managing it once you’re there, please let me know (post a comment here), because while what I did, worked—it ain’t great.