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How to Ship Expensive Gear Safely?

Arnold C writes:

Do you have any suggestions on how I can safely get my cameras and a good selection of lenses to Fla in Oct?

Cost is not the issue. Safety IS.

FedEx, UPS, Hand Carry on board, Ship as baggage, Pelican Cases, cardboard and padded boxes, labeling, waterproof wrapping, roller bags, backpacks, etc, etc, etc.

Perhaps, a GOOD subject for your blog!

No-one — neither the photo mags nor much anything else I've read has given us a vad-mecum for safe shipment. All of us who have been in the pro world have our own thoughts and suggestions, but it might be nice to get your thoughts and the thoughts of your other subscribers.

DIGLLOYD: with a lot of really expensive gear, I’d load it in my car and drive it there. Barring that, if it’s a one-time non-time-sensitive thing, I’d split the gear up into manageable chunks, and ship each package a day or two apart. That way, if one package was lost, the other stuff would still be delivered even so.

The video guys must have to do this all the time with fancy and very expensive cine lenses and other gear. I’m pretty sure most of them use Pelican cases, but I’m not sure how they ship/insure it enroute.


Reader comments

Jim F writes:

As advertising shooters we've done everything from renting airline specific hold containers to simple soft bag carry-ons.

Our most common post TSA era method is to use FedEx and odd colored 7" cable ties as "locks" and ship ahead to the client and/or hotel destination and have overlapping insurance coverage. Our inland marine and FedEx. The clients pay for both and we've literally never had a claim.

Pelican cases usually in odd or spray painted "marking"/stencils, custom "Anvil" type hard cases and many still perfectly useable Tundra hard cases.

In the olden days we also used Hallibuton aluminum cases but the baggage handlers tended to wreck them too easily. No more. And another reason to have Anvil cases: They wreck everything else around them but never their contents.
Ain't travel a blast?

DIGLLOYD: Makes me want to drive.

Pelican cases at B&H Photo.

John M writes:

A comment on shipping. If you are not personally carefully transporting an item but need to ship, should anyone need the advice:

I spent years shipping timely urgent stuff all over the US - very valuable paperwork and other items with serious drop dead dates that if missed meant thousands in potential lost business and I found the absolute best way to ship was FedEx (air, not ground) hands down no competition they never lost a shipment in 25 years of using them worst case they located it a day or two late. Unbelievable service. I got stuff back in body bags from UPS and airborne was also not as good. The best way to ship is to make sure that the package is not too heavy, up to 35 pounds no more, ALWAYS insure it for a ton of money because nobody wants to drop that one, management will ask questions. Extra insurance does not cost a lot via FeDEx, make it a big declared value like tens of thousands. Also make absolutely certain NO odd labels or addresses are present or especially no odd bar codes. Mark the package in large writing as FRAGILE with arrows to which side should be kept up. Use bubble wrap if needed don't be cheap.

If using boxes tape it to death tape it like mad, tape the corner sides where the boxes are glued together using tape on the inside of the box seam and again outside. If using a cardboard box tape each (all 8) corner edges on the exterior - that is where they crush and burst, especially when wet. Make sure every box/ container has a to and from address on it and make sure you tape over that so rain does not destroy the ink. In each shipping container/box, enclose an inventory and contact information in case it gets lost, include a reward offer in the letter of contents in the box/container. Ship overnight NOT on Friday, ship Monday or Tuesday. Shipping to get anything on a Saturday is a crap shoot and will give you indigestion, generally avoid Saturday delivery but Saturday delivery may be slightly better than Saturday "hold for pick-up".

While we never used them you can get strain gauges placed in and on packages that measure mishandling.

Absolutely keep the shipping receipts especially the tracking number. Shipping more than one package to a location is worse than just one, one larger is better than two smaller. Shipping multiple packages in one shipment watch them put on the bar coded stickers do not leave until you see it happen (at the shipping office or wherever) do not believe the "I will put the stickers on when I get to the truck etc.". Ship early if possible even when overnight to allow for fog etc. but stay away from weekend shipping.

Eternal vigilance is the cost of good client relationships. Best wishes.

DIGLLOYD: good ideas!

My only issue with FedEx was shipping diapers and wipies (you know what babies do) FedEx 2-day to Juneau Alaska prior to a small-boat summer cruise some years ago. FedEx took 5 days to get that precious shipment there. I was near panic but it finally showed up 1 hour before boarding (no wipies to be found in Juneau!).

John D writes:

I saw a note from one of your readers asking for suggestions on how to pack this stuff for travel. It's a great question but the answer only addressed domestic air travel. International travel is a whole different ball game with size and weight (like 8kg) restrictions for carry on. Only one carry on for coach - business class gets two but only 8kg each. And yes, they do weigh carry-ons.

I was on a Singapore Air flight recently where I had put on a jacket on a hot day just for the pockets so I could lighten the carry on load. FedEx is extremely expensive if you want to ship internationally.

And you can bet that checked bags will be opened after they go into the system. I've had stuff taken out of a checked bag when traveling in Europe. The further east or south you go in Europe the more likely this will happen. This is one of the reasons why Leica M has such appeal to me. It might be interesting to see what your readers have to say about camera gear and international travel.

David G writes:

I have an 18 lb carry on weight limit with South African Airlines for my safari to Botswana in September. I was going to sell my D3x after the trip and bring the D800e, D4 and D3x (as an extra body to throw on a wide angle, etc.) My go-to lens, unless there is very low lighting, will be the D800e.

To save weight, I'm considering leaving one body behind and the question is, which one? While it will be enjoyable to witness a chase or fast action event on safari, the type of images I'm after are more scenic/picturesque and not so much "the kill."

The D4 offers speed and higher ISO, but I still love the images and file size of the D3x. I'd love to be able to leave the trip with a shot or two that I can blow up and make a very large image on my wall (4 or 5'). Without having gone yet, I feel like the D4 will be the last body I reach for, even though the D3x only offers 1fps+ at 14 bit. In your opinion am I disadvantaging myself by going with the D800E and D3x w/o the D4? If I sell the d3x now and can swap for another d800 with no out of pocket cost, is it wise to do so. I guess I'm trying to figure out where the D3x really fits in my mix now…..if at all. I do like that camera. Not to mention, the D800 feels like a toy in my hand. Thanks.

DIGLLOYD: I would take the D4 and the D800E. Perfect combo.

Paul writes:

Having just read your piece on shipping gear, I thought I would try and help out by offering fellow readers these links:

DIGLLOYD: I have not checked out all these links.

Christopher M writes:

Along the lines of a photo vest, I've had great luck with my Scottevest Travel Vest. It comes in black (perfect in Paris) or grey and doesn't look like a regular photo vest, since it isn't. It even has a specific pocket for your iPad (or similar sized tablet). I wore mine around Paris, Amsterdam, and other parts of France a month ago without anyone running screaming from the room. I even keep it on on the airplane. I own three "real" photo vests and don't wear any of them anymore, at least while traveling. The pockets aren't as big as on photo vests, but it has around 21 of them.

DIGLLOYD: whatever fits.

Brian B writes:

I travel with camera equipment all the time and particularly Fla. Bringing home pictures of different faraway places is one of the greatest aspects of photography.

I would recommend a really good carry on pack such as Gura Gear and keep it with me on the plane. I know it will arrive with me, and be handled well. I went on a shoot in B.C. of Grizzly bears, and was able to fit everything I needed for the week into the Gura Gear 30L. It also fit on every plane imaginable was light, not overly padded. There are many other great bags on the market as well. But no perfect one.

DIGLLOYD: Yes, but I think the issue here is 4 or 5 bags of very expensive gear, and Arnold C is not a young man with the strength to lug around heavy bags. But I do agree that the right bag can be a great help when one can carry it on.

Joseph C writes:

I have a professional photographer friend who does this all the time. He shoots automobile races, Space Shuttle launches (now extinct), and underwater (he's an ex-Navy diver), so he carries a lot of gear and big lenses.

He uses a Pelican case (Model 1550) with padded dividers, puts TSA approved locks on the case, and ships via FedEx to be held at a FedEx office near the destination. It's beats the heck out of carrying heavy gear on the plane and through the airports, and works. No worries.

DIGLLOYD: I’m unclear on why TSA-approved locks (meaning easily bypassed ones!) are needed for FedEx shipments, unless that's for overseas. I like the FedEx idea though, and I’ve done this myself to avoid having to carry so much, but usually with my other stuff the camera gear.

Donald H writes:

When I fly I always UPS things to the first hotel or motel that I will staying at. I have never had a hotel or motel tell me no and I have never had a problem.

DIGLLOYD: Might work for a small amount of gear. Dunno if I’d trust a pile of very expensive and very hard to replace gear this way.

John D writes:

I’ve recently traveled to Paris and to Brisbane with a load of gear (total ~40lbs) and learned the hard way that both Lufthansa and Quantas are restricting carryon bags to 15 lbs in addition to the 50 lb check bag limit.

The agents were only slightly sympathetic to my please for leniency in consideration of the big buck camera gear. I split the gear between my pockets, my computer bag and my carryon which kept the bags under 19 lbs which they overlooked. It seems this clampdown will spread, making the FedEx shipment in strong cases to a nearby destination depot increasingly appealing if the cost balances favorably against paying extra (and taking a slightly greater risk) for the bringing the same cases on the plane you’re traveling on.

On United I have premier status so they skip the carry on limit and ease up on the checked bag limits. Friends report the same treatment on other airlines. I believe this is also true for those lucky enough to fly business or first class.

This all makes the new mirror less offerings increasingly interesting.

And…thanks for the great D800/E reviews. For how I shoot, I’ll keep waiting for my E type (like Jag of old?).

DIGLLOYD: Carry-on is an increasingly severe limit.

Matthew H writes:

I also just had a trip to Europe on KLM/Air France during which I had to have some heated moments with the counter personnel to get my 24 KG ThinkTank rolling bag onto the flight.

After that experience, my future advice is this: We all know that "photo vests" are dated looking and horribly unstylish, but I suggest wearing one to the airport.

Before you get to the check in counter, fill all the pockets of your vest with the heaviest pieces, then let them weigh your roller bag half empty or less. Then back out of their sight (or in their sight if you want to annoy them) stop and refill your roller and hastily remove the unstylish vest before anyone you know sees you.

DIGLLOYD: I’ve done similar things, it works well.

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