I’m not sure where you are headed, but as a part-time mini-doc filmmaker in West Africa for the past two years, having the best possible protective camera cases has been absolutely essential.
For many, their camera gear literally represents their livelihood. So, obviously, spending a little extra on a top-quality protective camera case is a no-brainer insurance policy. This article is written for people who take their camera protection seriously.
In this article:
- How to spot a quality camera case
- Top picks across four categories
- Top Alternatives in four categories
I’m certain a lot of my equipment would be completely toast from all the red African dust, humidity, rain, and insects if I hadn’t had my Pelican 1535 AIR or Nanuk 935(Amazon) cases with me. So, stick around and I’ll share my insights and recommendations.
Spotting a Quality Camera Hard Case
Let me begin by pointing out a few common characteristics of that the best protective camera cases:
- Fully submersible(IP67 minimum) dust, and crush-proof.
- High-quality construction– hardware, fit, and finish
- A large lineup of accessories, high-quality padding, foam and gear organizers
- A true lifetime warranty
- A well-proven track record of “survival stories” from real owners.
You can recognize a low-quality case by the absence of the above characteristics as well as:
- A significantly lower price that is too good to be true(you get what you pay for)
- Rough, unfinished edges, swirls, and burrs (common on cheap polymer-molded cases.)
- Chintzy hardware, handles
- Plastic padlock hasps (exception for small cases)
Selecting the right protective case can be a real challenge. My goal in this article is to streamline the process and so folks can make better-informed decisions. Hopefully, this article will save you hours of research.
Protective Camera Case Top Picks
Each of these picks are top-tier, well-proven professional cases that are highly respected in the industry. They will last a lifetime. In fact, they will outlive you and your kids will probably fight over them when you’re dead. So, you should probably put them in your will or something.
Best Camera Case for Air Travel
Pelican AIR 1535: Attractive, light, yet very robust- these popular lightweight cases are ideal for air travelers and are available with a large variety of organizers and foam(see my review here.)
Made in USA, Lifetime Warranty covers breakage
Best Small Case
Nanuk 909: It’s rugged, waterproof, and available with more options than any other small case. The 909 is ideal for video monitors, mic kits, small drones, GoPro kits, and first aid kits.
Made in Canada, Limited Lifetime Warranty
Best Camera Case for Maximum Protection
Pelican Protector Series: The ultimate case for maximum protection in extreme environments. Super-heavy duty, submersible, and battle-tested with a well-proven record of incredible survival stories.
Made in USA, Lifetime Warranty covers breakage
Best Budget Case
Sea Horse Cases are an excellent choice for budget-conscious buyers looking for a small to medium-sized camera or drone case. Their cases are Made in the USA and have a lifetime warranty.
Best Camera Cases For Maximum Protection
Pelican Protector Series
For maximum protection, there is only one option in my opinion, and that is the Pelican Protector series.
The Pelican Protector series is world-renown for being the industry benchmark for ultimate protection. These things have been recovered from fires, bombs, and months at sea with all the gear inside fully intact and functional. They are unbelievably crush-proof.
The Protector series are:
- Fully Submersible(IP67)
- Dust Proof
- Mold-resistant (MIL-STD-810)
- Hot/Cold resistant (DEF STAN 81 41)
- UV stable
- Vibration resistant (DEF STAN 81 41)
- Drop proof (DEF STAN 81 41)
- A lifetime warranty even covers accidental damage
- Made in the USA
SKB iSeries Cases
For Photographers, I’d recommend looking at their excellent iSeries cases (Amazon link) which have excellent fit, finish, and exceptional durability.
SKB is a widely-respected brand making pro-level cases with a huge selection of sizes and options to choose from. Similar to Pelican, SKB’s cases are widely used and trusted by the military, health care and other government contractors. In general, SKB focuses more on the music and gig industry but their product range does cover photography too.
SKB offers a very similar warranty to Pelican on most of their other cases and they have very similar quality as well.
Best Camera Cases for Air Travel
No one wants to be forced by an airline to gate-check their camera gear. However, in that eventuality, having your gear safely inside your hard case is a huge stress-reliever. For 90% of us, a carry-on legal rolling hard case is the ticket.
Pelican Air 1535
The Pelican Air 1535 is one of the most successful camera hard cases ever made. I own one and extensively reviewed it here. The 1535 Air has been an absolute dream for my international travel. Flight attendants even ask where I got it.
The Pelican 1535 Air uses a proprietary HPX Resin polymer to achieve a claimed 40% weight reduction which means you can pack in more gear for you next trip.
While it is not as rigid as its full blooded counterpart, the Pelican Protector 1510, it is still rugged enough for extreme adventures, like white water rafting or being strapped to the roof of a Land Cruiser in Africa. These cases are submersible, shock proof and dust proof.
I highly recommend combining the Trekpak divider system with this case. It’s a brilliant space saver for travelers and can be easily customized for new gear. The Trekpak system also provides additional crush protection thanks to the fact that the rigid padded dividers are set on their strong edge.
The Nanuk 935 (Amazon link)is a very rugged Canadian-made hard case worth serious consideration for traveling photographers. The 935 has clean, understated looks that don’t scream “I’m valuable, steal me!” The 935 is available in plenty of non-standard colors like blue, silver, olive, and graphite.
I’ve owned my 935 for 2 years without a single issue. My only complaint is that the latch sometimes gets in the way when you try to close the lid.
The push-button latches close securely, a fold-flat top handle is a nice feature, and the retractable trolley handle can be adjusted at two hights which is nice for tall folks. The lid is also removable via stainless steel hinge pins.
The Nanuk 935(Amazon link) is more affordable than the Pelican Air 1535 but comes with less organization options. However, if all you need is some pick-and-pluck foam or a padded divider. This case is definitely a good option.
Best Small Protective Cases
Small cases are ideal for dedicated applications like mic kits, GoPro kits, small drones, video monitors, and field first aid kits. They also serve applications for hikers and dry boxes for boaters where traditional camera bags just wouldn’t offer enough protection.
Smaller hard camera cases are compact and light enough to fit in a backpack yet able to hold a compact mirrorless plus a lens or two. Having peace of mind is important especially when it comes to canoe trips and hikes through pouring rain.
Small hand cases are typically available in Hi-Vis colors making them ideal for first aid kits and emergency flare cases.
Nanuk 903 to 910 Models
Nanuk’s 903-910 size cases(Amazon link) make particularly great first aid cases(Amazon link) and DJI drone cases(Amazon link). The Nanuk 909 case(Amazon link) is available with all kinds of custom foam options for GoPro kits too. It is even available with a Lexan panel to protect video monitors etc while shooting in inclement weather.
Sea Horse 530
Seahorse specializes make very affordable small cases while still offering excellent quality and a solid warranty. The Seahorse 530 case with pick and pluck foam makes a great drone case or compact mirrorless camera case. The case is available with keyed metal locks as well.
Pelican Protector 1200
At 9.31 x 7.13 x 4.12 inches of interior space the Protector 1200 hits the sweet spot between size and weight and portability. It can safely carry a compact mirrorless camera or a small drone into difficult environments. Pelican offers varying sizes of these handy little cases which you can check out here.
Best Budget Camera Cases
Most of the “budget cases” I see on Amazon and other places are clearly junk quality that I would never trust my gear in. I just can’t bring myself to recommend them to you.
If you’re looking to save money while minimizing risk to your gear I only have one recommendation that I can confidently recommend.
Seahorse Cases have a solid track record, for quality, are made in America, and deliver excellent gear protection at a lower cost than their major competitors like Pelican and SKB.
For example, in the carry-on-size category, the Seahorse 830 with cubed foam is about 31% cheaper than the Pelican 1535 Air and 9% cheaper than the Nanuk 935(Amazon.)
Seahorse’s product range focuses more on small to medium size cases(carryon).
They utilize a unique twist lock latching system that makes an accidental opening virtually impossible. Also, unlike their competitors, you won’t see an air pressure equalizer valve on Seahorse cases. This is because the equalizer valve is actually hidden within the latch system.
Sea Horse cases are fully submersible and rugged enough for all but the most extreme use. They do offer a few heavy-duty cases like this one, but for the most part, I would describe their cases as medium-duty.
If you’re interested in a SeaHorse Case I’d recommend supporting helpful folks over at Evergreen cases. They are an authorized dealer and very helpful.
My number one recommendation when choosing the best protective camera case for your needs is: GET “MORE CASE” THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED! I’m sorry for the all-caps, but it’s very important in three respects:
- More Protection: You never know what your next adventure will bring. Don’t cheap out
- More Space: You’ll always need a little more space than you anticipated for cables, adapters etc. Account for it.
- Better Organization: Get a case with a horrible organizer and you’ll curse yourself on every shoot for years to come.
My goal was to get you off on the right foot in your search for the best camera case for your needs. I hope you found this article helpful. Cheers.