A couple of months ago I wrote a review of the Pelican 1510 Watertight Carry On Case for the Adventure Canoe website and paddling forum over at adventurecanoe.com
Before writing the review my knowledge of Pelican cases was limited to a few passing experiences with the ones brought on float trips by other canoeists who used them to store their cameras in. Back then I usually managed to keep my camera dry by wrapping it in a sweater (for padding) and stuffing the whole mess into a dry-bag if one was handy. Of course I also had my fingers crossed the entire time I was anywhere near the water, hoping that my camera and film would stay dry in the bottom of a wet canoe or kayak until I got back home.
This casual attitude towards equipment storage eventually led to that camera being destroyed when it got dunked in the ocean by a frisbee playing dog who knocked the camera and bag off a rock and sent the whole kit (and kaboodle) tumbling into the churning Pacific surf.
I finally came to the realization that I needed something bigger (and better) to carry my camera in that was watertight and travel friendly. The goal was to find one camera case that could hold all my essential gear and allow quick access to my camera with the lens attached so that I could be ready to use it at any instant. On top of all that, I had to be able to take the case on an airplane without too much trouble because the only thing more deadly to cameras than salt water is airport baggage handling.
Pelican cases were unanimously recommended by all my canoeing friends and also by the majority of all the photographers I talked to. The only thing the photographers could find to complain about was a little bit of extra weight for the Pelican cases. Of course they also complained about the weight of camera bodies, lenses, flashes and everything else in general. Yes, the Pelican 1510 case does weight slightly more than the average camera bag but it can also do things that most other camera bags or hard cases can’t. You could say that Pelican is the authority on watertight and dust proof equipment cases. I have been using the Pelican 1510 case for a few months now and I’m beginning to wonder how I ever got by without it. Before I started using the Pelican case, I usually ended up with all my gear jammed into a seriously overstuffed camera bag where my equipment banged together like wind chimes in a hurricane. To add insult to injury, I usually couldn’t get to anything I needed without unloading the whole bag first. While the camera bag might shed a few drops of rain you would never describe it as being watertight.
I am currently testing 1510 case with the adjustable padded dividers in place of the standard Pick ‘N Pluck Foam. I like using the foam insert a lot, especially the ability to configure it to my personal preferences. The Pick ‘N Pluck foam is real genius for its ease of use and the fact that no tools are needed to create a custom insert for any type of equipment you have. It can also be easily re-configured if your needs change and as we all know, they usually change constantly. The padded dividers don’t allow for as much customization but they are well sized for digital SLR camera bodies and accessory lenses which is what the insert is made for. Obviously someone spent a lot of time working on the design to make it simple while having the ability to handle a wide variety of camera gear. One of the characteristics of good gear is that it does not get in your way. Choose what works best for you.
I’m going to post (most of) my original review here for anyone who may be trying to decide on what sort of camera case to buy. As always, you are ultimately responsible to make your own decision and what I have to say is just one opinion. What works for one person may not be the best solution for everyone. Having said that, I like the Pelican 1510 very much for the way I work and would recommend it to anyone needing superior moisture, dust and impact protection. Today I used the Pelican 1510 to take photos outside in the cold, where the current conditions range from salty puddles to packed snowflakes, jagged ice and wet slush. I really enjoy the freedom of being able to set the Pelican case down anywhere near my tripod without worrying about water (in all its forms) getting into my camera gear.
The Pelican 1510 Watertight Case Review
Pelican Cases have previously been reviewed by a number of people who have put them through all sorts of grueling torture tests with the intent of either proving or disproving Pelican’s corporate motto, “The World’s Toughest Watertight Equipment Cases.”
Pelican is so confident in their products that that they actually print this statement on the outside of every box they use to ship their cases in. In fact, it’s right below their name and not hidden somewhere on the bottom of the box. I can see how some people with nothing better to do with their time might take that statement as a personal challenge and an opportunity for some good old time fun but that is not exactly what I have in mind. I’m going to take a different approach and try something that a slick city lawyer I once knew called, “stipulating to the facts.” What that means is that I’m conceding the point up front. The Pelican cases are tough and watertight and this one is no exception. Of course what Pelican states proudly on the box is conditional and comes with reasonable limitations so buyers should also have realistic expectations. You should always read and understand the fine print before making any important purchase. Here is a link to Pelican’s “Legendary Guarantee” which spells out the details. www.pelican.com/support/guarantee.php
If you still have time for some foolishness you can search the Internet and see a video of someone melting one of these cases with a jet powered car or watch other videos of cases being thrown off the top of high-rise buildings or towed behind ski boats. Those are fun to watch but should we really care about humorous stunts other than to convey the idea of how rugged these cases are (or might be) in an entertaining way. Video Stunts can be easily staged (and often are) so I tend to dismiss the usefulness of those results. For me the best videos are actually those that show the shocked disbelief on the face of the hapless “tester” when he finally manages to ruin his brand new case (and whatever was inside it) at the same time he is thoroughly voiding the manufacturer’s warranty.
What I am more interested in, is finding out is how this particular Pelican 1510 Carry On case works for the sort of things that actually I do, how I travel and how I go about my work, which sadly does not include any jet-powered cars but does often require flying on commercial airlines. Right now my three primary personal interests in life (after family, country and Queen) are travel, photography and canoeing.So what I would like to explore is how those three things relate to “The World’s Toughest Watertight Equipment Cases.” I’m going to start by looking at how I can use the Pelican 1510 Carry On when I travel.
I like to travel a lot and even though I’m not made of money, I do get to travel fairly often. Traveling requires you to put your stuff in something in order to carry it to your destination while keeping it separated from the stuff that other people are carrying to their destination. A lot of those people seem to be getting by lately with just a flimsy duffel bag, usually one that they got for free or borrowed from someone else who at one time must have worked for a corporation that thought it would be a clever idea to show how much they cared for their employees by giving them a cheap, poorly constructed bag with a bad zipper and that prominently displays the company’s corporate logo on the front. Cheap duffel bags are great for gym shorts, socks and your T-shirt collection but don’t work very well for anything like expensive cameras and electronic equipment. I think we can dismiss the option of the cheap promotional duffel bag as a way to get our stuff where we want to go. Many of my travels begin by taking an airplane from one city to another. This usually means going to the airport, parking, taking a shuttle bus to the terminal, going through security, walking to the departure gate and then fighting to get my carry on luggage stowed on the plane. When I arrive at my destination there is more walking through another airport, another shuttle bus to the car rental company and then a series of other transfers that include numerous loadings and un-loadings at various places. At the end of the trip the whole process is reversed and continues until I arrive back at home, thoroughly exhausted and with a whole lot of work to do. I’ve done the drill enough times to come up with a few opinions about what works and what does not. Whenever my trip involves air travel I always limit myself to two pieces of luggage. The first piece of luggage is always a legal carry on sized suitcase, as defined by the airline that I am traveling on and it must also have wheels and a handle that extends for enough so that I can walk upright. I try very hard not to check this bag, especially not on the outbound part of my trip. When I’m coming home I may occasionally check my bag if I know for certain that I am going to be able to get on my intended flight and that I have an hour or more to wait before the flight leaves. That leaves me free to roam the airport unencumbered. I really hate checking my bag because it seems to significantly reduce the life expectancy of the bag each time I do. My second piece of luggage is always a camera bag and that bag must be small enough to fit under an airplane seat. I do not check luggage with photographic gear inside. I have on a few rare occasions been forced to put my tripod or tripod head into checked luggage but that is about it. The situation with airline luggage is in a constant state of change and often differs between carriers so it is always best to check for current restrictions prior to traveling. Once in a while I will take my laptop along and it fits nice and snug in a front pocket of my carry on. The problem is that you have to take the thing out to go through security and that along with the shoes and other odd items really slows you down and it’s heavy. I don’t like traveling with the laptop and least of all for short trips. So let’s say I want to go canoeing somewhere on the other side of the country like the American River in Northern California and it’s too far away for me to drive because I only have a few days off of work. I need to get my camera gear and myself to California and then have some way of keeping my equipment dry when I start paddling down the river. I can’t really expect anyone else to be concerned about the logistics of keeping my precious cargo safe because the locals only take occasional snapshots with disposable cameras and don’t fully appreciate my photographic needs (gear obsession). So for the sake of this example; the object is to get me and all my camera equipment to my destination, protect it while I go on my big canoeing adventure, have relatively easy access to everything for those magic moments when I want to capture stunning images and then to get it all back home in working order so that I can turn around and do it all again in a different location a month from now. The first thing I need to know is if the Pelican 1510 Carry On case will actually fit into a typical canoe or whether it is just too plain big. I hadn’t given that very much thought but after checking the measurements, the short answer is yes. For those of you who would like to double-check this for yourselves, here are the exterior dimensions in inches and centimeters. 22 x 13.81 x 9.0” (55.88 x 35.07 x 22.86cm) (LxWxD) The second, third and fourth thing I wanted to know was whether or not the 1510 was big enough to fit all my gear inside, how heavy it would be when fully loaded and if it would actually be better to have two smaller cases or one big case. The fifth thing I wanted to know was if the 1510 would fit inside my single-seat touring kayak. I was a little sad but not really very surprised to find out that it did not. I have not had a chance to try it on any other models or in a double kayak, which is actually closer in size to a tandem canoe than mine. The 1510 case comes in three basic configurations and several different color options. You can get an empty case, a case with foam inserts, or a case with padded dividers. Right now I am working with the case using the foam insert, which is best option for those who need maximum shock resistance protection. If you want to amuse yourself by throwing your Pelican case off an overpass with your Canon DSLR camera inside (not recommended) this is the option you would probably choose. I am also planning to review the 1510 case with the padded divider option, which I think is the most useful choice for photographers. I should also note here that Pelican offers custom cut inserts and case colors if you have special requirements. You will have to get a quote on custom options. I ended up with a pretty good pile of foam by the time I got done removing sections for all my gear but I didn’t bother to weight the leftover foam once it was removed so don’t bother asking how much weight that would save. Here is the weight of the 1510 with the foam insert as it comes from the factory: 13.6 lbs (6.17kg) I also weighed my Travelpro 22” carry on suitcase the other day on my home scale. The empty Travelpro weighed: 10.0 lbs (4.54kg) That is slightly more than what Travelpro lists for the current version of the same bag on their website but close enough for my purposes. What all this measuring tells me is that while I expected the Pelican 1510 to weight more than a traditional carry on, it’s not a deal breaker for me. I’ll take a little extra weight in exchange for a whole lot more protection from a variety of hazards. On my digital scale the Pelican actually came in at 13 pounds, which probably means that my scale needs some adjustment. The difference as I measured it was just 3 pounds. Three pounds is a lot if you have to carry it on your back all day but not much of a problem if you are pulling it on wheels. Please don’t get excited if you discover sample variation between the weight of my bags and your bags. What I am saying is based solely on my personal experience and opinions. Others results may vary. The point I am trying to make is that the Pelican case weighs slightly more than an average empty carry on bag and that makes me happy. I finally got the time to start working on the foam insert from the 1510 the other night and now I have the Pelican case fully loaded with most of my normal gear. Everyone is going to do this a little differently so this should again be considered as an example only or what a typical loaded case might weigh. Your total loaded weight will vary from mine. For those of you who like trivia, I would like you to know that there are a total of 32 batteries in the case right now. Total packed weight is: 26.0 lbs (11.79kg) Time to start working out. Not because of the weight of the 1510 but because of what I weighed when I got on the scale before adding the weight of the loaded case. I was shooting for a target number less than 30 pounds (for the case not me) and as you can see there is still some room to spare.
The American Airlines website www.aa.com (currently) states that you are allowed 40 pounds for carry on luggage but like most things that is subject to change for a variety of reasons. Always remember to verify current restrictions for your airline prior to traveling. So as far as the travel component goes, I really like the idea and simplicity of a single case that is large enough to hold everything that I want to bring along.
Most airlines only allow two items to be carried on so if you had more than that you would have to combine them somehow anyway. The fact that the 1510 case can be used as carry on luggage is a big plus for me because I never like letting my camera gear out of my sight or leave it in the hands of (potentially) overworked or disgruntled baggage handlers working for the airlines or ground transportation companies. I always love it when a shuttle bus driver demands to help me with my bag and then promptly drops it or throws it on the ground. The fact that the Pelican 1510 Carry On case has wheels means that I don’t have to be bothered with taking a separate dolly or renting an airport luggage cart. Speed and mobility are great things to have. Despite lugging around way too much camera gear I really do believe in lightweight travel.
In order to use the Pelican 1510 as my main carry on for my camera gear I will need to change my airport habits and routine to allow extra time to check the bag that I normally carry on. I’ll still carry my small under the seat bag, packed with a few essentials just in case I get separated from the checked bag but it will not be as loaded down as it was before. Everything that needs to stay dry and secure will go in the Pelican case and the odds and ends can go in the small bag. On short weekend trips when I am traveling as part of a travel pair; we might be able to get by with a single carry on bag between us for a change of clothes and still carry everything on with us. Sometimes it depends on the season but sharing a bag has worked out in the past. I don’t think there is any way of getting around checking luggage if you are going to require extras for canoeing and camping at your destination.
If you are working with an outfitter a lot of things can be rented or arranged for prior to your arrival but you are still going to be packing extra changes of clothing and anything else that is not readily available where you are going. Every trip is a little different and some may even require shipping some gear as freight before you go. The Pelican case will let you take your most important and expensive equipment with you and protect it while you travel and while you are using it at your destination. Considering the relatively high cost of photography equipment the protection provided by the Pelican case is a very good investment. It’s usually not to difficult to figure out what people’s passions are in life and I’m no exception. People often ask me how long I have been taking photographs and this is often because I happen to be taking a photograph at the time. I generally give one of two answers to this question depending on how I feel and who is asking. “Since I was twelve years old” or “For about five minutes.” Then I can usually get back to my passion except for the fact that some people are more persistent than others… The next question is usually, “Who are you shooting for?” I generally say I am shooting for my own use, which is generally true. The reason people ask me these questions is because I tend to carry around way too much stuff. I thought I could break myself of this habit by limiting the size of my camera bag. That worked for a while and then I discovered cargo pants. I usually don’t mind carrying a lot of stuff but when it’s all jammed haphazardly into a medium sized camera bag, it is hard to access and usually not very well protected from everyday knocks and bumps.
The Pelican 1510 Carry On case has wheels on it and I am a big believer in wheels when working in an urban environment. Anything that can have wheels must have wheels. Why carry something on your back when you can tow it behind you and use a lot less energy. Extra energy means more things can be seen and photographed in a day. I could get a bigger camera bag or even a backpack but those extra pounds on your back or shoulder add up quickly over the course of a long day. Even if I decide not to work directly out of the 1510 case I can still get all of my most often used gear to the location where I will be shooting and transfer what I need to a smaller (lighter) camera bag if I need to. It really depends on how much I will actually be roaming around once I reach my destination and what my specific needs are.
The Pelican cases have a lot of interesting features that are often overlooked because people tend to focus only on the tough and waterproof concepts but Pelican cases also happen to be dustproof and that is very important if you are a photographer. I was recently shooting some photos at a demolition project in an old decommissioned steel foundry. It had been raining on and off for several days, transforming the job site into a big black muddy mire. It would have been very helpful to have a Pelican case to work out of because in addition to the mud and water everywhere outside the building, there was a several inches thick layer of fine dust composed of casting sand and soot inside the structure. I wanted to set my heavy camera bag down somewhere but there was no safe place to do it. In addition to the dust, sand, water and soot on the ground there was also a constant swirling cloud of fine dust blowing inside and outside the building because of the heavy equipment operators clearing the debris. I can’t remember ever taking photographs in a worse environment for camera equipment. Water and dust are both deadly to digital cameras and even small amounts of dust can potentially ruin your photographs if your camera happens to survive the ordeal.
As I mentioned earlier the Pelican 1510 case can be ordered and set up in several different ways. My case was shipped with the standard foam inserts. Pelican refers to these as Pick N Pluck Foam, which they call an easy do-it your self system for custom-shaping the interior of the case according to your equipment. The 1510 come with two layers of this foam that is pre-scored into small cubes that can be cut or plucked out to accommodate the shape of whatever you want to put inside. The case ships with an illustrated instruction sheet but as I stood there for the first time looking at the pristine foam I had some doubts about how I should approach the task of fitting my camera and lenses in the case with the least amount of wasted space. The secret is to place everything on top of one of the sheets of foam and then play with the arrangement until it suits you. It’s sort of like playing chess, you move things around on the tiny squares until you achieve a victory of sorts. I didn’t actually pluck the foam out but instead ran a paring knife along the perforations so I could take the foam out in big blocks. Don’t worry too much about making a fatal move, pelican says you can easily glue the blocks back together if you change your mind, unintentionally separate the perforations or just remove too much foam. I started operating on the foam late at night when I was really tired and finally had to call it quits. In the morning I felt much better and because of that the process went a lot more smoothly. I recommend setting aside an hour for this project if you have not done it before. It’s not hard but you don’t want to rush it. Take time to read the instructions first. Some authoritative people may try to dissuade you from the Pick N Pluck option because they believe that the foam inserts could potentially break down over time. My son James has a Pelican case that he has owned for over ten years and there is no visible deterioration of the foam after that amount of time. I’m sure there may be a few variables that determine how long the foam could last but in my limited experience a lack of longevity has not been an issue. It is much more likely that you will choose to replace the foam because your storage needs have changed rather than any problem with the foam. Something I found interesting was that the interior of the case has these little patches of rough texture on the sides that I figured out were intended to help keep the foam inserts in place. Features like the all stainless steel hardware and the rather ingenious pressure relief valve also impressed me.
On any airtight case you need a way to release the vacuum that is formed whenever there is a change in air pressure or else you won’t be able to get the case open again. If you’re thinking that this is no big deal, then let me remind you we are going to be taking this case on airplanes and then up and down mountains, streams and rivers which is sure to create changes in air pressure. The previous Pelican relief valves were operated manually; you just unscrewed them to release the vacuum. There are a lot of those in use today and in perfect working order. The new pressure relief valve is automatic and uses a semi-permeable membrane, which allows air to pass through the membrane, but not water (water molecules are bigger than air molecules). Pelican has some other slick tricks up their sleeve but I’ll let you read about those on their website because they can explain them better than I can. Corrosion resistance and automated pressure relief were the tricks that interested me the most as a photographer. I also like the Pick N Pluck foam more and more but I will save my final thoughts until I can test the padded divider insert.
I have recently begun to devote a little more of my precious personal time to my canoeing and kayaking hobbies. I go back and forth between traditional canoes and touring kayaks but canoes are usually the preferred choice for people who live in a place that’s not near an ocean. Midwestern rivers and streams generally seem better suited to canoes and the canoe just feels more traditional and right for the task. One of the reasons people like canoeing is because it is clean, quiet and goes well with a number of other outdoor activities such as camping, swimming and fishing. Of course by now you know that for me it’s all about the photography and for some reason I feel the need to record my little adventures in photographs.
Most people are happy taking snapshots with an inexpensive point and shoot camera or even a disposable camera. After all, you’re not out all that much if you loose a disposable camera and since cameras and water don’t generally mix that is probably a pretty smart way to go. I’ve taken some grainy, poorly focused, badly exposed and very memorable photos with inexpensive cameras and I wouldn’t try to discourage anyone else from doing the same thing. In order to take high quality photographs of things like landscapes and wildlife you are going to need a reasonably decent tool for the job and that usually means spending more money than you can imagine on cameras, lenses, filters and other things. Digital cameras come in two varieties, small pocket cameras and large single lens reflex models (SLR) with interchangeable lenses. Most people start out small and at some point decide that they could become much better photographers (and the envy of all their friends) if only they had a better and more expensive camera. So let’s just assume you have been at this long enough to realize that you want or need a camera that cost enough to make you wince at the thought of drowning it while you are on a canoe camping trip. I’ve already determined that the Pelican 1510 will get you where you are going and that it will actually fit in the canoe that you are going to be using. You’ve got a strong back and even though everyone else thinks you are a little crazy, they really love those stunning photographs that come out of your digital SLR camera. You just need a way to keep the camera and lenses dry and protected from all the other hazards along the way.
I completely forgot to mention that the Pelican 1510 Carry On case has these really cool double throw latches and what that means is that the case opens and closes easily. It doesn’t open so easily that you have to worry about it opening accidentally but you can open the latches with one hand. This is important because when the camera is in the case you want to be able to get at it quickly. The next and no less important thing is that you want to be able to return it quickly to the case and then close the case securely before you are swept down that treacherous stretch of river ahead, which you completely ignored until the last possible moment because you were so intent on getting that photo of the turtle family camped out on a sunny log. The worst part is that they probably saw you coming anyway and were long gone before you could even get them in the frame. The good news is that you will be able to easily take great photos of your slower moving friends paddling their canoes and having a great time.
I cut the foam insert for the Pelican 1510 so that I had enough room to leave my longest lens mounted on the camera. That way, no matter which lens I am using, I can put the camera away quickly without rearranging any other equipment or having to switch lenses. Because the 1510 is waterproof I don’t need to keep it inside another protective container like a dry bag, which would make it more difficult to access quickly. Travel and canoeing companions will only tolerate so much time spent fiddling with your camera gear. If you are not quick enough and keep causing constant delays, then your friends may literally leave you up the creek without a paddle.
Pros: Tough crush proof exterior provides excellent impact protection. Waterproof – IP67 certified (1 meter for 30 minutes) Floats with up to a 64 lbs. load in salt water. Dust proof O-ring seal on lid Automatic pressure relief valve Low maintenance stainless steel hardware. Conforms to FAA / airline standards for carry on luggage (check for current restrictions). Polyurethane wheels (with stainless steel bearings) and retractable luggage handle. Easily customized interior for a variety of applications. (Four standard options available). Rubberized grips (over-molded) on top and side handles. Easily opened and closed double throw latches. Lifetime Guarantee of Excellence (review restrictions)
Cons: (see notes) Heavier than traditional camera bags. I think the added weight is a good trade off for the amount of added protection you get. Luggage handle and wheels are non-removable. Not a big issue for me but someone else has already asked about it. Wheel and handle wells reduce interior space slightly. This is a design decision and more of a plus for most users because the handle well (recess) allows enough relief on the exterior to get your hand around the extendable handle when it is in the closed position. The wheel wells allow the wheels to be flush with the exterior of the case so you can set the case on its side without having it fall over. The wheels are not really intended for off-road use but they are rugged enough to take the abuse.
Summary: There are many different models of Pelican cases to choose from and for the people who normally use only small pocket sized cameras there are probably other more appropriate choices that are significantly lighter and smaller. On the other hand if you are truly obsessed with photography, love to travel, need water and dust-proof protection and find the thought of leaving home without all of your photo gear unbearable, then the Pelican 1510 Carry On case may be just about perfect. I’ve decided that the Pelican 1510 Carry On Case must have been designed and manufactured especially for me. I’m having a hard time picking a favorite interior option. The foam insert and the padded dividers are both great for different reasons. I’m just glad to have both of those choices. There is also an optional lid organizer for photographers and another interior option designed to take along your laptop.