Lowepro Finally Builds Hard Cases... Would They Make Me Give Up My Pelicans?

Lowepro Finally Builds Hard Cases... Would They Make Me Give Up My Pelicans?

Though they are excellent for photographers, Pelican seemed to fall into the industry rather than build specifically for it. But with options between the ubiquitous Velcro inserts and foam, there hasn't been a lot to complain about in the design and function. They do exactly what they claim to, extremely well. However after using Lowepro's first attempt at hard cases, I can now see room for improvement. I think the perfect hard case is somewhere in between the two brands' offerings, but Lowepro is closer to the mark.

In their first foray into hard cases, Lowepro decided not to go too big. Their Hardside 400 (21"x8.5"x13") is their biggest current offering, and it's just a tad smaller than my Pelican 1500 (22"x9"x13.8") but it is a heck of a lot lighter. Whatever material Lowepro decided to make their case out of, it's just as tough (I have really tested that toughness, including standing on it) without being insanely heavy. I would never consider lifting my Pelican 1500 for a long period of time, opting to roll it due to weight. Because the Hardside 400 doesn't have wheels, I was forced to carry it everywhere but wasn't overly hampered. It's an inconvenience to not have wheels, but it wasn't crippling. 

That said, I really wish it had wheels. It's still heavier than I would like to have to schlep up and down stairs, and I do a lot of schleping.  

Here is something I didn't know: in order to keep other hard case seals up to date and able to withstand the elements, you have to treat them to keep them moist. Lowepro didn't want to force users to do this, so they chose to work with Underwater Kinetics, the leading manufacturer of ultra-rugged dry cases. Together they built a truly airtight solution – and I mean truly airtight. The long-lasting and durable silicone gasket and seal is virtually maintenance free (because they can't predict every situation) and restricts all moisture and debris from getting into the camera case. 

The way the clip locks and door joints work are, to me, superior to Pelican. The doors are much easier to close, and the case won't snap down on you like the Pelican will. It's a smooth open and closing mechanism that still feels like luggage, something Lowepro has been making for a long time.

Though you can buy a foam insert if you want it, the cases come with another Lowepro differentiator: the inset bag. Inside the case is actually what can become a backpack, albeit a bit uncomfortable since it's a no-frills experience. Why? If you pack up a car full of these hard cases and get to a location, you might not actually need the safety of the hard case while you're on set. If you don't feel like lugging around the hard plastic exterior, you don't have to. I've never been one to want to remove the interior, so this doesn't apply to me. What does help is that unlike Pelicans, the Hardside cases actually have a useable top-side to the cases. The inside of the bag flips up to reveal zippered pouches, which you can use to store cards, filters, cleaning supplies or, in my case, receipts from trips (have to keep track of business expenses). 

I personally love my ProRoller bag, so I didn't use my Hardside 400 for camera equipment. Instead, it was my grip bag, holding my collapsible tripod, extension cords, gaff tape and an assortment of other equipment that still needs to be kept safe. The Hardside 200 Video, which is the size of a small briefcase, was my primary video bag on my last three excusions, holding a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera, GoPro, batteries, lav mics, memory cards, camera accessories, Metabones speedboster, three batteries, charger, a Sigma 24-105mm f/4, 35mm f/1.4 and 19mm micro four thirds lens.

If you consider how tiny this little case is, it's actually shocking how much I was able to fit inside it. I thought my favorite case would be the larger 400, but the 200 Video has quickly become my go-to. I use it everywhere. The size and light weight means I can carry it easily wherever I go, and the hard exterior means I don't have baby it. 

As I touched on earlier, where I think Lowepro slipped up here was assuming we would have ways to bring Hardcases on set and opting to not include wheels in the larger Hardside 400. One of their promotional images clearly shows the cases on a cart, but we don't always have that option:

It's cumbersome to carry and difficult to rationalize using it over a Pelican or even a rolling bag. Our spines are not made of steel- we do feel pain. Though the handle is ergonomic and feels great, it's still no cake walk to carry it to a car down my front steps and across a parking lot. It's especially no fun on set when I need to get it from my car to the studio. I brought up my concerns here to Lowepro and they seemed to understand. I would be shocked if when they expanded this line that they didn't include wheels in the ensuing versions. 

When it comes to hard cases, safety is the #1. To test out how my equipment fared, I tossed everything into the back of my truck and drove over rough terrain. I stood on the cases. I dropped them from reasonable heights. I hit them with water and dirt. I kicked them and dragged them. Though the exterior of the cases is now a bit scuffed and less attractive than they were out of the box, never once was my gear ever in any danger. Never once did water or dirt penetrate the Hardside exterior. I call that a huge win. 

Unfortunately, the Hardside 400 is $250 which is either equal to or more expensive than (depending on your retailer) a Pelican 1510, and a lot more expensive than the wheel-less 1500 model. So will it be enough to get you to switch to the new kids? Maybe. If Lowepro releases a Hardside 410 which is exactly the same except they add wheels for no extra cost, then we would have a winner. Right now, the lack of wheels is really holding it back.

The Hardside 200, however, is a winner. This bag is extremely well priced at $170 since Pelican doesn't have a lot of options in the medium/small market specifically tailored to photo/video. It's a great little case that I found myself using a lot more than I expected. The Hardside 400 will be a long-term storage case more than a daily use item, but the 200 will be with me on every shoot.

Hardside 400

What I liked:

  • Keeps gear safe
  • Clip locks and joints are superior to Pelican cases
  • No-maintenance weatherproof seals
  • Deep and large, can hold a lot of gear (including some tripods)

What could use improvement:

  • No wheels makes using this in the real world extremely cumbersome
  • Interior bag sometimes catches, especially on the zipper tassles, making it difficult to close the case

Hardside Video 200

What I liked:

  • Small, but fits a lot of gear
  • Lightweight even when full
  • Clip locks and joints are superior to Pelican cases
  • Tough, kept gear safe even through extreme testing

What could use improvement:

  • It's small, so it's not for everyone
  • Lowepro calls it a "video" case, but it's more of a compact GoPro or mirrorless solution. Title can be a bit misleading for actual video professionals. 

 

Lowepro had a string of months where it seemed they were ready to slip off the map into obscurity, but recent pushes into realms where they were previously uncomfortable, Hardside included, shows me they still have a dog in the bag fight. The Hardside cases are close to being the clear winner in the photo/video space, if not for a few technical drawbacks to the larger cases. I don't know how many times I need to say it: we need wheels for these. That aside, they're extremely well constructed and require no maintenance ad infinitum, a huge advantage over their competitor. I think with a few more tweaks to the larger cases, Lowepro has a real winner in their hard case line. 

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19 Comments

Justin Haugen's picture

This case makes me feel even better about owning a Pelican 1500. I find the soft inner case of this Lowepro to look sloppy compared to the padded insert and pockets that fit in the 1500. They definitely missed the mark on the price point for not including wheels.

David Moore's picture

My inserts on my pelican are all mushed and the velcro doesn't stick anymore. I looked into replacing the insert but its $110!!!

Jaron Schneider's picture

I like the inserts here better than those in my Pelicans. Personal preference though.

David Moore's picture

I like the idea of being able to take them out. i have a friend that basically found a camera bag that fits perfectly into his pelican and uses that as an the insert. That part makes sense to me!

Justin Haugen's picture

it was probably the calumet insert. It looks like it isn't for sale anymore. I found a pelican padded insert for the 1500 for $65 on amazon just now. http://goo.gl/LSO8ZW

Justin Haugen's picture

yours must have seen some heavy use!

Aaron Chao's picture

Check out these, similar to the inserts but much nicer http://trekpak.com/pelican/

Mark Colangelo's picture

I love my three HPRC :)

David Moore's picture

I just do not get why they don't have wheels. If my Pelican had no wheels it would be useless.

Nick Viton's picture

seriously. i don't have wheels and i'm pretty useless.

Michael LaNasa's picture

I agree that wheels should be standard, especially when serious weight is taken into account, not to mention navigating airports or nearly any other location. I love my Pelican 1510, and while I'd consider other options, the basics need to be there before I jump brands.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

Looks like perhaps the case was designed for transport rather than to be used on set. Hard cases should have wheels though... even the most lightweight cases are awkward to carry due to size.

Dano Blanchard's picture

There is a middle size (not reviewed) between the Hardside 200 and the 400... The Hardside Photo 300 may be "just right" for those that like the smaller/lighter size but in a photo form factor. http://store.lowepro.com/hardside-300-photo

Jaron Schneider's picture

True! We did not have the 300 for review and it is a size that might be more conducive to carrying by hand.

Mr Blah's picture

You could check out Nanuk too. (http://nanuk.com/productdetails.asp?node=216)

Thay build some serious gear (in Qc, Canada) and I find them quite good. Variety of color too.

Chris Blair's picture

Love my pelicans, but lighter you say? Hmm..I may have to take a look at these. I had to check my pelican as baggage today; I never worred about it getting tossed around, but It was dangerously close to the 50lbs weight limit.

Jaron Schneider's picture

I love Pelicans too, but they're grossly heavy even when empty.

Chris Blair's picture

I agree; I wish they made a lighter version that was still tough, but maybe just not “dropped out of an airplane” tough.

Willem Degenaar's picture

I love my Lowepro gear , but the wheels is a must if it is comparable to a Pelican 1500. My A450 Roller has wheels and I sure do not want to carry that unless I have the back straps out. I like the Lowepro interior bags, but in a hard case I think the foam is better. What I am missing is the pressure equalization seal. I think I will wait for Version 2
My review on my LowPro's http://degies.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/protecting-your-gear