[DIY] The DIY $30 Rolling Camera Bag

[DIY] The DIY $30 Rolling Camera Bag

I have been on the look out for an affordable rolling camera bag for some time. Thinktank, Lowepro, and Pelican all have great products, but when it comes down to it I really don't want to drop $300+ on a bag. What is so special about these "specialized" camera bags anyway?

After looking at my normal carry-on bag, I was determined to find a cheap alternative. While I was browsing, these Calumet inserts for rolling bags popped up.

I quickly grabbed a tape measure and did some checking on my current bag. The calumet insert is 11.5" x 7" x 17.5", my carry on was slightly larger at 12" x 8" x 19". The idea of saving hundreds of dollars but still getting the exact bag I wanted was coming together, and I was excited to see how well this was going to work in person.

The next day I skipped out early on the day job and dropped by Calumet photo to buy the insert. It was even better looking in person. As you can tell from the website, it has pockets on both sides of the flap, a velcro strap to keep it securely closed, and a ton of padding for your camera gear.

After I got it home, the situation only got better.

I have to say this is one of the best camera mods / DIY projects I have found. For once everything worked out, and it does not look like a cheap, ghetto item. I would proudly roll into any job with this behind me. Even if you do not have a carry on bag, you can buy one for around $30-40 and you local Ross, TJ Max, ect. Just double check the measurements and make sure this insert will fit correctly. This setup even has some advantages that make this better than the name brand camera bags:

-I have an additional $250 in my pocket
-I don't have a logo on my bag that the NYC photo thieves / US Airways can see
-The bag has dual purposes and saves tons of space in my basement apartment
-I can slide a laptop into the bag (I know some rolling bags can do this, but not as cost effectively)
-Lightweight compared to the Pelican cases

-I don't look as cool without a name brand on my bag
-If I do need to travel, I am short a carry on
-Not as protective as a Pelican case, but a hell of a lot lighter

What do you think of my new DIY, affordable case? I am really curious if anyone can think of other disadvantages, and if you try it out, let me know how this DIY project works for you!

Jerrit Pruyn's picture

Jerrit Pruyn is a professional wedding photographer based in NYC. His work and articles have been featured on Lifehacker, Gizmodo, Huffington Post, and Daily Mail.

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I've been meaning to buy a bigger bag, for when I travel, but when I saw this, I went online and ordered the insert, & now on my way to Wally World to see what I can find as a rolling bag.  I'll probably end up buying something from ROSS or TJMax though, since price for quality, they have better products.

Thanks for the find!!!
You just saved me a few hundred bucks.

nice work :D

I've been wanting a rolling bag for a long time, too. This is basically what I did... just bought a rolling luggage bag and throw my Lowepro ProRunner 350 in it. 

While I totally like the project, I still find investing in a real Lowepro or equivalent is a necessity, at least for me. I love my Lowepro back bag, it is durable, comfortable, weather resistance, and I am sure these bags undergo some quality testing.

I finished a shooting last Monday, I had to have a little conversation with my client, I've put my Lowepro bag on the car's roof ''Stupid Me'' got in the car, discussed few stuff, see ya next week, I drove the car to hear the bag falling to the asphalt. One of the scariest moments I had in the past year, I checked my equipments, they are all intact. I had worth of 10K photo gear in it. When carrying this worth of money in a bag, I would spend on it. My humble opinion of course, and it doesn't mean I don't find this project awesome,
All the best,

This was posted on Sports Shooter with a lot of "lol" responses. When you're a professional, spending $30k on gear, this is the last thing you want to cheap out on. Every arena I go to, I lock up my roller because it could be stolen any moment of the day, and I don't lock it through a strap, but from the Think Tank roller itself, and lock that up. Its like a few hundred dollars of insurance, without the hassle of the whole dealing with the insurance company thing.

Any pocket size cable cutter would do the job on these security cables. 

Generally I don't worry about someone cutting the cable, it's usually a public place it's locked up in, anyone seen leaning over a bag with pocket cutters would look really, really suspicious, and it does take a few minutes to cut through the cable with those handheld things.

More to the point, out of the tens of thousands of dollars I spend on gear, the bag costs nothing. 250 bucks, as a business expense? That's an hour of shooting. 

This is a good project for someone who's a little more part-time and already has the carry on bag. Mind you, it still doesn't come with the locking features, the lifetime guarantee on the wheels or the durability of a Think Tank bag.

If I had $30k on gear and got 250 bucks a hour I doesn't even read a post about a DIY $30 Rolling camera bag, but probably you really need to let us know how huge photographers you are. So thanks for the information.
On the Others side put a $30 insert that perfectly fits a $50 rolling bag isn't really a DIY project but it's stil a good recommendation for purchase, and I'm going to follow it

When I was in college I had a bike that I locked to my apartment gate with the thickest cable-lock I could find. I lost the key after a couple of months and had to use some cable-cutters to get it free. It took 1 snip and cut thru the 3/4" cable like butter. Nobody even gave me a second glance while I was doing it either.

Totally agree but I don't think this is for full time pros. The average Fstoppers reader is not even a part time pro

I don't see why 'Pros' wouldn't go for this. Everyone wants to save a buck these days but those writing it off with silly 'I make blah blah dollar' comments just make themselves look un-professional and elitist, often with portfolios that don't match the mouth.

For pros this would be a tax write off anyway.  

I had the same idea when I saw a friend's ThinkTank Roller except I haven't found a suitable roller carry-on yet.  
ThinkTank sells the inserts so once I find a roller that has the proper dimensions, I'm good to go.  Incidentally, the insert in the ThinkTank roller comes out so it can double as a carry-on.  Aside from a place to put a mini tripod, I don't see that it's constructed any better than any other roller carry-on.  The insert provides the shock protection for the gear.  So I really don't think this is cheaping out when using this approach.  Personally I prefer that a brand not be advertised on a bag anyway.  I leave that those that are hung up on status.  I don't think there is any correlation between the quality of your work and the brand of roller you're pulling behind you.

Hey guys, Im sry to be offtopic but anyone can help me with Disqus comments system? i posted on forums as well no reply... I want to import my facebook comments in wordpress or disqus directly. pls help me! cant find anything anywhere :(

i have done a similar DIY, but not a cheap version. i travel a lot all over europe and i am getting older so tugging around 15 to 20 kilos of gear in airports really sucks. i have a Peli 1560 case with the velcro insides which i never really thought to be very protective. in january i had a week long shoot near amsterdam so i had to take gear plus clothing. i made a choice to check my gear after having seen how Chase Jarvis travels. i decided to take out the Peli insert and throw my Lowepro Pro Trekker inside the Peli case. i find that my Hasselblad is safer completely broken down. PhaseOne has a hardcore aluminum cover for their digitalbacks. weight limit for checked bags is 20 kilos, in europe we are allowed to lock checked bags unlike in the states. plus no one knows what a peli case is. I have a large hard shelled samsonite that i put my elinchrom rangers in with the light heads inside another lowepro backpack.

i agree that the idea is a good one, but DIY does not always mean that cheap is better.

ps. i get less hassel from the european TSA!!!!! before they were always opening my bags to check for explosives!!!

Hey do you know where I can buy it? Thanks

A middle of the (price) road alternative is available at 511 Tactical. This company sells products used in the military and by police departments (not just SWAT!) teams. The bags are tough, thick and durable.


The bag is $170, but if you search the name online you can find sub-dealers who sell at a discount.

I use 511's Bailout Bag as my camera bag for whenever I leave my house - body with black rapid strap and battery pack on bottom, flash, AA batteries in a little case, two lenses, pens, notepads. I paid $40 to a local distributor, it lists for $60.

I also use their messenger bag for office gear and laptop, and a large pouch for my 70/300 lens.

This is NOT a commercial for 511 Tactical, but their products are awesome. I was referred to them by a local police officer, who has way more of their stuff than I do :)

The timing of this post is perfect. I've been browsing for a roller bag in the last week and shocked at the prices. I have several hard cases that I got for free that were originally for transporting overhead projectors, they have solid wheels and telescopic handle, they are just hard plastic inside (the original foam for the projectors had been removed. I really didn't want to fabricate the inserts myself.  This is awesome.

I've done this already, with foam. Ok, it doesn't look quite as professional as yours, but not quite "ghetto" either. :) I've never seen these inserts, well duh, Australia won't have the market for it. Again, I shall light a candle for the marvel that is internet shopping.

* no wanky logo on your gear. Nondescript for my $8K worth of gear is best.
* who cares if you scuff the bag, it's cheap! My 'case is suitably scuffed and well used, not quite "afghanistan journo/correspondent" level, but an appropriate level that I get pleasure from. I would not get the same pleasure from scratch marks on an expensive bag.
* should I get all girly-fashion-needy I can upgrade the bag in a year and transfer the inner, with less guilt. No need to get married to the one bag. 

* if this bag is stolen they get a lot of your gear! (if not all of it)
* not overly brilliant in a park/uneven ground situation.

I did inner divider completely by myself and to exactly fit my equipment. Cost: $15 and 2 evenings of fun :)


No International shipping to malaysia? :(

looks awesome. :D

I have the Lowepro Pro Roller x300 and while a lot people don't want to spend $300 on a bag, but there are more features then just it holding gear. The bag itself has a kick out stand, a 1/4 20 thread at the top of the handle to hold a camera, lights, mic, etc and the entire inner part of the bag pulls out to turn into a back pack, so you can turn one bag into two. Of course, your solution is great for what you need, but I honestly consider my Lowepro bag a piece of my gear, not just something to hold it all.

I also got the Lowepro x300 after doing a lot of shopping around and considering doing a DIY just like this.  Ultimately, I couldn't find an insert big enough to compare to the x300 and the other features were a huge plus as well.  Also, being able to swap out the wheels was a huge plus as I've already replaced the wheels on mine once.  Also, the lock might not be super secure, but it does prevent someone from just walking away with my gear when I'm shooting at an event.

I still might order an insert though to use for transporting lighting gear/additional stuff that I usually don't need on shoots, but might take on occasion to a more complicated shoot.

Just wondering what was the rolling carry-on bag you started with? 

I had a Delsey helium, no more then $40, I picked up at Ross. 

Good deal and great advice.  Thanks so much for posting!

This is a great solution and saves a ton of money. When I want a backpack, I use a backpack. But for a roller, this'll do anything that a $300 Thinktank, Lowepro or Tenba will do. For security, just drop by a luggage store and get a security cable if you're worried about it. I have $15K worth of just cameras and lenses etc and I'm not ashamed to use this one little bit. That's $250 I get to keep.

I just got a roller for this insert, and under the inner lining, I'm going to WalMart and getting some padding so that everything is a bit more snug.  Also I'm not liking the idea of these tow handle bars on the inside sticking out so much.

But this argument is like arguing about which camera you should get, a Pro-Sumer body or a Medium format body.  You get what you can afford and what does the job for you.

I was a bit worried about the bars sticking out, however this insert is pretty solid and feels like it has a plastic sheet inside of it.

 nice, good to know, thanks

dang, found this too late, they sold out! bummers....

We're sorry, but the product you requested no longer appears in our catalog.

Ditto to the comments "We're sorry, but the product you requested no longer appears in our catalog." Anywhere that we can get them at, ebay, amazon, etc? I haven't seemed to find them on those sites. 

The RM2201 still appears on Calumet UK, but says "call for availability."  Someone please find these, now!

I did something similar when looking for a sling / shoulder bag for a trip to Europe. I wanted something that was inconspicuous, and the closest I came was the ThinkTank Urban and Retrospective, so a minimum of ~$125-150. As I was looking at these, I saw some Tamrac padded inserts and the light bulb went off. I got an A116 insert -- which even includes it's own handle for easy removal -- and stuck it into an older, beat-up looking, but very usable cordura briefcase. Perfect fit!  Total cost: About $30.  And plenty of pockets left over for other stuff.  

do you have the part number for the padded inserts? Iv looked around and do not see the cheaper ones. Thanks!

I just chatted with Calumet and they said that it is discontinued and sold out. They are "looking for a replacement in the future".

I actually saved the link to "buy at a later time".  Unfortunately I waited too long and now it's discontinued.  :(

just came back to this thread to c if anyone knew where to buy it now that its discontinued ...

 after this article they sold out or want to increase the price :/

I've seen some alternatives out there on the internet. Just Google for it and see what you find. Try this: http://fstopgear.com/en/icu-pro

I just got an email saying my order was cancelled along with others and they are sorry.  lol  Well that sucks.  :(

15 cable locks will do the trick, but the biggest 'trick of all' take a picture of what is in your gear bag prior to zip up and departure... If your shit gets stolen, you are fine, your shoot is screwed, you may perhaps lose a client which insurance DOESN't pay you for, but - this is why god gave us gear INSURANCE. I've been ripped off twice - and both times I had the funds in my bank account within 24 hours. I use USAA all they needed was my police report number and a description of what was stolen with my serial numbers of course, the filters and other little stuff that didnt have serial numbers didn't matter I just had to tell them what I had packed. Later, I got a call about 9 months after I was paid my insurance monies, I got one of my lenses back, the cops found it in some crack heads car after a bust. I had my serial number listed with insurance, and on the police report. Got my 24-105 L back AND got to keep the insurance money without having to pay it back..... (thats what GOOD insurance DOES) not to mention, I got reimbursed for my Think Tank bag too - which has a serial number that registers your bag with them, so if it DOES get lost and someone chooses to do the right thing and return it - we get contacted immediately. Just Sayin.  Not to mention, this is also a good reason to be familiar with the 'GOOD' gear rental services around now adays who can and will ship OVERNIGHT. You 'may' be reimbursed something from insurance, I don't know. I've not had to go this route before.  ALSO with Think Tank, if you are a owner (I have the airporter Pro - they will send you FOR FREE the inserts you may need if you need MORE or have LOST them etc. SO - I am CERTAIN Think Tank will sell you the inserts you want for your bag. CALL THINK TANK AND SEE IF YOU CAN GET THE INSERTS.. Im certain they will cost more, but, still less than paying 379$ for their roller Airporter 

Thanks for the heads-up on this!  I Stopped by the Calumet in Philly today and they had it in stock.  Fits great in my lightweight Delsey hard side carry-on luggage.  I'm adding extra padding by cutting up some yoga mats ($5 at FiveBelow).  I've actually wanted to do something like this of some time now but I never found an insert that would work.  This fits perfectly!  I have a similar setup with a Timbuk2 messenger and their Snoop camera insert.  DIY FTW!

Checked on the Calumet website just now. The page does not exist any longer. Any idea where else I may try to get a similar insert. I want the zip up type shown here

Like this post!

as i'm using a pro roller right now is this the best and cheapest option to carrie your other equipment like lights cables microphones spare lenses etc.

still thinking to switch to pelicase for my camera gear.

Totally love the idea!! But the only thing is that now the linked product page says it's out of service/no longer exists!! Do you know of a nice alternative product? Btw, keep up the great posts!

Looks awesome, but they are no longer available on the calumet website?  Total bummer. 

I haven't tried them yet, but these http://fstopgear.com/en/icu-pro look just as good as the Calumet and they have $5 flat rate worldwide shipping.

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