Fstoppers Review of the Pelican 1535 Air, a Lightweight Carry-On Hard Case for Photography Gear

Fstoppers Review of the Pelican 1535 Air, a Lightweight Carry-On Hard Case for Photography Gear

Pelican cases have long been an industry standard for top-of-the-line protection of cameras, lenses, lights, hard drives, and all other forms of fragile video or photo gear. Their new “Air” line of cases bring that same protection, but at a lower weight. I got to try the Pelican 1535 Air out and see how it performed on a travel video job.

My business usually focuses on documentary and outdoor adventure projects, but an old corporate client asked me to produce a series of short videos about a new product they were launching, so we made plans to travel to Boston for a week. We of course would need several cameras and lenses, so it presented the perfect opportunity to test out the Pelican 1535 Air.

The Pelican 1535 Air case is the largest sized case that is approved for carrying on to flights in the domestic U.S. It’s watertight, crushproof, and comes in Batman’s favorite color: black. Wheels and a retractable extension handle can be found, just like in other models, but the Air case does away with the additional handle traditionally found on the same end as the retractable one.

A welcome addition is the business card holder on the front, which can also be placed on the side of the case. (The note of green you can see in the above image is my business card.)

Out of the box, it was easy to tell that it was lighter than previous models. On paper, it’s listed as being right about 10 pounds, only 3.6 pounds less than its counterpart, a Pelican 1510, but it is surprisingly light for how strong it is.

I elected for the “TrekPak” insert, which are a set of customizable panel dividers. You get a handful of these dividers along with a cutting tool. Lay your gear down in the case, make some measurements, and cut your divider sections to your needs. There are “U-pins” that hold them together. I didn’t feel like I’d be able to pack much in the case at first, but once I started fitting gear into the divided sections, there was plenty for my needs.

I was able to fit a Sony FS700, Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L  IS, Panasonic GH4, two Lumix lenses, the FS700 loupe, microphone, a charger, some batteries, and even a wireless audio kit into the case.

I loaded, and locked, the Pelican 1535 Air and boarded two flights to my destination, including a smaller regional jet. The case had no issue fitting on board, despite the slightly smaller overhead bins. Everything made it to our destination without issue. Had I been asked to gate check, I would have been OK with it, only because it had a luggage lock securing the contents. I’m sure some of you heard about this recent issue another photographer experienced.

Rolling the case around the airport was fine, and I appreciated being able to use it as a chair when needed. I did, however, miss the top handle; Picking up the case from the handle that’s attached to the extendable arm isn’t a good idea since the weight doesn’t balance well vertically from that point. It’s a minor inconvenience, but my guess is that losing this handle helped to cut down on weight.

Even though there was a small amount of wiggle room inside each compartment that I created with the TrekPak insert, once the lid was closed, the foam top held everything in place.

For a week the case was tossed around vehicles and hotel rooms, and provided a secure place for my fragile equipment. I couldn’t ask for much more!

What I Liked

  • Lightweight alternative to traditional Pelican cases.
  • Protects gear so well, I’d be comfortable gate-checking it.
  • Business card holder.

What Could Be Improved

  • A centered handle on the top (extendable handle) side.
  • Make it even lighter somehow? It's still 10 pounds.

Conclusion

Pelican cases are synonymous with top-of-the-line protection for your expensive equipment. If you’ve traveled with gear, you know that it feels like you’re a professional baggage handler much of the time, so the fact that Pelican is building cases that are lighter in weight is much appreciated.

If you’re in the market for a case like this, I’d look at the Pelican Air line of cases over the traditional ones. It would be great if it were more than 40 percent lighter, but honestly it might not be possible to provide the same high level of protection.

Log in or register to post comments

8 Comments

I love my Pelican case (also 'approved' for air travel), but was very disappointed to be told by Singapore airlines while checking in that the case was 'too hard' and could be dangerous if it fell during the flight. The case was then checked in to luggage, against my will that is. It's a good case, but I'm not sure I'd get a Pelican case again for this reason. If airlines aren't aligned with what should or shouldn't be checked in, then what's the point?

Jeff McCollough's picture

I flew on BOA from Miami to Bolivia a couple of weeks ago and I had my backpack and a small duffle carry on bag. In my carry on bag I had my tripod, small lightstand, Westcott rapid box, umbrella and a couple of other items. It weighed about 10kg. My backpack was about the same weight. It had my camera body, lenses, laptop. The laptop alone weighed about 4kg....at check in they weighed both and said each had to be 5kg max. Crazy!

Mike Wilkinson's picture

I've been dealing with airline headaches and I think the unfortunate reality is that you'll never be 100% sure of airline staff not forcing you to do something like you suggested. To your point though, what if you had brought a soft sided case, but it was quite heavy, and they had asked to check that for similar reasons, being dangerous if it fell during a flight? I'd have been fearful for the security of my fragile gear in a soft-sided case, but with a (locked) pelican, I'd have no sweat.

Advertising a case specifically for taking in the cabin with you that may not actually be allowed in is my issue.

Chris K.'s picture

I recently picked up a few of the air cases. I definitely was surprised when they announced them, but am really impressed with the weight compared to their regular counterparts-with no compromise to protection!

Ryan Cooper's picture

Of late, I've been using and love the Pelican 1510 Studio, pretty much the same case but with a laptop sleeve in the lid. :)

I love the 1510 (with lid organiser), and would be very interested in this case, especially as it's lighter. Not too sure about the dividers though.

Just a heads up on this case. My 1535 Air weighs 31lbs including the self weight of the case. I frequently carry it from the retracting handle (in the closed position) only. While doing this the latch will let go and the handle assembly will fly out. If your not paying attention, It will catch you off guard and you will drop the case. I had this happen to me on an airport escalator (Luckily I caught it). Pelican sent me a new roller board assembly but the new one did the same thing. It has since been sent to Pelican for R&D. I hope to have some feedback soon.