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| p.1 #8 · Pelican 1510 or decent backpack for carry on with 600mm II |
I travel with the 600 IS v.1 in a Pelican 1510. Canon's specs list it and the 600 II as being the same diameter. Lars is right, that with the hood, it's a tight fit and the front cover adds too much additional diameter to close the lid comfortably (though it requires a fair amount of pressure to close, it will close without damaging the lens or hood without the cover). Therefore with this lens and the 400/2.8, I don't travel with the front cover. Obviously this doesn't bother me, but seems to be a concern for others. The IS v.1 lenses have a 'flat' front protective element, but I believe the IS v.2 lenses have dropped this to save weight.
For US domestic travel, I've never had a problem with the 1510 being considered overweight. Most airlines currently allow 40-45lbs. I usually pack it with a 400/2.8 IS, body, short Giottos monopod that fits inside, and accessories, in conjunction with a ~20L backpack with bodies, lenses, laptop, etc. You could run into problems when boarding flights in Canada, due to the 10kg/22lb per item limit set by Air Canada. According to the Transport Canada website, each airline is responsible for setting their own limit, but the impression up here seems to be that 10kg is 'official' but you probably won't have a problem if it's a US carrier.
Where you will have problems with the 1510 AND larger backpacks is on smaller 'commuter' planes. Some have very limited overhead storage and the 1510 is considered by flight crews as too long for under seat storage because it will partially block the floor area of your row. For example, if you're sitting at the aisle seat, it could impede a quick escape by someone sitting at the window. If the under-seat configuration allows, you can rotate the case 90 degrees, but then you'll encroach your neighbor's legroom, which could also be a problem (it would be if I was your neighbor ). Therefore, many gate agents and crew will request it be 'gate checked.' But, often times, it will actually fit the overheads, because it conforms to the current standards, just that it will be a tight fit on many commuter planes. It really depends on the specific make and model of the planes you will be traveling on. For example, the Bombardier Dash-8 turboprops: it won't fit on the Q200 or Q400 (IIRC), but will fit the overheads of the Q400NextGen. Either you have to ask the crew which version they're flying when they arrive at the gate, or if you can see the plane from the gate, check the nose area where the model ID will be advertised. My experience at least with United/Continental was that they were updating much of their fleet to NextGen models. If it's one of the smaller jets, and it's a 1+2 seating configuration, there won't be enough overhead space. Some of the CRJ or ERJ 2+2 seating models are OK, but it's an extremely tight fit. The new Embraer 170/190 models that are becoming popular are an easy fit. Southwest's and most modern 737s are OK. IIRC, the smaller Airbuses are OK, but the bins might not be deep enough to put the case wheels straight in the way crews prefer (could also be a problem with some older 737s).
IMO, one of the most significant determinants of whether you'll be able to carry the case on, or not, is when you board. The later you board, the lower your chances will be for finding an empty bin because everyone now tries to avoid checked baggage fees and brings as much as possible onboard with them. But it's the same problem with large backpacks that are too big to fit under the seat. Therefore, become familiar with your chosen carrier's boarding procedures and make your online seating selection accordingly, because boarding, for standard economy passengers, is typically determined by seat location (though some are now also throwing whether or not you do online check-in and how far in advance you did the check-in, into the mix). You can get an idea about boarding procedures as well as aircraft seating configurations here: http://www.seatguru.com/
Given these variables combined with the potential for late boarding (such as a tight connecting flight - you should try for a seat at the front of the cabin in your previous flight so you can get out faster, assuming you didn't gate check) and a choice of a case or a backpack, I would go with the case and a smaller bag (for your cameras and laptop) because if you have to gate check the larger item, the Pelican case will better protect the equipment from baggage handler abuses... And it really seems to depend on each airport's handlers. While they all seem to have a bad reputation, I've definitely found some places are more careful than others (like watching my Pelican fall off the top of a pile of suitcases, which would have been a disaster if it was a soft case).
Another thing to keep in mind is aircrews are tired of the daily routine of people trying to cram as much junk onboard as possible, and their automatic reaction when seeing a large, heavy-looking roller will be to ask you to gate-check it. Instead of becoming standoffish, I would suggest calmly explaining you're carrying precision optical equipment worth over $10K and would like to try stowing it in the cabin first. If it doesn't work, then you'll gate check it. As a last resort, which I have done, is take the lens out of the case and let them check the case while you keep the lens between your feet under the seat.
The 1510 is great if you're traveling in urban areas with lots of paved streets and good sidewalks. But anything with loose stone, gravel, dirt, snow, and the wheels don't provide enough clearance. It's a good case for working out of a car, but if you're out in the field away from paved surfaces, you'll probably still want some sort of bag to work from for most of your gear.
I have some photos showing my Pelican 1510 configurations, including the 600 IS v.1 on my blog: http://www.ronscheffler.com/techtalk/?page_id=41
Lastly, given the choice of flying or driving 5-8 hours, I will invariably drive since total travel time (such as arriving early to the airport, etc.) can end up being similar. But the main reason is completely avoiding the hassles associated with modern air travel. Obviously this isn't always an option.
Hope this helps!