As a passionate photographer and travel addict, I’m always on the lookout for the best protective camera cases available.
There’s nothing worse than having to hand off your camera kit to a TSA agent, or worrying whether your expensive lenses will stand up to the beating of a long day of travel. If you’re looking for a hard case that you can carry-on and count on, you’re in the right place.
Before we jump in, I want you to know up front that I personally use Nanuk cases for all of my photography needs. I also sell Nanuk cases through HardCases.ca. That said, this article is not intended to sell you on any one case, but to help you make an informed decision for yourself.
Throughout this review, I will provide 100% honest feedback about all of the top cases available for purchase. Much of this feedback comes from personal experience as well as observations from numerous online customer reviews.
Today we’re going to be talking about the Pelican 1510, the HPRC 2550W, the Storm iM2500, the Pelican 1535 Air Case, and the Nanuk 935.
Let’s jump in!
Let’s start this review off right with the most important feature of any hard case – protection! Each and every one of the cases highlighted below provide the following protective features…
- Crushproof Shell
- Watertight Gasket
- Dustproofing Seal
- Pressure Equalization Valve
All of these cases will keep your gear safe. This review will help you determine what extra features you need to make traveling with your kit an enjoyable experience every time.
Ease of Use
While many people simply purchase a hard case to provide maximum protection for their gear, they should also consider the day-to-day conveniences that their case will deliver. To evaluate ease of use, I asked a few questions. Is the case easy to wheel or carry through an airport? Does the case open quickly and easily but stay securely shut consistently? Are the handles convenient and comfortable to use?
Considered one of the most reliable and trusted case brands on the market, Pelican has developed multiple convenient features that makes stowing your camera kit safe and simple.
Pelican’s greatest strength is its Lid Organizer, which is great for the photographer who wants to keep their smaller items like cords, shutter releases, SD cards and batteries in the same place as their lenses and camera bodies. The lid organizer makes it extremely easy to ensure that you always have what you need when you need it.
Overall, the Pelican 1510 is very easy to use. It’s telescoping handle is made of sturdy plastic and can be extended with one hand. It also includes two comfortable carrying handles – one on the top and one on the side. Unfortunately, Pelican’s latches leave a lot to be desired. The end of each latch is exposed and could accidentally be pulled open, potentially risking your gear. You want your case latches to be easy to open, but not too easy.
One of the greatest strengths of the Storm iM2500 is also its greatest weakness. The iM2500 boasts an innovative latch design with a push button latch release, ensuring that once you’ve locked your case, it will stay locked.
However, that push button latch release may prove awkward and inconvenient for people with weaker fingers. If you’re going to worry about your case flying open while you’re on the move, this Storm Press & Pull system will do wonders for your peace of mind. But there are secure latch designs available that are easier to use.
Like the Pelican 1510, the Storm iM2500 can be used with a lid organizer if you prefer to keep your smaller gear with your camera and lenses in one convenient location. The Storm model falls short of the 1510 and the Nanuk in one primary area. It has only one handle on the side and doesn’t have a handle on the top. If you don’t need the extra convenience of a top-mounted handle, the Storm iM2500 may be a good option for you.
Like the Storm iM2500, the Nanuk 935 also uses a new and improved latching system. The PowerClaw system, however, is easier on the fingers and makes unlocking your camera case a simple two-step process. This added convenience is especially valuable when you’re working with limited shooting time at golden hour, or when you need to get your gear ready to take a quick shot of married couple before the guests arrive. This is one of the primary reasons why I trust Nanuk with my own gear. The Nanuk never opens unexpectedly, but it’s easy to open and close when time is of the essence.
The Nanuk 935 also makes transportation easier with a pull-out handle that you can retract with one hand, which is very useful when you’re carrying extra luggage through an airport, holding a coffee in one hand, or trying to jump into a taxi. The Nanuk also has two additional handles for convenient carrying – these lock down when not in use so they’ll never rattle when you’re on the move. Ultimately, it’s the small details that make the Nanuk 935 so easy to use.
Pelican 1535 Air Case
The Pelican 1535 Air Case is a favorite among photographers who like the superior protection of Pelican but hate lugging around heavy cases. Pelican’s 1535 model is waterproof, dustproof, and crushproof, but it weighs up to 40% less than the 1510 depending on the interior option that you choose.
Like the Storm iM2500, this Air Case only has one handle for carrying. That makes it slightly less convenient than the 1510 and the Nanuk 935 in specific situations.
That said, if you’re used to dragging your heavy gear to shoots, you might be in the market for a lighter hard case that still provides your kit with the protection it needs. If that’s you, the 1535’s light construction will make it the most convenient carrying case available.
The HPRC 2550W has one great strength and one great weakness when it comes to ease-of-use. The latches are extremely simple to use. Just pull up and push down. No extra buttons or complicated mechanisms to master. And, unlike the Pelican, the HPRC’s latches are encased within two plastic panels which guard them from outside interference.
However, the HPRC 2550W telescoping handle design leaves a lot to be desired. Unlike the Pelican and the Nanuk 935, this handle requires two strong hands to extend. This can be extremely inconvenient when holding coffee, or trying to manage multiple pieces of luggage. The HPRC, like the Storm and the Air Case, also lacks a top handle. If ease-of-use is a high priority for your hard case purchase, I’d avoid the HPRC 2550W and look to the Pelican or the Nanuk.
If you’re like most traveling photographers, you need a hard case capable of handling multiple essential pieces of gear. However, every photography kit is different and each of these cases provides slightly different options.
If you’re looking to push your case’s carrying capacity, you may want to look elsewhere. Pelican’s interior dimensions are on the smaller side, which may prevent you from fitting in that extra zoom lens or camera body. However, even with slightly smaller dimensions than the Nanuk, the Pelican can still easily accommodate two camera bodies, two primes, and two medium size zoom lenses. And, depending on your requirements, the internal padded dividers make customizing your protection very simple.
The Pelican’s convenient lid organizer, however, may be a must for some photographers. Pelican allows you to replace your egg carton lid padding with a lid organizer that is perfect for storing smaller items like SD cards, cords, and batteries. Go with the Pelican 1510 or the Storm iM2500 if the lid organizer is a must for your camera kit. However, if you’re comfortable stowing cords, cards, and batteries in another location, the Nanuk 935 may be a better option.
In terms of internal room for your gear, the Storm iM2500 is roughly comparable to the Pelican 1510. Like the 1510, Storm can accommodate a lid organizer for your smaller items. It can also easily carry multiple camera bodies, several prime lenses, and multiple longer zoom lenses. Just use the movable padded dividers to provide a snug and secure fit for your unique kit items.
While the Storm iM2500 delivers on stowing space, keep in mind that this review is based in part off of online reviews from consumers. Because every individual photographer’s kit is different, you may want to read a few reviews yourself to determine whether the iM2500 is the right fit for your kit.
Because each of these cases are designed as carry-on hard cases, they all boast similar internal stowing space. However, the Nanuk 935 improves on the Pelican and Storm cases with slightly expanded internal dimensions. Because the Nanuk 935 is built with an incredibly strong and slightly flexible NK-7 Resin, you can achieve superior protection for your gear while fitting in slightly more.
If organized properly, the Nanuk could potentially carry an extra camera body, flash, or small prime lens. Get even more stowing adaptability by choosing the padded divider system, which makes it easy to switch out gear for different shoots and to add new pieces as your kit grows.
Pelican 1535 Air Case
As the lightest case in the bunch, you’d think the 1535 would have less carrying capacity. In reality, the Pelican 1535 Air Case actually has nearly identical internal dimensions to the Nanuk 935, which means you can stow slightly more with the Air Case than the Pelican 1510, the Storm iM2500, or the HPRC 2550W.
The stowing space gets even better when you choose to purchase the TrekPak insert, a unique divider system that makes stowing certain kits much easier. Of the online reviewers who have owned the 1510 and the Nanuk 935, many claim that the TrekPak system in this case allows them to pack more gear into their Air Case than the other cases could handle. Word of warning on this one, though – trying to pack the maximum amount of gear into a lighter hard case may expose certain items to higher risk.
While the HPRC 2550W may be the least convenient case to use of those highlighted in this review, it’s unique internal dimensions will make it a must purchase for some photographers.
The HPRC 2550W is not as long as the Nanuk 935, but it is the tallest of the hard cases in this review, making it the best suited to specific zoom and portrait lenses. Depending on the length of your lenses, you may actually be able to stow significantly more gear than the other cases, because the HPRC 2550W allows you to store longer lenses vertically instead of laying them down inside the case. However, if your kit consists primarily of shorter prime lenses, the Nanuk 935 will give you the most stowing space.
While protecting your expensive photography gear may be your main motivation for purchasing a hard case, if you’re going to spend several hundred dollars you might as well turn a few heads in the airport.
And, if you’re a professional photographer who needs to put your best foot forward in front of clients, the look of your case may be even more important.
If style is a high priority for you, the Pelican 1510 does have some to offer, though it’s not the most customizable protective hard case available today.
The Pelican is sold in 3 colors (Black, Green, and Desert Tan). For those on-the-go professional photographers who work with clients on a regular basis, the classic black is probably the most professional of the three color varieties. Pelican also offers a personalized nameplate service, making it easy to add your name and contact information, or apply your business branding to the case exterior.
The Storm iM2500 offers less than the Pelican 1510 in terms of customization. You can get the case in a classic black or Olive Drab Green, but some may be attracted to the flashier Yellow option.
However, unlike the Pelican 1510, there appears to be no nameplate service available for this model. If you own a business and you’d like to display your logo on your case, the Storm may not be your best choice.
If you want to have more color options for your hard case, the Nanuk 935 is the case for you. With 6 different color options to choose from (Black, Graphite, Olive, Silver, Orange, and Yellow), Nanuk’s color palate is best suited to professional settings. The Black, Graphite, and Silver color options are great for putting your best foot forward whether you’re an on-the-go wedding photographer, or capturing a corporate event.
And, if you order a Nanuk 935 from me at HardCases.ca, I’d be happy to slap on a custom label or business logo to show off your brand in the airport and on location.
Pelican 1535 Air Case
The Pelican 1535 was designed primarily as a piece of superlight luggage for business travel. As a result, the Air Case isn’t the most expressive option for carrying your kit. In fact, it’s not expressive at all. If you choose to go with the Air Case, you’ll be stuck with a black hard case. As with all the other cases, you can spice it up with stickers after delivery, but you should look elsewhere if you care about color.
If you’re the type of photographer who likes to network on location, the 1535 is the only hard case that comes with a handy removable polycarbonate card holder that you can place on the front or side of your case. This is perfect for wedding photographers eager to find new clients at every wedding.
Second only to the Nanuk 935, the HPRC 2550W provides you with a great selection of color options to choose from. You can get the HPRC 2550W in five different colors including Black, Blue, Orange, Red, and Yellow.
If you’re a lover of bright vibrant colors, HPRC has the best style options for you. HPRC is the only brand of the bunch that offers Blue and Red stylings.
Most online HPRC vendors don’t offer custom tagging or branding, but the HPRC may be a good option for you if you’re willing to do without custom tags, or print tags for yourself.
For a hard case to provide the protection that your kit needs, it should be produced as flawlessly as the gear inside it. If the seal is flawed, dust and water could affect your most valuable equipment. If the shell is weak, your gear might not hold up under the stresses of travel. This section provides a quick snapshot of the manufacturing behind each hard case.
Pelican has a long held reputation for creating the highest quality products in the industry. Manufactured in the United States (and sometimes China), the 1510 is backed by the Pelican Guarantee of Excellence. The guarantee promises that the case will remain watertight up to 1 meter under water for 30 minutes, and any breakage or defect can be reported for a replacement or refund.
However, some Pelican 1510 owners have complained about malfunctioning wheels on their cases. The clearance between the 1510’s wheels and the hard shell is too small to roll properly on carpet or dirt. As a result, some reviewers have had to replace or modify their wheels to continue using their case. Even with this minor design flaw in mind, it’s always safe to purchase a Pelican product.
If you like the unique features of the Storm iM2500 more than the Pelican 1510, you can purchase the Storm with confidence. It’s backed by the same lifetime guarantee as the 1510 and doesn’t suffer from the same wheel design flaws.
However, it’s worth noting that the iM2500 is significantly less popular than the 1510, so it’s less tried and tested. If you’re looking for the “industry standard” protective hard case, go with the Pelican 1510. But if you’d prefer the slightly improved internal dimensions and flawless wheel design, you can purchase the Storm iM2500 with confidence.
The Nanuk 935 is manufactured in Canada with unprecedented quality and reliability in mind. Like Pelican, Nanuk offers a lifetime guarantee, ensuring that your valuable gear will stay protected from shock, water, dust, and pressure or you’ll get your money back.
And, if you purchase the 935 at HardCases.Ca, you can also take advantage of a 30 Day Satisfaction Guarantee. If you purchase the 935 and are not satisfied with your purchase for any reason, you can simply send it back for a full refund.
Pelican 1535 Air Case
There’s no need to rehash Pelican’s manufacturing quality. They create reliable products that are backed by a lifetime guarantee. But Pelican brings even more to the table with the Air Case. Their proprietary HPX polymer provides similar levels of protection to the Pelican 1510 and Nanuk 935, but weighs up to 40% less. If weight is the most important factor in your purchase, you can trust Pelican to deliver a great product.
Unfortunately, the 1535 Air Case uses a similar wheel system to the 1510, which doesn’t function properly in all environments and occasionally needs to be replaced. This can be a major problem, especially for wedding photographers, who need their gear to work in a variety of settings. If you’re looking for a case with parts that are guaranteed to hold up over time, and in all locations, the Nanuk 935 or the Storm iM2500 provide the best options.
Providing a definitive review of HPRC’s manufacturing quality is very difficult, because online reviews tend to vary. Some report that these Italian made cases are extremely high quality, even comparing them favorably to the build quality of Pelican and Nanuk, while others report that their cases arrive with poorly aligned seals, warped lids, and flimsy construction.
If you look at enough reviews of 2550W, you’ll see more than a few people willing to give HPRC their stamp of approval. But, if unrivaled manufacturing quality is a deal breaker I’d put my money on Pelican or Nanuk.
Each of the cases in this review have unique strengths and weaknesses. Reference the quick guide below to choose the case that’s right for you.
Strengths: Convenient lid organizer, reliable manufacturer, ease-of-use, industry standard credentials.
Weaknesses: Poor wheel design, limited color options, less internal space, unreliable latch system.
Strengths: More space than the 1510, secure latches, convenient lid organizer, industry standard credentials.
Weaknesses: Limited color options, difficult latching for weak hands, less tried-and-tested.
Strengths: More internal space, simple and secure latching system, ease-of-use, 6 color options, superior Canadian manufacturing.
Weaknesses: No lid organizer.
Pelican 1535 Air Case
Strengths: Less weight, more internal space, quality manufacturing.
Weaknesses: Only 1 color option, ease-of-use.
Strengths: More vertical space, 5 vibrant color options.
Weaknesses: Ease-of-Use, manufacturing consistency.