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Making a custom foam insert for a Pelican case, or: how to transport a Sinar P2

Large format cameras come in two flavors: field-cameras and studio cameras. While the former is typically ‘light’ and can be folded into a package that can be carried in a backpack, the latter is typically large and bulky, and unwieldy to carry on the back. When I got the Sinar P2, the main problem I faced was how to store and transport it. I don’t intend to go hike with it, but I would like to be able to take to a location that can be reached by public transport or by car.

There are some cases available that were sold specifically for the Sinar P-series, but I couldn’t get my hands on a decent model at the time and ended up going for a Pelican 1640. This is a monster case measuring 69 cm x 70 cm x 42 cm on the outside and weighing 15.4 kg when empty (if you want a laugh, try to picture me running over a platform, lugging that case behind me in an attempt to catch my train… the train manager certainly had a good laugh). I can’t say that my fiancée was very happy when she saw how big the case was when I got home, but it was the only case large enough that I could find second hand that would fit the camera, film holders, lenses, extra bellows and rack and would have room to spare for future expansions.

The case is very sturdy and as we may expect from a Pelican case it is near indestructable. The problem buying it second hand though, it that the pluck-and-pick foam it comes with is typically half gone or has been picked in such a pattern to be completely useless to the new owner. A new kit of foam easily costs 160 euro for this size case and with the price of the case added, you might as well buy it new. As a cheap alternative, I bought 40 euros worth of SG25 grade  polyether foam which, divided into 7 sheets measuring 64 cm x 64 cm x 4 cm each, is sufficient to fill the entire case.

Using a sharp box cutter, the foam can be cut easily into shape by making sawing up-and-down motions with the blade. The foam dulls the blades easily, so make sure to replace them regularly and have sufficient on stock. I needed 6 for the entire project. A thin blade will work better than a tall blade for most cuts. Taller blades are fine for long straight cuts.

In the past few months, the foam has held up pretty well. I still have to glue the layers to each other though, because now the top layer comes up when I try to pull out the camera. The fit is rather tight, and I am confident it will protect the camera and lenses well during transport.

If you are dealing with the same storage and transport problem, or need a way to store your camera equipment, I can recommend you give this foam a try. It is cheap, cuts easily and offers sufficient protection for most scenarios.

What’s next?

The blog has been very quiet the past few months. During the summer, our apartment gets too warm to comfortable develop film and print. That is why that went on the back burner for a while, and the blog has been quiet. Now autumn has arrived, room temperature has return to normal again and I am picking up film photography again. Hopefully, I will have some new blog posts out in the coming weeks.

I definitely plan on taking the Sinar out for a few trips downtown and shoot some architecture with it. Also, perhaps bring it with me to some friends and family to take portraits. The extended bellows make it suited for close-ups too.

If you have any technical topics you would like me to cover, feel free to drop me a line. Perhaps, I will turn it into a “Roy answers your questions” category ;-).

Published in DIY Large Format Photography Miscellaneous