Low cost, high quality DIY Photography laptop case

Back in 2007 Chase Jarvis released a video showing his custom photography laptop case (aka Pimp Your Laptop Case) using a Pelican 1490 and a bit of custom fabrication work. The whole set up was hugely portable and durable, but at over £150 or a couple of hundred bucks in the US, it’s a pretty expensive set up.

Luckily for us who don’t want to drop that much on a Pelican case, I’ve created a solution which is just as good. And it costs less than £30 ($50). All  you need is half an hour and some very basic DIY skills.

Hit the jump for the lowdown… 

When I’m shooting on location and need to dump cards or review photos and footage, I’ll usually have James (my assistant) set up a base camp somewhere nearby with the laptop, backup drives and card reader. That’s all kept in a Lowepro shoulder bag which means it has to be unpacked, set up, used, then broken down and repacked…yawn!

The location laptop case Chase put together is a perfect solution to this problem. Get on location, flip open the lid and boom…your whole computer is set up and good to go. Then once you’re done, shut the lid and foxtrot oscar out of there.

A few times I’ve come close to pushing the “Buy it now” button on a Pelican 1490 but I could never get over the loathing feeling of dropping so much cash on something so simple. So when a friend posted a link on Facebook to some super cheap waterproof flight cases I thought I’d take a punt and order one. It is deeper than the 1490, but not by that much and with what I needed to include, a little extra pth wouldn’t hurt.

Enter the “Duratool waterproof tool box”

For £24.16(!) and free postage I wasn’t expecting much. But when I unboxed this budget Peli-slayer I was extremely impressed. The build quality is 95% as good as the Pelican cases I own, albeit slightly rougher round the edges.

The main differences are a less ergonomic handle, manual pressure purge valve (screw it in for air tight and out for pressure equalising), single locking clips and no metal surrounds on the padlock holes. That’s it.

It has the same egg crate foam in the lid, pick-and-pluck foam in the base and a sheet of solid foam as you’d find in any Peli. I knew straight away I was on to a winner and set about converting it in to my location laptop case.

What you’ll need

- Duratool D00467 Waterprood tool box.
- 1x Sheet of hardboard at least 50cm x 30cm.
- Black spray paint.
- Sticky back velcro strips.
- Hacksaw.
- Hole saw.
- Cordless drill.

First up I removed the solid foam from the case.

Then using a knife I marked out the size of the compartment for my power brick and cable.

Once I’d picked out the foam from that area I repeated the same process for the hard drives and USB hub.

To make sure everything stays in place but can also be easily removed I used sticky back velcro strips.

With the drives, USB hub and power brick installed in the base, I stuck the card reader and external graphics card to the inside of the lid.

(Off topic: As well as on board graphics, my Sony Vaio has an external GPU to boost graphics performance when plugged in to mains power, in case you were wondering what that was. Crazy thing is with the external GPU this teeny lightweight carbon fibre laptop packs almost as much processing power as my desktop editing suite!)

Now the accessories are mounted I made a cardboard template for the base. The measurements are exactly 425mm x 283mm. I made a small cut out for the cables to come through and also squared off the corners for easier cable routing.

Once I was happy with the fit I cut out the same shape from a £5 sheet of thin hardboard from the DIY store big enough for 6 or 7 bases. Because you need so little, you may find an independent DIY place that will give you an off cut for free.

Using a hole saw (or large drill bit) cut out small ventilation holes above the drives to aid cooling and allow better airflow. I used the base without holes for a few hours and found the drives did get too hot for my liking, so I’d recommend not skipping this step.

Once you’re done, spray the base with the black paint.

Now the base is in, it’s a matter of tidying up the cables to make sure nothing gets caught or pulled out of place when the lid is opened and closed. I used velcro cable straps from Amazon to keep mine together.

And that’s it! A couple of branded stickers and the DIY photography location laptop case is done.

Everything fits great in the case and is secure when carrying it around. I use the egg crate section of foam from the lid to place over the laptop when it’s in transit and so nothing moves.

So there you have it, grab yourself a bargain flight case and build your own location laptop case for a fraction of the price of a Pelican. There are other sizes available too, so make sure you check out the links below.

If you have any questions about the DIY photography laptop case then leave them in the comments below and if you make one yourself I’d love to see pictures of the finished article.

Useful Links
Duratool Waterproof Tool Box – http://cpc.farnell.com/duratool/d00467/waterproof-tool-box/dp/SG32900?Ntt=SG32900

Velcro cable ties - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fisual-Chunky-Velcro-Ties-Cable/dp/B001RPWPQE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385036889&sr=8-1&keywords=velcro+cable+ties

Sticky velcro strips - http://www.amazon.co.uk/TRIXES-Adhesive-Sticky-Velcro-Strips/dp/B0098LT9Z4/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1385036995&sr=8-5&keywords=sticky+velcro+strips

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7 Responses to Low cost, high quality DIY Photography laptop case

  1. Tom Szulczewski says:

    Great post and really good idea. Love the peli cases but have the same reservations as you… What really caught my eye is that external GPU unit. I’ve got a Vaio F series myself and would be more than happy to increase performance in Premiere CC!

    • adamswords says:

      The external GPU makes a huge difference when editing large RAW files or HD video. It’s also an optical drive which I have to admit barely ever gets used but I’d certainly not want to be without!

  2. Tom Szulczewski says:

    Ok, forget it. Found the post on PC Gamer… ;-) (Still, would be interesting to know how it works with video editing soft)

  3. Ethan says:

    This is brilliant, thank you Adam! Will keep my MacBook safe in future and I can spend the money I’ve saved on more camera goodies!

  4. Cracking idea. Gonna try out the wheeled hard case to use for camera as it just about fits most hand luggage sizes. Thanks for sharing.

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