Their new Pro Light Reloader Collection brings five new bags for the travel photographer. The Manfrotto Reloader TOUGH-55 comes in two different styles, the High Hood and the Low Lid. We will focus on the latter in this review.
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Things to Consider Before Buying a Hard Case
A hard case is a great way to protect your items on a photography shoot. But it’s not the bag you want to take into the wild for safari photography, even if it is built for travel.
They provide a lot of space inside, and with a modular system, you can configure them as you see fit. This versatile system allows you to change the dividers for every new shoot.
The thing you need to ask yourself is, do you need that extra protection? As a landscape photographer, you can find excellent protection from a backpack that is more comfortable and easy to move around.
Also, if push comes to shove, a hard case is the only bag to even consider checking in at the airport. Baggage throwers tend not to have much of a ‘slowly does it’ attitude. A hard case offers the most amount of protection available.
Even in the most recent times, these cumbersome cases can only be hand-pulled. Thanks to RucPac, there are no straps that you can use to turn hardcases into a backpack.
On top of the physical protection, these bags seal keeping out dust and water. If you have space to store it and look for extra protection for your gear, then this is the system for you.
As a roller, this is over the top. If you’re looking for a way to easily transport your gear without physically carrying it, go for Manfrotto’s Reloader AIR-55. If you need a hard case, but don’t need the wheels, then go for the Pelican 1485.
Pros and Cons of the Manfrotto Reloader TOUGH-55 LowLid
The first and most obvious pro is the protection. A hard case such as the Reloader TOUGH-55 is built to a lightweight standard. It is something that the military uses.
Polypropylene or polypropylene copolymer is the usual choice for these tough shells. Some have the foam (Ether-Like-Easter (ELE) polyurethane) interior or stronger polyester material.
A molded container such as this offers a sturdy shell and one you can sit on. One seam runs around the entire case, so weatherproofing isn’t an issue. It even features shock resistance in case of accidental drops.
On top of that, it does a great job of keeping out dirt and dust. Manfrotto testers dropped the TOUGH-55 into the water for 30 mins and found it completely dry inside. I don’t know about you, but this gives me peace of mind.
It is cabin compliant, so it can come on the plane with you. However, being a hard case, there is no room for play searching for that extra few cms.
This entire system by Manfrotto comes with wheels, great for distances. But, not great for the wild outdoors without concrete. There are two handles (on the top, on the side) that allow you to carry it, however.
Cons of buying a hard case are not always obvious. They are large and cumbersome, making them a pain to carry or store. They don’t fold down, so the size you see is what you get.
In terms of weight, it comes in at just under 4.5kg (9.9lbs). That is without your gear. A camera bag such as the NYA-EVO FJORD 36 Action Pack weighs 1.7kg (3.75lbs) and can fold thinly, to fit any space.
Similarily to bags, these systems cant expand. They offer you a limited amount of space, so you need a case big enough to have some play. You don’t want to head out to a wedding, and not have the space for that extra lens or flash umbrella.
The difference with this case compared to something like the Pelican 1150 is that they use dividers rather than foam. Foam is an excellent option for particular items, but become redundant for other items.
Dividers are entirely modular, as they can be placed in any shape or form. Some people prefer foam, where others demand dividers, making this both a con and a pro.
Features & Benefits of the Manfrotto Reloader TOUGH-55 LowLid
The LowLid offers a few things that most other cases don’t. First, their pull-handle is one of a kind. It will only pull out of the case when a strong clasp is pulled back. This allows the bag to be used at three different heights.
It stops against everyday wear and tear, and won’t break like a similar suitcase handle. On top of this, you also have a dedicated tripod area, which you connect to the case via straps.
There are a total of four eyelets around the rim of the case. Two of these are stainless steel eyelets, and they are located on the outer side of the closing clasps. The other two are on the inside of the clasps.
These eyelets connect when the case is closed and allow you to lock the suitcase with any fitting padlock. Perfect for on the road, or even at home when you have curious toddlers or children.
Tripod Holder System
Manfrotto’s ProLight Reloader Tough-55 range comes with a tripod mounting system. It’s a really handy addition as you won’t need to carry it in a separate bag.
The system comes with the case and is relatively easy to use. You connect the pouch via four areas on the back of the hard case. This keeps it close to you as you transport the case, reducing bumps and scrapes.
How Well Does the Manfrotto Reloader TOUGH-55 LowLid Work?
Straight away, I can feel the cumbersome nature of the hard case. This allows me to protect a lot of gear, but it comes at a price. The hard case is very well put together, which accounts for the empty weight of around 4.5kg.
This is what I expect, and the reason I bought the case. As a photographer who often travels, either internationally or even in the same city, I feel safe this offers the most amount of protection.
One of the things I like is the strength of the handle. To use it, you need to release the catch that holds it and pull it up. There are three different lengths, which is a benefit, filling the needs of photographers of different heights.
The other benefit for me was the tripod mount system. As I move around Budapest photographing interiors, this keeps everything I need in one place. I don’t need to worry about adverse weather.
Compared to other hard cases systems, the dividers were a welcoming touch. My father gave me his hard case camera which looked like a briefcase from an 80’s bond film. This had foam which was both finicky to use and had aged, releasing dust inside.
The dividers allowed me to set up space for any kinds of organization. This is perfect as I can change from interiors to portrait photography, and still use the same bag. They offer a great amount of protection, while the foam lid stops any shocks to the gear.
For transport, the wheels are strong and will last a long time. The hard case is smaller than the ones I had experience with but perfect for my medium amount of gear. I could easily carry two camera bodies, over eight lenses, with other devices.
Locking the bag wasn’t a problem, but you are better off testing a few to make sure these don’t add too much to the weight.
I didn’t use this as a cabin bag yet, but its size of 26 x 14 x 50cm fits the 40 x 20 x 55cm requirements of most domestic flights. Some airlines impose weight restrictions of 10kg on cabin luggage. This bag already weighs almost half that amount, so I would expect to pay extra.
Every airline is different, so I would need to check specifically.
Compared to a bag such as the WANDRD Hexad Access Duffel, access to your gear is a little slower. Plus, when you open the bag, you let the world know what you are carrying with you.
By using a backpack that has rear-access, such as the NYA-EVO FJORD 36 Action Pack, you keep your gear close. This way, no prying eyes land on the amount of gear you have.
The best use of this hard case is to transport your items. I would take this and a foldable backpack inside. This gets me to the hotel or Airbnb, where I can use my backpack for daily photography outings.
Alternatives to the Manfrotto Reloader TOUGH-55 LowLid
Hard cases are nothing new. Photographers have been using them for a while to protect their items. When my father gave me his camera, it came in a silver case, briefcase-size,
Nowadays, plastic offers a similar strength while cutting down on weight. Thank goodness for modern technology.
The biggest competitor to the Manfrotto Reloader is the Pelican range. They have been making hard cases since 1976, and they have them in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
Other camera bag manufacturers saw the need for these and produced their own. Vanguard makes a similar case called the Supreme 46F. LowePro has the Hardside 300, but, as Manfrotto is now the owner, they aren’t really competition.
For cheaper, less known brands, you have Seahorse, Nanuk, Monoprice and a handful of others. Even AmazonBasics has a case available.
When I worked as a photography assistant for an on-location portrait photographer, this was the go-to system. It held a lot of equipment of different sizes and protected every item through all kinds of London transport.
One carried the camera gear, and the other held all the lighting gear. For a city, the wheels worked on the street and traversing the underground escalators. The protection was needed.
The only problem for this was that they were obviously carrying expensive equipment. It made them more of a target for theft than a backpack would have. There were never any problems, but it always made me think.
As they are black plastic cases, they are spill and stain proof, unlike fabric. It keeps its professional look, and with the TOUGH-55, it looks smart. I liked the black with the red detail.
This hard case, compared to others, it of medium size. It will hold a ton of equipment and allows you the organization of a great travel backpack. The smaller details, such as the handle lock and the tripod mount make this very special.
As a system and a way to protect my gear, I feel secure in the knowledge my gear is safe. I can lock the hard case in four places. The name badge at the top can hold my information just in case of lost luggage.
This bag is what I would use for portrait photography, as that is where I need the most amount of gear. Here, lights and stands are all different sizes and shapes, where the dividers here make sense. I wouldn’t get as much out of it with a foam insert.
The best benefit for me is that it offers a safe and clean environment for my camera equipment at home. I have a three-year-old, so there’s always the chance of wandering hands through my camera bags, drinks being splashed and just general damage of my gear. This keeps it safe through anything.
If you feel this suits you, then you can find the Manfrotto Reloader TOUGH-55 LowLid here.