Last Updated on 02/10/2022 by Mark Beckenbach
I’ve had my fair share of airline baggage horror stories. I was once on an island for a week with no luggage and only a Kmart to clothe myself with because my bag had literally ripped into two pieces. (I know, it’s no Tom Hanks Castaway story, but it is true.) Since then, hard cases have always appealed to me for air travel. But, the most durable of cases typically don’t have smaller pockets for personal items or even a place to stash a laptop or tripod. That’s why the launch of Manfrotto’s new Pro Light Tough series caught my attention. The Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 case can pair with an add-on laptop sleeve, tripod case, or even a backpack harness system.
You can view this article and much more with minimal ads in our brand new app for iOS, iPadOS, and Android.
The Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 is a hard case that’s designed to fit within the carry-on restrictions of most airlines. (As always, check before you fly.) It has a roller system and a grab handle. But, if that’s not your style, the line of add-ons can even convert it into a backpack. But, can a few add-on accessories lessen the negatives of a hard case — like the lack of extra storage and inability to carry hands-free? I tested the Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 with three accessories to find out.
Too Long, Didn’t Read
If you want the protection of a hard case, but hate the lack of room for a laptop or tripod, the Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 is an excellent option. This carry-on-sized hard roller can be paired with accessories to add on a laptop, tripod, or even backpack straps. Be careful though, the accessories may put it over the carry-on dimensions.
Pros and Cons
- Very durable and waterproof
- Versatile, with the purchase of add-on accessories
- Lots of room
- Rolls smoothly
- Available with dividers or cubed foam
- Handle takes two hands to unlock
- Accessories push the case over the carry-on limit
The Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 comes in a few different versions: a high lid, a low lid, with cube foam, or with adjustable padded dividers. I tested the high lid version with both the foam and adjustable dividers. I also tested three different accessories with the hard case: the Pro Light Tough tripod bag, the Pro Light Tough laptop case, and the Pro Light Tough Harness System. I filled the case with two Fujifilm X-T4s, the 50mm f1 R WR, the 90mm f2 WR, the 16-80mm f4, and the Flashpoint Zoom Li-Ion flash with a transmitter. I used my 15-inch 2015 Macbook Pro in the laptop sleeve and my Manfrotto BeFree travel tripod with level locks in the tripod case.
Hard camera cases are not very hard to find. Where the innovation lies is actually with Manfrotto’s accessories. Hard cases typically don’t have space for a tripod, a laptop, or personal items. You can add that capability with the Pro Light Tough accessories, or even convert it into a backpack.
Manfrotto lists the following specifications for the Pro Light Tough 55 (high lid, with foam insert):
- Weight: 9.92 lbs
- Internal Dimensions: 11.22 x 8.07 x 20.47 in
- Camera Insert Dimensions: 10.24 x 5.51 x 19.68 in
- External Dimensions: 13.78 x 8.86 x 21.65 in
- Color: Black
- Volume: 30 L
- Tripod Connection: No
- Material: Plastic
- Number Of Lenses: 8
- Storage For Personal Items: No
- Types Of Gear: DSLR with grip, Foldable drone, Modular Camcorder, DSLR/mirrorless handheld gimbal
- Type Of Bag: Roller
- Water Repellent: Yes
The Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 is a hard case designed to meet carry-on dimensions. It’s a mid-sized hard case that’s not too huge, yet still fits a good amount of gear. I had room to spare after adding two bodies, three mid-sized lenses, and a flash to the cube foam version. With the divider system, I fit the camera bodies in vertically instead, which left even more room. I packed the bodies and lenses and even had enough room left to put the Manfrotto BeFree travel tripod inside the hard case, rather than outside using the tripod add-on.
The case unlocks with two levers. A red part underneath the latch needs to be pulled in order to unlatch. The latches are a bit tough at first, but this case isn’t going to accidentally pop open. And the red lever means it takes too long to open for a pickpocket to go unnoticed. There are two metal loops on each side that can be used to add padlocks.
Gear can be carried via a briefcase-style handle or a roller system. The roller handle locks and requires three steps to unlock: pull on the handle, pull up the lever at the back of the case, and then pull the handle all the way up. The design means it’s not going to accidentally unfurl while traveling. But, that also means it takes two hands to pull up the handle. Both carrying options are comfortable. The wheels rolled great on smooth surfaces and even didn’t fare too badly over gravel.
On the front of the lid, Manfrotto has added four metal attachment points. The accessories — like the tripod bag, the laptop case, and the backpack system — all use the same latch points. That means you can only use one at a time. But, this is a very clever and versatile way to answer the shortcomings of a typical hard case. Pick the downfall that bothers you the most: the lack of room for personal items or a laptop, the inability to carry a larger tripod, or the inability to travel over rough terrain hands-free. And, with anywhere from $40-$90, you can solve that issue.
Inside, you’ll find either four layers of pre-cubed foam, or adjustable padded dividers. I prefer the dividers because they are easy to configure. But, I think the cubed foam offers more protection for shorter lenses that might otherwise have room to move up and down in a slot.
The Manfrotto Pro Light Tough Harness System
I’ve carried suitcases modified into backpacks before, and they’re not the most comfortable way to go. But, the harness system of the Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 was more comfortable than I expected. It’s a far cry from a dedicated backpack, but I couldn’t think of any way that carrying a hard case on your back could be more comfortable than what Manfrotto has done here.
The backpack straps have fold-over straps to keep them in place when using this case as a roller. But, when using the case as a backpack, those fold-over pieces become a molded back panel. This makes the hard case less stiff against the back. The weight of the case (the case itself weighs nearly ten pounds) bothered me more than the stiffness of the case itself.
The backpack straps are well-padded and adjustable at the shoulder as well as the bottom. A chest clip keeps them in place. Then, a waist belt helps shift some of the weight of the case off your shoulders. I’m a petite female, yet the bag still fits pretty well, including the chest clip.
I think Manfrotto has done really well making a ten-pound hard case on your back as comfortable as possible. I wore it on my back for about half an hour before I started to feel a bit uncomfortable and that was more because of the weight than the stiffness of the case. Personally, for air travel, I’d still pack gear in the hard case as a carry-on and personal items in a smaller camera backpack to wear once at my destination. But, if photographers need a way to carry the hard case hands-free for brief periods, the harness system is a good option.
The Manfrotto Pro Light Laptop Sleeve
The laptop sleeve adds a spot for a laptop and tablet as well as two smaller front pockets for personal items. There was plenty of room for my 15-inch laptop with room to spare. The other pockets were big enough for my charger, a portable external tripod, and other small items. Most hard cases don’t have a lot of space for these smaller items, so this accessory is a good solution.
The laptop sleeve has a diamond pattern that works well with the look of the outside of the case. Latching the four points on the case takes a few minutes. Gear is easy to access, though one latch point prevents the laptop zipper from opening down the long side. You can still pull the laptop out from the top.
The laptop sleeve is best on the case; I wouldn’t buy it without owning the case. But, if you need to pull it off, there is a built-in grab handle on the back.
Unfortunately, the laptop sleeve adds another inch or two to the depth of this case, which means it’s going to just slightly exceed carry-on dimensions. A laptop sleeve that could fit in the high lid could have been a better solution. If I were going to fly with this case, I would count the hard case as my carry-on and bring a laptop backpack as my personal item instead of latching the laptop on the front. If you’re not flying though, the laptop sleeve is a convenient option.
The Manfrotto Pro light Tough Tripod Bag
This tripod bag works on or off the hard case. It’s a roomy bag that’s laughably big on a travel-sized tripod, but that means it could fit bigger tripods. It has four latch points to attach to the case, or can be carried with a removable shoulder strap. The top expands to accommodate a wider variety of tripod sizes, up to about 34 inches long.
The version of the hard case that includes the dividers includes a tripod add-on system. It’s not a fully enclosed case, but a pocket and strap — similar to how you latch a tripod onto a backpack.
I once had my luggage torn in two by the airline, including the shirts and even the cord of the hair straightener inside. While I always pack my camera gear in a carry-on, I’ve ridden in a few small planes where there was no room in the overhead bins and my gear had to be checked at the gate. It makes for an incredibly nerve-wracking flight. Needless to say, I wanted to see the Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 handle being tossed around. While I haven’t traveled by air since pre-Covid, I wanted to see what this hard case could handle.
I put a fresh egg inside and threw the foam version case up in the air — twice. Both times, the egg was uncracked. The case ended up a little muddy, but the clasps and handles continued functioning perfectly after the toss-up. I repeated the test with the divider system, placing the dividers as close as possible to hug the egg in place. This egg also did not crack after a toss in the air.
Next, I put the case in the shower for about five minutes. I couldn’t feel any moisture inside and the foam remained dry.
Obviously, the soft accessories that can be paired with the bag won’t have the same level of durability. The zippers aren’t weather-sealed, and I wouldn’t toss the case with my laptop attached inside the exterior pouch. But, they feel well built. My biggest concern would be the tie-ons getting caught in the airline conveyor belt and ripping off. But, I think the add-ons would stay attached in most scenarios.
Now, a durable case doesn’t mean the airline won’t lose your baggage — which is why it’s carry-on sized. But, this case held up perfectly after being thrown around and drowned in a downpour.
Ease of Use
As a bag designed to handle the roughest conditions, the Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 doesn’t pop open instantly. But, it sits at a happy medium between staying shut when tumbled and being too difficult to work. The latches require pulling a red tab underneath before they’ll flip open, which is sturdy but quick.
The retractable handle does take a few seconds and two hands to unlock. It’s not a terrible inconvenience, but the soft-sided camera roller bags that I’ve used are a bit faster to start rolling with.
Pre-Cubed Foam vs. Adjustable Dividers
Between the two versions of the case, the flexible dividers are easier to use. Customizing the foam takes a bit to set up. One of the pieces accidentally tore too far, which meant the foam between two spaces didn’t stay in place. That’s a risk with all foam inserts, however. On the upside, tearing away tiny cubes of foam can help get a more snug fit than the dividers. That’s particularly noticeable with short lenses, which have room to move up and down in the divider system.
Even though the cases are the same size, I could fit more into the case with the dividers rather than the foam. I wanted to leave at least two cubes of foam between my gear. But, the added room in the dividers is also partially due to better organization, since the dividers is already set up to hold detached camera bodies upright, rather than flat. The dividers are easy to adjust multiple times. While you can save that pulled-out foam, the cubed foam is harder to change once you’ve torn out your organization scheme.
The divider system costs about $85 more than the cubed foam version. The divider system also comes with a strap-on tripod holster (not the fully enclosed bag), while the foam does not include that option.
- It passed durability and waterproof tests with flying colors.
- The accessories make this bag much more versatile than a typical hard case.
- There’s lots of room, particularly in the option with the dividers.
- The wheels are smooth and the handles comfortable.
- You can choose between flexible dividers or cubed foam.
- Using the accessories, the case becomes larger than the carry-on limits.
- The handle needs two hands to unlock.
- It’s pricey.
Hard cases may be the most protective, but they are often the least versatile. With add-ons, Manfrotto is working to change that. Am I going to replace my backpack with this hard case? Well, no. Am I going to switch my gear over to this hard case for travel? Absolutely. When you need the most protection, but don’t want to sacrifice the space for a tripod or laptop, the Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 is a good solution. The case is versatile, yet tough enough to keep an egg from cracking after being thrown in the air. And, it’s watertight enough to withstand complete downpours.
While the add-ons make this case more versatile, it does put the case over the nine-inch depth for a carry-on. You could carry a laptop through the subway, but you might not be able to slip the modified bag into an overhead bin. It’s also a bit pricey, and you need two hands to release the luggage handle.
For versatility and protection, I’m giving the Manfrotto Pro Light Tough 55 five out of five stars. Want one? Check out Amazon for the latest prices.