If you aren’t sure if you can take your DSLR or mirrorless camera onto a commercial flight, you will find everything you need to know in this article.
As a rule, TSA states that you can bring a DSLR or mirrorless camera onto an airplane in your carry-on, in checked baggage, or as a personal item.
It doesn’t matter if your camera is Canon or Nikon; there is no restriction on the brands of digital cameras you can bring on board. In addition, large camera lenses (+500mm) can also be brought onto a passenger plane.
Things you need to know before bringing your camera on a plane:
1. Avoid checked luggage like the plague.
If you didn’t know by now, checked luggage is one the worst ways of transporting your camera. The reasons are so numerous that I would not even know where to start.
A mirrorless camera is lighter and sturdier than a DSLR because it has fewer moving parts, but I wouldn’t place it in a checked bag either.
Basically, everything that you can’t afford to lose should be stored in your carry-on.
If it’s essential to bring your DSLR in your checked luggage, then you will need a padded box in which to store your camera to protect it in case of external shocks.
A padded box will also keep it separate from other belongings. This box should be waterproof even if the checked baggage is resistant to water.
If you have expensive equipment and cannot travel with it in a carry-on, then I recommend buying travel insurance.
I will not recommend one particular type of travel insurance since deals pop up daily, but it should cover your equipment cost in case it gets damaged or stolen.
As a side note, I wrote an article about bringing a GoPro and its batteries inside the airplane, which you can find here.
2. Have a spare battery with you that has some power.
This doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes TSA agents want to see that you have an actual camera and not something else, and they will ask you to power it, especially if you have a large camera.
If you cannot power up the camera, airport security might not let you pass with it, thinking that you have something stashed in it. Because of this, if you have a large camera that is not working, it’s better to store it in the checked luggage.
3. Smaller is smarter.
The camera lens should be removed before boarding the plane. If you have other accessories attached to your camera, such as an external flash, remove those, too.
Your goal is to make the overall package as small as possible. A smaller package means fewer chances for your item to get damaged.
4. Fully open the aperture on your lenses before boarding the plane.
This is a simple trick that will prevent your lenses from being damaged. The reason is that when you close the aperture, the internal blades are in a position that makes them vulnerable to damage by external factors.
When you fully open the aperture, the blades retract and react better to external shocks.
Try to make it a habit to fully open the aperture every time you travel with lenses.
Do you have to take your camera out at the airport?
The TSA states that any electronic device larger than a smartphone must undergo screening, so you will need to place the camera in a separate bin at the security screening.
You only need to place the camera, not the lenses. The x-ray scanner will not damage your camera.
DSLR and mirrorless cameras do not contain photographic film that the scanner can damage.
Both cameras use a digital image sensor to capture images, and after taking a picture, that picture is digitally saved on the camera’s memory or an SD card.
There are no DSLR or mirrorless cameras that the airport scanner could damage. If you have a telephoto lens, place it in a separate bin since it’s bigger than a smartphone.
Can you fly with camera gear?
Most camera accessories can be brought onto an airplane in either your carry-on or checked baggage, but there are some things you need to know.
1. Not all tripods can be brought onto the airplane.
Although people fiercely debate this topic on forums, the reality is that most tripods can be brought inside the carry-on without any issues.
The problem arises when you have a long, sturdy tripod that can be used as a weapon.
I advise buying a tripod that weighs no more than five pounds, with a height of no more than twenty inches, if you want to bring it onto the airplane.
TSA agents regularly encounter these tripods, and you shouldn’t worry about being stopped with one.
2 Spare batteries can’t be brought inside the checked luggage.
The TSA doesn’t allow you to bring spare batteries in checked luggage as lithium batteries pose a risk to aircraft safety.
When you have them in your carry-on, you should pack them in a way that prevents them from touching each other.
You don’t need to discharge the batteries before boarding the plane, but discharged batteries are less volatile than charged ones. Therefore, the TSA will not ask you to show them the charge level of your batteries.
How many camera batteries can you take on the plane?
As long as your batteries have a rating of under 100Wh, you can bring along as many as you can carry.
Luckily, all DSLR and mirrorless cameras have batteries under the 100Wh threshold.
If you plan to fly with many batteries, I advise placing each battery in a sandwich bag. This way, you will prevent accidental discharges and make the batteries visible.
What to do if your baggage is too heavy?
Some airlines have a weight restriction for carry-ons. The bag may not exceed the airline weight limit even if it fits in the overhead when you store camera gear in it.
Always check the airline’s weight restrictions. Usually, only low-cost airlines have a carry-on weight rule.
For example, Frontier Airlines states that carry-ons should not be heavier than 35 pounds.
If your carry-on is heavier than the airline limit, don’t despair since there are some workarounds.
Wear a jacket with many pockets and place heavy items like batteries or hard drives in those pockets.
It will make your carry-on ten to fifteen pounds lighter, and you will be able to pass with it without any issues. Once inside the airplane, you can store the items inside the bag.
Another tip is that when you use a backpack and approach the counter, put it on one shoulder and make it look like you are carrying it effortlessly.
There is a high chance that nobody will ask you to place the bag on the counter.
From the airline perspective, dimensions are more important than weight, so if your backpack fits in the overhead, you should be fine even if your pack weight is over the limit.
Is it illegal to take pictures from a plane window?
No law or rule prevents taking pictures from inside an airplane, at least in the western world. However, if you fly internationally and don’t know the rules, then it is better to ask.
You can also take pictures of the inside of the airplane, but you should avoid photographing other passengers or crew members.
You can bring your DSLR or mirrorless camera onto a commercial flight without restrictions.
However, be careful when you fly internationally and take a drone with you.
Attaching your DSLR to a drone might get you some memorable photos, but some countries have banned the use of drones.