Cuba - Equipment

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Cuba - Equipment

Postby Grenfell on Mon Dec 30, 2013 5:56 am

Hi .. In 2 weeks my wife and I are taking our annual winter break to sunnier climes, and this year we are heading to Holquin area of Cuba. Plan is to do some birding around the area (solo with a rental car) and my question to the group is related to equipment primarily. I would love to take my 500 prime along (with a 5D2 body & a 24-105), but I've been reading that getting something like that through customs might be awkward. Any suggestions (or experiences) greatly appreciated.
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Re: Cuba - Equipment

Postby steve lindsay2010 on Mon Dec 30, 2013 8:28 pm

I will piggy back on this post and add my previous experience. We are staying in Holguin Province from January 9th to 16th 2014 and plan to do some bird photography.

When we stayed it Cayo Coco earlier this year we were able to contact, through the front desk, a local Biologist who agreed to take us out for the day. He was incredible and we saw many endemic species and were able to photograph all except for one of the Cuckoo's. We saw it but it was very elusive and we finally abandoned pursuit in favour of other birds. The driver picked us up at the hotel at 7 AM and brought us back between 4 and 5 PM. He provided lunch and a vehicle. If anyone want further info please feel to send me a private message. It was a really great day and if we were going back to Cayo Coco we would use the same guide. He wants as much notice as possible, when the government tell him that he has to take a tour he has no choice but to accommodate them. I do have full contact information but the email address is at a hotel and is passed on to him so it may take quite a while to get a response. I do have phone numbers but have never called them from Canada.

As for equipment we were restricted to taking 5 kg each and it included ALL carry on. We packed anything that we could in the suitcases and carried smaller lenses, batteries etc. in our pockets. I know other people have had different experiences and taken far more than that on board but I will let those that are willing share those experiences do so.

If you do get any info please share it with me? I will do the same.

Thanks, Steve
steve lindsay2010
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Re: Cuba - Equipment

Postby Lori.P on Tue Dec 31, 2013 9:42 am

Hi Grenfell

Frank and I travelled to Cuba in May 2013 and took some of our photography equipment. We took our Lowepro backpack with the Canon 7D, our 400mm f5.6 and our 24-70mm f2.8. We had no troubles moving our equipment through security/customs both in Canada and Cuba. We had decided not to take the 500mm because we locked our equipment in the safe every night and these were the pieces that would fit comfortably in it which gave us peace of mind when the equipment was not with us. Frank carried the backpack on the plane as his carry on. We just inspected our bag closely before we left and removed any non-essential equipment to lighten the load and help eliminate any security issues.

We are returning to the same location again this May and are debating on taking two cameras and both of our long lenses. It was kind of boring for one person when we went walking off-resort when the other person was holding the camera. Boring only in a sense that if you are used to holding a camera and don't have one then you spend a lot more time waiting around. If you only take one camera then I would recommend taking a pair of binoculars for your partner. That way they can help spot birds better. We discussed security for the 500mm and agreed that if we took it to Cuba that we would lock it in our suitcase when we did not have it with us. We have a backpack for the 500mm and would carry it on the plane as well. Check with your carrier to verify what is acceptable for carry on. We flew with Air Canada.

You can check out our photographs from Cuba on our Fotki site. We just walked around off-resort and found lots of birds, however we are planning on consulting with the Biologist in Cayo Coco for our next trip. Here is a link to our photos ... -may-2013/

We would be interested in knowing what equipment you decided to take with you. Enjoy the warmth of the sun and all that wonderful Cuban hospilality!
Lori Portela
I never walk softly, and Frank always carries the big lens
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Re: Cuba - Equipment

Postby Mike O on Wed Jan 01, 2014 9:13 pm

Hi Grenfell. I have flown a few times with my camera and lens (canon 7d and 500mm f4 and a couple other lenses and other non essential equipment in retrospect. You really have to ask yourself if you are going to use the macro lens if you don't use it much at home. I am going again in April to Cayo Coco, Cuba (third time with present camera/lens combo) and will fly Air Canada this time. A.C. will allow a 10kg carry on bag as well as a 10kg personal item the sizes of the allowable bags are easy to find on line. The carry on is equivalent to a large camera bag and the personal item size would suit a large and thick laptop bag. I have not heard of anyone having problems with Air Can. as far as camera gear goes, so now I will move on to experiences with other carriers. West Jet is one I have not flown but when I contacted them for clarification on their carry on policy in regards to camera gear they said "it must fit the metal frame and not exceed 7kg, no exceptions". I responded with "I will have to remove all your travel brochures from my coffee table as you do not have any room on your airplanes for photographers. I flew from Detroit on a U.S. carrier to the Virgin Islands, after check in and sitting for an hour and a half I heard an announcement that carry on must be under 5kgs. I was already checked in and was ready to board in minutes, so I approached the counter to find out the bad news. I told the boarding staff that my bag was overweight and they said it would have to be checked, even though there was little time left. I responded with "but it is camera gear" and was delighted to find that that is ok and boarded the plane with no problem at any of the subsequent boardings. Now for Sunwing. This a very confused airline with a policy that contradicts itself where camera gear is concerned. Their policy reads that camera gear and other sensitive electronics as well as other valuables must not be checked for stowage in the hold of the plane. Much later in the policy is where it states that all carry on must be within the restrictions of the metal frame and 5kg weight allowance, So where does the average photographer fit in. I have flown Sunwing 3 times with my present gear and each time was worse. First time leaving Canada I was only scolded for my overweight bag and on return had no problem leaving Cuba. Second time leaving Canada for Roatan, had to argue with check in staff over their policy but otherwise made it through onto the plane. Leaving Roatan, I had a much more spirited argument with their check in staff but was eventually allowed on the plane. The 500 plus people in the line behind me were relieved to see me move on past this bottleneck. Trip number three and what is probably my last trip with Sunwing, I waited for half an hour at the check in desk while discussing their policy on camera gear. We were waiting for a manager to show up with a ruling on what they were going to do in this case and none showed up in the half hour. I was getting restless with their inability to resolve anything when I pulled out my camera and attached the lens, put the strap over my shoulder an proclaimed it a personal item (their policy at the time did not have a weight restriction on a camera hanging on ones shoulder. They gave in and allowed me past the check in area. Once I reached the boarding area the camera and lens went back in the bag and on the plane. When leaving Cuba I upgraded to preferred seating and had no issue at all. On one trip to Churchill Manitoba I had to allow my gear to be hand checked into the cargo hold as it was too big for the small plane. I was assured it would be handled with care and had no issue (can't say this would always be the case). The first trip to Churchill was on a larger plane and had no issues.

Camera gear as carry on has always been an issue as long as I have been flying to destinations. I am one who would love to see some kind of resolution to this issue as it is increasingly becoming more and more of a problem. One day I will be refused boarding with my gear and each time I check in I wonder if this will be the time. I have had my travel agent try to clarify the issue with no clear result. This leaves the end result in the hands of a disgruntled pee-on at the check in counter to decide on behalf of the airline whether my gear is allowed in carry on. My Luggage is two years old and has made about 5 trips. It is already tattered and torn and has a boot print in the middle of one of the bags (clearly a step stool is not part of the equipment that they use to stow luggage on a plane, so the bags make a convenient stool). I would be very interested in the stories and the solutions of others regarding carry on camera gear

Thanks in advance
Mike Osborne
Mike O
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Re: Cuba - Equipment

Postby wcleung on Thu Jan 02, 2014 4:35 am

To the group: I want to sneak in a related general question as well. I wonder how much one has to protect the equipment against impacts during the flight, and if the landing, turbulence, etc can damage the equipment. (This may be a silly worry since I cycle with the equipment in my backpack.)

To the OP: never been to Cuba, but have no problem with Air Canada, United, American, British Airways and Cathay Pacific elsewhere with the smaller 300mm f4. Some times I have to take the equipment out in the security line. Besides the handling, I know of someone who has a nice camera stolen from his checked bag. I have problems with Air Canada staff making up rules. These days, I print out the carry-on allowance page just in case. For other destinations with a possible short segment, make sure the actual airplane is big enough else one still has to valet-check the large piece of carry-on item.

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Re: Cuba - Equipment

Postby Grenfell on Thu Jan 02, 2014 6:57 am

Thanks everybody for all the helpful hints. As I did further research about customs in Cuba, having a large lens, eg 500, and semi-pro camera body, the customs officials assume that you must be a journalist, and need to check you out!!

I found this comment on another forum ....
"Upon arrival in Havana, all cabin baggage is x-rayed. In my case, my backpack yielded the image of a camera and telephoto lens (Canon 40D with a 400 mm f5.6 lens, somewhat outdated and rather inexpensive gear). This led to repeated questioning by various police-type customs workers, many of whom did not speak English and who persisted in asking me questions in Spanish without attempting to find an interpreter who could help me understand their questions. For more than an hour they searched all my possessions, though they did not strip search me. They did photograph all of my non-clothing articles, including checking the margins of my Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba to search for messages. My Macintosh laptop was also carefully scrutinized. My socks and underwear were put on display while being checked for radios and other illegal objects. All the while, I remained calm and polite, while respectfully answering their questions with the only phrase I know, "I don't understand Spanish."
We subsequently learned later that Cuban authorities have, for the past year or so, been vigilant in searching the luggage of tourists for equipment that could be used to spy on their country."

and this comment on a 2010 post, from this forum group ....
"Just wondering if you had any problems with Customs in Cuba. I got held for an hour and 20 minutes while they meticulously went through every single piece of camera gear I had, writing down all serial numbers and descriptions, They asked me tons of questions about who I worked for, was I journalist, photographer for a magazine, on and on.
It all turned out ok in the end, except my friend who had brought walkie- talkies had them confiscated. They held them while we were on holidays and gave them back at the end of our trip. Only charged him $5 a day storage."

Anyways .. I'm leaning towards taking a smaller lens (100-400), which I've taken on many trips in the past with difficulties (other than picture quality :))

Like Mike mentioned Air Canada has a 10Kg check-in baggage allowance, and I chose Air Canada myself for this trip, for partly that reason. MIKE: did you and I work together in the early 90's

Many Thanks to all for your helpful comments

Bill McDonald (Grenfell)
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Joined: Mon Apr 09, 2012 5:55 am

Re: Cuba - Equipment

Postby Alex Thomson on Fri Jan 03, 2014 12:13 pm

When flying into Cuba I got pulled off to the side.
They went through every single piece of my gear, checking it, double checking it and writing down every single serial number along with a description of ever piece.
While doing this I was bombarded with questions about what newspaper or magazine did I work for, why did I have so much camera gear, what was I planning on photographing in Cuba, was I planning on leaving any of the equipment in Cuba.
In the end everything was packed back up and I went about my way.
My friend, however, had walkie talkies which were confiscated and held until the end of our trip. He was also charged $5/ day storage.
Alex Thomson
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Location: Waterloo

Re: Cuba - Equipment

Postby Mike O on Sat Jan 04, 2014 8:50 am

I am planning my sixth trip to Cuba and have never had any problems at the Cuban end, arriving or departing. The first three trips were to the south shore, Marea Del Portilla landing in Manzanillo. The only time there was a perceived issue was about 12 years ago but the problem was with the travel company. I was taking my wife and son (I had 2 prior trips for scuba diving with a friend, no issues). The travel company (I think it was Alba Tours) sent out a sheet with the trip tickets, itinerary etc. saying that Cuba does not allow "digital cameras" to be brought into the country. I had bought a new digital video camera and built from scratch a housing for the camera for underwater video. After spending all that time and effort preparing and anticipating the trip, I was understandably devastated by this paper. I phoned the travel agent first, then the travel company. Their answers were advising me against taking my gear. Since this was not the answer I was hoping for I went higher up, finally ending up with emailing the Cuban Consulate. The return email read something like, This information you have received is unfortunate as there is no law against bringing any camera equipment into Cuba. So off to Cuba I went with all my equipment. Upon arriving in their customs area they would hand search bags that were x-rayed and had curious items inside. They mark the bag in question with a white chalk "X" which the customs officials would look for and signal you to come to the counter with your bag for hand checking. I was carrying the printed letter from the Cuban Consulate but I was still a bit nervous about trusting the situation. When I picked up my dive bag I found it marked with a big chalk "X". The whole system is a bit low tech and seemingly informal, so I looked around and slung my big dive gear backpack on my back with the big chalk "X" facing out and realizing that it would be in full view as I exited customs. I took my 9 year old son by the hand and lead him out of the airport walking backwards with the "X" facing away from the eyes of the hand checkers and it worked. I got through without being checked. Once getting to the resort I found many other guests with digital cameras, who had no problems with customs.
My forth trip to Cuba and with the 500f4, I was asked what my occupation was and that was all that was said. I assumed it was something to do with the professional looking gear but they may have been satisfied more by my demeanor than my answer. I told them I was a carpenter and gestured with a hammer and nail action. Maybe they thought my answer of being a carpenter was funny since the Spanish word carpintero means woodpecker.

Happy travels
Mike Osborne
Mike O
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