I've been shipping expensive gear for decades. Not only have I been shipping all the cameras you read about here back to their owners, I've been shipping my own gear out for service for decades. Back when I had a real job, I had to ship a couple of $50,000 electronic instruments every week.
To me, this is obvious, but I realize that to most people, shipping your camera is a mystery.
It's easy, so let me explain.
The concept is simple:
1.) We need to cocoon your heavy item inside something that's springy and has progressively greater resistance to crushing as it's pushed further. That's air, and for that, we use bubble wrap.
2.) Put the bubble-wrapped item in a box with enough filler so that it doesn't move around.
3.) Be sure the recipient can unpack it easily, and wrap it in a plastic bag just in case someone else's shipment leaks.
I'll cover the rest in details, next.
If you really want to pack like a pro, first wrap the item in a clear plastic bag to protect it in case the box is left out in the rain, or is dripped on by someone else's leaky medical sample shipment.
The bag doesn't have to be airtight; it's protecting against drips, not submersion.
Include a copy of who, what, when and where in the box, and inside the bubble wrap.
If the box falls off the back of a truck and splits open, your item will survive in its bubble wrap, but will anyone know to whom it belongs?
It's also always good practice to include a cover sheet of what and why etc. you're sending whatever. Never presume the recipient, unless its your mom, has any idea who you are or why you're sending them something.
If you expect it returned to you, always include your complete shipping address and phone number in the box. Pros use FedEx and UPS, not the postal service, and the good shipping services all require phone numbers in case they have to phone the recipient to get their package to them.
Wrap the item in bubble wrap. Big bubbles are easier for big items, and tiny bubbles for small ones.
Use two inches (5cm) for small items, and four (10cm) or more for bigger ones. If you're sending small accessories like filters which are already in a protective case, just once-around with bubble wrap is enough from letting them bang into anything else.
Use just one piece of tape, just enough to keep the bubble wrap from unwrapping. Don't use too much tape or the recipient will never be able to get it apart.
Fold over one end of the tape to make a little tab. If you put a small piece of paper in the tab, it will be even more obvious to the recipient that you've made it easy for them to unwrap.
Hint: The nicer you are to the people getting your package, the better care they'll take of your gear.
Once you've wrapped the item in bubble wrap properly, you can drop it on concrete and the item will survive. The reason we use bubble wrap is because the air has to be squeezed harder and harder as it compresses, so even throwing it against a wall, you'll probably never bottom-out the air bubbles and have the camera actually touch the wall, where damage would start.
Boxed New Items
You're in luck: the original boxes provide the best possible packing for any item.
You can skip the bubble wrap; the manufacturer's custom box is even better, but bubble wrap never hurts.
Worms or Pillows
Put some worms (peanuts, angel turds, etc.) in the bottom of the box. Put in the item, and pour in the rest.
Use more than you need: you should have to push down a little on the box top. This keeps everything snug. You don't want any extra space for it to bounce around.
Worms are easy, but a pain on the other end. Today, most pro shippers use little pillows, which weigh nothing, cushion the shipment, and are easy to deal with on the other end.
Always use a box big enough to leave a few inches of worms or pillows on every side of what you're shipping. Presume your box will be crushed, or poked in, by a few inches, so make sure that when it does, nothing is damaged.
If shipping boxed new items, you could skip the worms, but if the outer box is crushed, so will the new item's box. Most of us like our boxes intact, so always use worms or pillows around boxed new items.
Never Do This
No Newspaper or Blankets
They're not dusty, but when an item is dropped, it still can compress either material all the way, right down to the concrete.
The reason bubble wrap is used is because the more its squeezed, the more it squeezes back, so the item never hits the concrete when dropped.
No Shredded Paper
Never use shredded paper in place of worms. Packing worms are designed to stay in one piece The stuff that comes out of your paper shredder might make nice dog bed filling, but it's awful for packing because:
1.) It's loaded with dust. Pack a camera in this, and you've destroyed your item after the dust works its way into every nook and cranny as it's shipped.
2.) It's poor packing material, because it doesn't have progressive resistance. When you push an item hard enough, it pushes all the way through the padding of shredded paper, and bottom-out against the box, at which point it's destroyed.
No Green Products
Ship your perishable organic vegetables in biodegradable packing, but never use biodegradable worms for shipping valuable items.
When most biodegradable worms get wet, they dissolve. If your box gets wet, not only will your item no longer be cushioned, it will be destroyed in a sea of muck. Vegetables aren't damaged by this, but cameras are.
When I get boxes packed in this stuff, I use the worms as pee targets. I pop one in the john, and pee on it, seeing if I can sink it before I run out of juice.
See the worms in the photo above? Don't use those! Those were the biodegradable ones, but they made for an OK photo otherwise.
I support my growing family through this website.
If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.
Thanks for reading!