Winter weather can wreak havoc on expensive camera gear. When it comes to cold and moisture, even rugged camera equipment is fairly fragile. The kiss of death comes from moisture—whether that’s from rain, melting snow or condensation. Here are a few great ways to protect your gear in some popular precarious situations.
Getting your gear from A to B can be a big challenge, as well as a prime opportunity for damage from weather, dust and dirt, or even impact. The best protection—the kind that photographers and film crews have used for several decades when hauling their cameras to the farthest reaches of the planet—is a weatherproof, waterproof, crushproof and all-around indestructible hard plastic case.
The standard-bearer for a heavy-duty case like this is Pelican, a manufacturer known for providing lifetime warranties on its rugged cases. The company has recently improved on its products with the introduction of its Air line of cases that are up to 40% lighter than traditional Pelican cases. The 1615 Air Case has the same waterproof, dustproof and crushproof construction as ever, but in a package molded from lighter HPX resin and incorporating honeycomb structural elements for significant weight savings. Choose from an open case that can accommodate a soft-sided bag, padded dividers, pick-apart foam inserts or the TrekPak rigid dividers, and the case can be customized to work with any number of equipment configurations.
In The Rain
Some photographers—particularly photojournalists, and landscape and wildlife photographers—are forced to work outdoors in the rain. The rest of us are able to say, ‘Maybe next time,’ but these dedicated photographers simply wrap up their cameras and head out in the rain to get the shot, whatever that might be. The ultimate waterproof protection—enough to withstand the most extreme of downpours—is to use an underwater housing to protect the camera and lens. This might be a little excessive, however, so instead most photographers opt to simply keep the rain off their otherwise naked camera and lens combo.
Manfrotto offers a line of Elements rain covers designed to provide easy access to camera and controls, while ensuring the contents remain bone dry. The E-705 PL, for instance, is an ingenious design that provides two nylon sleeves into which you insert your hands to reach the camera itself, which is situated in a clear vinyl pouch at the center of the piece—and it’s big enough to accommodate a hot-shoe-mounted flash as well. Another option is the C35 Rain Cape from ewa-marine. It can accommodate a 35mm-format SLR and lens, all within its otherwise fairly plain-looking clear plastic sack.
In The Cold
Extreme cold won’t kill your camera, but it sure will do a number on the batteries. Cold weather makes batteries lag. The best practice for preventing cold batteries from ruining your winter photo shoot is to ensure you’ve always got a warm set of batteries in reserve. Most photographers suggest keeping spare batteries inside your coat and close to your body so that body heat will keep them warm and ready to go. You can also consider using chemical hand warmers and placing them in pockets adjacent to batteries in extreme temps, or even affixing them to cameras in order to keep the battery—and the camera—warm.
One of the most important aspects of working in the cold is thinking ahead to when you’ll be bringing your equipment back indoors and into warmer air. Were you to shoot outdoors in 0˚ temperatures with your camera and carry it, uncovered, into a 72˚ home, you could set it on the kitchen table and watch as, right before your eyes, condensation from the warmer, more humid air draped your expensive camera and lens—every surface you can see and, unfortunately, many you cannot—in a thin layer of condensation. This moisture is just as damaging as setting your camera out in a light rain. Instead, before you bring your gear back indoors, consider enclosing it in a sealed plastic bag. You can put individual pieces in small zip-close bags or simply take a large trash bag and drop your camera bag inside, then seal it up before bringing it into the warm air. This way, the camera can come up to room temperature without condensation forming on its delicate surface.
In The Snow
They say sometimes it gets too cold to snow, but check out the coldest climates on earth and, chances are, there’s a good amount of snow on the ground. Whether you’re photographing snow skiers or landscapes, snow can present a real problem for your camera and lenses—mostly because they will eventually warm up and turn any residual snow into water. The same kind of rain protection used to prevent cameras from getting wet in a downpour can be used to protect cameras from falling snow. Otherwise, it’s imperative to use a weatherproof bag or case, whether that’s something like the Pelican mentioned above, or a backpack or shoulder bag that will prevent snow from soaking through to the inside thanks to weather-resistant zippers that seal tight.
Better still is a bag with a built-in rain fly—like a poncho that pulls out to cover the bag when working in rain or snow. Check out the Tamrac Corona line of sling bags with weatherproof zippers and a seam-sealed rain fly, available in small, medium and large sizes for those who like to carry a lot and those who just need to tote a little into the wild of the frozen tundra.