Those of you who know my work won’t be surprised to know that I’m sometimes out and about in “inclement weather”. Taking care of my cameras and making sure they’re going to keep working is quite important (otherwise my insurance premiums would probably go up!). I use lots of different products as part of my photography kit, and friends and family sometimes joke that I’m a “gadget freak”. But almost every piece of equipment is there for a reason, carefully researched before I decide to invest both money and space in my camera bag.
Rain protection is a serious issue for me. The Canon 1-series cameras and many of their ‘L’ lenses are designed to be used in harsh conditions, including out and about in rainstorms. However these cameras are too big and bulky for me to be interested in carrying them, and for years I’ve been using the EOS 5D and xxD bodies instead. While I’m not afraid to take them out in light rain (I do wipe the rain off when I can) I do need to take care of them. Some (but not all) of the lenses I use are L “weather-sealed” models which does help, but I know of even 1-series cameras that have died due to moisture ingress in severe rainstorms. So whatever camera/lens I’m using, I need the option of some additional protection.
At times (e.g. photographing fungi in rainforests) I’ve used the simple trick of poking a hole in the end of a big garbage bag and sealing it around the hood of my macro lens with a rubber band. It’s cheap and cheerful, and quite effective. The bags are large enough to also cover the tripod ballhead, and even your head when looking through the viewfinder! But around here it’s proven almost impossible to get large clear bags, so we make do with the black or green ones (I usually have a roll of garbage bags in my kit on photo workshops to provide to participants).
The Rainsleeve from OP/TECH USA is another option: a clear plastic bag shaped for cameras/lenses and with a drawstring for the lens. I’ve used these in the past (including in downpours on the South Shetland Islands near Antarctica) quite successfully, but like the garbage bags they do wear out fairly quickly.
In 2009 I started using the Kata E-702 cover, which is my current favourite. It scrunches up to fit into a corner of my bag, and is easy to attach/detach around the camera and a wide variety of lenses. Even with the 100-400mm lens on the camera it’s big enough: the optional E-704 lens extension is overkill for that. Note that having neck straps for your camera with quick-release clips (such as the mixture of OP/TECH USA straps I use) lets you quickly thread/unthread the straps through the hand-holes at the sides of the rain covers. In 2010 I also got a smaller E-690 which lets me leave my Lumix G1 unattended on a tripod (e.g. taking timelapse photos) without worrying about it.
But it’s not just rain we have to worry about. When working in cold climates, snow is usually not a problem (unless it melts on the camera) but condensation when the cold camera comes into warmer humid air is. One of things I like about the Kata bags is that it’s easy to see through the transparent cover when condensation is building up inside. It’s easy to think “sure, I’ll remember to pack the camera back into the backpack before I go inside” but things don’t always work out that way. And even when out in the cold and rain, with your damp hands inside the cover to operate the camera it can be surprising how quickly the warmth and humidity can build up in there. With the condensation easy to see, it’s let me know to remove the cover (or just mop inside with a microfibre cloth). I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen several cameras (not mine) die because this wasn’t done.
Anyway, this post was prompted by a recent positive customer-service experience. An E-702 I purchased in mid-2009 had developed a fault (the transparent portion was becoming “milky”). After an email exchange with Kata‘s support people (which started off with me asking about cleaning techniques) they identified that my E-702 was part of a batch with a manufacturing fault, and they sent me a replacement free of charge. I didn’t have to wait long either: they had their Australian distributor ship it to me, even though I’d bought it in the US. The replacement showed up yesterday: just in time for the next Antarctic trip. That’s good customer service in this worldwide economy!
Incidentally, the photo in this post is of my 5DmkII sitting in the rain with both the camera and the ballhead protected by an E-702, during a lull in one of my recent jobs photographing trains. It was taken with my iPhone 4, using the new HDR function which does a quite good job at extending the dynamic range of the phone’s camera. Without HDR the grey sky blew out to white!