The biggest problem with photography gear is that it’s both fragile and expensive. This means that it’s easy to break and potentially painful—to your bank balance, heart, and soul—when you do. Let’s look at some of the ways you can protect your camera and lenses from bumps, bangs, and everyday life.
In this article, I’m going to be looking at this from the perspective of someone who probably does things with their gear that they shouldn’t. I regularly ski with my camera, shoot in the rain or sea spray, and just take my camera places Canon wouldn’t recommend a careful owner take it. If I’m able to keep my gear safe while I do it, you should be able to use my advice to keep your camera safe in day to day life.
Have Realistic Expectations for Your Gear
Cameras are electronics; get them soaking wet, and you’re going to have a very bad day. Similarly, lenses are tightly packed full of glass; if you drop one from six feet in the air, there’s very little that can be done to stop something smashing. This article isn’t about trying to make your gear bulletproof. It’s about making sure it doesn’t end up in situations where it needs to be bulletproof.
With that said, not all camera gear is the same. Cameras and lenses built for professionals, like Canon’s L-series lenses, tend to be able to take more of a beating. They use all metal construction and have rubber gaskets to weather seal everything. If you know you’re going to be using your camera in aggressive situations like, say, while you’re skiing or in the desert, then it might be worthwhile investing in gear that can take a bit more punishment. This was a big factor in me upgrading my camera.
Keep Your Camera Attached To Your Body at All Times
The secret to protecting your camera from drops is pretty simple: your camera should never be able to fall directly onto the ground from a height that can damage it. Instead, it should be attached to your body at all times with a camera strap. As soon as your camera comes out of your bag, put your strap on. Once the strap comes off, your camera goes back in your bag. Follow that maxim, and your camera can’t fall.
The neck strap that comes with your camera is… fine… but we’d recommend replacing it for a couple of reasons:
- You look stupid and it instantly marks you as a tourist (and target for theft).
- They’re not very adjustable.
- Hanging from your neck in front of your body isn’t the best place for your camera if you’re trying to do anything else.
I’m a big fan of Peak Design’s products. They sit nicely between the bad straps that come with cameras and the crazy professional holsters that let you dual wield cameras. I either use a Slide as a regular over-the-shoulder camera strap, or I use a Capture Camera Clip to mount the camera to my bag and a Leash as a safety lead. In either case, I’ve got a Clutch hand strap attached to the camera as well. Both setups mean it’s improbably my camera will ever fall far enough to hit the ground hard.
Keep Your Gear In the Right Bag
Throwing your camera loose into a regular backpack is asking for trouble. If it doesn’t get damaged from the occasional kick, bang, or bump, the lens caps will almost certainly get knocked off so your lens can get scratched or dust can get in. At a push, you can get away with wrapping your camera in a sweater or something, and then putting it carefully at the bottom. But seriously, it’s better not to do it at all.
Instead, you should get a dedicated camera bag or at least a dedicated camera compartment to put in your current bag. These bags come with adjustable padded dividers that keep your camera gear separate and stop it from moving around. This means that even if you take a big ski crash, it’s probably going to be okay.
Your camera should, when it’s not in use, live in this bag. Don’t leave it sitting on a table where a careless elbow could send it crashing to the floor.
I use an f-stop Ajna bag (it seems to be unavailable at the moment) with a Small Pro ICU. For most people, I’d recommend f-stop’s Guru UL 25 L Bundle, although there are also great bags available from Lowepro and other companies. One advantage of f-stop is that their ICUs will work in any bag—they just won’t be fixed in place—so you can use it to protect your gear even if you aren’t taking your camera backpack.
Be Very Careful Changing Lenses
Changing lenses is one of the times you have to be most careful. It’s when you’re most likely to drop a lens or get some dust into your camera.
While it’s impossible to make sure you don’t drop your lenses, you can minimize how they far they can fall. If you can, change lenses while placing all your gear on a table. If you’re out on location, crouch down and use the ground as a table. In either case, never place any lens element directly on your surface. Put the lens caps on first.
If it’s raining, there’s lots of dust in the air, or there’s anything else that could get inside your camera or lens, don’t change your lens. If you absolutely have to because you need to switch lenses to get the most perfect shot in the world, do it under your coat or in your bag as quickly and carefully as possible.
Use a UV Filter to Protect Against Scratches and Dust
While UV filters don’t do much to protect your lenses from falls, they can protect them from scratches and keep dust away from the front element. Also, some lenses aren’t weather sealed unless there’s a filter attached. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep a UV filter, if not permanently on your lens, then at least in your camera bag.
Cheap UV filters from no-name brands will noticeably affect the quality of your images. If you stick to high quality filters from brands like Hoya, B+W, Zeiss, Canon, and Nikon, you’ll be fine. Just pick up whatever one is available in the right size for a decent price.
Keep Your Lens Caps On
Lens caps might be small, fiddly, and easy to lose, but they serve a pretty important purpose: they seal your camera and protect it from scratches and small bumps. You obviously need to take your lens cap off to take photos, but when you’re just wandering around with your camera on its strap, you should put the lens cap on. I can imagine few things worse that scraping your lens because it accidentally bangs off the edge of a metal table.
Air Your Gear Out
If your gear does get a bit damp or covered in sand, air can go along way towards fixing any potential problems.
If your gear is a little wet from the rain, rather than leave it sitting in your bag to soak when you get home, put it somewhere safe to air out. The water will evaporate and all will be well. Even entry level cameras are designed to deal with the occasional splash.
On the other hand, if dust or sand is the problem, don’t use a lens cloth to wipe it off. You’ll either rub the particles in further or basically just sandpaper your gear. Instead, use a blower like the Rocket Air Blaster to remove it.
If All Else Fails, Repair Costs Can Be Reasonable
No matter what you do, at some point, some piece of your gear is likely to break. It’s just the reality of using fragile equipment. The good news is that camera manufacturers know this and don’t want to punish photographers for using their gear. This means they keep the repair costs, if not cheap, then at least reasonable. If you do break something, go in to a local authorized repair center and get a quote. It will likely be a lot cheaper than a replacement.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that camera gear is meant to be used. Professionals are by far the most cavalier with their gear; it’s amateurs who tend to bubblewrap everything. Go out and take great photos. I’ve, at some point, broken every suggestion in this article and my gear, while scuffed a bit, is still working perfectly.