Ask Gadling: How do I protect my camera from the elements?

For many travelers, their camera is one of the most expensive items they’ll be carrying on their trip. Today we’re tackling a question submitted by Larry, from Omaha, Nebraska:

“I’m taking my new camera on a trip to the Serengeti that will involve sand and rain (and possibly mud). I really don’t want it to get damaged, but I plan to use it a lot and don’t really know what I’m supposed to do to keep it clean and safe. Am I supposed to have supplies of some kind? Is there some part of the camera I should check every day to make sure it’s okay?”

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GADLING: This is an awesome question, and while I’ve not taken my camera to the Serengeti, I have battled against sand, sea and salt on several beach and rainforest trips over the 16 or so years I’ve been a photographer. The following are some of the tricks I’ve picked up along the way that should help minimize any potential damage to your camera from the elements.

Use an all-weather camera bag
. You likely won’t have your camera out all the time, and when you’re trudging along your path in a deluge, you’ll want to be sure that your camera isn’t getting wet in the process. Consider buying a water-resistant bag for your camera, lenses and related gear, so you don’t have to worry about whether your expensive camera is getting completely soaked because of an ineffective bag. There are several kinds of bags: backpack-style, satchel, or even fanny-pack style — so visit your favourite camera store, check out their selection, and choose the one that feels most comfortable to you.

Keep a UV filter on your lens. This is a good idea anyway, regardless of whether you’re actually going to be traveling in challenging climates. Keeping the UV filter on your lens protects your lens from wind-blown grit and debris like sand and salt. Sure, if the filter gets scratched you’ll need to buy another filter, but better a $32 dollar filter than a $700 lens.

Purchase an air blower. You should never reach inside your camera when the lens is off, but sometimes the temptation is irresistible, particularly when you know there’s just a little bit of grit sitting on the inside of the your lens, perhaps on the mirror or sensor. The problem is, of course, that the slightest pressure might scratch the mirror. So instead, use an air blower to help whisk that bit of dirt off the mirror.

Keep a pack of baby wipes on hand. When it comes time to handle your camera, you want to make sure your hands are clean. Keeping baby wipes on hand will ensure that you can clean up on a moment’s notice.

All this said, there are a few practices you can be sure to do religiously, in order to help protect your camera and which cost little to nothing:

1. Even if your camera bag is waterproof, consider keeping your camera in a sealable plastic bag. Even the most water-tight bag can get sand and dust blown into it when you’re reaching in to grab your camera. Consider traveling with a few gallon-size plastic bags, and store your camera in one before putting it into your camera bag.

2. Try to minimize changing lenses in situ. If the sand, wind and rain are particularly bad, you really shouldn’t change your lenses — consider traveling with a lens that has a long focal range (a zoom lens), or with multiple camera bodies with different lenses on them. As much as possible, keep your lens attached to the camera body, so nothing can get inside the camera.

3. If you must change lenses, do it inside, as quickly as possible. If necessary, create a shelter using your rain poncho; in any event protect the camera from any wind or dust before you do it.

And, of course, if you can avoid changing lenses at all during your trip, this is ideal — the less you expose the interior workings of your camera body to the elements, the better.

At a minimum, doing all of the above will help protect your camera — and of course, getting your camera serviced by a reputable camera store before and after your trip is always a good idea.

Good luck, Larry, and happy travels!