Solutions: Keep Quiet

Avoid startling wildlife with a modern DSLR sound blimp

AquaTech Scout blimp

A DIY blimp (this one made by Dan Tabar) can be cost-effective, but bulky and limiting.

Do you ever think about the noise a camera with a moving mirror makes every time the shutter button is pushed? In a mechanical dance of precision, the mirror flips out of the way and the shutter curtain opens, then closes and resets. At each step, the various moving parts generate some sound. That’s not always a bad thing. In fact, some early digital cameras that did away with the moving parts found that consumers wanted the reassuring and familiar noise of a mechanical shutter, so they added a fake shutter sound that played every time the digital shutter was activated. It’s the sound of photography, and it reminds us that history is being recorded each time we see the President take the podium at a press conference or a sideline mic catches an NFL photographer capturing a touchdown.

Reassuring as it may be, wildlife photographers have never had the same love affair with the distinct noise of a fast-firing shutter as the photographing public at large. If you’ve seen documentaries of some of the great National Geographic photographers at work, you’ve likely noticed how careful they are, especially in any kind of close quarters with an animal. Part of the care is with the noise the camera makes. The reassuring sound of a high-speed shutter can be so startling to a bird that the whole flock will suddenly take to the air.

Some wildlife pros wrap clothing around the camera to help reduce the sound. A purpose-built device called a blimp does a much better job than a photo vest wrapped around a camera body, but blimps haven’t been an ideal solution because they tend to be too large and cumbersome for most wildlife photographers. If you’re a golf fan, you’ve seen photographers with big camera blimps near tee boxes and lurking by the greens of PGA Tour events on television. If you’ve seen one on TV, you know why they’re called blimps. They’re neither small, nor subtle. Golf photographers have a very good idea of exactly where the action will be so they don’t have to worry about moving and shooting in fast, unpredictable action. Wildlife photographers seldom work in a similar situation.

Modern DSLRs are much quieter than film SLRs ever were, but if they have a moving mirror, they’re still not completely silent. If you’re a serious wildlife photographer, you know that attention to detail helps you get close enough to get the best shots. Being careful about what you wear, the direction of the wind, how you smell and how much noise you make add up to results. So no matter how quiet your DSLR is, a blimp will help you to be all that much quieter and give you a lot more shooting flexibility if you’re within earshot of an animal.

The new generation of DSLR blimps has all of the noise-reducing advantages of their older brethren at a fraction of the size. AquaTech (, a company known for producing camera housings for water and spray protection, makes a line of DSLR blimps that lets you shoot silently while maintaining access to critical camera controls. The AquaTech Scout lineup is available for several of the most popular DSLRs. It looks, as you’d expect, like an underwater camera housing. Compared to other manufactured and DIY blimps, the Scouts are much more form-fitting, which saves on bulk considerably.

The case is lined with sound-dampening foam, which the company claims reduces shutter noise by more than 90%. The body itself is made from polyurethane, and all of the controls are constructed from stainless steel, high-strength plastic or hard-anodized aluminum. Camera controls are logically placed in a similar configuration as they are on the camera body. The main camera dial control on the back of your body is controllable via a similar dial on the back of the blimp housing. Scout bodies are compatible with remote triggers, and they have threaded mounting points for attaching the rig to a monopod or tripod head. You can compose looking through the viewfinder, or in Live View, the blimp back has a clear window for the LCD monitor. A single, easy-access latch opens the blimp and gives you access to the camera.

In addition to the body, you attach tubes (similar to underwater housing ports) that are matched to your lens size. It’s critical, of course, to use the correct tube. A wide-angle lens in a tube meant for a longer telephoto lens will result in significant vignetting. And, of course, if the tube is too short for your lens, the rig won’t fit in the blimp. It’s important to be aware that a lens that doesn’t focus and zoom internally needs to be carefully fitted with a tube to be sure it will operate at all focal lengths and camera-to-subject distances.

The Scout housings use AquaTech’s BT tubes. They’re available in several lengths. For example, the Scout 5D3 for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III can be fitted with BT lens tubes for the following lenses:

35mm ƒ/1.4 L lens:
BT-90 tube

50mm ƒ/1.2 L USM lens:
BT-65 tube
85mm ƒ/1.2 L II USM lens:
BT-100 tube

24-70mm ƒ/2.8 lens:
BT-160 tube
24-70mm ƒ/2.8 II lens:
BT-145 tube

24-105mm ƒ/4 lens:
BT-160 tube
70-200mm ƒ/2.8 IS lens:
BT-215 tube

70-200mm ƒ/2.8 IS II lens:
BT-215 tube

Although AquaTech is a well-known underwater housing manufacturer, their Scout blimps aren’t waterproof—not even for use in the surf zone or shallow water snorkeling. Really. Do not try it at home.