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Gadget Bag: Cold Weather Photo-Savers
Some of the most spectacular outdoor photo opportunities occur in cold weather—snowy landscapes, clearing storms, winter wildlife and more. Aside from the photographic challenges, the main key to success is keeping yourself and your gear warm and dry. Here are some tips to follow.
Pro DSLR bodies generally are weather-resistant, such as the Pentax K-30 and K-5 series, but there are some things to consider. First, not all of the lenses for those bodies are weather-resistant. Make sure you’re using a weather-resistant lens on the body if you intend to expose the combo to the elements. Second, the body is weather-resistant only when all the openings are sealed. If you lost the little rubber cover for one of the connection terminals, the camera is no longer weather-resistant. Finally, even weatherproof gear can fall prey to a heavy downpour, so keep the camera protected except when you’re actually shooting. A rainproof camera/lens cover is a great idea when you intend to shoot in inclement conditions, even with weather-resistant gear.
If you shoot in the rain, the front element of your lens will get water drops on it, adversely affecting image quality, so carry a soft lens cloth to remove the droplets frequently. A clear or UV filter will protect the front element’s coatings from repeated cleanings.
LensCoat RainCoat Pro
Weatherproof camera covers range from plastic bags like those from ewa-marine to full underwater housings. The former are better choices for land-based photography, providing complete protection from water without the bulk of the latter. LensCoat lens covers offer insulation for lenses and hands, as well as protection from rain. Camera Duck All-Weather Covers include pockets for heat pads, which help keep your gear warm and dry.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4
Think About A Dedicated Weatherproof Compact
Some compact digital cameras are designed for handling harsh conditions. They can withstand the cold, accidental drops and even complete submersion in water. Rather than risk your fancy gear, it may be a good idea to buy one of these hardy and easy-to-carry point-and-shoots for facing challenging weather. Most models let you control shutter speed, aperture, exposure and focus, as well as providing full auto operation. The main drawback is that their small image sensors can’t deliver the DSLR’s kind of image quality. The Canon PowerShot D20, Fujifilm FinePix X170, Nikon Coolpix AW100, Olympus Tough TG-820, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS4, Pentax Optio WG-2 and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX200V are worthy considerations in this class.
Gitzo GC2560 Neoprene Tripod Leg Warmer
Grabbing a cold aluminum or carbon-fiber tripod leg can be painful in very cold weather. Tripod leg warmers help you avoid this problem. Gitzo, LensCoat, Manfrotto and OP/TECH are just a few of the manufacturers that make them. Leg warmers also reduce wear and tear on the tripod legs from bushwhacking to that great shooting spot.
Grabber Hand Warmers
Warm Your Batteries
Batteries don’t like cold, and even a freshly charged unit will fail to function if it’s cold enough. Keep the camera inside your coat between shots and spare batteries in an interior pocket where your body heat can help keep them warm. It’s a good idea to carry spare batteries when you head into the field, but especially so in cold weather. Grabber hand warmers will keep the feeling in your fingers, and they also make good battery warmers. Keep the hand warmer in your pocket with the battery.
Warming The Photographer
Cold is bad enough, but cold plus wet is potentially dangerous. Wear clothing that keeps you warm and dry. Dress in layers, starting with thermal underwear. As the day heats up, remove the outer layers to keep from overheating, then put them on again as the sun goes down. Nature photography often consists of fairly strenuous hikes followed by long periods of inactivity as you wait for the light and conditions to come together.
Marmot Yukon Classic Parka
Proper layering keeps you comfortable when active and for the more sedentary moments. A heavy coat such as the Yukon Classic Parka from Marmot is good for colder weather. Marmot also makes several fleece and waterproof soft-shell options that are lighter for layering under a heavier coat. The versatile Columbia Sportswear Ultrachange Parka gives you a two-in-one, with a warm liner jacket under a heavier outer shell.
A lot of your warmth escapes through the head, so keep it covered with a hood or some kind of hat such as the snug-fitting Ascent Beanie from The North Face. A hooded parka, like those mentioned, is a good choice for your outer layer, which should be windproof for maximum comfort. A wool or fleece scarf will help keep your neck warm.
Brno dri+ Cap
Don’t change lenses outside when it’s cold or raining. Use a zoom lens, live with the prime lens on the camera, or swap lenses in your car and other dry, warm places. Bringing the camera into a warm place from a cold one, or vice versa, can cause condensation, which can damage internal parts. Tightly seal the camera in a plastic resealable bag and let it gradually warm or cool to the ambient temperature of the new location before removing it. Including a packet of silica gel in the bag with the camera helps minimize condensation problems. Another nice solution is to use Brno dri+ caps. These dehumidifying lens caps hold a replaceable silica gel packet and help reduce moisture when your gear is changing temps.
It’s hard to shoot with frozen fingers so wear protective gloves. The really warm heavy winter gloves are too bulky to allow you to set camera controls and press buttons, so most shooters prefer photographer’s gloves like the Flashpoint Finger Shooting Glove, which provides quick access to your thumb and fingertip. Another option is the Manfrotto Lino Pro Photo Glove, which keeps hands warm and insulated without preventing you from accessing camera controls. One of our staff members uses baseball batting gloves, which do permit setting the camera even with the smallish buttons and levers, but they’re thin and don’t keep your hands warm at temperatures below around 40° F. Chemical hand warmers are easy to carry and do a good job of keeping your hands ready to shoot.
Lowa Tibet Pro GTX Boots
Warm mountaineer’s socks enhance warmth and comfort, while boots made with Gore-Tex® fabric keep your feet warm and dry. Gore-Tex® allows water vapor to sweat out while preventing water drops from getting in. The Garmont Zenith Hike Gore-Tex® boots are lightweight and highly breathable so your feet should stay comfortable all day long. If you’re headed out on a heavy backpacking trip that could see fairly extreme weather conditions, consider the Tibet Pro GTX boots from Lowa. The tough Vibram Masai sole gives you traction, while a 5mm full-length nylon shank adds stability and protection.
Manfrotto Lino Pro Field Jacket
Manfrotto Lino Pro Field Jacket
Manfrotto’s Lino Pro Field Jacket is a stylish, comfortable all-weather coat that keeps warmth in and wind and water out, while providing freedom of movement. It features two interior pockets with modular pocket inserts that can be removed and used as kneepads while shooting low-level images. The design distributes the weight of pocket items to the shoulders, and there are shoulder-pad inserts to cushion the weight of camera bags. The black jackets are available in men’s and women’s styles and sizes.