Taking care of your camera gear is paramount for some, even to the extent where some camera owners would prefer not to use their gear rather than risk getting dirt, dust, water or any other nasties near it. Of course all of these can be camera killers, but not using our cameras and being super protective is somewhat counter productive. I prefer a more relaxed approach (as with everything), after all photography is about getting out there and taking photos. Your kit is there to be used and not admired, well not all of the time.
Here is a guide on caring for your gear.
Glass elements attract dust, mold, grime and can get scratched so we must take of our investment. To clean the front element of a lens use a soft lens or glasses cloth and lens cleaner as required. Grime and grease can build up over time that only a bit of lens cleaner can remove. I use ordinary glasses cleaner but I believe Visible Dust make a great ‘no streak’ lens cleaner as well as some other cleaning bits.
If you shoot near the sea there is likely to be lots of spray even if you don’t see or feel it. Be sure to clean the lens body with a damp (use tap water), clean cloth and some lens cleaner on the front element. Salt water should not be left to dry on the lens especially on the front element. The salt is abrasive and can cause microscopic scratches to the lens when left to dry then cleaned. A good idea is to carry two cloths whilst shooting near the sea, one reserved for soaking up excess water and the second for cleaning with lens spray and polishing. Be sure to wash your lens cloths occasionally as their ability to clean rather than just smearing dirt around the lens diminishes as they get dirty.
The back element of the lens shouldn’t need cleaning but if it does use a blower to remove dust or a cloth for anything else.
Lenses can be serviced if you have scratches, fogging or mold but it can be costly. Scratches on glass can be professionally polished out if minor. Some lenses can’t be repaired whilst others can be completely dismantled and parts replaced. Speak to the lens manufacturer for more information (best to sit down for the price).
If you live in a humid country or close to the sea some preventative maintenance is required to keep your lenses internally fog and mold free. It’s worth keeping an eye on, no lens is completely air tight so if you know you won’t be shooting for a week place your lenses in an air tight box with an electrical rechargeable dehumidifier. The dehumidifier will first draw all the moisture from the airspace in the box then from the lens. This process can be repeated several times to ensure all moisture is drawn from the lens.
U.V. filters are a good way to protect the front element of a lens however may contribute to vignetting when used in addition to a filter holder. As I’m an advocate for using ND filters I tend not to bother attaching UV filters. If you choose to use a U.V. make sure it is optically good as cheapies may distort or soften your images. For more information about UV filters read my blog post: UV Filters, should I use one?
One place I didn’t think to check and clean on my old Canon 5D camera was between the body and the battery grip. As a result salt water had found its way in from a previous shoot and corroded the paint and metal. If you shoot near the sea make sure you pull apart the entire camera removing battery grips, lenses, tripod brackets or any other attachments before cleaning everything with a damp cloth.
Sensors build up dust (attracted by the electric charge from the sensor) over time causing small dark spots throughout your images. Dust spots are pretty much unavoidable however you can minimise dust from entering your camera body. It is most important to try to avoid changing lenses in the field especially in dusty or windy environments. As this is hardly ever possible I always try to shelter my camera and lens when making a swap and make it quick. You may also want to store your gear in air tight Pelican cases when not in use if the environment is dusty.
To clean the sensor and remove dust spots I recommend sending your camera to the manufacturer for a service (should cost about $50). Cloning out dust spots from your images can be time consuming and therefor expensive. It works out way more cost effective to get the camera professionally cleaned before any shoot that will results in hundreds of images (weddings, time-lapse, portrait sessions). Most cameras have a built in self cleaning sensor which is activated on power on/off but this is no replacement for a sensor clean.
Some photographers choose to clean their sensors using special sensor cleaning swabs (See Visible Dust). I personally don’t trust myself to do this preferring to leave it to the professionals.
Don’t use compressed air to blow out dust as the gas can leave a residue which will build up with continuous use.
Get a good camera bag. A hard case such as those made by Pelican are great to protect your gear but are not very portable. The foam interior of Pelican cases or similar can be shaped to fit every bit of gear, holding it in place and well protected. They are air and water tight, whilst being able to deal with pressure changes when flying (very important!). For most of us a camera bag is a good compromise between protection and trans-portability (I’m sure that’s a word). I use an F-Stop Tilopa which has proven to be very durable and is a great compromise between protection and portability. The bag has internal interchangeable compartments so can accommodate all your gear (or at least all the essentials) although doesn’t hold them quite as snugly as a pelican case. It is also extremely rugged, taking a beating even when carrying 10kg of gear and being slung about.
If you want your tripod to last longer than a couple of months make sure you rinse down the entire tripod with fresh water after shooting in or near the sea. If you don’t any metal components will rust and corrode. Carbon fiber tripods are not exempt as they still have metal parts. Cleaning should be done shortly after shooting and the tripod left to dry fully extended. I’ve been known to take my tripod into the shower with me…romantic!
Filters are a major pain to keep clean when shooting near the sea or in rain. I dare you to try and use them in a bit of rain and not threaten break them into tiny pieces. Again with filters use lens cleaner and a cloth to keep them clean and two cloths if near the ocean. To protect them when not in use I bought an over priced Lee filter holder that holds 10 filters in a semi hard case. It does a great job of protecting them and is worth it when you consider your investment in the actual filters.
Scratches can not be polished out in the cheaper resin filters (most filters). You’ll know if your filters are made of glass as you had to re-mortgage the house to buy them.
Rain / Mist / Humidity / Water
After shooting in the rain soaked alps of Slovenia my ‘weather proof’ 5D Mark II got a good drenching. To some degree all was good with the camera until the inside of both LCD screens fogged up. After a mild panic and an hour in the car with the A.C. on (camera body open, no lens on) all was well. If your camera gets wet, best to dry it with a towel (don’t put it on a heater), then leave it to dry naturally. If it is wet with salt water first clean it with a wet (fresh water) cloth then dry it off.
If your camera takes a dunk and gets seriously wet (water inside the housing), first take the batteries out immediately. Water and electricity don’t mix and will fry the components of your camera. Electronics can get wet and still work if dried out correctly so be sure to remove the batteries first. If the camera was dunked in saltwater thoroughly rinse the camera in fresh water (under the tap if need be) then dry it with the lens off as best you can. Placing the camera in dried rice (cover the lens opening) or with a rechargeable dehumidifier inside a air tight box will help accelerate the process and increase the odds of the camera surviving. When the camera is completely dry put the batteries back in and hope for the best. Good luck, if it doesn’t work it is likely to never work again. Salt water if left too long will corrode the electronics inside the camera and deem it irreparable (or not cost effective to repair).
If you are an avid seascaper you may want to invest in a rain sleeve of sorts, or make one from a plastic bag. This will allow you to shoot in rain or near the sea and not have to rely on any supposed weather sealing (5DMKII is not invisible!).
Fogging is a common issue when shooting in humid conditions. Using an anti fogging cleaning spray can sometimes help but is never a full proof solution. A lens cleaning spray that I have been recommended but never used comes from a USA based company called Visible Dust. I should order some, fogged up lenses and filters are a major pain.
A great purchase to take care of your camera gear is a rechargeable dehumidifier. I bought one recently to pull all the moisture out of my 70-200mm L Series lens which had somewhat fogged up. Charging the dehumidifier and placing it in an airtight (or close to airtight) container with your gear will dry it out preventing mold and fogging. If you live in a humid environment or close to the sea this should be done on a regular basis. It’s also great when your camera gets wet to pull any moisture out of the internal workings.
I’ve never had an issue operating my digital cameras in the cold other than fogging of the lens and reduced battery life.
I remember shooting a 40 minute exposure in the freezing cold winter of New Zealand only to find the lens had been fogged the whole time. The picture didn’t turn out and I had spent the entire time shivering stood beside my camera.
To reduce fogging the lens should be kept slightly warmer that the ambient temperature. I suggest using inexpensive hand warmers available from all camping stores and strap it to the side of your lens.
Battery life can be dramatically reduced in cold temperatures. Be sure to carry spares with you or recharge often. On a recent camping trip to Tasmania I experience temperatures of -10C. To extend the life of my spare batteries I actually slept with them in my sleeping bag at night to keep them warm.
Black seems to be the default colour for camera bodies which doesn’t help when keeping your camera cool. When not shooting keep your camera out of direct sunlight or even wrap it in a t-shirt to somewhat protect it. Overtime using the camera in high temperatures or subjecting it to direct sunlight may damage the electronics or cause the plastic housing to become brittle.
There is a big interest in photographing Colour runs or Indian festivals where coloured dust is thrown in the air. This is possibly the quickest and most effective way to get dust into your gear. I personally would shoot such events with old camera gear or use a waterproof camera housing. A rain jacket may help to keep the worst of it out but to be safe use a housing. It goes without saying if you can avoid it don’t change lenses in dusty environments.
For shooting underwater it is advisable to buy a camera housing rated to past the depth you want to go. I’m presuming you will be in water so a camera housing is kind of a necessity or goodbye camera. Camera housings are expensive for a reason, don’t scrimp, splash the cash or risk losing your camera. The underwater bags work to a shallow depth but are optically inferior.
Please let me know if I have left anything out or you have something you would like me to add by commenting below. If you know someone that might benefit from this post please share it with them.