Moisture and grit such as sand are two of the biggest threats to digital cameras. They get inside DSLR lenses and camera bodies, scratch lenses, kill electronics, and wear down moving parts. This ruins not just your gear but also your chances for clear photos. Extreme hot and cold as well as corrosives like salt are also problematic conditions for cameras. But with the right gear in your camera bag and a plan for the right techniques, you can prepare for all these and protect your digital camera.
Moisture is the biggest problem because it is everywhere. Fog, humidity, precipitation, sweat, condensation from temperature change, and windy days around big bodies of water are just some of the more common ways moisture can get into your camera. Dropping it in the water is another. Not only does water on the lens change shots, water inside your camera kills the chip and shorts out other parts of the computer inside.
Gear: Use a strap so you don’t drop your camera and carry only one or two DSLR lenses when water is a significant risk. Silica packs in your camera bag help fight condensation and remove some moisture. Carry a high-quality cloth to wipe of moisture from condensation and rain. And a good plastic bag is a surprisingly versatile accessory.
Techniques: Obviously, keep your camera dry. Be aware of condensation risks (more on temperature changes below) and pay attention to the condition of your camera. If it seems like it’s getting wet, stop and figure out where the moisture is coming from so you can dry it off and prevent further moisture before you move on. Use special cloth to wipe the lens if it gets wet to avoid scratches.
Sand and dirt are almost as prolific, and can be just as problematic. One or two grains of sand in the shutter can kill your camera. Whether you’re dealing with suspended particles on a windy day or just shooting at the beach, caution and these pieces of equipment can help.
Gear: Start by putting a decent UV filter on all your DSLR lenses. This keeps grit off the front element of the lens and is inexpensive to replace if it gets damaged. Some pros go as far as shooting in an underwater housing to help deal with the most intense weather, but this comes with obvious convenience sacrifices. You can also just wrap your camera in a zipper-seal bag with a hole for the lens to poke out if you anticipate serious wind and particles in the air. Be sure to carry cleaning tools like a cloth and an air blaster to clean the camera quickly every few minutes in this case.
Techniques: Keep your camera out of the wind. If you have to open it to change a lens, go in your car, a tent, or somewhere else protected. And be cautious. If there’s a chance of sand getting deeper into your camera, clean the outside, open it slowly, and be ready to remove particles from the inside before closing it.
Extreme cold makes batteries die more quickly. Extreme heat can fry your DSLR’s chip if you expose it for too long. And moving between colder (less humid) places and hotter (more humid, usually) places like moving indoors during winter, can cause condensation to form inside your camera.
Gear: In the cold, you need to carry lots of spare batteries. In the heat, the best option is to have access to a car or somewhere else with air conditioning for breaks. Also keep the camera out of the direct sun to prevent it from heating up as much.
Techniques: Your own body heat is a great tool. Keep batteries on the inside pocket of your jacket in the cold so they don’t run down before you can use them. If you’re moving from somewhere colder and dryer, carry the camera inside your jacket or coat and let it warm up somewhat before you go inside, then keep it in your jacket as a buffer to reduce immediate exposure to humidity. Your body can also act as a sunshade in the heat.
DSLR lenses and camera bodies are relatively resilient, but their insides are quite delicate. Use these tips, techniques, and gear suggestions to protect your digital camera from the most common environmental threats it faces.