Thursday, April 7, 2011

Protecting your lenses while traveling

The Eiffel Tower, Paris, FranceImmediately when purchasing it, most everyone considers protecting their camera for travel and home. Typically, everyone purchases a camera case or bag to haul it around. Some travelers purchase a camera strap with a steel cable in it to prevent slash and grab thefts.

The same travelers rarely think about protecting their SLR or DSLR lenses from being damaged, which when you think about it, makes little sense.

SLR and DSLR users generally own at least two lenses for their camera, and often have more. Looking at many vacationers' stable of lenses, I often see a wide angle zoom, a normal-telephoto zoom, and often a fast prime lens. Sometimes they also own a macro or telephoto lens.

If you add up the cost of the lenses, even when they own just two, they will equal or more likely exceed the value of their camera.

I was in Paris a few years ago. I went to the Eiffel Tower one evening to take night photos. The crowd at the tower was huge. After finishing we walked back to the Metro to return to our hotel along with many who had visited the Tower that evening. The neighborhood is filled with row homes having front steps with metal railings.

Along the way I was accidental pushed into one of those railings by the crowd. The front of my lens hit the railing. Despite the lens cap on the lens, the UV filter atop the lens was smashed.

Fortunately, while the UV filter was in pieces, the lens itself was intact. The filter saved the lens for the next day's shooting, and saved me from replacing the $1,000 lens. Instead I spent €30 for a new filter.

Choosing to use a filter on a lens for protection it is not without some debate.

Filters can adversely affect image quality (IQ). Any time additional glass is introduced between your camera's film or sensor and your subject, it has the potential to reduce IQ. The reduction in image quality might be seen as:
  • a reduction in local or overall image contrast,
  • a slight color tint,
  • ghosting,
  • lens flare caused by light reflecting off the inside of the filter back to the film or sensor, or
  • physical vignetting if the filter's edge gets in the way of light entering the lens. This is not uncommon, for example, if you stack filters such as a UV filter with a polarizing filter on a wide angle lens.
Two types of filters are typically used as lens protectors; UV filters and clear filters. There is a specific issue about using a UV filter to protect a lens on a digital camera. While digital camera sensors are sensitive to UV light, most are equipped with multi-coated, multi-layered filters designed to filter out extended ranges of UV. That begs the question, why put a UV filter on a digital camera for protection?

Personally, I continue to use a filter on the front of my lenses, to protect them, when possible. Not all lenses, such as a fisheye lens, can be equipped with a front filter.

I have switched to NC (Neutral Clear) filters for my lenses for use with my DSLR. They are clear (colorless) filters. I use high quality, thin, multi-coated NC filters to minimize reflection at the filter surfaces. As a result I have not had a problem with flare and ghosting from the filters. I've taken test photos and found no perceptible IQ loss.

Lens hoods are devices used on the end of lenses to block the sun or other light sources to prevent glare and lens flare. Their geometry varies from a plain conical to a more complex cut sometimes called a flower, petal or tulip hood. The various designs are to prevent the hood from blocking the lens' field of view and cause vignetting.

Lens hoods also protect lenses. They prevent damage to the lens' front element from knocks, falls, bumps and scratches, when the hood is facing forward. Of course, when lenses aren't in use, most people reverse the lens hood for storage. Such was my case in Paris when I was carrying my camera/lens in a case, over my shoulder.

When out shooting, always use the lens hood appropriate for your lens.

There is another product I've been using recently to protect my longer lenses; Lenscoats.

Lenscoats are 100% closed-cell neoprene “sleeves” which protect lenses from bumps and scratches. The are custom designed for each lens for which they're available. They are comprised of multiple pieces which don't quite cover the entire lens body, in order to allow zoom and focusing rings and other controls to function smoothly and properly. Lenscoats provide a thermal barrier, protecting your hands from cold lenses in lower temperatures. The sleeves are waterproof, providing limited lens protection in inclement weather.

1 comment:

John said...

Thanks to your advice I have NC filters on all of my lenses. I have occasionally touched front elements and have been in dusty and wet environments. I notice no IQ loss and have a little extra piece of mind. Thank you.
John E

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