Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Keep your DSLR/lens safe in May's "April Showers"

Think Tank Hydrophobia Rain CoverI don't know what it's like where you live, but in the US' Northeast those “April showers bring[ing] May flowers” have come a month late. It's been raining daily since Friday night, and its expected to continue until the coming weekend.

When we travel, rain or shine, our visits to parks, historic locations, museums, and other locations continue. Travelers get out umbrellas, rain coats, and other foul weather gear and trudge on.

Unfortunately, when it rains, many travelers leave their cameras at the hotel, or at best, put them in their pockets, except for indoor photos. I'm well aware that even inexpensive DSLR cameras and lenses aren't “cheap,” and if they're caught in a storm, they could be ruined. Not only would that be expensive, you wouldn't have their use for the remainder of your trip.

But it would be a shame to be in a spectacular travel location, and have your camera put away, unable to capture amazing indelible memories. You need a great “rain coat” for your camera/lens so you won't miss photographing those memories.
TIP: I've discovered a great rain protector for many Point and Shoot cameras. The Ewa-Marine D-SW Underwater Housing is a waterproof bag with an optically neutral flat glass port through which you take your photos. It's great to use when you're in the rain, or when kayaking, canoeing, or rafting.
I've been examining the leading rain covers for DSLR cameras in the last few months. In preparing this review I've done some extensive testing of the better products. The DSLR rain covers in this review are:
  • Tenba RC Rain Cover Series
  • Fotosharp Pro Rain Cover
  • Laird Rain Hood Series
  • Optec Rainsleeve and Optec Weatherguard
  • Vortex Media Pro Storm Jacket
  • Kata E-702 GDC Elements Cover with E-704 GDC Extension Kit
  • Aqua Tech Sport Shield Professional Rain Cover Series
  • Think Tank Photo Hydrophobia Series
The Tenba RC Rain Cover Series ($40–$67) comes in five lengths designed to protect your DSLR with a variety of lenses from normal focal lengths, all the way to 600mm telephoto lenses. The covers are manufactured with no-seam, one piece construction using thin 200D waterproof coated nylon. There is a clear plastic area to use the camera's viewfinder. I found it waterproof, but difficult and awkward to use. The velco closures didn't hold well.

I examined the Fotosharp Pro Rain Cover ($26) for DSLRs with 18-200mm lenses, or shorter. It stores very small, so it's easy to take on trips. Unfortunately, it's not very strong and it's difficult to use. I'd describe it as a “shower cap.”

The Laird Rain Hood Series ($50–$90) is made from waterproof 420D nylon. It comes with wind guard straps and velcro closures. It's somewhat form fitting and cut loosely enough to have access to the camera's controls. While the Laird series is superior to the Tenba and Fotosharp rain protection, the Laird series is still somewhat difficult to use, for access to camera controls, and zoom lens settings access is even harder.

The Optec Rainsleeve ($7) is “see-through” and formfitting. It's very easy to use and access to camera controls is great. It's hard to use with zoom lenses, as it's so tight. The cover itself is far too flimsy to be dependably waterproof.

The Optec Weatherguard ($80) is a far more heavy duty product than the Rainsleeve. It gives easy access to the camera's controls, but is not at all suitable for use with zoom lenses. Unfortunately the Weatherguard doesn't adequately protect the camera if there is even the slightest breeze.

I've used the Vortex Media Pro Storm Jacket ($50–$59) for a long time. It's well made from “aqua-nylon” waterproof fabric. It has bungee cords and velco to close its openings around the camera and a tripod. Even though it's a sleeve you can still use it with zoom lenses. but you'll have to keep the cover a bit loose on the lens. The product doesn't have built-in viewer. I recommend this cover for emergencies since it takes little room in your bag. You never know when an unexpected storm might hit.

The Kata E-702 GDC Elements Cover with E-704 GDC Extension Kit ($116) was my main rain cover for about a year. It's form fitting and gives excellent access to camera controls, zoom lenses, and your tripod controls. Unfortunately I found that the viewer cover scratches easily which eventually made it difficult to use. It also doesn't fold up small, so taking it on a trip was far from ideal.

Until recently, the Aqua Tech Sport Shield Professional Rain Cover Series ($190–$260) was considered the best rain covers available by most reviewers. It is well manufactured, and is definitely waterproof. With its own eyepiece which screws or slides directly on the camera, it solves the main problem of the Kata. It's a bit on the tight side and isn't as easy as it should be to use camera controls and have access to tripod controls.

I've saved the best for last. The Think Tank Photo Hydrophobia Series ($174–$185) is without peer for DSLR/lens rain protection. Like the Aqua Tech covers it's form-fitting, highly waterproof, and has its own eyepiece. The smaller cover gives excellent access to the camera and lens controls, plus tripod when used. The larger cover will even fit a lens mounted on a gimbal mount head on a tripod, and give excellent access to use it. Each cover folds remarkably tight for easy travel. I recommend the Hydrophobia series without any reservations.


Stan said...

Great article as always. It's especially appropriate today for me. It's been pouring for hours here in upstate NY.

Anonymous said...

I've used a couple different Fotosharp rain covers ( for several years and been happy with them. I tried several rain covers at my local "pro" camera store, and thought the FotoSharp covers were easier to use than others the store carried.

Ned S. Levi said...

My testing of the Fotosharp rain covers is not as positive as your use has been.

I found they were not particularly strong and were too easily damaged. I also found when you fully protected the camera/lens in a bad shower that it was hard to use the camera's controls. It was only easy to use the camera's controls when the Fotosharp was much too open to the elements.

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