What you can – and shouldn’t – do with equipment that is labelled ‘weather resistant’.
Most weatherproof cameras can tolerate being used in light rain (top picture) and spray. However, neither even partial immersion of the camera body in water (lower picture) nor pouring water over the camera is advisable.
First and foremost, there’s a distinction between ‘weatherproof’ and ‘waterproof’. The only cameras that can tolerate being immersed in water are purpose-designed compact cameras, but even they have limitations, which should be clearly spelled out on their packaging and in all promotional and instructional materials associated with them.
Immersion completely surrounds the device with water, which will seek out and penetrate every weakness. As you go deeper, the pressure increases at a rate of one atmosphere for every 10 metres. Waterproof cameras must be designed to withstand this pressure and are rated for specific depths. If the rated depth is exceeded, water will probably enter.
DSLR and CSC cameras are not waterproof but they may be described as ‘weatherproof’. This means they can’t be immersed in water but may be able to tolerate splashes of water or exposure to dust and/or sand. Some manufacturers provide ratings for what environmental factors the equipment can tolerate, the best relating them to established standards (shown below).
Ratings and standards
The most widely-used standard for rating environmental protection for all types of equipment (not just cameras and lenses) is the IP Code (IEC standard 60529), which is sometimes known as the Ingress Protection rating. This international standard is broadly based and classifies and rates the degree of protection provided by mechanical casings and electrical enclosures against intrusion (by body parts such as hands and fingers), dust, accidental contact and water.
How to read IP ratings: the first number covers solid particles (‘dust’) and the second water. The number 6 rating for dust resistance indicated the sealing should not allow dust to enter the device. The number 7 for water resistance indicates the device should tolerate immersion up to one metre.
Ratings indicate compliance with the conditions summarized in two tables, one covering solid particles (‘dust’) and the other water. Mechanical impact resistance is indicated by an ‘IK code’ in which a number between 1 and 9 denotes the energy needed to qualify a specified resistance level. The Japanese JIS ratings, which are commonly used for cameras and lenses, correspond to the second digit of the IP system.
The IP dust resistance ratings are as follows:
0 = No Protection
1 = Solid objects over 50mm (eg, a bump from the back of a hand)
2 = Solid objects over 12mm (eg, a poked finger)
3 = Solid objects over 12mm (eg, tools and wires)
4 = Solid objects over 1mm (eg, small wires)
5 = Dust – limited ingress (no harmful deposits)
6 = Dust – no ingress (total exclusion)
The IP waterproof ratings are as follows:
0 = No Protection
1 = Vertically dripping water
2 = Sprays of water tilted up to 15 degrees vertically.
3 = Sprays of water tilted up to 60 degrees vertically).
4 = Water sprayed from all directions (limited ingress permitted).
5 = Low-pressure water jets from all directions (limited ingress permitted).
6 = Strong water jets from all directions (limited ingress permitted).
7 = Full immersion in water up to 1metre.
8 = Full immersion in water beyond 1metre.
Unfortunately, IP ratings are seldom provided by camera manufacturers, although some provide them for certain types of products. For example, Olympus provides JIS, IEC and IP rating for its Tough cameras but they’re not listed in the specifications for its ‘weather-sealed’ OM-D cameras and lenses. (The best you get is a 90% humidity entry in the Operating Environment section.)
Outside of IP ratings, the best most camera buyers can expect from manufacturers is a list of limitations to water, dust, temperature and impact resistance, which are normally only provided for truly waterproof cameras that are designed to withstand immersion. For example, the Panasonic DMC-FT6 waterproof camera provides the following list: Waterproof to 13m, Shockproof to 2 metres, Freeze-proof to -10â„ƒ, Dustproof and Pressure Resistance to 100 kg/force/cm2.
All weatherproofing claims only apply to a specific item of equipment. If your camera is rated as weatherproof, if must be paired with a similarly-rated lens if you want to use it in any situation where it might get wet or dusty.
Commonsense should dictate which environmental dangers you can subject your camera to and the degree to which the camera might be expected to withstand any insults. But, as they say, commonsense is the least common of the senses. Some YouTube videos of early weatherproof cameras showed ‘reviewers’ pouring water over them and even holding them under a tap. Few cameras will tolerate such abuse.
Water isn’t the only potential danger cameras face. Sand can be equally damaging if it gets into cameras and lenses. Sand trapped in the lips of the covers protecting the memory card and battery ports will allow water to enter. And if it gets trapped in lens cams, the lens faces long term damage.
To find out how weatherproof your camera is, start with the user manual. Any manufacturer worth its salt will provide comprehensive ‘Handling Precautions’, usually near the front of the user manual. You can quickly see how much exposure to moisture and dust the camera can withstand and find useful advice on other factors that can affect the camera as well as how to remove moisture and dust.
The Handling Precautions page from the Canon EOS 7D Mark II’s user manual clearly lists the camera’s limitations and provides advice on dealing with accidental exposures to moisture and dust.
Regardless of the brand or model of camera you own, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent dust or moisture getting into your camera. Regular checks of vulnerable parts of the camera’s body are recommended, particularly after you’ve used the camera in damp or dusty environments.
If your equipment (camera and/or lens) gets wet, turn off the power and carefully wipe off all the moisture with a soft, absorbent cloth. Then remove the battery and memory card and systematically check all the points where water may have got in.
Examine and clean all points that allow access to the inside of the camera: the memory card slot, battery compartment, interface covers (including the hot-shoe cover) and the X-synch connector for external flashguns (if the camera has one). Pay particular attention to the lips of the openings to see if dust, grit or fibres have become trapped.
Make sure the covers close completely and any latches move easily into the locking position. When properly in place, rubber covers should lie flush with the camera body.
Lenses should be cleaned with either a special micro-fibre cloth or a lens cleaning tissue. Remove any dust first with a specially designed blower (hand pumped or aerosol) before wiping the surface of the front element with a gentle, circular motion.
The Olympus handling precautions checklist.
If you think your equipment might have been damaged by liquid or dust getting in, contact the local distributor of the equipment and arrange for it to be serviced. It’s better to act early before damage is done than wait and risk scratches from ingrained grit or water damage to electronics.