Ways to protect your lenses from water, sand and impact shock.

When you’ve invested what might be a substantial amount in a camera and several lenses you want to keep them in good condition for as long as possible. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to protect your gear.

The main things that can damage your equipment are water, sand and impact shock, and they all have different effects. We look at each factor in turn and outline what kind of damage it can do and how to prevent damage from happening.

Your local camera shops should stock special lens cleaning kits containing a blower brush for removing loose dust and fibres, lens cleaning fluid for getting rid of stubborn grease and stuck on dirt, cotton buds for reaching into inaccessible places and  single-use lint-free tissues. (Source: Camera House.)

Lens care

Money invested in lenses provides longer-lasting value than money invested in cameras, simply because you tend to keep lenses much longer. Good lenses lock you into a particular camera brand and system by providing results that give you confidence to keep shooting and satisfaction with the photos you take. So it’s worth taking good care of them.

Dirt, grease, droplets of moisture and other debris will reduce the contrast and sharpness of your images, particularly if they’re on the rear element of the lens, where they will project as a small shadow or blurry patch. The effect increases as the lens aperture is stopped down. Your local camera shop stocks lens cleaning kits and will show you how to keep your lenses clean without damaging them.

Scratches on the rear element can also produce dark blobs but they may also look like flare at smaller apertures.  Front element scratches will also reduce the contrast and sharpness of your images, although not quite as much.

The best way to protect your lenses from damage are:

1. Put the front and end caps on whenever the lens is not in actual use.

2. Take care when changing lenses to keep dust and moisture out of the camera and lens.

Hold your camera vertically when changing lenses and work quickly to reduce the chance of dust getting in. Never change lenses in windy conditions. (Source: Sony.)

Don’t change lenses on the beach or in windy conditions, particularly near salt water. Have the camera and lens ready when you need to swap and do it as quickly as possible.

3. Protect your lenses from impact damage by keeping them in padded pouches or sections of your camera bag when they’re not in use.

4. Only clean lenses with special microfibre lens cleaning cloths or lint-free tissues. Use a circular motion and don’t rub hard. Cleaning sprays will usually dislodge stuck on dust particles and difficult to remove grease marks. Wash microfibre cloths frequently to keep them free of accumulated grease.

Clean the surfaces of the lens front and rear elements with a microfibre cloth or lens tissue, using a gently circular motion.  The soft-bristled brush and blower brush shown in this illustration should be used first to remove loose particles and fibres from the lens. They can also be used on the camera body.

Water damage

Water is the most common source of damage to cameras and lenses, mainly because it can destroy the electronics. Even a little moisture on an electronic component can short-circuit the components that pass digital signals between the essential components needed to operate cameras and lenses.

Most weather-resistant cameras and lenses can tolerate brief exposure to light showers of rain. The lens hood will keep the raindrops off the front element and let you keep on shooting. (Source: Nikon.)

Most cameras and lenses that claim ‘weather resistance’ can cope if you’re caught in a sudden shower of rain – as long as it’s relatively light and falling vertically. But even those with the highest weather-proof sealing will be effectively written-off if they are dropped in the sea. Salt water is one of the leading causes of permanent damage to gear over time.

Unfortunately, repeated exposure to the salty air at beaches can create problems over extended periods of time leading to gear failure. Salt in the air will slowly creep its way into the seams and eventually damage the electronics. Corrosive water damage is seldom worth spending money on trying to repair. (TIP: Don’t buy used camera gear from coastal locations.)

Sand damage

While sand seeping into a camera body can cause damage, it’s much more destructive if it gets into lenses. The problem is particularly bad with grains of sand, which tend to be picked up easier by the wind and distributed much more widely.

You can tell a lens is damaged when it develops a ‘crunchy’ sound when you turn the focusing ring. Regardless of how ‘weather-proofed’ the lens claims to be, the sand always wins!

Be particularly careful if you want to shoot photos or videos on the beach as wind-blown sand (as shown in this picture) can damage lenses by getting in between the moving parts.

The same is true for events like Colour Runs and festivals that involve people throwing coloured powders. They might make great photo opportunities for capturing bright colours coating the faces and bodies of runners, but it’s almost always at the expense of the gear used.

You could try to cover your camera in plastic wrap before shooting one of these events, but nothing seems to stop this very fine powder from finding its way inside your camera and lenses. And once it’s in your camera or lens, it’s almost impossible to get out.

Impact shock

It’s quite easy to drop your camera accidentally and damage it in one or more ways. Most camera technicians will tell you well-built cameras and lenses can take a fall of up to one metre before failing but depending on how far the camera and/or lens falls and the landing angle, falls can be very destructive.

Be especially careful when your camera is on a tripod since it’s easy to knock one leg accidentally and cause the tripod to fall to the ground at an angle. Angular falls are usually more destructive than straight drops. If the item is repairable, repairs will be costly; but if the casing is broken the damage is usually terminal.

A hard knock that dislodges one of the internal components can result in stabilisation (OIS, IR or VR) failure. It’s often difficult to detect when it happens but if you start to hear unexpected buzzing sounds, you can be pretty sure some damage has occurred.

Cheaper cameras and lenses are more vulnerable to impacts than those with a high percentage of metal in their construction. If you’re rough with your gear, consider these factors and be prepared to pay more for more robust equipment.

Always loop the camera strap around your neck when you’re taking photos or shooting movies to prevent them from falling and suffering impact damage. (Source: OM Digital Solutions.)

Protecting your gear

When you’re out and about it’s difficult to guarantee you have completely protected your lenses and cameras against potential damage. But there are plenty of commonsense precautions you can take on an everyday basis.

1. Always attach the supplied camera strap (or a viable alternative) to the camera and loop it around your neck to prevent the camera from hitting the ground (or another hard object) if you accidentally loosen your grip.

2. Keep your equipment in a well-padded camera bag while it’s not in use. Choose one with a pull-over rain cover if you do a lot of outdoor photography.

3. Know the limitations of your equipment with respect to weather resistance and don’t expose cameras and lenses that have no weatherproofing to rain of any kind. Don’t take them to the beach, particularly on windy days.

4. If you’re caught in a rain shower, wipe off any water droplets with a soft, absorbent cloth as soon as you’re in shelter. Leave your gear in a suitable place to dry once you get home and then pack it away in your bag. DON’T dry cameras and lenses in an oven.

5. For emergencies, pop a suitably-sized plastic kitchen garbage bag into your camera bag to slip your gear into in case of rain or blowing sand or dust along with rubber bands or masking tape to seal it shut.

Weather resistance

Higher priced cameras and lenses are often labelled ‘weather resistant’; but few people fully understand what that actually means. In most cases it refers to the IPX1 rating, which is used by the majority of camera and lens manufacturers.

IPX1 only rates for protection against ‘vertically falling droplets, such as condensation, sufficient that no damage or interrupted functioning of components will be incurred when an item is upright’. This means there’s no assurance of protection against ingress of dust or moisture.

This diagram shows the degree of weatherproof sealing in an IP53-rated camera and lens. (Source: OM Digital Solutions.)

OM Digital Solutions is the only camera and lens manufacturer so far that produces products with IP53 rated dust and spray proofing – and only some of the company’s cameras and lenses are weatherproofed to IP53 standard. IP53 rates the product as providing: 1) Partial protection against dust and other particulates, such that any ingress will not damage or impede the satisfactory performance of internal components; and 2) Protection against direct moisture spray at angles up to 60° off vertical.

This article by Margaret Brown is an excerpt from Lenses 2nd Edn pocket guide

Pocket guide Partner: Camera House