Temperatures have dipped well below zero this week at our friend’s home in Montana, and we’re barely into December. Elsewhere across the US heavy snowfalls have caused their usual havoc, and this morning our driveway is slick from freezing rain. So, sitting here with a warm coffee, I’ve been Googling, trying to find the origins of weather sealing. I’d hoped to discover an interesting tale involving seals, of course, and frigid polar weather, but I’ve come up empty. Most likely it just happened: somebody plugged the leaks around a drafty door or window, and that was that.
One group of people, however, is obsessed with weather sealing year-round: photographers. Camera bodies (and lenses, too) are scrutinized mercilessly and this question is asked of every new arrival: “Is it sealed?” From their comments you’d expect 95% of the photographic population shoot their pictures in the direst of weather conditions, including monsoon rains, sleet, blizzards, dust storms, or worse.
In truth, most of us don’t take our equipment outside in light rain, let alone a downpour. We want to, but mixing electronics and computers with moisture, we remember, isn’t a wise idea. Unless…
There are a handful of 35mm camera bodies touted by their makers as sealed against The Elements. These are said to be weatherproof. Other, lesser cameras may be deemed weather resistant. These generally include models from Pentax, Canon, Nikon, Olympus, and Sony. How’s that for vaguely specific? The point is, a body with more seals and gaskets at critical points (slots, doors, buttons, etc.) should keep out dust and moisture better than one with less internal protection, but…Your Mileage May Vary. I’ve had my Canon 1Ds soaked by a fire hose and it didn’t suffer consequences, but I wouldn’t put my 40D or 5D through that without a Storm Jacket.
To get a true measure of a camera’s durability in adverse conditions, nothing beats field testing. If you want to know how a camera performs in bad weather, check the Web sites of photographers who regularly use them in those situations. I was searching for reviews of Canon’s latest camera, the 7D, when I found one at Canon Field Reviews, a Web site by Norwegian adventure photographer Ole Jørgen Liodden. The first photo shows a 7d and telephoto lens lying on the cold ground, partially covered by snow. A close-up follows, with the camera semi-soaked by sea water. These aren’t the conditions most of us work in, and if you’re curious how this particular camera withstood the weather, or simply interested in how a working outdoor photographer protects their gear, his review is a must-read. The stark photograph of an Antarctic Fur Seal, above, demonstrates the severe elements Liodden works in (and makes the sun-bathing sea lions I posted earlier in the week look like city slickers).