First of all, let me say these pictures may indeed be the last ones my Canon 5D Mark II has captured. That’s because it took a bad fall and bath. I had climbed down through the steep brush in Eagle Creek Gorge (Columbia River Gorge in Oregon) trying to find an interesting view of Metlako Falls. Metlako Falls is one of the tougher waterfalls in Oregon to access and photograph. I ended up in a spectacular spot, looking down a tumbling stream toward the hidden grotto that the beautiful cascade spills into
The clamp on my tripod head had been a little loose lately. I’d tightened it but apparently not enough. I was trying to mount my microphone on the camera to take a video. In sketchy spots like this, I usually have the camera strap around my neck for safety. But I had taken it off to get the mic. The camera was about 7 feet above the creek.
You know what happened next. The camera slipped out of the clamp and fell directly onto a rock then into the creek. I quickly grabbed it before it went over the edge and frantically dried it off. But the damage was done. There is a big dent in the top. This camera has served me very very well. It has given me zero problems and captured excellent images for about a year and a half. I was planning to keep it at least until the next version of the 5D came out (or a new high-resolution full frame Canon).
Now of course that’s all changed. Luckily my lens appears to be fine, but the camera is damaged goods, no matter whether it can be repaired or not. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’m using my backup, a Canon 50D. It’s a solid DSLR, but it’s a crop-frame. I’m too much the wide-angle enthusiast to shoot with it on a constant basis. Also it doesn’t do video and has slightly lower resolution. So with few financial resources right now I need to somehow get a new camera. Though I’m curious about the 6D, I’ll probably just go with the 5D Mark III.
Now to the advice. Shooting in the Pacific Northwest gives one plenty of experience with water. From plain old rain to splashing creeks and waterfalls, even the humidity, this area tends to be hard on cameras. My 5D II was not the best sealed of cameras, so I needed to be careful. I use a towell that sort of has a big pocket built into it. It is very absorbent. I found it at Walgreens. The pocket fits right over the top of the camera, then I can drape it over the lens. I do this when it is raining lightly or if I have waterfall spray.
You can buy quite expensive rain gear for your camera. But nothing I’ve tried is very convenient for use in the rain. I want to get a housing. I would just love to start shooting underwater pictures at freshwater creeks and wetlands. Housings are extremely expensive though.
There is one challenge that often goes overlooked when talking about this subject. When it starts raining you need to quickly transition to camera protection mode. How do you do this without getting the camera wet? If you have an umbrella it might help. But it’s often a stressful scramble when the sky suddenly decides to open up and take a big pee on you and your gear.
I also shoot above rushing water very often. I have a friend who uses a safety strap that connects the camera to the tripod. If the head or plate fails, the camera does not fall to the ground or water. But that still leaves the tripod itself vulnerable. So I try to always keep the camera strap around my neck near cliffs or over water. That way if a disaster develops I can save at least the camera/lens and probably the tripod as well.
There is a major Catch 22 here. Often you want to be out shooting when the weather is “interesting”. I usually am trying not to shoot in actual rain but just before or after. I don’t regard grey skies and steady rain as interesting weather! I think it is the edge of things that you want to target with your camera: the edge of a storm, edge of an ecosystem, edge of the day, edge of a facial expression, etc.
So my approach is to avoid having my camera out while it’s raining, to wait until the rain lets up before shooting. And then I cover it with the special towel when I have it out shooting. I think the electronics in this gear we have will never get along with moisture very well. Of course if I was independently wealthy, or was somebody famous, sponsored by Canon (yes I’m talking about you Art Wolfe!), I would have a well-sealed Canon 1Dx. If something happened to it Canon would just send me another. If I had this $6000+ camera I would not worry about drizzle so much, though full immersion (and salt water) would still be a danger.
The last image below was captured the day after the accident. I had done a sort of rock climb 100 feet or so up Rooster Rock. A nearby osprey in her nest was not amused at my presence, and I clung to a precarious spot to get the shot. I definitely kept the neck strap in place this time. But I won’t ever stop putting my camera in dangerous spots just because of the possibility of an accident. That’s just not me. I know, what about putting myself in danger? I don’t want to talk about it!
Hope you found this advice helpful. It’s a mean world (at least for camera gear), so be careful and good luck out there!