A week in the rainforest; What worked and what didn’t

Posted on 24. Sep, 2009 by in Equipment, Everything

I’ve just returned from a fantastic trip to the Great Bear Rainforest along the coast of beautiful British Columbia, Canada. I’ll be making return visits in May of 2010 for a visit to the Khutzeymateen to lead a group photographing Grizzly Bears and next September I’ll be leading another group to again (hopefully) photograph Spirit Bears. One thing that you learn after eight days as a photographer trying to photograph in a rainforest is that your gear for protecting yourself and your camera gear from the weather is critical. It rained during a lot of our time while we were out and about photographing; everything from a gentle mist to a raging typhoon conditions.  There were eight of us on this trip and I’ll let you know about my and the group’s experiences in regards to what rain gear worked and what didn’t.

Humpback Whale swimming towards us in the rain

Humpback Whale swimming towards us in the rain

First, I’d like to impart a few thoughts about the term “Water Resistant.” I’d like to meet the marketing schmuck who came up with this term? Every piece of gear that someone had that was labelled water resistant leaked like a sieve when exposed to anything more than a gentle mist for more than 30 seconds. Pants, jackets, gloves and yes, even camera covers labelled as “water resistant” all failed miserably in terms of keeping things dry. If I were running the world, I’d ban that term. Gear would either be rated as water proof or not. None of this namby pamby stuff about water resistant.

For covering myself up, I used an Under Armour Foley Jacket that provided super rain protection while being very lightweight and packable. On my legs I used a pair of Truant Pants from Mountain Equipment Co-op and they did a wonderful job of helping my legs stay warm and dry.  On my feet I wore that standard issued rubber boots provided by our hosts and they worked great.  On my hands I used pair of gloves from Columbia Sportswear called the PFG Waterproof Fishing Gloves.  Ha!  These things leaked like a strainer and in a steady rain, my hands were soon wet and cold.  I would only recommend these to my worst enemy.  Nice gloves for keeping your fingers warm, horrible when you want to stay warm AND dry.  In fact, no one in our group seemed to have found a solution for keeping their fingers warm and dry with enough flexibility for operating their camera’s controls.  If you know of a great waterproof glove, please drop me a comment below.

I used two pieces of gear for keeping my camera and lenses dry.  When I was photographing with a shorter lens like my 70-200, I used a cheap and eminently useful product called the Rainsleeve from OpTech.  At just $6.95 for a package of two of these 18″ rain sleeves, they go a long way for providing excellent water proofing for your camera gear.  Yes, it’s basically a plastic bag with a drawstring to close it in around the lens, but it is an angled plastic bag and it works great.  The plastic is lightweight and provides pretty good access for adjusting the camera’s controls.  However, if you need to change memory cards, batteries or add or remove a teleconverter, you might find those tasks difficult to accomplish easily with the Rainsleeve fully engaged around the camera.

Kermode "Spirit" Bear searching for salmon along a river

Kermode "Spirit" Bear searching for salmon along a river

At 18″ in length, the Rainsleeve wasn’t going to help me protect my camera with the Canon 500mm F4L IS lens and a teleconverter.  For that, I decided to opt for a more serious piece of gear from ThinkTank.  And speaking of ThinkTank, I’d have to nominate them as the number one company that just understands photographers.  They have a plethora of products and all the ones I’ve used and tried just work.  The piece of ThinkTank equipment I used for my telephoto lens was the ThinkTank Hydrophobia.  This is a professional piece of gear that just works.  Once you’ve purchased the appropriate eyepiece for your camera and wrapped it up in this sucker, your gear is pretty much guaranteed to stay dry in even the heaviest of deluges.  Short of full immersion into water, the Hydrophotobia works great, provides relatively easy access to camera functions, changing memory cards, batteries and even adding and removing teleconverters.  Hydrophobia from ThinkTank is highly recommended.

One fellow in our group was using Kata’s E-702 Elements protection system for his camera and the E-704 Elements Extension for his large telephoto lens.  He found their system of two separate pieces of rain gear (one for the camera body and one for the lens) joined by Velcro to be cumbersome and difficult to use.  He found it easier just to use the lens cover as the rain protection instead of the full system.  It isn’t that the Kata gear didn’t protect from the rain, it did, but rather an issue of access and usability.  However, folks using the Kata E-702 system for just a camera with a smaller lens didn’t have any issues operating their gear and it stayed nice and dry.

My camera bag, the Kiboko from Gura Gear, was simply awesome.  I never had to fully expose it to a down pour, but what it did run into, it handled like a champ.  I’ll have a full review of the Kiboko bag in a future blog entry.

I had one piece of equipment, the Hyperdrive ColorSpace UDMA, which ended up getting half-way submersed in water.  Fortunately, I had it enclosed in its included neoprene case and the unit, along with my stored images, emerged unscathed.  Of course I had an additional backup unit along, but it would have been a real drag to have been down to a single backup device.

Overall, the group had no issues with their camera gear.  Out of eight individuals, we had five Canon shooters and three Nikon shooters.  The Canon cameras consisted of everything from a 50D to the 1Ds Mark III with a preponderance of 5D Mark II’s, and the Nikon shooters seemed satisfied with their D300’s and D3X’s.  It’s a testament that the major camera manufacturers seem to have made great strides in quality control as many expeditions like this invariably suffer some sort of equipment failure in the past.

Do you have a favourite piece of gear for keeping you or your gear dry?  Have you run across something that just utterly failed?  Please share your experiences with the rest of us.

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6 Responses to “A week in the rainforest; What worked and what didn’t”

  1. luis fernandes

    24. Sep, 2009

    We live in the 21st century and we still haven’t figured out how to make skin-tight materials that are windproof, waterproof and warm all at the same time.

    If you want warmth, you automatically add bulk to the glove so the only alternative is to wear a two pairs of gloves– a skin-tight liner that allows dexterity and an over-glove for warmth.

    With that in mind, I have two suggestions:

    1. Try a pair of surgical gloves as a second layer to the Columbia Gloves to keep your hands dry (but not warm).

    or 2. wear Seal Skinz waterproof gloves and then wear a mitt over that for warmth, if needed.

    I don’t know if MEC sells Seal Skinz…

  2. Alexandre

    25. Sep, 2009

    Last August, my Colorspace UDMA had a small accident: while I was doing stupid stuff on a mountain (namely getting stuck in technical terrain during a thunderstorm), it was pouring down in the valley, and my tent was soon submerged. By the time I got back in the evening, the water around my tent was more than 10cm deep. Of course, its contents, including a down sleeping bag and the aforementioned Colorspace, were soaked.
    The hard drive never stopped working. There was condensation inside the LCD screen for a few days, but other than that, it continued to perform flawlessly.

    As for gloves, in foul weather I use my ice climbing ones. They are really huge, and I had to teach myself how to control the camera with them on (a necessity for high altitude climbing photography), but I never have problems with cold, rain or snow. If it’s warm and dry enough, I can also remove the outer shell for more dexterity. It would probably be overkill for Canadian summer, though.

  3. Rob

    25. Sep, 2009

    I use ice climbing gloves. The kind meant for dry-tooling or mixed routes are usually insulated/padded only on the back of the hand so dexterity isn’t compromised. I have three pairs of Black Diamond gloves of various ages that are still 100% water-proof from the outside. Sweat can be a problem, though, and so can water running down your arms and into the glove (duh!).
    My favourite “shooting in the rain” accessory is a silver umbrella made by Golite. It’s light enough that damp gaffer’s tape will hold it in place and it makes a convenient, albeit limited, fill reflector, too.

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