Help me beat the crap out of my camera
June 23, 2014 8:22 AM   Subscribe

How can I best protect my dSLR camera during a rugged hiking trip, while still keeping it accessible for shooting?

Later this summer I'll be doing a backpacking trip through Mahoosuc Notch in Maine. This will involve a mile of going over, under, through, and around giant, house-sized boulders. I'll be crawling on my belly on rocks, climbing up rock faces, occasionally passing my backpack through ahead or behind me, and generally beating the shit out of myself and my gear. I would still like to be able to take pictures during this mile.

How can I:

a) Protect my camera from the rocks?
b) Protect myself from my camera, like when I'm crawling?
c) Keep my camera ready to pull out and take a picture?
d) Not have the camera flopping around, but secured tight to my body?

Some relevant info:
  • I'll already be carrying a full backpack, so I won't be able to carry a separate camera bag.
  • I currently clip my camera to my backpack strap with a Capture Clip. This works well until I have to remove my pack. I also worry that the camera will be rather exposed sticking out in front of me like that.
  • I have a Canon T3i dSLR.
  • I don't mind spending money, especially on something that works well. I'll be using this on future trips.
Things I need:

1) Padding for the camera and lens.
2) A way to secure the camera to my body in a way that doesn't interfere with the backpack.
3) A way to quickly remove the camera to take a picture.
4) All this while minimizing bulk and weight.

I don't mind passing my pack through a tough area, it's sort of accepted on this hike, but I don't want to have to pass my camera and I don't want to leave the camera attached to the pack strap, since it will flop around.

I'll probably be taking the lightest lens I can find, possibly even a small prime lens*, so I won't have to worry about a very long lens sticking out.

Yes, I could bring my point-and-shoot, and I still might, but I'd much prefer to bring the dSLR. I hike and kayak with it and I am willing to accept the risk that I might destroy it. I'd prefer to minimize those risks.

*This is another AskMe, but in the event anyone knows of a small, light, fast, Canon lens that would work well in a low-light area, please let me know.
posted by bondcliff to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: As a basic level of protection, I'd get something like this silicone "skin". It doesn't answer the "carrying" question, but it seems reasonable as a first line of defense for banging and scraping.

For a lens, what about a nifty fifty? Good for low-light conditions. Its features might make it less than ideal for your needs (shallow depth of field, somewhat small-ish field of view on cropped sensor cameras), but it is light, small, and cheap.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:32 AM on June 23, 2014

Best answer: My backpacking days are behind me, but I think I'd try a Black Rapid strap under my backpack strappery. It keeps the camera accessible for quick shooting, but the camera would not be attached to your pack.

Don't get the 1.8 nifty fifty; it's made of plastic and the lens barrel has been known to fall apart with even just moderate use.

My strong lens recommendation would be for the Canon 40mm 2.8 pancake. It's an excellent lens, very solid, and focuses instantaneously (since the elements are so teeny tiny). It's less than a stop slower than the 1.8 50, and just one stop slower than the 1.4 50, but it's barrel is so short and it is so light that I think you can compensate easily with just a firm grip.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:37 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Both the 50mm f/1.8 and the 40mm f/2.8 are great suggestions (and the 40mm pancake seems like it was made specifically for this kind of thing), but know that you're going to have difficulty trying to capture landscapes with either of those on the T3i's APS-C sensor. With the 1.6x factor multiplier, the 50mm is more like an 80mm, and the 40mm is more like a 65mm.

I have a Canon 28mm f/2.8 that I use as my cheap "walkabout" lens. It seems wide enough to get all the shots I want. It's worth considering.

Ultimately, I'd probably go with the 40mm if I were you though. That form factor is exactly what you need.
posted by Harms at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2014

Response by poster: but know that you're going to have difficulty trying to capture landscapes with either of those on the T3i's APS-C sensor.

On this trip I'm aiming to capture people struggling through the notch, not landscapes. I may bring a wide lens as well, but that would be in my pack when I go through the notch.

For a lens, what about a nifty fifty?

I have a nifty-fifty (f/1.8) but with a crop camera I'm worried it would be too tight for most of the shots I'd want.

As a basic level of protection, I'd get something like this silicone "skin".

That's sort of what I'm looking for, with maybe some additional padding for the lens. A lens hood might help.

My backpacking days are behind me, but I think I'd try a Black Rapid strap under my backpack strappery.

That doesn't look secure enough for what I'll need it for. I can't have the camera flopping around at all, it needs to be secured tight to my body.
posted by bondcliff at 9:57 AM on June 23, 2014

If you have or haven't tried inquiring at hiking-specific forums, maybe also try one of the EDC (Every Day Carry) forums. Those people tend to be broadly familiar with what gear is out there, and they might be have some creative suggestions.
posted by cribcage at 10:06 AM on June 23, 2014

This isn't the answer you are looking for, but with all your constraints, I'd leave the canon at home and bring a Lumix DMC-TS5 "tough" camera, which takes great photos while being able to be dropped in a mudpuddle and dragged through a desert. You can just hang it off one of your backpack straps or keep it in your hand.

I have nothing against a big dslr; I use a 5d every day for work and I carry one around the city often. But I've carried the big camera on hikes before, and it can become a real pain in the ass for all the reasons you worry about.

Relevant wirecutter review, fwiw.
posted by gyusan at 10:15 AM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just brought my camera on a backpacking trip and brought one of these camera wraps. It's pretty easy to get on and off, but keeps everything covered while crawling over rocks.

I also used a regular strap arranged under my pack to keep the camera at my hip, but easily accessible when I wanted it. It took some experimenting to get the straps tight enough so that it didn't flop around, but it worked well enough. I wasn't climbing rock faces or crawling on my belly, so in that case, you probably want some extra straps or something to secure it.

On preview: it was still kind of a pain in the ass, and a smaller camera sounds awesome!
posted by ohisee at 10:24 AM on June 23, 2014

I was going to suggest the Canon EOS-M mirrorless camera. They take great pictures, are compact and were very cheap for a while. It's not a rugged camera, but it probably has an equivalent sensor to your DSLR and it will be much easier to protect which means you might actually use it rather than spend the trip worrying about it...

Another off the main topic suggestion - look at a GoPro. Get a head mount, set it for either high quality video or taking a still every second. Again, not a dslr, but you will get some great pictures - without the worry...

One final - get a personal article's policy from your insurance carrier. You need to give them all of the serial numbers and values before hand, but for a relatively small fee they will insure your camera and kit for loss or damage.
posted by NoDef at 12:41 PM on June 23, 2014

I'd suggest using Sugru to rig up your own camera protection case. You can see it right in their promo video, and you can use leftover sugru for other fun projects.
posted by tatiana131 at 12:47 PM on June 23, 2014

For extra lens protection, my neighbor just showed me that a beer cozy fits nicely around most lenses. Cozy too long? Just cut it down.
posted by klausman at 12:49 PM on June 23, 2014

Response by poster: Lumix DMC-TS5 "tough" camera
Canon EOS-M mirrorless

Thanks, but I have no interest in purchasing a new camera. At most I'd get an inexpensive lens that I could use in the future. I already have a dSLR with an assortment of lenses, and a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot. I'm asking about protecting my dSLR, not about what other camera I should get.

I hadn't thought about insuring it. I should probably do that anyway.
posted by bondcliff at 1:00 PM on June 23, 2014

I don't know if any of their camera bags would offer adequate protection for your needs, and you might have difficulty when crawling on your stomach, but LowePro has a chest harness for their top-loading bags that would probably work with a pack and keep the camera easily accessible.
posted by jamincan at 5:35 PM on June 23, 2014

Maybe this Or another product from Cotton Carrier? I can't vouch for it but I saw an ad for the company in Shutterbug magazine.
posted by odin53 at 7:49 PM on June 23, 2014

Response by poster: The camera survived.

The skin linked to by Betelgeuse helped protect it when I took a fall, the camera landing between me and a rock. The lens got scuffed up a bit but it was otherwise ok. Thanks, everybody.
posted by bondcliff at 7:52 AM on August 12, 2014

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