Friday, January 01, 2010

Built to take it

Let’s start the new year with a bit of geekyness.

My first DSLR (digital single lens reflex) was a Canon 350D which I bought from El corte inglés in Cartagena. It was a great camera that served me well.

I didn’t abuse it though in the way this skydiver abused his.

A little tribute to my first DSLR camera that I bought back in 2005 for my trip to Alaska. Canon Rebel XT ( the American version of the 350D), 8 Megapixels, came with a basic 18-55 mm lens but for me it was a really revolutionary camera coming from the film Rebel. After getting the 5d, it didn't get too much action and since my friend Marius needed a small camera for his project (shooting skydivers as he is an instructor in Florida), it found a new home.
Now the story gets interesting. Marius mounted it on a rig attached to his helmet, on a custom designed plate, side by side with a video camera. The set-up looked something like this:

It seemed to work just fine, until it didn't... After shooting some good exposures of his fellows skydivers having fun free falling, he opened his chute, the helmet came loose in a forward motion, he grabbed it with his hands but the cameras detached from the helmet, and down they went. Fast, tumbling, falling from approximately 3000 ft.

After landing safely a couple of minutes later, he went to the area where they must have been crashed, looking for the dead metal, plastic and glass carcasses. Less than half hour later, he found them in in a terrible condition, covered with grass, sand and mud. Don't try this at home, it's really not recommended. Think about the fine electronics and glass incorporated in those devices.

The video camera cracked open, dead, done deal. The Rebel took the fall a little better, just a crack in the left side of the plastic body. With a glimmer of hope, Marius presses the playback button:

Quelle surprise! The camera turns on, displays the last image taken, like nothing happened. Mental!
He cleaned it thoroughly, learned to live with the creaking sounds coming from the lens while zooming (sand inside) and kept shooting the resilient Rebel until this very present day.
I was shocked, amazed and happy to see a Canon product withstanding such an abuse. It might very well be a world height record for a camera taking a fall and surviving. Kudos for Canon!

Now I have a 5D Mk II which is not fully weather sealed so I wouldn’t treat it in the same way as this Antarctic explorer

On his recent expedition, this photographer took one of the new Canon 7Ds, a 5D Mk II and his trusty 1DS Mk III


Canon 7D in a snow blizzard on South Georgia Island, November 11.

One issue I’ve been very interested in regarding the new 7D, is how well it performs under tough weather conditions. Some of my assignments and expeditions take me to extreme parts of the world, where cold temperatures, snow, rain, sand, or a mix of fine sand, rain and a splash of sea water are the norm. On my recent expedition to Antarctica I had a great opportunity to really test how well sealed and rugged this camera actually is. The other two cameras in my camera bag were the Canon 5D Mark II and 1DS Mark III.

This trip was almost the same 3.5 week photo expedition to Antarctica as last year, where I had a 50D and Canon HF10 HD video camera for testing. On that trip I destroyed the video camera on my first day at South Georgia, and the 50D camera had a one day “hangover” after a wet landing. After a few days I put the 50D away because it was not suited to those conditions. 3-4 photographers with Canon 30Ds and 40Ds broke their cameras during last year’s expedition. NB: My workhorse, the 1DS Mark III worked flawlessly, even after 2 “baths” in cold sea water. After these experiences, I wasn’t sure if the 7D and 5D Mark II would survive for the duration of the expedition this year.

Weather resistant

When I´m shooting I’m very focused on my subject and technique. The cameras and equipment experience extremely hard use. When shooting wildlife I´m usually laying on my stomach, with the camera in direct ground contact. This works great with most cameras if the ground is dry, but in Antarctica the ground is almost always wet, muddy or covered with snow or sand. On my recent expedition it snowed almost every day, and at times wet snow, which is worse than rain.

I always use the 7D with the attached battery grip because it gives me a much better grasp of the camera. Some 5D Mark II users who use the battery grip have reported some problems with water leaking between the camera and battery grip. The battery grip for 7D is new and seems tighter and better sealed. In my case the 7D had absolutely NO problems with snow, rain and water (sea spray). This was just as I had hoped. I’ve also used the 7D on rainy days in Norway, without any problems. The 7D easily passed the rain and wet conditions test.


My 7D in heavy rain.


Wet snow in South Georgia. These conditions might destroy cheaper cameras after a few hours. I used a ThinkTank “raincoat” for my 300mm, but nothing over the camera.

So, what about the two other cameras?
My 1DS Mark III is built like a tank and is heavily weather sealed. I didn't drop it into sea water this year, but used it without worry or protecting it from bad weather. It worked as expected, without problems.

The big surprise was the 5D Mark II. I used this camera as hard as (but not as much) the 7D and it performed superbly. I didn't use any protection from rain or snow. The camera was used without the battery grip, which might have helped. The 5D Mark II has been on 2 expeditions to Svalbard (Arctic – 80° North) and one recent expedition to Antarctica without problems, so the weather sealing is robust enough for most conditions.

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