Weather Protection for your Gear (Part III)

In this part we’ll deal with varying weather conditions. These are scenarios to consider when moving from one type of weather situation to another, and where the change is sufficiently different to create problems of its own.

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From cold to hot/humid

I wear glasses. When it is hot or humid outside, there is a sufficient amount of water vapor in the air. If I’m sitting in an air-conditioned room which is at a lower temperature, the air is also less humid. If I suddenly open the door and step outside my glasses fog up instantly. Why?

When water vapor in the air come into contact with a cold surface, it turns into water – or condenses. Water, being a sufficiently viscous liquid, sticks to surfaces. This is dew. The victims can be gear, lenses, electric contacts, batteries, metal parts, etc.

A quick wipe can in most instances solve your problems – the key is to:

  • Not let water come in contact with electric/electronic circuitry.
  • Not let water stay on the gear, which may cause corrosion.

Can condensation be prevented at all? Yes.

First find a reliable weather service. Most services tell you the temperature and relative humidity. What you want to know is the ‘Dew Point’. There are apps out there that claim to tell you the dew point in your location – but no weather service can tell you the exact characteristics of the location you are in. The only reliable way is to use something like this:

Extech 45158 Mini Waterproof Thermo Anemometer and Humidity Meter

So what is the Dew Point? The temperature at which the outside water vapor will condense is the dew point. How low can it be? For human comfort, the dew point should ideally be less than 20oC (68oF). There are many places on earth that have constant humidity levels far higher than this, sometimes about and over 90%. At these levels the dew point is greater than 26oC (79oF).

If your gear is in a hotel air-conditioned at 21oC (70oF), and the temperature outside is 40oC (104oF) with a dew point of 26oC (79oF), you are sure to get dew on your gear as soon as you step out.

So how can knowing the Dew Point save you? The idea is to keep your gear at a temperature equal to or above the dew point. How is this done?

For one, switch off the air-conditioner if possible an hour before leaving. If you have no control over the air-conditioning, then try opening the windows slightly and let the temperature stabilize slowly. If you are in a difficult situation with no control, use this:

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets

As soon as you finish shooting, put your gear in your bags, and wrap them while it’s still warm. You can also use sealed plastic wraps but for a lot of gear this is not a happy routine.

For most gear, though, if dew settles down, don’t freak out. Just wipe them off immediately with these:

Targus LCD Screen Cleaning Kit with Anti-Fog Cleaning Gel & Microfiber Cloth

Try to get your gear into direct sunlight, and remember not to switch on your gear until you are certain it is completely dry.

From Hot to Cold

Condensation also happens when you go from hot to cold climates. This is a more dangerous situation. Here, the warm air is inside you gear, and might also condense inside.

Before you step into a warmer area, seal your gear with this:

Ziploc Big Bags, XXL

Also throw in silica gel to absorb any moisture:

Pelican 1500D Peli Desiccant Silica

Don’t forget to organize your gear in separate bags – bags within bags offer better protection for critical components like batteries, memory cards, etc:

4″ X 6″ 4-mil Clear Resealable Zipper

Once you are inside a warmer room, wait for a few hours and slowly open your gear. The idea is the same as above – keep your equipment warmer than the dew point.

Long Term Storage/War/EMP

How is storage a varying weather problem? You have to store your gear for years while the world changes outside – each change impacts your gear. The cheap way to store gear is in air-tight plastic containers with desiccants thrown in, like this:

Snapware MODS Medium Rectangle Storage Container

But this isn’t really ideal for a lot of gear. For proper control, you need something like this:

102L electronic automatic digital control dry box cabinet storage

These dry cabinets come in various sizes. They usually have in built hygrometers for automatic control. Just to be sure it isn’t broken, you can throw in an independent device:

Ambient Weather WS-1171 Wireless Advanced Weather Station with Temperature, Dew Point, Barometer and Humidity

The idea for long term storage is to keep the enclosure moisture-free, at a constant temperature (as cold and dry as possible), with a pressure close to sea level. If you are extra paranoid, you can throw in a lead or concrete vault and store everything underground!

To electrically isolate your gear, in addition to the above, you can use Faraday cages:

EMP Cover EMP Bags Kit

LEWISBins+ Conductive Divider Boxes

Salt/Sea Water/Sweat and other chemicals

Prevention is the key here. Most salts are good conductors and can short circuit internal electronics. Chemical solutions, like alcohols or acids, are to be avoided – unless you like camera cocktail.

What do you do if your gear comes into contact with salt water? First, switch off your camera and remove the batteries IMMEDIATELY. Also remove cards and any other accessories or attachments. From this point on you have the following options:

DIY (at your own risk!):
Wash the gear with fresh water and leave to dry for a few days (not in sunlight!). If you have a reliable refrigerator you can dry it there. Keep the battery separate.

Professional Cleaning and Repair
The only reliable option. If you have high end gear used professionally, then you can’t have them die on you.

Under no circumstances should you continue to use gear once it has come into contact with salt water or sweat. In either case your batteries, LCD screens, etc are the most vulnerable. Especially the batteries – salt water corrodes batteries, and most batteries are not waterproof.

If you know you are going near liquid bodies, follow advice as per guidelines under rain and use something like this:

LensCoat LCRCPGR RainCoat Pro

Mechanical Forces

Gear gets dropped – sometimes from great heights. It also gets knocked about. Most professional padded bags made of cloth protect gear from small jolts and falls, and are usually weatherproof as well. But nothing offers as much protection as these:

Pelican Storm iM3075 Shipping Box with Cubed Foam

Lowepro Pro Trekker 300 AW Camera Backpack

Tenba Transport Computer Equipment Air Case

Always use the best quality foam, with a minimum thickness of two inches for best protection. Don’t rely on cheap brands – even though they might use the same materials, it is the design that makes the difference. If the design is perfect, the loads are distributed ‘around’ the gear. But there are limits to every bag!

That’s it for varying weather conditions. In the next part I’ll cover affects of various materials.

Next: Part 4
Previous: Part 2