Weather Protection for your Gear (Part IV)

In this last part I’ll try to outline some important properties of common materials used in the construction of professional audio and camera gear.

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Camera Material and Construction

Magnesium Alloy

What it is
Magnesium is the lightest structural metal, and magnesium alloys are alloys in which the primary component is magnesium.

Strength and Weight
Magnesium alloy is used when weight is of greater importance than strength. Modern video gear is not designed to withstand great loads, and low weight is important. As such, its strength is comparable to steel alloys, so no major compromises are made. Due to its low density, its strength depends on its thickness.

Against temperature
Its strength reduces as temperature increases, but within the usual rated temperature range of most professional gear, which is about -10oC to 40oC, it shouldn’t affect performance.

Against Corrosion
Most magnesium alloy bodies are coated to resist corrosion. It performs similarly to steel against corrosion. Salt water is its nemesis.

Silicon/Semiconductor

What it is
Silicon is an element, and when used in electronics, it is more than 99% pure.

Strength and Weight
Silicon cannot withstand great stress while used as wafers. It has to be protected against dust or glass particles, or the surface might get damaged.

Against temperature
Silicon is a good conductor of heat, and therefore should be protected against high temperatures.

Against Corrosion
Being a semiconductor, contact with water or salts is suicide, especially while in operation.

Copper

What it is
Copper is a metal that is extremely ductile – which is why it is used in wires.

Strength and Weight
It isn’t very strong, and is mostly used in cables and connectors.

Against temperature
It isn’t very resistant to heat, and needs to be protected from it with shielding.

Against Corrosion
Copper does not react with water, but corrodes just being in contact with the atmosphere. You might have seen the green coatings that form on old copper structures. To prevent this copper is usually mixed with other materials to form alloys.

Steel/Stainless Steel

What it is
Steel is an alloy made by combining iron and other elements, usually carbon. The most commonly used type of steel for electronics is stainless steel. It is a type of steel that has a percentage of chromium in it.

Strength and Weight
Steel is very strong, with the disadvantage that it is heavy as well.

Against temperature
Steel is perfectly fine for normal operating temperatures.

Against Corrosion
Stainless steel is highly corrosion-resistant, and this is one of its strongest properties.

Plastic

What it is
Plastic is usually made from organic materials, but can also be mixed with inorganic materials to give it a wide variety of properties.

Strength and Weight
Consumer plastic is usually brittle and unreliable for heavy loads. However, plastic mixed with carbon fiber or other such materials increases its strength dramatically. There are endless possibilities due to which it becomes difficult to classify consumer grade plastics.

Against temperature
Cheap or poorly made plastics don’t perform well under temperature extremes – cold or hot.

Against Corrosion
Plastics are usually designed to resist corrosion.

Glass

What it is
Glass is usually made from silica (SiO2), and as we understand it, is transparent. Due to its wide availability (it’s basically sand), it is cheap and is used in lenses.

Strength and Weight
Glass has good strength but is unfortunately very brittle. It is also heavier than plastic.

Against temperature
Glass performs excellently in high or low temperatures, which is why it is still the preferred material for lenses over plastic.

Against Corrosion
Glass is highly resistant to corrosion.

Magnets in Microphones/Speakers/Headphones

What it is
Any material that produces a magnetic field is a magnet. Speakers and Headphones usually employ a permanent magnet.

Strength and Weight
Magnets are usually made of metals, and as such have good strength. However, if magnets are dropped, or subject to heavy shock, they lose some of their magnetic ability. A great shock can completely eliminate it. This is why it is advisable not to drop microphones or speakers.

Against temperature
Magnets lose their magnetism at high heats, but within the operating range of the equipment they are fine.

Against Corrosion
Magnets should be kept away from water and salt. Most magnets are metallic, and corrosion is a huge concern.

Chrome/Chrome plating

What it is
Chrome plating is a method of electroplating a thin layer of chromium over metal or plastic surfaces.

Strength and Weight
Industrial chrome is strong, but consumer-grade chrome is a very thin layer, and can be scraped off under a large stress – but it isn’t that weak either, and can take most normal day abuse.

Against temperature
Chrome usually has no problems in the normal operating range.

Against Corrosion
The primary reason why chrome plating is done is to protect the underlying metal or plastic from corrosion.

Cloth/Textiles

What it is
It is a flexible woven material that can be made from synthetic or organic materials. It is usually used for bags.

Strength and Weight
Cloth is not meant to be strong, and low weight is the prime consideration.

Against temperature
Cloths tend to catch fire easily. Even when ironed at high temperatures, it can lose its physical shape.

Against Corrosion
Mostly a non-issue, unless you use cloth made from specific materials that have its own corrosive properties.

Leather

What it is
It is a flexible material made by tanning animal hide or skin. Being organic, time is leather’s greatest enemy.

Strength and Weight
Leather is stronger than cloth, but heavier.

Against temperature
High heat for prolonged periods can ruin leather. Slight exposure is okay.

Against Corrosion
Leather can lose its value in low humidity. Being organic it is subject to degradation unless maintained with conditioners. Water is anathema.

Rubber

What it is
Rubbers are elastomers – materials that change shape under stress but return to their normal state when the stress has been released. Rubber can be natural or synthetic.

Strength and Weight
Rubber, as used in tires and such, can be quite strong. Rubber used in camera and audio gear are made to withstand falls, rough grips and knocks – and are used as a cushion over the alloy chassis to help grip the camera.

Against temperature
Different rubbers have different responses to high heat. On average, rubbers perform well under the normal operating range.

Against Corrosion
Rubbers are designed to resist corrosion, and this is borne by the fact that weather sealing gaskets are made of rubber.

Aluminium

What it is
Aluminium is a metal. It is the third most abundant element on earth after oxygen and silicon.

Strength and Weight
Pure aluminium isn’t very strong, and is light and malleable. But alloys can be made that make it a very tough metal. Its use in the aerospace industry bears witness to its phenomenal strength to weight ratio.

Against temperature
Aluminium is a good conductor of heat, about half as much as copper, but within the normal operating range of gear, it is fine.

Against Corrosion
The really cool property of aluminium is its corrosion resistance. However, in alloy form, this resistance can be weakened, especially with the contact of salts.

That’s about it. By now, you have enough information about various weather conditions – both constant and changing – and its effect on each material that makes up your gear. I hope with this knowledge you can better protect your gear!

Previous: Part 3