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Sand and water: these can be two formidable enemies for a camera and a photographer. Water can instantly and irreparably damage electronic components, and sand can cause physical damage—and insidiously manages to get everywhere. These are fair reasons for leaving your brand-new camera at home when you take a trip to the beach, but there are options that allow you to protect your equipment and get those photos you've always missed.
For those with the resources, the best option is to obtain one of the numerous "tough" cameras on the market today. Almost every manufacturer has a model or two available, which will ensure that your camera remains protected in the event of an accidental drop in the sand or water. Also, some cameras, like the Ricoh WG-4 GPS, offer GPS tracking and other useful features. Tough cameras are a great option for your beach trip, and they don't require any additional accessories to protect them.
Another water-friendly camera option that should interest DSLR and mirrorless shooters is the Nikon 1 AW1. It features an interchangeable lens mount and it's completely submersible. You need to make sure you're using sealed lenses, and you shouldn't try to change lenses in dusty, dirty, or wet environments. A side benefit of this camera is that you can use a variety of adapted lenses easily when you just want to go out for a normal day's shooting.
For video shooters, you could always pick up a GoPro or other action camera. These are designed to fit into odd places, have optional waterproof housings, and can hold up in challenging situations. Many action cameras take still photos as well.
If you're already heavily invested in a nice camera system and you don't want to give up any quality, you have the option of picking up a waterproof housing for your camera. This lets you use your non-waterproof camera in places you wouldn't have originally imagined bringing it. Unfortunately, while perhaps being the best option for optimal image quality, housings can quickly become the most expensive way to go. In some instances, a dedicated brand-name housing can cost as much as the camera itself.
Some companies do produce more general-purpose equipment, like the offerings from DiCaPac. These are less durable, and won't be able to give you perfect control, but for a day out on the beach, these may be more appropriate for the casual photographer. You won't be able to take them scuba diving, though.
Just shooting on the beach, and not necessarily near the water, isn't as big an issue, and can simply require a good case for storage of gear not currently in use. Keeping the case out of the sandy, salt-filled air by using an airtight Pelican case might be all you need, especially if you are using weather-sealed equipment.
If you're a risk taker or an adventurer, you may want to consider investing in a multi-year protection plan when you first purchase your camera equipment. The good thing about these plans is that if you happen to suffer any water or impact damage, these plans will cover it, whereas a standard warranty won't cover accidental damage.
I wouldn't advise taking additional risks just because you're covered, but such a plan will keep your mind settled when that expensive gear fails to work after falling into the surf or sand. Also, you don't want to risk losing image data, and not have anything to show for your adventures.
The final option is just to be careful with your gear while you're out shooting. For example, never change your lens while in open air on the beach. Zoom lenses are helpful here, as are backup bodies with other lenses. Taking off your lens opens the door to sand and moisture blowing into and potentially damaging the most important (and generally most fragile) electronic components of your camera, such as your image sensor. The worst part about sand is that cleaning it out can easily result in even more scratches to your gear.
Another tip is to leave your gear in your bag or car (as long as it's not parked under the blazing sun) when not in use. If you don't need to expose it to the elements, you should avoid it. Any time the camera isn't out is time it is safe. With summer rapidly approaching, you shouldn't be afraid to take your camera to the beach, or even underwater, as long as you're careful and take the necessary precautions to protect it.