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Taking Your Camera Outside -- Without the Worry

By Jim Fisher

The weather outside is finally somewhat less than frightful, at least here in the greater New York area. As we know, good weather leads to the desire to get out of the office, which leads to vacations, which leads to photography... that all circles back getting back to the office to pay for the vacation and cameras.

When you are enjoying the time off, it's not a bad idea to make sure your gear is up to the task. Nothing can ruin a weekend like breaking a camera or laptop. Thankfully you have some options in the world of "rugged" electronics these days.

Shooting with Weather Seals

Professional DSLRs, like the ones outlined in the 'Tough Gear' article in this very newsletter , are built like tanks and have weather sealing. These seals insulate the delicate parts of a camera from the elements; they'll allow you to shoot in the rain, snow, dust, and sand. If you're the type to get sticker shock when you look at the prices associated with these high-end bodies, fear not there is an entry-level camera that is protected from dust, rain, and other natural phenomena.

The Pentax K200D features practical weather sealing at a modest price. Dust-proof and water-resistant seals are present in every button and switch on the body. The camera features a 10.2MP APS-C sensor, in-body shake reduction, and a large 2.7" LCD. It uses four AA batteries for power, making it a great choice for international travel.

Pentax K200D Pentax K20D

There is also the K20D, which can best be described as the K200D's big brother. Featuring the same basic features, weather sealing, a slightly larger body, and more on-body controls, the K20D is the current top-of-the-line camera from Pentax. It is built around a 14.6MP APS-C CMOS sensor, which is the highest resolution APS-C format sensor available. The K20D is powered by a rechargeable Li-Ion battery, and features a Live View LCD screen.

The K200D is available as a body-only, or with an 18-55mm kit lens. The K20D is only available as a body-only. Each has its own optional grip , also weather-sealed. The kit lens does not feature weather sealing, so if you are looking to take the camera into the elements, consider pairing it with a lens from the Pentax DA* line.

All of the DA* lenses feature internal focus motors, but can also be used on older Pentax bodies that utilize and autofocus screw drive system. Following in the tradition of the acclaimed, but now retired, FA* series, the lenses feature exceptional build-quality and optics.

DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 DA* 200mm f/2.8
DA* 16-50mm f/2.8

You can currently choose from the DA* 16-50mm f/2.8, the DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 , or the DA* 200mm f/2.8. Two more lenses are on the way: The DA* 300mm f/4 is due in the near future, with a DA* 60-250mm f/4 due sometime this summer.

Downloading Images to a Rugged Laptop

Digital photography has made the computer an important park of any photographer's life. Even in today's world of extremely large memory cards, RAW images can fill them up rather quickly. This may require you to download pictures in the field.

Panasonic Toughbook Toshiba Tecra
Panasonic Toughbook Toshiba Tecra

There are a few notebook computers on the market that are designed with durability in mind. Panasonic's Toughbook series is marketed towards use in constructions sites, in law enforcement, and other dangerous locales. The Toughbook is a professional-level machine, aimed at a niche market, and may be an overkill for a lot of folks.

Thankfully there is a fairly attractive alternative from Toshiba. The Tecra series of notebooks feature Toshiba's EasyGuard system. EasyGuard adds shock absorbers and a spill-resistant keyboard to the notebook. The Tecra isn't as a tough as a Toughbook, but it is tough enough for most of us.

Notebook hard drive storage can also be scarce, making an external hard drive a near necessity. LaCie has a series of rugged drives, which feature a rubber bumper for extra protection. The compact bus-powered drive is available in both USB 2.0 and Triple Interface flavors, in various capacities. The rubber bumper is colored in a bold orange, but you can replace it with a more reserved color if that suits your fancy.

Carrying it All

If reading web camera forums has taught me one thing, it's that no two people are looking for the exact same thing in a camera bag. I'm a fan of bags by Crumpler, as they are quite durable and stylish. The bags have very stiff padding and inserts, protecting your gear as you lug it around.

Crumpler's Karachi Outpost Crumpler's Whickey and Cox
Crumpler's Karachi Outpost Crumpler's Whickey and Cox

If you want to carry everything with you, including the laptop, take a gander at Crumpler's The Karachi Outpost or The Whickey and Cox. The Karachi has enough room for two DSLRs, lenses, accessories, and a 17" laptop. The Whickey sizes things down a bit, and is more appropriate for a single DSLR body and a 15" laptop. Each backpack is water-resistant, heavily padded, and features a mesh overlay to keep your gear firmly in place. The laptop compartment is completely removable, allowing you to save weight when not carrying a computer.

There are certainly a plethora of bag options available out there, so don't let me steer you in one way. Choosing the right camera bag is no different than buying shoes. There are plenty available in many different sizes, but finding the one that is comfortable and looks right on you can take some trial and error.

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