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Tough Gear

Cameras & Lenses That Can Take a Lickin'

By Allan Weitz

In marketing, the goal is to make your product stand out from the competition. This means if there are five comparably-priced DSLRs on the dealer's shelf, the first thing shoppers do is figure out which camera dangles the most carrots, i.e. bells and whistles.

Since the dawn of digital we've had a succession of carrots dangled before us designed to make us pull out the credit card. Some carrots are real-deal, while others are more frivolous than truly useful. Among the carrots that have teased our senses are ever increasing pixel-counts (my chip's bigger than your chip), faster burst-rates, larger buffers, ever more metering and focusing zones, larger, brighter, and sharper LCDs, in-camera Photoshop-style imaging tools, and image stabilization.

One carrot that's been taking center stage lately has to do with structural integrity, i.e. how your new camera or lens reckons with dings, sudden stops on hard surfaces, sandstorms, monsoons, and shock and awe backwash from one of Uncle Paulie's cannonball dives.

The terms 'weatherproof', 'waterproof', 'shockproof', and 'dust-proof', are carrots originally associated with costlier 'pro' gear, but that was yesterday, and today is the day after yesterday. Nowadays tougher cameras are within the budget of most all of us, pro and not-so-pro.

Canon's EOS 1D Mark-seriesBut before we start the toy parade it's important to define the meanings of the words used on the manufacturer's press releases and packaging. The criteria as to what make a camera or lens 'weatherproof' varies from brand to brand, and model to model. And never assume 'weatherproof' or 'splash proof' means 'waterproof'. Just because your camera can survive the aftereffects of Uncle Paulie's cannonballs doesn't mean you can clip it on your weight belt the next time you go sponge diving. A word to the wise; Read the Fine Print.

Until recently if you wanted an all-but-bulletproof camera you had to pony up for one of Canon's EOS 1D Mark-series DSLRs, which remain benchmark cameras when it comes to keeping the ravages of mankind out and away from the innards of your DSLR. Over 70 silicon seals and gaskets block moisture and dust from entering most every cutout on the camera body, which is constructed of a composite of magnesium-alloy and carbon fiber materials for an optimized weight/strength ratio.

Canon Mark-series cameras also contain shielding to reduce the effects of ambient electromagnetic noise, truly tough shutter mechanisms, and are certified to work in a temperature range of 0 to 45-degrees Centigrade.

Nikon D3Equally robust is Nikon's FX-format heavy hitter camera of the year, the Nikon D3. Like Canon's Mark-series DSLRs, the Nikon D3 has a rugged magnesium-alloy chassis and body parts, an industrial-strength shutter mechanism, dozens of gaskets and O-rings to keep schmutz out of its innards, and is shielded against electromagnetic interference. And the images you get out of the Nikon D3 aren't too shabby either. It's not a stretch to say both Canon's Mark-series cameras and Nikon's D3 represent the best the industry has to offer when it comes to image quality and engineering technologies, regardless of which brand you personally prefer.

The big news is that while flagship digicams still cost upwards of 8 thousand dollars, today you can buy a tough-as-nails point-and-shoot digicam for a few hundred dollars, and a weather-sealed DSLR for well under a thousand dollars.

Olympus E3The Olympus E3 is the robust flagship DSLR from Olympus camera. Measuring in with a 10.1Mp, 4/3-format Live MOS imaging sensor, the E3 contains a rugged magnesium chassis and an abundance of weather-sealing gaskets to keep out dust and moisture.

The latest offerings from Pentax, the K200D and K20D, DSLRs featuring stainless-steel chassis surrounded by polycarbonate body panels, just might be the only weatherproof-rated DSLRs featuring pop-up flashes. This is noteworthy because pop-up flashes are popular ports-of-entry for moisture and dust on the average camera.

K200D K20D

The Pentax K20D (14.6Mp) contains 72 weather-resisting gaskets to keeps out the elements, and the K20D's optional battery grip contains an additional 38 seals. The K20D's sibling, the Pentax K200D (10.2Mp) contains 60 protective gaskets in the camera body, and 14 seals lining its optional battery grip.

Both cameras also feature nanotechnology-based fluorine coatings on the low-pass filter as well as 'sensor shake' each time you power up the camera to prevent dust from marring your picture files. There's also a Dust Alert feature that lets you know when stubborn dust particles refuse to shake loose. (For more on the Pentax K20D, K200D, and Pentax weather-resistant optics see Jim Fisher's article elsewhere in this issue.)

Canon EOS 5D Canon's EOS 40D

The flagship DSLRs from Canon and Nikon aren't the only cameras from the Big Two that can stand up to the elements. The Canon EOS 5D, while not quite as bullet-proof as Mark-series Canon bodies, is a rather robust shooting machine in its own right, and Canon's EOS 40D sports a magnesium-alloy body that's well-sealed against dust and moisture, a beefed up shutter mechanism, and advanced dust reduction technologies.

Nikon D300

Likewise Nikon's DX-format D300, which also makes similar claims to well-sealed magnesium-alloy body components, a hefty double-bladed shutter, and advanced moisture and dust prevention technology.

Sony alpha A700

On the Sony front, the Sony alpha A700 features, like the Canon 5D, 40D, and Nikon D300, a magnesium alloy chassis that combines the qualities of strength and light weight to help absorb the impact of the various bumps and bounces encountered along life's journey.

And Don't Forget the Glass!

Weather-resistance and structural integrity are qualities that are also designed into select optics. Most Nikon Zoom Lenses with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 are weather-resistant, as are many of Nikon's Premium Fixed-Focus Optics.


Ditto Canon's L-Series Optics, which can be identified by the thin red line that circumnavigates the lens barrel. Canon 'Ls' feature gaskets and O-rings every-which-where to reduce the intrusion of dust and moisture, as well as a carbon-fiber lip on the forward edge of many of these lenses to absorb the ravages of minor impacts and reduce the likelihood of jammed filters.

Canon's L-Series Optics Canon's L-Series Optics Canon's L-Series Optics Canon's L-Series Optics

If you shoot with a Sony alpha-series DSLR (or Minolta Maxxum) you too have weatherproof options in the lens department. Sony 'G'-series Lenses have O-rings and gaskets to keep moisture and dust at bay, and are constructed to a heftier standard than most production lenses. G-Series Sony lenses currently include the 35/1.4G, 300/2.8 APO G SSM, 70-200/2.8 APO SSM, and a soon-to-be-released 70-300/4.5~5.6G SSM.

Sony 'G'-series Lenses Sony 'G'-series Lenses Sony 'G'-series Lenses Sony 'G'-series Lenses

Pentax DSLR owners rejoice! You too can battle the elements by mounting a Pentax DA*-series lens on your Pentax K20D, K200D, or other Pentax DSLR. DA*-series optics are currently available in the form of a smc DA* 50-135/2.8 (IF) SDM, smc DA* 16-50/2.8 ED/AL (IF) SDM, SMCP-DA* 300/4 ED (IF) SDM (coming soon!) and the SMCP-DA* 200/2.8 ED (IF) SDM.

And for Olympus E-series shooters, all Olympus High Grade and Super High Grade –series optics are all dust and splash-proof to match the construction and performance levels of Olympus' E-series cameras.

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Nikon's Premium Fixed-Focus Optics Nikon's Premium Fixed-Focus Optics Nikon's Premium Fixed-Focus Optics Nikon's Premium Fixed-Focus Optics