Images & Gear; Protect Your Camera And Images; Important Tips From World Travelers Page 2

Yet another trick to avoid vibration is to hang your camera on its strap over the back of a car seat, or around your neck on a bus or train. If possible, put your camera bag on an empty seat rather than on the floor, as the padding and upholstery will absorb a lot more vibration than a carpet, let alone a rubber mat. In an aircraft, the net in the back of the seat in front is good, especially with an OP/TECH neoprene camera case.

This little Seahorse case can be padlocked closed and then chained to any convenient piece of real estate. Use combination locks for obvious reasons! If these had bigger hasps, we’d only need one instead of two. The “screamer” on top can be attached by either padlock via its wire loop. If its jack is pulled out, it emits an ear-splitting noise. You want the “screamer” on whatever the thief is trying to carry away.

The Heat’s On
As long as we’re in the car, don’t forget the effects of heat. The glove box or the trunk of a car, especially a dark-colored one, can easily reach the sort of temperature where the camera is too hot to touch. This will not do film any good, and allegedly it can “fry” digital cameras, but normally, digital cameras become usable again as they cool down. I’ve seen LCD screens blank out from heat, though.

A more insidious risk with heat is baking the lubricants or (worse still) distilling them, especially in lenses. It’s worse in lenses because of the risk of the lubricants distilling onto the glass, resulting in haze and lack of contrast.

To cut down on these risks, avoid the trunk and glove box; go for light-colored cars (our Land Rover has a cream-colored double-skin “tropical roof” for precisely this reason); prefer light-colored camera cases to dark (silver aluminum Zero Halliburtons are ideal); don’t leave the bag in the sun (if it’s in the back of the car, put a light-colored towel or silver “space blanket” over it); and rely on simple insulation, with other bags above or below the camera bag, or a big cool chest around it. Take the camera bag out of the cool chest at night, though, and allow them both to cool. Otherwise, they’ll retain the heat they built up during the day.

Don’t get too paranoid about this. We once took a six-hour taxi ride in temperatures up to 117?F (47?C) and when we reached our hotel in Delhi that evening, even our film was warm to the touch: maybe as much as 100?F (38?C). A few hours at that temperature won’t do any harm. But 140?F (60?C) may be another story.

Soft-sides like this Billingham are much easier to work out of than suitcase-style cases, but when you’re walking around you need to keep them zipped and fastened, as here. There’s a “screamer” in the side pocket, attached to the black lanyard, which in turn is connected to the red lanyard, which clips to a belt loop or a café table. Pull out the plug on the end of the black lanyard and it
starts screaming.

Bags: Hard Or Soft?
What about camera bags? Which is better, hard-side or soft-side? As so often, the answer is a firm, unequivocal “it depends.”

Perhaps surprisingly, a well-made soft-side (we use Billinghams and Lowepro SlingShots) may offer better protection than a hard-side if (for example) you drop the bag down a flight of stairs. The flexing of the bag and its dividers absorbs energy; there’s nothing hard inside the bag for the cameras to bump into; and they can’t move far before they hit an energy-absorbing wall.

On the other hand, a hard-side with cutout foam (we use Zero Halliburtons, Pelicans, and Seahorses) is a better bet if the bag is going to be flung across the room on a regular basis (as by airline baggage handlers) or bounced up and down on a rigid, vibrating surface (as on the top of an Indian bus or in the trunk of a taxi). Hard-sides with gaskets are also ideal for dusty or wet conditions. Some even float: ideal if you’re traveling in small boats. Buy decent quality cases and foam, though. Cheap foam decays and goes nasty and sticky and can even attack the metal of the camera.

A less obvious consideration is that we find it much easier to work out of soft-sides when we’re on foot, or hard-sides if we’re working out of the car or in the studio: an empty cutout in the hard-side’s foam means you’ve forgotten something.

When we are touring on the motorcycle, our cameras live in the tank bag of our BMW R100RS, atop a layer of foam rubber—which is why it’s open, so I could get the camera out to take a picture of a stop for brunch.

Frances and I have banged our cameras around the world for decades, and had gratifyingly few problems. As we’ve said, you can always be unlucky, and dropping a camera a couple of inches on one occasion may result in more damage than dropping it a couple of feet on another. So as we say, don’t court bad luck, but equally, don’t imagine that your camera is as delicate as a piece of fine crystal.

Protection From Theft
“Out of sight, out of mind” is the proverb to remember here: if thieves can’t see your camera, they are less likely to steal it. Of course they may steal the whole bag, so keep it under your control at all times, and if you stop (for example) at a café bar, clip the bag to a table or seat, or at least, wind the strap around something. Consider a “screamer,” a little personal alarm with a pull-out plug, too: one end attached to the bag, one to the chair or to you. These are however embarrassing if you forget you are using one and pick the bag up yourself.

Keep the top of your bag closed and secured (zips, buckles, whatever) against pickpockets. With photographers’ vests, make sure the pockets are well secured with zips or touch fasteners: touch fasteners are especially good because of the ripping noise they make when they are pulled apart.

If you have to leave a bag in the car, leave it in a locked trunk, well insulated against heat if need be. In a station wagon, cover everything with a space blanket, both to keep it cool and to keep it from prying eyes. Many insurance companies will not pay out unless the equipment was stolen from a locked trunk and we literally use a padlocked trunk in the back of our Land Rover.

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