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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Sew What?Cover-Up

A Raincoat for Your Camera

By Tamia Nelson
tamia@paddling.net

April 5, 2011

Ah, spring! It's good to see the rivers running free again. But it's not all blue skies and balmy breezes. Spring is a soggy season in Canoe Country. Clinging mantles of fog lie long in the valleys, while cold rain falls as fast (and as often) as the rivers rise. And though I wouldn't go quite as far as T.S. Eliot in branding April "the cruelest month," I have to admit that the weather isn't always kind. Wet and windy — those are the key words. Which isn't a good reason in itself to stay indoors, of course. Most canoeists and kayakers soon realize that if they wait for perfect weather, they'll almost never go paddling. So they learn to cope. Good rain gear helps. It keep us dry and warm. But it's only the start. Our stuff needs protection, too.

Paddling shutterbugs have the hardest time. Water and electronics just don't mix, and electronic circuits are the heart and brain of modern digital cameras. We've pretty much thrown off our old dependence on film, but a new addiction has replaced it: We're now hooked on batteries. And a few drops of water in the wrong place can stop us in our tracks. Luckily, passing showers pose little threat to all‑weather photographers. Just tuck your camera under your jacket. Then, when you want to capture a shot in a swirling drizzle, unfurl your umbrella. But good as these stopgap solutions are, they're still stopgaps. If you want to make certain you won't miss opportunities, you'll have to keep your camera out and ready at all times. Moreover, if you're hoping to photograph wary wildlife, you don't want to be waving an umbrella around, even if the wind isn't blowing half a gale. So you're left with a stark choice. Protect your camera and risk losing that shot of a lifetime. Or keep the camera handy and leave it to the uncertain mercy of wind and rain. (Owners of waterproof cameras will be feeling justifiably smug here, but not all good cameras are waterproof, and even when a camera body is advertised as "weatherproof," the lens you attach to it may not be.) Is there a solution to this conundrum? Yes, and it's surprisingly simple:

A Custom Camera Cover

The need is obvious. As it happens, my camera — a Pentax 200D — boasts a weather‑sealed body. And for once the real‑world performance lives up to the advertising copy. But the camera body isn't totally waterproof, and none of my lenses is either. Nor do clear UV filters do much to keep grit or moisture from doing mischief to lenses' inner workings. Something more is required.

It's easy enough to protect my camera kit under way, of course. All I have to do is keep it in a waterproof ammo can. But this leaves a lot to be desired. My camera and lenses may be safe from harm in their steel vault, but as long as they stay boxed up, they're just ballast. What chance do I have of catching a soaring eagle on the wing, or capturing the one moment when sunlight turns the mist from a falls into a golden halo? Little or none, that's what. And that's frustrating. What I needed, I decided recently, was a sort of halfway house for my camera. Something that would shield body and lens from swirling mist and windblown dust, but still allow me to snap off a shot in an instant. A rain shell, in other words. I'm not the only person to have this idea, obviously, and there's no shortage of commercial solutions on offer. But none of them really appealed to me. I wanted something simple and cheap, and many of the commercial lens jackets were gimmicky and pricey. The colors were often wrong, too. What paddler in her right mind wants to wave a white sleeve around in the autumn woods, for instance? Not me, at any rate.

The upshot? I figured I'd have to make my own. So I sat down with pencil and paper, and began to …

Scribble and Sketch

Actually, I began by sketching. That was a mistake. It's hard to draw a good plan for something if you haven't specified what you want it to do. So I stopped sketching and started scribbling. The ideal rain gear for my camera, I concluded, had to …

  • Be shower‑proof and dust‑proof.
  • Do nothing to slow me down when I was framing, focusing, or snapping a shot.
  • Allow me to use a tripod.
  • Fit all my lenses, even my longest telephoto zoom.
  • Protect the lens‑camera junction.
  • Be small enough and light enough to stuff in a pocket.
  • Be a suitable color.

It didn't have to be waterproof, however. Don't get me wrong. Waterproof would be good, but if the fabric protected the lens and body from blowing mist and light rain, I'd be happy. Choosing a color was trickier. White was out. I spend a lot of time in places frequented by deer hunters. Many don't pay very close attention to the calendar, and a few are inclined to shoot first and identify their target afterward. Brown, black, blue, and khaki were out of the running, as well. Camouflage is good, but only in its place. I knew I'd drop my camera's raincoat sooner or later, and I've already spent too much of my life searching forest floors and tannin‑stained waters for drably colored objects. And anyway, I didn't need something inconspicuous. I wanted a raincoat for my camera so I wouldn't miss snap shots and once‑in‑a‑lifetime opportunities. If I'm staking out a particular, elusive subject, I'll take time to set up a tarp or poncho blind to use as a hide. That's why bright was best for my camera's new raincoat, and the brighter the color the better.

Then I had a eureka moment. I have a closet full of windbreakers, parkas, and anoraks, and many of them are overdue for honorable retirement. So why not cut off a sleeve from a tired garment and use that as the body for my camera's raincoat? Why not, indeed? And here's …

How I Did It

It took me no time at all to find a suitable candidate. From deep in the recesses of a closet I unearthed an old North Face shell parka. I got it cheap. Very cheap. But the first time I wore it, I learned why I'd paid so little. True, it did its job well, especially for a jacket that hadn't been advertised as waterproof. It kept me dry even in moderately heavy rain. That is, it kept the water on the outside from getting in. Unfortunately, it also kept the water on the inside from getting out. In other words, the parka was impossibly hot, and there were no pit zips to vent any of the superheated steam produced by my sweaty body. Which is why the parka went to the back of the closet, never to see the light of day again. Until now. I was losing an arm — well, my old parka was losing an arm, anyway — but my camera was gaining a raincoat. It seemed like a good trade.

I began by measuring the sleeve against my longest lens, not once, but twice. I pulled the sleeve's elastic wristband around the lens's filter ring, then smoothed the fabric down along the bodies of both lens and camera. I was in luck. It was just wide enough, so I used a laundry marker to indicate the place where I thought the cut should come, before removing the camera and flattening the sleeve on my work table. Next, I placed my camera on the sleeve, checked the length again, and drew a final guideline across the fabric, making a generous allowance for a hem — and the possibility that I might someday buy a longer telephoto lens. Why do the job over again if I didn't have to?

Measure Twice...

Now I was ready to cut the sleeve to length and heat seal the cut edges. (The North Face parka was made of nylon, and cut nylon will quickly fray if not sealed.) I used a butane lighter to do the job.

Cut Once

It was time to check the fit. I slipped the camera and lens inside the newly cut sleeve, anchored the far end around the lens with a rubber band, and put camera and lens through their paces, using both automatic and manual focus. Everything worked. My fingers slipped inside the sleeve without difficulty, and I had no trouble grasping the hand grip and operating the controls. Satisfied that all was as it should be, I eyeballed the sleeve to determine how far I'd need to slit the fabric to accommodate a tripod.

Trying It On

That task was next, and it took but a minute. I opened the existing seam a few inches, using a knife rather than a seam splitter. (Why? Easy. I don't own a seam splitter.) I then rummaged in my materials box for a suitable length of elastic cord and a barrel lock from which to fabricate a drawcord closure at the near end of the sleeve, the end that wraps around the camera body. First, though, I put the sleeve on the camera one more time and checked to see that the tripod mount was in the clear. It was.

Doing the Split

All that remained was to sew up my camera's new raincoat. The tunnel for the drawcord looked like being the trickiest bit, so I knotted the cord and tacked it in place with a couple of overhand stitches. Once that was done, I could form the drawcord tunnel without worrying that the cord would shift in the process.

A Knotty Problem

As further insurance, I held the tunnel hem together with straight pins while I ran the first line of stitches, bar‑tacking the ends to prevent unraveling. Then it was time to hem the slit seam that provided access to the tripod mount.

Pinup Girl

One final problem remained. My wide‑angle lens is … you guessed it … wider than my telephoto, so I added a gusset at the far end of the sleeve, placing it on the underside, along the existing seam, and finishing it off by hand‑stitching the elastic hem back on itself. Now I had the best of both worlds: The sleeve snugged down tight against the filter ring on the zoom telephoto, but stretched open just enough to accommodate the bulkier wide‑angle. Perfect.

Gusset and Garter

That was that. I gave myself a minute to admire my handiwork, though I was careful not to look too closely at my rather untidy stitching. Still, pretty is as pretty does, right? I was prepared to overlook sloppy stitches if my camera's new raincoat did the biz. It did. It accommodated all my lenses, allowed me easy access to the exposure controls, and fitted over my tripod mount without complaint. At last my camera was properly dressed to play in the rain.

All Dressed Up

And the raincoat certainly isn't a burden to carry. In fact, it rolls up into a package not much larger than one of the old 35 mm film cans. (I don't miss not having to buy film, but I miss these little canisters, particularly the gasketed aluminum kind. They came in useful for all sorts of things. I treasure the few I have left.)

Roll Your Own

The bottom line? I put the last stitches in the raincoat only a couple of weeks ago, but it's already become my constant companion, and it's proving its worth nearly every day, allowing me to keep my camera handy on misty mornings and drizzly afternoons alike, ready for whatever turns up. There were a few teething troubles, of course. At first, stray drops of water occasionally found their way onto the lens. But fitting the hoods to the lenses put paid to that nuisance, and the design of my homemade raincoat made this easy. It's not bombproof, of course. When drizzle turns to downpour, I still tuck my camera safely out of harm's way. But the new raincoat is good enough for most days, even in a soggy spring. And that's good enough for me.

Unblinking Eye

"The rain it raineth every day." At least that's how it seems in Canoe Country in spring. Except when it snows, of course. What's a paddling shutterbug to do? Leave the camera at home, knowing that this means forgoing every chance at a shot? Or bring the camera and hope that no wind‑driven rain stops its electronic heart for good? It's not an easy choice. What about it? Are you feeling lucky today? Well, there's something better than relying on luck. Just make a raincoat for your camera. It's a simple project, easily within the reach of a novice with needle and thread, and you probably have the materials you'll need lying around your house already. Sew what's stopping you?

I'm sure I'm not the only paddler with a sewing machine. How about you? Do you have any projects that would interest others? I bet you do. So why not drop me a line. I'd love to see what you've been working on, and I know I'm not alone.

Copyright © 2011 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.









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