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Casualties of War – Why I Refuse to Baby my Camera Equipment

Over the years I’ve discovered that (broadly speaking) there are two types of hobby photographer.

The first kind of photographer treats their camera equipment with the reverence of a sacred religious relic. They transport their gear in climate controlled backpacks, meticulously clean their lens and filters before and after use and invariably try and avoid any situation that might threaten the perfect condition of their camera, lenses and accessories. They aim for perfection in their photography and will go to any lengths to avoid physical defects in their equipment that might negatively impact on that aim.

The second kind of photographer chucks their equipment in a backpack like they’re bagging groceries. They don’t stress too much about marks or blemishes on the camera or lenses and only clean their equipment when they notice grey blotches on the RAW files in Lightroom. If they had a motto it would be, “Ego Potest Reficere Post In”. They do not pay much consideration to the resale value of their gear because they know it will never be in a sufficiently saleable condition to merit attention from anyone but the most desperate purchaser.

There are shades of grey between these two polarised types of photographer of course, but when it comes to camera equipment, most folks tend to lean one way or the other. I most definitely fall into the second category of photographer and, despite some serious drawbacks, can’t see myself changing any time soon.

It’s There to be Used

My philosophy is pretty simple – I paid good money for all this equipment to use it, not to sit in a humidity controlled room gazing at it while it revolves on a motorised platter. I do not want to be in a situation where I might miss an incredible shot because I’m worried about what will happen to my kit. This does not mean I’m in the habit of setting a two second timer and throwing my camera off a cliff, but it does mean sometimes my kit gets damaged and even broken.

In order to offset any nervousness I might have about using my camera equipment to its fullest capabilities, I have insurance. Previously this was on the household policy, with all of my cameras and lenses listed as named items. However I am in the process of moving over to a proper photographer’s insurance policy which is tailor-made for professional and serious hobbyist photographers. I do not put my camera equipment deliberately in harm’s way, but should the worst happen, I know I will be able to replace it, minus an excess of $100. Of course I am also covered if my camera equipment is stolen – as all of my cameras and lenses are specifically itemised on my insurance policy, I can get like-for-like swapped out or an upgrade if it is not longer available.

If you have not insured your camera equipment I strongly suggest you look into it, because it’s an incredibly liberating feeling. I also fly a DJI drone and I make a point of paying for the DJI Care package which means that should the drone crash, I can get it replaced quickly and efficiently. And the drone’s going to be listed on my main insurance anyway, so should it a lost drone fall foul of DJI’s famous small-print, I’ll still be covered.

Cleaning Up

Unfortunately for my camera equipment, I do live right on the coast here in Australia and that means that the majority of my landscape photography takes place in that unforgiving environment known as a beach. Sand and salt-water are definitely not a camera’s best friends but the coast is an incredible place to capture amazing shots and so I won’t let the fear of corrosive salty air stand between me and a good shot. I’m on my third upgrade since I got back into photography 12 years ago and the old cameras (a Canon 550D and 7D2) both work fine.

When I return from the beach I wipe down all of my equipment with isopropyl alcohol swabs. This removes the salty residue left on cameras and lenses when they’re at the beach and keeps them is tip-top condition. It doesn’t take long to give everything a quick wipe over and I then store them all safely in the camera backpack ready for the next trip.

Sometimes you do find that you get build-up on the camera sensor. This usually occurs when you’re swapping lenses and can happen no matter how careful you are. I have some specialist sensor cleaning swabs which I use whenever I get some sensor dirt appearing on my shots in Lightroom. It’s a little bit trickier doing these clean-ups on a mirrorless camera with an internal sensor stabilisation system, but as long as you’re careful nothing untoward will happen to your camera.

All the professional photographers I know send their cameras back to their camera brand’s official repair centre once a year for a service. This makes perfect sense to me – you get the camera properly cleaned by a professional in a clean-room environment and you don’t have to worry about breaking anything. They can also fix up any physical damage that may have occurred, such as broken dials or screens. If you did want to sell your camera down the line then being able to tell a prospective purchaser that it was serviced yearly by the manufacturer at an official service centre will not harm your prospects.

30 Seconds From Disaster

I have had my fair share of disasters with photography equipment. I have autism and ADHD and one of the less known symptoms of both of those neurodevelopmental disorders is clumsiness. Unfortunately, when you’re swapping out a lens in a river, being a clumsy bastard is not a good fit. I have lost lenses and cameras to carelessness and clumsiness but also to bad luck which strikes everyone eventually.

I dropped my first DSLR – the Canon 550D – on quite a few occasions. I dropped it on the jagged headland rocks on the Kiama headland (smashed screen and broken 50mm lens), I fell at Camel Rock and smashed another 50mm and one time I dropped both camera and lens onto the ground in a carpark because I was stupidly walking around with the camera still on the tripod and the tripod resting on my shoulder. I had similar mishaps with my second DSLR – the 7D2 which had two trips to the official Canon repair centre and I broke my 10-22m three times. Then there’s the GoPro Hero camera I managed to take for a swim with the SD card panel wide open, on the first day I had it. Also the Insta 360 which fell onto the steps at the Opera House and scratched the 360ยบ lens.

Last year I switched to Fujifilm and, believe it or not, I am currently on my third X-T4 body. The picture above was the last photo I took on my second X-T4. I was shooting massive a swell at Kiama’s famous Bombo Quarry and a freak wave, easily 20m high, came right over the top of the cliff face and completely swamped me, my X-T4 and my 10-24mm lens. As I’ve mentioned, I insure everything now but for my first six years or so I simply wore the cost of repairs from sales of prints and other merchandise sold in my online store.

Baby Driver

Cameras are lovely bits of kit – precision engineering designed to do a very specific job and to, if necessary, do it under arduous conditions. You have to actually work quite hard to break a camera and it’s entirely possible to push the limits a bit without having such a terrible track-record for busted and broken equipment as me. Enjoy your camera, make the most of it and remember that it is a tool to be used, not a trophy to be admired from afar.

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