BetterPhoto Q&A
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Photography Question 
Jody W. Hanley

35mm SLR or DSLR for harsh weather and cond.

I would like to get some opinions as to which is more suitable for enduring the jolts and vibrations of extended hikes and extreme weather outdoors.I have been told that digitals are much more prone to damage and failure than a good old SLR.Any thoughts appreciated.Thanks!

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3/26/2008 7:36:15 PM

doug Nelson   It is true that pro-level digital (and film) SLR's are better weather-sealed and tougher overall. The problem is that the pro gear can be pretty big and heavy. In digital, consider the latest Pentax digital SLR and one of the excellent prime lenses available (the 21mm comes to mind). The Pentax is said to be weather-sealed AND very compact.

The monster zooms folks lug around these days, while having great optical performance, can be pretty fragile and bulky, too, unless you opt for Canon L or other premium sealed construction lenses. Whack or drop one of these zooms, or get it wet, and it may be useless weight. At least you can pad the small Pentax and prime lens package and put it in a large Ziplock bag.

How about a Canon FD manual SLR and one of the better wides, like the 24mm f2 or 28mm f 2.8 SC? Or a Nikon FM3A and a Nikkor 28mm AIS f 2.8?

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3/27/2008 8:36:25 AM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Hello Jody,

It really depends how harsh the environment.
Today's Pro-level DSLR's are quite robust.

In very cold weather environs as an example, I would rather go with a DSLR as film has been known to break in extreme cold.

It may have been true a few yrs ago concerning the fragile nature of digital cameras, but not so much today.

Many war correspondents lately in the desert shoot digital..(extreme heat, blowing sand, cold at night)...hard to get more harsh than that.

all the best,


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3/28/2008 5:12:10 AM


BetterPhoto Member
If you're talking about heavy rain, hail, and snow, I prefer an old 35mm manual with the battery removed. I've got a Minolta that has been retired to these uses only. Call me a wuss, but I don't have the guts to take my Sony out from under the awning.

Have fun and keep shooting,

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3/28/2008 8:34:22 AM

Jody W. Hanley   Thanks for the replies,it sounds like digitals are not so fragile now.That's good news.

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3/29/2008 9:50:20 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  It's an interesting question, I think. I'm inclined to agree with Mark H. *great shot btw) in that I shoot most of my 35mm work with very old yet extremely reliable Nikon F-2A's and mostly fixed focus Nikkor AI lenses. They're so solid, rumor has it you can pound fence posts with them, pretty much weather tight, versatile and if the meter battery goes kaputzky, you can use it without the meter in full manual.

As far as film breaking from the cold, as Jerry mentioned, sure that's a possibility along with static electricity in extreme cold on a fast rewind, but OTOH, I've never experienced that particular problem in some extremely cold, sub-zero conditions.

The other thing I'd consider is if an old(er) manual [analog?) 35mm film camera gets banged or bumped or even wet or otherwise exposed to the elements, I don't think it'd cost an arm and leg to either repair or replace like a good digital rig. Besides, IMO, even combat shooters need to still treat both types with a certain amount of respect to avoid damage anyway, right?
Take it light.

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3/30/2008 10:11:15 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  DUH !!! Sorry guys, I meant to say "fixed focal length lenses" not fixed focus. Early Sunday, not sufficient coffee yet, slow brain day. Ya know? LOL!!

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3/30/2008 1:13:51 PM


BetterPhoto Member
  Thanks for the kudos there Mark. And, let me juust say that I think this the first time we see eye to eye on a subject. I'm sorry, but when it comes to destroying a 50 buck srt201 or destroying a 1,000 alpha, the srt buys it.

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3/30/2008 4:42:16 PM

Irene Troy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/27/2004
  I rarely disagree with Mark F., so here is my exception; although, it is not really a disagreement, just a different perspective.

I shoot with a Canon 5D and love the camera! Iíve spent much of this winter working in some extremely hostile environments. One job was writing about Ice hotels and other ďroughing itĒ type accommodations in Canada. The temps stayed well below zero day and night with some overnight temps dipping well into the -25 to -30 range. Another job took me back to the Northern Minnesota wilderness where there were sub-zero temps; lots of ice and snow and very harsh conditions. Although I think of myself as a writer who also does photography (as opposed to a photographer who does some writing) I have been very pleased with the 5Dís performance. I experienced no failures and few problems. Of-course, I kept extra batteries in an inside jacket pocket lined with those little chem packs designed to keep your hands warm. At night I took the camera into the sleeping bag with me. Not exactly a comforting presence, but it did keep the camera from freezing up.

Iíve also used this gear in very dusty and windy locations such as the beach and desert and have had few problems. The biggest issue when shooting digital in dirty environments seems to be keeping the sensor clean. Iím real careful when switching lenses and clean the sensor nightly Ė always out of the muck and dust.

Thus far I have experienced no real problems needing professional intervention. I do plan to send the camera off for a professional cleaning, but I also did this with my old film camera.

Anyway, thatís my two cents worth of input.


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3/31/2008 1:09:08 PM


BetterPhoto Member
Hi Irene;

Being a weather spotter, most of my foul weather work is done in severe thunderstorms. Like I said, Call me a wuss, but!!!!! You get the picture

Have fun and keep shooting,
Mark H.

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3/31/2008 4:42:14 PM

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