Gear Matters

The rising sun penetrates the sea smoke at Camp Ellis in Saco on a sub-zero morning

Most photography instructors will tell you that camera gear doesn’t matter and that a new lens or camera body won’t make you a better photographer.  They always cite the example that a professional photographer using entry level equipment will take better photos than a novice using top of the line gear.  I think that’s true but it certainly begs the question why professionals would dish out beaucoup bucks for high end stuff if they can just as easily take great photos with a cheap kit.  The answer to that question is that gear matters – in certain situations.

Sea smoke shrouds the rocky Camp Ellis shore

My neighbors recently returned from a three week expedition to Antarctica sponsored by National Geographic aboard the magazine’s exploration ship appropriately named “The Explorer”.   On the first day participants were greeted with wind driven, near freezing, rain as they set out to photograph the hundreds, maybe thousands of penguins gathered on shore.  Of the 130 people in the group, over thirty of them had their cameras die due to water damage.  That probably wouldn’t have happened had they been using more expensive, fully weather sealed cameras.  Whether you’re a rookie or a seasoned pro, a dead camera means no pictures – regardless of your skill level.  Gear matters in the rain.

A beached ice floe in Scarborough
The remnants of high tide in Scarborough

I like to save a buck as much as the next guy and so I often choose generic alternatives to brand name equipment when it comes to photography accessories.  I can’t see spending top dollar for seldom used non-essential items and often find that the “Acme” versions work quite well.   I also thought the same about camera batteries but Mother Nature recently proved me wrong.

Frozen seawater sculpts the beach near Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland

This recent cold snap saw early morning temperatures plunge into the -20F range and I ventured out multiple times when the mercury dipped to at least -15F.  That’s camera battery zapping weather and I quickly learned that the cheap Chinese knock-off batteries that I purchased at bargain basement prices didn’t last nearly as long as my much older, original equipment, battery.  I use the tried and true trick of keeping a spare battery warm by sandwiching it between layers inside my clothing.  Unfortunately, accessing that battery violates a cold weather rule that states that the best way to stay warm is to not get cold.  Having to remove my heavy gloves to unzip my jacket and other layers in order to retrieve the battery, coupled with having to fiddle with the camera to swap out the dead power source, turns a relatively warm me into a cold me.   Once that happens at negative 15 degrees, it’s difficult to recover.  Gear does matter in the cold and that age-old rule of “you get what you pay for” applies here.

A ferry boat makes its way through the sea smoke as the Cousins Island power plant churns out a massive plumage
You won’t find many boats out on the water on mornings such as these

2018 is off to a brutal start, weather-wise, here in Maine.  I don’t expect to be taking my bicycle out anytime soon!  In the meantime, I’m keeping the cut-rate Chinese batteries on full-time charge at least until the groundhog signifies that spring is just around the corner.

The trees refuse to let go of the snow on these frigid mornings



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