A few days ago my Featured Image of the Week featured a shot I captured at the National Zoo in the rain. In the article that accompanied the shot I talked about how I like to continue shooting when the weather is less than perfect. I’ve worked for years as an event photographer and if it starts to rain and the show goes on I still have to deliver pictures. I’ve used a number of accessories over the years to make sure I can keep working no matter what the conditions and Rain Sleeves are a super inexpensive way to keep shooting even when it starts raining.
For this article I’ll be sharing my thoughts about the four Rain Sleeves I own.
Op/Tech Rain Sleeves
The very first rain sleeves I bought came from an accessory company called Op/Tech. A quick search at your favorite online photography store shows they sell items like camera straps, memory card holders, camera bags, lens caps, lens sleeves and even stock covers for your rifle…
I’ve only owned a few products from Op/Tech but for under $10 their rain sleeves are one product I’ll never be without. I’m not kidding when I say that I bring them everywhere my camera goes. Here’s a look at the Op/Tech Rain Sleeve on my camera with my 70-200mm f2.8 lens attached:
The Op/Tech rain sleeve is a thin (but surprisingly tough) clear plastic cover shaped to cover a DSLR camera with a large lens. Because it’s clear plastic you can still identify all of your camera controls and even read your rear LCD display when your rain sleeve is on. You can continue to use your camera by pressing on your shutter release from outside the sleeve but there’s more than enough room to fit your hand inside for more precise control (using dials, for example).
One nice feature of the Op/Tech Rain Sleeve is the opening for your viewfinder. It’s basically a hole in the plastic in the perfect place for you to remove your viewfinder eye cup, position the sleeve and replace the eyecup. When used properly you won’t have to look through the plastic to see through your viewfinder. Here’s a look at the back of my camera with the viewfinder hole in use:
The lens end of the rain sleeve features a drawstring so it can easily tighten to a variety of different sized lenses. I’ve never had an issue using a rain sleeve on my biggest DSLR (with a battery grip attached) and every one of my lenses from a 70-20mm f2.8 down to my smallest 28mm prime. With a smaller lens you’ll have a lot of plastic bunched up but it’s not there to look pretty – it’s there to keep water off your gear.
While the rain sleeve does a great job of keeping water away you’ll still need to be careful when you’re using your camera in foul weather. The front of your lens is still exposed, for example, so aiming your camera upwards in a rain storm is never recommended. To keep my lens from getting droplets on it I always use a lens hood to help keep rain away from anything glass.
One more problem you need to be aware of is how a rain sleeve can make a standard camera strap just about impossible to use. If you own a cool strap that attaches to the bottom of your camera (like a BlackRapid RS-7 Curve Camera Strap) you can still use your strap but your camera will be hanging upside down and this means your rain sleeve will be wide open to falling rain.
Two versions of the Op/Tech rain sleeve are available: a standard version designed to cover a professional sized camera and a long lens, and a larger version designed to cover a professional camera with a long lens and a hot shoe flash attached. I own both and while I don’t use the hot-shoe flash as a main light when I have a rain sleeve on I do use it as a trigger for off camera flashes. When I use a radio trigger (like the Pocket Wizard Plus III) for off-camera flash the larger rain sleeve is definitely the better choice.
One final note – if you use a tripod then the design of the rain sleeve will work fine for medium and smaller lenses but if you’re using a long lens (with a tripod collar that attaches to the lens) it could be a little tight. So far I’ve had plenty of success using a long lens with a monopod but the plastic does get tight around the camera near the lens.
Ruggard Rain Covers
For a about a dollar less than you pay for the Op/Tech rain sleeves you can try out the rain covers from Ruggard. For a little less money you get what feels like a sturdier plastic (this could be good or bad, depending on your personal preference). One other minor difference is the clasp for the drawstring and the thickness of the drawstring itself (the Op/Tech is larger and easier to use).
The shape and size is identical but there was a slightly tougher feel to the Ruggard that I don’t like as much as the Op/Tech. This is a totally personal opinion and if I never tried the Op/Tech I certainly wouldn’t know any better. I do own more Ruggard products than Op/Tech products (and I’m a pretty brand loyal person) but the truth is – I could be happy with either. Here’s a look at a Ruggard Rain Cover:
When it’s placed on a camera it looks just like the Op/Tech so I’m not adding pictures of the basic Ruggard rain cover to this article. It is worth noting that the Ruggard doesn’t have the additional hole for your viewfinder so you’ll be looking through the clear plastic or cutting your own hole. Here’s a look at the flash version of the Ruggard rain cover when it’s installed on one of my cameras with a 70-200mm f2.8 lens and a hot shoe flash:
If you’re super serious about protecting your camera (and really want to look like a pro) then you can opt for one of the many fabric rain covers. These covers are awesome but also have their drawbacks (they’re a little bigger and more expensive) but they should last you a lifetime and be much more protective against more than just rain. Expect to pay well over $50 but that single purchase should last considerably longer than a plastic sleeve.
Ruggard has a few fabric rain covers that are around $70 and if you’re looking for some serious protection for your camera I’d be sure to check them out.
A basic rain cover for your camera is a small, inexpensive way to protect your gear and continue shooting when other photographers are scrambling to put their cameras away. With a rain sleeve you’ll look considerably more professional than the people who use kitchen-sized trash bags to cover their gear.
While I’d never recommend being out shooting in dangerous conditions there is a middle ground where the rain is light enough to get a great shot using a rain cover while it’s too much for anyone without one. I’ve seen photographers at shows using everything from bath towels to garbage bags to try to shoot in bad weather and it’s fun to watch them struggle with something that was never designed to protect their gear.
Here’s a shot I took of a rain storm while I was up in the Shenandoah Mountains. Just seconds after the shutter closed on this shot the rain started pouring on me and my camera. A major storm at 8,000 ft. elevation is no joke and this one was pretty intense. Luckily I already had my rain cover on because my gear would have been totally soaked – and probably severely damaged…
For less than $10 you can keep a rain cover in your camera bag and you’re always ready to shoot. They’re so small, light and inexpensive that there’s really no excuse not to have one.
Here’s a few options for purchasing protection for your camera from B&H photo and Amazon:
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