Burning Man 2012 was an amazing experience, but being my first time I was a little worried about my camera equipment. The conditions are extremely dusty and hot, there is nowhere to hide from the alkaline dust that gets into everything. There was no chance I was missing shooting just because of a little lot of dust! So here is a rundown of my experience of what it was like to photograph at Burning Man from an equipment perspective.
I have a recently acquired Canon 5d Mark III, but not too many lenses. Although I saw people using unsealed zoom lenses, they had the camera and the lens completely wrapped in plastic bags, or underwater casings. That is just not how I shoot, I need access to the LCD and the viewfinder. So I decided to stick with two prime lenses and to tape the hell out of both the lenses and the body. Stuck two 32 gig cards in the camera, which allowed me to change the cards every two days. Before leaving the real world, or as the burners call it “The default world” I searched probably 10 stores for gaffers tape and couldnt find it. Gaffers tape is like Duct tape, but without the sticky residue, so it would have been perfect, but I ended up getting regular painters blue tape from Home Depot. Every time I would change a lens I would go in the car, shut the door, blow out all the dust, wipe the body down with a Lens Cleaning Cloth, and then blow it out again.
I used two prime lenses – 100 f2 and 50 f1.4. The 100 was reserved for the day and I would switch out to the 50 for night shots. By the end of the week I forgot about the 50 and just kept the 100 on my camera the entire time.
So how did the camera and lenses do in the crazy dust and a few white outs that we experienced during the week? Well overall there are no major problems. I dont see any dust on the sensor from a casual look at the pictures. The parts of the body that were left exposed have a kind of a white haze on the plastic, that does not go away even with the alcohol wipes. Seems like the alkaline dust has discolored the plastic a bit. Some dust has gotten into the glass elements of the viewfinder, but I expect that it can be unscrewed open and blown out, and it doesn’t bother me too much when looking through. The main issue is the top LCD on the left side seems to have an unsealed crack, that allowed a thin sliver of dust to make itself inside of the top LCD display. Not sure if its related to it, but the top LCD now sometimes gets weird characters that appear for a second and then go away, especially when you press on the glass. After that happened I sealed all the seams around the two LCD screens as well, but I wish that I knew to do it before the dust got in.
Other then that all the buttons still work properly, the two lenses have no problems, even the 50, which has a moving front element, seems to be fine.
We did have some issues with the dust causing interference to the contacts of the card reader, causing really slow download times, but that got sorted out with a good cleaning of the contacts. So thats pretty much it, here are some photos of how I had the camera’s taped. Natalia had a similar taping job, only she used the 70-200 f4 most of the time, and didn’t shoot right into the oncoming dust storm like me, so she didnt get the dust into the top LCD, but got the dust inside the view finder.
PS: all the professional photographers I met on the playa, ie they had media badges, also had a version of a taping job going on, saying if anything they will just get a professional cleaning from Canon. So the questions is, should the top LCD and viewfinder be sealed against the elements? and is this something that Canon warranty will cover to clean on my camera?
Roma and Natalia are world travelers, photographers, and an all around fun couple. When they are not travelling far away continents or driving around USA in their trusted Highlander, they can be found in San Francisco, California.