How Tough is your Digital SLR?

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When going through online reviews of different DSLRs you will often find a category where they rate a unit’s build quality. Build quality refers to how much abuse your unit can take before you have to retire it to DSLR heaven.

The biggest factor that affects a unit’s build quality is the material used for the camera body. Entry-level DSLRs often have plastic bodies while the more expensive ones have a magnesium-alloy casing. Does any of this really make a difference? More than you think.

A few weeks back, Lisa and I were out on a shoot. After hours under the sun, we finally called it a day and prepared to go home. I used a shoulder slung camera bag, the one that came free with the gear we got a long time ago. Figured it would be easier to lug around than a backpack then. As I got in the car, I swung the bag towards my lap and heard the most heartbreaking sound you will ever hear as a photographer.

The lock of the bag came undone, my camera fell, and judging from the sound, bounced two or three times on the asphalt road. There was a second of dead silence, after which I immediately retrieved the camera and got back in the car. Lisa and I spent a few seconds in shock before I had the guts to test the camera. Lo and behold, everything worked perfectly. She was pissed though. Man, if looks could kill…

Below are some photos of the damage from the fall. You will notice that the scratches are very minimal and if my 400D had a magnesium-alloy body, the fall would have probably only scratched the paint. Now that is all conjecture, of course, and we have no plans of testing it. One thing I’l say though, the lens hood definitely saved the lens from damage. I had it on backwards since it was in the bag already, and the plastic of the hood took most of the impact.


Shutter and dial of the battery grip


Lens hood and lens cap


CF card compartment

The lesson of the story? Well, I’m convincing Lisa it’s that we need to get a really good camera bag before we get any more gear. No point in springing big money on gear if you don’t have a proper home for them. She wants a Crumpler, and I’m objecting. I want one of these:
The reviews I’ve read about the Lowepro 200 AW have been very positive. The only reason I didn’t want a backpack was that you never had instant access to your camera and the slingshot remedies this. It also comes with a built-in rain cover to protect the bag itself.

A friend of ours told us that he once dropped his 30D with a 70-200mm f/2.8L from a second story balcony. The camera bounced a couple times and the lens hood popped off. Aside from a few scratched on the camera and lens body, nothing was damaged. We were able to borrow that exact same lens for one of our more recent shoots and the only thing I noticed was that the focus ring was a little loose but it still took extremely sharp photos. Crazy.

I suppose no matter how careful you are, these little accidents still happen. Best we can do is to invest in quality gear (and proper bags, apparently). This way, they can survive a good amount of abuse before they die a more natural, slightly less painful and horrifying death.

Related Reading:
How to Protect Your Lens
How to Take Care of Your Memory Cards

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