Dust and Rain Covers: A Comparison from Africa (Part Two: Enclosure Covers)

Dust and Rain Covers: A Comparison from Africa (Part Two: Enclosure Covers)

Dry or desert conditions provide incredible photographic opportunities. However, these places can expose your camera to a significant amount of sand and dust. The Namib and Etosha are two of the driest and dustiest places on Earth. Thank goodness for rain covers!

That a lot of sand! Image from let us go photo.

In the last set of comparisons, I took a look at several poncho-type rain covers. Today, I’m going to look at the enclosure-type covers.

A few quick notes carried over from the last set of reviews:

  1. The gear was provide to me by the different manufacturers, but the reviews are mine, without input from the manufacturers. 
  2. A bit of a disclaimer: each and every person I talked with at these companies explained that sand and dust are different enemies than rain. Their covers are designed and built to keep out rain. Sand / dust protection isn’t the main goal, more of a bonus.

Enclosure-Type Covers

Keeping the gear covered up. Image from let us go photo

Enclosure-type covers are more expensive than the poncho covers. They are harder to pack as they often have a more bulk, and they require a bit more time to set up. But, on the whole, they offer more protection than their poncho-type brethren. 

You can typical continue to operate your equipment through hand-access sleeves despite the wind or rain without exposing your equipment to the elements. 

LensCoat Rain Cover for Long Lenses / for Short Lenses 

Made from a lighter material than some of the heavier enclosure-type covers, the LensCoat Rain Covers feel much more flexible. If you take the time to do up the multiple Velcro straps to keep the fabric tight to the lens, the LensCoat almost feels like a second skin. It certainly doesn’t blow or flap around in serious wind despite its lighter construction. There is one hand-access sleeve for the camera’s main controls and a hand-access sleeve for the stabilizer and auto-focus controls. I’d note that you can’t actually see your controls so you’ll have to be confident as to where every button is to use the LensCoat. Both of the hand-access sleeves can be cinched up around your arms to reduce the chance of dust blowing in. The cover does up with a Velcro strap at the bottom that can be formed to fit around a tripod head. I really liked the Stick-em tape around the barrel end of the lens opening. The back of the cover does up with a bungee cinch, which, although easy to operate, doesn’t provide as much protection from dust as a cover with a plastic panel and a buttonhole for the eyepiece. 

Bungee cinch leaves room for sand. Image from B&H.

Manfrotto's Elements Cover 

The Manfrotto cover is made with a huge plastic panel that covers most of the back and top of the camera. This certainly makes using the two hand-access sleeves very easy. For those that have trouble using their controls without being able to see them, this will help. However, there isn’t a buttonhole for the eyepiece so you need to look through the plastic panel to see through your eyepiece. This makes manual focusing or seeing in darker environments a bit trickier to use for critical moments. 

Manfrotto. Image from B&H

Think Tank's Hydrophobia 

Think Tank sent me their smaller Hydrophobia Rain Cover for the 24-70mm f/2.8. Although it doesn’t come with the larger covers, the fact that the smaller size comes with a strap attached made transporting the camera over the dunes much easier. This Hydrophobia also comes with a large plastic panel that extends around the back and top of the camera so that I could easily operate the camera’s controls. The small and large versions have two hand-access sleeves that can cinch up around your arms to tighten the fit. Like the other enclosure-type covers, the Hydrophobia comes with a buttonhole for the eyepiece so that you can look through the actual viewfinder of the camera instead of through plastic. The cover also has a Stick-em tape around the barrel end to hold the cover in place. The bottom of the cover has a zipper instead of Velcro or a bungee cinch. Although very easy to operate, I felt like it didn’t close tightly enough (like the Velcro seals) to stop sand blowing up under the cover. Other than that small nitpick, the Hydrophobia feels tough and functions tough.

Think Tank. Image from B&H

AquaTech's Sport Shield, Extra Large and Medium

AquaTech. Image from B&H

The AquaTech were certainly on the more expensive side of the covers I reviewed, but they worked great. They had all the features I liked from each of the other covers and then some. The oversized zipper on the bottom allowed me to get the 400mm lens into the cover with ease. Once inside, the bungee cinch would seal tightly around the tripod collar. A buttonhole for the eyepiece allowed me access to the viewfinder directly and a sizable plastic panel allowed for viewing of the LCD. Two hand-access sleeves allowed me to control the camera’s operation and the focus / stabilizer functions on the lens. I would note that the AquaTech’s covers don’t have massive plastic panels. This means that you can’t see your controls even though you can access them. Those not as familiar with your controls, think: Can you control your camera blindfolded? Do you know the order of the buttons and knobs? If not, you will have a harder time with this cover. I also like the little hood over the plastic panel to protect the eyepiece and your LCD from drops of rain. Not only does the hood offer protection from rain, but, in bright environments, say, like a desert, the hood helps you to see the LCD screen a bit better through the plastic panel. 

AquaTech. Image from B&H.

The only thing I didn’t really like was the pseudo bungee at the lens barrel end. The bungee end is designed to slip over the hood of the 400mm. It isn’t as tacky as the Stick-em strip on some of the other covers and would often roll over into the hood. 

AquaTech. Image from B&H

Now, the field of view on the 400mm is so small that I never saw it in a photo, but, more than once, in a race to pull the camera up to a bean bag, the entire cover slipped a bit and the bungee did bunch enough that I had to pull it down before shooting. I was confident enough in the AquaTech that driving back to camp along a dusty road I would keep my camera wrapped inside the AquaTech instead of putting it away in a Peli case. When we turned a corner and came face to face with two of the famed Hoanib Valley lions finishing up a zebra, the AquaTech made sure I didn't miss a beat.

Quick on the draw. AquaTech. Image from let us go photo.

However, this is certainly something that AquaTech could upgrade in their quest for perfection.

AquaTech in a different kid of desert. Image from let us go photo.

Interesting Accessories

OP/Tech's Mega Rain Sleeve

Op/Tech. Image from B&H.

OP/Tech also provided me with several different semi-disposable plastic sleeves. In our modern world and its throw-away culture, disposable isn’t really my cup of tea. I would point out that the OP/Tech sleeves do include an eyepiece buttonhole. This means that you can operate the camera directly through the thin plastic and see through the eyepiece without exposing your camera to the elements. Incredible for the price. 

OP/Tech's Clear Tripod Sleeves

OP/Tech/ Image from B&H.

Of note though, OP/Tech also makes sleeves for tripod legs. Given the hammering that tripod legs take, nothing is going to last long. It takes something like carbon fiber to last. Spending money on a ripstop nylon that wouldn’t likely stand up to the abuse tripod feet take seem silly. In steps OP/Tech and their disposable sleeves. The OP/Tech sleeves made for a much easier clean up when I set up my camera and tripod in the surf or in a lagoon. More so, setting up in the sand would have meant taking the tripod legs apart to get the grit out. Instead, I just slipped on the sleeves.

Standing in the lagoon up to my knees. Image from let us go photo.

Lenscoat for the 70-200mm and 400mm 

Protect your gear. The sand can whip out there. Image from let us go photo.

As you may know, LensCoat makes specifically fitted neoprene skins for various lenses. I took both a 70-200mm and a 400mm skin with me. The skins are a bit finicky to get on, but, once on, they don’t get in the way of zoom or focus functions. The skins have small plastic panels for the focus and stabilizer functions. The skins make it slightly harder to operate these functions, but this also means that they aren’t exposed to the elements. 

I wouldn’t trust these alone in either a rain storm or in dusty environments as the don’t provide complete coverage of the lens. But, if you pull down the last bit of neoprene skin to cover the curve of the camera body at the lens mount, the skin provides a formidable last line of defense against dust. Whenever another cover let in a bit of dust, the skin would stop the dust from getting in to the lens gasket. At the end of a shoot, I could blow off the neoprene to ensure no dust fell into the camera body. If you’re going to be in a dusty environment, these are almost a mandatory redundancy.

What Do You Use?

With such a variety of models and manufactures, is there a brand or construction that you prefer to keep your kit dust free?

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8 Comments

Great comparison, thanks!

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Happy to help out. Before we thought about this article, I really had a tough time deciding how to better prepare for a trip to the desert. Our trip to TZ a few years earlier left our gear in drastic need of cleaning.

Arthur Morgan's picture

Africa IS mainly dust, and occasionally mud when it rains.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Certainly parts, but, it's also rain forest and grass plains.

Rob Waller's picture

Good article, but OP/Tech's Clear Tripod Sleeves... surely that's like putting wellington boots on a springer spaniel, or a condom on a eunuch – completely unnecessary.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

That was my first reaction as well. However, with very sandy or silty water, the sleeves actually made clean up a little easier. I can also see the use in freezing temperatures. Where you might not want water to get into the tripod and then immediately freeze.

(HA HA HA - Wellingtons on a Spaniel)

The 70-200 Hydrophobia has a strap, but the 300-600 doesn't (Your sports shooters with 300 2.8 etc usually have them on a mono anyways) Thanks for the inclusion! Simon @ thinkTank

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Thanks Simon. We didn’t have the 70-200 cover with us. But, I can see how the strap would be equally as useful on that weight.
I would personally NEVER use a strap with a 300 f2.8 and up. So that makes 100% sense that you wouldn’t include them. Too unwieldy.
Shooting from a car, we’re not on monopods, but beanbags. As you imply, a strap would just get in the way.
Thanks for taking the time to check the article out! As I said, tough gear for tough environments.