Speaking for wildlife and landscape photographers, we all seem to be interested in the fast glass (especially if it's longer than 600mm or wider than 24mm), better battery life, more frames per second, higher resolution, and a weather-sealed robust body that can take a licking. But, when the weather turns cold, there's something we can't shoot without: gloves.
To be clear, these gloves aren't made for photography. In fact, they're designed for alpine approach and general outdoor activity. That being said, when I saw them, I knew I had to try them. I use a lot of Arc'teryx gear for hiking, and they have always stood behind their product - replacing my pack straps after 18 years of use and a 15-year-old, partially delaminated jacket without a fuss.
Note: Arc'teryx did send me the gloves, but I did not promise a positive review. These are my own, honest experiences.
Where Am I Shooting and What Am I Doing?
I'm shooting here:
I'm just outside Churchill, Manitoba, in Canada's sub-Arctic. It's cold along the shores of the frigid Hudson Bay, only a matter of days before it freezes solid. That's right, it's cold enough to freeze a salt water bay that is 600 miles across, 900 feet deep, that offers a 15-foot tide. That kind of cold.
I'm up there working with Frontiers North Adventures as an interpretive and photography guide. I need to be warm while I help my guests capture images of a lifetime. Cold fingers just won't do. Gusts typically reach 65 mph, meaning a wind chill of about -25 °F to -50 °F.
Of course, we could shoot from inside the Tundra Buggy. It's certainly warm in there with my hot chocolate (maybe with Bailey's). But if you're serious about photography, you're going to go outside to take your images. From inside, you're going to get a heat shimmer where the warm Buggy air meets the cold outside air.
Take a look at two images taken moments apart, one from the warmth of the Tundra Buggy (even with the lens extended far outside the window) and one from the back deck of the Tundra Buggy. Even with the high resolution of the Canon R5, the heat shimmer makes photos taken from warmth unusable at the sizes the Canon R5 is meant to shoot at (that's 45 mega pixels BIG).
Having a good pair of gloves is critical for getting sharp and clean photographs.
Sure, I could wear my big lobster mitts, that'll surely keep me warm. But I'm not going to be able to operate my camera. I suppose I could get one of those cold weather cozies you see on the sidelines of a cold weather Super Bowl, but those guys are shooting in static conditions. The stadium lighting doesn't really change during cold evening games. Out with the bears, the sun is ducking behind clouds of varying thickness from moment to moment. I need to be able to see what I'm doing to be prepared for the changing weather and moving bears. Moreover, I have to be able to show my guests how to operate their cameras if they've hit a roadblock. Given that I could be asked to operate any of the major brands at a moment's notice, I have to be able to see and feel what I'm doing.
Arc'teryx touts the Venta as a lightweight, windproof, breathable, weather-resistant glove with proprietary GORE-TEX INFINIUM.
As I mentioned, it can be windy, windy enough that even the Arctic fox, with one of the thickest coats on earth, has to sometimes bed down to stay warm. The Venta does an excellent job of breaking the wind.
The touch sense on the Venta worked very well. I never felt the urge to pull them off to get a quicker response, even when I was frantically trying to change focus points when white bears moved around on white snow.
The Ventas were thin enough that I could put my larger mitts on between moments if I had to. More importantly, they allowed me enough dexterity to operate my camera functions and to even change a memory card when the bears started sparring, and I started spraying.
I also really liked the reinforced leather tab, which made pulling gloves on easy. These are robust gloves and will last multiple seasons, backed by Arc'teryx's practical product lifespan warranty.
The Venta were warm enough. In keeping warm versus flexibility, there's always a compromise: I could have much warmer gloves, but would have to give up dexterity. The Venta were better than anything I've brought to Churchill before. Warm enough to take the edge off the wind, but not so warm and bulky that I couldn't operate my camera. Besides, if I'm going to work in the Canadian sub-Arctic, I should be a little tough.
Alpha is Arc'teryx's premium line, and the Alpha SLs are premium purpose-built alpine gloves. The Alpha SLs are very flexible and felt a bit warmer than the Venta. But, with that extra warmth comes a little more rigidity.
The Alpha SLs worked well when I was handling my camera. The leather fingers and palm made it easy to hold on to and change my lenses. They also proved to be flexible enough to trip my shutter. However, in the end, they're a bit too bulky and lack effective touch sense, meaning they won't work on modern touch screen cameras. I found that the extra thickness of the luxury leather made turning my shutter speed dial a bit difficult and changing focus points very difficult. I love the tactile sense the leather gives, but for me at least, they'll make better driving gloves than camera gloves.
How about any of our readers: do you have recommendations?
All product images from Arc'teryx, all other images from @letusgophoto.