Namib Dunes Near Swakopmund
Camera protected by an underwater case!

Sand is the worst enemy of your camera equipment - ask your local camera repair workshop. The desert is full of sand... And, especially near the coast, there are frequent storms. Or at least enough wind to make the sand fly and get into everything. Additional problems are dust which, depending on the season and whereabouts, sometimes gets excessive and water (rain, sea spray, fresh and sea water).

Frequently, however, sand is the biggest problem. Dust doesn't easily break your camera, sand does. And you really want shots in the dunes when the wind is blowing!

Forget rain sleeves and stuff like that. Sand gets into everything and brings it to a grinding halt.

The following discussion refers to DSLRs, not point-and-shoots. For the latter, there are sometimes reasonably priced dedicated housings by the camera manufacturers. There are also waterproof compact cameras such as the Olympus mu 1030 SW.

Short of extremely expensive and unwieldy custom under water housings, I used flexible ewa-marine housings in the past. These are more versatile since the same bag accomodates different camera bodies and they are suitable for real underwater shooting as well. They are high quality and therefore quite expensive, maybe too expensive for occasional use in the desert. Also they are quite bulky.

AQUAPAC has made cheaper waterproof bags (packs) for all kinds of gadgets since some time. They are not bad and, a looong time after announcing it, they finally came up with a DSLR bag. Why did they make it so small? You can check their website for a compatibility list but don't set your hopes too high. I waited and waited for this bag only to find out that not even a Canon EOS 20D can fit into it...

DiCAPac WP-S10 waterproof (D)SLR Pack
A Canon EOS 5D comfortably fits!

Swakopmund Jetty
I should have had a waterproof pack here...

DiCAPac to the rescue: This is a new Korean player very similar to AQUAPAC. They have a brand new (May 2008) DSLR bag, the WP-S10 DSLR/SLR pack. Its not yet on their (English-language) website but its in the stores. I don't know if they don't want to sell it but the specs given are fantasy: For example, they specify a maximum circumference of the camera body of 24 cm, i.e. 2 times body width plus two time body height <= 24 cm. I don't know if there is any SLR this tiny. So forget it, look at the photos: A Canon EOS 5D easily fits!! Even with a 2.8/24 - 70 L zoom!! This means that the spec of a maximum front lens diameter of 82 mm is also nonsense: In reality its 85 mm. So I'm going to keep mine and use this pack from now on.

At roughly the third of the price of an ewa-marine case there are of course a few shortcomings: The material is thinner (more vulnerable to puncture) and contains PVC. There is no lens adapter/port (although the "manual" talks of one), i.e., there is no fixed connection between the camera lens and the case. This causes three problems: 1) the lens might not be centered (causing vignetting) and 2) it's not possible to fix the length of the "trunk" to that of a lens shorter than 15 cm and 3) the front glass is not parallel to the lens front, possibly causing distortions. One is supposed to pull the "trunk" tight with the left hand when shooting, I guess. A rubber band with appropriate hooks around the outside of the case can fix these problems. That's what I'm doing. Finally, the front port glass is made of plastic, not glass. This plastic is polycarbonate with "UV coating", whatever that means. It's probably fine for crawling around in a sand storm, I don't see any obvious distortions at first glance. Otherwise it would be relatively easy to replace the front glass with real filter glass since its simply glued in with silicone. The front ring of the "trunk" can be unscrewed, did I mention that?

In summary: The DiCAPac WP-S10 is good value for money and well suited to protect a real DSLR from sand, dust and water. On top, you can dive up to 5 m (16 ft). However, as the "manual" states: "Please use only dedicated housing or professional underwater shooting equipment for more professional underwater shots." You then might consider ewa-marine cases and if you really want to go deep or don't care about money go for dedicated housings such as ikelite. Sand protection is a serious issue - you don't want to have to leave your camera behind if the sand is blowing, believe me. Don't use any camera without protection when there is sand in the air! The flexible waterproof housings discussed here are an ideal solution. Since nobody uses a tripod underwater, these packs cannot be screwed onto a tripod... Anyway, the benefit of a tripod is rather limited in a storm.

DiCAPac WP-S10 waterproof (D)SLR Pack
Rear view - there's still space arond a 5D!

DiCAPac WP-S10 waterproof (D)SLR Pack
Note there is no way to fix the lens to the front glass. See text for solution.

Contact us if you have any questions or want to try your camera in a sand storm.

(Christian Goltz)

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