Reducing the Risk of Equipment Loss


Amateurs and pros are different when it comes to equipment. Talk to most pros and they'll tell you that their cameras and lenses are simply tools. Talk to an amateur and you tend to get the response that their equipment is "an investment." 

The pro is right. Equipment of all kinds are just tools to achieve an end result. A pro tends to think of their equipment as having a useful life span to create something (images), at which point it probably needs to be replaced (either because of wear or because of obsolescence). If a pro breaks a tool, that's just part of the business—you fix it or replace it. We even have lines for repair in our annual budgets. 

The amateur believes that their equipment is a substantive and permanent investment mostly because they paid so much money for it, want to get top dollar for it when they sell it, and thus have to keep it pristine. They will tend to do almost anything to avoid losing their investment, despite the fact that they've bought something that almost certainly will lose most of its value very quickly.

So first things first: a camera (or lens) is not really an investment for an amateur (ironically, it usually is for a pro). Investments generate returns, and you acquire them because of those returns. In the case of a pro, investing in a really good set of portable lights, for instance, may pay off in being able to take jobs they couldn't perform before. The return is in additional potential revenue from new work that can be done. For amateurs, "returns" aren't monetary, they're purely some sort of internal satisfaction. Often that sastisfaction isn't even associated with the images they take—they just like being able to tell others they own a Leica or D3s or some other high-end piece. This difference produces some of the key ways in which a pro and an amateur tend their equipment:

  • The amateur protects their gear against any perceived threat, to the point of putting it away or locking it up instead of taking images;
  • The pro protects their gear in a reasonable manner, but if getting a shot means making the gear vulnerable in some way, that's just what happens with tools sometimes;


and that translates into differences in shooting habits (broadly generalized):

  • Pro: doesn't use protective filters on lenses unless a specific effect is needed. Amateur: always uses protective filters. 
  • Pro: shoots in the rain, perhaps with some modest protection. Amateur: puts camera away when it rains.
  • Pro: doesn't worry about minor nicks and dings. Amateur: believes product devalued if it shows any wear.
  • Pro: sets equipment on ground, stumps, chairs, tables, anything. Amateur: always puts equipment back in a protective case when not in use


If you think about it, the pro is definitely subjecting their equipment to more stress and wear in their actions. That's one reason why most of us have our equipment checked out regularly by manufacturer/repair shop. We're not worried about cosmetic problems with our equipment--indeed it tends to be a badge of honor, showing the lengths we go to for images--but we are deeply concerned about maintaining performance of our equipment.

So let's examine the primary risks to your equipment:

  1. Damage due to field use/conditions
  2. Wear due to continued use
  3. Theft


Since I'm doing everything backwards in the articles this week, I'll start with theft. It happens. A lot of our gear is very valuable and highly portable. So it has a high target value amongst thieves. 

First and foremost, you need insurance. Pros take out specific policies for their equipment, usually through one of the trade associations we belong to. Any insurance agent that handles businesses can generally write business equipment insurance policies, but the ones that work best for pros tend to be ones that cater directly to our subgroups through the trade associations. They understand exactly what we're looking for and what we need. Amateurs may be surprised that their homeowners or renters policies offer them some protection from theft of their equipment, even when they're on vacation. But there's a catch: you'll need a police report. And the police report needs model and serial numbers. That's just one reason why you should always carry a full list of your equipment with you when you travel (and not in your camera case!).

So: insure and carry lists.

You can do more. Carrying all your gear in a conspicuous camera backpack or gear bag is a giveaway to a thief. It used to be that the ThinkTank backpacks weren't obviously camera backpacks, as they're a plain black and don't have a big photography-ID logo on them. But they too have become ubiquitous enough that any theif worth their salt knows that those plain black bags carry cameras, and actually tend to carry really expensive cameras. So don't flaunt what you've got, and don't leave bags sitting around unattended. Moreover, try to avoid putting your bags in trunks of vehicles and walking away. You're likely to find the trunk jimmied open and the bag stolen. This applies double to most rental vehicles, which don't have sophisticated security systems that would at least sound an alarm if someone tried popping the trunk without a key. Leaving gear on the seats of an unattended vehicle is even worse, since someone walking by can see it, smash a window, grab and go. Personally, I tend to take my bag everywhere with me, even if that means walking with 30 pounds extra distance. It doesn't protect me from theft, but at least I'll see the thief and be able to call police immediately rather than discovering later that my equipment is gone.

As I noted, amateurs don't like wear on their equipment. A little brassing never hurt anyone, but it puts some amateurs into a state of panic. Cosmetic wear is not all that important as far as I'm concerned. I'd rather have a camera that's cosmetically challenged but internally reliable than vice versa. Which brings us to a different set of things you can do.

Don't put your horse away wet. (Both literally and figuratively.) 

When I'm off in exotic places I tend to do nightly cleaning of my gear. I'm trying to keep dirt and dust and water and who knows what from working their way into the camera. Where I can see that they have, I'll immediately work to try to get them back out. The wear I'm worried about is internal. The insides of a camera need to be dry and as free of any elemental intrusion as you can manage. The better you are at keeping the elements at bay, the longer your equipment will last, simple as that. ..

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