• A photographer poses with the LensCoat® Canon 300IS f/2.8. (Photo: Jessica Finn)

When it comes to specialized photography gear, I normally Macgyver my way to getting “the shot.” With a roll of gaffers tape, a garbage bag and a towel in my camera bag, it’s amazing what I can manufacture in a pinch! But there’s no denying that it’s nice to have the right tools at the ready – and some pieces of gear are harder to conjure up than others. With bird and wildlife photographers in mind, Canadian Geographic decided to give some of this season’s best camera accessories a test run.

LensCoat
First to the plate is the LensCoat® Canon 300IS f/2.8 (in Realtree Advantage Max4 HD). It arrived by courier as a set of four camouflage-patterned neoprene sleeves and one additional strip with adhesive backing (for added coverage where warranted by the user). If you’ve never encountered neoprene before, it’s a synthetic rubber often used in specialty clothing (eg. wet suits). If you’ve never tried to shimmy into a wet suit before, I recommend trying a LensCoat product on for size. Application of the sleeves necessitated a certain degree of mindfulness and patience, so as not to overstress the material while ensuring a proper fit. Thankfully, the package came complete with handy step-by-step instructions right out of the bag, and my 300mm f/2.8 was snug as a bug in a rug in no time (I also tried the LensCoat® Canon 70-200IS f/2.8 in Realtree Snow).

In practice, the LensCoats did a fabulous job of protecting my lenses from the usual bumps and scratches while I was out in the field. I was even able to afford my lenses some additional protection by pulling a LensCoat® Hoodie® over the 300mm (size XX Large in Black) and cinching a Lens Pouch onto the shorter lens (size medium wide in an urban Digital Army Camo pattern). As a wildlife shooter, it’s important to have your camera at the ready at all times, so I normally don’t like to leave my lenses covered, even during travel from one vantage point to another. But both the Lens Pouch and Hoodie were easily shed without any more effort than would be required to remove a regular lens cap.

The built-in, flexible viewing window was great for visual confirmation of my lens settings. The only improvement I’d wish to make is for physical – not just visual – access to my lens controls. With only a short time frame to test the LenCoat out, it’s hard to say whether or not I was any less conspicuous to the birdlife I shot while using this product. But there’s no doubt in my mind that my gear is none the worse for wear, and looks spiffier than ever. I will certainly continue to use it for both my summer and winter wilderness exploits. Products courtesy of LensCoat (lenscoat.com).

Storm Jacket® camera cover
Not every foray into outdoor photography requires protection from the elements, but more often than not, it’s better to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. That is, of course, unless you’d prefer to stay home on “bad weather” days. Not me; I usually rely on plastic garbage bags to protect my cameras from rain, snow, wind, dust, condensation and harsh sun. But that was before I became acquainted with the simple yet nifty Storm Jacket®. I tested out the standard small (in red) and professional medium models (the most popular, in black).

The first thing I noticed about the Storm Jacket was its lightweight yet durable construction. Each one comes with its own zippered case with clip for easy attachment to just about anything (I chose to clip mine onto my camera strap for quick and easy access). It weighs so little, it’s easy to forget it’s even there. It boasts a tubular design with cinchable, locking bungee cords on each end, which ensured a good fit when used with my cameras. The pro model has the added benefit of a Velcroed slit along the bottom, for use with a monopod or tripod. Best of all, the Storm Jacket was easy to use and the water repellent exterior was true to form and less apt to crinkle in the wind than other forms of protective coverings.

You’ve likely heard it (or some variation of it) before: gear does not a good photographer make. But the Storm Jacket’s simple design and ease of use, combined with a professional look, make it a must-have accessory for any photographer.

Products provided courtesy of Vortex Media (vortexmedia.com).

PackSeat™ & Quik-E-Seat® portable stools
A lot of patience is required to photograph bird and wildlife, which can amount to a lot of lee time. I can’t think of a better way to take it easy than kicking back with the PackSeat™ portable stool. I was amazed at its sturdy yet ultra-lightweight construction (it weighs only 600 grams). It takes seconds to set up thanks to aluminium Shock-Cord Construction™ legs (like one might find in some tent poles). When it’s time to go, it folds into a super-convenient carrying case with carabiner for hands-free transportability. And did I mention it weighs only 600 grams?! You really have to try it to believe it.

For destinations that are only a short trek away and for a bit of added comfort, the Quik-E-Seat® is another great alternative. About 3.5 times heavier than the PackSeat, the Quick-E-Seat has the added benefits of padding in the seat and a backrest. It was my assumption that fatigue might set in after a short time in this chair due to the small, triangular style of the seat – but I can confidently vouch that I haven’t experienced any fatigue at all using this chair (I typed this review from the comfy confines of one such model, in fact). A drink holder incorporated into the chair design is an added bonus, making this a versatile choice for many other applications.

Products provided courtesy of GCI Outdoor (gcioutdoor.com).

Heat 3 Smart glove
The Heat 3 Smart glove, which I had the opportunity to test this past season, is a strong contender for best winter mitt on the market. They’re absolutely packed with features for photographers and outdoors enthusiasts alike. First off, it’s a glove within a mitten with a durable, soft leather exterior. It was breathable enough that my hands didn’t feel sweaty, even during sustained snowshoeing activities at -30 degrees Celsius. Cinch cords at the wrists kept the warmth in, and cold air and snow out. As an added bonus, the gloves came with hand and foot warmers for insertion into the posterior zippered compartments (though I opted to use one of the pockets to store my car key instead). When I became uncomfortably warm, I made good use of the built-in wrist lanyard, letting the mitts simply dangle without the need to stop what I was doing to put them away.

The best part of the Heat 3 Smart glove is the dexterity afforded by flippable and clippable (or Velcro-able, in the case of the thumb) flaps that expose the gloved fingers and thumb. There’s also built-in touch screen technology on the pointer fingers and thumb to ensure optimal dexterity for smartscreen use.

If I might be so bold to suggest one possible improvement for the 4th-generation glove, it’s this: the Velcro on the back of the thumbs is a bit inconveniently placed for cold temps. Its an inevitability that noses will run in colder climes, and many glove makers have taken this into consideration by adding a fleece lining on the back of the glove (so the wearer can wipe or swipe, if you know what I’m getting at). I think such a change would only improve upon what is already a topnotch glove. I look forward to seeing how these gloves stand up during my next polar bear season in Churchill, Man. come November 2015.

Heat 3 Smart glove provided courtesy of THE HEAT company® Canada exclusive distributor Bill Maynard (coolphotographygear.com).

Is there a photography product you think we should review? We'd love to hear from you! Email us at [email protected].