For years I've been using rain covers from StormJacket for a number of reasons: they're compact, lightweight, quick and easy to put on, effective, and cheap. But you can't get all that without making some compromises. The StormJackets are not breathable, not quiet, and offer no easy access to the controls. Although this is not necessarily a problem, there are occasions where it is.
Most 'serious' rain covers however, are complicated, bulky designs that take forever to put on, and are often expensive. Some of those designs require you to use a dedicated eyepiece. My first serious rain cover was one from Kata. I don't recall the exact name, but it must have been the most time-consuming and complicated rain cover ever. We were going to visit Kenya during the rainy season, and I needed something to protect my 600 mm so that I could continue shooting in the rain. Bad weather is good weather for a nature photographer, so a rain cover is a standard item in my bag. But this one was designed by a hamster, so it made absolutely no sense - I literally had to take the lens off to be able to put the cover on. Not something you want to do in pouring rain. Needless to say that it took too much time and hassle to use it, so I ended up using a towel or a rain jacket instead.
Enter the RainCoat by LensCoat. You probably know LensCoat from the neoprene covers they offer for lenses and tripod legs, as well as a range of pouches for various photography items. They now also offer a rain cover, and from looking at the specs, I was interested enough to give it a try.
The RainCoat is best described as something between a StormJacket and the more bulky, complicated and expensive covers.
There are two versions: the RainCoat Standard and the RainCoat Pro. The standard version fits DSLRs with small lenses up to 100-400/400mm f5.6., whereas the Pro version is designed for DSLRs with lenses from 200-400/300mm f/2.8 - 800mm. I have the Pro version to fit my 600/4.0.
The RainCoat is available in different designs; three solid colors and four camo patterns. At the time when I got mine, the Realtree Max4camo version was the only option, so that's what I use now. I always think the camo gear looks a bit silly, especially when you're not hiding underneath a ton of branches. You're not fooling anyone - the animals will notice you.
The first thing I noticed, was the fabric - it's different from all the other rain covers I have used and seen. The fabric is called poly tricot, and it is much softer to the touch, less plasticky. The most obvious advantage of this is that the rain cover is super quiet. Sound may not be an issue when you're shooting landscapes, but when you're shooting some shy animal, you don't want sound like a bag of crisps every time you try to access your rain cover.
Another advantage of this fabric is that it is breathable. Both my StormJacket and Kata rain covers are not, and this often leads to condensation inside the cover. The moment you access the rain cover with your warm, wet hand(s), this can already happen. It's nothing serious for the camera, but it usually fogs up your viewfinder - not something you want to happen when you're about to shoot those two snow leopards fighting in the rain.
Obviously, a rain cover needs to be waterproof. Based on my short field test, I'd say it is. Every time I used the RainCoat, the camera and lens stayed completely dry.
Shooting sea birds: wind, waves and sea spray
Even though the quiet material and the breathability are important features, the design is the most important one for me. I don't want to waste valuable shooting time figuring out how to put my rain cover on. When it's too much hassle, it's very likely that I won't use it, or too late. That means that the camera will already be wet from the first drizzle and condensation will occur when you put the rain cover on then. Luckily, the RainCoat is extremely simple to put on, and it only takes a few seconds.
At the bottom of the RainCoat is a large velcro opening - you simply shove the lens in there and then the rest of the set up. You'll be able to do this very fast, and when you've done so, your gear is already protected from the rain. What follows is just a matter of fine tuning the cover to get a tight fit. You can either close the velcro at the bottom, or you can leave it open for even better breathability. This will also give you easy access to the focus or zoom ring.
As always, the difference between a good product and a great product, is in the details. The front end of the hood section has a thin rubber coating that will prevent it from moving or slipping off. A big improvement over my StormJackets that don't have this. The RainCoat uses a velcro strap to tighten this part of the cover, and it does the trick quickly.
At the other end things are just as simple. The RainCoat is not a completely closed system - the part where your body is, is open and can be closed with a drawstring. You might think that this is not the most waterproof solution, and it isn't. But, I greatly prefer this over the closed designs that necessitate a dedicated eye piece. Those covers take way more time to put on, they condensate easily and often fast, and each camera requires a different eye piece. On our tours and workshops I've seen many different systems, and without exception the eye piece designs took ages to put on, and to take off again. It's just not for me. The drawstring works fine. I can leave the whole thing open when there's not a lot of rain or when I want quick and easy access to the buttons, and I can close it in a second by pulling the drawstring. This is the same way the StormJackets work, but the RainCoat has something extra.
The RainCoat features an integrated pocket with a foldaway arm sleeve, located next to where the grip of your camera is. You simply open the pocket, and the arm sleeve appears. The sleeve gives easy access to the camera controls, and I see no reason not to use it. The alternative is to keep it closed and access the controls from the back. This works, but it means you have to keep the opening rather wide, which might not be what you want when there is a lot of rain or wind. Inside the pocket there is a small compartment where you can keep a lens cloth and cards - good thinking.
Another great feature of the RainCoat is the cinch straps. With these straps you can adjust the cover length by folding the material over itself, and keep cover snug. This is particularly useful when there is a lot of wind - no flapping of loose material.
The Pro version comes with a hood extension sleeve for 600mm and 800mm lenses that I have not used yet, but it seems very simple to attach.
In The Field
I have used the RainCoat on my recent trip to Iceland, the perfect country for testing a rain cover. One of the things that Iceland is famous for, is horizontal rain. Especially in the Southern part of the country the wind can be pretty wild. It was because of those strong winds that I quickly learned to appreciate the cinch straps.
But in Iceland there is more to worry about than only rain, snow and wind. It's an island, so it has plenty of coast, and some parts are incredibly beautiful. Strong winds mean high waves, and high waves mean lots of spray. Sea spray may resemble drizzle, but the difference is that sea spray contains salt. Salt is corrosive and therefore bad for your gear, so you don't want it on your camera or lens.
On dry days, away from the sea, I still ended up using the RainCoat for very specific circumstances I hadn't thought of before. Iceland has 180 volcanoes, of which 18 are known to be active. As a result, there are a lot of places with geothermal activity where shot steam rises from deep inside the earth. These locations are extremely photogenic, but the steam is something to watch out for. Not only will your cold camera condensate in a second when you walk through it, the steam also contains a lot of sulphur - really bad for your gear. I felt much more comfortable walking around with my gear protected by the RainCoat.
At the end of a shoot, removing the LensCoat is as easy as putting it on. It's not really important how you fold the thing, the mesh storage pouch is big enough for it to fit. And the fact that it's mesh, means that it will continue to dry inside the pouch.
This is a great rain cover. It's tape seam sealed, so completely waterproof, but that's what you expect from a rain cover. The RainCoat may be larger, heavier and more expensive than my StormJackets, it also has a lot more to offer. At the same time, the RainCoat is still much more compact, more lightweight, more quiet, more flexible, easier to put on and less expensive than most of the competition. For me, that makes the RainCoat the rain cover of my choice for all my long lenses. For shooting with lenses up to a 70-200, I will continue to use my StormJackets.