When I first visited Russia around the year 2000 I brought 35mm film cameras. How quaint that sounds now! Looking back at the photos from these cameras I think they had a certain timeless look and quality that can’t be easily replicated by digital cameras.
I’ve lived in Russia for a couple of years, through long hot +40C summers and freezing cold -40C winters. Surprisingly, my cameras have worked well in all temperatures. In the extreme cold battery life can be shorter, and care must be taken when bringing a camera from a warm place such as a car, bus or house straight into the street( and vice versa), in case condensation gets into the camera. Overall, I think I am more at risk from the cold than my cameras. The biggest risk in winter is falling in the ice, which coats the whole country. Russians are used to walking on the ice but foreigners have little experience of this and can have a terrible time trying to stay upright. My advice would be to buy local Russian boots, designed for walking in snow and ice. These give much better traction on the snow and ice and are worth every penny. I’m an Englishman who has rarely experienced temperatures at home less than about -5c, but I find that in Russia temperatures down to around -25c to -30c is bearable if I wear good winter clothes. -30c to -40c gets slightly more difficult and becomes a little unpleasant if you stand around for any length of time, and after -40c you need serious clothes and preparation before going outdoors.
Did you know that Russian school children are expected to go to school in subzero weather, and can only stay at home when the temperature is colder than -35C !
Russian camera Equipment kit list
What equipment have I used and is certified Russia proof ?
Film cameras: Yashica T4/T5 (wonderful high quality lens, a cheap plastic body but produces excellent photos), Ricoh R1 (broke fairly quickly – problem with the film transport spool – wouldn’t recommend). Olympus Mju-1.
Digital cameras: Canon A70,S50,G5, Ixus 500 (all great cameras), Panasonic FX-01 (noisy but small), Canon 400D and a variety of lenses.
Fuji F30 (wonderful camera, great battery, good lens, 6mp images that are crisp and clear).
The Canon 400D(DSLR) of course offers the best quality out of my cameras, but it’s a drag to carry around all day, and in many situations I really don’t want to attract attention by pulling a big DSLR out of my bag. I find that the DSLR stays at home most of the time, whereas I can easily pop a digital compact in my pocket virtually every time I hit the street. Many people in rural Russia live in abject poverty and exist on only a couple of thousand roubles a month, so flaunting camera equipment that costs a few months of their salary isn’t wise. In many situations and places you may well be safer and get better images by using compact cameras or even your cellphone camera.
Most Russians in tourist cities such as St Petersburg and Moscow will be used to foreigners wielding large expensive DSLRs and compact cameras, especially in tourist areas such as Red Square and other tourist sights, and many Russians will be richer than you, so security should be reasonably fine in these places. Problems can arise though once you wander off the beaten track. Go to the Moscow suburbs and you would be advised not to flash a DSLR around, especially at night. Other cities in Russia have relatively few tourists, and the locals might be surprised to see any foreigners. In these situations my advice would be to go to the local food shop (productki) and buy a couple of plastic grocery bags (carrier bags in UK English). Put your DSLR inside one of these and the locals will assume that you are a local and you should be safe. An alternative is to buy a simple cheap small day size rucksack, so that you look like a student. Don’t try to look rich. Don’t carry your equipment in a large branded camera bag that screams “steal me”. You don’t want to advertise your gear to thieves !
On a few occasions when I’ve been taking photos in Russia, I’ve had people wander over to me to chat, but I find that by being friendly and speaking a little Russian helps a lot. Once people understand that you are a foreigner (this it won’t take long) they will usually be fine.