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Thread: Cold Weather Photography Tips

  1. #1

    Default Cold Weather Photography Tips

    Just wanted to ask the folks who have done plenty of winter time outdoor photography what some of their tips were for keeping equipment running smoothly in cold weather. I assume keeping your camera battery in an interior coat pocket while you're out hiking around is a given. Are compact flash cards affected by cold at all? How do you keep lenses and other glass from fogging up when going from cold outdoor temps to a warm vehicle or back inside the house?

    Jeff

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    Member EricL's Avatar
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    Usually just keeping the battery in an interior pocket will suffice. Keeping a couple of batteries warm and switching them out when they show half power will help them to last longer. As far as preventing the condensation, just slip everything in ziplock bags, suck the air out of the back, zip it up and let them warm up will keep any condensation from forming.
    EricL

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    Member Floyd_Davidson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shearej View Post
    I assume keeping your camera battery in an interior coat pocket while you're out hiking around is a given. Are compact flash cards affected by cold at all? How do you keep lenses and other glass from fogging up when going from cold outdoor temps to a warm vehicle or back inside the house?
    A spare battery to swap between the camera and the pocket is useful. Likewise for short durations outside it makes sense to tuck the camera inside your coat (which requires wearing a large enough coat to have room) when it isn't being used.

    CF cards are not affected by cold. A mechanical shutter probably is... at about -40F and colder. You might also expect slow or difficult auto focusing if the lens gets colder than maybe -20F.

    The trick with fogging is to keep a roll of plastic bags available. For a DSLR the kitchen size is perfect, for smaller cameras an even smaller size is probably better. Before going from a cold environment into a warm/moist environment, put the camera into a plastic bag. In fact, even just putting it into a relatively well sealed regular camera bag will also work just fine. Then set the bagged camera in a warm place and let it get significantly above freezing (40F or above is probably enough) before removing it from the bag.

    You don't actually have to have an air tight bag, and you don't actually need to squeeze the air out... except that air is good insulation and it will take longer to warm up the camera if the bag is full of air. The biggest problem with anything other than a trash bag with all the air removed is the length of time it will take to warm up due to the better insulation.

    The requirement is that no warm moist air get into the bag and touch the camera (it will cool off and the moisture will condense). With something like a trash bag you can actually reach into the bag and retrieve memory cards, for example, without letting too much air in. For that reason they are better than ziplock bags, which are pretty hard to open up and get anything out of without letting in a lot of air. But ziplock bags are very nice for putting lenses and other odd items in even when they are in a camera bag.

    I also commonly use the plastic bags from the grocery store, which are just barely large enough to hold a DSLR.

    Another point to be aware of is that your "warm car" is not necessarily a problem. If there are three or four people in it, it will be though. But if there is only one person the air inside the car will not have any more moisture than the outside air, and does not present a threat. The way to know is to look at the side windows, and if they are fogging up, put the camera in a bag.

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    Member Majik Imaje's Avatar
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    I have had people tell me - that cameras won't work up here in these conditions with extended exposure to the elements without special lubricant . NOTHING could be further from the truth.

    You will hear 'lots' of techniques that 'sound' good. (chuckle) I have tried them all, tested them all, and I can honestly tell you - perform your own test and find out the simple 'truth' of the matter !!


    Mechincal shutters work just fine @ minus 50 below zero and colder !!
    That has been my experience out on the ice - camera exposed for weeks with no place to go to warm it up. Oh sure I could bring it into the tent, but then a six hour process takes place where the camera is USELESS !!
    Therefore - the camera stays outside - protected with a lens cap if necessary. This eleminates frost buildup on the front of the lens. (at night).

    Take a plastic bag and put an ice cube into it, now bring it inside the house and set it down on the table. what happens ?? The ice cube melts!

    Take a frozen camera into the house or any warm area guess what happens. It sweats profusely for hours !! Inside the bag or outside that bag, same thing happens !! Place the camera on a thick absorbent towel and let time take over, when you see the water beads forming on the body / lens - go ahead - gently wipe it off. Guess what - it is going to keep re-appearing for hours. so just relax - let it sweat- EVERYTHING is going to be just fine.

    DO NOT EVER OPEN THE CAMERA while this is going on, that would be a total disaster for sure !!

    A dozen cameras have been through this process - repeatidly year after year - coming in from out on the ocean ice.

    Now I am not talking about a ten minute time period outside in the cold. I am talking about a 'frozen' camera, It won't take long for that to happen.


    Manual focusing however was very sluggish at times. but all in all, during a total of 8 whale hunts @ two months each - 16 months w/frozen cameras - everything worked flawlessly !!!



    I have tested - re tested many times over the years out on the frozen ocean ice pack in the most brutal of temperatures. & conditions.
    I have used a dozen or so different types of cameras and I can honestly say, I have had no problems what so ever ! ( to speak of) one camera failed me once. Just once - ! (my fault for trying to use a burst of three frames @ 50 below) it tore the film.

    My cameras are out side for extended periods of time on a tripod. In the wind, and at times encased in 1/16th of an inch in ice!! The ice cracks when you move a dial or focus or zoom ring, Quite the experience to witness !

    At night I would merely place a lens cap over the front lens and all was well, but in the morning, I would literaly have to dig / chip ice (using a finger nail file) out of the viewfinder - (using 35 mm models).

    I doubt any of you will go to those extremes being outside for days / weeks or longer. But I assure you. the only problems you might encounter is -battery life- is going to be severly diminshed the longer you stay out there. so have plenty of them.

    My guess is that most of you will be going out exposed to the elements for just a few hours - if that . I doubt you have anything at all to worry about, cept blowing snow on the lens. Have you ever had to use just your dry finger to clean a lens ?? what do you do when you have absolutely nothing ?? And the wind just deposited fresh snow crystals all over the front ?? (improvise) !! it works !!

    Remember the 'specs' for your camera ?? It has water tight seals, the lens is intristically sealed !! Even on old lenses (circa 1960's) type Mamiya lenses. There were no problems. A mamiya RB67 is just a 'box' the only controls is the bellows / focus adjustment - two big knobs that were extremly sluggish. But that is to be expected at those extremes. The actual shutter is in the lens !! A huge lever on the side of the box to re-cock the shutter in the lens.

    Kodak states very emphatically - you cannot open a frozen box of color paper - and use it right away, you must let it warm up first. (if you open the sealed bag and let warm air in - it will condense and ruin the paper.) Totall B.S.
    I proved that wrong - thousands of times- !! Same with developing frozen film. I never let them warm up. - plunk - right into the 'water' (before developement) began. a 30 second warm up rinse. (my technique).


    C41 PROCESS for color film is extremely precise - 100.5 degrees with 1/4 of a degree tolerance for 3 minutes & 15 seconds. If your temp is off - you will never get correct color(s) & density.

    DON'T JUST FOLLOW - everything you read BLINDLY - check it out for yourself and find out what is TRUE - from your experience(s)!!

    Learn how to 'think' for yourself and think outside of the box. you will be surprised what you will LEARN !!

    I have never ruined a roll of film - or color paper !! because of condensation ever !! And the cameras didn't suffer one bit - but each of them always got a good cleaning after the event was over !!

    Your camera is a lot tougher than you think !!! GO TEST IT and find out !!

    I doubt anyone here is going to place their camera on a tripod and leave it out there for many days / nights in sub zero temps !! BELIEVE ME.. I have done this many times / with many models !!

    Pentax 6x7 - Pentax K1000 - Leica - Mamiya RB67 - Mamiya 6x4.5 - Mamiya C220 - Cannon AE1 - Minolta - X series -Nikon F3 My digital models were never put through this because .. .. they cannot survive - the batteries die - the electronics don't work well. (extended periods of time).

    You might experience 'doughnuts' on the sensor. I occansionally get them on a few images here and there when the camera first experiences that temp extreme - the few first images, but then everything evened out nicely.

    I would be very interested in hearing what other people have experienced in this matter.

    My personal preference - a mechanical film camera that doesn't require any batteries !! You need to understand how to read light!! It is quite easy to learn - with some practice and a basic understanding of the zone system.

    Have fun and post your 'experiences' !!

    How long - under what conditions were you exposed to the cold.


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    Default Keeping things warm

    When I'm out in the cold, I put one or two hand warmers in the case with the camera. Since the case is large and padded with foam, the warmers seem to do a pretty good job. At least it keeps the batteries warm.
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    Moderator Alaskacanoe's Avatar
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    A few years ago I was on the sno-go trip over the top from Tok to Dawson city, it was -54 F degrees in Chicken and -53 C in Dawson city.
    Shooting a digital Cannon camera.
    Found out that just keeping the camera in Sno- Go suit pockets was not the way to go. I pulled the camera from its padded case and went to take a shot of Chicken and the camera would not even extend the lense.
    I moved the camera inside my clothes until it was in a much warmer place.
    20 miles down the trail I stopped and it took pictures fine.
    did not change out batteries or nothing like that.. Others on the trip said the same thing, not only batteries need to be a little warmer, but the camera its self too.
    I guess the computer in the camera may not like the -50 below temps no matter how good the batteries
    Not sure if any permanant damage can result from supper low temps to a digital camera or not.. ????
    Max
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    Member Floyd_Davidson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alaskacanoe View Post
    ... not only batteries need to be a little warmer, but the camera its self too.
    I guess the computer in the camera may not like the -50 below temps no matter how good the batteries
    Not sure if any permanant damage can result from supper low temps to a digital camera or not.. ????
    Max
    The electronics, including the computer, should work just fine. But anything that is mechanical and moves (especially if it is lubricated) can be a problem and is at risk to actually break something. That would be permanent damage...

    Batteries themselves are just unable to supply energy when cold, so even if they are at full charge they don't work when cold. Once warmed up they come back to life.

    I did have one case where a camera required "repair" as a result of "fogging". It wasn't even very cold out, but I walked into a warm building with a Nikon DSLR that was probably cooled to maybe 34F, and didn't notice immediately that the humidity was extremely high in the building. The camera and lens were both just soaked in condensation before I noticed. It took a day in a dry place for the lens to start working again, but the camera wouldn't focus right. It turned out there was water on the focusing screen right where it lays up against the viewfinder pentaprism. That would never have dried out! As it was, I took out the focusing screen (and noticed it was wet), waited 3-4 minutes for it to dry, and when re-assembled it all worked fine. Scared me though...

  8. #8
    Member Floyd_Davidson's Avatar
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    Default Fogging...

    Perhaps it would be useful to have a more detailed discussion of how, when and why a camera gets fogged up when it is brought inside from the cold. (Actually, in places like Florida they have the same problem, except it's when they move the camera from the cool inside to the warm moist outside!)

    The water is condensed from the warm air, and does not come from the camera at all. If the air has no water in it, or is not warmer than the camera, there will not be any condensation.

    The problem is not "sweating" from the camera, and if a cold camera is wrapped in a plastic bag while outside, so that all of the air in the bag is also just as cold (and thus has no moisture), there is will not be any condensation inside the bag when it is warmed up.

    Warm air can hold more moisture (water vapor) than cold air, but when moist warm air is cooled until it cannot hold the moisture it has the moisture will condense from a vapor (a gas) to become water (a liquid). So in a nice warm house at 68F the air can hold a lot more water than air that is at 32F, and if we bring a cold camera into the house any warm air that comes into contact with the surface of the camera will be cooled to some lower temperature, and the water that condenses forms droplets on the surface of the camera. The water comes from the air, and it will continue to condense until the camera warms up (to the "dew point" temperature, which is commonly just a few degrees above freezing).

    The same thing happens to people who wear glasses. It also happens to single pain windows that are at outside temperatures with inside air circulating around them.

    The purpose of a plastic bag for the camera is to prevent moist air from coming into contact with the cool camera. The air inside the bag is from outside, has no moisture in it, and thus does not cause water to condense onto the camera. Once everything inside the bag warms up enough it can be removed from the bag.

    It's actually a fairly simple bit of physics, but that isn't everyone's cake either...

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    BTW, condensation can form on very warm climates as well. If someone leaves an airconditioned building into a hot muggy outdoors, the cameras & glasses they carry will often fog up. keeping them in a bag until they warm up is the easy way to deal with it.

    Also, some battery types are better than others in cold weather. Lithiums are better than alkalines for instance. Of course a lot of time with cameras you have no choice, and none of them do well in very cold weather anyway. Another option is to either buy or build an external battery pack with a cord to your camera. I have one for some Canon film cameras (EOS 5 & Elan II), that uses 4 D cells, but you could make one that uses your normal camera battery. Usually these devices plug into your camera via a dummy battery at the end of a coiled cord, and the real battery is kept in your pocket.

  10. #10
    Member Majik Imaje's Avatar
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    .... or.. just clean the lens !!

    that is simple enough !!

    Of all of the cameras I have mis-used and abused. I have never had a problem !!

    go figure !!

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