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Thread: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

  1. #1
    speedneeder's Avatar
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    How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Hi, on some days I throw my camera bag into my car on the way to work, just in case I feel like taking some photos on the way. However, I don't like to take my bag into the office with me, so I leave it in the car while at work. During the hot summer I don't do this because I don't want my gear to be 110F degrees while I'm at work! What about the winter? A cold spell is hitting and the temp is supposed to be below freezing tomorrow. How cold is too cold for my camera gear? ~20F aka -7C
    I haven't looked in my owners manual, that would be a good place to start I know!

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Boatman's Avatar
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    I don't know what the technical limits are, but I wouldn't want to regularly leave my camera in the car if it was going to be below 20F. A couple of pointers you may want:

    - If your camera is really cold, don't bring it right inside. If you do, keep it sealed in the camera bag unitil it warms up so it won't get condensed on. If you want to process your images, bring in your memory chip (and maybe your battery for charging) and let the camera stay cold. The chip will warm quickly and condensation wouldn't hurt it anyway. If you are headed outdoors again, your camera is better off at ambient cold temperature.

    - Battery life is terrible in the cold. I've had fresh batteries die after only twenty minutes of use while mounted on a tripod in cold weather. I have a friend who snowmobiles and he keeps his pocketcamera in an outside coat pocket with an activated handwarmer. Says it works great and he has no battery issues. I haven't figured out a way to strap one of these to the bottom of my camera yet

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    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    It is a bit protected by bag if you are using one but I'd follow the operating environment temperature guidelines in your manual which is usually 32F. Granted it's not being operated in that temperature but it is still a good idea.

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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Brian my gear stays in the back of my car all winter long, except when I know that I an going to shoot indoors. In that case I bring it in for a slow warm up keeping it it the bag then take it to the place I am shooting at then letting it stay in the car until next time. However that said I have two sets of batteries, always keeping one charged, I have a plug in the car so the charger is there, so when I drive to a shoot I activate the charger, when I get there I change the battery so I have a freshly charged one. If I am going to be out for a few hours, I take the battery that was in the camera put it in my shirt pocket to keep it warm so if one starts to die I have one that still has some power. All that said if your camera is same temp as outside I have never had any problems as long as the battery is charged and warm, like the old saying about keeping you powder dry, keep your battery warm. Have spend my hours shooting over the years all -18C (0 F) all the way down to -40 C (-40 F).

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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    I have a small foam ice chest in the back of my car. When I leave my camera in the car, I will leave it in the ice chest (no ice of course). IMO, this will mitigate hot and cold temperatures a bit. Mostly, since I drive a CRV and don't have a trunk (boot) the ice chest might provide a modicum of safety from theft. Probably, a thief would not break into the vehicle to steal an ice chest thinking it might contain a few ham sandwiches and a couple of cans of Coke as the prize.

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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    I'm reckless and lazy and have taken no precautions whatsoever over the past three winters regarding cold and condensation. I bring my camera in and out almost daily and have never had any problems. I convince myself that my house is too dry for any moisture to linger long. I've assumed my camera will die from being dropped before it succumbs to any humidity but after watching it bounce across the concrete garage floor more than once and keep functioning perfectly that may not be the case. Even this cheapest Cannon is built impressively well.

  7. #7
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    There are values given in the manual, but I know many photographers that exceed these - particularly the lower limits.

    There is nothing in the camera that will freeze or "go bad" if subjected to very low temperatures (all the materials are already frozen). However it doesn't take very low temps to stop a fully charged battery dead in its tracks.

    I have used my Canon A-1 film body in -30 Celsius temperatures, but seriously, I was more at risk than the camera was. And the film was more likely to crack than were any parts of the camera.

    Where I used to live, -25 C days were normal in the winter and photography doesn't stop because of the weather.

    Glenn

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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    I agree with Gleen NK. The question can't be meaningfully answered. It's much like asking How much beer is too much. Simply beware of condensation if the lens or camera is colder than the ambient. You can keep the battery on an internal pocket until use.

  9. #9
    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Just keep in mind that Brian is talking about storage conditions not operating conditions. I referred to the manual operating environment because it's a acknowledged temperature.

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    speedneeder's Avatar
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Thank you for all your input guys. Sounds like my mild winters shouldn't be too concerning.
    Is any decrease in battery performance permanent? I wouldn't think so, but I don't currently have a spare.

  11. #11
    Glenn NK's Avatar
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Brian:

    I believe that the reduced capacity of the battery under reduced temps is not permanent.

    But I have personally noticed the difference in performance when cold, and is one reason why I have a spare for each camera. BTW, if you are considering a second battery, look around some - OEM batteries are quite expensive. Neither of my second batteries are Canon made. One is a Tama, the other an Ansmann (the Ansmann is German and cost about 1/2 what the OEM one did).

    Glenn

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    speedneeder's Avatar
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Thanks Glenn.

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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Brian, your question made me think of another. Have any of you ever noticed that some lenses perform better than others in the cold? In the hockey rink, my 85mm works fine, but my 50mm creates photos that look like the clarity levels have been decreased. They take on a bit of a glow and are pretty much unusable. I've also noticed that on really cold nights at the rink that the shutter does not seem to be as fast. (Like -10C). My imagination?

    I'm glad to have read this thread as I would not have thought about the condensation that occurs going suddenly from cold to warm.

    Myra

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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Last winter the camera was on a tripod outside the car for about 8 hours in temps ranging from -7c to -12c. It was tethered to a notebook inside the car and I was using that to take shots of the lunar eclipse. Absolutely no camera issues the whole night.

    The only issue was having to get out of the car every 10 minutes or so to realign the lens as the moon had moved out of the sight zone.

    And it was %@#$%@#^@#^ cold.
    Last edited by Bobobird; 13th January 2012 at 03:59 AM.

  15. #15
    Glenn NK's Avatar
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    My recent (digital) experience is in this mild coastal climate of southern Vancouver Island. We've had a cold year so far and it's gone down to -3 C or so quite a few times. (don't laugh yet). I spent 50 years in northern Saskatchewan where December 1989 had a high of -25 C. That's a recorded fact.

    I frequently used my Canon A-1 in these temperatures with no adverse affects - no problems with lenses either - but they were both manual focus - and were a bit stiff. If someone suggests that their lens gets a bit stiff in below freezing weather I believe them.

    Bringing a camera from cold to warm in that climate required leaving it in the bag for a few hours to warm up before being exposed to warm, moist, air. Here it's a non issue.

    As for Myra's observations, I've not seen that, but in the east coast climate where humidity is higher, moisture in the lens could be a possibility. The reason that our climate is drier than the east coast of NA is because the Pacific Ocean current flows north and east from Japan, along the Aleutian Islands, and south along our west coast. The water temperature is a constant 10 Celsius year round. This protects us from winter's harsh blast, and we don't get hot summers. However, the cold water does not readily evaporate into the atmosphere to give rise to humidity as high as the east coast of Canada and the US. Nobody (virtually no one) swims in our Pacific waters. We were down the Oregon coast in September - I talked to people there - nobody goes in the water without wetsuits for any length of time.

    End of late night ramble.

    Glenn

  16. #16
    speedneeder's Avatar
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maritimer1 View Post
    ... I've also noticed that on really cold nights at the rink that the shutter does not seem to be as fast. (Like -10C). My imagination?
    Haha, probably your finger is a little slower

  17. #17

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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    That is not so far from the truth! My glove enclosed fingers were so cold I had to go and run hot water over them

    Yes, the humidity may play a part. Good point.

  18. #18
    epmi314's Avatar
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Further evidence today's cameras can take a licking....

    http://500px.com/photo/1132916

  19. #19
    speedneeder's Avatar
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    Wow, that makes me cold just looking at it.

  20. #20
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    Re: How cold is too cold for camera gear?

    That is what I call a perfect example of freezing action.

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