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Thread: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

  1. #1

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    Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    Now I'm a little bit concerned because my new camera shipment arrived today;
    unfortunately I wasn't home when it came in, so Post Canada just kept it and it's going to deliver it to a warehouse tomorrow for me to pick up.

    The thing that's worrying me is the temperature.
    Today is minus 25 Celsius (-13 F). Can this cold temperature damage the camera or lenses?
    Also, when it's going to arrive at the warehouse tomorrow (expecting colder -30 C), the transition from a cold to warm environment will create condensation.. can it be harmful to the lens components?

    Everything is wrapped in packaging and boxes, but still, may it be an issue?

    Thanks!
    Last edited by McQ; 14th January 2009 at 05:18 PM. Reason: moved to new thread

  2. #2
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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    The main thing to worry about is protecting your camera/lens from excessive condensation. This will occur whenever a much colder item is moved into a warmer environment.

    Understanding why this happens is the key to preventing it. Condensation occurs because cold air is unable to contain anywhere near as much vapor as warmer air. When the warmer air comes into contact with a cold surface, this surface cools the air. Unfortunately, warmer air contains far more water vapor than cooler air (at the same humidity). If the cold surface causes rapid cooling (and/or the humidity is high in the warm air), then the cooler air will be unable to still keep all the water as vapor -- causing it to condense out as droplets on the colder surface.

    Condensation is much more pronounced for camera lens elements (and anything else metal or glass) since they have a much higher thermal conductance. This means that metal/glass cools air which comes into contact with it much faster. The camera sensor and other internal electronics also have high thermal conductance, but they are a little less susceptible since they are not directly exposed to the ambient air. This results in a buffer zone of air with an intermediate temperature within your camera body. If this buffer air is completely isolated from the outside air, then condensation will not occur. Sadly, this is rarely the case with all but the most weather sealed cameras/lenses -- meaning that internal condensation can still occur for high humidity or large temperature differences. This kind of condensation is particularly problematic because it can take a lot longer to dry out.

    Fortunately, there's an easy way to prevent camera/lens condensation: *before* taking your camera/lens into the warmer environment (aka indoors), place all items within a plastic bag and ensure it is sealed airtight. You can then take these sealed bags indoors, but you have to wait until everything within the bags have become thermally equilibrated with the indoor temperature before you open the bags. For large camera lenses with many elements, this can take 30 minutes or much more if the outdoor temperature is very low. The process can be accelerated substantially if you first remove the new camera and/or new lens from their boxes, before placing them in the sealed plastic bag.

    However, condensation is not necessarily the only worry. If the temperature of your camera and/or lenses change very rapidly, then they will unavoidably undergo thermal expansion (when going from cool to warm). The problem is that glass lens elements, plastic, rubber and metal all have different coefficients of thermal expansion. This means that they expand/contract different amounts for a given temperature change. Ordinarily this should not be a problem since a good camera manufacturer accounts for a reasonable range of operating temperatures in their design. The precise position of infinity focus will noticeably change in cold versus warm weather, for example, but this never noticed when using modern autofocus mechanisms. To me, thermal expansion seems like it could only be a problem in the context of lens/focus alignment -- if somehow the position of elements moves permanently (relative to the lens encasing) as a result of some drastic and rapid temperature change. Never heard of this being a major issue though. Just make sure that you do the "bag trick" above, and it will have the side effect of also dramatically slowing the rate at which your camera equipment warms up. As long as you prevent condensation I would not worry about this second problem.
    Last edited by McQ; 14th January 2009 at 06:04 PM.

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    Thanks for that quick and detailed reply.
    I will do the bag trick once I pick up the package.
    Now let's hope that the condensation or the thermal expansion you mentioned won't likely happen when they transfer from the truck to the warehouse interior.

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    ....... and we think it is cold in Britain when it gets to freezing!

    Zephyrize,

    I would have thought that if the packages are already sealed, then the camera/lens will not be at the extremes of the temperature outside for the simple reason that the packaging contains some degree of insulating material. - polystyrene, card etc.

    I would be tempted to move them gradually in from the outside so that the temperature change within the elements has time to adjust and is less likely to condense. I would question whether therefore it is advisable to remove the camera/lens from the packaging in the cold, which may cause the temperature of these elements to actually fall. I would have thought it far better to place the box etc into a plastic bag, seal it and then let the transition take place gradually. Maybe moving to a sheltered/ mildly heated environment before moving them to warmer areas and then finally into living areas. I am afraid there is no quick fix here.

    Another thing to consider is the manufacturers recommendations and the degree of weather sealing the camera has built in to it.

    For instance the recommendations for a Nikon D200 operating temperature is 0C/32F, whereas the better sealed D3 has an operating temperature down to -10C / 14F.

    Of course you are also likely to run into these difficulties in actual use as well. Gradual transitions are recommended!
    Last edited by shreds; 14th January 2009 at 08:36 PM.

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    Thanks shreds for the recommandations
    I was planning to leave the package in the garage where it's a little bit warmer then into the house, exactly as you said.
    My Canon XSI has a minimum operating temp of 0C if memory serves me well.. By operating, do they actually mean battery in place, camera turned on. If so, then I should be fine..

    I hate winter here when temperature drops like this... would've preferred a snow storm.
    Anyway, just can't wait until tomorrow evening to pick it up and see how it did in the cold

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    This must border on cruel and in-humane punishment - you get a new toy - and now you have to sit and watch it warm up for hours (that will no doubt seem like days!).

    If you do get condensation starting to form just throw a tea towel around it - throw it in a plastic bag - suck the air out as best you can - and seal it up. If it's sealed up then any warm place will be just fine.

    Cheers,

    Colin - pbase.com/cjsouthern

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    It can go both ways. Cruel and inhumane punishment is also when you're inside a cool indoors and see an absolutely breathtaking sunset outside on a warm and humid day. You would give anything to run outside and capture the moment, but you know that your lens, eyepiece and even camera sensor would immediately fog up if you did. By the time the condensation has evaporated you've missed the moment!
    Last edited by McQ; 15th January 2009 at 05:04 AM.

  8. #8

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    LOL - a spontanious shoot for me is one that takes less than 3 hours to prepare for - unfortunately most these days seem to involve night driving, torches, and waders :(
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 15th January 2009 at 07:18 AM.

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    LOL - a spontanious shoot for me is one that takes less than 3 hours to prepare for
    and obviously, the results pay off

    btw, when you guys say it's too 'humid', how humid it is too humid for the camera and lenses.
    Because, I may bring the camera to some camping trips in dense woods or beside lakes; perfect for some dawn shots... I don't want to humidity to spoil them

  10. #10

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    My first thought was to suggest that it's not an issue you need to get overly concerned about, but in all fairness, we don't get extreme temperatures here in NZ (usually a few deg C below zero at best in winter, and up into the 30s during summer). Usually the only condensation I get is if the camera has been accidentally left in the boot of the car overnight and I bring it inside, but then the plastic bag trick works a treat. Occasionally I've steamed up a viewfinder by breathing too close to it when shooting in winter, but for me, that's been about as bad as it gets.

    I'd suggest simply learning what works for you in practice - just keep a plastic bag and tea towel handy just in case -if you're keeping an eye on it I can't imagine a situation where it would get so bad that you'd do any permanent damage - you'd normally notice condensation starting to form on the outside first - at which point just pop it into the bag with a towel - suck out all the air - and wait it out.

    Cheers,

    Colin

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    It is probably worthwhile having something like silica gel sachets around to absorb moisture. I always keep a couple in my camera bag regardless, living in damp old Britain.

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    Yeah silica gel is dirt cheap but you can always be even cheape and recycle stuff that's not been saturated or significantly close too. I actually use stuff from nori packets (I go through a lot as eat large volume of sushi) mainly and new shoes etc I just keep hold of them and store in dry place. New shoes and the like is another source but that's not a weekly purchase for me but these things add up.

    I tend to go camping in the lake district twice a year and it's humid (understatement of the century, it's always damp) so I keep electronic goods and books in bags with gel.

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    One more thing I forgot to mention - you need to be a little careful where you leave camera gear when in very humid areas that are prone to large temperature variations (eg temperature drops over night) - condensation (just like the dew on a car) can also form on items inside of car boots etc.

    A warm and dry location is always the best option whereever possible (constant exposure to humid air is likely to promote fungus inside the lens).

    Cheers,

    Colin - pbase.com/cjsouthern

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    I work in the Cambridge Bay area on Victoria Island. Temperatures there will change 30-40 degrees in a 12hr period.
    My D50 has no trouble handling the cold.
    Moisture is the problem. Humidity changes over a 10 degree temperature variation usually is not enough to cause the seals to leak. If you find condensation inside the camera body, don't attach a lense until both the camera and the lense has adjusted to the new conditions.
    I have more trouble with small temperature changes than the larger ones.

  15. #15

    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    Hi there,,I was shooting a friends hockey game one day and after the game I went into the locker room for a beer with everyone. Now my camera and lens was at a temperature of 20 Deg.,so when I stepped into the locker room my camera was soon soaking wet from the steam. I didn't touch it and wrapped it in a towel untill it warmed up and then I dried it off good but now I had the same problem in reverse on the way out. I put the camera under my coat to keep it warm untill I got home and then dried it with a blow drier on low. I opened it up the next day and it was dry but if I had taken the lens off in the locker room it would have been a huge repair bill or just junk. Nikon F2s with motor drive 80-200 f4 zoom.
    Live and learn !

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    Quote Originally Posted by royzone48 View Post
    Hi there,,I was shooting a friends hockey game one day and after the game I went into the locker room for a beer with everyone. Now my camera and lens was at a temperature of 20 Deg.,so when I stepped into the locker room my camera was soon soaking wet from the steam. I didn't touch it and wrapped it in a towel untill it warmed up and then I dried it off good but now I had the same problem in reverse on the way out. I put the camera under my coat to keep it warm untill I got home and then dried it with a blow drier on low. I opened it up the next day and it was dry but if I had taken the lens off in the locker room it would have been a huge repair bill or just junk. Nikon F2s with motor drive 80-200 f4 zoom.
    Live and learn !
    thanks for sharing that experience,
    I guess I could live with 20 Deg (-6 C), but still wondering if I should believe the "Operation Temprature : 0 C" of the Canon manual

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    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    I'd imagine if it would still work safely below that but maybe they take the battery opertaion temp into account. NiMH could struggle to maintain constant power draw at low temps like 0c and alks less likely to work at that kind of temp especially with high drain/constant draw. I guess your cam uses Li cell though and I think lithium cells can go lower though than NiMH (I know the 3 main types of Li cells vary in their comfortable operational temp ranges). Sorry I can't remember exact values but I'd say 0c is high since my NiMH 2300mAh AAs work comfortably at around 0c to -2c (been cold here lately) even after sitting on a tripod for a long time (ie 45 min) and batteries chill to ambient temp (they still work well enough).

    Maybe it's just they understate the guaranteed operational range to make sure they are well within the green as stating true safe operational range might be a little too close to it's unsafe/problematic operation zone. Also the zones could drift depending on other factors so they add a buffer zone (eg. 10 degrees C either way) to keep themselves in the clear, especially considering warranty issues etc.

  18. #18

    Re: Can cold temperature & condensation damage my camera or lenses?

    I have a Nikon D2xs and a D100 with battery pack and have used both a -8 C this year without any trouble. I think that the grease they use in the mechanical parts might get stiff but what worries me more is the grease in the lenses because mine got real sluggish and I just didn't push it. when I shot for newspapers they allways had a few bodies and lenses with a special grease in them for cold temp.,use and nobody used them unless it was real cold. So there is something to it but 0 Deg.,seems a bit strange and maybe condensationis bigger problem for the sensors etc. ?

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