Digital SLR in cold weather.

Discussion in 'Digital SLR' started by Claude, Oct 21, 2005.

  1. Claude

    Claude Guest

    Good Morning,

    Since the summer is really over now, I was wondering how a digital SLR
    responce to the cold and bellow freezing temperature?
    I there a problem using a Canon Digital Rebel XT outside in the winter?

    Claude, Oct 21, 2005
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  2. I can't speak for the Digital Rebel XT specifically, but there shouldn't
    be any inherent problems with the camera (higher-end cameras tend to be
    more rigorously tested) but the lenses may have issues. Focus and/or
    zoom action will likely be stiffer as the lens lubrication is more
    viscous, for example. If the aperature blades aren't clean, they're
    more likely to bind. That sort of thing.

    But assuming your equiment is in good shape, the biggest problems you'll
    have involve rapid transitions of temperature (ie warm indoors --> cold
    outdoors). At the very least you can get condensation forming on or
    even in the lens, which can then freeze rendering the lens useless until
    you warm it back up again.

    - Solomon
    Stuffed Crust, Oct 21, 2005
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  3. "Cold" is relative. Are you actually far enough north to get
    really cold, or not?

    At temperatures close to freezing the only real problem one
    should expect is shorter life for batteries. Exactly how much
    depends on the type of battery, so even that is hard to predict.
    (Typically though, for non-rechargable batteries, don't throw
    them away when they run out of poop in the "cold", because they
    may have half of their charge left for use inside where it's

    As the temperature goes down however, the problems definitely
    multiply. Working outside at -10C shouldn't be much of a problem,
    but at perhaps -20C or so things start getting critical. At
    -30C *real* problems set in, and at -40C or colder everything
    about it is special.
    Floyd Davidson, Oct 21, 2005
  4. Claude

    Beach Bum Guest

    Since the summer is really over now, I was wondering how a digital SLR
    The biggest issue is transition from indoors to outdoors. Basically
    anything you can do to slow the temperature change on the camera is a good
    thing. Plastic bags work here in Florida going from cold indoors to warm
    and humid outdoors. But a good camera bag should do the trick. Rapid temp
    changes resulting in condensation which can then freeze could be a real
    problem. Since water expands when it freezes it could damage things if it
    gets into places with tight tolerances.
    Beach Bum, Oct 21, 2005
  5. Slowing the change is not really what you want to do.
    Ouch! I just love that one. Almost everywhere else people
    worry about going from the cold outdoors into a warm moist
    indoors... and you have exactly the opposite situation!

    (Not to mention that you also have snakes, bugs, snake,
    alligators, snakes, Jeb Bush, snakes, and other horrible creepy
    crawlies. And did I mention snakes?)
    Wow. You're confused!

    First, condensation happens when going from cold to warm; hence
    the expansion of water as it freezes is not of any importance
    for cameras.

    Slowing down the warming process merely prolongs the problem,
    and is *not* any sort of solution. The actual problem is that
    warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. Warm air that
    comes into contact with a cold surface will cool, and the water
    vapor in the air then condenses to become a liquid, which is
    deposited on the cool surface. If that surface is the camera
    lense, it will leave a residue (which on the inside of a lense
    probably cannot be removed). In other places the moisture can
    cause rust, corrosion, or even electrical short circuits.

    So the trick is to warm up the camera *without* allowing any
    warm moist air to actually touch it. You can warm it up slowly,
    or rapidly and it simply will not make any difference.

    If you put the camera into a plastic bag and seal it so that no
    warm moist air can get into the bag, you can then warm up the
    bagged camera as you wish, slow or fast, and as long as the bag
    remains sealed until the camera is at ambient temperature there
    will be no problem.

    Of course, if a small camera is wrapped in a huge bag, then and
    then placed inside a foam padded case, and perhaps that is put
    inside a box with foam packing all around it, and the whole
    thing is set on a shelf with a heavy coat thrown over the top...
    it will be *hours* before the camera actually warms up enough to
    dare expose it to room temperature air! On the other hand, if
    the cold camera is put into a small plastic bag and all of the
    air is squeezed out of the bag before it is sealed shut, the
    bagged camera can be placed over a warm air vent (or in some
    other warm place), and will come up to room temperature very
    very quickly.

    It just depends on what you have available, and how fast you
    want to have access to the camera.
    Floyd Davidson, Oct 21, 2005
  6. Thank you! As I live in Edmonton where winter weather regularly goes below
    -20C (and can reach -40C), I've been reluctant to take my camera outdoors
    during the cold season. This is very practical and useful advice.
    Richard Hempsey, Oct 22, 2005
  7. You've got a fairly serious circumstance, and need to perhaps
    consider two different occasions. One is using the equipment,
    and the other is transporting the equipment.

    First of course is actually trying to take pictures outdoors
    when it is cold. At -20C (-4F for US readers) and colder, you
    run the basic risk of the camera failing to function if it gets
    anything near ambient outside temperature! Batteries that are
    fully charged can appear to be dead (too cold for the required
    chemical reaction to work), oil that is supposed to make parts
    move smoothing becomes a glue that causes everything to be slow
    if it works at all, and other odd problems.

    The trick in many cases is to keep the camera warm by putting it
    inside your coat (where body heat can warm it up) between shots.
    That only works to a degree, and allows only a few pictures at a
    time, with more warming being required the colder it gets.

    Another method is to have a camera "weatherized", by removal of
    all petroleum based lubricants. Synthetic lubricants can be
    used down to much lower temperatures, but if really low
    temperatures are to be encountered then no lubricant at all can
    be used (which of course means the equipment will wear out much
    sooner too). And the batteries need to be in an external pack
    that can be kept inside a coat for warmth, and even then should
    be seriously "oversized" to allow enough current when relatively
    cold. Operating camera equipment that is cold is a professional
    specialty, unlikely to be economical for most people.

    Obviously if you intentionally let the camera get cold while
    using it, care needs to be taken when the equipment must be
    taken inside. But for a camera that you try to keep warm, and
    accidentally allow to get cold, the same applies.

    And for equipment that is being transported, for example packed
    into a box (with all that insulating material that I mentioned
    in the previous article) and shipped as luggage or freight on an
    airplane! When you get the box, it may well have been exposed
    for several hours to temperatures well below -20C, and needs to
    be warmed up before warm air comes into contact with it.

    For that reason, any time a camera is shipped *anywhere* by air,
    it should be wrapped in a plastic bag to prevent circulating air
    contact. If you packed it, and know that inside the box is a
    plastic vapor barrier, it can be unpacked and warmed up much
    quicker. Otherwise it's best to set the box or crate aside and
    let the entire contents warm up to ambient temperature before
    opening it.

    BTW, recently in posted
    a very interesting URL on cold weather photography from Kodak,
    Floyd Davidson, Oct 22, 2005
  8. Claude

    Sheldon Guest

    I would think you'll have the same problems you would with a normal SLR
    camera. Obviously, you have to watch condensation when you go from outside
    to inside, where moisture will collect on the cold lens. The other major
    problem you will have is battery life. You can try to keep the camera warm
    as best you can. You can try to keep another battery in your inside pocket
    and swap batteries back and forth. You can try those warming packets and
    tape one to the side of the camera where the battery is.

    Now, if it does get cold enough your camera will completely cease to
    function just because every moving part will freeze. That's an extreme, and
    companies like Nikon can relube a camera for extreme temperatures.

    That said, "normal" winter temps shouldn't cause you that much trouble, and
    I wouldn't lose sleep over it. Probably condensation and shorter battery

    Hope this helps.
    Sheldon, Oct 22, 2005
  9. Claude

    G.T. Guest

    I've used my Digital Rebel at Mammoth Mtn when it was 5 degree F outside and
    then I got my Rebel XT after it got up to around 50. We'll see how it fares
    this winter.

    G.T., Oct 22, 2005
  10. Claude

    Beach Bum Guest

    Yeah, it was the final ruining of my Sony F717. :)
    I figure that's the best hope you have of preventing condensation.
    I often am. :)
    Could be - I've never been in the cold with a camera (why would anyone live
    north of Ocala is beyond me <g>). In any case, going from cold to hot and
    back to cold in a short time while the condensation still exists - such as
    in and out of a heated car - now you have your freezing condensation and
    That's not what I read pretty much everywhere - and from personal experience
    (every time I walk out side its hot and humid) taking the camera straight
    from the AC to outside results in instant condensation. Keep it in the bag
    for 20 minutes while it equalizes - no problems.
    That's what I said, but in my head going out side caused condensation
    Yup, there you go. As long as the bag is moisture free. If you use a bag
    full of the warm, moist air from the warm, moist environment all your doing
    is putting plastic around the problem. :)
    OMG, I bet it's cold up there. :)
    Beach Bum, Oct 22, 2005
  11. Claude

    Paul J Gans Guest


    If it got to 40 below in New York, taking digital photos
    would be the least of my worries..... <grin>

    ----- Paul J. Gans
    Paul J Gans, Oct 23, 2005
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