Maintaining and operating photographic equipment in sub-freezing temperatures has become increasingly complex as the cameras used have become more technologically advanced. In the past, rollfilm would become brittle and tear or break. Grease on gears would solidify, film transport mechanisms and lens helicoids would seize up. Now with digital cameras, torn film is replaced by frozen LCDs (after all the “L” in LCD stands for liquid,) and stuck sensors. Lenses fogging and condensation build-up still remains an issue with cameras regardless of how “weatherproof” or “water-resistant” they claim to be. Inside we will go through a number of techniques to help protect your gear and to keep it functioning in the cold.
Enemy #1: Solids, Liquids, Gases
32°f/0°c degrees is the standard freezing point for water – it goes from liquid to a solid. When facing this temperature, other chemicals in liquid phase like battery chemistry, glass, and lubricants undergo varying property changes that affect camera operation. Batteries should be kept as warm as possible; sometimes this means removing the battery from the camera and keeping it warm in your pocket.
The metal and glass materials in lenses can shift-especially big telephoto ones. The old 300mm f/2.8 AIS Nikkor had an extended focus range that would go past infinity to compensate for the effects of the cold. Relying on autofocusing mechanisms overrides this concern with modern cameras. If you occasionally rely on scale focusing, you may find the need to adjust your focus.
For cameras with moving parts like autofocus motors, film winders, and mirrors there is no way to predict how the oil or grease lubricating these parts will behave. The oldest advice is still the best advice; “take it slow in the cold, but keep moving.” In frigid temps, warming up your camera is akin to warming up your car’s engine.