This morning the temperature here in Minneapolis was right around 0. But we have bright sunshine and it is actually a nice day to go out and shoot. This brings up the ever reoccurring question if we need to treat our cameras differently in cold weather? The short answer is ‘not really’.
These days, when our our cameras rely more than ever on sufficient battery power, we should, however, be aware that they don’t like low temperatures very much at all. Subsequently, one or two fully charged extra batteries are definitely a good idea. Carried in an inside pocket, to keep them warm, should prevent any mishaps of camera failure due to lack of battery power. In addition, it is advisable to carry the cameras underneath our clothing as well to keep them from getting any colder than necessary.
Finally, carry along a ziplock bag, big enough for the camera and lenses. After a while of shooting, when getting ready to back inside, put the camera, lenses and other equipment into the plastic bag and seal it. This prevents the warm, moist inside air to get into contact with the equipment. Otherwise the result will be that the moisture condensates on the cold camera equipment. Excessive moisture and cameras simply don’t mix. Keeping the camera equipment in a closed case will also work as long as it is not opened.
All this reminds me of a new Leica M5 that I acquired several years ago. I had always heard of the impressive resistance of Leicas to cold temperatures and decided to give the camera a good test.
The weather forecast was predicting temperatures as low as -30F. To give the camera a head start, I put it in a freezer overnight. The next morning the thermometer did indeed read -30 degrees. I set out to take photographs. I purposely carried the camera on a strap, outside my clothing, to make sure it would get as cold as possible.
I noticed no ill effects. The camera worked as it should. The only difference was that the 50mm f/2 Summicron on the camera was a bit stiffer during focusing.
One of the subjects I photographed was Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. When it is cold enough, the entire falls freezes, with the rushing water still running inside.the frozen mass. I took the opportunity to climb up the ice and walk behind the falls. It was like being in an ice cave, with the light taking on the greenish color of the ice, and the rumbling waters of the fall penetrating the otherwise perfectly quiet environment.
Minneapolis - Minnehaha Falls
Behind Minnehaha Falls
Behind Minnehaha Falls
I had been shooting for about 2 hours when I decided to go home. Once I returned, against my own advice, I went right inside, forgetting about the plastic bags. To my horror, the camera instantly froze over with about 1/8 inch of solid ice. The camera was so cold that the condensation froze immediately. As it warmed up and the ice thawed, I immediately wiped it off. The camera showed no ill side effects and served me well for many years after that.
That was obviously some extremely rough treatment and I certainly don’t recommend subjecting any of your cameras to such torture. But it showed that Leica’s claims in regard to cold weather operation are not exaggerated.
I have long since switched to digital Leica equipment and I have refrained from repeating that test with any of my current cameras, but I have used them at temperatures as low as about 0 with no ill side effects. I would not hesitate to use any of my cameras at temperatures a lot lower than that. But I don’t have anything to prove anymore, not with my cameras and certainly not for myself. Unless absolutely necessary, I will wait for more pleasant days for my outdoor shooting.