Friday, December 19, 2008

Photography Tips: Cold Weather

Jon Caldwell in the Powder. Stevens Pass, WA.Jon Caldwell in the Powder. Stevens Pass, WA.
Nikon D40. Nikon 18-200mm VR lens.

I took my D40 along on three ski days last winter. It operated beautifully. Of course, I was "front country" skiing, so my conditions were slightly more tame than what you describe. I don't think that a trace amount of snow will harm the camera. Obviously, you want to keep it as dry as possible, but these things are made to withstand more than a few drops of the wet stuff. Limit the exposure of sensitive parts (i.e. the sensor) by changing lenses in controlled environments and you'll be good.

The real question about cold weather DSLR performance has to do with the battery. Check out page 9 (or 21 in the PDF document) of Nikon's D40 Manual. They recommend not using the battery below freezing. In reality, cold temperatures mean the battery life drains quicker. There are several ways around this:

1) The easiest solution is to buy a second battery. Shoot with one battery and store the other in an inside pocket close to your body. When the camera battery fails, swap it out with the one you've been keeping warm in your pocket. Then take the dead battery and place it in that same pocket. Once it warms up a little bit, you should be able to squeeze more life out of it. Keep repeating this process all day if needed; however, I NEVER drained a battery during cold weather operation last year. This method is more valuable if you'll be away from civilization and power chargers for more than a day or two.

2) If you don't have a second battery, just keep your primary battery in your pocket. When you want to take a picture, pull out your camera and slap in the warm battery. After you've made your shot, pull the battery back out and store it in the warm pocket. I really think this method is only appropriate for extremely cold situations. If you're just skiing for a day, I would just leave the battery in the camera and see what happens.

Overall, the greatest risk to your equipment in extreme cold is degrading the battery. By using the battery in below freezing temperatures, you may find that the its useful life falls off quicker. Again, I used my camera during the winter last year and it still allowed me to shoot 600 pictures on one charge when I was at Angkor Wat in March. Remember, the point of owning this equipment is to actually use it. Crazy thought, I know. The bottom line is you'd have to do something pretty stupid (or get SUPER unlucky) to actually break the camera or lens. If something like that does happen though, chances are the pictures you take leading up to that event will be worth it. :)

Jen about to eat it. Mount Baker, WA.Jen about to eat it. Mount Baker, WA.
Nikon D40. Nikon 18-200mm VR lens.

Read more Blog Mule cold weather photography tips here: Comments on Josh's original post.


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