Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Protecting a camera in cold weather - Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008

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Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008

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Protecting a camera in cold weather

QI will be visiting Yellowstone National Park with my family. I plan to take plenty of photographs, of course. There's just one thing. I'm worried about my camera. How can I protect it from the cold weather?
—Colleen in Tulsa, OK, listening on KRMG 740 AM

AMany people use cameras in cold weather without a second thought. But you're right to worry about possible damage. Exposing your camera to the cold can have serious consequences.

In general, cold air won't harm a camera. Condensation is the real enemy. Water and electronics just don't mix.

Fortunately, protecting a camera in cold weather isn't difficult. So, let's protect yours!

You don't need to worry about taking your camera out into the cold. Cold air has low moisture content. So, water won't condense on the camera components.

Carry spare batteries

You also shouldn't worry much about using a digital camera in the cold. As I said, the cold isn't likely to damage it.

However, batteries don't perform well in extreme cold. They become less efficient. So, I recommend carrying plenty of spares.

I also recommend keeping your camera and batteries warm. For example, you can carry them underneath your coat. Body heat should help stave off the cold.

This will also prevent the shutter from sticking. The oil used on the shutter may freeze in the cold.

Now, snow is a different story. Snow can have the same effect as condensation. So, you want to keep snow off of your camera.

Waterproof case

Putting the camera under your coat will help. Obviously, though, this makes it difficult to use.

So, I would buy a waterproof case. Waterproof housings can be very, very expensive. Some are more expensive than a semi-professional digital SLR!

Fortunately, you don't need to spend that much. The most expensive housings are designed for scuba divers. They remain watertight at extreme depths.

I presume you will not be doing any scuba diving on your trip. So, you needn't worry about depth ratings. That means you can opt for the least expensive waterproof casing.

The cheapest solution is probably a waterproof bag. These resemble Ziploc bags. However, they should have a special lens. You line up the camera lens with the one on the bag to shoot photos.

Carry a lint-free cloth

These bags are generally watertight to 12 feet or so. Pricing will vary based on your camera. In some cases, you'll find them for about $50. Or, you can spend upwards of $100. My tip will help you find a waterproof bag.

You should also carry a clean, dry, lint-free cloth. You can use it to remove water droplets from the camera lens.

The biggest cold weather problem arises when you bring the camera inside. Condensation will form on cold objects brought into a warm room.

One solution is to allow the camera to warm up slowly. Place it on a windowsill immediately. This will let the camera warm to room temperature over a few hours.

Personally, I don't find this a very satisfying solution. There are just too many risks involved. Also, you may want to use the camera inside.

Use a plastic bag

A better solution is to put the camera in a plastic bag. Do this before bringing the camera inside. Condensation will form on the bag, not the camera. When the camera reaches room temperature, remove it from the bag.

This is another reason why a waterproof bag is a good idea. Your camera is protected from snow and other moisture outside. You can then take the camera inside without worrying. You can even continue to use it. You needn't worry about condensation.

Traveling is fun. But you need to keep your bearings. Many dangers can befall you and your electronics. My must-read tips will help keep you safe:

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