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I’m going to Queenstown, NZ in a couple of weeks and want to take my (very new, very precious) Canon 7D with me. I’ve done a little bit of research on how to protect my baby from cold climate (e.g. How To Protect Your Camera From The Cold Weather) and found that the biggest problem is probably going to be condensation. Some suggestions have been to place the camera in a plastic bag or letting the camera gradually adjust to the new temperature or placing silica gel in the camera bag to absorb moisture. I am leaning toward the latter at the moment because it sounds like it’s the easiest, so I was just wondering if anyone has had any experience in this matter and could share their wisdom.

As an alternative I could take my Canon 350D, as I really wouldn’t care if that got damaged in the snow. However I’m a film student and tend to take just as many videos as photos – hence why I really want to take the 7D. But I would seriously regret it if it got damaged… dilemma!

So as I actually haven’t used a question mark in the body of text, I will specify that the question is: What safety precautions should I take when taking photos in the snow?

Cheers.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Generally speaking, condensation problems only manifest when moving your gear from/to a nice, warm interior to/from the cold outdoors. Once outside, once your gear has adjusted to the temperature, the concern is not nearly as great. The 7D is a professional grade camera, and as such is fully weather resistant. So long as you use professional grade lenses that are also weather sealed, and do not change your lenses while outdoors, you shouldn't have any problems with condensation building up inside your camera. You might still have to wait for any external condensation to dissipate before you can take any photos.

The real concern is when you have gear that is not weather resistant, and/or you need to change lenses frequently. When the weather is cold, it also tends to be fairly arid (moisture at freezing temperatures freezes and falls to the earth as snow), so simple cold is generally not a huge problem. When you encounter actual snowfall, windy conditions, etc. is when you should take particular care not to allow any snow, rain, or blowing particulate into your camera if you need to change a lens.

Finally, when you transition your gear from the cold outdoors to a warm interior, you will again have to worry about condensation. If you have fully weather sealed gear and never changed the lens while outdoors, you might find some condensation built up on the exterior, and dissipate as it warms. If you do not have fully weather sealed gear, then you should probably take some precautions to minimize condensation. Whenever I do any photography out in a cool humid environment or freezing temperatures, I try to bring my gear inside in stages, as I do not have fully sealed gear. I first make sure its all packed up in my camera pack, and leave it in a garage for a while (where the temperature is usually warmer than the freezing outdoors, but not as warm as my house.) I'll eventually move my gear indoors, where I leave it in my camera bag. I have several packets of silica in my camera bag, which helps to wick up any moisture brought in with my camera gear.

Once your gear is indoors, you should keep it in a dry place. Moisture built up inside your lens can result in mold growth, which can cause problems or render a lens useless. Professional cleaning services are available, but that usually costs something, and its always best to practice avoidance. If you worry that your lens picked up a fair amount of condensation even after carefully warming it up and bringing it inside via a camera bag, you might want to let the camera bag dry out before fully storing your gear.

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A good tip to add to this excellent answer is to remove the memory cards from your camera once you arrive at where you are staying but before you go inside, this allows you to start uploading your photos and work on them while your camera acclimatises. Reseal the bag once the cards are out and do as jrista has suggested - your car will have been warmer than outside too so that will also be a part of the transition on the way home. –  JamWheel Jun 12 '11 at 11:32
    
Thanks for the advice, mate. Not too worried about taking my 7D to the snow now. I'm sure I can take care of it :) –  Chard Jun 13 '11 at 3:20
    
@Chard: Yeah, the 7D should be fine in the snow. It really is the condensation you have to worry about. A little acclimatization time is usually all you need, but keeping moisture low with silica is good from a long-term perspective. –  jrista Jun 13 '11 at 17:05
  • Lens hood - high likelyhood you're going to fall in snow or ice, this will protect the end of your lens.
  • Weather sealed lenses (so L lenses I believe) since your body is also weather sealed
  • A good camera bag with padding that to protect it from the high likelyhood that you'll slip and fall at some point.
  • The main thing with condensation is the transition periods. You want it to happen slowly, and in your camera bag. Don't go outside from inside and just whip it out and don't go inside from outside and just pull it out in the heat. Let it come up slowly in a dry place, like your camera bag with some gels in it.

EDIT: Reading around, there's a good bit of anecdotal evidence that the 7D's weather sealing is more 'resistant' than 'sealed' and definitely not the same level of sealing they put on their 1D series. Also, water damage is unlikely to be covered by warranty.

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It does indeed seem as though "resistance" rather than "sealed" is the proper term: photo.net/canon-eos-digital-camera-forum/00Vq2m. Despite the lesser amount of weather sealing on the 7D, I don't think that matters much unless you are photographing under a tumultuous rainfall...a drizzle or some snowfall should be fine. I have used my unsealed/nonresistant 450D for hours in both the rain and snow, with the sole consequence being the outside gets wet. ;) –  jrista Jun 12 '11 at 16:41

I'm a bit worried with the first answer proposed, since for me, both for physical reasons and in my experience, condensation definitely happens not when going from warm inside to cold outside but exactly the opposite, when you bring back your (very cold) gear from the snowy outside in.

Think e.g. the same happens when you take a cola out of the fridge.

In other words, the simplest way to avoid condensation is not using the camera for a while when "back home", leaving it time to heat up inside its bag. That's how I have been doing for years.

Now, if you compulsorily get the cam 1mn after coming in to get long videos, this indeed won't work...

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I'm sorry, but condensation usually occurs when there is moisture present, and the temperature drops. That happens BOTH when you say take a lens from the warm and far more humid 70° indoors to a freezing outdoors...any moisture that is already inside your lens or camera WILL condense. The reason condensation occurs when going from the cold into the warm is similar, but slightly different...the LENS is now cold, and the moisture from your humid home condenses on the cold object. The latter tends to be more "acute", but both should be addressed. My answer addresses both cases. –  jrista Jun 12 '11 at 16:28
    
Maybe because I almost never exchange objectives, I never experienced internal condensation -and this is not by lack of taking snow-photos... Sincerely, I believe this is a non-issue. jrista did you indeed suffer moisture condensation when going from inside out in the cold a single time? –  Hervé S. Jun 12 '11 at 18:12
    
@Harve: Yes, I have indeed. I usually do wide-angle astrophotography when I visit my parents at 8600 feet in the Rockies during Christmas (fantastically clear skies.) On two occasions when I took my camera out of the house, it built up condensation on the inner elements of my Canon EF 16-35mm L series lens. The outside temps were about -10°F, indoor temps 70°F. I had to wait about 20 minutes before I could actually start shooting both times, which is why I now let my gear acclimatize in my camera bag before shooting. –  jrista Jun 12 '11 at 18:24

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