Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

submit your photo


Hall of Fame
View past winners from this year

Please participate in Meta
and help us grow.

Take the 2-minute tour ×
Photography Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional, enthusiast and amateur photographers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I notice that most camera have operating temperature of 0 degree Celsius to 40 degree Celsius. As for weather-proof camera, they can usually operate at -10 degree Celsius to 40 degree Celsius.

So, I was wondering if the camera can be used in the following temperature:

  1. Above 40 degree Celsius (maybe in a desert or a sauna room)
  2. Below -10 degree Celsius (maybe in Antarctica or heavy snow)

From what I understand, most DSLR are able to withstand -10 degree Celsius. (Do correct me if I am wrong). However, I doubt any camera can withstand far beyond their temperature tolerance but would like to know if any camera experts did take their camera to their extremes.


Also asked by Xeoncross:

I have a canon t3i and I am curious to know just how much heat they can handle. I've seen proof that they can handle short bursts of direct fire, but long-term heat is another matter. I live in Texas and it's not uncommon for +110F temps in the summer.

If I leave that camera in the trunk - will it be ruined? Will the sensor quality go down? I want to take my camera with me everywhere - but if there is no air-conditioned area to keep the camera in I am worried I'll ruin it and be left without a camera.

According to Canon, I should not be using the camera above 104F/40C - but what about the non-working range where I have it sitting somewhere?

share|improve this question
    
With the exception of Pentax's weather-sealed models, the majority of DSLRs are nominally rated down to 0 C (32° F), not -10. –  mattdm Jun 17 '12 at 12:35
    
Related but less specific: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/8073/… –  mattdm Jun 17 '12 at 12:39
    
Question on specific cameras and cold ratings: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/21598/… –  mattdm Jun 17 '12 at 12:42
2  
Just a note: I think "maybe in Antarctica" is more like -60 degrees Celsius. -10 °C is "not cold at all" in winter in Scandinavia, Northern Russia and most of Canada, and any electronic gadget that does not withstand a temperature like that should probably be considered defective. –  JohannesD Jan 23 at 12:57
    
Nice link from a nice blog: theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2014/… –  Rmano Feb 25 at 5:27
add comment

8 Answers 8

Cold and hot are quite different and I can only answer the cold part since I live in Canada and have not been above 40+ with a digital camera.

Living in Canada and reviewing digital cameras means that I have taken hundreds of cameras out at temperatures well below freezing. What normally happens is not very nasty but will stop you from taking pictures.

What happens is that batteries lose their ability to produce current. This shows up as an out-of-power warning light very fast. Warming up the battery in your pocket or inside my glove as I most often do it restored it to powering temperature. In a span of 2 or 3 hours, I usually do that 3 or 4 times before power runs too low. Never seen any camera be permanently damaged but when the battery freezes completely it can burst and has to be disposed of.

Ultra-Sonic lenses focus slower in the cold and sometimes not all at by about -20C. Once again though, everything returns to normal when it warms up.

On the heat side, I have seen the over-heat warning appear on my K20D at about 35C after extended use. The camera simply shuts itself down and I could turn it back on a few minutes later.

share|improve this answer
4  
With the cold-weather weapon of choice from the old days, the Nikon FM2, we would generally have the camera and lenses winterized. That mostly meant having all of the lubricants swapped in both the body and the lenses you were using to formulations that wouldn't significantly thicken in very cold environments (but wouldn't stay in place in hot temps either). That may still be necessary, at least with lenses. Battery packs under clothing feeding the camera through cables help a lot. LCDs can be troublesome when it gets really cold, too—they're not so much liquid crystal as just crystal. –  user2719 Jun 18 '12 at 2:54
    
Oh yes, I forgot about the LCDs. They do go blank after a while but come back to life at room temperature. They do stay hot for a long time though when they get used often enough. –  Itai Jun 18 '12 at 3:12
add comment

Temperature effects camera in a couple of key areas:

  • Chemical reactions. When the temperature drops below a certain level you get a voltage drop from the batteries as the chemical reacts that produce energy are being inhibited by the temperature. This is a temporary effect.

  • Expansion / contraction. Certain parts will expand and contract with heat, lenses are designed with some tolerances for the expansion of barrels and glass elements but beyond the specified limits there may be mechanical problems, i.e. parts that are supposed to move wont, and vice versa. I suppose it's also possible for moving parts to seize a low temperatures as the viscosity of any lubricants will change, but I haven't heard of this occurring during actual use.

  • Melting. All camera components have a melting point. The plastics that are used have a pretty high melting point in general but eventually . The shutter blades in most DSLRs are made of metal, but they are extremely thin. So much so that they can sag and become permanently warped if the the temperature gets high enough. This tends to occur if a large aperture lens is mounted and the camera pointed toward the sun. Lens coatings can undergo sublimation at high very temperatures.

Problems with over heating are much more likely to occur as the result of direct sunlight being focused than high ambient air temperatures. The 40c warning is probably due to the sensor not being able to convect away its internal heat. If this is the case then you can expect the camera to simply shut down when the temperature is exceeded.

Finally operating a camera in a sauna raises a whole new set of issues, mainly filling the camera with warm extremely moist air, which when the camera is moved to a cooler environment will rapidly precipitate moisture in hard to access places, which can lead to mold and other problems.

share|improve this answer
    
Note that at least on Canon DSLRs, the rubber flap covering the ports gets soft and sticky when the camera is exposed to direct sunlight for an extended period of time (several hours). To be honest, I've seen this happen more often when the camera is left uncovered in a closed vehicle, but I've also seen it happen on occasion when walking around. The rubber doesn't melt and fall off, but it does get sticky, almost as if a layer of glue has been applied on top. –  Chinmay Kanchi Jan 26 at 5:17
add comment

My guess is that the high end is limited by the electronics. Silicon stops being a semiconductor at around 150°C and of course some margin is needed, so most electronics is rated for less than that. A max operating temperature of 70°C is common, with special variants available (for a premium) that can work up to 120°C. Some military grade semiconductors can operate at nearly 150°C, but I doubt you're going to find much of that in a $5000 camera.

Keep in mind that the die will be considerably hotter than ambient for any significant power dissipation. A watt or two for the processor that does the controlling and image processing in the camera may not sound like much, but you have to consider the thermal resistance from the die to the ambient air. If that were 50°C/W, for example, then 2 W dissipation would raise it 100°C above ambient. You start hitting the max die temperature fast. There are ways to deal with that, but in something as size and weight constrained as a camera it's not easy or cheap.

The sensor noise level also goes up with temperature. Camera makers probably don't want to publish different specs for 20°C and 50°C so they set limits somewhere to protect their reputation. Even if the camera electronics can take the higher temperature, the low light capability will suffer at high temperatures, so specifying a upper limit is probably in part to cover their butt.

Like most specs of sophisticated equipment, there are a lot of technical and marketing tradeoffs that go into them. They're not likely to tell you exactly what the limiting factors are, so you're a test pilot if you go outside the limits, and you can't complain to the manufacturer is something goes wrong or there is some loss in quality.

That said, I think the current trend of narrow temperature ranges is rather annoying since there are many situations where they could be easily violated. My Nikon D3S has a rated operating range of 0-40°C, which is 32-104°F. That's really narrow. Many winter days here in Massachusetts are below 32°F, and over 104°F isn't hard to find in other parts of the world (that would be very unusually hot for Massachusetts). I was hiking the Arizona desert last summer at about 118°F with this camera with no apparent problems, but it was also day and quite bright so I wouldn't have noticed a higher noise floor.

share|improve this answer
    
I have had, alas, several cameras turn up their noses and refuse to talk to me when temperatures were too high. This is usually but not always associated with an accompanying high shooting rate, but not always. This happened to me in Taiwan in 2001 indoors in summer. ie hot + hot. Cmra locked up and then would not read memory card. I enthusiastically changed memory cards and it repeated the action. The cards could not then be accesed but the camera regained functionality when it cooled. The card data was subsequently recovered with a data recovery program. –  Russell McMahon Jan 12 '13 at 13:06
    
I have a camera at present that APPEARS to be doing similar but no data is lost - when the camera cools it comes back. This happened recently (early NZ Summer) in outdoor garden location shooting for a wedding and I had to swap to backup camera. Came right after about 5 minutes and I used it extensively later in day with no problems. It happened again briefly more recently so I will be trying to scope range of conditions it happens under and I may declare it a fault and send for repair. TBD. –  Russell McMahon Jan 12 '13 at 13:08
add comment
  • The car trunk is about as safe from cool as anywhere in the car if the car is sealed.

  • Trunk temperatures may be dangerously high on very hot days.

  • Use of a very well insulated container in the trunk is likely to maintain safe temperatures

  • Ventilation or some form of active cooling would help but are unlikely to be necessary. Active ventilation of the passenger compartment may provide an acceptable solution if the insulated bag in trunk approach is not acceptable for some reason.

Canon EOS T3i = 600D

Electronic equipment can definitely be damaged by temperatures which can occur in a car on a hot day - but the exact circumstances will vary with location in car, local conditions and equipment involved.

Canon publish a maximum operating temperature of 40C = 104 F for the T3i.
As an electrical engineer I'd expect that figure to be somewhat conservative but not excessively so.
Storage temperatures will be somewhat higher but probably not over 50C sensibly.
A very hot but bearable (to me) shower is 45C.
Most people can stand holding a hand in 55C water for under 20 seconds.

The trunk is liable to be one of the safest locations.

Actual tests & a solution:
Here is an interesting and useful report where a user performed
actual inside/outside temperature measuments between ambient and car trunk, and also investigated the use of an insulating "ice chest" to protect a camera. this relies on the car being able to be cooled at night to under 80F/26C. He concluded that

  • Trunk temperature was about 10F cooler than passenger compartment.

  • On a 95F/35C day trunk temperature reached 140F/60C maximum

  • Using an insulated ice-chest (no ice, no cooling) in the trunk reduced maximum temperatures by about 15F/9C.

  • Using a padded cooler bag inside the ice chest provided an additional 5 to 10F temperature reduction.


Canon publish an operating temperature range (specifications here) - they say :
Working Temperature Range 32-104°F / 0-40°C
Working Humidity Range 85% or less

104 F = 40 C
110 F = 43 C


If batteries suffer permanent damage when operated at high temperature, the effects on long term capacity or cycle life may not be immediately obvious.
One of the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) team who lives in Australia told me that after exposing a unit to outback conditions* the battery never again performed as well. They monitor and log actual battery performance. * He said this was unintended but served as their first real-wold high temperature test case. I think that may have been a NimH battery pack, but the same general principles apply to other chemistries.

share|improve this answer
    
Merged from the original question you answered, as its a great answer, and I did not want the community to lose it. ;) –  jrista Jun 26 '12 at 17:53
    
Very informative! Thanks! –  ssh Jan 9 '13 at 18:49
    
Although water temperatures of 55°C may become painful after a few seconds, people can handle dry air of the same temperature for much longer. –  Max Mar 21 at 12:40
add comment

From my personal experience I can tell you that cold temperatures below 15 degrees C will only make the batteries run out quicker than normal. I have been in the polar circle with a pro and semi pro camera (D300 and D60) and none of them stopped working; but I had to change batteries quicker than normal. As Matt Grum said before, having the batteries in the pocket or inside your clothes will just make things work again. On the other side I have been also in very hot temperatures and where I work we can reach 50 degrees C during the months of July and August, and the camera has been always working ok as long as it has been in a open space. It has not been my case, but I know a friend that left the camera in the trunk of the car where the temperature can go over 60 or 70 and we could not turn it on. However after a while in a cold place everything returned to normal with no permanent damage.

share|improve this answer
    
Batteries can suffer from permanent damage if operated at high temperature. The effects on long term capacity or cycle life may not be obvious. One of the OLPC team who lives in Australia told me that after exposing a unit to outback conditions the battery never again performed as well. They monitor and log actual battery performance. –  Russell McMahon Feb 25 at 0:27
    
In much of the world 15°C is not a cold temperature. Did you mean -15°C? –  Max Mar 21 at 12:41
add comment

As a practical matter on real world cameras, the heat side can be a real issue if you are sloppy in handling it. The inside of a car in the sun on a warm day (100 F (38 C) can easily go to 150F (65C) which is way over the upper limit that makers list.

The solution is pretty simple: don't keep your camera in the interior, put it in the trunk.

share|improve this answer
add comment

I live in South America, in Uruguay, where our heat during summer is around 36C up to 42 C (rare but this year we are having a heat wave). I have used my Canon 60D with heat, and left it in my car for a short time, around half an hour, I covered it with some clothing, yeah it sounds stupid, nothing happened to it.

What's more dangerous than heat, in our country, is humidity levels, usually between 55% up to 90% without rains. Again, and as a nature photgrapher my camera is exposed all the time, I have even taken pics with it under some rain (light rain). I can tell you that the sealing of that camera is exceptional. Maybe you can find out about these kind of seals in your camera?

When I go out in the field and it's raining, I never lift the lens up, and always use a towel, or even my clothes to protect it from the pouring rain.

I have read tons of info about camera limits, and I like to experience with them as well, due to our country heat and humid conditions. Yet I never tried it in snow. I hope this may help you a bit, my camera is 2 years old now, and lots of pictures made, with no damage so far.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Cameras can withstand Texas temperatures, however, the hotter it is, the more noise you are going to get in your photos, i wouldn't leave it in a car a anything anyways.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.