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What temperatures can consumer-level DSLRs and lenses typically handle? Are there any precautions one should take too minimize potential problems (e.g. condensating water)? What about moving in and out of the cold multiple times a day?


Also asked by nagaraj

How can I use Nikon D3100 at -9°C?

I am visiting China and where the temperature is @ -9 degree Celsius. How can I use my Nikon D3100 DSLR over there?? Could any one advice me! Thanks in advance.

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See also: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/3730/… –  Rowland Shaw Dec 12 '10 at 18:17
    
I asked another question along these lines here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2379/… –  BBischof Dec 12 '10 at 20:51
    
another reference: fotohacker.com/2007/12/07/taking-pictures-in-the-winter-cold –  BBischof Dec 12 '10 at 21:52
    
Lots of good links here. Thank you! –  Caramdir Dec 13 '10 at 1:13
    
condensating->condensing –  DJClayworth Jan 6 '11 at 18:02
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8 Answers 8

up vote 21 down vote accepted

A lot of dSLRs are rated to 0 degrees celsius or 32 faranheit, though some more pro ones are rated to lower temperatures. Most of this is about the battery life, it will suffer in the cold.

However, in general, condensation is going to be your enemy when moving from cold back into warmth, so the best way to handle that is to put the camera and lens into a plastic bag and seal it before going inside and then leaving it in there until the camera comes up to temperature.

Anyways, some good tips can be found here: Protecting your camera in winter so go outside and shoot!

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As a side note for whomever voted my response down: down votes without comment do nothing to help the site or the quality of responses. –  John Cavan Dec 12 '10 at 23:00
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it wasn't me, but that's not true. Down votes without comments have most of the effects of down votes with comments. You get a lower reputation, and all that that entails, and your answer is moved down relative to the other answers. –  Sparr Dec 12 '10 at 23:35
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@Sparr - I'm not especially worried about, but I tend to disagree with you, see the FAQ for some info on that. If there's something wrong in the answer and somebody noticed it, I'd like to understand what is wrong. That helps me and it helps others. I'm not going to be offended by that if there truly is a mistake, though I may dispute it if I don't think there is. –  John Cavan Dec 13 '10 at 0:30
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@Sparr: I agree with John. Downvoting a non-CW, non-Meta answer is generally taken to mean that something is wrong with the answer. So it is useful to leave a comment stating what exactly is wrong. –  Caramdir Dec 13 '10 at 1:15
    
I think Sparr has a good point: some people may simply prefer the presentation of another answer, though whether or not an answer should be downvoted in addition to the other being upvoted is a separate question. –  Eruditass Dec 13 '10 at 4:20
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The other issue with cameras in cold weather is battery life. As the batteries get cold, they lose their ability ot keep a charge. This will be an issue while out shooting. The easiest solution here is to carry more batteries than you think you'll need, and keep them in an inside pocket or some place where they're kept warm by your body. Rotate them frequently, and the cold battery will revive as it warms up again.

If you normally carry two batteries, carry four. mark them so you can rotate them in sequence to maximize their life.

the plastic bag trick works well to minimize condensation. Make sure you remove as much air as you can before going inside, and keep it sealed until the gear warms up. Make sure you remove batteries and memory cards before putting it in the bag so you aren't tempted to open it early. If you're going in and out muiltiple times, just leave it wrapped (or leave the gear outside) until you're done for the day.

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The manual, in English, for the D3100 specifies that the operating temperature for the camera is 0 to 40 degrees Celsius. Page 184 of that manual has some tips on temperature change, but those are simple. Have a look at this question for some additional info.

Now, despite what the manual says, you can go colder as the temperature is really affecting your battery life more than anything else. As long as you take precautions around moisture, ensure that you have some spare batteries available, then you shouldn't have problems with shooting in the cold. Just expect that your battery will drain faster.

Have fun, sounds like a great trip!

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Hi John,Thanks for the guidance. I will follow the same. Have a nice day –  Nagaraj Dec 9 '11 at 5:31
    
I think it would be worth pointing out that battery release electricity through a chemical reaction. All chemical reaction will be slowed as temperature drops. Why is it worth knowing? Firstly, you can keep your spare battery in a warm pack, so it is ready to go once you take it out. Secondly, if your battery dies very soon due to cold temperature, you know that warming the "dead" battery will actually put it back to normal working condition. A tip is to keep your batteries close to your body (inner pocket) so it is mildly warmed at all time. –  Gapton Dec 9 '11 at 7:37
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DSLRs are now commonly used by astrophotographers, where low temperatures are a good thing - indeed some even go to great lengths to keep their sensors at as low a temperature as possible to reduce thermal noise in their images.

As others have already said, condensation and battery life are the main considerations - I've never heard any astrophotograher raise concerns about whether the camera would actually keep working!

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Firstly, welcome to China! :)

May I ask where are you going? For some regions in China, A -9 C day from weather report does not mean it will be that cold all day. If it is -9 C at the coldest moment of a day, which is likely before sunrise, it can be 0+ during daytime, when it should be fine for you to take pictures.

The low temperature could affect the battery and the SD card. If you have to take pictures under extreme condition, remember to keep your camera at a warmer place, for example close to your body (cover it under your coat) or in a bag where you can put a bottle of hot water etc. When you see some nice scenes, take your camera out, quickly snap and put it back in. I would suggest you pre-set the mode so that you can do this as quickly as you can.

Another head up is that be extra careful when you bring your camera from outdoor to indoor or the other way around. The steam caused by temperature gap could hurt your lens. So you really need to keep it as warm as possible when you are outdoor.

Good luck!

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I've seen and heard about DSLRs being used in very cold weather, without any negative problems other then the previously mentioned condensation and such. I wouldn't bring it down to extreme temperatures, but you're probably fine below freezing in most cases, except for the previously mentioned battery life.

A tip to dealing with batteries is to keep your spare batteries inside of your coat/jacket, to keep them as warm as possible. The warmer the batteries are, the more power they will provide. You can even warm up a "dead" battery, and it'll work again for a while, if the battery died quickly due to the cold.

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As John Cavan said, cold temperatures are hard for your batteries. One useful technique is to have your spare batteries in your pockets as close to your body as possible, to keep them warm until the moment you put them into use. This way they'll work a bit longer. Often a cold, drained battery will have plenty of juice in it once it's warm again, so it can be worth the trouble to warm up empty batteries and give them a second go.

Also keep in mind that camera's battery indicators will be unreliable. In cold batteries can go from half-full to dead very fast - this can be a real problem if you're trying to do very long exposures or time lapses.

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As other answers have noted, cameras and lenses basically work pretty well in cold weather.

One extra precaution I'd be careful of during winter is to always make sure everything is sealed up - after you take a camera out of a bag, make sure to close the bag right away and only open it when putting things in or out. It's all to easy for snow or ice to descend on you from above, either an awning or a tree and get inside a bag. So always keep stuff well-sealed, the other persons advice about buying a good bag is a great idea.

You should probably also carry some kind of larger cloth for wiping away snow in case any does get on the camera. Even ordinary (non weather-sealed) lenses are generally fine with light moisture on them as long as you wipe it down fairly soon.

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