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How can I keep my camera focusing well when it's very cold out?

I recently did a portrait shoot where it was around 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 Celsius), using my Canon EOS 50d, and 50mm f/1.8 STM. I found that my autofocus was performing far below what I'm used to. It would hunt slowly for a second or two, only locking about half the time.

I want to do some more shooting soon, but it's even colder now, with a low of -27 f (-32c). I don't want to go out and find that my camera won't lock AF.

Thanks for any tips!

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    It's probably worth noting that -12 C is already outside the operating range for the 50D (0 to 40 C). -32 C is well outside. – Philip Kendall Dec 17 '16 at 20:44
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    -32°C?? Where do you live? I wouldn't blame my Camera if it didn't work perfectly in that condition. I know that most smart phones die much earlier! – smow Dec 17 '16 at 20:45
  • I'm in Minnesota. I want to do some star photography tonight, since it's supposed to be quite clear, but at the same time, it's going to be bitter, bitter cold. The windchill will be -40, but it's manageable if you bundle up. – Evan Pak Dec 17 '16 at 22:56
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I don't know Canon cameras, but have done some work at low temperatures. The likely cause of your AF performance is the effect of low temperatures on the battery. The best way of dealing with the problem is:

  1. Have a lot of fully charged batteries
  2. Use one for only a short period
  3. Assume it will lose charge at (at -32o C) at approximately 10-50 times normal
  4. After a short period of use of the battery, change it for a warm and fully charged battery
  5. Put the just used battery in a warm place (a bag around the neck against the skin is ideal) and leave it there (for an hour or two) until it regains charge.
  6. Add back the now warmed battery to the cycling of batteries.

The behavior of batteries at low temperatures is surprisingly dismal. Even a process such as this may not restore AF behavior fully, but it does offer the best chance of making use of what charge is available.

Edit: This question has a variety of answers dealing with using a camera at low temperatures.

  • Thanks! I think I'll attach a few hand warmers to my camera to hopefully keep it a bit warmer. – Evan Pak Dec 17 '16 at 22:57
  • If using hand warmers, be careful in applying direct heat to the batteries - Lithium is not the most stable thing when heated. – Chris Walton Dec 17 '16 at 23:05
  • I'll definitely be careful. I don't want to be THAT warm! I'll probably just keep the batteries in a pocket, and put the warmers on the lens. I've heard good things about that before. – Evan Pak Dec 17 '16 at 23:15
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    You can also use a mock battery pack that gives you external wires, so that you can use a big/heated/insulated external battery – Nayuki Dec 18 '16 at 1:20
  • I ended up using a battery grip, and rubber banding hand warmers to the outside. They certainly didn't get too hot, but they kept it a bit warmer than ambient. – Evan Pak Dec 18 '16 at 6:44

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