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I have read at a few places that cameras go haywire when used in temperatures around -20 degree centigrade or below (like Arctic winter) and as I understand it's a hardware limitation.

Do we need to buy special cameras for such cold weather or can normal cameras be tweaked for such weathers?

Also does anyone has experience of using mobile phone cameras in extreme cold, are they able to handle the cold?

I have a Canon SX520HS and am planning to buy a GoPro Hero 6. So I am wondering if I will need a new one for the Arctic region.

Edit:

Just wanted to add that my question overlaps with the possible duplicates mentioned below but is different as its not specific to DSLR, covers mobile phone cameras as well as cameras which i have.

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They do not really go haywire, mostly stop working. There is little chance your cameras would remain operational in that weather for more than a few minutes.

There are really two things that happen in extreme cold. Starting at below 0C, most camera batteries start losing their ability to produce current. It is a slow process as the battery cools down. So you will not get an immediate failure but battery-life will drop. A few degrees below 0 and the difference will be small but by the time you reach -20C, you may only be able to take a few shots and eventually none at all. Freezeproof cameras start degrading at -10C, so remain usable until lower, around -30C and can still take tens of shots, maybe a hundred.

As the main issue is the temperature of the battery, what I do when shooting in Canadian winter is to keep a spare battery inside an inner pocket of my jacket or inside my glove to keep it warm. Then I swap the batteries each time the camera reports the battery is depleted. Cameras cannot actually tell the difference between a cold battery and a depleted battery but if it is fully charged and stops shooting after only a few shots, chances are it is just cold. Warming the battery up and putting it back inside the camera, it will not appear as depleted. In extremely cold days, I end up swapping the batteries every few shots and eventually have to wait while batteries warm up.

The second thing that happens starting at -20C is that the crystals in the LCD and EVF freeze and then the camera is no longer able to show an image. The only cameras to avoid this problem are SLRs (Digital or not) which do not need an active display for framing,

Another thing that happens is that the lubrification inside lenses loses its lubrication properties. At that point the zoom ring and focus ring becomes difficult to turn and it eventually stops being able to focus. This happens anywhere below -30C. For professional arctic expeditions, lenses are often taken apart and their lubricants replaced with something different.

  • I would also just note that even the shutter mechanism can freeze up. – ttbek Feb 4 '18 at 19:07
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    Having only been down to -45C, that never happened but I am guessing that it could and in that case the mirror mechanism too for SLRs. – Itai Feb 4 '18 at 19:16
  • Based on my experience doing timelapse videos of ice forming, a typical point-and-shoot can take pictures just fine at -20C, as long as you provide an external power source (or swap batteries frequently). I don't recall the LCD freezing up, though since the camera was running on automatic, I wasn't paying much attention to it. – Mark Feb 5 '18 at 8:39
  • There are rangefinders too – unperson325680 Feb 5 '18 at 8:53
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A few additional observations–recently finished a video job at -32°C/-26°F in Fairbanks, Alaska.

  • The fluid head tripod froze and was useless.
  • The record button became very stiff, hard to use, and sometimes unresponsive.
  • Watch your breath. It can get in the shot or fog your lens.
  • And of course the camera lens fogged up briefly once it was directly brought indoors (didn't have time to insulate it and wait for it to gradually warm).
  • The tripod is indeed a big issue which I was surprised the first time it happened and asked about it here And also I miss the anti-fog coating that Nikon put on some of its cameras, makes a huge difference. – Itai Feb 3 '18 at 20:47
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    If you don't have time to warm the gear before bringing it in, the best thing you can do is to at least seal it in a zip bag with the dry, cold air from outside. Prevents condensation when you bring it in and while it warms. – J... Feb 4 '18 at 11:27
3

Based on your reference to mobile phones, I assume technical quality is not as important as just being able to get at least some footage. Here are some tips that seem to work in Finnish winter:

  1. Keep the camera or phone inside your jacket, close to your body heat when you are not using it.

  2. Waterproof covers provide some insulation because they leave a gap of air between the cover and the camera.

  3. Action cameras (GoPro etc.) seem to handle winter temperatures quite well. It could just be due to their simplicity and compact design.

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