Winter provides some great photo ops, but also some problems for the unwary photographer. Cold and wet weather aren’t good for most cameras, and can be uncomfortable for the photographer as well. Here are some things to consider before heading out into the cold with your camera gear.
Batteries don’t like cold weather. Cold temperatures reduce battery performance, so you should take measures to keep your camera and spare batteries warm.
Keep the spare batteries in a warm pocket (in the layer of clothing closest to you). Make sure the protective covers are in place—you don’t want the unprotected battery terminals to come into contact with your metallic keys or loose change in a pocket. If you can devote a pocket solely to batteries, that would be great. Fully charge all batteries before heading out into the cold.
Carry your camera under your coat except when you’re actually shooting to keep it warm. If camera performance falls off, switch to one of your warm spare batteries, and put the battery from the camera into a warm pocket to thaw.
Lithium batteries perform better than other types in cold weather, so use them if your camera permits. Most dedicated rechargeable batteries for DSLRs lge lithium-ion types these days, and you can get lithium AA cells for cameras that use that type of battery.
Most of today’s major-brand memory cards can be used in temperatures down to freezing, and some higher-end cards can be used below that. Some cards are even waterproof (Hoodman’s RAW Steel SDHC and SanDisk’s Extreme Pro SDXC 8-32 MB versions, for example), although presumably even a nonwaterproof card would be protected inside a weatherproof camera.
Have a dry cloth handy to keep things dry if you need to switch out memory cards. Don’t change memory cards or batteries in the rain—you must protect even a waterproof camera from moisture while it’s open.
|IF YOUR CAMERA ISN’T
So what can you do if your camera doesn’t have weather-resistant features? There are accessories that can help keep your gear protected.
For the best waterproof protection, you might consider an underwater housing for your DSLR. Designed for serious underwater photographers, some of these can protect your gear at depths down to 200 feet below the surface. However, these are specialty accessories and can be very expensive.
If you don’t plan on doing underwater photography, you probably won’t want to invest in a complete underwater housing. In that case, a simple rain cover such as the ewa-marine Rain Cape or the Kata Rain Cover or Camcorder Glove is just the ticket. These provide protection from rain and snow, but make it easier to operate the camera controls than the true underwater housings that completely seal the camera. ewa-marine also makes low-cost, flexible underwater housings that allow you to completely submerge the camera, but these are more for underwater photography—and it’s more difficult to operate the camera controls than with the Rain Cape and Rain Cover.
A number of camera manufacturers offer waterproof housings for some of their compact digital cameras (and even DSLRs), and these provide good weather protection; they even allow the cameras to be completely submerged in water to shallow depths.
When you take a cold camera into a warmer environment (as when going indoors after a shoot) or a warm camera into a colder environment (as when leaving your home or car with the camera), condensation likely will form on—and inside—the camera and lens. A good way to avoid this is to seal the camera and lenses in your camera bag, or a small plastic resealable bag with the air squeezed out, then allow them to adjust to the ambient temperature before opening the bag.
Don’t exhale as you bring the camera up to your eye—your breath will fog the viewfinder eyepiece, and it won’t soon clear on its own. Keep a microfiber lens cleaning cloth handy to carefully wipe away the fogging. Don’t breathe on a lens to clean it—your breath will freeze on the lens surface. Use a camel-hair brush, lens-cleaning tissue or microfiber cloth to clean the lens.
Generally, the pro DSLRs can handle harsh shooting conditions, including cold and rain. Lower-end DSLRs cannot and should be used with protection, such as an underwater housing, in wet conditions.
AF performance and drive rate can become sluggish in very cold conditions, as can LCD monitor response (a particular concern when operating in live-view mode). That’s another reason to protect your camera tucked inside your coat or jacket except when shooting—to keep it warm and maintain maximum performance.
If you’re going to shoot in extreme conditions, you may want to consult your camera manufacturer’s nearest repair center about winterizing your gear. This essentially consists of replacing the lubricants with cold-weather ones (you then can’t use the camera in "normal" conditions unless the procedure is reversed).
This is quite costly, however, and most DSLRs can be used safely in conditions colder than those specified in the instruction manual if proper precautions are taken. Canon’s EOS-1D Mark IV has an operating range of 32º-113° F (0º-45° C), for example, and Nikon’s D3S has a range of 32º-104° F (0º-40°C). While those are top pro models, many less expensive DSLRs have shot a lot of winter photos in cold temperatures. Just check your owner’s manual to see what your camera can handle.
Most manufacturers of compact digital cameras have long offered a few waterproof models that actually can be submerged to shallow depths (usually three to 10 feet), and these, of course, are good choices for shooting in inclement weather. They’re not as versatile as interchangeable-lens cameras, but they can survive getting wet.
A new generation of such cameras features really rugged, shockproof models offering protection against water, dust and cold temperatures (down to 14° F/10° C). These cameras are great winter-weather shooting companions, although again, not as versatile as DSLRs and mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras. Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax and Sony all offer at least one compact camera with waterproofing. These cameras can be an affordable way to try photographing in inclement weather without risking your DSLR.
Canon. Canon’s EOS-1 series pro DSLRs are water-resistant, as are about two-thirds of the L-series pro EF lenses, the EF II- and III-series teleconverters and the Speedlite 580EX II flash unit. The EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 7D and EOS 60D have some sealing and can handle mist for a short time, but shouldn’t be used in
a downpour. The EOS Digital Rebel models aren’t weather-sealed and should be used with protection.
Nikon. Nikon’s D3X and D3S pro cameras are weather-sealed and can handle tough shooting conditions. The D700, D300S and D7000 have some weather sealing, but probably shouldn’t be used in a downpour. The D5100 and models below it in the lineup aren’t weather-sealed. Most of Nikon’s higher-end AF-S Nikkor lenses feature enhanced or professional-grade dust and moisture resistance—as always, check the instruction manual for the lens before using it in harsh conditions.
Olympus. Olympus’ pro DSLRs (the current E-5, and earlier E-3 and E-1) are weather-resistant, as are the SHG (Super High-Grade) and HG (High-Grade) lenses. These currently number more than a dozen, from an 8mm fisheye and a 7-14mm zoom through a 90-250mm zoom. (The Four Thirds System sensor’s 2x focal-length factor means these frame like 14-500mm lenses on a 35mm camera.)
Panasonic. None of Panasonic’s mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras (GH2, G3, GF3, GX1, etc.) is weatherproof, nor are any of the lenses for them. Panasonic does offer waterproof compact cameras. Use protection when shooting in wet conditions.
Pentax. The flagship K-5 DSLR is weather-, dust- and cold-resistant. We used our K-5 test camera in heavy rains on numerous occasions with no problems. Note that the new Q mirrorless camera isn’t weatherproof, nor is the K-r entry-level DSLR. Pentax offers 10 weather-resistant WR lenses.
Samsung. None of Samsung’s NX-series mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras is weatherproof, nor are the lenses for them. Use protection when shooting in wet conditions.
Sigma. Sigma’s flagship SD1 DSLR is "splash-proof," while the SD15 is not, nor are the DP-series large-sensor compacts. None of Sigma’s current lenses is weatherproof.
Sony. Sony’s new SLT-A77 is moisture-resistant, as are its optional VG-C77AM vertical grip and HVL-F45AM flash unit. The DT 16-50mm ƒ/2.8 SSM kit zoom is also weather-sealed. Other Sony DSLRs, NEX mirrorless cameras and lenses aren’t weatherproof and should be used with protection in harsh conditions.
Ewa-Marine (R.T.S. Inc.)