Cameras(and Batteries) In The Cold.

Baby it’s cold outside!

-10°F on the NH Seacoast.

-10°F on the NH Seacoast.

Winter is one of my favorite times of year to get out and make photographs. Extreme weather, including cold, can make for dramatic photographs, but the cold can adversely affect your camera, especially the batteries, if you’re not careful. Nothing can ruin a winter shoot faster than a camera that’s dead due to a cold induced coma in your battery.

You know it's cold when sea water freezes!

You know it’s cold when sea water freezes!

Having been out shooting in temps as low -10°F / -20°C, without experiencing any camera malfunctions, I wanted to share a few tips on what works for me to keep the camera shooting when the mercury drops through the bottom of the thermometer.

Cold Caution: Whether or not you decide to brave the cold with your camera is completely, totally, 100% up to, and on you. I accept no responsibility for you or your camera should a malfunction occur. As an example, Canon lists the operating range of their cameras as 32-104°F / 0-40°C. I’ve frequently use my cameras in much much colder temps than this without ever having a problem, please exercise caution, and use common sense when exposing your camera to extreme cold. Only you can decide if it’s worth the risk.

Batteries, the more the merrier! 

Having only the one that came with your camera isn’t going to cut it when it’s really cold outside. Nothing will kill a battery faster than the cold, so I always bring at least one spare, two is better. With my Canon 40D I would bring 4 batteries with me, and often need them all. That camera sucked the life out of batteries in the cold like you wouldn’t believe. Luckily, my current 7D is much better at cold weather battery life, but I still bring a spare.

And keep them warm!

keeping_batteries_warm_0961

For me, keeping my batteries warm when venturing out in frigid weather is a two-part strategy. First, I remove the battery from the camera and put it and my spares inside an inner pocket of one of my clothing layers. Only installing the battery in the camera when I’m ready to make a picture.

hot_hands_0959

Second, I never leave home without 3-4 small chemical hand warmers in my pockets. I toss one in the pocket with my batteries to keep them nice and toasty. Also, if like me you like to take photos with your iPhone as well as your “real” camera, toss it in there too. I’ve found my iPhone really doesn’t care for temps much below 20°F, showing a dead battery and shutting down, usually right in the middle of trying to take a picture.

This trick works well at reviving seemingly dead batteries too. You’d be surprised how much more life you can get out of a battery that has died due to the cold just by warming it up.

After hiking several miles for a view like this…

Cairns, Mt. Washington, and the Full Moon.

Plenty cold, but needs more snow!

The last thing I want when I get there, is a dead battery, with no backup, when keeping them warm would have done the trick. 

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23 thoughts on “Cameras(and Batteries) In The Cold.

    • Actually, the battery in my 7D is in fact leaps and bounds better than the battery in my 40D was.

      This post has been sitting as a draft, unfinished for over a year because the 7D’s batteries do so well in the cold.

      This past Friday I was out with a friend who is still using a 40D. While I was using live-view extensively, as I always do, and never had to even think about changing batteries, he was giving the hinges on his battery compartment a good workout. That prompted me to resurrect this languishing post.

  1. These are helpful ideas, Jeff. I often just pop my whole camera inside my jacket to keep it warm like a baby…but I haven’t been outside for hours when it’s that cold. I usually go for a drive, get out of the car, take pics, get back inside the car and warm up my freezing hands, then repeat 🙂

    • That can work, but you run the risk of moisture/condensation getting on the camera, and your lens and viewfinder fogging when putting the cold camera in your warm jacket.

      Not to mention, it can’t be all that comfortable having a camera in your coat.

      And honestly, if you’re just hopping out of the car, grabbing a few shots, then getting back in, you probably don’t need to worry about keeping the camera or the battery warm.

  2. Agree with you, something about getting out and shooting in the cold to capture the feeling of winter. Maybe it’s the different lighting of the season, but it has such beauty and challenges that other seasons do not. Well done.

    • Another thing I enjoy about it is the solitude. For any given location, hiking trail, or mountain top, there are fewer, if any other people. Even though many of the trails in New Hampshire’s White Mountains are well traveled, even in winter, the odds of having the view all to myself increase considerably as the temperatures drop.

  3. The extra batteries in the inner jacket pocket works like a charm. I was out at -29C the other day and could only manage about six shots in a 5 minute time span before that batteries were sucked dead by the cold using my Pentax K-x. By then, my thumbs were screeching cold anyway…too cold…period. I’m waiting for warmer temps from now on!

    • That is cold! Keeping your fingers warm in temps like that is definitely a challenge. Gloves too bulky and you can’t work the camera. Too thin and your fingers freeze, and you can’t work the camera. What works the best for me is to wear a relatively thin merino wool liner glove inside well insulated mittens. That way I can take a mitten off to operate the camera without completely exposing my hand to the cold.

  4. Gorgeous images. The best bit of being out in those temperatures (apart from the fab photos) is the hot toddy you get to drink when you come back in! Thanks for the tips – being that it’s been a steady -15 C here recently they will definitely be useful.

  5. Thanks for the battery tip. Never thought of putting them in my pocket with a hand warmer. Usually just stick them in my back pack. Beautiful sea shots. The cold really does change the quality of the light for extra beautiful winter shots.

    • They are pretty awesome!

      Luckily for me I rarely need to use them for their intended purpose because I’ve been blessed with one hell of an internal furnace. Whenever I’m hiking with friends in the winter, you’ll know which one is me because I’ll be the one with the least amount of clothing on.

      But for keeping my camera batteries and my iPhone warm and alive they are marvelous.

  6. Well I am glad it is just a matter of dead battery. I lost a brand new battery that cost me plenty during the walk to Camino de Compostela. BTW it will get colder but do not think we will get more snow.

    • Oh that really is a bummer! I’ve yet to lose even a lens cap, but I’m very OCD when it comes to checking, double checking, then checking again, to make sure I have everything, or haven’t left anything behind.

      Not sure how much colder it’s going to get here for the rest of the winter, but we still have plenty of time for more snow. In fact, we’re expecting 6″-10″ again tomorrow! 😀

  7. A very interesting and helpful article, Jeff :). The last photo is perfect even with the scarse snow and the first two really convey the feeling of freezing cold winter. Thank you.

    • Thanks. I imagine there are a whole host of cold related problems that keeping things warm would help. It can be a hassle, but in the end, hopefully the results are worth the aggravation.

Comments and thoughtful critiques are always welcome.

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