PetaPixel

Frozen Camera: What a DSLR Looks Like When Shooting in a -25°C Environment

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Newer weatherproof compact and high-end cameras often feature “freeze-proofing” as one of their attributes, but unless you live in an extremely cold environment (or enjoy sticking your camera inside a freezer), you probably haven’t experienced temperatures low enough for even an ordinary camera to break down.

Swiss photographer Alessandro Della Bella has. The photographer above shows what one of his cameras recently looked like during a shoot in extremely low temperatures.

Back on 12/12/12, Alessandro participated in the One Day on Earth project, which aims to document life around the globe on a single day. He chose to create a time-lapse video of the night sky during two nights on the Swiss mountains Piz Corvatsch and Piz Nair. The temperature during those nights? -25°C and -15°C, respectively (-13°F and 5°F).

Here’s an example of a scene he was shooting:

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Alessandro shot more than 10,000 photographs over those 48 hours showing the stars above and the valley below, snapping frames with 5 Canon DSLRs at the same time.

Although the DSLRs survived the project unscathed — they actually performed quite nicely — the extremely cold temperatures did present their fair share of problems for Alessandro.

First, he had to bring a number of extra lenses along on the shoot. Every time a lens froze up, he swapped it out and defrosted it in front of an oven until it became normal again.

Alessandro says that the weak link in the gear was actually the batteries. At those temperatures, each battery drained in just an hour or two of shooting, so they had to be constantly swapped out and recharged.

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Here’s the beautiful time-lapse video that resulted from his efforts:

So there you have it — an interesting look at what camera companies mean when they say a camera is “freeze-proof.”


Image credits: Photographs and video by Alessandro Della Bella and used with permission


 
 
  • http://www.thedamnremote.com/ Phil A

    And then there are the photographers…. Here is what I looked like after shooting outside at 35 below F for 45 minutes.. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150420197858467&set=a.441402483466.231878.713688466&type=3&theater

  • trollfist

    no big deal, its a canon, not a camera

  • Tracey Porreca

    I
    live in Alaska and we shoot in temps like this, or colder, all the time,
    photographing aurora. There are ways to prevent this, or lessen it.
    Looks to me like this is what happened after he brought it inside and
    warm moist air hit it, which is something you never want to do. You want
    to warm it slowly, and encase it in something like a plastic bag to
    prevent the moisture in the air from getting to it and causing
    condensation. As far as batteries go, everyone has their methods of keeping them warm – close to your body, taping chemical hand warmers to the body near the battery pack, or keeping the batteries in your pocket with hand warmers. And we always carry many batteries with us. Outdoor wedding photographers and aurora shooters have banks and banks of them. I blow through several when photographing the Iditarod sled dog race every year. But hey, that’s just how we do it here in Alaska

  • Robisierra

    You can Canon :)

  • Mathok12

    you do sheeps also?

  • Mathok12

    ugly as ever….

  • Alex

    Just to let you know the battery is not drained at all. Inside a battery there is a chemical reaction that provides juices. As every chemical reaction the speed of it is a function of the temperature. When the temperature is low, the speed is low and the battery delivers lowers power making the camera believe the battery is drained. Just heating the battery solves the problems. I do that everytime I go skiing, just remove the battery, heat it up and magic the camera does not show anymore the blinking low battery notification.

  • GtrQc

    I did plenty of time-lapses in -25 celcius in Québec, Canada with my old T2i. She always survived.

  • Alessandro Della Bella

    Hi Tracey
    Thank you for sharing the Alaskan way. My cameras have not been inside all night long! Taking cold bodies inside warm humid air is really not a good idea. The low temperature itself is usually no problem at all (except for the batteries). Most of the time, humidity at this low temperature and high altitude in the Alps is next to nothing. I was surprised by the big effect that those few (little humid) clouds had to the equipment. I’d be very happy to learn if you know a solution to prevent this, in Alaska?

  • Erik

    How did he achieve the panning within the time lapse?

  • ProtoWhalePig

    Us astro-imagers are used to this sort of challenge…

  • http://twitter.com/IEBAcom Anthony Burokas

    Electric heater under your gear. Or, as was mentioned, heat packs and wrap your gear for some insulation.

  • http://twitter.com/IEBAcom Anthony Burokas

    Shoot stills. Pan in post. Still resolution is many times video resolution so the video can zoom in and move the crop around the still images.

  • Brian Braun

    Great! I’m shooting in Norway most of January for a project. should be interesting!

  • Erik

    Thanks! Pretty obvious though, feel kind of silly for asking now :/

  • Nelson

    No big deal, you’re a loser, not a human.

  • lidocaineus

    If you can afford it, a dolly works better because the movement is way more natural. Of course a dolly would probably die pretty fast in conditions like this.

  • lidocaineus

    Actually I just saw some of the camera movements in the video. Unless I’m not aware of some great post-production tricks, he used a dolly to move the camera; the perspective change is more movement versus focal length changes, and it especially obvious during horizontal movement.

  • heize

    I’ve done this in Finland. We have about the same weather here in the heart of the winter. What I’ve noticed, is that while Canon glass usually works even when frozen, Sigma flat out shuts down. Sigma rep told me that the problem is the grease, which is not designed to work in -10 celsius or lower. The warranty however covered changing the lubrication to work in the cold weather. This was, however, was only after I’d manually focus an entire winter wedding on Sigma 24-70. On my Canon glass, no such problems. And 7D has always worked, no matter what the weather has been. Not to trash Sigma however, they make great quality glass.

  • the Trouble

    Poor photographer! That camera has been in humid environment before taken into the -25C! It wouldn’t go into the frost othervice..
    It is about -40 in some places in Finland right now and cameras wont freeze.

  • Michael

    I have been in conditions like these several times but never had similiar problems. The only thing that happens is that the moisture from my breath freezes on the screen on the backside of the camera.

  • http://twitter.com/BramStollman Bram Stollman

    I wonder, how did he get his timelapse this sharp and smooth? Anyone has tips on how to do this?

  • Alfie Goodrich

    “Alessandro says that the weak link in the gear was actually the batteries.”

    Always was. Nikon, back in the days I was shooting the F3, had an external battery pack that slipped into a warming sleeve. Like a handwarmer. Was the best way to shoot in very low temperatures. Kept the batteries nice and warm.

  • http://photodoto.com/ Nancy Young

    The scene is so amazing that I can’t stop looking at it. I don’t like cold and I would never go to Alaska even for the most beautiful shot ever! :) To be honest, you’re doing a great job, guys! A person has to be really passionate about photography to work in an extremely cold environment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=193303596 Zachary Larsen

    Cameras are tough. I used my old Nikon D60 all the time in -30F night shots in Montana. My D90 got hit with tons of salt spray two years ago on a bay cruise in San Francisco. Both still work fine. The Canons at the same price point would fare just as well, I imagine.

  • Seth Christie

    I think the problem was the clouds rolling through. The clouds carry moisture that will stick to the camera and then freeze.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericbordelon Eric Bordelon

    Terrific photography! However, I would have at least thrown a plastic bag around the body and most of the lens to keep the frost from getting that bad. I understand it is capable of handling freezing temperatures but why not prepare to protect it at least a little. I don’t throw unpackaged meat into my freezer either and I want that to freeze.

  • Greg Scratchley

    For us in Edmonton (53N 113W) in winter – hotpacks taped to the back and lens (on the focusing ring), spare good quality batteries and holders in pockets. My T2i has done well for wide field astrophotography and aurora as low as -20. (I freeze up at -25… but the camera would likely be fine.)

  • http://twitter.com/Reactivestills Gary Martin

    Good aul trust 1Ds

  • Alessandro Della Bella

    Yes, exactly this was the problem, Seth.

  • The_photographer_Tom

    Back in the day, Canon used to offer a service to “winterise” your camera to prevent it freezing up in low temperatures. Wonder if they still do that today?
    I still have an external battery pack for my EOS 5 (film) camera which holds four batteries and can be kept warm in your pocket.
    At the other end of the scale, I did a job shooting in a sauna here in Switzerland and the temperature was 62 deg celsius (104 Fahrenheit). My 5d performed flawlessly. I wrote about it here: http://waughstories.blogspot.ch/2010/10/62-degrees.html

  • Alessandro Della Bella

    I used the stage zero dolly from Dynamic Perception to move the cameras.

  • Mike

    Nice noise reduction, but I can’t afford that.

  • Wallerus

    Nice!

  • shankman

    How did he swap the batteries without moving the cameras at all? Incredible stuff.

  • http://twitter.com/tylertvnet Tyler Williams

    Yup all true. I’m also from Alaska. I shot just the other day at -40F, you just have to plan when you go back inside.

    The dryness of the interior makes it much easier to deal with too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BradWaller Brad Waller

    Many years ago while prepping for a potential trip to Canada to photograph a solar eclipse I got cold weather camera training. Luckily the DSLR has fewer moving parts and you don’t have to worry about breaking the film or getting static sparks from winding it too fast.

    But the basic tricks were to use a battery pack in your jacket, have a thermal dew cap, and if possible heated blanket over the camera and lens. Grease freezes up too, but if you are focused at infinity you don’t have to worry about that either.

  • http://twitter.com/ralphhightower Ralph Hightower

    Did anybody from Antartica participate in the One Day project outside?

  • http://wildernessvagabonds.com/ Mike Lewinski

    I shot some time lapses that day/night. I think I’ll assemble them and submit, seeing as there is time left.

    I’ve been putting my Sony NEX-5Ns through the cold. I haven’t gotten below 0F yet, but pretty close. I’ve noticed shortened battery life as well.

  • sam

    such low temperature.. sure will have very little or near to no noise in photos

  • iblewbubblesinthebathtub

    I live in Alaska and this whole article is a joke. Cameras, especially DSLR’s, won’t work past -20F. It’s -50F outside right now and the cold will break your camera. You people are so clueless when it comes to the cold. How would you like sending me a camera so l can make a video demonstrating how cameras aren’t freeze proof at all? Put your money where your mouth is Mr. freeze proof.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brynn.dudlets Brynn Dudlets

    Amazing..thank you for your hard work and creativity and thank for sharing this beautiful experience with all of us.

  • ginog71

    Alessandro sei fantastico!!! e fantastica la tua EOS

  • tafelrunde

    gseht huere guet guet us :D
    (hoffe mal verstahsches ;) ) jedefalls mega guet, öppis vom beste us de “schwiiz” hahaha

  • http://www.facebook.com/carloschristian.nickel Carlos-Christian Nickel

    seriously??? I have a hard time to believe these pics arent staged! I
    shot with my 5D mkII in kiev at -30 for 3 hours and it didn’t look
    nowhere near like that after! the lcd and the viewfinder were frosted a tiny bit. but overall the weathersealing of both camera and more of the 24-70 2.8 were holding up bravely! you need to be in at least in -50 to get a
    look like this! Ithe auther of this article is a poser with a party frost spray in my humble opinion ;)