« Do You Really Need FF? | Main | Is First Limited Zoom the Old 'Adjustable Normal'? »

Wednesday, 06 November 2013


I shoot digital in cold weather without problems, not as cold as -35° but down in the -20° range. OTOH I don't expose the camera to those temperatures continuously for any length of time. It stays under an outer shell garment or in my vehicle until I'm ready to shoot something. When I see something I want to photograph I set up my tripod and take the camera out as a last step. If you have to leave it exposed for a substantial time you could try using chemical hand warmer packets around it to keep it from getting too cold. I know they do wonders for my fingers at -20°.

I've found these thermal bags... don't know if that would be enough for such extreme conditions, though.


One sorta joking sorta serious suggestion for a back up emergency lens would be the olympus body cap 'lens' - for 50 bucks, it's work longer than most at those temps. I used a carefully altered electric sock over my lens, and two others around the body, to keep a D7000/80-200 running at -20F, and seen other use a 'camera armor' case with handwarmers stick to it. Port-A-Brace makes a big monster - http://www.portabrace.com/products/camcorder-cases/hdslr-cameras/427-polar-bear-insulated-camera-case-dslr - but I've not seen anything for smaller cameras.

Hmmm, I do shoot with my m43 and 4/3 cameras in cold weather here in Alaska, but usually not quite that cold. I've never had a problem with a shutter or anything. As for external power, my new EM1 (which I love) does take AC power, but now you are talking about lugging a generator, or staying close to a car and using a converter. It is rated for colder weather than the EM5. Still, this is a case where renting something like a D4 or 1D and a good lens makes sense. The batteries are so much larger it will make a big difference, and they have some faster wide lenses.

I'm in Edmonton were winter temperatures are regularly in the range your looking at. My Olympus E3 and Oly high-grade lenses work fine at those temps. I'd be happy to buy you launch if if you're pass through YEG.

I wrote a short blog post about this a couple of years back which may help you some.http://collinorthner.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/aurora-borealis-and-how-to-capture-them/

I now use a m4/3 camera (E-M5). My main lenses are either the wonderful Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye http://collinorthner.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/aurora-borealis-2/ http://collinorthner.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/solar-storm/
as well as the Olympus 12mm f/2.0

Likely the best way to keep power may be to have extra batteries in your inside jacket pocket so they stay warm and keep switching them out as needed. Watch your histogram closely so that you get a proper exposure. At night when your eyes have adjusted to the dark the LCD on the back of your camera will appear very bright and you might assume the exposure was correct when really it isn't close to good. I tend to keep my ISO quite high to preserve the "curtaining" of the aurora from blurring together which gives a boring look compared to what was really happening. The curtains can move very rapidly and in order to keep an authentic look to the image I try to keep my exposures as short as possible(under 10 seconds max)at the expense of a bit of noisiness in the image. Take every precaution to stay warm so that freezing isn't your concern and you can concentrate on making images. As you tend to be looking up a lot, I tend to use a fairly tall tripod so I am not bent over to to see what I am shooting and if I am using a fisheye lens I dont have to worry about some body part entering into the image unwanted. As I mention in the one blog post I always use my live preview and focus manually on a bright star, the moon or a distant light and am extra cautious to not touch the focus on the lens, because I tend to shoot wide open my depth of field won't tolerate my focus being even a tiny bit out.

What an interesting, primarily because I live in Finland. That said, -25 C is typically the lower range that I shoot in, -40 is clearly more extreme.

While I happen to have an E-M5, my cameras for cold have traditionally been Nikon (D)SLRs. The biggest challenge is battery consumption, followed by LCD screens getting very laggy. You don't mention your exposure times, but if they are in seconds or minutes, you should easily get away by carrying spare batteries and switching. The vertical grip takes an extra battery, it might be worth considering.

Now for the bad news: LCDs get very laggy in extended shooting and the E-M5 relies on those for framing and focusing. The problem depends on your shooting time: 2 hours shouldn't be a problem, 12 hours in -40 C could be a problem. The other issue is that AF eats precious power and in my experience is not reliable enough for nocturnal conditions, particularly at long range. I use manual focus lenses exclusively for this sort of photography, so can't comment on how focus-by-wire lenses would handle.

I've never had any problems with shutters or apertures in cold. A friend of mine had a mechanical issue with a lens in the cold; the manufacturer promptly fixed it, but obviously didn't help for the shoot in question. But it's rare. AF lenses tend to be loose enough not be bothered by a little thermal contraction.

On the positive side, the coolness will reduce shadow noise on the sensor, which is a nice little bonus in long exposures.

Good luck! There are many interesting phenomena that will only be present in the cold.

Another source of information might be Patrick Endres, who for example tested the 5D Mark III in -31 F: http://www.alaskaphotographics.com/blog/2012/12/canon-5d-mark-iii-lp-e6-battery-test-in-31-degree-temperatures/

(He presumably has a lot more knowledge besides, and he also has an ebook on aurora photography which may be of use.)

Ive worked as low as -25F (-31C) in Yellowstone in the winter. I used a nikon d200 with 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom. No issues. Had three batteries that I would rotate in and out every time I took a photo. That was the coldest Ive ever been out shooting in. This was maybe five years ago. The camera still works perfectly fine. Id really venture to say most any sealed dslr (and lens) around would be fine in something like that.

Now, Ive shot my Fuji xe-1 in maybe -15f (-26c) here in colorado out in the mountains and it was fine as well. I had a panasonic g3 with me on a pre dawn climb of a mountain in the winter with 50mph winds and it was probably about -15f again. And no issues. I was doing 2 minute time exposures too. The battery died after an hour of shooting, but that was really stressing. I was surprised it lasted that long.

Keep in mind, Im not getting in and out of a car to shoot. This is, Im out snowshoeing, or cross country skiing, the camera is in a case strapped to my hip belt of my backpack. Im not babying it. Its really basically out in the open.

I may just be lucky, but these cameras are a lot tougher than most people think.

Just bring a back up camera with you, and lots of batteries, and you'll be just fine.

Further to my other comment and more to the cold issue. I haven't had my E-M5 out in the cold for more than maybe an hour or 1.5 hours maximum, but noticed no ill effects down around -20to -25C other than my batteries depleting very quickly. Years ago my Nikon F3 would be torture tested for hours on end and again, other than changing out my batteries and having the LCD go black(it would warm up and return to normal) the camera itself kept working just fine. I would not put your camera inside your jacket to stay warm or a warm vehicle due to condensation. It will quickly freeze up once returned to the cold temperature. Once done shooting I put the camera back in a gadget bag which is all zipped up and allow it to warm up to room temperature very slowly over a few hours.

The Panasonic G3 and G5 have external battery adapters. They're designed to be used with a wall-wart power supply, but that's just a matter of getting the right connector on your battery pack. Used G3 bodies have fallen to about $150. I haven't looked at a new G6 to see if it has the little rubber flap on the battery door, but it probably does. Someone else will have to tell you about the GH2/3 bodies.

I'd use any modern camera down to about -40C without worrying too much. Some years back I used a Nikon N90 and several of their early P&S cameras at MuMurdo. External battery packs for the P&S, of course. No problems with any of it.

All of the electronics will work fine as long as they get power. By the time you get to temperatures where semiconductors start acting weird the atmosphere will be thinking about condensing, and the operator will have ceased functioning some time ago. The biggest challenge in subzero conditions is having the grease on moving parts solidify, sticking everything in place. No shutter box in m4/3, so one problem avoided. One of the many benefits of modern plastics is that many of them are self-lubricating, and without metal bits trying to slide on each other modern lenses don't have much if any grease in them.

I'd fire off an email to Roger Cicala at LensRentals and ask if he knows of any m4/3 stuff that doesn't like the cold. He's probably handled more failed gear than any ten of us put together.

Panasonic make DC couplers for several of their Micro 4/3 cameras (e.g. the DMW-DCC11 for the GX7 and the DMW-DCC12 for the GH3) they are basically dummy batteries which have a socket for a DC supply. There's a port on the camera's battery cover which opens to take the plug.

They are intended to be used with an external AC adapter but I can see no reason why you couldn't use an external battery pack instead.

Renting a pro-class Nikon or Canon kit would be my first choice. My 1Ds III has endured quite cold conditions for longish periods with no trouble. I expect the top Nikon bodies would be the same.

Failing that, since you have some time you might wait to see how the new Oly E-M1 fares over the winter. It's billed as being more weather durable and of "pro" build. So I'd be inclined to ask about the E-M1's chill endurance in, say, January.

In two followup reports on Luminous Landscape by Reichmann to his Antarctica trip he did a census of cameras taken by people on the trips. Lots of failures in the Canon group and almost none in the Nikon group. Not enough other brands were represented to be significant. Check them out.

If you decide to rent, I can recommend Roger Cicala's LensRentals. Those folks have their act down pat; it's a very easy and seamless process.


I don't think you'll find electronic equipment that will work under these conditions. Even if it did, you couldn't operate it with those big mitts.
Under similar conditions, I built an enclosure made from an old down parka. It had three openings for my hands and my head and a small fourth one onto which I glued a clear filter. The camera was screwed to this filter. My body heat kept everything comfortable but I had to stay steady with the tripod for long exposures. I made sure there was a bit of airflow to prevent fogging.

Why not make a test chamber with dry ice and a styrofoam cooler? If that isn't cold enough, I can point you to a place in San Jose that can supply a few liters of liquid nitrogen at reasonable cost.

Try this guy: http://alunfoto.blogspot.com/2012/01/auroras.html
He lives in Norway and shoots auroras at some pretty low temps.

If you're shooting the sky, why would you need a functioning lens focusing motor? Are you using auto focus in this situation ? Alternatively Ctein,you always have the option to borrow or rent the proper equipment you might require, right ?

My experience is limited to film, but I think you also need to consider the computer chip(s) in your camera. They are also temp sensitive.
I think your best bet is to go manual mode, and have your camera "winterized" by a good camera repair/maintenance shop. That means replacing all lube in the camera and lenses with artic (probably silicone based) lube. You may also need to make your own remote power setup. When I did this with my Nikon FM2, I had the shop (long closed) in NYC do the winterizing of camera and 3 lenses. It cost! I made a contact plug for the camera body battery holder out of wood, and ran a 4 ft, light weight power line to my inside pocket with the battery held there. It worked to -30f, but things like lens focusing was somewhat stiff. Shutter speeds were close to setting-less than a half stop slow, and film needed to be kept warm so it didn't break. With today's lubes and treatments and no film, the results should be even better.
One final thought. Ifyou know any photographers in Alaska or Canada's NorthWest Territory they should be much help.

Zacuto make external battery packs for v-DSLR use.

If you're adventurous, you could also use the cord and spacer from the various AC tethering kits (ACK-E6 and ACK-E4 for Canon's pro bodies, I'm sure Nikon offer something similar, though I don't know about m43) and rig up a battery pack of your own using 18650 cells. 2S2P using 3400mah cells will get you a lot of clicks, even in meanbastardcold like that.

I've used various digital cameras in -20F to -40F weather in Alaska for years and have not any significant problem so long as I am careful to avoid lens fogging due to rapid temperatures changes and don't expose them to bitingly cold weather for more than a few minutes before stowing them back under my warm coat.

Successfully used cameras include Pentax K-5 and K20d cameras, Canon S100, and Olympus E-P3 and E-PL2. Better digital cameras are more likely to tolerate the cold than most humans.

It seems that your list of problem areas is missing:
- can't feel fingers anymore
- eyelid(s) frozen shut

Have a good trip.

At the risk of seeming like the oversensitive PC type, I feel compelled to express my unease at the way that the choice of title for this post helps to perpetuate the cultural relevance of a borderline rape-apologist song that really doesn't deserve to be ubiquitous and normalized in the way that it is.

I'm sorry I don't have any advice on the substantial issue of extreme cold-weather photography. Good luck with the project.

My advice is not to shoot at -35. There's sort of a break-point IMHO between -20 and -25 where things go from bad to dangerous. Weird stuff starts to happen, and if you're struggling around with tripods, longer exposures, etc., you can hurt yourself. When I lived in Minnesota, we'd get about 3 days a year when the temps would fall to -30 or so, and I'd basically stay inside; or, if I had to go into town, I'd warm the car up in the garage, and then make a run for a heated downtown garage. -20 was routine: put on your long underwear and heavy shirt ands sweater and parka and hat and gloves and boots and scarf and go out. -30 was something entirely different.

As a former born and raised Yellowknifer I'd say most of the comments here are spot on. Your gear should work fine in these conditions as long as you keep a spare set of warm batteries in the inside of your parka and ensure that you place your camera in a sealed ziploc bag before going back indoors. That said, I wouldn't rely on a camera that has no optical viewfinder, as it will be very difficult to use a EVF once the temperatures drop.

A couple of other points. -25C and -40C are not the same, not even close, in terms their relative effects on your gear and you. At -40 everything plastic and flexible becomes hard and rigid, and is somewhat more susceptible to breakage. Connectors will contract and on occasion lose contact. Your tripod legs may be difficult to extend, and if they are aluminum will be bitterly cold to the touch. Your breath may freeze to your eyelids making framing (even blinking!) a challenge. If you make the mistake of breathing on your viewfinder or your lens, it will instantly condense and freeze, rendering your gear useless until you can warm it back up (I hold my breath when I'm framing for this reason).

On top of this, you will have very little time to adjust your gear with your bare hands. Many northern lights tours are done on frozen lakes where there may be some wind (although not usually too much around YK) and at these extreme temperatures wind chill is a very serious issue.

So you'll want to practice using your gear with a big set of mitts prior to embarking on your trip, to get a sense of your limitations. I'd skip the cabled battery option and just bring a bunch of spares. As always bring backups of everything.

Yellowknife is an amazing place and I can guarantee you will come away with shots of a lifetime. I can't wait to see your results!

I photograph in -20°F regularly in the winter and often down to -30°F or so. There aren't many issues with higher-end bodies, other than LCD lag and it's less bad with newer models. I also teach winter photography workshops, and I've seen a few issues with lower-end models, but it's rare. The problems I've seen include one camera freezing up and not working until it warmed up, repeat all day. I've also seen autofocus systems freeze up, but not often and only with kit lenses. It'll be interesting this winter, because I suspect I'll have a few people with cameras that use touchscreens. I suspect based on a fall workshop that I taught that the touchscreens will be an issue for winter photography.

Camera Battery

Not an issue on newer models. I can usually shoot most of the day with one battery in my D800. I always carry three spares and keep them in pockets in my down coat. At night in winter, I've also never gone through a D800 battery, but on my old camera when shooting aurora at night in the middle of winter, I'd go through four batteries. The problem is that you'll likely be shooting long exposures ranging from 5 to 30 seconds depending on how bright the northern lights are which eats batteries faster than shorter exposures and you'll be using it in the cold which eats batteries faster. Bringing 4 batteries would be worth the trouble.

Lens diaphragm & Lens focusing motor

As long as it's a quality lens, it shouldn't be an issue, but at night you'll likely be using manual focus, so figure out where infinity is focus the lens there.

A Few Random Thoughts

One issue to consider is when bringing your camera in from outside, you should stuff it in a bag. Some people use a plastic bag. I just stuff mine in my backpack and when I get inside, I throw my down coat over my backpack and let it slowly warm up, which prevents condensation.

One other issue is shutter release cords. The plastic freezes and becomes stiff and then breaks when you try to move it around. It'll probably be fine, but I usually kill one each winter.

You shouldn't have any issues with the front lens element fogging up in the winter, but if you don't get northern lights and do star trail pictures, you might get a front element that fogs. Use a chemical handwarmer inside a tube sock wrapped around the lens to keep lens warm, which prevents the front element from fogging. I suspect Yellowknife in winter will be as dry as a desert, so it's probably not going to be an issue for you.

If I was going I'd bring my Nikon D800, a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 and four batteries, set my white balance on incandescent and call it good.

I have no experience with -35°C, however I have photographed auroras in -25°C territory with an EOS 7D and regular AF lenses. No specific equipment, just a few spare batteries. One piece of equipment I wish I had though: an anti-fog eyepiece. I now carry one in my camera bag all the time.

Many good advise given already. This one may not be practical depending on location. The last time I shot at -25C and windy conditions at night, I had set my camera for 30 sec exposures. With another 30 sec for NR, I had a minute. My car was near by so after I press the shutter release, I walked back to the car and waited inside. I was using live-view, so that's how I tell that the camera is done. It is a lot more tolerable once I got out of the wind. If you cannot get to your car, you may want to consider getting a small tent so you can get out of the wind.

BTW, I generally use manual focus whenever I shoot at night. An external monitor for adjusting the focus would have been a useful luxury.

I've shot digital in weather down to -44°C in Alberta with a Leica M8 and down to about -35°C with an Olympus E-M5. I was out about 2 hrs with the Leica and about 1hr with the E-M5. I had some extra batteries, but both did surprisingly well w.r.t. battery consumption; they lasted about 1/2 as long, but were of course in my pocket until inserted. An exteral battery pack would of course be ideal. Both cameras were fine shooting, but as noted above the LCDs get laggy. That's a problem for viewing and manual focussing with the E-M5, and speaks in favour of optical viewfinders whether DSLR prisms or window finders. One of my older Leica lenses stiffened up noticeably but the zooms that I used on the Olympus worked fine.

I kept the cameras outside of my clothing of course the whole time, and only shiielded the lenses from frosting up accidentally by keeping a shower cap type thingy over them when not shooting. Trying to make sure not to breath near the camera is always a problem, but I grew up in that kind of climate and worse (-60°C) so didn't get into trouble.


hi there Ctein, I shoot sometimes in -20 Celsius here in Canada, in the past with film, now with digital. I use the Oly EM5 and the Fuji XE-1.
Wind-chills drive the temperature down, sometimes close to -30C. I haven't had a problem with either camera. I don't shield them in any way, they hang around my neck or on the shoulder. Mind you, I stay out for 3 hrs in these temperatures, not more....I carry spare batteries but for 3hrs, haven't had to use them.

I used to make midwinter visits to my mother-in-law’s southeast Saskatchewan farm. I took my Pentaxes (K20 then K5) out there at -30°C from time to time, and while I had all sorts of trouble figuring out a glove configuration that would let me control the camera without freezing my fingers, the camera never had trouble. I’ve been told the battery life suffers, but I’m not gonna be out for very long at those temps. Some shots at https://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2009/02/06/2008-12-23 and

I live in Québec, and I shoot regularly in temperatures under -20 Celcius. I never had a problem with any camera. Last year was a bit more stressful, it was my first time under such conditions with my XPro1. It went fairly well, no battery problems or anything else more serious (shutter/diaph.).

Someone has mentioned breathing in the viewfinder : its the biggest problem, along with totally frozen, unresponsive fingers.

Hold your breath, and take care of the fingers, and everything should go well.

I really like the first shot on this post so you can be all done with your Aurora Borealis' and just need to bring coffee and some liquor so you can watch MSNBC in a house in Alaska. That'd be the BEST!

You can pick up some seriously good hocolate mini-cupcakes at Costco. Those would KILL in AlasKa.

Its been referred to above, but hand and face protection at -35 is a real issue. Especially if it is windy. A good ski mask will help, and I recommend checking out winter shooting gloves and mitts. Originally developed for ski troops, and a favorite with cold weather hunters, they are designed to permit the trigger/shutter finger to function without freezing in between shots. Using gloves inside mitts (which have a slot or flap to permit the finger to be outside the mitt) is good at very low temps. If you go that route, get them early, and practice using them for taking pix.

Its funny i had a friend who lived in Nunavut and she just kept her camera (digital point and shoot) in her pocket and pulled it out to take photos. She never thought about the effects of cold she has some wonderful aurora photos and a picture of -40C/F thermometer. Sometimes maybe we over think it?

Lots of good advice here; here's another tip: If you should need to change lenses in the cold, make sure the camera and lenses are not directly beneath your face. Below freezing, your breath can condense on your mustache and then drip into the camera lens box just as you are about to replace the lens. If you're lucky, it will freeze instantly and not hit anything vital. Don't ask me how I know this.

John Camp: In January 1963, my first winter at the University of Minnesota, the night-time temperature dropped to -30 F. or below five times. I can't remember the last time it dropped to -20 F. or lower, though; I think it has been at least a couple of decades. Global warming.

I worked as a newspaper shooter in Fairbanks for just under 7 years. I live in a more temperate part of Alaska (Southeast AK).

Digital cameras work just fine down to -50F. Take care not to burn your nose on the cold metal or plastic of the camera body. Your LCD displays start to get sluggish and the rear display appears washed out. I usually set mine to histogram in the cold, as the image ceases to be an accurate guide.

Batteries life is usually the biggest problem. The cold sucks the life out of them. Bring spare batteries that you can swap out. I like to keep my spare battery in an inside coat pocket with a chemical hand warmer. I felt that I got a little extra life out of my camera by sticking a chemical toe warmer (it has a mild adhesive on one side) to the outside of the battery compartment of my camera.

I don't know if there is a TOP sponsor that sells hand warmers, if there isn't just get your hand warmers at Costco or Sam's Club.

When I was shooting aurora, I would just cold soak my camera. I would leave it out on a tripod or on a porch with in my camera bag. I would bring the batteries in to warm up.

I always kept a little microfiber cloth handy to wipe frosted up lens, view finders etc.

-13F (-25C) is mild compared to -40 or -50F. Be prepared for the worst, you never know what might blow in. The word on the street is that it will be a very mild fall (we have yet to have a hard frost here) and a brutal winter.

That is my advice, for what it is worth.

Couple of additional points I've picked up along the way with really cold temps (not just with camera gear):

1. Differential relative humidity (moving outside and back inside) can be a killer. The worst affected are semi-sealed parts. fully sealed tend not to equalise inner humidity with their surrounds, unsealed equalise quickly, semi-sealed equalise but slowly, making the rapid transitions tricky.

2. A practical issue for personal gear: be careful with metal framed spectacles. I've had my frames freeze to my face at -30degC and that is NOT fun (lower frame to cheeks). I now use plastic frames or frameless in very low temps.

3. May be worth having a thermometer with you. Very cold conditions can be very dry, and it can often feel a lot warmer than it really is for someone not used to those conditions.

Mr. Zimmernan's comments echo my experiences shooting aurora in Yellowknife. It will be cold but it's worth it. If you need a hand when you get here, give me a shout.

This is probably the last thing you want to hear in this context, but last year my sensor developed a high sensitivity to electromagnetic interference in cold weather. Fortunately a friend was able to provide a postprocessing solution to the problem. I was later able to avoid it most of the time by warming the camera in between shots, though that's obviously very limiting.

One time experience only but might be worth it... 3h at -35°C with Canon 20D - one battery, no fussing about with keeping anything warm, everything out in the open hanging around my neck, no problem at all other than slow LCD response.

Many other times around -20°C for hours and hours without any issues.

Deserve a glance?


While I don't have experience shooting auroras, I have had a few opportunities to shoot in very cold temperatures (-30F) for brief periods -- in Arizona. Yes, it does get very cold here in the high-altitude desert! For the short duration, the camera was fine.


I think less things can go wrong with digital than with film, you just need sufficient battery power. I've been in -25C temperatures and the camera works perfectly fine (a compact Canon S95 and a M43 GF1).

I prefer to keep my camera exposed to the elements -- there's less risk of condensation that way, which is the main risk you try to keep it warm. Keep the spare batteries warm, for sure, but not the camera and lens.

The worst condensation example I remember was with my Pentax K-5, hiking one day and it was raining hard at about 5-6C and then the sun came out and it hit about 23C in direct light. The air condensated in my camera and it got wet inside out! The sensor fogged, then water drops entered into the air gap between the LCD and screen. There was nothing I could do. I left it on a rock in the open for about a hour, put a battery back in it, and it kept on working. Amazing.


Two other knowledgeable folks to contact for info:

1) French wildlife and nature photographer (& Nikon Professional), Vincent Munier:

His images are very etherial and poetic -- quite unlike any other wildlife photographer I've seen...

2) Scottish landscape photographer with lots of experience in winter landscapes, Bruce Percy:

Thanks for provoking this outpouring of winter photography expertise. It's been fascinating & invaluable!

Dear folks,

I'm astounded at the amount of useful advice this column is generated. I knew you all collectively would know a lot about this, but talk about opening the floodgates. All I can say is, “wow!”

No way I can possibly respond to individual posts to any degree, so I'm just going to hit general points. I am definitely archiving all this information (as well as private e-mails many of you generously sent me) for reference.

First things first: several of you have offered to give me advice or assistance, but you haven't given me any way to contact you (e.g., Kevin Hildahl). If there's no e-mail link attached to your signature on your post, I don't know how to get ahold of you! If you fall into that category and you're offering personal assistance, please send me a private e-mail (ctein@pobox.comcom) with contact information.

For those of you concerned about my safety, I really do appreciate that, but I do understand the conditions I'm going into (I applied to NSF twice to go to Antarctica) and have excellent expert advice on dealing with them. I always welcome helpful suggestions and tricks, as there's plenty I don't know about cold weather gear. But I'm not in danger of freezing to death.

Related to that, for those who aren't familiar with these kinds of conditions, -15 Celsius and -35 Celsius (which are equally likely) are worlds apart. -15 is easy to deal with. I've been in Minneapolis in January in that weather, and it's nothing. You don't need special face protection, you don't need special gloves, you can even take them off for periods of time to manipulate cameras, keeping your feet warm doesn't take much more than a pair of lightweight inner socks and good woolen outer socks. It's nothing.

-35 will be a whole different matter. Any exposed skin is a really bad idea, Mickey Mouse/moon boots are the order of the day, and multiple glove layers are pretty much mandatory if you expect to do anything that requires any degree of dexterity.

Another important difference is the level of activity and time of day. Daytime photography in subzero conditions is a lot easier than nighttime work. You are generally moving about and it's waking hours. Doing astronomy/aurora photography, it's dark, it's the middle of the night, and you're standing still for long periods of time. What your body really wants to do is shut down and go to sleep; it's doing its best to wind down your metabolism. You won't be generating anywhere as much body heat as you will in the daytime.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Dear folks,

Okay, talking a bit about equipment and exposures …

Has anyone here tried any of the camera warming equipment such as from Kendrick?


There is a strong suggestion in the aggregate comments that I may not need something like this, but it's not a very big investment to make if it will help ensure good photographs.

Regarding lens autofocus, I think some of you don't realize how these electronically-based lenses work. It's not a matter of “taping down the focusing ring.” There's no mechanical coupling between that ring and focus. It's all controlled by electronics. Changing lenses, switching off the camera, or changing the camera batteries will generally disrupt the focus. Sure, when it's on the tripod and everything's running, I don't plan to be refocusing. Infinity is infinity. But the first time I set up the camera/lens or any time I swap batteries, I'm likely to have to refocus. That's why I raised the question about whether the lens mechanisms would work under those conditions.

On the plus side, exposure times are not likely to be so severe as some of you imagine. A decent auroral display is pretty bright. The one I photographed in 1986, for the illustrations accompanying this article, was exceptional. That was on ISO 400 film with an f/2.8 lens. My exposure times ranged between 1 second and 10 seconds. One second was seriously underexposed (took lots of work to get decent prints) but 10 seconds was more than plenty. And that's including the reciprocity failure losses in the film, which were 1-2 stops.

A digital camera is MUCH better at capturing this kind of low light subject matter. At f/2 and ISO 800 with a digital camera, a 1 second exposure catches more than you can normally see at night without good dark adaptation. A 10 second exposure catches almost everything you can see fully dark-adapted.

I'm most interested in trying to photograph aurora the way it really looks. That means I'll be leading towards short exposures to try to catch the delicate flickering textures.

Since many of you have done this before, I'm curious to know what range of exposures you wound up using to best capture the “look and feel” of an aurora?

The wonderful thing about digital is that I can experiment and not have to wait until I get home to check my results. But it's nice to go into the situation with some foreknowledge.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Maybe, maybe not.....I own this baby (for my homegrown motorized panoramamount).....


And I know that people also have used it to power up a GH2....


Since camera's these days seem to be equiped with voltage converters anyway (yeps the 7.345666777 V battery in your camera is only 7.345666777 V for a millisecond after the first power up), I see no reason why this should not work for a OM-D to. With a HDL-6 comes a power cable for a walwart and I guess you as a rocket scientist know your way with a soldering iron, right.

Greets, Ed.

P.S. Try at your own risk of course as any hardware hack......since yesterday I blew up 2 perfectly innocent transistors of the MOSFET variety, because a diode shorted out.....now the transitor gave the magic smoke but was not the root cause of the trouble. Yeps, "to assume makes an ass of U and me".....it was over my door in my office......maybe I should have read it.

The HLD-6 battery grips for the Olympus E-M5 have a DC input on one of them according to descriptions I have read. It is meant to be used with the AC-3 mains power adapter but a battery pack that can provide the same voltage would presumably work. Unfortunately the DC plug on the mains adapter looks unique to Olympus.

John Wilson mentions Panasonic's dummy batteries for AC adapters. Someone has had a go at making their own here. That page is in Polish though so here is a link to a Google translation into English.

The link says "If someone wants to, can buy a cheap replacement battery, deprive him of his bowels and bring power to the terminals as in the picture below."

I thought that was nicely to the point. You would need to leave the battery cover open to use it so I guess it is not suited to extreme outdoor conditions.

Ctein, This may be of some help. There is currently an expedition in Antarctica following the route that Scott took to the pole and back. They are posting regularly from the Ross Ice Shelf as they make their way toward the Beardmore Glacier. This blog post mentions cameras they are using (Nikon D800 & D4). I'm particularly interested in this question because I applied to the NSF's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program this year as a photographer (still waiting for a decision, delayed because of the government shutdown).

Ctein. The only *focus by wire* lens I own is the Canon 85L. Once I set focus on it and switch off AF, focus stays as is. Removing batteries, even removing the lens makes no difference - taping the ring on the 85L works fine. I've never seen anyone shooting the northern lights with micro 4/3rds cameras though - *your kit* may well be different!

Side note; It's pretty easy to set infinity focus (on the 5D3) via live-view off of a planet or our moon. I always leave a strip of electrical tape on my lens-hood just incase! ~Chris

Buy the walwart power supply just for the connector,


Use a pair of tweezers to do irrepairable damage to it....solder a standard barrel connector to it....and plug it in.

Just as an example:

You know the NON standard USB connector is used to trigger the OM-D EM-5....it has 10 poles....guess how many are actually in use.....

10, no
9, no
8, no
7, no
6, no again, this is getting boring right..

So i'll give you the answer in fact it are 3....on GND, on containing about 3 volts for the trigger and one containing the same for the autofocus....build a cable to fire the beast from my home brew motorised fully programmable panoramamount. Used an Arduino as a controller and used a pin 13 on the Arduino to twitch a 4N25 optocoupler and thus fire the camera (I don't need autofocus so I only needed a single optocoupler....). Okay firing a camera worth a 1000 dollars from 26 dollars worth of electronics hacked together in a shed is somewhat for the more self confident, but I guess if push comes to shove Ctein is firmly ranked among those. No Nikon has a 10 pin connector on the D800 to do the same and that is using also 3 pins as do all connector on any camera. Now they could sit together over beer (Leica) and sake (the rest) and do what Roland, Yamaha, Korg and Sequential Cirquits did in the early 80th, adopt a common standard to make cross brand communication a standard (MIDI).....but hey, back in those days marketing managers didn't lead companies. Now I have to have a bundle of 8 connectors (speciallised copies of the original connectors probably made in a sweatshop in China) coupled to a 3 lead stereo mini jack (you find in your headphones) in order to be able to fire most (not all) camera's from my controler....stupid waste of manhours (designers, builders and worste of all mine) and material if you ask me.

Greets, Ed.

Thanks to Mark Roberts for linking to my blog.

My experience with long exposures in cold weather is that the only thing that really stops working is your battery. The amount of power you can extract from it goes down drastically below minus 10 C. Always make sure to have spares in an inner pocket. Use a cabled power source if you can. A cable leading to an external battery pack in said pocket would be great.

You should also note that draining Lithium batteries completely in extreme cold will affect its ability to recharge afterwards. It has happened to me a couple of times. Replacing before the indicator goes all the way down will save you.

The comments to this entry are closed.