Olympus SP-350
Olympus SP-350 (Mark Wiens)

Do digital cameras work in below-freezing temperatures?

Are there any digital cameras that operate normally at temperatures below freezing? Besides just keeping the camera warm next to the body, can you recommend any equipment or techniques for using digitals below freezing? Hugh Santa Monica, California

Olympus SP-350

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Most digital cameras operate pretty well below freezing. After all, unlike old mechanical cameras that were full of moving parts and needed to be “winterized” with special oils and other tricks, today’s digitals are almost entirely electronic. There are virtually no moving parts, aside from zoom and shutter button, so less to freeze up.

Olympus SP-350

Olympus SP-350 Olympus SP-350

So, the problem is not with the camera. It’s with the battery. In cold weather the battery’s little electrons start to move every more slowly, eventually grinding to a complete halt if they get cold enough. And when that happens the camera ceases to operate.

That said, I’ve used pretty modern cameras (film-based, but with plenty of electronics) down to minus 20 F or so without many problems. The trick, and you’re already onto this, is simply to keep the camera as warm as you can. For a compact digital camera, that isn’t much of a problem. There’s bound to be a pocket that can hold it, or you can hang it next to your chest in a case with a neck strap and zip a jacket over it. Leave the camera out in the open for 40 to 50 minutes, and, depending on the temperature, it will shut down.

The other thing to do is carry spare batteries and keep the batteries warm. After all, that’s really the objective. Keeping batteries in a pocket will keep them at pretty close to body temperature, and they’ll work just fine. Then, swap the batteries out of the camera every hour or so. This is easier and more affordable with a camera that uses batteries such as AA size, versus one that uses a proprietary (and, expensive) battery. But for any camera it’s always possible to buy an extra battery or three.

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From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021 Lead Photo: Mark Wiens