Home Video Hints: Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Because we generally use our camcorders to record the happy events of our lives, and because our happiest times usually coincide with good weather, our camcorders don’t seem to get as much use in winter weather. That’s not to say that video-worthy events never occur in the dead of winter, or that happiness never strikes in the middle of a downpour. When you’re faced with inclement weather, however, you must use caution to protect your camcorder, particularly in very cold or very wet conditions.

So how do you know if it’s too cold to break out the camcorder? If it’s too cold for you to stay outside, then it’s probably too cold for your camcorder, as well. Don’t assume that, because your camcorder is mineral rather than animal or vegetable, it can handle the elements any better than you can. Your camcorder is a sensitive electronic device that must be treated with care; especially in winter weather. Just as you wouldn’t wash your camcorder with a garden hose, you shouldn’t take it out in a downpour without protecting it from the elements. Moisture is the adversary of all things electronic, so always use caution when the weather is wet.

That’s not to say, though, that you can’t use your camcorder unless the weather is just right. Situations will arise in which you want to use your camcorder under inclement conditions.

Fortunately, there are practical methods for keeping your camcorder safe during those instances.

Fighting a Cold

Why exactly is cold weather bad for your camcorder? Actually, the cold may be harder on videotape than on a well-maintained camcorder’s hardware. Cold temperatures make videotape brittle, so there’s a chance your tape will break if the weather is extremely cold.

Temperature extremes, both hot and cold, can cause your tape to expand and contract. These physical distortions in the tape can cause unwanted anomalies in the image being recorded.

Finally, because there is almost always moisture in the air, the formation of ice crystals from condensation within your camcorder is a very real possibility. If you think moisture alone can be bad for your camcorder, just try to imagine what ice can do to your expensive toy.

So how do you deal with the cold? The first thing is giving your camcorder some time to adjust to the change in temperature. You might think that using your camcorder as soon as possible while it is still warm is the best thing to do, because camcorders work better in warmer temperatures. Actually, to avoid the warping we discussed with regard to videotape, you would do better to wait for a few minutes to let the camcorder (and the tape) cool down to ambient temperature before shooting. You’ll want to take extra special care to avoid the formation of ice crystals inside the camcorder. Allowing your camcorder to get acclimated to the surrounding environment is one way of doing this. And keeping the camcorder in as moisture-free an environment as possible while it cools will help. If you have a case for your baby, add moisture absorbing silica packets that come shipped with most electronics, and let it acclimate there. Or if you’re going from cold to warm you can place your camcorder in a plastic bag to protect it from moist, warm air while it adjusts. Let your camcorder reach a temperature close to its surroundings and you will go a long way toward minimizing the chances of condensation and ice forming in your camcorder.

If condensation or ice should form on your camcorder’s lens, don’t use the camcorder. Of course, you won’t be able to see anything through the fogged-up lens anyway, but more importantly a fogged-up lens may indicate the presence of condensation or ice in your camcorder. Many camcorders have a feature that alerts you to the presence of condensation, and will shut down automatically until conditions inside stabilize. If a foggy lens persists or the auto time out stays in effect you may have to wait for more favorable weather, besides it doesn’t pay to risk the well-being of your camcorder for a cold-weather shoot.

Another concern in cold weather is battery life. When batteries get cold, they don’t hold a charge as long as they do when warm. You can help extend the life of your batteries by keeping spares warm in your pocket and rotating cold ones off until they re-heat. Using warm batteries will give you more shooting time in the long run.

Shootin’ in the Rain

Using your camcorder in wet weather usually requires that you shield your camcorder from moisture. If it’s raining gently, all that may be necessary to protect your unit is an umbrella; you can hold your camcorder in one hand and the umbrella in the other or use a tripod. More severe conditions will require additional precautions.

You might turn your rain poncho into something of a tent, under which you and your camcorder can work without getting wet. You can always turn to your car for shelter. Just roll down the window and shoot from the relative safety of the front seat. The bottom line is to keep water from dripping onto, and potentially into, your camcorder.

Should your camcorder suffer a few sprinkles, don’t panic. Just wipe it off with a clean, dry cloth. Never wipe your lens with anything but a photographic lens tissue, though; you can inadvertently scratch it.

If moisture gets into your camcorder, the best thing to do is stop shooting immediately and take the camcorder to a warm, dry environment. Once indoors, eject the tape, remove the videocassette and leave the door open so it can dry out. As warm air moves through your camcorder and the temperature inside your camcorder rises to that of the environment, the condensation will disappear. Depending on the amount of moisture present, this drying-out process may take several hours.

Don’t be Scared, be Smart

Cold and wet weather conditions do not preclude the use of a camcorder. They do, however, provide certain challenges to the shooter. Fortunately, with a little common sense, you can keep your camcorder fully functional while still shooting in inclement conditions. Don’t let Mother Nature keep you from shooting video. Cover up, seek shelter, stay dry and keep rolling!

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