Bears know better. When it gets cold, they hibernate. They just crawl in a cave and wait for warmer weather. But life doesn’t stop for you, or your camera gear. You still want to get out there and record everything from winter holidays to football. And though the freeze may be too tough for bears, it doesn’t have to be for your equipment.
Most camcorders are rated to work only at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Oils and other lubricants can stiffen in lengthy exposure to colder temperatures. So, while cameras will likely function when the video camera’s internal temperature dips, you could experience a range of problems, from the zoom lens to the tape transport. It’s one thing to lose a zoom. You can, after all, move closer or farther from your subject to change your framing. It’s quite another when the camcorder no longer goes into Record mode. Take a look at your owner’s manual for specific information on your model.
Just as you put layers on to keep warm when you go out in winter, putting something between your camera and the cold air will keep it warmer as well. In a pinch, place your camcorder inside your coat in-between takes.
Condensation is a possibility if you repeatedly take your camcorder in and out of your home or car. The problem occurs because warmer air holds more moisture than cold air. While it tends to be less humid at this time of year, indoor conditions, from breathing to boiling water can add moisture to warm air, raising the likelihood of condensation when the camera is brought inside. By sealing the camcorder inside a plastic bag and not removing it until it gets to room temperature, you will ensure no such problem occurs.
Several manufacturers make raincoats for video cameras. They are typically made of waterproof fabric with clear plastic windows for viewing important dials and readouts. Designed for rain, they can help a little if you plan to shoot in the cold for a short time. For days (and nights) when your shoot will take you out in the elements for longer periods of time, you will need more than a plastic cover.
A great way to keep the camcorder warm is to carry heat packs. These tissue-sized packets are air activated (take them out of the wrapper and they heat up). They can heat up to 130 degrees, and last six hours. Many sporting goods stores that supply hiking, hunting and mountaineering gear carry them. You can also find them on the Internet. When using these packets, place them near, but not against the camera. Manufacturers only rate most camcorders to work up to 104 degrees. Simply wrapping the heat pack in some paper should be enough to ensure its safe use. An old down coat wrapped around the unit is another good idea. A few spring clamps hold it in place, and make for easy removal during tape changes. With a down wrap and a few well-placed heat packs, a video camera should stay warm and function smoothly all day.
Some production case manufacturers sell covers specifically to protect cameras from the cold, which could be quite useful if you have plans for some lengthy shoots during the winter months and have some money to invest. Some units also contain strategically located pockets, which are designed to hold heat packs. These cases typically sport two hand openings at the lens, with cotton cuffs for a tight and warm seal. So, your hands stay as warm as your camcorder. But before you pack for that trip to Alaska, let’s consider protecting your batteries, your tapes and you.
Protecting Batteries and Tapes
Warm batteries are happy batteries. Batteries are designed to function best at room temperature. In the cold, they will last far less time. So pack extra batteries, but don’t give up on them if they appear to run out. They may work fine when warmed back up.
You may encounter an occasional problem where a cold battery will only power your video camera for five minutes (or less) and then fail. A battery’s low power capacity could be the cause. To make sure your batteries are best suited for your unit, look at their rated capacities, in watt hours. The number should be at least twice the power rating, in watts, of your equipment. You won’t need to dispose of your lower-capacity batteries. Just keep them as backups.
Fortunately, you should be able to keep your batteries warm, and your shooting day extended. For an inexpensive method, store them in insulated soda can or sandwich coolers, sold in many discount stores. Secure a heat pack to the interior and cover it to protect the batteries from direct exposure to the high temperature. Some of these cases have Mylar (it will look shiny and silver) interiors, which better reflect the heat inside the cases. Simply put in a new heat pack every six hours, and your batteries will be ready to go.
Videotapes can be stored in these cases as well. A helpful hint: label your tapes before you go outside. This way you don’t have to waste time fumbling with a pen while the gear, and you, get cold. Position a heat pack in your camcorder bag near the camcorder’s battery-mount to keep the battery on the unit warm as well.
There is no winter condition too adverse for video gear, if it’s properly protected. Video cameras have shot from the top of Mt. Everest, after all. So don’t hesitate to put on some winter clothing, grab your video gear, activate a couple of heat packs and head for the great outdoors. And the next time the forecast calls for a deep freeze and snowdrifts, keep this in mind about the winter there’s much less of a chance for bear attacks. They’re all asleep.