Gear doesn't make the photo. But gear can be fun…
Hey, it’s hot out there! In the USA, temperatures have soared north of 100 degrees in many cities, and predictions say there’s more to come. Photographers who must work outside need to protect themselves.
Suggestions for your own personal survival include: wear sunscreen; wear a hat; drink plenty of water (even if you’re not thirsty); stay away from sugary drinks; and wear light-weight, well-ventilated, loose-fitting clothing.
But what about your camera gear? Can it survive the heat long enough to shoot another day?
To find out, I went to the one guy who knows more about camera gear than anyone I’ve ever met — Chuck Westfall, Technical Advisor for Canon U.S.A.
Chuck compiled 6 “Hot Weather Photo Equipment Handling Tips” useful to anyone who wants to get their job done while protecting their camera gear.
Hot Weather Photo Equipment Handling Tips
Compiled by Chuck Westfall, Technical Advisor/Canon U.S.A., Inc.
This is a biggie. If temperature and humidity differentials are high enough, condensation may occur when moving photo equipment from a relatively cool environment such as an air-conditioned vehicle, to a warmer one. When condensation forms inside a lens, for instance, internal elements can fog up, preventing clear images. When condensation gets bad enough inside a camera body, it can cause short circuits resulting in unexpected shutdowns. Worse yet, when equipment temperatures finally equalize to the warmer environment, water droplets on glass surfaces inside a lens may dry out and leave spots, mildew or fungus that can’t be cleaned by the photographer.
Similarly, when condensation dries up inside a camera, fungus, mildew, rust or corrosion may be left behind on printed circuit boards, viewfinder eyepieces, shutter curtains, or other internal components. If any of this happens, the equipment may be permanently damaged.
Incidentally, no matter how good it is, ‘weather sealing’ cannot prevent condensation, nor was it ever intended to do so. Damage caused by condensation is considered a user error, and it will void warranty coverage. One of the best methods to avoid condensation is to allow photo equipment to warm up gradually before exposing it to a hot environment. If this is not practical, consider placing the equipment in an airtight, resealable plastic bag with silica gel packets inside before exposing it to heat. (Don’t forget to squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag before you seal it, otherwise this technique may not work.) Using this method, the condensation will form on the bag instead of the equipment. Once the condensation on the bag has dried out, it should be safe to remove the equipment and start using it.
On a related matter, in hot and humid conditions, perspiration may cause condensation to form on your camera’s viewfinder eyepiece. Some camera manufacturers including Canon offer anti-fog eyepieces to prevent condensation from forming.
What To Do When Condensation Has Occurred:
Use a soft, dry clean cloth to remove moisture from exterior surfaces. If possible, place the equipment in a dry, well-ventilated area to prevent further condensation from occurring.
Cover Equipment When Not In Use:
If you must leave your camera equipment exposed to high heat and/or humidity conditions for long periods of time, consider covering it with a dry white towel when it’s not in use. Even when condensation is not an issue, heat absorption is another big concern for professional cameras and lenses, and especially digital SLRs. Cameras are designed to operate within a specific range of temperature and humidity conditions. For instance, the EOS-1D Mark IV professional camera has a high-end temperature rating of 45C/113F and a humidity rating of 85% or less. Since most camera bodies are black, internal temperatures can exceed this limit even when the ambient temperature is below it.
Avoid or Limit the Use of Camera Settings that Generate Heat:
Heat build-up caused by ambient temperatures is one problem, but the other side of the coin is heat build-up caused by the camera itself. This has become more of an issue recently with professional digital SLRs due to the incorporation of new features such as Live View and HD video recording. These features generate heat from several camera components including battery packs, image sensors and LCD screens. If you plan on using Live View or recording video outdoors in high-temperature environments with your digital SLR, there are a couple of things you can do to minimize heat build-up inside the camera:
- Limit the use of Live View for still shots. This will minimize heat build-up from the image sensor and LCD screen.
- Use an external monitor when recording video. This will shut off the camera’s LCD screen.
- Use an AC Adapter Kit. This will reduce heat build-up by eliminating battery packs.
- Set the camera’s Auto Power Off setting to a reasonably short interval. Let the camera help to minimize heat build-up by allowing it to shut down automatically after a minute or two of inactivity. This will also conserve battery power.
Storing Equipment in Hot Weather:
In high temperature environments with ambient humidity over 80%, use silica gel packets in your gadget bag or equipment case to absorb excessive moisture and protect your camera gear. Silica gel packets can be purchased in quantity from professional camera dealers and chemical supply houses, and are available in clear or moisture-indicating varieties. For long-term storage, consider storing camera equipment in Tupperware or similar sealable plastic containers with silica gel packets to absorb moisture and prevent fungus and mildew. In severely humid environments, even silica gel packets may be insufficient; so-called “camera dry cabinets” from manufacturers such as Toyo Living are available for such conditions. No matter what kind of storage container you use, ideally the humidity level should be less than 60% for maximum protection. Relatively inexpensive hygrometers of the type used for cigar thermidors are available to monitor humidity levels inside the containers. Remember to test hygrometers at least once a year, and recalibrate them if necessary.
Store Battery Packs Separately and Keep Equipment Clean:
To prevent corrosion of your camera’s electrical contacts, remove battery packs prior to long-term storage. Also, as a matter of good housekeeping, clean cameras and lenses regularly and thoroughly. This is especially important in hot and humid weather, or after your camera equipment has been exposed to rain or condensation, to prevent mildew and fungus from forming.
© August, 2010 by Chuck Westfall
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