View Full Version : Can cold damage equipment?

4-May-2013, 20:44
This is a somewhat stupid question, but one winter night I left my camera and lenses out in my car overnight. The next morning there was condensation on the ground glass and lenses. Can this damage my equipment? I imagine that people take their gear hiking into the mountains all the time, so it can't be too damaging. Still, I'm just curious.

Otto Seaman
4-May-2013, 21:52
Cold won't damage gear but bringing a cold camera into a warm environment (or heating up the car) will cause condensation to occur ~ which is why your glasses will fog when you come in from the cold.

This is also a problem with electronics, including your cell phone and laptop.

The prevention is to keep your items sealed in their bags - or place them into a plastic bag (Ziplock or garbage bag closed tight) until they've had a chance to warm up. Give them 30-60 minutes to get closer to room temperature before you open them up and you'll avoid the worse condensation.

Most gear can tolerate this abuse to a good extent but getting water around shutters, light meters, complex optics, digital cameras - can't be a good thing.

When I travel in the Winter I bring most of my equipment inside, sealed up, and try to plan ahead. Even driving to an indoor shoot, I'll keep the camera bag near the heater so it never gets frozen to begin with.

Jim Jones
5-May-2013, 07:25
I've used film cameras at -60 degrees Fahrenheit with no problems except batteries losing power. Also, static electricity can mark film unless it is advanced and rewound slowly. As Otto says, it's the condensation when bringing equipment into a warmer and more humid environment that is risky.

Noah A
6-May-2013, 06:03
While I certainly wouldn't recommend this--when I was on staff at a newspaper they actually wanted us to leave our gear our trunks at all times. This gear was company issued, of course, as were the cars. The thinking was that we'd always have our gear in the event of breaking news. But that meant the cameras and lenses were subjected to cold and heat on a regular basis. In the winter, on the way to an indoor job, I'd usually stick the cameras and lenses in the car to warm them up, otherwise condensation in the lenses would make it impossible to shoot.

Again, I wouldn't recommend this, but in my ten years at the paper I never had any equipment problems caused by cold or condensation.

I don't leave my own equipment in the car overnight, but if I did once or twice by accident I wouldn't lose sleep over it. And I'd do what Otto suggested and seal it in plastic bags when bringing it indoors to keep the condensation out of the insides of lenses and shutters.

7-May-2013, 06:11
In addition to what has already been mentioned; The interior air spaces of lenses and other areas are going to try to breathe along with the change in temperature. As the temp rises the trapped air is going to increase in pressure. If the air space is not sealed some air will escape, not that big a deal. As the item cools the pressure in the air space is going to decrease and try to draw in air and whatever crap is in that air, moisture, dust, cigarette butts, small children etc. High temps are going to going to cause some components to give off vapors and condense elsewhere. Kind of like the film on the inside of your car windows. Very low temps are going to make some of the mechanics more difficult to move and may exceed the force for which they were designed. F stop and shutters come to mind.