View Full Version : LF in the cold?

Calamity Jane
9-Dec-2004, 09:22
Howdy group!

Ya know, I been shooting 35mm and 120 (still LOVE my Pentax 645, the first one into Canada) for many decades. I've travelled miles into the bush and shot in -40 degree temps, I even managed to get a few frames at -75 before the shutter quit moving. But I had always carried the camera and film under my coat.

What do you do to keep your LF working in the deep cold?

Film holders can go in inside pockets but the camera is too big to fit under any coat I wear!

Do you have any problems with shutters in the deep cold?

Do bellows stand up to being flexed at -40?

What effect does VERY cold air have on film's response to light?

Do you have to unload your film from the holders when you come in to prevent condensation on the emulsion?

Funny thing - none of my photography books talk about shooting in the deep cold - maybe because most of them were published in a warm climate?

Thanks group. I look forward to your suggestions on photography in the sub-arctic! ;-)

9-Dec-2004, 09:27
"Do bellows stand up to being flexed at -40"

Do people? :)

Frank Petronio
9-Dec-2004, 09:39
Don't lick the metal parts.

Seriously, the only thing I do special is carry several large plastic bags to wrap the camera, film, lenses, and meter in so that when I come inside, I can allow them to warm up gradually inside the sealed bags, and the condensation forms on the outside of the bags, not on the equipment. Good practice for all optics and electronics.

tim atherton
9-Dec-2004, 09:48
""Do bellows stand up to being flexed at -40"
Do people? :) "

Hey - it was only -36c on the weekend but my 8 month old and 3 year old seemed to still function after they had been out....!

Jane - some bellows will and some won't. Modern synthetic ones on Toyos and the likes of Canhams and Phillips seem to do very well (andthe syntheic ones form amera Bellows UK - which may well be the same). Older synthetic ones (e.g. graflex) don't. Some leather ones work just fine - others may not (in part it depends on how dried out they are) - sort of trial and error...

Again, for shutters - older shutters with lots of old stiff oil in them can seize up fairly quickly. Most modern Copal (or recently CLA'd older ones) seem to do fairly well. Again - a bit of trial and error - I know which of my shutters seem to work okay now and which don't

Film - both my 4x5 and 8x10 film holders tend to live in suitable sized soft sided cooler bags. Like the camera and lenses - I tend to just let them get cold and stay cold. and when I head back in, just leave them int he cooler bag and let the whole thing warm up over a couple of hours or so.

One thing to be aware of is if the film and holder is still warm, then when you put it in the camera and pull the darkslide the sudden change of temeperature can cause the film to "pop" and curve enough that you can't get the darkslide back in properly. Also if it does this then sits inthe camera back for a couple of minutes (while you wait for the light/warm your fingers or whatever) and then try and push the darkslide in, the film is now cold enough to break - no, make that shatter. Last year this happened with some 8x10 and I had hundereds of tiny bits of film to try and vacuum out of the inside of the camera bellows....

Once or twice I've also got static marks from pulling the darkslide too fast because it's so dry in those temps.

Other than that, hold your breath when foucussing/composing and do't breath on the GG (or make sure you have your Visa card with you to scrape off the frost).

ronald lamarsh
9-Dec-2004, 09:48
I don't know about bellows standing being flexed at -40 I would definitely contact a camera manufacturer as the modern materials used today may very well work ok, I suspect leather or vinyl would get pretty stiff. One trick that I have heard used by hunters who hunt in the artic is to leave their guns outside so they never go through a large temperature swing which causes condensation I also heard of a National Geographic photographer doing the smae thing with his nikon FM2 he couldn't keep the batteries going in his F3. So if the bellows was good and dry made out of a very flexible synthetic......? Who knows. I talked with a photographer in Alaska not long ago he said his biggest problem was any kind of oil in the shutter! It must be DRY which means a good cleaning and DRY lube only, funny he never mentioned a bellows problem he was using a Cambo 4x5 and a Speed Graphic. I have actually had the shutter problem in temperatures of around +20 deg so it doesn't take much oil or extreme cold to gum up a shutter. Stay Warm...yea how do you intend to stay warm in such climate?

9-Dec-2004, 10:44
I haven't had the fun opportunity to use large format in that kind of cold. In balmier temps (down to around zero) the camera works fine. A wood tripod helps, as do thin synthetic glove liners (just enough fabric to keep your skin from freezing on metal).

I've taken small cameras ice climbing and mountaineering in the winter, and have learned a few things from experience and from fellow climbers. Don't know if this adds anything to what you already know, but here are some observations:

-static is a big problem at very cold temperatures, especially at high altitude where the air gets unusually dry. winding roll film too fast sets off sparks. it may or may not suit your vision to discover that wild lightning storms have invaded all your shots. This issue is likely the same with a dark slide, so always go very very slow.

-a good camera technician can clean the oil off your shutter, and replace it with graphite. this will help keep your shutter from slowing down, but may not guarantee consistency. metal shrinks at different rates. might be worth getting a shutter tester and trying it on your lens after it sits in a deep freezer. for what its worth, the copal shutter on an FM2 seems to stay consistent down to -20 or so.
remember that the dry shutter will wear itself out a lot faster ... you might want to go back to oil after the cold trip.

-unless your light meter takes lithium batteries, it will have to stay under your coat.

-unlike small cameras, where you have battery issues, it's probably best to keep the camera and film cold, and to let it transition slowly from room or car temp to outside and back. A foam padded camera bag is good for this. Take it outside, and keep it in the bag for a 20 minutes or so to let it cool down. and on the way back indoors do the same thing--keep it in the bag and let it warm up slowly. This is to prevent condensation, which could form on your film, inside your bellows, and even inside your lens. your lenses can actually get frosted on inside elements, and you could get droplets on the film surface. liquid condesation could cause corosion in your shutters. best to keep it to a minimum. I haven't heard of any issues of film responding differently at freezing temps.

-I'd be inclined to lube the tripod hardware and tripod head (and maybe the camera itself) with a good synthetic lubricant (like the finish line products sold for bicyles). this stuff works down to any temperature you can survive, and is dry, so it won't ever attract dirt or get goopy. Stay away from petroleum or mystery products like wd-40.

-my inclination would be that the bellows will continue to work ok, but it will be stiff, and probably more fragile. I'd be extra careful with it.

John Kasaian
9-Dec-2004, 17:40
A recently retired art Prof at the local college swears by KY as a lubricant for shutters in sub zero temps. I don't know from first hand experience if this is so, but it was always good for a few smirks in the class room;-)

9-Dec-2004, 17:58
I love taking photos during winter here in Stockholm, Sweden. Never been minus 40 celsius but I have gone out at minus 26 celsius. I use a Wisner 8x10 Expedition and lenses in Copal 3 shutters. I take no extra precautions. All holders are in their own zip lock bag. All lenses in their own lenswraps. Never had any problems. Upon returning home I leave everything alone for about 3 hours before removing film or cleaning lenses and such.

Francesco (http://www.cicoli.com)

9-Dec-2004, 19:30
I take my LFs to the mountains for snow, though granted the temperatures are pretty wimpy here in California. Still, I think it is a good idea to leave the camera, and in particular all the glass, in the trunk, rather than bringing it inside, when I take a trip to the cold. It will warm up gradually on the ride home to San Francisco.

Remember to use the trunk, not the interior of the car, which can get quite warm on a sunny day, even if it's cold outside. Not only due to the greenhouse effect, but also due to the turn-up-the-heat effect. ;-)

Keith S. Walklet
9-Dec-2004, 23:14
On occasion, I had sticky shutters in cold temps, though the numbers were nothing close to what Tim and Francesco routinely experience. I was directed to Manfred Mueller at International Camera Technicians in Mountain View, California. Old school, German craftsman, he supposedly used to work on the big guy's lenses (AA). He uses two types of lubricant when he services the shutters. One is designed to work well even to extreme cold temps. I haven't had a problem since. You have to ask for it though I am not sure why, since I believe the temperature range he quoted me for it wasn't out of the ordinary on the warm end of the spectrum.

I also have had moisture get into my padded camera bags and now err on the side of caution. If nothing else, a 30 gallon garbage liner over the whole kit and caboodle, then sealed before it goes anywhere warmer than the trunk of my car. Otherwise, each component in its own ziplock.

Calamity Jane
10-Dec-2004, 07:36
Thanks for all the suggestions folks! Some real good information here.

Yes, I have encountered the electrostatic problem before. It wasn't too bad in my 35mm Zeiss because it is manual advance but my 645 is motor wind and just WON'T slow down!

I do have the equipment to test shutter speed so I will take Paul's advice and test my shutter at cold temps. It's December in Manitoba so we should have some -30C weather right around the corner.

It makes sense to keep the camera and film packs cold - I'll do that.

Thanks again for all the suggestions.

10-Dec-2004, 08:42
have fun!

10-Dec-2004, 08:45
oh ... and i think that prof was pulling everyone's leg with the ky jelly advice. the stuff is water based. you wouldn't it anywhere near your shutter or other non-latex equipment ...