Caring for Your Equipment in Cold Weather

With the recent blast of Arctic cold covering most of the United States east of the Rockies, it’s a good idea to look at precautions to take to protect your camera, and other electronics, during periods of extreme cold. Last year, I wrote an article for Mystery Shopper Magazine about the care of your video equipment. As it was written just after summer, I focused on the hazards of heat. That’s only half the story.

Cold vs. Heat

Cold presents its own set of problems for electronics. While the problems that excessive heat causes can result in permanent damage, cold’s problems for the most part are of a temporary nature. Cold saps batteries of their energy. And, depending on the outside temperature, it can be surprising how quickly a car can cool down. The solution: carry spare batteries in your pocket. If you’re dressed in layers, carry them in a pocket close to your body. There are some basic precautions to follow, especially for 9-volt batteries because they are prone to short circuits.

  1. Never place a battery in a pocket with loose change, car keys, or any metallic object[s]. They can cause an electrical short which can result in chemical burns or even a fire.
  2. Likewise, never store batteries loose in a glove compartment or map holder in your car, for the same reasons as above.
  3. When disposing of batteries, cover the terminals with electrical tape to guard against potential short circuits and, ideally, dispose of them properly [recycle].
  4. NEVER attempt to recharge a battery that is not designed to be recharged.
  5. NEVER warm a battery by placing it in an oven, either conventional or microwave.

Depending on the temperature, and the length of the assignment, you may need more than one extra set of batteries. If that’s the case, keep each set in its own plastic bag in your pocket. When you need to replace the batteries, replace all the batteries. By keeping the batteries separated in their own bags, you will assure that you are keeping the same set together.

Batteries produce their energy through a chemical reaction. Cold slows the process. While it may appear that a set of batteries had “died”, warm them up and you will find they have had their charge restored. Most batteries for commercial electronics are designed to function best at temperatures between 0 and 125 degrees Fahrenheit. There is a company, Tadiron Battery, which claims their batteries will function at temperatures from -67 to 257 Fahrenheit. I haven’t tried them but for shoppers in extreme cold, they might be worth checking out.

While I use a DSLR for most of my shops [and I have one spare battery], if it’s very cold, I’ll use my Kodak point and shoot digital camera so that I have the advantage of being able to use AA batteries. I never keep the camera under my jacket, I let it hang around my neck but I won’t turn it on until I’m ready to shoot all the pictures. I shoot them, then turn the camera off, then it goes back in the car. In the winter, I keep my PV-500 in my pants pocket, with the battery against my leg, allowing my body heat to help keep the battery retaining its charge in the recorder.

Caring for Your SD Card(s)

Your SD card, or cards, is where your money is. It holds your pictures. In cold weather, the relative humidity drops and static electricity increases. Use hand moisturizer in moderation to reduce the static electricity. The less exposure your SD cards have to static electricity, the better the chance your digital files will survive intact. Make sure never to touch the metal contacts on the edge of the SD card. As a matter of fact, hand moisturizer should just about always be a given. Just this week I lost the use of an SD card because of static electricity…and the temperature was in the mid 70’s.

Last but not least, let common sense prevail. Make sure you’re properly dressed for the weather. And be prepared for possible changes in the weather. While my vehicle should be good for another 200k miles, in the winter there’s a sleeping bag, blankets, and pillow in permanent residence in the trunk. Even though I live in an area more prone to hurricanes, the last three FEMA disasters here have been winter storms. And remember, no shop is ever worth your life.

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