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Cold Weather Care

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For those of us living north of the equator, autumn is just about over and winter is getting started. Here in the UK that means even more rain and grey skies than we've had for most of this year, and for everyone it means lower temperatures. Like most electronic devices, digital cameras can be affected by the cold, which is a bit of a problem at this time of year because most people like to use their camera outdoors. If you look in your camera's user manual, somewhere you'll find its operating temperature limits, and these will most likely be in the order of 0 - 40 degrees centigrade (except for the Olympus mju 770 SW, which is rated at -10 degrees). While the upper limit is unlikely ever to be a problem here in the UK, the outside temperature frequently drops below freezing in winter, and in more northerly countries this is even more likely. So does this mean that you have to leave you camera indoors from November to May? Will it instantly freeze into an amusing camera-shaped icicle the moment the thermometer drops below zero? And what damage can cold weather do to a camera anyway?

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The answer to these questions is no, no, and not much. The stated temperature limits recommended by the manufacturer are really only there to protect them from being sued by people who manage to melt or freeze their cameras by using them unwisely. They are more like guidelines for optimal performance. In reality there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of people using digital cameras in sub-zero temperatures without a problem. I've personally used a couple of digital cameras on a glacier in Iceland without causing them any damage, and while looking up facts for this article I found accounts from people living in northern Alaska who used digital cameras at temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees, where the main problem was the risk of losing fingers to frostbite.

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That's not to say that digital cameras are completely unaffected by cold temperatures. Any device that uses electricity, especially one that runs on batteries, can have its performance altered by the ambient temperature. Several components of a digital camera can be adversely affected, but with a bit of care and preparation it is possible to work around these and still get good performance and results whatever the weather.

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