Does heat affect digital cameras?
August 3, 2005
| || |I am the new owner of an Olympus C-7070.
Yesterday I left my camera in the car for about an hour. It was a dry, hot day, and the car was quite warm but nothing ridiculous--probably about 100 degrees in the vehicle and 80 outside. When I retrieved the camera, it started up fine. After I fired off about 10 to 15 shots, the camera made a long beep, then turned off and the lens didn't retract completely. I turned it back on and checked the battery. It was fully charged. I tried focusing it, but it wouldn't focus. Then it beeped again and turned itself off, then on again and still wouldn't focus. Thinking it might have condensation on the lens, I wiped the lens with my lens cloth and tried again, with the same result. It finally died for the day with the lens halfway extended.
This morning was a bit cooler. My camera's been functioning perfectly all day. What gives? Do you think it's defective? Should I never expose it to extreme temperatures? I will be away traveling for over a year in varying climates.
Weather extremes can do all sorts of bad things to digital cameras--not just heat and cold, but humidity as well. The documentation that comes with digital cameras usually includes the relevant information in the specification list. For example, the C-7070's specs indicate:
Operation: 32 to 104 degrees F (0 to 40 degrees C),
30 to 90 percent humidity
Storage: -4 to 140 degrees F (-20 to 60 degrees C),
10 to 90 percent humidity
If you think back to your last physics class, you may remember that heat excites electrons, and cold inhibits them. The sensor in a digital camera is basically a bunch of buckets full of atoms, just waiting for a photon to come through the lens and get them excited. Thus, the sensitivity of the sensor fluctuates with the temperature. The same goes for the electrical flow through the battery: a benign but perceptible result is a significant decrease in battery life in cold weather, even within the approved range.
Some components may also expand or contract with changes in temperature; even a minute change in size can make mechanical as well as electronic parts fail. Furthermore, the combination of a rapid temperature change and high humidity can cause condensation to form within the camera and the optical system. And don't forget your media
--it has limits as well.
You can take some steps to minimize these effects, though. For instance, if you're traveling in a humid climate, get a really good camera bag that's fully sealed against humidity, and throw in desiccant packets to take care of the rest--you'll need to replace them frequently if you plan to stay a long time. Always give your camera time to slowly adjust to changes in temperature to avoid forming condensation. In cold weather--say, you decide to scale some mountains--try to keep it inside your jacket when you're not shooting. The key is to know where the pitfalls are and get creative to avoid them.
has been an avid photographer for almost 30 years. Her digital-imaging coverage has been referenced by academic journals and Web sites and published in all forms of media.