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cameras and extreme temperature


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#1 Kevin Olmsted

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 08:45 AM

I was going to post in Paul Ash's Leicina thread but didn't want to stray off topic too far...

Jim Carlile mentioned one should never shoot an older and/or non-rebuilt camera in cold conditions. Having lived most of my life in the Southwest US, I've never thought about it much. I am a technically proficient engineer so disassembling and cleaning my cameras has never daunted me, but lubrication is just now becoming a concern as my cameras get older.

I now live in Louisville, KY, US and a few months ago I shot some film in 19 degree weather. The film came out fine but my camera did sound a bit different when running. After shooting I took it inside and after it warmed up it sounded fine again.

What are the optimum temperatures for running the average well-taken-care-of 30-year-old camera? Is lubrication something one can do themselves? Are there newer formulas (is that the right term?) of lubricants that are good for old cameras, meaning they won't damage the camera in any way?

Thanks for any help...

Kevin
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#2 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 08:34 PM

Kevin,

your experiences with the camera sounding a bit different, less effortless, more hard-working, maybe more steely and less smoothly is completely normal when shooting under such weather conditions.

This happens not only to non-CLA'd camera gear, but even to newly-lub'd "out-of-the-workshop" cameras, even actually new out of the cameras like an Xtéra or a Bolex 16 Pro which is famously "lubricated forever" (no joke :) !) in all cine-film formats, be it S8 or S35.

Now, 19°F are about -7°C. This does put considerable stress onto the mechanical elements of a camera (let alone the electronics of a video camera) and much worse: condensatory pressure on the optical elements when the camera is moved rapidly between warm conditions (like an automobile interior or a trailer) and the cold outside. Also, the battery cells suffer from the temperature change and will very likey not provide their usual full capacity, even if they are topped-up and otherwise well-maintained.

Once on location on the Swiss Alps during snowfall in the middle of nowhere on a mountain pass, even a newly lubricated and newly battery-stacked Eclair ACL sounded a bit "bothered" when we were using it for filming, and the crystal-sync module in the body needed a couple of extra pictures to run up in sync. Obviously, the stress on the smaller mechanical elements and interactions found in a much more sophisticated device that a Super 8 camera is over a 16mm device, that all those little cogs have to work harder is somewhat obvious.

AGFA once supplied me with a expeditionary booklet guide for various temperature zones and how to store new and exposed film in what condition and for how long before the film stocks suffer. As long as you don't film in humidity of 95% in +40°C (i.e. places like Taipei or Dubai during summer) or in the polar regions with temps below -15°, no special precautions are required apart from trying to keep the gear in unchanged temperature conditions as long as possible, as the stress on the material is caused be sudden or frequent temperature changes, and less by constantly cold or hot temperatures.

Actually, the very first time I experienced somewhat material failure was not with cine-film but with Polaroid 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 packfilms, photographing portaits and models in a hot summer in Andalucia/Spain close to a swimming pool. The extreme heat started to melt the paste of the instant film in the sealed packaging (!) despite it being in a shadowy spot with white overcast linen protection. That let to smearilyy exposured positives (those familiar with the Polapacks will know what I am babbling about), which, however, where astonishingly fitting for the rather hot motives shot. The 45-year old Polaroid 110 B Pathfinder camera, however, worked perfectly well!

But coming back to the point: I am unaware of special lubrication products available for mechanical gear on extreme temperatures. That is available for automobiles, e.g. used for extreme rallying, esp. for classic cars which are more dependent on mechanical excellence. However, I would not really try and cross-apply automotive lube into camera gear. Maybe someone here has more experience with it.

As far as I know, Aaton ? which carved itself a niche for extreme nature cinematography ? relies on its internal heating devices to keep their equipment going in polar -50°C environments, without additional lubrication. Later this week, I'll be in touch with John Brawley who worked at Aaton in Australia. I will ask him and post any worthwhile comments of him back here.

In the meantime, I recommend to give any old, non-lub'd camera a good CLA job, because apart from causing seizures to the mechanics because of the changed viscoity of the old and tired lubrication in cold weather, this old lube will also compromise smoothness in other parts of the camera in better weather conditions and reduce the attainable cinematic quality of your gear.

Just a message into the audience here:
GET EVERY DESERVING CAMERA A GOOD CLA JOB. BECAUSE YOU ARE WORTH IT!
Read more about that here.
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#3 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 08:35 PM

BTW, I got your PM, and will reply to it ASAP. Was very busy recently and not around, and certainly not keeping up with this forum. Sorry for the delay.
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#4 Kevin Olmsted

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Posted 15 January 2008 - 10:15 PM

Thank you for all the great info, Michael. I'm always grateful when you take the time to answer posts. I always know it will be an insightful and informative read, especially for an amateur like myself.

I took my Bauer 209XL out in November and shot a roll of Tri-X of the nice snow we were getting. I wrapped the camera in a bag sealed with gaffer's tape around the lens hood and eyepiece. I was outside for about 15 minutes when it started sounding and 'feeling' strange. It ran all the film through fine, though, and the film turned out pretty good. I've shot two rolls on the 209XL since and the camera sounded and acted fine, but now I'm more mindful of weather conditions when taking out a camera. Kentucky can get humid so I've always kept aware of that in cold AND hot weather, especially in regards to the lens.

I look forward to your PM reply. I did shoot a roll of 64T in my new C900XLM, it goes off to process next week!
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#5 Michael Lehnert

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Posted 16 January 2008 - 12:40 PM

Oh, I envy you for the motives: that must have looked phantastic. I love American landcapes, probably because I grew up looking at Ansel Adams photographs he took with early Polaroid prototypes in collaboration with Edwin Land.
I also adore the American light, though I have grown somewhat more fondly of the British light with its beautiful humidity.

I can see you care for your gear very very well! I actually thought you would have done what I usually do, just get the camera out and film without protection, as long as there isn't of course major rain or major snowfall involved. The Beaulieu 4008 has a handy barney for outdoor work, but all the other cameras don't, which is annoying. I recently had to film with the A 512 outside, and it started to drizzle a little. As I had no plastic bag with me (it was sunny when I left... dawn UK weather), I wrapped the shots ASAP, protecting the camera from the tiny droplets with my jacket. I have an enormous rubber shade on the A 512, so the lens wasn't watered at all, which was most crucial. So yeah, I think your wrapping is already very caring!

Based on that story, I think the S209 just suffered from the usual cold shock to its system, with all the mechanical and motorised elements working less fluidly because of the temperature. As long as you don't get condensation within the lens from shuttling the camera in and out of hot & cold environments all the time, this is utterly within the parameters of the device.

As I said, we had the problem with the Eclair ACL, and where really worried because we panned 360° over the mountain pass for the entire length of a 120/400ft magazine at 75 fps for that particular shot, while it snowed at negative centigrades, and both the camera sounded truly "bothered", the crystal-sync module was almost loosing the quartzin at one stage, mostly because the fully-loaded battery pack went flat after that shot. But the result is utterly mindblowingly beautiful to watch! It was shot on Double-X B&W, btw.

So again: don't worry about that. Your attitude should be adopted by many pros, I personally think! :-)

I can't wait to hear how the 900XLM fared!
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#6 Jim Carlile

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Posted 19 January 2008 - 02:43 AM

I've found that the older cameras I use just don't like it when the weather is cold outside. They make a considerable racket compared to warm weather-- I first noticed this with a nice but un-CLA'd Bolex D8L. It made a loud grinding and rubbing sound in a cold room, but as soon as I left it in a warm car for awhile, it sweetened up just right. And that was a purely mechanical, metal Bolex.

I don't think there's a problem with a little bit of outdoor use. But these cameras are getting old and most of them were never that hardy anyway-- lots of plastic parts and little flimsy switches. So I'd stick with warm weather whenever I could-- like above 65 or 70 degrees. The old lubricant will melt a bit and smooth things out.

As to lubing on your own, the problem is not getting the camera open, it's knowing where the pivot points are, and which belts to avoid. You should also use only watch oil or some equivalent, and very sparingly.

Here's a good, classic article on motion picture camera maintenance. It's kind of scary:

http://duallcamera.c...preventive.html
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#7 Art Leal

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Posted 04 February 2009 - 11:06 PM

I've found that the older cameras I use just don't like it when the weather is cold outside.



Wish I had seen this thread before taking my Canon 1014 outside in 20 degree weather with a wind chill of 9. The camera ran, but I noticed the auto exposure would lag for about a full 2 seconds before it would settle to a steady exposure. It would start slightly overexposed, then settle to a properly exposed image. Another interesting thing I noticed was that during this interval the image would be out of focus, then sharpen as it reached it's correct exposure. If I were to guess I would probably say the circuitry in the auto exposure or the batteries response to the weather.

Live and learn...now I'll have to re-shoot...when it gets above freezing.
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#8 Alexander Zabotkin

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 01:09 AM

Hello everybody

You can see that I'm located in Russia, Krasnoyarsk
And I filmed some footage in the 'Bobrovy Log' ski resort under -23°C with my Canon 1014 XLS... I never had any problems. That Canon was CLA'd a year ago.

Be sure that you use good quality cells or battery pack and everything will be all right
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#9 Jim Carlile

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Posted 06 February 2009 - 10:06 PM

Canon supplied an external power pack for the 1014 that you could keep in a pocket in cold weather. It used 'C' cells, I believe, and it was designed for cold weather. You can still find them around-- when Canon dumped super 8 in the late 80s they had a whole warehouse full of that stuff and were blowing them out at places like Smile Camera and Cambridge for like $10. Boom mikes, too.

Michael's right about new cameras making more noise in the cold, too-- but remember, they were still under warranty back then! I never take the chance!

BTW, is there much of a landscape in Kentucky? I thought that was what the Southwest was for-- heard Kentucky gets very cold, though-- a shock to Californians.
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