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Shooting in -20C with bolex

16mm bolex cold

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#1 Anthony Kennedy

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 10:46 PM

I'm the DP on a short, and our exterior scenes will be shot this Saturday in rural Quebec. The temperature is supposed to be around -20C (-4F). I hear cameras don't do very well in the extreme cold, what precautions can I take? What are possible side effects from shooting in this temperature (other than loosing my fingers)?
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#2 Anthony Kennedy

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 10:52 PM

I found this advice which is all good (mainly commen sense), but I'm more worried about the camera than I am about me.
Frost bite
If parts of your face turn dead white and are hard to the touch, that’s frostbite. Place a warm bare hand over the frozen spot and it should come back quite soon. Be aware of the wind. It will cause frost bite rapidly. Keep an eye on the other people around you, if you see signs of frostbite, calmly inform the person, try to thaw the affected part with your bare warm hand. Get the person out of the cold and wind, and when comfortable resume work.


Clothing

Dress in layers for the cold. If you are doing something very physical you will need less cover than if you are standing around. If you are exerting yourself you will sweat, this dampens your clothes and renders them less efficient at holding the heat. Dressing in layers allows you to remove clothing to suit your conditions. Try to avoid sweating. When dressing for the cold, wool is the best thing you can use. It retains much of its thermal efficiency even if wet. Down is good but when wet is useless. Fleece is good stuff. Cotton is the worst thing to wear. Trapped dead air is your insulator. Loose clothing is better that tight. This ain’t a fashion show. We all look like the Michelin Man in the winter. Get over it. Wear long underwear. Fleece or wool pants, a good windproof over layer like nylon wind pants etc. (although nylon and gortex stuff gets pretty stiff and makes noise which is bad for sound). Wear a good hat with something that will cover your ears and earlobes. I always wear a fleece or wool neck gaiter (a tube like affair that pulls over your head and protects you neck. I personally find scarves to dangly, they interfere with headphones etc.


Boots

Good snowmobiling boots with thick duffle or felt liners are best . Make sure they have rubber bottoms and not plastic (vinyl etc.) Plastic gets very slippery in the cold and will become a liability. Boots should have room for a couple of pairs of socks. If they are too tight they won’t keep you warm. Get several pairs of good thick wool socks. I like to wear a light pair and a heavy pair.


Gloves

After 30 years I’m still looking for gloves that will keep my hands warm and allow me to operate gear. The best system so far is a pair of light, thin gloves (wool, cordura etc.) and a pair of large gauntlet mittens. The mittens hang on idiot strings (a lanyard) around your neck. If you cross the mittens over each other behind your back they will stay out of the way while shooting. As soon as you can, bring the mittens around to your front and stick your hands inside to warm up. You can stick chemical hand warmers in your mittens and in your pockets to warm up with. Watch them around the gear, they contain salts and if opened could potentially damage things.


Equipment

Batteries die faster in the cold. Once warmed up they will still work. There are chemical hand warmers that have adhesive on them for sticking to things. I have stuck these directly onto battery packs and they help keep them going, but as I said before be careful with them.

The biggest problem with gear is moving from the cold to the warmth. As soon as you move cold equipment into a warm environment, all the moisture in the warm air will condense on the gear. Carry plastic garbage sacks (clear ones are more practical) Before you go into the warmth (building, vehicle) bag your camera and seal it tight. This will let the moisture condense on the outside of the bag. Once the gear is nearer room temperature you can safely unwrap and use it. Watch your cables. Most of them are plastic and will become very brittle. There is a cold-weather mic cable out there. I think Canare makes it.


If you are working in the mine buildings or truck stops remember that a lot of them have nylon carpets and this is a very arid environment. Walking down the hall can build a hefty static charge. Watch your gear. If it’s very static-y I find holding a key or some kind of metal in my hand and discharging it against something neutral before touching the gear will help a lot.


Wind

The wind will suck heat from you rapidly. Always try to shelter from it. Even turning from it and keeping it at your back will make a vast difference


Keep Warm

It is very important that you don’t let your body get too cold. Do not be afraid or too macho to say you are cold. There is a point of diminishing returns are far as body heat loss is concerned. It’s much easier to warm back up from a slight chill than to pull yourself back from near hypothermia. Don’t wait too long to get that perfect shot, and don’t let yourself be bullied into staying out longer than you're comfortable with. You know when it’s time to stop and warm up. Eat lots. No diets here. Eat when you can, you need the fuel. Getting enough rest is also vital to working in the cold.


Producers/Directors

I always figure that your productivity is cut in half when working in the cold. All personnel involved should be made aware of this. Your crew will be bundled up in manner they may not be used to, the gear seems to work slower and is a lot harder to handle. Don’t let all the stuff above scare you. It’s all workable and you can still enjoy your job, execute it professionally and make good product. It just takes a longer.

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#3 Mike Lary

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 03:33 AM

I'm the DP on a short, and our exterior scenes will be shot this Saturday in rural Quebec. The temperature is supposed to be around -20C (-4F). I hear cameras don't do very well in the extreme cold, what precautions can I take? What are possible side effects from shooting in this temperature (other than loosing my fingers)?


If I remember correctly the original Bolex documentation recommends having the camera serviced before using in extreme cold (something about a special grease that's needed). Since that's not an option I would try to keep the body warm, not only to avoid mechanical failure but also to keep your emulsion from slowing down and ruining your exposure. You could try something similar to what folks do with digital cameras to keep them from overheating - use packs on the sides to keep the body temperature maintained. You also need to watch out for sudden temperature changes because that could result in condensation on the film.
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#4 Jean-Louis Seguin

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 09:13 AM

At least with a Bolex you don't have to worry about batteries conking out.
What is the history of this Bolex? Has it been properly serviced recently?
You should first do a test by running the camera outside with a full spool of film.
Use relatively fresh stock. Old expired filmstock will tend to be less pliable and may snap into little pieces in the camera.
Pay attention to the camera noise to detect any unusual slowing down during the wind-down cycle.
The focus and aperture rings on the lenses will get much stiffer but do they completely frezee up?
Try to keep the camera shielded from the wind as much as possible between shots.
Once the camera is outdoors, keep it outdoors until you're finished to avoid formation of dew and condensation.

Cheers,
Jean-Louis
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#5 Anthony Kennedy

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:13 PM

T

If I remember correctly the original Bolex documentation recommends having the camera serviced before using in extreme cold (something about a special grease that's needed). Since that's not an option I would try to keep the body warm, not only to avoid mechanical failure but also to keep your emulsion from slowing down and ruining your exposure. You could try something similar to what folks do with digital cameras to keep them from overheating - use packs on the sides to keep the body temperature maintained. You also need to watch out for sudden temperature changes because that could result in condensation on the film.

Do you have any suggestion for a brand of heating pack?

At least with a Bolex you don't have to worry about batteries conking out.
What is the history of this Bolex? Has it been properly serviced recently?
You should first do a test by running the camera outside with a full spool of film.
Use relatively fresh stock. Old expired filmstock will tend to be less pliable and may snap into little pieces in the camera.
Pay attention to the camera noise to detect any unusual slowing down during the wind-down cycle.
The focus and aperture rings on the lenses will get much stiffer but do they completely frezee up?
Try to keep the camera shielded from the wind as much as possible between shots.
Once the camera is outdoors, keep it outdoors until you're finished to avoid formation of dew and condensation.

Cheers,
Jean-Louis

It is a Bolex from Concordia university, the director is a student there. I wont have access to it until the day, I would like to think it has been well maintained by the equipment depot, but I've heard mixed things about the current state of their film school. We wont be able to do a test before hand unfortunately.

Thank you both for the advice.
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#6 rob spence

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 01:08 PM

Do a google search for one of the Aaton instruction manuals, they have a section on shooting in cold weather, it'll be the same basics.
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#7 Ray Lavers

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 02:11 PM

When I was in the Concordia program Martin Duckworth suggested a puck rock way of doing it. Duct taping many of those glove warming pads to the camera . They work quite well. (this sort of thing. http://www.amazon.co...e/dp/B001GFT6EE )


- You really have to listen to the camera to ensure it's running at the proper speed. If it's not you'll get a over-cranked and over exposed image.

- You should keep your film stock warm because there can be a slight color shift if it's too cold . You can just check the website for the information.

- The lenses will fog up if you go between extreme temperatures.

Have fun and don't die.

Edited by Ray Lavers, 23 January 2013 - 02:13 PM.

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#8 Mike Lary

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 08:43 PM

Do you have any suggestion for a brand of heating pack?



Sorry, no. I haven't done this personally, so I'm just throwing out ideas. I would look at battery operated options, maybe something along the line of a small electric blanket that could wrap around the camera without getting in the way (maybe check pet stores or hunting supplies stores). It should maintain consistent temperature and not get hot enough to affect the film in a negative way, so it would need to be adjustable. If you have time to test for a few hours in the cold that would be best. It sounds like you won't have much prep time on this shoot. I hope it works out for you.
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#9 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 10:13 PM

Stay safe OP.

I can say that thank goodness you arent shooting a CP16 out there. The combination of that cold and trying to remove a battery on that thing (which tends to want to take your fingernail off), you might possibly rip the whole finger off. I swear, I love my camera but I have found two or three different tasks that all try to rip my fingernail off.
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#10 Chris Millar

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 10:32 PM

Email from my mate in 2005:

"pic of me is standing with your camera on top of one of the Olympic Ski jumps from the seventies, overlooking Moscow doing timelaspe of the city at -30 degrees until the camera froze..."

Posted Image

So, yeh - does happen ! Mechanical tolerances get squeezed ...

Edited by Chris Millar, 23 January 2013 - 10:32 PM.

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#11 Gregg MacPherson

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Posted 24 January 2013 - 12:07 AM

I shot some footage around MacMurdo, Antarctica in the early and late summer temperatures, often colder than -20C. First with a stock Beaulieu R16 then with a winter lubed Eclair ACL. The ACL had a kind of winter jacket barney. Working on my own I would just have the camera next to my body under my jacket most of the time if it was cold. I remember running for a heated hut a coulple of times to thaw my fingers and put the camera in the heating duct. The result of all the temperature changing was that one of the mirrors in the viewfinder dropped off. The same day I got a call from a film crew at Scott Base who just had exactly the same thing happen to their CP camera, wanting to borrow a camera. So I had a perfect excuse to not help these unlikeable folk from the other tribe over the hill. Then I epoxied my mirror back in place.

Sentimental ancdotes aside I had these thoughts on Anthony's problem. If you were working with a team and shooting with a 100' load Bolex maybe you can keep the camera warm under your jacket. Maybe make a winter coat barney for the camera. If you you have a lot to do maybe you need 2 cameras, one warming up while the other is in use. If you are working near a heated house/hut/vehicle then things will go easier. Did someone suggest a heated (electric) barney yet. That could be one way to solve the problem, but you probably don't have time to make and test one.

Edit: spelling

Edited by Gregg MacPherson, 24 January 2013 - 12:09 AM.

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#12 Anthony Kennedy

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Posted 24 January 2013 - 08:37 PM

Thank you for all the advice everyone. I'm glad I'm not shooting in Antarctica (actually that would be amazing, maybe another time). Anyway, I am going to go for the "taping hand warmers" to it and have a winter jacket wrapped around it. I will report back on Monday.

p.s. It look like it will actually be -30C
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#13 Gregg MacPherson

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Posted 24 January 2013 - 09:11 PM

Anthony,
See if you (the PA) can borrorw and take advice on minimum survival gear and safety from the locals. Especially good are those white rubber "bunny boots". Jackets even circa the Korean war are ok, and they need thermal underwear and warm mittens. Balaclava, most of the time rolled into a hat. If you are near a heated house/hut/vehicle then people can unthaw.

Edited by Gregg MacPherson, 24 January 2013 - 09:14 PM.

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#14 Anthony Kennedy

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Posted 29 January 2013 - 08:18 PM

I ended up surviving! I sort of feel like I defeated winter (I dressed so intensely). The combo of having gloves (decent gloves, not just thin ones), with the fingers cut off and then large mitten style gloves on a string so they hang just below your sleeves and have hand warmers inside them, was amazing. Every time I thought my fingers were going to die I simply stuck them inside these beautiful hot mittens and all was well (and regular trips back to a heated van). The pinnacle of cold was doing a shot in the back off a pickup truck driving down a windy mountain road.

Unfortunately the bolex didn't fair as well. The heat pads/jacket cover combo, didn't do much, so many trips back to the heated van were required many shots slowed down considerably (the bolex even froze up a few times). I have no idea what the footage will look like, I certainly hope it turns out well. The rest of the shoot went well. I'll post the footage here in a few weeks when I get it.
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