Last week while on vacation in New England and Canada, I was inadvertently reminded how cold weather affects cameras and film, specifically instant film. While it wasn't actually winter-level cold (I think it only dropped into the 40s at night), the temperature difference was enough to ruin some film.
I was on a road trip, staying at a different place each night, and usually arriving pretty late. Rather than hauling all of my bags to the room at night, the bag containing the film stayed in the trunk of the car. The problem showed up when shooting instant film in the Polaroid the following day; the film simply didn't want to develop and the pictures were all light, faded, and, well, underdeveloped. Even though I timed them according to the air temperature, I didn't realize that the film had been affected by the cold nightime temperatures and needed longer to fully develop until I forgot that I was counting and several minutes passed. When I peeled apart the picture, I was certain it would be dark, though it turned out perfectly. That's when I realized what had happened and altered my developing time accordingly.
Even though it's only early October, I wanted to offer some suggestions for protecting your camera gear and film from the cold temperatures to come:
Batteries: Cold temperatures drain batteries, so don't leave them in a cold car. Even a cold day of shooting will drain batteries, so carry extras in your coat pockets or close to your body, if possible, to help shield them from the low temps (and, store dead batteries there, too). When recharging batteries, be sure to get a full charge. Those fancy DSLRs have a large power draw, so turning off unnecessary features and even turning off the camera when not in use will help conserve battery power, as well. When not in use, remove the battery altogether and keep in a moderately warm place.
Condensation: Just like with hot summer temps, cold weather brings this major annoyance to camera lenses everywhere. The problem not only affects lenses but sensitive camera electronic components, as well. When possible, allow the camera time to adjust to the temperature change slowly to minimize or prevent condensation from forming. Follow the same tips for preventing summer condensation. If condensation does form, remove the battery and allow the gear to dry out before using or taking back out into cold temps, as the condensation could freeze with disastrous results.
Wet Weather: Snow, sleet, and freezing rain can all damage camera gear. Use a clean, soft cloth to wipe away moisture as often as possible before it penetrates seals or has a chance to freeze.
I hope these help! If you have additional suggestions or tips for protecting gear from winter weather, please let us know in the comments.