There are very few cameras designed from the ground up to work in harsh winter conditions. The Olympus Stylus 1050 SW, for example, is winterized to perform at temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit. It's even more rugged than most digital SLRs--my own Nikon D200, for example, is rated to work down to freezing, no colder.
But that doesn’t mean you can't take the camera you already have skiing, snowboarding, or snowman-building this winter. I've found that most digital cameras work just fine even in the dead of winter. With a few precautions, you can snap photos in even the chilliest of conditions. Just don't try taking your camera on an expedition to the South Pole.
Shelter Your Camera and Batteries
When you venture outside, try to keep your camera and accessories as warm as possible. Generally, that means tucking them inside your jacket, where your body heat can provide a little warmth.
The first thing to give out from the cold will probably be the batteries, so it helps to bring a spare and keep it in your innermost pocket, right against your body. If the battery in your camera dies, swap it out for the warmer one and then shelter the defunct battery. A little heat can revive the battery, so you might be able to swap them a few times throughout the day.
You might be one of those folks who breathes on the lens and wipes it with a lens cloth to keep it clean. That's fine in warm weather, but when you're using the camera outdoors in the cold, don't use your breath to clean the lens, viewfinder, or LCD display. If it's cold enough, your breath will freeze on the glass, and then you'll have ice on delicate optics.
My advice is to avoid cleaning the optics outdoors in the cold at all. If you must, use a dry lens brush with no cleaning solution.
At the End of the Day
The most dangerous moment for your camera is when you bring it back inside a warm house after using it outdoors in the cold. That's when condensation can form, both on the outside and inside of the camera.
To minimize that risk, enclose the camera in a bag before you go indoors. Place your camera in a plastic bag, force out as much air as possible, and seal the bag airtight. Then bring the bag inside and allow it to warm up for a few hours before you take the camera out of the bag. If all goes as planned, the condensation will form on the exterior of the bag, not inside your camera.
If you discover condensation inside the camera or the lens, don't panic. Open up all the camera compartments (such as the battery and memory slot cover) and let it all dry for a day or two. If you have some silica gel--those little desiccant packs that often ship with electronics to keep out moisture--you can put the camera in a closed container with the silica to help speed along the process.
Hot Pic of the Week
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Bob writes: "I am the 'new guy' here in the Arizona Sonoran desert. When I arrived, I thought that muted colors like brown, tan, and neutral would be all I could see. I was quite wrong."
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This story, "Winterizing Your Camera" was originally published by PCWorld.