What's a Good Camera for Living Out My Childish Jack London Fantasies?
October 29, 2008 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I will be going dogsledding with Outward Bound this January. What sort of camera should I bring?

The key things I'm looking for are the abilities to a) take reasonably good pictures, preferably with a minimum of fuss, and b) withstand the physical rigors of the course. Such rigors include:

Moderate to Extreme Cold: I've been told to expect high temperatures of around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with overnight lows floating around 5 below. If we're there during a cold snap, low temperatures might be more in the neighborhood of 20 or 30 below.

Isolation From the Power Grid: This means whatever batteries I bring will have to last the whole trip. I'll only be gone for eight days, but given the cold this may end up being a big problem.

Physical Damage: I'm planning on keeping it in an appropriate hard-shelled container, but my backpack is likely to get kicked around a bit and I'd rather not have to worry too much about it.

Snowy Surroundings and the associated problems with automatic exposure settings.

I know my way around a camera OK, but I have no experience taking pictures in this kind of environment, so my only personal preferences are that it be more versatile than a disposable, and small enough that I can carry it reasonably easily; however, these are both negotiable, and I am open to any and all suggestions.
posted by Commander Rachek to Technology (5 answers total)
What do you mean by "reasonably good pictures"?

When mountaineering, I take a Canon PowerShot in my pocket. Not even a hard shell; it's a tough little camera. The advantage is that I can take pictures very quickly with minimal setup. The result is that I take a lot more pictures than those who have to stop and screw around with a camera bag whenever they want to take a photo. An SLR with nice lenses is certainly capable of taking better pictures, but it takes longer.

Also- assuming you'll be in a tent/sleeping bag at night- take the batteries out and sleep with them inside your bag. I'd bring extra batteries if I were out for a week, and keep them next to your body.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:37 PM on October 29, 2008

I took a couple waterproof disposables on my OB course and they worked out great. The cold wasn't as much of an issue for me though - our lows were in the 40's. I'd recommend going with a film camera if possible. I think you'll get the best battery life that way - although your course is relatively short, so it might not be an issue anyway.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:54 PM on October 29, 2008

I think your biggest problem is going to be finding a camera with a min operating temperature that low. For most cameras its freezing. The reason for this is that the batteries and LCDs don't always do so well far below that. Considering the camera will get a nice low and long freeze over night, and temperatures won't break freezing during the day this could be a problem.

If you can work your way around that, any camera you manage to find that meets your requirements will do. Just be careful letting electronics go through huge temperature swings (from cold to hot; from outdoors to indoors). At the very least, put it in a Ziploc bag to prevent condensation forming inside it when you put it through a shift like that.

As for battery life. You don't say how long you'll be out. One of the nice things about DSLRs is that they don't require you to use the LCD (you can always turn it off on most point and click models too). Combine this with restricted use of the flash, you'll actually get quite a few shots out of a single battery. Depending on how click happy you are, and how long your trip is, it might be plenty.

If you are going to be gone longer than a week or two, plan on taking 1000s of photos, or 100s with the flash, or need the LCD, consider getting a solio or similar device. I believe solio has a min operating temperature of -4°F.
posted by NormandyJack at 7:19 AM on October 30, 2008

As someone who has gone dog-sledding and thinks that -5F is normal February weather, I think any point and shoot camera would be fine if you keep the camera next to your body. A DSLR is bad idea since it would be too big to fit in a pocket.

With the camera close to your body, it will stay warm and you will be able to take pictures pretty quick. Dog sledding can be very cardio-intensive so you will be pumping out lots of heat. You probably won't even need a hard case since you are not likely to fall down very much while sledding (unlike say learning to snowboard). Plus a hard case and digging through your backpack all the time will freeze your hands. At night, your tent/cabin will be warm enough to keep it in good working order. Using a ziplock bag and turning off the LCD viewfinder are good ideas of Normandy Jack.

As for the automatic focus, I have never noticed a problem taking pictures on a snowy day. I have owned Canon and Sony cameras. However, I have never heard of this being a problem. Only the super small and cheap cameras seem to take bad pictures nowadays.

Another criteria might be to find a camera with a large power on and shoot buttons. That way you can keep the thin gloves on that you will be wearing underneath the heavy duty ones they (may) provide you with.

So just buy a regular point and shoot camera that you can use in the future, get one with double A batteries so you can bring extras and keep it next to your body in your chest pocket of your jacket so it doesn't bounce around so much.
posted by FastGorilla at 8:31 AM on October 30, 2008

One more idea, get a camera with a sport mode and movie mode. When you are resting on the sled and your partner is kicking, the sport mode will enable you to take reasonable pictures as the sled moves along (really short exposure time). The movie mode is good for capturing all the barking dogs and the movement through the forest that still pictures can't.

Having said that, I believe all cameras have those modes nowadays so you would have gotten those features by default.
posted by FastGorilla at 8:40 AM on October 30, 2008

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