Sub Zero – Protecting your Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera against the freezing cold

The winter season having already arrived, it begs the question on how to best protect a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC) against temperatures below the freezing point of water. Blackmagic Design specifications limits the Operating Temperature of the BMPCC (as well as all other of its range of cameras) to 0° C (32° F). As I live in Sweden, which gets quite cold during the winter, this may become an issue for me. However, I have seen footage with the BMPCC shooting in full winter and snowfall. There is even one picture on the Blackmagic Design web page with the Blackmagic Micro Cinema Camera in an arctic environment. Also, I have read on the Blackmagic Forum that some cinematographers have used Blackmagic Design cameras in freezing cold weather rather successfully. The Storage Temperature is set to a limit of -20° C (-4° F). So I suspect that the minimum operation limit specification is set with a large margin. Anticipating the cold I already posed some question on this topic in November. I specifically asked Blackmagic Forum members if they had had any experience of shooting with the BMPCC in freezing temperatures, and if the lowest temperature limit had been exaggerated by Blackmagic Design. I also asked for suggestions how to protect my camera against sub zero environments.

The feature 'Bob and the Trees' was shot with the BMPCC in freezing cold
The American feature ‘Bob and the Trees’ was shot with the BMPCC in freezing cold

Several forum members responded stating that they had not experienced any operating problems with the BMPCC in -10° or -12° C, and even down to temperatures as low as -25° C. In particular, the Russian cinematographer Anatoly Mashanov provided me with some relevant facts and advice; considering that Russians are very well experienced in dealing with extreme cold in a country which has many similarities with Swedish weather, I belive its important to paraphrase him. Although the camera itself and the SD card will continue to work until quite low temperatures, Mashanov states that with sub zero temperatures one should expect (a) loss of battery current and preliminary discharge, (b) that the viewfinder screen will work slower, exhibit less contrast and finally may freeze to halt, and (c) that the lens lubrication may freeze. Mashanovs advice is to always warm a discharged battery before recharge; he strongly reccomends external power. If the lens poses me some problems, I should remove the lubricants before shooting in sub freezing temperatures. He also warns me not to bring the camera directly to a warm place, and to make precations against the formation of condensation.

The isolated Hard Case from Clas Ohlsson
The insulated Hard Case from Clas Ohlsson

To prevent the formation of moisture, when bringing in the camera from the cold climate outside into the warm insides of my apartment, he suggests keeping the camera in a cool dry place. Usually the humidity of a room shouldn’t pose a problem, but if it is not low enough I should either leave it powered up (pressing ON) under some blanket, allowing it to heat itself quickly (but without overheating it), or place it inside a plastic bag and allow it to heat slowly, alternatively keeping my camera in a box of silica gel; when bringing the camera inside one shouldn’t allow any warm humid air to contact it before it has reached a normal warm temperature. Luckily, my Instrument Hard Case, which I use to safely store my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, has a rubber packing to prevent moisture and water to enter the contents of the case. So I was thinking that it would be safe to disassemble the camera from the rig after a shoot and to tuck it away into its compartment inside the safety case, close it, lock it when still being outside in the freezing cold, so that no humidity enters the insides of the case, and then bring it inside my apartment, letting everything slowly reach a normal temperature before reopening the case. That should be sufficient to prevent any condensation or damp forming inside the camera chassis which could potentially harm the electronics.

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