Working in the Cold

The following hints and tips have been collated from emails on IBSNET.

from Florian Camerer (ORF)

I used the PD-2, which is – in my opinion – more reliably built (metal housing etc.) and consumes more power, yes, more power, and that means more heat in the machine!! I conducted tests in Vienna in a cold chamber, and the DAT- recorder failed to work at -15 Degrees C. So you will need an insulation case. I had one constructed after my plans with walls of urethane-foam 7 cm thick with space inside to be filled with sleeping bag insulation material !! Inside I placed a heating pillow (grandma still has them) and connected it to a generator during shooting breaks. The PD-2 never left its case, I operated it blindly with off-tape monitoring (makes nice training for slating!!)

I powered with NiCad-battery-belts worn under my clothing with the lead going through the case. No problem when they stay warm. We had Lithium batteries with us – works very well in very low temperatures. There also exist Lithium-Ion NP1- style batteries which are lightweight, have a very high capacity, no memory effect and – are very expensive !! Worth a try.

Forget PVC-cabling, if you go in winter (and in April e.g. it can be down to -30 Degrees C). The best is urethane – there is a Berlin company – Peridax – which produces the finest location cabling I know. Their material is a little stiff, but extremly resistant to damage, and it doesn´t change with temperature. It still is flexible at -40 C! In summer it can be quite warm (+7 C) so ice is melting and you need a water protection for your gear when travelling by rubber dinghy. Contamination with salt water means the death of the machine.

Take only the best condenser microphones; omnis for AB-stereo of strong winds, MS-systems with hypercardiods for general action, long shotguns for FX. Sounds propagate easily, so most of the time you hear your team-mates chatting, clothes rustling and generators etc. running wild.

from Alan Cridford

Lithium batteries are the best down to -20C

HDD recorders should be OK. The heat source is mainly the internal HDD which will keep the internals toasty when operating. The displays will be affected though. The 744 should be OK but the LCD will slow a little. The back of the display is internal to the machine which will benefit from the heat of the HDD. Recorders like the Cantar with external displays need to have a heater fitted to the display to keep the LCD working. All manufacturers I have spoken to say that their machines are good to -20C

Use Peridax cable. This is stiff normally compared to PVC but will not get any stiffer when cold. Ambient supply Peridax cable as standard so they can help here.

Personally…sun glasses and sun block plus layers of clothing.

from Paul Paragon

The special rubber sheath low temperature star quad cable from Canford did not change its flexibility when cold BUT it did induce noise when moved. This noise sounded like the musical instrument called a rain maker where beads fall down the inside of a hollow tube. I would not use this cable!

Reduce unwanted rustle caused by Gortex shells by wearing sheepskin or fur etc. – and get the crew to do the same.

from Richard Merrick

Temperatures can dive below minus 30C, which also means near zero humidity – all the water is frozen out of the air. In fact, Siberia is similar to a desert climate at Arctic latitudes.

Batteries: Keep them warm – use a separate battery pack under your outer clothing and feed your kit from there. Battery life reduces rapidly at very low temps, and walkie-talkies will suffer badly – same solution, keep the transceiver close to the body and use remote speaker-mics.

Cables: At minus 30, the average cable turns into a rigid bar – solder joints can also give way if at all suspect, due to contraction. Best cable I’ve found is contrarily high-temp stuff, which has Teflon inner insulation and a neoprene jacket. Mechanically it’s not as tough as the usual stuff, but remains manageable.

Humidity: Do not go indoors with your kit until it reaches room temp! Most interiors are very warm – the immediate effect is instant condensation on everything – remember, a domestic freezer is only at minus 18C! The solution is as follows: have two sets of gear (I can hear the groan) and keep one for interior and one for exterior. While still outdoors, put the exterior kit into a large heavy-duty polythene bag and seal it up well! Then, and only then, take the gear indoors and allow it to return to room temp. before opening. The air in the bag is very dry, and will avoid condensation forming. Apply the same in reverse to the indoor kit. A large silica gel bag will help as well – speak to a tame BT engineer, they use loads of them in roadside boxes. It pays to do this even if you’re going out again fairly soon – the warming up always helps when you get outside again.

Mixers/DAT recorders: Most DAT recorders generate heat – this helps. Top up the core temp of the machine with a hand warmer from your local angling shop. Allow the hand warmer to breathe, or it will go out. Same with the mixer, use hand warmers.

Be very careful mechanically with things – most gear will be operating outside its temperature spec., especially after an hour or so. Try not to open or load anything, as the contraction of materials can cause a major graunch!

Your time outside will be limited by the camera – usually the zoom lens contracts and jams, and one by one the focus, zoom and iris all cease to function! If you’re on film, rather than tape, this seems to happen even quicker. The film camera will also need re-lubrication with low-temp oil etc, before travel. All the above applies to camera as well as sound, regarding indoor and outdoor rigs! You’ll need a bigger budget and transport than you think!

Drink plenty of water, you can dehydrate rapidly – this is a desert!

A plus – out in the taiga and forest, its ever so quiet.

Have a good time, and watch out for the vodka….

from Chris Woolf

Nickel based technology just doesn’t work in the cold. The capacity falls off by about 20% at 0ºC and 50% at -20ºC. You cannot charge a Ni cell quickly below 10ºC or even slowly below 0ºC. Alkaline Mn is no better – again the capacity just disappears.

Lithium is the low temperature technology to use. It loses only about 10% capacity down to -20ºC. It’s available as Li Ion (rechargeable), Li Fe for 1.5v AAs and Ultralife Li Mn for PP3s. In terms of GBP per Watt available at low temperature it beats anything into a cocked hat.

It can be heroic stuff trying to keep cells warm but using the right chemistry is a lot more productive.