DVX100 in Arctic Conditions

by Fred Thorsen
Dec. 3 2003

I'm back from shooting a behind-the-scenes doc on the making of a feature film in extreme conditions in the Canadian North. We ranged between 58 and 68 North latitude. Here's a summary of my experiences:

1. The weather turned out far worse than I expected. On the first day of the shoot, we had a blizzard. The following day dropped to -45 with the wind chill (-30 base temperature).

2. The only protection I could provide for this camera was to wrap it in a Kata rain cover to protect against wind, then fill it with Hot Shots (chemical heating pads). This worked great for the most part -- until I discovered that all five Hot Shots FROZE on the -45 day. So I realized that the camera was operating with no protection against the cold -- AND IT WORKED PERFECTLY. On the other hand, the tripod I had froze up and became virtually useless. Also, my eye actually froze to the chamois eyepiece I had attached to the viewfinder.*

3. All the footage turned out great -- particularly the footage of a period Inuit village complete with igloos. The 24P was marvellous. I left it on all default settings, as I was satisfied with the look this provided.

4. Design flaws certainly presented themselves as I was working in these harsh (and granted, unusual) conditions. Reaching in under the frozen rain cover for the zoom and focus control was difficult, so I left it wide. But any time I did need to reach in, I would invariably hit the audio level inputs, and accidentally change them. Wish they could be locked.

Also, I found that the viewfinder kept falling to the flat position (from its 45 degree angle). This was very annoying -- I wish there was a way of locking this as well.

5. Aside from these concerns, the experience was incredible. The camera appeared INDESTRUCTIBLE, and the footage turned out great. It was particularly nice to aim the camera on a professional, fully lit set, and see how good the 24P looked.

In my opinion, this camera is perfect for documentaries to be shot in Arctic conditions, sparing the expense and difficulty of shooting 16mm.

I used the 24P Standard mode, with 'Thick.' As the final market will be TV broadcast (along with the film's DVD), I felt this was sufficient. (Of course, I will go through a proper post -- online, color correction, etc.)

Prior to returning home from set (involving an hour's ride in "Tundra Buggies" and buses), I would leave the camera in a heavy duty airtight plastic bag, with a container of dessicant (water absorber) inside, then wrap that tightly inside two garbage bags. This allowed for the warming up of the camera to occur over a couple of hours. This avoided condensation upon returning the camera to room temperature.

I did mess this up on the first day, and suffered condensation. But I let the camera sit and dry for a while, and it operated perfectly, with no error message.

Out in the cold, I also accidentally stepped inside the warmer interior of a Tundra Buggy. = Instant fog on the lens.

Like an idiot, I jumped quickly back outside -- and of course, instant freezing of the fog. However, I simply took off the protective UV filter, gently removed the ice crystals, and everything was fine.

Lesson learned: once it's cold, let it stay cold; once it's warm, let it stay warm.

* I had a chamois leather eyecup over the supplied rubber eyecup; some moisture got on there (from my breath), and my eyebrow and the skin below my eye froze to it one morning when I pressed up against it. It certainly wasn't a medical emergency, but it was amusing.

letter from 2-pop.com DVX100 forum, reprinted by permission
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