Photography under frosty conditions
The weak point on a camera is the battery, so that under extreme conditions mechanical cameras reveal one of their main advantages: they just need a bit of energy for light metering. If the internal light meter of a mechanical camera fails, an external light meter is helpful. Small in size you can keep it warm under your clothes. Electronic cameras, though, should not be exposed to low temperatures for a longer time. Batteries fade within a few hours. Also try to keep them warm under your clothes. Compact rangefinder cameras might be a good choice for most of the travelers.
Another big problem is condensation. Leaving a warm house and going into to cold will never produce any condensation. Coming back from the cold into a warm house will quickly produce condensation on your camera and, even worse in your camera. The worst you can do is leaving the house with the condensed water in your camera. To solve that problem of condensation there is a simple trick. Before entering a warm house you have to pack all your camera equipment into an air-proof bag. After you have warmed up all your stuff you can take it out.
Controlling your camera, lenses, tripod and bags with gloves is another challenge. I usually wear a pair of thin gloves under thick mitts. The gloves make it easy to operate my camera and protect my hands sticking to the metallic elements, such as the tripod.
Equipment - Camera
Not the equipment is responsible for the quality of an image but the person behind the camera. The image has to be created in the mind of the photographer.
All images presented on our homepage were taken both with professional cameras like the Nikon FM 2 and F3 or amateur cameras like the Canon Rebel and rangefinder cameras from Pentax and Olympus. The main advantage of high class mechanical cameras, like the Nikon FM 2 I use, is absolute reliability even under extreme conditions. With an electronic camera like the Canon Rebel you have to deal with malfunction below -20°C (-4°F) from time to time, although all our cameras could be reanimated after warming them up. Often underestimated, but compact rangefinder cameras are a good choice. I always have an Olympus mju II with me.
Result: If you have to rely on your camera anytime, more mechanic and less electronic is the choice. For a couple of nice vacation shots or travelling trough the Baikal region in summer an electronic SLR or range finder camera is perfectly o.k.
Equipment - Lenses
Less can sometimes be more. A hole bunch of lenses is not the key to a lot of good pictures. I recommend to confine to some really good lenses and to use them in a creative way. Within the endless range of zoom lenses that are available, a 28-105mm lens is a good choice. Lenses with a focal length under 28mm have a very limited field of application. Using such lenses, the photographer tends often to loose their focus on the statement and the core of the image. Lenses with a focal length over 105mm are hardly to hold steadily in your hand. Personally I use only lenses with a fixed focal length.
As a high speed lens I use a 1.4/50mm. With the wide spread of zoom lenses, the normal focal length was pushed into a niche. But this very lens is fast, compact and has an excellent optical quality. In difference to a shorter focal length they force to concentrate on the core. The second lens I use is a 2.8/180mm. For snap shots I always have an Olympus mju II with its 2.8/35mm lens.Electronic lenses like the USM from canon never made any problems even at low temperatures.
Result: If you need quality without compromise, then high speed lenses with a fixed focal length are the choice. Lower weight and high flexibility is an advantage of zoom lenses and range finder cameras.
Equipment - accessories
Spending lots of money for camera and lenses is a waste of money if you don't use a tripod. The use of a tripod means more image possibilities not only in low light situations making it impossible to shoot out of your hand. The slower work with a tripod leads also to a better composition of your images. Using lenses with a longer focal length, a tripod is a must. In color photography a polarizing filter is the only useful filter, giving more color saturation and contrast. As a protection of your lenses, a UV-filter can be helpful. A yellow or orange filter is a must in black and white phothography.
A flash light can not only be helpful in low light situations, but also during the day to light up the foreground. When taking portraits, it can help to eliminate hard shadows through a softer light. Sometimes the determination of the light can be tricky. A light meter might be a helping hand.
Filmmaterial - slide film
Slide films between 50 and 200 ISO are the best I can suggest . Using high speed lenses and/or a tripod, 50 ISO films offer excellent quality. 200 ISO or more are useful for low speed rangefinder cameras and zoom lenses. Some films offer a variable sensibility, making it possible to use them like a 100 ISO or 400 ISO film. Of course you have to keep that in mind while processing these films.
Filmmaterial - negative film
Using a negative film, higher sensibility is no lost in quality. Films between 400 and 800 ISO offer very good quality.
Buying equipment in Irkutsk
High class cameras are actually not available in Irkutsk. Stores offer a couple of cheap rangefinder cameras and some might have a Canon Rebel in stock. In some of the stores you will find a Russian-made Kiev camera, but definitely nothing special. Mid format or special lenses are not available.
Negative color film material is not a big problem, as long as you don't need anything special. Mass market Fuji and Kodak films can be found on every corner. Prices here are relatively low, wheras slide films are a problem, available only in a few stores. Don't ask for anything beside mass market 100 ISO. Processing is about the same problem, negative - no problem, slide - no way. As it comes to batteries you might be able to get a bargain. Most of the types are available for relatively low prices.
My personal equipment
Camera Nikon FM 2n
Lens Nikkor 1.4/50mm
Lens Nikkor 2.8/180mm
Orange filter by B+W
Tripod by Gitzo with Head by Linhof
Light meter by Gossen
Bags by CCS
Film Agfa Scala 200x (b/w slide film)