I’ve taken pictures during summers at the pole and winters at McMurdo, down to about -40. Here’s what I found:
Most electronics do okay. At the Pole batteries go dead rather quickly, so it’s good to have a warm spare in your inside parka pocket. Some materials don’t do so well– some LCD screens get very sluggish, and in autofocus SLR lenses the plastic may shrink differently than the metal. This causes some loose focusing action but it doesn’t usually prevent photos from being taken. Manual focus lenses with internal lubricants often feel gooey and slow. Depends a lot on the camera and lenses.
There’s usually no problem with laptops if you keep them in a case while walking between buildings.
Condensation is the real killer. If you bring a cold camera into a warm, moist building it will fog up (externally and internally) immediately. That’ll really screw up most video cameras and many digital cameras. The way around it is to put your cameras & lenses in a case or plastic bag before bringing them in a building, and then letting them warm up gradually. Fluid-head tripods are useless, leave ’em home.
If you’re wintering and want to take aurora pics, you’ll almost certainly need a film camera (that’s a long topic in itself). Otherwise it’s up to you. For a summer contract, I don’t feel that a film camera is necessary for general snapshots.
I may go to the Pole this summer, and in preparation all I’ll be doing is buying a spare battery and putting some gaffers tape on any metal parts on the back of the camera (so my face doesn’t freeze to it). That and a big ziploc bag will do it.