Cold air conditioning + hot, humid weather = foggy lenses with either long delays or ruined photographs
A recent trip to the beach near Charleston reminded me what a problem foggy camera lenses can be. In this podcast, we discuss ways to prevent the opportunity for fog to hamper your photography outings.
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Products mentioned in this podcast
USB Powered Lens Warmer (Amazon)
Watch the video I shot on Edisto Island here
Full written transcript
In this episode, how to prevent a foggy camera lens
Hey everybody Keith Dotson here, and I recently spent a week in beautiful Charleston South Carolina, where I photographed historic architecture, and gorgeous coastal barrier islands and beaches. Charleston is known for its long history which can be seen in virtually every downtown neighborhood, and it’s known for great cuisines, abundant arts, numerous huge old churches, palm trees — and of course, being a coastal city in the deep south, Charleston is known for being hot and very humid!
As a photographer, this presents a problem — camera and lens fogging. If you step out of your air conditioned hotel or car, into the heat and humidity of a place like Charleston, your eye-glasses will immediately fog over, and of course, so will your camera lenses. This can also happen in places like Iceland, where you’re in a cold climate and trying to photograph geothermal features, or coming into a warm building after being outside in the cold.
In Charleston, I actually experienced condensation on the outside of my camera body — I mean I had water droplets on my camera grip. Not good!
You can wipe the fog off the front element of your lens, but of course, it will fog over again almost immediately. Even worse, the camera sensor can fog, and that’s not something you can wipe away with a cloth. The interior lens elements may also fog over, which takes longer to clear and could result in mold growth later.
So what can be done to minimize this problem — and even better — how can a photographer prevent it from occurring in the first place?
Well, the problem is occurring when the temperatures and humidity levels change drastically, so the key to preventing camera fogging is to change conditions gradually. In Charleston, I could have avoided this problem altogether by traveling to the beach with my camera bag in the trunk of my car. Keeping the gear inside the zipped camera bag in the trunk, would have allowed the entire contents of the bag to slowly warm up from the hotel I’d just left while keeping them away from the car’s AC.
In this case, I didn’t do that because I was driving on Botany Bay road, which is bumpy and rough for miles. I was more concerned about my equipment bouncing around than I was lens fogging in this case. An alternative for me would have been to drive with windows down, and the A/C turned off. I actually did do this for the last leg of the trip, but it wasn’t long enough. I didn’t give the bag enough time to acclimate.
Anyways having said that — here are some tips for preventing camera fogging in tropical climates
Get the camera outside well before shooting. Give it at least 30 minutes to one hour acclimate before shooting. I keep a few bags of silica gel inside the bag to help alleviate ambient moisture. For more heavy duty moisture absorption, you can get silica gel canisters that are claimed to protect 3 square feet of enclosed space, and can be recharged by placing them in the oven.
Let the entire bag warm up. Since the closed camera bag contains air pockets, allow it to slowly change temperatures before opening. This will take time, so plan ahead and be patient. Some people recommend partially unzipping it — just be sure not to let anything fall out.
Other people recommend putting camera gear inside zip lock baggies. One helpful article suggested putting the camera inside a ziplock baggie with some silica gel bags, and setting it into the sun. The article claimed the condensation would occur on the inside of the bag instead of the camera — I haven’t independently verified this but it sounds reasonable. You can use this same process for bringing the gear from the cold outdoors back into your warm house.
This is a technique recommended by photographer / YouTuber Matt Granger, but he reminds us to take out the cards and batteries before putting the camera into the ziplock, so you don’t then have to open the bag and retrieve them while the camera is acclimating.
As I mentioned, if you’re riding in the vehicle with air conditioning on, travel with the camera gear in the trunk. Or, keep the camera gear in the vehicle with you, but ride with windows down and A/C turned off.
When you do pull the acclimated camera out of the bag, leave the lens cap on for a few more minutes for a little extra prevention. It’s a small one, but there’s an air pocket in that space too.
And here’s something I’ve had happen to me, but would never have thought to mention had I not seen it in an article — when hiking, keep the camera in your bag rather than close to your body, because your body heat can actually cause fogging, especially if you hike in humid regions (looking at you Charleston).
Astro photographers and people who shoot in conditions likely to create foggy lenses sometimes use what I’ll refer to as an electric blanket for the lens. These are specialty lens wraps that plug into a power source and keep the temperature of the lens consistent. One article I read also showed someone using rubber bands and those plastic packets of chemical hand warmers wrapped around the lens.
The bottom line on prevention is to allow the entire camera bag to transition as slowly as possible across temperatures.
What if you’ve already fogged up? What can be done?
Unfortunately, as I learned on the beach at Edisto Island, once your gear has glazed over with moisture, there’s not much you can do except wait patiently. Don’t detach the lens from your camera or you’ll allow your rear elements and sensor to fog up too, compounding the problem. Guilty! I definitely did that at Edisto Beach, and it made things worse.
Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to defog the lens with a hair dryer on low setting — be sure to keep the warm air moving all around — don’t hold it in one place too long.
Keep a micro-fiber cloth handy for gently wiping the fog off your front element, which you’ll need to do repeatedly until the internal temperatures of the lens catch up to the ambient temperature.
That’s all I’ve got for this episode. If you want to see video of my time
Thanks for listening.
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