Maddening Condensation!


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May 30, 2010
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Wolcott, Connecticut, USA
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Has anyone ever experienced a situation where your lens remained persistently fogged up despite the temperature being equalized between the camera and the ambient air? Is that even possible?

I ask because I was recently out doing some landscape photography in what could best be summed up as "misty, forested mountains" and was hit by the dreaded lens fog. Yet, I used the same procedure as I always have to equalize the temp between my camera and the air... it's always worked for me in a pretty wide range of different circumstances. Nonetheless, I just couldn't get my lens to stop fogging up until the mist disappeared from the mountains... and the best shots were long gone. Early rise at 4:30AM, an hour of driving to get there, two miles of hiking... down the drain.

So I started thinking... is it possible that the humidity was just so high that my camera was just collecting dew? Maybe in the same way that, on certain very humid mornings, a meadow will be covered in water droplets enough to soak my boots all the way through... even though the meadows have been exposed to the ambient air temperature all night long and are presumably as "equalized" as they could possibly be.

This whole situation has me really puzzled and frustrated, since I've photographed in plenty of misty, humid conditions before and never experienced this problem.
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The only situations when I think this could happen is when the lens temperature is not totally synced with the environment. Maybe on the outer layer it is, but inside it's not. Apparently it was in cold place before using. Or, right, when the humidity is very high, but it has to be very high, like in a turkish sauna, but I think the camera will short-circuit in such conditions. I'm speaking (typing) mostly from my physics knowledge, rather than photography experience.
"is it possible that the humidity was just so high that my camera was just collecting dew?"

YES. If you've been to the Olympic National Park rain forest, you might have experienced mornings so filled with airborne fog and/or mist that the lens,and your eyeglasses, get covered in moisture every few minutes. It's a PITA situation. The same situation can occur near large marine areas, where saltwater spray is carried aloft in a fine,fine mist.
I wear eyeglasses and this happens to me as well.

Fog is moisture in the air, heavy fog can be just like rain.
Think about your car windshield as you are driving in the fog.
Very possible indeed; shooting in the places like Oman and the UAE, I've had to wait well more than an hour on many occasions for my gear to "dry" out. Assuming more temperate conditions, I would just put the gear in the car the night before, and when you start driving, open the bag up (Well padded gadget bags are VERY effective insulators as I've found to my chagrin on one or two occasions) and leave it wide open for as long as you can.

However, if you are at the dreaded 100+% humidity, there's not much you can do except 'shoot, wipe, shoot, wipe, shoot'. As long as the insides of your gear are clear, then it's just the eyepiece and front lens element you're dealing with, it's not too difficult.
Wow... so it really was as I suspected! I suppose it makes sense that I wouldn't have had this problem before. Connecticut has plenty of hills and tiny mountains, but only in the northwestern corner of the state (where I was that morning) are there places where they are jam-packed tight enough together to trap such heavily moisture-laden air.

Also, I'm no marathon runner, but I hike at least every week. I couldn't believe how much I was overheating while hiking out there... until I came around to realizing that my sweat wasn't evaporating. Strangely, that's what really tipped me off to the possibility of the high-humidity problem.

if you are at the dreaded 100+% humidity, there's not much you can do except 'shoot, wipe, shoot, wipe, shoot'.

tirediron, what do you use to dry-clean your lens in that scenario? I almost exclusively use micro-fiber cloths, which work great for me in almost all situations. But in this case, they truly failed me... the microfiber has almost zero ability to absorb moisture. I kept trying my damnedest to wipe the lens off to squeeze off some shots... but the microfiber just endlessly pushes the water around.
When the relative humidity is 100% at the current air temperature, the air is 100% saturated with moisture, and condensation cannot evaporate.

In that situation if you wipe away the moisture, and dry the lens it, will quickly get wet again.

Your problem wasn't condensation, it was dew, a somewhat different phenomenum.

Check out 'dew point'.
tirediron, what do you use to dry-clean your lens in that scenario?

I buy dollar-store/Wal-mart micro-fibre cloths and wash the heck out of them; after about ten or fifteen trips through the washing machine they pretty absorbent. Nice sections of plain, good quality cotton (such as well washed face cloths or small towels) work well too.
several times i walked out to my camera on a tripod for 4-6 hours doing star trails to find the lens completely covered in fog.

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