My camera's manual warns about sudden changes in temperature, but there are a few cases when I can't see how to avoid this.

These include entering a reptile house in a zoo, or a trip to tropical house such as in the Eden Project, where the outside temperature is 15° C and inside it's 38° C.

On a recent trip, I did not take my SLR but I saw many others with them, although the lenses were all steamed up initially and unable to get a shot.

Will the sudden change in temperature harm the camera beyond just fogging up the lens? Are there any precautions to take against this possible harm?

  • Right my drunk friend fell into the snow with my bag on with my nikon in side in the box and it is not turning on I'm in the home now there is condensation on the lens what do I do? :/ I just got it – user15672 Jan 19 '13 at 0:00
up vote 16 down vote accepted

Condensation is the biggest risk, and prevention is always better than cure. One thing I do prior to entering such environments is to place a lens cloth over the front element, and heat it with the heat from my hand prior to entry -- the target is to get the front element above the dew point for the area you're going into.

With the specific case of the Eden Project, the trick is to go into the arid Mediterranean house first where the humidity is lower than the rainforest house (but the temperatures are generally similar).

If anything, I'd suggest SLR (and bridge) cameras are easier to remove condensation from the lens (but it would take longer to warm through). It would be a "very bad idea" to change a lens inside an area with elevated humidity, as humid air could then condense all over the place.

It is worth remembering that some SLR cameras have professional quality weather sealing

  • I'm interested in the weather sealing specs of cameras — where did you get this value of 10mm/hr rainfall for the 5Dii? I'm trying to get some more specific details on different bodies/lenses/brands/whatever... – drfrogsplat Dec 13 '10 at 6:50
  • @drfrogsplat I can't find the source for that right now, so I'll remove for the moment -- the closest reference from canon is that the 5D2 is "EOS 5D Mark II now has dust and water resistance that is almost equal to that of the EOS-1N" in a white paper on the Canon site – Rowland Shaw Dec 13 '10 at 10:09
  • that's a shame, i was hoping i'd finally stumbled on some proper weather resistance specs (; – drfrogsplat Dec 13 '10 at 12:02
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    Honestly this is one area where too many lawyers were probably involved. Nikon for example states 'the camera is sealed against moisture and casual humidity'. That is really not confidence-inspiring. Some manufacturer's used to specify mm of rain per hour but I have seen no such specs for a while. I can vouch though that I have rinsed a Pentax K-7 with DA* lens under tap water for two minutes or so without problems. – Itai Dec 13 '10 at 16:41

Most lenses aren't perfectly sealed which means you can get moisture on the internal glass elements as well as the front and this can take a while to clear, leading to mould forming which is very bad. You're unlikely to damage a lens if this happens occaisonally but it's just better to avoid condensation in the first place.

Condensation occurs when moving from a cold area into an area with warm moist air as the cold lens elements cool the air causing moisture to precipitate out. As stated previously, good practice is to put the camera and lens in a sealed plastic bag before moving from the cold area. This traps dry air around the lens and gives the glass time to warm up. Do not seal the camera in a plastic bag when moving from a warm area into the cold! As the warm moist air inside the bag will start to condense as the camera cools.

Just because warm air can hold more moisture doesn't mean it will always be more humid, so there will be times when this is uncessesary, however it never hurts to be cautious. Also note that if you are in an extremely cold climate it can take a long time (hours) for all the camera internals to heat up again.

In general rapid extreme temperature changes are bad for equipment as they cause expansion and contraction of materials and can cause brittle components to break. For this reason I generally leave gear in a bag when moving around if possible as this will slow down heat transfers to safe levels. Also black camera bodies can heat up very quickly if left in direct sunlight (this is supposedly why the Canon super teles are white) so that's another reason to use a good bag.

Batteries can suffer in cold climates however these affects are usually reversible when the temperature goes back up. It's a good idea to keep batteries in an inside pocket when shooting in the cold.

The best advice I've heard is to put your camera in a sealed plastic bag for several minutes to let it adjust temperature. That way when you take it back out, there isn't condensation on the lens.

Normal humidity (i.e. not something like rain forest) is not much of a problem as long as the gear is the same temerature as the air. It's temperature changes that causes problems.

The water stays in the air, unless there is something colder that cools the air around it and makes it deposit the water as condensation.

Moving a warm camera into colder air is not a problem, but moving a cold camera into warm air will cause condensation. Keep the camera in the camera bag to let it acclimate to the temperature.

(I live in Sweden, where the difference between inside and outside temperature can be 50°C or more in the winter, and I have successfully used this when I bring the camera back indoors.)

Ocean Conditions

This may only be a Isolated problem, however I shoot a lot of sea scape shots. The house is of course air conditioned. When the camera and equipment is moved from the house to the area where I am going to shoot I find that condensation will built up in the equipment. This cost me a great deal to repair after a spotting issue developed on the inside lens and view finder. Avoid drastic changes in temperatures and moisture contents in the air where possible. Even if the equipment is "Weather Sealed" or not. Condensation develops behind the weather sealing rendering the seals useless. Best bet is a secure place that is well ventilated and out of the sun and the air temperature are ambient. The answer for me, was a unused bathroom that had a window in it, that I could raise an allow the outside air in. I stored the equipment there without having a problem with condensation build up when the equipment was transported to be used at the shoot location. Sounds a bit far fetched but having the condensation spots in the photos was a real let down, and cost me a bundle to have repaired, nearly wiping out a expensive lens.

I've used my Olympus E1 -elderly perhaps, but beautifully made - which is weathersealed and still has the best anti-dust system ever devised. This camera plus my pro, weathersealed 14-54 zoom, has survived the most extreme humidity and still works like a dream. (as did my previous, pre-digital camera, the Canon F1-n; sadly the canon optics did suffer from the humidity, unlike my Zuiko lens, which not only out performs the Canon optics, but has lived to tell the tale!!

No doubt Canon and Nikon worshippers, will be fondling their well hyped treasures, and weighing up the risks to their very expensive 'status symbol' neckgear, before venturing into the rain forests.

  • I've a friend who took his E1 on a transatlantic sailing trip. He claimed that thing got soaked, rained on, sprayed, and generally took all sorts of abuse on that trip, and yet it performed without a hitch, kept on truckin' and works to this very day without issue! :) – Mike Jan 23 '12 at 17:47
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    While I appreciate the tale, and I like non-Canon/Nikon as much as anyone, this doesn't really answer the question of what precautions to take, given that "find a used Olympus E1!" isn't a reasonable option in general. – mattdm Jan 25 '12 at 1:20

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