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Your Breath Has Harmful Acids That Can Damage Your Camera Lens

Illustration for article titled Your Breath Has Harmful Acids That Can Damage Your Camera Lens

I can't even count how many times I used my breath to fog up a camera lens to wipe it down clean. It's the photog equivalent of blowing into those old NES cartridges. I swear it works! Turns out, we might be ruining our camera lenses because our breath has harmful acids that can damage them.

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PetaPixel pointed out a Nikon support thread that specifically says not to use your breath:

Do not breathe on the lens to fog it for cleaning. There are harmful acids in breath that can damage lens coatings.

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Uh oh. Then what the hell are we non-professional photogs supposed to do? Nikon says Lens Cleaning Solutions are the best (no abrasives, no solvents) but if you don't have that, use "the blower bulb, then brush, and wipe the lens in a circular spiral from the center outward." The more you know, right. [Nikon via PetaPixel]

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DISCUSSION

I've worked as an Engineer in an Optics coating house. Cliff's notes: I disagree.

Explanation: Any reputable lens company will have a high level of QA on their outgoing lenses and coatings. As someone else mentioned, I doubt Nikon's coatings are so low quality that they can be etched by someone's breath. Coatings are compromised by very, very thin stacked layers of evaporated metals, oxidized metals and ceramics that adhere to the lens. The top layer is usually a ceramic (like SiO2), to prevent the metal layers from oxidizing. Most metals react strongly with acids, as do certain ceramics with certain acids. As far as the acidity of your own breath...I might refrain from blowing on an optic after I just got done drinking a soft drink or some OJ, but your breath, alone, isn't going to harm the ceramic coating on a lens, otherwise, I would worry about how your breath affects the enamel on your own teeth. Scratches are what damage lenses, aside from the physical mark, it will expose other coating layers that will react to oxygen, moisture, and yes, slightly acidic compounds.

Solution: Well, obviously, the best thing for a photographer to have is cleaning solution, micro-fiber cloths, dust bulbs and brushes, etc. Realistically, though, never wipe a dry lens, your breath is fine. Blow first, to remove any coarse particles. A nice, thick fog on the lens will help wipe away most smudges. Use the softest, cleanest wipe you can find and only wipe once before re-wetting the lens. If you can afford the room in your gear, carry a small microfiber cloth or some tec-wipes. Avoid alcohol-based wipes, they're often too wet which results in streaks.