How to look after your lenses (aka summer is coming)


by Bellamy /

6 min read

How to look after your lenses (aka summer is coming)
Heat and humidity are the biggest enemy of any precision instruments, and even your lastest and greatest cameras are not immune from the problems that moisture brings. This guide can help you prepare for the heat.

The summer is coming and with the summer comes humidity, the mortal enemy of lenses and cameras everywhere. Japan is extremely humid in the summertime and the Japanese are well aware of the effect that it has on cameras, which is why they are well prepared for it.
But if you don’t live in Japan it does not mean you are immune from the silent terror that is mould. Even in countries that are not particularly humid you can still find yourself in a mess if you don’t take the proper precautions. But what are the proper precautions? How can you protect your cameras and lenses? Well, this little guide should help you escape with your glass looking lovely.

Know your enemy
What is lens mould? Well, your lenses are a sealed element, but they are not completely sealed and moisture can creep into the sturdiest of seals. Mould can grow in any damp and warm environment, as is seen in how badly it affects houses over the years. If you live in an area that is particularly humid during the summer months then you have to take extra care to make sure you don’t see the dreaded spiders legs.

As you can see from the lens above, the streaks across the elements in the lens can be ruinous. Mould and haze can attack any equipment and often creeps up on you without you noticing. This lens had haze all the way through the lens, which made the lens soft and cloudy. This effectively ruins the lens as not all lenses can be recovered from this horror.
Sometimes it it is not haze or cloudiness, but what can be be described as a filigree of fine marks across one or more of the elements of the lens. If this happens you really are buggered, as this is usually not financially viable to repair. Only on the most expensive lenses would you consider it, and even then it may not be possible.
What I am basically getting at is, you don’t want this. Not at all. So, whatever you can do to avoid this the better. Spending a small amount of money could save you a great deal of money in the long run.

Bags are not your friend
Camera bags are brilliant, I have loads of them and cannot live without them. But your camera bags friendship is decidedly conditional. They will protect your gear from the elements and carry things with ease, but they will not help protect your gear from the effects of heat and moisture.
One thing that you can do to help yourself is use silica gel packs in your bag. Keep a couple of them handy in each bag. They cost practically nothing and can save you from grief.
But the best thing you can do is get your gear out. When you get home it is terribly tempting to put your bag down, forget about it and look at cat videos on the interwebs. This is not going to do you any favours though. Your bag may be damp, or retain the moisture from the heat of the day. It is then going to sit in the heat of your house.
The effects of this may not be immediately apparent, but over time they will be. So better safe than sorry, get your gear out of the bag and get it somewhere safe.

Poor thing, the haze is obvious

Wiping away all your troubles
So, you have got your gear out of your bag, now what? Well, it wouldn’t hurt to clean it. You don’t have to do a full strip down, but giving it a once over to make sure that there is nothing untoward is going to help you later. Make sure you use a decent cloth to do this. I personally like the Mobile Cloth I have found these to be really really efficient at cleaning your gear. I shouldn’t need to tell you to make sure you have a decent blower, and not one of those crappy little ones with a brush on the end. In fact, stay away from brushes, they can get debris on them and wipe that on the lens.
Get some decent lens cleaning solution too and some paper wipes. Do not use kleenex, it is too rough and will leave marks. Use proper lens paper, which will not mark your lenses. As I have said, spend a little to save a lot, so don’t be cheap and skimp on these vital items.

Keep them dry, keep them safe

Once you have cleaned up any problems and you have made sure that there are no invaders hiding in your gear, you need to keep everything somewhere that is safe and dry. Under the stairs in the cupboard is not going to cut the mustard I am afraid, I cannot count the number of times people have pulled a bag out of a cupboard for me to look at and we have found everything covered in fungus.

If you have spent a lot of money on your gear, then you owe it to yourself and your gear to get one of these, a humidity controlled cabinet. Like a humidor for your gear. It will keep everything at between a peachy 35% to 45% humidity without any trouble. You can get them in a load of different sizes. I am not joking when I say I have seen one guy with 25 of the 120 liter ones full to the gills with gear.
An interesting fact is that Leica (and several other brands) prefer to be kept at about 43-44% humidity. The internal seals dry out if they are too dry and the grease can also dry. You have to think in the long term about these items. So having somewhere to keep your bits is great. It is also nice to have a James Bond style showcase of of your favourite gear.
One of these cabinets can go for about $200 for the smallest size up to about $1000 for one of the big boys.
But what about if you don’t have a ton of cash and a bundle of fancy cameras? Well, you can still do this on a budget.
Get yourself one of those big plastic tubs and put some silica gel inside. Some camera shops will sell plastic tubs which have a humidity gauge in them as well, which is a great alternative if you don’t want to break the bank.
I cannot stress how important some decent storage is for your gear. It will save you no end of headaches in the long run.

All is not lost

If you are careful and you look after your gear you will never see these problems. I personally have never had any of my own lenses or cameras develop mould, because I have been careful to make sure that they don’t. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, I remain vigilant.

Some lenses can be repaired if the damage is not too severe. Catch it early and find a decent camera cleaning place and they can bring your beauty back to life. But not all lenses can be saved, generally the older and rarer the lens, the less chance of them saving it.
Better to be safe than sorry.

I hope this helps you and that your gear lives a long and happy life.

23 comments on “How to look after your lenses (aka summer is coming)”

    AG May 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm / Reply

    What is the brand / model of humidity controlled cabinet that is pictured?

    Scott W May 23, 2013 at 2:18 am / Reply

    Great article! Thanks Bellamy. -Scott

    Jason May 23, 2013 at 8:27 am / Reply

    The humid months began their vicious barrage a few months ago in Hong Kong. It is really good to learn about that 43-44% humidity for Leica lenses. I was always under the impression of between 60-70%. Huge difference.
    In regards to dry cabinates. I tend to cheap out a little bit <– feel free to critique me. Dry boxes with closet silica gells (generally designed for clothes and closets). They keep the humidity down quite low. THe one disadvantage is that there is a physical pool of water under the silica gel container. After 3 years, no mold yet (*crosses fingers, knocks wood*)

    Jason May 23, 2013 at 8:27 am / Reply

    The humid months began their vicious barrage a few months ago in Hong Kong. It is really good to learn about that 43-44% humidity for Leica lenses. I was always under the impression of between 60-70%. Huge difference.
    In regards to dry cabinates. I tend to cheap out a little bit <– feel free to critique me. Dry boxes with closet silica gells (generally designed for clothes and closets). They keep the humidity down quite low. THe one disadvantage is that there is a physical pool of water under the silica gel container. After 3 years, no mold yet (*crosses fingers, knocks wood*)

    David R Munson May 23, 2013 at 8:40 am / Reply

    When I was in Taiwan for a year, one of the first things I purchased was a dry cabinet and that was probably one of the best decisions I made. Cost me NT$3,000 (USD$100-ish) at the Costco in Kaohsiung. Kept my gear happy and dry, and had the added benefit of getting me to keep my cameras/lenses more organized than I tend to otherwise (limited shelf space). I should probably have one here in Chicago, but I’m probably just not going to get around to it. Once I get to Osaka, though, it will seriously among my first purchases.

    Josh May 23, 2013 at 8:40 am / Reply

    Coming from a country (Malaysia) where it is humid all year round, I can’t begin to stress how important it is to keep the humidity at bay. I currently have 2 Aipo dry cabinets to keep all my gears when I am not using them. Pretty neat stuff with digital humidity meter that shows the humidity level in the cabinet

    DK May 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm / Reply

    Surely, dry cabinet is a must buy item for your camera / lens investment :)
    Here in tropical Indonesia humidity is happened the whole years that’s why I bought it the 1st day I had my camera. Besides manual lens price is higher and higher every year. Keep my lenses on dry cab is like saving gold in a safety deposit box

    Daniel May 24, 2013 at 8:07 am / Reply

    I put those small silica packs in my camera bag that you sometimes find in shoe boxes. I don’t know if it actually helps with humidity or not but its piece of mind for me.

    howard richards May 25, 2013 at 11:54 am / Reply

    I bought a couple of Lock & Lock airtight (not vacuum) boxes (from the supermarket food storage section), poured a bottle of blue silica gel grains in each, and parked my bodies & lenses. No fungus or mold at all! Only problem is I have to refill with new silica gel every 6-9 months, but very portable, and electricity-free, which is critical in remote outdoor shoots. Try it if likje me, you have to find money wherever you can.

      Allan June 30, 2014 at 3:42 pm /

      Good tip if space and storage is an issue thanks

    David May 29, 2013 at 6:09 am / Reply

    Can someone recommend some dry cabinet models or brands for storing equipment? I tried squinting but still couldn’t make out the brand from Bellamy’s picture.

    jeff w June 5, 2013 at 10:53 pm / Reply

    Its a shame to see the Zunow 1.1 with damage. That is one very collectable lens that more importantly produces some stunning images..i have looked into dry cabinets at times but as i live in California I dont believe I would need one. I Keep most of my Collection in an antique cabinate….among my collection I am fortunate to have on of the last 100 Notilux’s that come with an Elie Bleu Tabletier Box with a built in Humidity gage. I keep the Box open in hopes its reading the entire cabinets humidity and check it on occasion. The built in Humidity gage for the Lens reads 60-75% as normal..mine never goes above 55%..that is not to say that there are areas in CA i am sure that could need the use of a dry box..right on the ocean perhaps..

    Allan June 30, 2014 at 3:40 pm / Reply

    Good article I am In the UK and found the mention of paper wipes usefull I think perhaps I have found microfiber really good but will investigate the paper option thanks for the info

    Mike June 30, 2014 at 3:55 pm / Reply

    These are fantastic:

    Rob July 1, 2014 at 1:16 am / Reply

    Honesty! You dont need to baby your gear so much people. Your camera is made of metal, not paper mache, lenes high quality plastic or metal and glass that can take a beating, it’s not tishue paper. Stop worrying about treating your camera equipment like it’s made of gold and just take pictures. Cameras and lenses are not collecitble items, they are tools.

    Just my 2 cents.

      Bellamy July 1, 2014 at 7:36 am /

      I guess you have not lived in a humid country then, Rob. As those tools, which is many cases are quite expensive tend to get mould and fungus very very quickly when it is hot and sticky. Making them useless and worthless. All it takes is a few dollars and a few minutes to stop your gear becoming worthless. Why wouldn’t anyone do that?

    JC Franco July 1, 2014 at 6:40 am / Reply

    I live in Dubai and It’s too humid outside then you go right into an airconditioned room or vice versa and it gives you that foggy thing like the once on your eyeglasses and the like. What is the best thing to do about it? Thanks!

    Hanyi July 25, 2014 at 4:30 pm / Reply

    May I know whats a good lens cleaner solution to buy? At one of the camera repair shops I went to, the technician was telling me about this special solution which he can only buy in bulk … which leaves me wondering whats good for us amateurs.

    Joseph Sambataro July 25, 2014 at 10:08 pm / Reply

    I have resided in the Philippines for 9 years. It makes the Florida heat, and humidity, seem tame.

    My experience, here, has taught me a few things. Do not store in a closed drawer. Some of that equipment will develop a fungus. I presently store lenses, bodies, shoe mount flash units, and any other photo gear on open shelving. But in spite of that one lens, a Mamiya 150 for my 7ll, developed a second growth. So earlier this year I invested in some tools. Mostly rubber spanners for removing the trim ring. Then a steel lens spanner for removing lens element(s).

    Grant S. July 29, 2015 at 2:26 pm / Reply

    A delayed but maybe pertinent response: Living in Malaysia I come across this problem frequently, and have had a fixed lens camera almost ruined by condensation settling on the sensor – you do not want this to happen!
    So I keep a freezer bag, seal-able, with a silica gel pack in it in my camera bag, and if I am going into, for example the cinema where is is highly air-conditioned, I place the camera inside the bag before I go in, and wait for temperature to equalize before taking the camera out again to shoot when I hit the street.
    Slightly inconvenient, but much better than having condensation build up on your lens and possibly the internal electronics as well.

    Brad Webb August 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm / Reply

    It’s a Toyo Living A”uto Clean Dry” ED-240CDW:

    Float August 6, 2016 at 4:59 am / Reply

    Re-upped on my lens paper(altura), cleaning fluid (zeiss), microfibers (mobilecloth), silica gels and got one of those large blowers (I had the medium size before). I bought a dry cab last year when I read this article. Going to keep all my cleaning supplies on top of it and clean everything as it goes into the cab.

    Stephen D. June 10, 2018 at 7:18 am / Reply

    Just a note about rubber blowers –
    in a humid environment, if they are not also kept in the dry box,
    mold can grow on the outside and inside of them.
    So you take your carefully stored lens or camera out,
    and then blow mold spores on it with the blower.
    Not good.
    I actually quit using blowers altogether
    when I saw some mold growing on the outside of my rocket blower.

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