Camera Geekery: Looking after your camera lenses
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 mobilecloth.com 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. If you have a lens that need repairing your can drop me a line and I can get it repaired for you.
Better to be safe than sorry.

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