Humidity, Fungus & Cameras. How to care for your camera equipment in high humidity conditions

Solutions for Humidity and Fungus Problems with your Camera Equipment

Camera equipment is sensitive to moisture and dust. I’m going to deal with a couple of ways in which you can keep your equipment safe from high levels of humidity that could damage your lenses and certain parts of your camera body.

Here’s the quick solution: 1) Store your camera equipment in an air-tight container with sufficient Silica Gel so that the humidity level doesn’t promote fungus growth. 2) Make sure you use your camera and lenses frequently. 

Where Does Fungus Grow on Cameras, and How Can it Affect My Lenses?

Fungus typically grows in between lens elements and under the lens coatings. Once it starts growing, it is difficult to get rid of, and causes soft spots in your photographs. It is like having a fingerprint smudge on your lens that blurs the image.

Removal of fungus is painstaking and can only be done by a professional. The lens will never be the same again. This is one case in which the prevention keeps the lens doctors away.

Why High Humidity is Bad for Your Equipment

Fungus or Mould thrives in dark, humid places where there is little or no movement of air (sound familiar? look at where you store your camera equipment). Very often camera equipment ends up in drawers, cupboards, or basements; all of which are dubious places to store them.

Remember that keeping your camera in storage for too long is also a recipe for fungal (and mechanical) disaster. Lenses and cameras need to be kept in use and exposed to light and fresh air from time to time. A camera or lens that is used well, and stored correctly is most likely to see many years of successful photography.

What is the Ideal Camera Storage Humidity Range?

Lenses and camera equipment are optimally stored at a relative humidity (RH) of around 35% to 45%. A good rule of thumb to figure the optimal RH to store your equipment at is to look at its optimal operating humidity-range and halve that number. For example, the Canon EOS 5D MK III’s operating humidity range is 85% RH or lower, so a good indicative range to store the camera would be between 35% and 45% RH.

Why Very Low Humidity is Bad for Cameras

So, wouldn’t it be better to store your camera and lenses at ultra-low humidity levels? No ultra-low RH levels are also not good for your equipment. All camera lenses and bodies have a number of moving parts – gears, sliding thingies, and rolling thingies – and they’re all lubricated with a special light machine-oil. Maintaining a very low RH could dry up that oil quicker than usual, making these parts wear out sooner, requiring you to have them repaired. I also think that the rubber on the camera tends to harden quicker in very dry air.

Additionally, there also seems to be another kind of mould that affects camera equipment at very low RH levels; I’ve only come across this in one place, so I don’t have much info on that. If you have some information that you could add, please do leave it in the comments.

High Humidity can be bad for camerasPhoto: dawn_perry

Solutions that Prevent Fungus Growth

So what’s the solution? The cheapest option is to use your camera as frequently as possible; The exposure to light, especially UV light kills the fungus. While this is not a problem for active enthusiasts, those who store their cameras for any length of time need an alternative.

Option 1 – Sunlight / UV Radiation

Put your camera out in the sun from time to time. Remove the lens (or you could end up with a hole burnt in your shutter or some other part), filter, body, etc, and put them all out in sunlight for a while. If you manage to work this into your monthly camera care routine, you should be fine.

You could also try what some photographers do: use a High Power UV lamp in their storage area. Why? Because prolonged exposure to UV (Ultra-Violet) radiation kills or retards fungal growth. Do remember to take your UV filters off if you decide to try this method out, because they are designed to keep UV rays out of your lenses. The lens coating blocks UV light too, to an extent.

Ok, so you’re exposing it to light on a regular basis, but what if you live in a region that is perpetually humid? See alternative 2 for an answer.

Option 2 – Use Desiccants or Humidity Control

As always, there are cheap options and expensive options. In either case, you’ll most likely need a Hygrometer so that you know what the relative humidity is at any given time.

1. Dry Cabinet for Cameras – Expensive

A Camera Dry Cabinet or Dry Box will let you keep your camera equipment in the ideal humidity range through the year, no matter the outside humidity. They’re usually electronically controlled and look like mini glass-fronted refrigerators with cameras stored in them. Lit well, these boxes can look very classy, and can keep your expensive equipment perfectly safe for years. Just look at these options on Amazon, they look positively delicious.

These boxes usually have fine-grained controls to set the relative humidity to exactly the level that you want. They also have built in Hygrometers, but I’d suggest getting your own to monitor the actual interior status.

2. Silica Gel – Cheaper

Silica-Gel is the cheap way out. It is a desiccant (something that dehumidifies the air in the vicinity of your camera equipment).

You can buy Silica Gel either as crystals, or as tiny spheres. Most often you find them in porous sachets so that they don’t disperse among your equipment. If you decide to go with Silica Gel for your cabinet, remember that you should get the indicative variety. The crystals of Silica gel are blue coloured when they’re fully absorbent, white-ish when they’re partially full of moisture, and pink when they’re fully saturated with moisture and can not absorb any more. You can Recharge your Silica Gel at this point. Please read my in-depth article about recharging silica gel for more information.

In fact, keeping the silica gel in the camera storage beyond its saturation point can see some of the moisture escaping back into the atmosphere.

You’ll need a container like the Dry Storage Silica Gel Dehumidifier (Link to Amazon) to store it, yet create enough airflow through the crystals. You’ll also generally need lots of silica gel (link to buy on Amazon). But remember that it lasts a long time, and needs no further investment.

Again, remember that keeping fully-saturated silica gel in your camera storage could do you more harm than good by actually releasing more moisture into your camera storage area, so monitor its condition and change it as needed.

3. Dehumidifiers & Airconditioners – Expensive

Full-room De-Humidifiers usually use mechanical means to reduce the relative humidity of the air around it. You may have seen some dehumidifiers on shopping websites already if you live in a humid area. However, you should remember that a small, or low-powered one will most likely not help you achieve the result that you’re looking for.

De-Humidifiers are usually quite effective and can reduce the time you spend on modifying your camera’s environment, but they generally draw significant amounts of electricity as they’re trying to dry out an entire room, not just a small box.

Air conditioners are useful if you live in region that is both hot and humid. You’ll benefit from the cool air too, but of course, running it all the time is probably not practical or healthy. Your Air Conditioner will reduce the ambient humidity to a level that should be safe for your camera equipment. This is because Air Conditioners dehumidify as they chill the air, leaving a comfortable storage humidity for lenses and cameras.

No matter which solution you end up going with, you should get a hygrometer to monitor the air quality around your camera equipment.

Summary

To wrap up, remember that the best maintenance / fungus prevention plan for your camera and lens is to use it often. Regular use keeps the lenses and camera body aerated and exposed to sunlight, thus killing any fungus.

If you don’t use your camera often, make sure that it is stored in a well-ventilated area with an ambient humidity range of 35%-45% RH. Also, remember to take it out often and expose it to sunlight.

If you live in a humid part of the world, you could try one of the other three options mentioned above – Chemical Desiccants, Camera Dry Cabinets, or full-room De-Humidifiers.

If you have had experience with fungus and humidity affecting your camera equipment and have found an alternate solution to those mentioned above, please do leave a comment so that our readers may benefit from your experience.

EDIT: I recently came across these two very interesting items on Amazon.com. I’m going to be investigating their potential use in photo equipment storage, but here you go anyway.

Featured Photo: ~jjjohn~