BEWARE !!! Fungus is a silent killer of optics…
Trust me, when a photographer confronts those micro tentacles of fungus growing on any of his lenses, its like an attack that of the tentacles of `Portuguese man of war’. It will make any serious photographer sweat in pain, even in peak winters. Camera lenses are the most precious treasure of any photographer and anyone true to his salt will not let it go to fungus so easily.
Photographer’s nightmare is lens with fungus!
Everyone, makes a serious effort to keep one’s lenses in pristine condition, especially from fungus. For the damage caused fungus to optics is irreversible. I am paranoid about my lenses. I hate even dust on my lens, you may ridicule me for this, but I do not change lenses in the field while shooting, very rare. I prefer to lose a shot than my lens or camera sensor to dust. In India, we have all the three major enemies of optics and electronics i.e. dust, heat, moisture! Well, if you are going to be an outdoor travel photographer, your optics are bound to take some beating by all these three enemies. But there are some measures to reduce the effect of these and increase the lifespan of your lenses.
Please take it seriously! It took me quite some time to figure out about the common mistakes we all make. When it comes to maintaining our camera lenses in pristine
conditions, we all make silly mistakes. Most of the photographers have knowledge about `Silica Gel’ being one of the best options to prevent fungus growth on optics, but make some some mistakes which deny the effectiveness of silica gel. Another most reliable option is a specially made dehumidifier for the purpose, though its expensive to buy and needs power supply all the time. Also not common in India.
The worse thing to do with your optics is to leave them on your cameras in your field camera-bags for long period, after you get back to base. Also, never dump them in a cupboard ever for long time, when not in use.
Do the following: if you want to save optics of any kind (binoculars, cameras sensors, CCDs and lenses).
- Buy big plastic jars (like the Cello company produces in India), wide mouth cylindrical shape, from a plastic merchant, which are airtight and translucent. The capacity could vary as per your requirements, one or two of 5 liters capacity and some 1 and 2 liters to accommodate small items separately. DO NOT buy opaque jars, one needs to monitor the colour of the silica gel.
- Visit a store, which deals in laboratory chemicals. Ask for Silica Gel (blue, self-indicating- course) big crystals.
- In India, I discovered (after 25 years of experience with silica gel) that Glaxo sells the best Silica Gel crystals for desiccation. I have tried all other brands and my expert friends also have the same opinion that all other brands are of very poor quality.
- The total amount of Silica Gel depends on the number of containers and the number of items of the camera equipment pieces. On an average, a professional photographer (having more equipment) should buy about 5 kilos to begin with or depending on your equipment. Must use 1 and 1/2 kilos in one jar of 5 liters capacity.
- Take the Silica Gel buckets/ cans outdoors and put it in a big strainer and shake it well to remove all the loose dusty particles of Silica Gel itself. There is always Silica Gel dust in all containers, so one must check the wind direction and stand facing your back in the direction from where the wind is coming in. And be gentle while doing this process.
Note: Do not breathe this dust, these are Silica Gel’s fine particle and could sit in your lungs and may cause some medical trouble.
- Once you have shaken off the dust, then empty it into the plastic jars gently. Shake the jars a bit (gently) to ensure Silica Gel crystals settle down and shape into a leveled surface. Now, take a thick cotton cloth and spread it two-three-folds, over the Silica Gel, to prevent any scratches to the body of your cameras and lenses, when you place them over the Silica Gel crystals.
- Please avoid accommodating too many pieces together. Ideally, not more than two three lenses in one container. Basically, you should open only that item at one time, which you need. Do not expose Silica Gel to air when you can avoid, as moist air will come in contact with Silica Gel and be ready for re-activation soon.
- Please note that Silica Gel is re-usable so do not worry about investing Rs. 1000 (US$ 25 approx.) for the insurance of your optics and cameras against these deadly silent killers. Once any fungus sets in and stays on the surface of the lens for long time, the quality of the lens is gone forever.
- If you have to keep your camera and optics into the jars after exposing these to moist conditions (monsoon) then follow these guidelines – never place your optics into
the Silica Gel jars straight from the field conditions. Best is to use an infrared lamp; place it horizontally on the floor or a table and place your lens at a distance of one meter, facing directly into the infrared lamp. You may not remove the UV filter, but loosen it quite a bit, just hanging on to the lens by one thread or two, enough for the moisture to escape when heated up by the IR lamp. Keep the lamp `ON’ for 30 minutes. Now place your this piece of lens immediately into the jar, after removing its filters. Please note that there should NOT be any filters in front of the lens while placing it back in the jar, the lens cap is advised to prevent any loose particles to settle on the front element of your lens. Rear lens-cap should be loose enough, just hanging on to the lens precariously. So, the desiccated air could circulate all over to remove the moisture easily.
- Remove UV filters and keep them in the Silica Gel filled jars only. Fungus affected filters are as bad as using spoilt lenses.
- Here, I have one more thing to share. I suggest never use bags to contain silica gel and then place them in jars, one can not see through bags the lost colour of the crystals.
- Bread boxes are a very good option as they provide a very wide base to prevent getting toppled as single box. But stacking of more than two is not advisable, it will certainly increase chances of tumbling the box and then Silica Gel may cause some external damage to the piece of equipment.
- This method works very well and its the best for field conditions. In fact electric oven for baking bread is best suited for the job of re-charging the silica gel.
RECHARGING OF THE SILICA GEL CRYSTALS
Since, its the indicating type Silica Gel, it turns pinkish white (loosing all the blue colour) when it has absorbed maximum moisture from the container, it needs to be noticed immediately and can’t sleep over it even for a day. If it has been ignored for more than a week then technically this means the process for fungus could have started, . In fact, one should take a serious note of it when it starts losing its blue colour. Act at once and recharge the silica gel, much before it turns fully pinkish white.
Do not wait for the silica gel crystals to turn pink fully, it should be light blue in colour when it goes back to the pan for re-heating. Therefore, when you see the colour of the silica gel has turned whitish blue or whitish pink, please do not throw the Silica Gel thinking its gone bad forever.
- Take a clean frying pan, free of greasy materials, i.e. cooking oils, ghee etc. Place it on a gas stove, low flame, and put the gel crystals into the pan and let it heat for some time till some grains start turning cobalt blue and keep tossing the crystals with wooden spatula gently every 5 to 10 minutes. A kilogram of gel crystals may need 30 to 45 minutes to really get rich blue and into its pristine condition.
- Then spread it in an open metallic tray and let it cool for a while, before you place it into jars back. Make sure, you don’t leave it to cool off for long, it will get exposed to avoidable moisture again. Gather the Silica Gel when it is warm and not hot to damage the plastic jars.
- Repeat the procedure for rest of the Silica Gel, if you have more jars .
- I have not yet tried recharging/ reheating in micro wave oven.
DISCLAIMER: If you follow this method, be rest assured the lenses are 100% safe from fungus. But I hold NO RESPONSIBILITY for any kind of damage if it happens to your equipment, that will be only if you make some mistakes overlook some finer points in the process.
My Bitter Experience Taught Me This
I did a bit of research on this subject on my own when I was about to lose my 16x main lens for Canon XL1.
One fine winter morning, I thought of shooting with my video camera Canon XL 1. When I took out my camera and lens from the jars, I was horrified to see fungus on the front element of the 16x Lens lens. I could not believe this, for my lens was well preserved in a jar filled with 2 kilos of Silica Gel and still blue in colour. I was shaken, especially, when the Silica Gel was in large quantity and still blue, considered as the best to safeguard optics against fungus.
I knew for years, for sure, that this is the best `low cost and the most trust worthy’ way to protect lenses from fungus, and I lost all my faith in the method for the moment. But I was not willing to accept it as a fact. After some thinking, I told myself that I could not lose my faith in this tested and tried method, so easily. I sent e-mails and made frantic calls to my expert friends and seasoned photographers who lived in coastal areas and had more experience on the subject. All of them replied coherently that the `cheapest and the best’ method is desiccating type Silica Gel and nothing else.
I had to believe what I saw with my lens, a well kept lens had grown fungus. I repeatedly asked – what they trust the most? And one unanimous reply was that the most trusted is Silica Gel in an air-tight jar. So, I was forced to re-think. I kept thinking for a month and went into all the minute details of my upkeep process. And during this scrutiny I discovered that fungus was only on the front element and not anywhere inside the lens. It took me no time to discover that the UV filter being tight fit on the lens was the culprit, it had trapped some amount of moisture between the front element and the filter. So, friends, remove the filters when you are about to place the lens in a silica gel jar!
WHY NOT THE SMALL SACHETS OF SILICA GEL?
- These small sachets are NOT to be reused. Throw these away. Do NOT reheat.
And the small sachets are used by manufacturers only for one time use. These sachets supplied by the manufacturer are to be disposed off soon after you open the packing and start using your equipment. Never keep them again in your equipment, as it gets loaded with moisture. I have seen many people carrying these sachets like a monkey mother carries dead baby for long.
When manufacturer is packing new lenses or any piece of photography equipment, its done under dust free dry conditions and the lenses are packed in polythene having no moisture content.
I have taken few hours to put this article together, for the benefit of friends, please make a print of it and keep it or circulate the link it to ensure benefit to others.
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