Camera’s Worst Enemies – Humidity, Fungus

Why High Humidity is bad for your equipment
High levels of humidity can damage your lenses and certain parts of your camera body. Fungus grows in between lens elements and under the lens coatings. Once fungus gets started, it causes blurring parts of your photographs.

If you like to store your equipment in camera bags, dark cupboards, or basements then you are in for trouble. Fungus or Mould like dark, humid places where there is little, or no movement of air. Keeping your camera in storage for too long is inviting disaster. Lenses and cameras need to be kept in use and exposed to light and fresh air from time to time. If you store camera or lens wisely and use them correctly they are likely to give you years of trouble free life.

Optimal storage for lenses and camera equipment are 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 it’s optimal operating humidity range, and half it. For example, the Canon EOS 5D’s operating humidity range is 85% RH or lower, so a good indicative range to store it would be between 35 and 45% RH.

Why Low Humidity is bad for your equipment
Remember, that you could also run into problems from keeping your relative humidity levels too low. All camera lenses and bodies have a number of moving parts which re all lubricated with a light machine oil. Keeping your RH too low could dry up that oil quicker than usual, making these parts wear out sooner, and work sluggishly. Rubber on the camera also tends to harden quicker in dry air.

So what’s the solution?

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 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.

What if you live in a region that is perpetually humid like where I stay (coastal belt of India)?

Silica Gel
Silica-Gel is the cheap way out. It is a dessicant (something that de-humidifies the air in the vicinity of your camera equipment).
You can buy Silica Gel either as crystals, or sometimes 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. They are blue when they’re fully absorbent, white-ish when they’re partially full of moisture, and pink when they’re fully saturated. You can “Re-charge” your Silica Gel at this point by drying the silica in a oven or under the heat of sunlight

You’ll need a container like the Dry Storage Silica Gel Dehumidifier to store it, yet create enough air-flow through the crystals. You’ll also generally need lots of silica gel. But remember that it lasts a long time, and needs no further investment. Remember, that keeping saturated silica-gel in your camera storage could do you more harm than good by actually releasing more moisture into your storage.

As with everything, there has always got to be an expensive option. De-Humidifiers usually use mechanical means to reduce the relative humidity of the air around it. 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. You could also use your Air Conditioner to reduce the ambient humidity to a safe level for your camera equipment. This is because Air Conditioners dehumidify as they chill the air, leaving a comfortable storage humidity for lenses and cameras.

To wrap up, remember that the best maintenance/fungus prevention plan for your camera involves your regular use of the equipment. Regular use keeps the lenses and camera body aerated and exposed to sunlight, thus killing 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 either Chemical Desiccants or De-Humidifiers.

8 thoughts on “Camera’s Worst Enemies – Humidity, Fungus”

  1. Hi Krishi.. Iv heard that keeping equipment in a box with a 20-40watt bulb will help solve this issue.. since my kit is small and will easily fit in one drawer, do u think fitting a bulb and storing the kit in that will help?

  2. Arun pai, It might be worthwhile investment if you can buy a small dehumidifier box. Light bulb box hasn’t really worked for many. Heat is supposed to make the box dry. But in coastal humidity it is not so. Too much of heat might damage the lens or camera inside also. If you forget to open box and bulb is fused then humidity will raise and you have no way of knowing. Of all the methods mentioned dehumidifier box is the best method available.

  3. Krishi Sir, how is tupperware option? Can I keep the dslr with lens in a tupperware along with silica gel crystals.

    At present I store the dslr with its kit lens attached inside a plastic bag with indicative silica gel, which is stored inside the canon kit bag, which I keep inside a cupboard.

    Is there a cost-effective option. One idea I’m having is of storing it in a vacuum food box. I take out the dslr once in a week at least.

  4. Sir, I am using a air tight box for lens & body with some amount of silica gel inside. I also put a hygrometer in it to monitor the RH level inside the box. After 24 hour it shows the RH level is 20%. Is that a problem with the RH level? Coz I heard the ideal humidity level 35%-45%. How can I control the RH level of the box? Please let me know… I will be grateful to you.
    Thanks. – XELON

  5. I am facing the same problem. I have kept my equipment in an airtight plastic box, along with silica gel. The RH goes dow to as low as 20% over night. This is way below optimal range mentioned. How do i control the humidity. Do i need to keep opening the box everytime it goes too low? Is there a way in which i can keep it balanced at 35-45%?

  6. Hi, I’ve had the same equipment and reading for RH, what I have done is: leave the silica gel until reading is around 25%, then I take out the silica gel fast and close again the air tight box, leaving the hygrometer inside the box, then wait for the hygrometer to update reading, open and close the box until you reach the desired RH (35%), then leave the box closed and check RH every day, you’ll find that the RH is almost stable over days, but gaining humidity very slowly. Repeat the procedure each time the max RH (45%) is reached or the box is opened to take out yor gear.
    I’ve found aprox. 1% RH gain in one day or two.
    I hope this will help.
    Pease leave me any comment.

  7. Dear Richard Nycander,
    Silica is works intensive. If you forget to monitor, humidity crosses 45. Other than that, it is a very useful low cost solution. Thanks for the comment.
    Thanks for contacting me 🙂

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