Info: Keeping cameras dry in Japan

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In Japan and other asian countries with wet seasons, fungus and other mold growths are a serious problem for camera collectors and users. How do you keep the little critters from growing on your prized possessions? Fungus requires two things to grow: moisture and dark. Take either of these away and you'll be spared the shock of finding your prize Summilux with white spiderwebs or spots growing on the lens surfaces.

Use it or lose it: Simply using your camera frequently is a good way to prevent mold from growing. Sunlight and UV light both kill fungi. Take your camera out often and the sunlight will naturally kill off anything in it. Nothing hurts a camera more than storage. Even if you can't use it, take the lens off the camera and put both in the sun for a few hours. It's important to take the lens off because the sun coming through the lens can burn a hole in your camera's shutter. Remember to take all your lenses, auxiliary viewfinders, and filters out for this treatment. Fungus is contagious.


Keeping it dry at home: In all of the asian countries I've been in that have a wet season, they sell dry storage cabinets for valuables. These can range from cheap oversize plastic tupperware-type boxes (~US$20) to fancy glass storage cabinets (~US$300). Most have built in hygrometers (humidity meters) and some way to control the humidity, such as rechargeable dessicant packs or electronic humidity controls. If you're staying in the country for a while, it's worth the investment. I bought one of the smaller plastic boxes for my stay in Japan.

In Japan, cans of nori (seaweed) come with giant dessicant packs to keep them crispy. I use those. It's easy to recharge them by putting them in the oven toaster on "low" for about 30 minutes. I've also sauteed them on a frypan as well as microwaved them. Anything that can apply a gentle heat of more than 100 degrees centigrade (212 farenheit) for more than 15 minutes works. If it's in a plastic wrapper, be careful not to melt the plastic, though.

In Japan, Fuji Color sells small satchets of fungicide (labelled フジカラー カビ防止剤 in Japanese). I haven't seen this sold in the USA. It contains a chemical called BCA which prevents fungus growth and is very cheap insurance (•150-300). I keep one in the same dry box as my cameras and one in my camera bag.

Keeping it dry in the field: If you're travelling and can't lug around a giant plastic box, not all is lost. The most important thing is to stock up on dessicants. You'll need more because you won't be able to recharge them as easily. In Japan, as I said, each can of Nori comes with a huge satchet. But in the States, I buy mine in industrial sizes here: www.desiccare.com.

Dessicare sells industrial grade sizes as well as smaller satchets. Last year, I bought two of their huge shipping container dessicant bags, for use in my storage unit in Saint Paul; as well as smaller packets for my camera bags and indicator strips. They were very quick in shipping. They're a good company that mainly sells to other companies, like shipping companies and electronic manufacturers.

In the field, I keep several of the small packets in my camera bag. That keeps the general humidity in the bag down. I recharge them every now and then. If I don't have access to an oven or microwave, sitting them in the hot sun or in front of a hot incandescent bulb will dry them (slowly). The worst thing you can do is to keep your cameras + lenses in a camera bag that's damp or wet overnight. If your bag gets wet, dry it immediately. Hanging it in the sunlight will help kill any bugs in it.

The problem I find is that my day bag gets damp during the day if the humidity is high. So at night, I hang the bag to dry and take all the cameras and lenses out and put them in my hard-sided suitcase with a large satchet of dessicants. Hard sided suitcases are relatively air tight. Take all your clothes out when you do this because clothes have a high level of residual moisture.

Remember to recharge your dessicants. They're worse than useless if saturated -- they'll actually elevate the moisture level.

13 Comments

Good advice Karen.
In Thailand I buy 500 gm of silica gel and a piece of gauze cloth. Cut cloth in squares and put in a small handful of silica gel. Wrap it with a rubber band. Place in equipment cases with lenses. A friend uses a UV light - the type used for serilization, not discos. Light mounted on bottom of a shelf of a bookcase. He takes off his UV filters - that's important even when putting lenses in sunlight - leaves lenses under UV light for 2 days then reverses them for 2 more days.
Another problem with fungus - film. Even those who are totally digital have film from the old days. I've found small zip-loc bags that one mounted slide will fit into. All slide film is stored this way. If one frame is infected it won't spread to the rest. Neg film in sleeves are stored in larger zip-locs with silca gel packs. For those who want to by silica gel get the color changing kind. Blue dry, clear partly wet, pink very wet. Suppliers such as you mentioned or chemical supply stores will sell in quanity much cheaper than the little packets sold in camera stores.
BTW Karen I find your site very interesting. I appreciate your fondness for old classic cameras. Even tho' I'm mostly digital now I still uase a Nikon F3T, Hexar AF, Yasica TTL, Fuji GS645, Oly XA & a Graflex XLRF
All the Best
ej
Chiang Mai Thailand

UV light sounds good but I would be careful of over use. UV light destroys rubber and plastic. So if the lens had any rubber focus or zoom controls or worse.. if it was made out of plastic or any of the internal elements were made of plastic, they could yellow or become brittle. Moderate use is fine, but don't go overboard! :-)

Well, living in Brazil, this is also a concern. Not actually here in São Paulo, which is a very poluted, dry, city. But in Rio de Janeiro, my hometown, this is a major worry. That dehumidifier is a great idea. Since me and Susie both love things that require care with humidity ( cigars and cameras ), we are considering having on the living room, a decorative/storage cabinet with glass windows, to allow some sunlight to come in, and with humidity control for the cigars and cameras. Yes, it will be split in isolated sections, being actually four diferent cabinets in one, to have diferent controls for diferent stuff ( important books, cameras, important books, cigars ). Will be an expensive project tho. I will keep you guys posted if/when we manage to build it :)

In extremis, rice can be used as a dessicant, also comes in handy if you run out of noodles.

Hi Karen
I like your website, very informative! The fungus problem may be partly solved by using strobe light eg., from a studio flash setup. I have read, but typically lost the URL that the use of strobe light can be used to safely treat food. The light although not apparent to us boils the DNA in the fungus/ mould organism and would of course penetrate camera lenses and probably by reflection any organisms that would be invisible to sunlight or UV. I have also looked at medical sterilisation units -but these are too expensive. Maybe a UVC lamp culd be fitted inside a cabinet - like a metal bread bin those with a sliding cover. The lenses and other gear could be placed in the cabinet with the glass surfaces exposed. The strobe light option seems to be the best method -provided it does work! At present in the UK I have a relative humidity of 64% as its a damp Spring day. I am thinking of buying a dehumidifier to ensure that my cottage is camera lens friendly. The advice to use your cameras or get them out to air regularly and the use of Silica gel packs makes very good sense.
best regards
Geoff

I have enjoyed your site, and your writting style. I recently bought a Yashika Electro 35, with two basic lenses for $60. and have found your site very rewarding. I have yet to get the spring or "Pro Adapter", to try them all out.

hey, thanks for the excellent info karen! I've just become the proud owner of a spII and i'm remembering all the stuff from high school!!

Paul and David -

Congratulations on your new acquisitions and have fun shooting with them!

Karen

I don't know how to comment in the section that has your collection, so that's why I'm doing it here. the website you are talking about that respools film to fit old cameras, such as the kodak autographic 2c, is either rockymountainfilm.com, or filmforclassics.com. hope this helps!
Ashleigh

I have a Bolsey b22? I think that's the name, and I made the mistake of storing it in a back of my car while moving, and now it's got white spots on it and I can't take it out of it's leather casing!!! :(, any suggestions?????

i'm a newbie here, just tried your method to heat up some very old silicon.. it works! :)

what is the best setting in dry box for camera and lens

My camera repair guy in Los Angeles (Walters Camera Repair) tells me that uncooked rice wrapped in a bit of cloth makes an excellent desiccant.

By the way, love your website.

- a fellow Yale alum (BA '93)

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This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on March 31, 2005 12:31 PM.

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