I have learned the hard way during my career that camera equipment and humid environments do not mix. I spend a lot of time in humid conditions – whether it be overseas or at home during our Canadian summers.
One day many, many years ago, I was looking into one of my lenses and noticed something odd… it looked like a large white speck of dust, but over time, it kept getting larger. I was puzzled by this and took it to my camera dealer who informed me that I had fungus in my lens.
When moisture gets inside your lens, either because of direct moisture exposure or simply because of very high humidity in your local climate, fungus can begin to grow. Fungus is caused by a combination of this moisture and dust (containing fungus spores) inside the lens. And when this goes unchecked for a while, the fungus will grow and ultimately destroy the coatings on the lens elements, negatively impacting your images and rendering your lens useless (and worthless).
You can get your lens professionally cleaned (or the affected elements replaced), but this is costly and time consuming.
But there is a better solution: silica gel.
If you have ever purchased an electronic device, you will often find a package of silica gel in the box. These packs range in size from big to small and often, most people just throw them out.
Silica gel is great at absorbing moisture, hence why electronics manufacturers use them when shipping their goods in boxes. You can even find them in lens boxes now.
After my lens fungus incident, a friend told me to hold onto these silica gel packs and toss a few of them into my camera bag, then zip it up. That way, if any humidity got into my bag, the silica gel would just absorb it. And it wouldn’t cost me anything …
Or so I believed.
If you are interested in seeing what silica gel crystals look like, you can view the photo above. Usually these crystals (which are 2 to 4 mm in diameter) are placed in small paper cases, then packaged with your item. They are usually re-useable and occupy very little space in your camera bag.
For a while, I was in heaven. No more worrying about humidity lingering in my bag to ruin my lenses.
All seemed well until one day on assignment, I opened my bag and found hundreds of these silica gel crystals littering the inside of my camera bag. There was even a fine white dust which was the result of several crystals being crushed.
What I had forgotten to take into account was that after repeated use over long periods of time, the paper package housing these crystals would eventually rupture and voila – crystals and fine dust everywhere!
So after spending an hour with a vacuum cleaner, wet cleaning with several sensor swabs plus a visit to a service centre, I got everything sorted out. I then wondered how I was going combat humidity in my camera bag – I did not want to use these silica gel packs anymore given what just happened.
Fast forward a few months – I saw a little gadget that changed my mind about using silica gel in my camera bag. It is made by Pelican Products and solves both the humidity and accidental rupture issues.
What Pelican did was take silica gel crystals and place them in an aerated metal canister. That way, it would not accidentally tear and spill its contents into my bag, but would allow for humidity to be absorbed. I have been using these Pelican Desiccant Silica Gel Packs (Amazon – Adorama – B&H Photo) for a while now and they have worked fabulously. One pack is able to remove excessive humidity from up to 3 cubic feet of camera bag space.
One feature I like about these silica gel packs is that they can be “recharged”. After a while, the silica gel crystals become fully saturated and are no longer able to absorb moisture. In fact, there is a window on these metal packs that changes colour to indicate this. Once that happens, just put the pack into a 150C (300F) oven, let it sit for 3 hours and presto, it is as good as new and ready to absorb humidity again. I wouldn’t dare do that with a paper silica gel case.
Keep in mind that when you are not using your camera gear, keep your bag zipped and closed. You want to keep excessive humidity out of the bag and from over saturating the silica gel crystals. Doing this will reduce the time between recharges.
Now, all of my camera bags that are in use (5 at present) each have a silica gel pack in them. They are inexpensive (less than $USD 10.00 each) and it is one less thing I need to worry about.
Other manufacturers have similar products, but my main message is to get a non-destructible silica gel pack for your camera bag. Learn from my bad (and expensive) experiences … I know I have!
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