Why lenses get fungus and how to avoid it.

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Why do lenses get Fungus?

Airborne spores of fungus are everywhere, and they exist in immense variety.  Mould and mildew are the familiar kinds that flourish in warm, damp places.  Generally, the type of fungus troublesome to photographers in Australia grows most readily at temperatures between 24 and 29'C (75 and 84'F).  It feeds on dead organic matter such as leather, cloth, wood, paper, and gelatine, but it will spread and damage other materials, the glass of lenses in cameras and binoculars, for example.
Moisture is essential to the growth of practically all varieties of fungi, and they thrive in darkness.  Obviously, in a hot damp atmosphere, cameras, sensitised materials, negatives, and prints, as well as clothing and other fabrics, will be attacked.  The only really practical way to prevent the attack of fungus is to keep the articles dry and clean as far as this is possible.

Some methods of Prevention:

We can try to dehumidify the environment the equipment is stored in by various methods.

A well Air conditioned room.  In a properly air-conditioned building or room relative humidity is kept low so the chances of fungus are reduced especially if you store your cameras out of bags on shelves or similar..
Or we can use a refrigeration type dehumidifier to reduce the relative humidity.  The room must, of course for perfect results be resistant to the passage of moisture through walls, ceiling, and floor, and it must be kept closed.
Dehumidifier cabinet or  dry storage cupboard.
A heated box or a cabinet in which an electric light bulb or a small electric heater element is kept switched on can be used to keep cameras and other equipment dry.  Adjust the temperature in this type of enclosure so that it is about 5-6 degrees  C  higher than the room temperature.  Also, allow air to circulate through ventilation holes in the top and bottom of the box or cabinet.  Do not keep films or photographic papers in enclosures such as that described above. Removing batteries from equipment stored for more than 24 hours is also recommended. Search the net for plans to make your own or you can buy them. Avoid the little aquarium box style ones.
Silica Gel:
Those little packets are great for keeping your tortillas fresh, but do nada for most other items that they are packaged with. Why because they absorb some moisture and thats it no more. The average camera case would need around 50-100 grams of Silica Gel to keep it dry and would need to be sealed and replaced regularly. Avoid this method as a form of prevention.

Or there is a much simpler way!

The 3 step plan:
This is our own tried and tested method for avoiding fungus put together from experience over many years.
It comes down to three simple factors using your gear, storing it correctly and finally monitoring it for any invasion from the Fungus monsters.

First up use your gear! Get out and about with it, feel free to expose it to sun and air even stop to take some photo's every now and then. If you use you gear weekly and store it in a dry, well aired place you should never have problems with fungus. Never come back from a trip and throw your camera bag in the bottom of the wardrobe with all those mildewed shoes... that's just asking for problems. We hardly ever see pro's gear with fungus why? because they are always using it.
Storage is just as critical.
You come back from a days shooting tired or keen to see the results on the computer. Take a moment to open your camera bag take out the items and put out in the open for a few hours or a day, even in the sun for a short period. Make sure your stuff is dry before it goes away. If possible store your gear  in a well ventilated and dry area. Even an open set of bookshelves is recommended over a dark cupboard. I store all my camera gear out in the open as much as possible.
Monitor your gear, keep your nose alert for any hit of that good old mildew smell. Especially in bags particularly leather ones. A good idea is put the bags out in the sun every now and then.

Danger Danger !!!!! Fungus has got my lens! What should I do?

First no need to panic. Fungus is not going to take over the house overnight. Though prompt action is required. Make sure you give all your gear a through going over select out what is clean and what has become infected. Now time to clean all external surfaces with lens cloth and fluid. Quite often the fungus is just on the front or rear element of the lens.
If you are able to remove it then great. It is worth while placing your gear on a warm sunny window sill or similar for at least several hours ( be careful on really hot days use common sense)  If you are unable to remove it or it has got a foothold internally then it has to go to the lens doctor who will clean it and gas the item to kill the spores.
Fungus will often eat into the coating of the lens ( this is what it feeds on yummy!)  some brands of  lenses seem to be more resistant to this occurring than others. If it has eaten into the coating it will leave a mark that will at best ruin the resale value of your lens and at worst affect it's optical performance.

So in summary:

1.        Keep cameras, lenses and accessories in a well ventilated and dry environment.
2.        If not in regular use, inspect equipment monthly for any sign of mildew or musty odour.
3.        At the first sign of fungus. Expose equipment to sunlight for a short period of time. Paying particular attention to cases and carry bag.
4.        Do not store photographic equipment in bags or leather cases for extended periods of time.
5.        After all this the most important piece of advice we can pass on is: Always use extreme care and common sense when using or storing your                  valuable photographic equipment.

Hope this guide saves you from having to deal with the Fungus monster!

The Mainlinephoto team.

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