Equipment storage and usage during the rains
Rains..They’re just round the corner in June and as always they bring back memories. Memories of the cold, foggy weather, hot cups of tea, onion bhajiyas and some of the best photographs that I’ve shot. It’s the time of the year for macros, landscapes with lush green hills, seascapes with storm clouds, waterfalls – a lot of opportunity awaits the photographer who is willing to venture out. Unfortunately it’s also the time of the year when fungus starts to etch its way into your lenses especially if you live in a place that has a hot, humid, tropical climate! The good news is that all that expensive photography equipment that you own can be used during the rains – as long as you take some precautions, on usage & storage and if you are not out there shooting during the rains, then you are missing out on some of the best photo opportunities of the year.
Let’s start off by talking about equipment storage first. The best solution to keep your equipment safe from fungus is to store it in something commonly called a dehumidifying cabinet. It runs on electricity and keeps the humidity levels under control and in turn ensures that you don’t get fungus on your equipment. Up until a few years ago the availability of these cabinets wasn’t very common and a company called kalabhai in Mumbai was the only option that was available locally. These days there are a number of brands, models and sizes available. Some are fully automatic, some semi automatic…both are known to do the job well. Check for after sales service and the availability of spares before narrowing down on a brand to buy.
The next best alternative if you don’t have a dehumidifying cabinet or don’t want to buy one for whatever reason is to buy some Tupperware or similar type of airtight containers, put some silica gel sachets into the container and put your equipment inside. You can monitor the humidity level in these containers by putting in a humidity meter. Remember to remove the lens cap/s when you put the lens inside the container.
Avoid storing your camera in a camera bag or in a nice dark cupboard or next to damp walls. These are the best places to attract fungus. At times when in the field you have no option and equipment has to be left in the bag for a day or two or longer – remember to remove the camera and lenses from the bag as soon as you are back home. Remember - a camera bag is excellent for carrying stuff in the field and on a trip – it’s not meant for storage at home.
Some “protection” options for shooting during the rains
- Buy a large, strong umbrella – depending on the weather and the place you are in, you never know when it may come in handy. Get some sort of a rain cover for your camera – locally made ones are available for a few hundred rupees and do the job fairly well as long as you are careful. I would suggest you check that the cover fits your lens properly before buying as some of these covers appear to be useful only if you have a small lens. Water proof underwater cases (housings) which allow you to dive underwater with the camera are also available for obviously a lot more. Take your pick
- There’s also a DIY option - Carry some plastic bags with you and a pair of scissors and rubber bands. If it starts raining, put the camera in the bag, cut a hole through one end for the lens to peep out, push the lens hood through (the lens shouldn’t be really outside the bag just the hood) and put a rubber band around it tightly. Shoot by holding the camera inside the bag and use the live-view mode to focus and take the shot. I usually avoid using UV filters on my lenses (no I don’t want to start a UV vs No UV debate) however during the rains I would suggest you always use a lens hood and a UV filter as it would help in a lesser amount of water hitting the glass
- Avoid taking the camera out in torrential rains. A slight drizzle is fine but keep some towels handy for wiping the camera. Remember to put some into your camera bag when you are stepping out!
- Shoot under an umbrella where possible or go to places where you can duck into some sort of a covering / shade if it suddenly starts pouring.
- Keep your car close by so you can rush to it in case it starts coming down in buckets.
- There are some people who leave their equipment out in the sun like you’d do to your body if you wanted a tan…the thought process is - it’s been raining for a few days, now the sun has come out so the camera can get some sunlight. I personally don’t ever do this and wouldn’t advise you to do this either - I feel it would ruin some of the movement / rubber seals / lubricants etc.
- Usually high end cameras have better “weather sealing” as compared to entry level cameras. You might want to remember though that “weather sealing” is not the same as “water proof”. Some cameras handle water better than others and that’s something that you should check before you start using your camera in the rains. For example, when I used to shoot with the Nikon D700, I remember using it in the rains on numerous occasions without really bothering to even wipe the water off the camera body…the Nikon Df that I currently own doesn’t give me the same level of confidence. So do check with other users if your camera is known to handle the rains well…if not then use it with a rain cover and preferably under an umbrella.
What to do if your camera / lenses get wet
- The best answer is dry everything asap. Use a towel, use whatever you have, use your T shirt , use a handkerchief but dry the camera and lens as soon as possible.
- If you are out shooting, keep wiping your equipment whenever you see water droplets on them
- If your equipment is “soaked” – stop using it immediately and switch it off, if it hasn’t already gone off on its own. The electrical circuits may give you problems if you switch it on. Leave it off, wipe the camera, remove the battery and send the camera to the service centre before you attempt to switch it on.
Now this bit of advice is based on what ideally should be done - I have some friends who have shot in torrential rains with their cameras completely soaked and yet lived to tell the tale. The camera went off, they turned it on again after sometime and it was working fine (yes even an entry level D3100) but that doesn’t mean that it’s the correct standard operating procedure for a camera that has been drenched in the rains!
What do you do if you see fungus on your lens?
It depends on how much fungus and where.
If it’s outside – wipe it gently / clean the glass (be careful you don’t clean it in a way that results in the glass getting scratched)…and that reminds me, all camera owners should learn how to clean lenses correctly. If the fungus is inside, you have 2 options – leave it there or get it cleaned. Contrary to what most people new to photography think – you can still take good pics with a lens that has fungus. So it’s not like the lens will stop working or something. Unless of-course you’ve got so much fungus on the lens that it actually starts having an impact on image quality! You can either get it cleaned from an authorized service centre or from one of the friendly neighborhood lens cleaning / camera repair guys if you want it done cheaper.
If you are very brave you could try opening up the lens yourself :p A word of caution though - it’s possible (I’ve done it a number of times) however you need to have the tools, skill and the technical knowhow. If it’s a local camera repair guy just make sure you go to someone who is known for his honesty / experience and wont attempt to clean a lens if it will damage the coating - Fungus cleaning can result in damage to the lens coating. If not done carefully it can also result in scratches on the glass as well as dust on the inner elements. Company service centres will usually tell you if they feel that attempting to clean a particular lens will result in damage to the coating. I remember taking a friends Nikon 70-300VR which had fungus on the inner elements to the Nikon service centre and they said they wouldn’t recommend cleaning it as it would result in some damage to the coating on the glass.
So it’s more of a judgment call that you need to take – sell the lens, clean the fungus or live with it.
And as the saying goes – prevention is better than cure…so if you haven’t yet figured out a storage solution for your equipment, do it now!
How do you check for fungus on a lens?
Hold the lens in your hand, remove both the front and the rear caps, open the lens aperture to its widest setting (use the aperture ring if your lens has one or the button / stick at the rear end that controls the aperture) and look through the glass. Hold it at an angle and look through it (don’t point it at the sun). Look through the front end first and then the rear end in a similar manner. If you see some sort of thin lines that are across the glass or in certain parts of the glass and appear to look like threads growing from a dot like point – that’s fungus.
To cut a long story short
Lenses when used and stored correctly usually remain in their fungus free state for years…fungus is often the result of an owner being careless. And as the saying goes – prevention is better than cure…so if you haven’t yet figured out a storage solution for your equipment, do it now! The rains throw up numerous photo opportunities - make the most of it.
Use your camera & lenses carefully, store them correctly, clean them regularly and keep shooting!
Text by Ayaz Bambotia
Image courtesy: Sujit Bhagwat and Sangram Govardhane