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Intro:

This is a popular question throughout this site as well as the internet in general. However the same answers which address storage are used for usage. In this question I am specifically focusing on the active usage. That is, how do you avoid "catching" fungus while actively shooting in a warm humid environment? And if you do catch it, how do you remove it preventing re-occurrence?

The two most prevalent answers involve: Silica Gel and UV/Sunlight. Both of these I would like to discard as not applicable for active usage, that is, when you're constantly taking the camera out of the bag and placing it back.

Possible considerations:

Lens treatment

fungicidal pellets, ammonia, borax or some other chemicals. However their safety, usage, dosage, or combination are not clear.

Camera bag composition

This I haven't seen discussed much anywhere at all actually. From my personal experience, however, I can confirm that fungi are not omnivorous and do prefer certain plastics and materials. However I can't confirm composition, only that some are more susceptible than others and presumably that some are immune. Goes without saying that if you put your camera in a bag that has developed fungus there's very high likelihood of it spreading to your gear.

Some background about my particular case

Fungus is relatively easy to "clean" with just light soap and a cloth. I even added a very light ammonia to the mix (too light perhaps?). I've done it, and it was gone for a year. However, it returned the next year (now), coinciding with the cycles of tropical environment of the country where I'm presently staying.

Initially all my 3 lenses and even the camera sensor were affected. The sensor was completely covered when I noticed the problem with the lenses. (The humidity at that particular time seemed most severe.) Although the sensor is still clean now, all 3 lenses got the fungus like a clock at the same time again. I usually pay attention to equipment, so I would estimate that it went from unnoticeable to what you see in the image I attached, in about a week or less.

So a real solution would involve something that keeps it away, or kills it permanently, when you happen to catch it. So if you do get it again, it comes from a different source. Clearly in my case I didn't kill it thoroughly. Taking electronic lenses apart is very hard, with a chance of damaging the fragile ribbon cables inside, so goes without saying - best minimized.


In this section I describe in detail why Silica Gel and UV/Sunlight are not applicable to this particular question. You can skip it, as long as you keep it in mind.

Silica Gel as a preventive measure

Silica Gel (and similar moisture absorbing chemicals) are very effective when it comes to storage of photo gear. For camera shops or people who wish to store their gear it is a perfect solution. However, in this question I address a situation where a person is actively shooting in a warm, humid environment and for such scenario silica gel is completely useless. The reason being, as you frequently open your camera bag the gel is absorbing the humidity around you rather than from the camera.

UV/Sunlight as a way to kill the fungus without opening the lens

No matter how long and what kind of light you shine at the fungus infected lens, fungus will not fall off. It will just stay there, degrading the image quality. No matter the duration or the type of light you use, there's no guarantee that some spores are left unexposed. And since you leave fungus remain on the lens it can not be distinguished from dead or living. So this is very risky procedure. However, I should mention, there are some people which will chose to leave the fungus on their lens in order to avoid servicing or disassembling it (or for whichever other reasons). For the sake of this question, I am not addressing that scenario, and not considering it a solution simply because it doesn't solve the problem. Visually, fungus is still there. Is it alive? It's unknown. However, for storage-related questions, it is a good practice to occasionally take the lens out of storage and dry it in ventilated area exposing it to sunlight. Unless if you're in humid environment. Then it's better to just take it out of storage and swap silica gels with fresh ones.

Caution: Exposure to direct sunlight has a very high chance of damaging the electronics inside the lens. Also, as the sun moves, an angle could shift causing a concentrated beam which could possibly damage something as well.


Note 1:

  • Fungus is constantly in the air around us. Yet I know many photographers who actually live in these regions and do not even use silica gells. So this would indicate that the effect of contagiousness is more important than matching the right enviromnet (humidity + warmth). So this would suggest that if you clean everything thoroughly, you should not get reoccurence. For example, my sensor is still clean, even though the lens attached to it has fungus on inside. If it were on the outside of its bottom I suppose the sensor would easily get infected at least a little bit. But the fungus most likely "activated" from within the lens.

Note 2:

  • One more thing I've read just now, about storing lenses in ziplock bags with some silica gels. BAD idea. There's air inside the bag, and if you're in a hot environment this air can convert into condensation (moisture) which is bad for electronics inside the lens. But even aside from that, moisture is fungus's best friend.

This is one of the affected lens elements from inside my FujiFilm lens:This is one of the affected lens elements from inside my FujiFilm lens


So to recap, what is a definitive and comprehensive answer to the problem of fungus appearing on a lens while actively using it in a humid environment and how to remove it if you already have it?

  • That is really hard to read... Are you trying to ask 'After removing fungus, how do I prevent it from occuring again'? – Crazy Dino Aug 4 '17 at 9:53
  • @CrazyDino Well that's why I made it in bold in the first paragraph: "The question itself still stands, I would like to find a away to kill the fungus and prevent it from reoccurring." I can change it a bit to make it more direct, what do you think? – Emil Aug 4 '17 at 10:04
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    from what I have been reading it is very hard(if impossible) to get rid of fungus completely, many suggest keeping the affected equipment separately from the "healthy" one. To prevent it, you should store your body and lenses in a dry environment. I guess now all of your equipment is affected and there is not much you can do... – dannemp Aug 4 '17 at 12:39
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    I do think that your main focus of this question ("how do I stop/eliminate fungus once it's taken hold", if I understand you correctly), is distinct from the other questions. However, I think as written, there's entirely too much "stuff" to make it an easy to read, "Stack Exchange Good" question. For instance, your paragraph about silica gel is argumentative and entirely dismisses rechargeable desiccant options. Can you pare this down to a clear, somewhat more concise question? – scottbb Aug 4 '17 at 18:51
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    Out of curiosity do you store your camera/lenses inside the bag you take outside? – Crazy Dino Aug 5 '17 at 23:02
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As a broad, sweeping statement - Silica Gel actually works very well...

The trick is to keep drying it out in the oven - its water adsorption is reversible.

You can get gel with an indicator - orange, it's still working; green, it's 'full'.

If you're in the field, swap it out frequently & keep checking the colours. Use sealed lens boxes [optimally clear or frosted to allow light in, though perhaps not too much direct sunlight] & keep spare gel packs in a separate container. Use the 'overkill method'... have far more fresh gel than you will ever need.

It's dirt-cheap compared to lenses.

There's a nice & simple FAQ here

  • You see, when the camera and the gear is used continuously in the humid environment, it doesn't really matter how quickly you can swap silica packs. It's a chemical, and it needs a bit of time to work. So if you keep opening and closing the bag, essentially it's trying to dehumidify the air around you. – Emil Aug 4 '17 at 19:48
  • It's not alive, it's not 'trying' to do anything... though I get your point that you are attempting to catch a waterfall in a cup. One question though - do you live in a rainforest? [I'm going to actually have to ask that as a question on here... how humid does humid have to be; & does it have to be combined with heat? Manchester vs Delhi... – Tetsujin Aug 4 '17 at 20:00
  • Well, now, saying that it's not even trying... but alright I guess it's a chemical so it has no feelings ;) I haven't been to Manchester so can't compare. The region where it first occurred is near Kolkata. I've been to some extremely hot places but very dry, the problem didn't occur. Before this, I've stayed in humid but cool place - nothing. It occurred first time last year, exactly the same time as now. Coinciding with monsoon season. So it definitely needs Humidity + Heat (~35+C). But I know others who live here and they don't have it. So source from where it can spread matters more. – Emil Aug 4 '17 at 20:27
  • Fungi are alive. They are biological organisms that use organic compounds to reproduce and grow. They produce organic compounds as waste that are byproducts of their biological process. Their spores are similar to the seeds of plants - they can remain dormant for a long time but when the conditions are favorable they will become active and grow. – Michael C Aug 5 '17 at 8:10
  • My comment was referring to the Silica Gel... – Tetsujin Aug 5 '17 at 9:26
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The answer to your question, as written, is that there is no solution.

You've specifically eliminated the two most effective ways for suppressing the growth of fungus: lack of dust and humidity (because they feed fungi) and UV light (because it prevents the spores from flourishing). Those are the most effective ways of preventing the fungus spores that are in the air everywhere from growing and reproducing.

Anything else requires opening up and disassembling the lens on a regular basis to clean every little part - which your question seems to exclude (It seems to me you wish to do it once and then never again). I guess if you had purely mechanical lenses you could completely immerse them in formaldehyde or something, but that might have a negative effect on the lens coatings.

  • Just because you or I have no answer doesn't mean there is no solution. I only eliminated the nonworking solutions. If you believe I'm wrong please correct me. I don't mind being wrong. – Emil Aug 4 '17 at 19:40
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    @Emil The answer I think is in your question. To do exactly what you want, the lens needs to be opened. Quite possibly internal components will need to be replaced or repaired using non-trivial industrial methods. – user50888 Aug 4 '17 at 21:30
  • @benrudgers As I mentioned, I have disassembled and cleaned these lenses. The fungus returned. So whatever I've done is not really a solution. A temporary fix at best. Just to give you an example of what could be done, one of the things I'm trying right now is to use anti-fungal lotion on the parts around optics as well as optics themselves (optics later cleaned). This is experimenting, however, as anti-fungal agent is probably not as strong as it could be for non-human elements. – Emil Aug 5 '17 at 5:41
  • @Michael In your post you're suggesting that I'm excluding the lens disassembly. I'm not excluding it. Please change this part as it will confuse the readers. I said that the lens has to be disassembled anyway to clean the fungus to avoid visually affecting images. And while you have it open, might as well use stronger methods. What those methods are -precisely- is my question. There are reports of various things that can kill fungus, such as ammonia, but they are all too broad and generic. We need a working "formulae". I can't go to a shop and say, I would like "some" ammonia. – Emil Aug 5 '17 at 5:56
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    @Emil Your 'non-working' solutions work very well for many of us who also live in hot and very humid climates. I have older lenses for old film cameras I no longer use that have developed fungus over time while being stored in the dark. Exposing them to light for a few hours per month has prevented the fungus from growing. In cases where the fungi were easy enough to get to and clean, doing so a few hours every month or two has prevented the return of fungus to places where it once was. – Michael C Aug 5 '17 at 8:28
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Store your camera gear when not in use in (dried/uncooked) rice and take it out for as short a periods as possible

Ok this may sound weird.. there's the whole idea of if you drop your phone in the sink (or in reality toilet) people are told to put their phone in rice and leave it. I thought hmm maybe this might work for you so thought I'd do some research on if this method works for phones to begin with.

Well. You're in luck. The origin of this story/method dates back from 1946.. in Popular Photography magazine and was about storing camera gear in rice to protected the gear from fungus in the humidity as an alternative to silica gel. It's quite a long article but does talk about equipment in the tropics.

  • Yes, but my question is specifically "how to prevent it while actively using the lens in humid environment" For storage it's a different story, and there are many useful techniques, involving silica gel etc. As for using rice, I heard of this before with cell phones. Interesting to know how it works. Thanks for the link. – Emil Aug 6 '17 at 11:40
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    @Emil honestly. I don't think you're going to be able to. Your best bet is prevention where you can. – Crazy Dino Aug 6 '17 at 11:42
  • Well, I won't give up just yet. What I known so far is that there are chemicals that kill/repel fungi. There are materials that encourage or discourage its growth. To put this into a practical and working solution might not be so obvious/straightforward, but is certainly doable, though some experimentation may be in order. – Emil Aug 6 '17 at 12:17

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