February 8, 2013

Taking Care of Your Glass: How to Clean Lenses Like a Pro (and Protect Them From Fungus)

Not long ago, we shared some footage of the 'birth' of Nikon Nikkor lenses along with some of the basics of lenses in general. The question that follows is one of proper maintenance, both on and off set. Whether you own lenses yourself or you're getting into camera department work, there are some practices considered standard protocol for keeping your glass clean. Below, professional AC Evan Luzi of The Black and Blue demonstrates how he cleans lenses on set, as well as what supplies an AC should keep on hand for doing so. Plus, if you are a lens kit owner, DIY Photography has some tips for preventing fungus from turning your optical glass into an accidental petri dish.

Clean Your Lens Like Evan Luzi (Who is a Pro), Plus the Supplies You Need

Evan Luzi is a working camera assistant who has contributed the incredibly helpful camera Pocket Guides. He has also shared some thorough explanations of depth of field, data wrangling on a budget, and finding professional crew members for $0 (posted here on NFS).

Here's the list of the tools Evan prefers to use on set:

Filmmakers looking to break into AC work may not know all of the these subtle but important techniques the first time they step on set, but using proper methods such as these will definitely help make a good impression with a more experienced camera crew as a first-time AC.

If you're not already a reader of Evan's site, The Black and Blue, you could be missing out on even more practical set knowledge, so subscribe for his newsletter now!

Cleaning SLR Lenses

It's never bad to check out a few demonstrations on the same topic, either -- even if there's a lot of overlap. If you're a shooter heavily invested in SLR lens technology, the video below may shed more light on the issue of lens cleaning more specific to your purposes.

Use Silica Gel to Make Your Lenses Fungus-Proof

Keeping lenses clean on set will ensure that you're getting the best performance possible, but since lenses are made up of so many delicate mechanisms and materials, maintaining them off set can help save you a great deal of time and trouble. DIY Photography (via FilmmakerIQ)'s post on protecting lenses from fungi is pretty eye-opening:

The most crucial thing about not getting fungi on your lens is to keep it dry. Not just dry-in-a-dry-cabinet kind of dry, but dry-like-the-desert kinda dry, since any humidity in the air (especially in a dark closet) can convert your lens into a make-shift dish.

Fungi Is Bad For You

  1. Aside being kinda gross, fungi clutters the optical path in your lens and therefore kills some of the quality of the lens. Left unattended the fungi will spread to consume more and more space rendering the lens semi opaque. Now, that would be a really crappy lens, wouldn't it?
  2. Unlike us humans who eat food and dispose waste, some fungi eats... well.. whatever fungi eats. and dispose acid. This acid can burn the coating on the inner glass elements on the lens, so even if the fungi is removed the lens is still damaged. Bummer, right?

Prevention Is The Key

Silica Gel is... [used] to absorb humidity. Luckily you can get silica gel packets for really cheap and place them in your lens drawer (or your other lens-organizing-device).

But, you can top that one by using reusable silica gel containers, those are still pretty cheap but have two major benefits over the little packets:

  1. They are indicating, meaning that you know when they are no longer good. But you don't have to throw them away, cuz they are
  2. Reusable, you can get them back to the dry state by applying heat for a certain amount of time.

To be honest, this wouldn't even have occurred to me, unless I was living/shooting in a blatantly swampy area. This may be a practice more reasonably suited to long-term storage, but it might not be a bad idea to add some silica gel to your lens cases, especially if you know you are going to be working in very humid environments.

Any shooters or ACs out there have any other/different points of "lens hygiene" you might recommend?

Links:

[via The Black and Blue Newsletter and FilmmakerIQ]

Your Comment

19 Comments

He is spot on about kimwipes or zeiss etc disposable tissues. Had a bet with a friend that there would be a difference between disposable tissues and reusable cleaning clothes - we each cleaned our zeiss 50mm f2.0 marco lenses over the course of 2012 and compared them last month.

He wanted to cry after seeing what he had done to the coating by wiping crap over and over on the front element. Not saying it makes a huge difference but he does get more flare and sun spots now. Why they sell those stupid clothes is baffling to me.

February 8, 2013 at 8:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jordan carr

Wait- rubbing tissue on your lens gives it more flares?

Somebody should tell JJ Abrams about this

February 9, 2013 at 2:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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john jeffreys

Silica gel, got it.

February 8, 2013 at 8:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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moebius22

Thanks for this article, this is great information. Somewhere along the line I was taught that I shouldn't use lens cleaning fluid as it could damage the coatings on some lenses. I take it that's a myth?

February 9, 2013 at 12:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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JR

I live near the equator in an extremely humid area, fungus is one of my biggest nightmares as it affects not only lenses but also camera sensors and once you have it on a sensor it is usually beyond repair. Sadly enough out of all the glass I own the ONLY lens with fungus is my beloved (and supposedly weather sealed) Canon L 24 - 105 F4, it started with a one 2 x 3 mm spot on what seems to be the second element but meanwhile there seem to be several other very small outbreaks. The only way I have found to be efficient to at least stop growth is exposing them to direct sunlight, I don't trust silica gel because with the extreme humidity we have around here it just doesn't seem to last and once it is soaked it actually gives away humidity instead of absorbing it, the best would probably to built an air conditioned cabinet for storage of bodies and lenses but this will cost an awful lot not only to build it but also to maintain an AC running at all times.
To add to all this the closest place where such lens can be serviced is South Africa, sending it there would mean to pay import duty twice on both ways (not little on L glass) , I actually asked Canon SA for a quote on this and they've never replied me.
Therefore the only way of keeping the fungus off my glass and bodies is constantly using it, I do the best I can for now, it always makes me feel as if I wouldn't shoot enough I'd start rotting, also not a bad motivation for creativity!

February 9, 2013 at 1:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Awesome post raul. Great tips and insight.

February 9, 2013 at 2:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jordan

Thanks Jordan, I'm glad this info is helpful to you!

February 9, 2013 at 3:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Raul if you pop a few of your used gel's in the oven from time too time it will help get out any moisture they have already absorbed.

I try too keep my lenses when not in use in a large sealed air tight food container from a supermarket with a ton of gel's thrown in too keep them dry works for me

February 9, 2013 at 11:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Chris Lambert

Thanks, great idea! On my way to find a ton gel's!

February 9, 2013 at 12:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Hi Raul, it was very interesting to hear that direct sunlight exposure is a good way to keep fungus out of lenses.
This might work because UV exposure kills a lot of stuff and UV exposure is quite high near equator.
UV lamps are widely used to kill bacteria/sanitize water so you might want to dig in to this topic as an effective solution to block/prevent fungus on your lenses.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultraviolet_germicidal_irradiation

February 12, 2013 at 8:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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andrea

I saw the silica gel post via FilmmakerIQ the other day and I highly respect Evan Luzi for providing the kind of information he does about camera operation -- information that was never taught to me in school.

February 9, 2013 at 9:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DIYFilmSchool.net

If you want to go overboard, follow this (and if you don't, knowing about all that is helpful too):
http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2011/05/the-lensrentals-lens-cleaning-me...
http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2010/04/how-to-clean-a-camera-sensor

February 10, 2013 at 5:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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And how do you clean the dirty microfiber cloth? :) With water or in washing machine? :)

February 10, 2013 at 10:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Laurel

You buy a new one!

February 12, 2013 at 12:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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I know the importance of keeping your lenses clean, one time I was out taking pictures with a Nikon D3000 and I had a smudge on the lenses, most of my pictures were bad because I didn’t look closely at the back of the camera or the lens.

February 12, 2013 at 4:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Josiah

Great video. A pro taught me decades ago that you should roll up a sheet of lens cleaning tissue (not too tightly), and then pull it in half and use the fuzzy end like a q-tip (never use a q-tip, however) with lens cleaning solution in small circular motion over the lens surface. This way if you accidentally get some grit on the lens tissue you are less likely to scratch the lens coating.
P.S. Don't forget to wash your hands first, to keep dirt and grease away from the glass elements.

February 14, 2013 at 5:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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John Erbes

Just made an entire guide how to avoid lens fungus.

I studied this topic in detail,, as friends of mine ruined a lot of lenses in topical climate.

If you store lenses really dry, they will not mold. Period.

Under 70% humidity is reasonably safe, so if you get 40% with the cited Walmart drying thingy, you are totally safe.

You probably stored your lens with wet silica gel, that already had sucked humidity and turned useless. Then, storing lenses in a stuffy box is contra-productive.

So, get a good reconditionable dehumidifier, like the walmart one listed above. Watch it and recondition when needed. Get yourself a hygrometer.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0013BKDO8/ref=wms_ohs_product?ie=UTF8&...
but cheaper ones will do

Get yourself a hygrometer calibration kit, or learn how to do this with salt for free
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000A3UBLA/ref=wms_ohs_product?ie=UTF8&...

these calibrate at 75%, and the danger zone is above 70 or 80%

Watch outside humidity, when it passes 70% you are in danger, 80% and above is mold breeding ground.

put the hygrometer inside the box and watch if the dehumidifier works. Make sure the hygrometer is not totally dead, but otherwise even the worst hygrometer should show a clear drop in humidity inside the box. Ziplock bags are good, too.

Then, and only then, you are absolutely safe. Guaranteed storage with low humidity.

The vast majority of mold species require "water activity" levels that are equivalent to material equilibrium moisture contents corresponding to relative humidities of at least 70% http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/consumer/buildings/basics/moldgrowth.htm

Reduce the relative humidity to less than 60% (never under 30% as it is dangerous for the instrument) by storing next to driers (e.g. silicagel orange packs) in the containers http://lenses.zeiss.com/camera-lenses/en_de/website/service/fungus_on_le...

February 22, 2014 at 10:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Humidity above 60 percent is reputed to be the threshold where fungal growth starts. All it takes is one spore to germinate on a single tiny lint fiber, and out go the fibrils across the glass, looking for more food. A fungal spore can feast on a tiny speck of dust for many days, covering many square millimeters of area with fibrils that will find other food present. Live fungus is basically a molecular machine that is powered by the minute chemical energy available in the dust, which dust is also digested into the substance of the fungal structure. http://www.truetex.com/lens_fungus.htm

The most crucial thing about not getting fungi on your lens is to keep it dry. Not just dry-in-a-dry-cabinet kind of dry, but dry-like-the-desert kinda dry, since any humidity in the air (especially in a dark closet) can convert your lens into a make-shift dish. http://nofilmschool.com/2013/02/clean-lenses-silica-fungi-protection/

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If the camera is suddenly brought in from the cold into a warm room,
condensation may form on the camera and internal parts. To prevent
condensation, first put the camera in a sealed plastic bag and let it adjust to
the warmer temperature before taking it out of the bag.

That was taken verbatim from the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV instruction manual http://www.canonrumors.com/forum/index.php?topic=2312.0

February 22, 2014 at 10:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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My lens must be irretrievably dirty to wip any tissue over it. But I am a photgrapher and most of the time I have to work in extreme conditions: Heavy rain and dusty environments. First at all; all my lenses have an UV protective filter that doesn't affect image quality or frontal sun flares. I never change lenses in those conditions. All my lenses are always shut with their caps. I have a maniatic obsession for not to lay my cameras onto the ground resting over the hood as all press photographers do. Wipping a filter is not the same than wipping a frontal lens. But lenses are strong and good lenses have an antiscratching covering, they endure more than we think, Better don't risk. That's up to you.

January 10, 2017 at 1:45PM, Edited January 10, 1:51PM

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