Make no mistake, lens fungus is pure, unadulterated evil.
And if not mitigated at the very onset, it will only keep on growing, quite literally!
Lenses and camera gear are really very expensive, and you seriously do not want some pesky little fungus to grow all over them and destroy their very being.
So if you have a lot of lenses which you are in the habit of storing for long durations of time, or if you regularly buy old vintage lenses that may have this problem, this post is almost sure to help prevent and cure this epidemic called lens fungus.
But first things first.
To be able to prevent ANY unwanted event (wow that rhymed!), we need to first understand the circumstances which may lead to such outcome.
Like fire, which requires at the very least some fuel, temperature and oxygen to burn, lens fungus too requires two elements to come together at the same place at the same time. One of them is moisture and the other is fungus spores.
You may not know this but fungal spores are all around us at all times. Yes, they are floating all around you in the air at this very moment.
You might as well think of fungal spores as basic household dust.
So you need dust and moisture to somehow breach the seal of your lens and enter it. Once they both are together inside the lens, they would require some time when the lens is left undisturbed in ideal growing conditions.
In case you are wondering, warm and damp is what counts as ideal in this instance.
Now that you know exactly how the fungus operates, it should be pretty straight forward to prevent it from growing on our gear.
For the best result, you need to cut off one or more factors that I just pointed out from happening at the same time.
You could start by cutting off the dust part by simply keeping the lens clean.
The moisture part is a bit tricky to tackle if you already live in a place that has a tropical climate, like I do.
But luckily there are still ways to artificially create a moisture-free zone to store your lenses. The easiest way is to just create a confined space (say a box) and fill it with some desiccant.
Desiccants are basically any substance which is hygroscopic in nature and can absorb and retain moisture. Uncooked rice, for example, is a good desiccant.
There are a lot of cheap artificial options too available nowadays which do an even better job of moisture absorption than simple rice.
Silica gel, for instance, is a good fit for our purpose. It’s cheap, easily available and in no way would harm our camera gear if kept in close proximity.
I bet you have already seen them. Ever bought a new electronic appliance or a pair of leather shoes and found tiny white packets inside which were labeled “Not to be eaten”, they were all packets containing silica gel.
If you have enough of them stashed around somewhere you could just create a box, as I described earlier.
In the case of certain desiccants, however, you should remember that some of them are reusable and some of them are not.
There are plenty of options available these days. You could easily do a Google search and find all the required information.
For the fungus to enter the lens and then manifest itself, it also requires some undisturbed time. This means that lenses which are used regularly are much less prone to fungus.
It also implies the opposite.
Once a lens is stored away for a long duration, the probability of fungus infestation also rises rapidly.
Understand this, the fungus that usually grows inside our lenses is generally very weak and fragile in nature. The spores which have not yet grown (but found its way inside the lens) could be easily destroyed just by exposing them to sunlight.
Cleaning The Fungus
Once the fungus has already grown inside your lens, it is a little difficult to get them off.
The problem lies is not cleaning them out, the problem lies in reaching them.
More often than not the fungus develops inside the lens, between the inner lens elements. This makes reaching them pretty damn hard.
Let me save you some time and energy right now. Once the spiderweb-like structures have grown inside the lens, you cannot clean them from the outside with simple lens cleaning stuff. It is just not going to happen.
The only way to clean them up is to crack open the lens.
If this sounds too drastic and extreme in nature, trust me it is NOT.
Now you could go about this job in two ways:
- Send the lens away to the lens manufacturer or a third-party lens cleaner
- Do it yourself.
This is probably what many people would naturally gravitate towards and for good reason.
Opening up the lens requires certain tools, some expertise, and some sheer guts especially when it’s your own.
First and foremost check with the manufacturer of your lens and see if they have a facility that deals with fungus cleaning. In most cases, they probably would.
If the first one doesn’t pan out for some reason, see if your local camera store would do it for you.
Getting the lens professionally cleaned is a good option, but there are two potential downsides to this idea.
- Downtime: There will be a substantial amount of time difference between you sending the lens away and getting them back after they have been cleaned.
- Cost: The cost you pay for a thorough professional cleaning is still quite high today.
DIY Lens Fungus Cleaning
Caution: Proceed at your own risk.
Yes, I had to start with a warning since this method is not for everyone to follow.
If I am being honest, opening up a lens using a lens spanner and taking the lens elements out to clean is really not a big deal….for me. And it might be the same for many other people who feel the same and are good with tools. But at the same time, there might be people who are not so confident and may inflict more harm than good.
My simple advice would be to look up a few videos on YouTube and see for yourself if you could muster up the care and expertise to do it yourself. And if you do not feel 200% about it, DON’T do it. Get a professional to do it for you.
If you still want to go forward with doing it yourself, read along.
Every lens consists of two major parts. The lens barrel (the enclosure) and the optical elements inside it.
The fungus, as I said, most often grows on the lens elements itself.
Now depending upon the make and model of your lens, it may be opened from the back or the front.
First, locate the fungus inside your lens. Open up both the front and back lens cap and shine a bright light inside. They should be pretty easy to locate.
You will need some supplies to clean the lens. The list, however, is not very long. Some basic liquid soap, ammonia (preferable scent-free), and some hydrogen peroxide.
Also, keep a couple of dry lens cleaning pads nearby. You will need them to dry up the lens later on.
- Open up the lens using a lens spanner. It basically is a tool made up of two adjustable prongs that fit into the holes of the lens and help to unscrew the system.
- Once done, you may or may not have to use a screwdriver to unscrew some actual screws.
- The lens element should now be pretty easy to take out.
- Take the lens element out and first clean it under running water using just plain water. After this, use some liquid hand soap to clean it even thoroughly.
- Prepare a mixture of one part ammonia and one part hydrogen peroxide. Submerge the element in this mixture completely. Let it soak for a couple of minutes.
- Take the lens element out and use some paper napkin to dry it out. Then use the lens cloth to give it a final polish.
- Replace the element in the lens and then re-screw the lens and the barrel.
Easy, wasn’t it?
Pro Tip: Videotape the disassembly of the lens when you do it. This can later be used to trace your way back, in case you get confused or lost.
Even though I consider the cleaning up process quite easy and quick, I understand that for many people it may not be so.
So in order to either avoid downtimes with the lens or pay the huge bill to clean up the mess later, you need to make sure that you do not let the fungus grow in the first place.
Prevention is always better than cure.
Keep your lenses clean and tidy and as far away from humidity as possible.
If you absolutely have to store them for an extended period, use transparent cases to store the lens so that light passes freely through the lens. Use the desiccant like I told you to get rid of the moisture and you will have way fewer cases of fungus in your lenses.
I don’t think you need expensive condition altering dry cases to store your lenses. A little foresight and some action in that direction will go a long way in serving you.
Keep shooting beautiful.