May 03, 2013

Dirty Bokeh

Just recently, I got a Canon EOS 500D (or Canon EOS Rebel T1i for those who follow the American branding). This is my first DSLR since I've taken interest in photography.  See, for the longest time I've been practicing SLR photography using film cameras, so to instantly witness captured images as they are translated into digitally-rendered pixels is an experience that is both gratifying and terrifying for me. 

Transitioning to Digital SLR Photography

This transition is gratifying because, now I can be as carefree as I want when taking shots.  I don't have to worry about optimizing 36 exposures, because now I can store all of my shots in a 16GB memory card.

However, this transition is also terrifying because, now I REALLY have to take care of my camera and its accessories.  Before, I had no worries about getting dust into my lens, because blemishes somehow add character to the film output.  Heck, I don't need Photoshop to give my images the vintage effect.  I'm using film, dammit! You can't get any more vintage-y than that.
But I digress.  Moving on...

Incidentally, the lenses that I'm using in my film SLR can also be used in my DSLR.  And thanks to the high-definition quality of digital images, I've come to realize how bad I was in maintaining my camera gear.

Dirty Bokeh

Notice the dark spots in these light balls. (click) 

Using my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens to capture digital bokehs, I've noticed dark spots inside the light balls.  I've had this lens with me for over a year, and I've never had this kind of output before.  Only after showing it to my sister, I learned that this could be a result of fungal growth inside the lens.

How can camera lenses have fungal growth?

Fungi are attracted to dark, damp, and oxygenated places.  We see mushrooms sprouting more often during the rainy season, bread mold can be found on abandoned bread, and there's Athlete's Foot... you get the picture.  And camera lenses, when left unmaintained, are also likely targets for fungal growth, especially if we always leave our gear untouched inside camera bags.  The first part to get *infected* is the glass element of the lens.  And once the fungus reaches the phase where it is able to spore, you will have a fungal ecosystem inside your lens in no time.
Here are some images from my sister's badly infested Sigma lens:

Top: Fungal growth inside a lens. SO GROSS. *shudder* (click)
Bottom: A view from the other side. Notice the fungus' webby growth. (click) 

How to Identify the Fungus

Generally, these gross little things look like cobwebs growing inside your lens.  If you're lucky, the fungal growth can be found just outside the lens, making it easy to clean.  But there are unfortunate incidents where the fungal growth is found inside the lens, and if you don't know how to take the lens apart for cleaning, there is nothing much you can do... unless...


I haven't tried this method personally, but others say that this type of fungus dies when exposed to UV.  So the no-brainer solution for this is to let some sun shine into your lenses.  Around a day of sunlight to your gear will do.  Some say that indirect sunlight will suffice, because direct sunlight might create a "magnifying glass laser" effect to your lens.

This will kill the fungus, to prevent further growth.  This will not, however, remove the remains of the fungus.  For this, you will have to take the lens to a professional lens cleaner (assuming that the fungal growth is inside the lens).  For my kababayans, I recommend this place in Hidalgo where they clean and repair cameras and their accessories.  They were the ones who restored our vintage film cameras into working order.

Photo Concept
726 R. Hidalgo St. Quiapo, Manila
Froilan "Allan" Gaspang (Camera Technician)
+632.734.0485, +63917.757.7308

After cleaning, my bokeh looks clearer now.  There's this one spot that Kuya Bong is not able to get, but I'm okay with it.  I got this prime 2nd hand, anyway.

After clean-up, they are able to remove most of the dirt. (click)

How to prevent fungal growth in the future

Kuya Bong advised me on the following methods to take care of my camera and its accessories:
  1. When not using the lens, wrap it in newspaper to prevent moisture from affecting the gear.  It also helps to put some silica gel to absorb any more moisture.
  2. The essential cleaning accessory is a lens blower and non-abrasive cloth.  A cheaper alternative to lens blowers (the generic kind costs around 300 PhP in Hidalgo), according to Netizens, is an infant aspirator.  You can get one at your local drugstore.  You can also get a 4-in-1 Lens Cleaning Kit at Henry's in Hidalgo for 550 PhP.  This includes a lens blower, a microfiber cloth, and a lens pen.
  3. Ensure that your storage box is airtight.  This tip I got from my sister.  She recommends the Lock-And-Lock type of box, as the silicon rim in the cover ensures that the contents are airtight and moisture-free.  A cheaper alternative to Lock-And-Lock is Biokips.  You can also purchase a hygrometer to measure the humidity/water content inside the box, but this is overkill for me (personally)
When cleaning your lens, ensure that the area you're cleaning is faced down to let gravity do its thing to the dust and other particles.

That's about it.  Lenses get dirty in time, so it is also recommended that professional cleaning be done at least every year.  Good luck to us, here's to cleaner and more effective lenses. :)

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