Oils and chemicals – camera-gear enemies

The types of substances I’m discussing here are not industrial, heavy-duty chemicals, but rather what you might come into contact with on a daily basis: sunscreen, insect repellent, makeup, and body lotions. The list is nearly infinite for what can affect your camera, so I’ll deal with some of the most common and general ones here.

Topping the camera-gear enemy list for oils and chemicals is DEET, the substance found in many types of insect repellent. According to Bart Meier, who owns Seattle’s Meiers’ Photo Technical Service, DEET can wreak havoc with camera plastics. Not only is it incredibly harsh, it actually eats away at the plastic of a camera and eventually can destroy it.

Sugary substances, as well, can harm a camera and gum-up focus and zoom rings, buttons, and other moving parts to the point that they will not operate. These include not only soft drinks, but also wine and beer or any substance that contains sugar. While sugar won’t particularly destroy plastic or metal, it acts like a sticky glue that does the opposite of lubricating a moving part.

Body oils and sweat (refer to the previous section on salt) make camera components grimy and can smudge lenses. Makeup often contains oil (or it mixes with the oils in your skin), becoming a mess when in contact with your gear. If you normally wear mascara, you may want to consider not using it when you shoot because, over time, it will accumulate in your viewfinder and is not easy to clean.

Most oils and chemicals come from products that you voluntarily put onto your body, so consider not using them when you’re shooting; in other words, prevention is the best way to deal with this issue. However, if you do need to remove any kind of oily or sticky substance from your camera body or lens, wiping it with a cloth will probably be insufficient. Using a lens-cleaning solution on a cloth (don’t apply the liquid directly to the lens or gear) usually removes most substances, as does rubbing alcohol. Be careful not to oversaturate your cloth with the solvent because you don’t want it penetrating components — causing a secondary problem.

For sugary and sticky problems, remove as much as you can and attempt to slowly and methodically get the button or lens ring to work again. Keep using the solvent to loosen and dissolve the sugar, again by using a moistened cloth. If this isn’t enough to fix the problem, you may need to seek professional help because the camera may need to be at least partially disassembled to clean the parts so that they will operate properly.

Category: Camera care

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