In tropical, humid countries such as Thailand, everything grows very easily and quickly. Including fungi. A while back I had the problem of one of my lenses growing vegetables for me. A much loved 18 mm wide angle f2.8 Nikon began to get those tell-tale ‘spidery’ webs on the front element of the lens. I tried carefully polishing with a soft cloth, but to no avail. The fungus was on the inside of the lens not the exterior.
Like many photographers, you become adept at not seeing the gradual degradation of sharpness in your photographs, until one day it was no longer possible to ignore. Fortunately, my late photographic friend Ernie Kuehnelt knew of a place in Bangkok that claimed it could clean lenses. He took the 18 mm there and it was ready the next day. Cost? 500 baht and that was all, and I have a sparkling clean lens again. It was even easier than they had thought initially, having quoted 800 baht as the estimate.
I am happy to reward good work, so here is the name of the shop (and I hope it is still there). It was T.K. Camera Repair, 164/1 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 8, Bangkok, telephone 02 253 3827.
So how do you check for fungus? It is quite simple really. Take the lens off the camera (provided it is an SLR) and screw the aperture setting round to its maximum opening (this will generally be 2.8 or 1.4 if you have a super ‘fast’ lens). This allows you to scrutinize as much of the glass lens elements as possible. Look from both end towards a white background and see if you can spot the little trails or tendrils of the fungus. A little is acceptable around the edges, but it will continue to grow, so it will mean a trip to the camera doctor one day.
I have been asked in the past just how do you check a camera to make sure it works correctly. The simple answer is that you look critically at photographs taken through it, but there are some items you should check first. Take a good look at the camera body, as well as the lenses as described above. Look for dents and scratches that would indicate that the camera has been dropped. Rule 1, don’t buy dropped cameras. For the camera body to be a light-tight box, it has to be completely rectangular. Even a small distortion will show up problems. The electronics, when they get shaken up are potential problems. They will always fail at the wrong time.
The next item to check is the battery section. Open it up and peer inside after removing the battery. If there are signs of corrosion on the terminals, this means that a battery has been left too long and has leaked. This is bad news, as the corrosion can get into the camera works and the electronics. The fumes will also damage the electronics. Rule 2, don’t buy corroded cameras.
Now is the time to see just how well the camera does as far as taking pictures is concerned. Put it on Aperture Priority and take a series of shots, each one at the ascending aperture values. Now do the same with Shutter Priority, using the different shutter speed settings. Now take shots on Auto Mode of different scenes – some dark, some bright. Finally put the camera into Manual Mode and go through the different shutter speeds and aperture settings, adjusting for correct exposure each time.
Now here is the tricky bit, which needs you to look at the results. Being digital you need to hook up to a large screen computer, squinting at the LCD screen on the back of the camera is not good enough. You should have series of shots, all with the same density if the modes are working correctly. Check the sharpness of the images.
If the camera passes all the inspections and dynamic testing, then it is in good condition and with correct use and regular servicing should stand you in good stead for at least 18 years. Just look out for the fungus!