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Cameras and Humidity in Costa Rica

October 19th, 2013

nikonPhotography has always been enormously popular not only with the tourists but with many ex-pats living here in Costa Rica.  It is one of my favorite pastimes. I have had and used several excellent film and digital cameras here in Costa Rica including an Olympus, a Mamiya, and my current cameras, Nikons).  What I am going to discuss in this post is probably more directed to ex-pats who live here full time, but may be of interest to those staying here for shorter periods.

The topic is humidity and its affect on cameras in the tropics.

If this topic is of interest, read on….

Recently, I went several months without taking my cameras out of their cases (located in a closet).  I had been using a point and shoot cheapie because I had no events that required real quality. After living here for 12+ years, you would think I would know better… Guess not.

I took out my Nikon SLR digital to check it out, clean the lenses and make sure it had a fresh battery.

All was fine until I looked through the viewfinder.  There were spots. Maybe 5 or 6 almost like blemishes, but clearly there.  More cleaning… no help. I was not really worried because I thought the camera just needed a professional cleaning.  That was before I discovered there are no Nikon repair facilities here in Costa Rica. I did what I could which was pretty much limited to removing the lenses, cleaning the glass, checking out and cleaning the mirror, etc.

No joy. I still has the spots.

Then, I realized that I had not taken any pictures.  Maybe this was just an annoyance and would not affect the photos. I was wrong.  All the photos contained not only the spots I saw, but several more “lurkers”, and I had a fiesta the next day with a wife who expected photos. No time to fly to Florida, Mexico City or Panama, the only locations with authorized Nikon repair facilities. I used the Olympus and while it was fine, had not the flexibility of my Nikon.

Using my resources, I attempted to get the name of anyone who supposedly knew and did professional work on Nikons. Yeah right.  Any of you who live here know that this might well be impossible. Whether a digital camera or a washing machine, half the “fun” of living the ex-pat lifestyle is just locating anyone who can fix anything the first time at a reasonable price and that stays fixed more than 45 minutes.fix

Anyway, about that same time, a reporter and a photographer from La Nación came to my home to interview me.  A PHOTOGRAPHER!!  If anyone might know a place to get a quality camera repaired, it would surely be this guy… and it was!

He referred me to a Tico near Moravia. I called the gentleman and made an appointment.  He examined my camera and told me in Spanish, “Tiene hongos“.  Translated?  You have mushrooms!  Only kidding.  In restaurants here, hongos means mushrooms, but in this case, it meant mold.  The bad news did not end there.  He showed me that I had mold not only in the camera’s internals parts but also INSIDE each of my lenses. It had been growing for years unbeknownst to me. Oh crap. It mean not only disassembling the camera but also each lens.  Dis-assembly of a Nikon long or short lens is incredibly hard and time consuming.  My mental cash register was cha-chinging.

Then, from behind me came the voices of two professional photographers telling me that my problem is not at all unique and will affect all cameras if you live here. Living at the beach with its 75-90% humidity is far worse, but even photographers in the Valley need take precautions… and here is what they taught me.

1. Cameras bags are useless for protecting cameras against humidity.

2. Cameras should be placed in an airtight container protected against humidity.

3. Cameras should be returned to that container whenever not in use.

boxThen they taught me how they did it.

First, I purchased a plastic box that sealed quite well.  I then made a trip to a small town outside Ciudad Colon to buy bags of desiccant (desicante in Spanish).

The camera, lenses, spare batteries  were placed in a soft cloth and surrounded by the bags of desiccant.  See photo.

This is how all professional photographers here protect their investment.

The camera repair guy turned out to be excellent.  He fixed, cleaned and “de-mushroomed” my camera and lenses.  Took him six hours and cost me $100.00.  A fair price IMHO for quality work.

However, the smart thing is to not let the mold get in there in the first place.


13 Responses to “Cameras and Humidity in Costa Rica”

  1. Bill Berry on October 19, 2013 12:34 pm

    Great post Tim! I have a significant amount invested in camera equipment and fungus is always a concern. I will definitely follow the suggestions to minimize the possibility.



  2. Suzanne on October 19, 2013 8:35 pm

    We were in CR for sbout 2 years and my camera “spots” got worse and worse after being there a year. We were in the “jungle”about 6 hours from san jose so no repair guys and more rain/ moisture as our home had no windows etc.. to keep it drier inside. By the time we got back to the states my nikon d300 and lense wasnt salvagable. Wish I had known then it was mold but didnt r realize until we returned and I had it looked at.

  3. Kim on October 20, 2013 7:22 am

    We encountered the same problem and are now storing our gear in a cooler as it is more airtight than a regular plastic box and we also add an Eva-Dry
    rechargeable dehumidifier to it. We need to recharge it out about every two weeks. Thanks for posting as it is a big problem here.

  4. Rebecca on October 20, 2013 7:37 am

    Cool site! I HEAR you on the humidity…it makes me nuts. But I’m not sure I am disciplined enough to do this packing (read: I am too lazy). Thanks for the tips…will be following yoU!

  5. Linn Engler on October 20, 2013 2:49 pm

    Thanks for the tip in this post to keep the camera equipment dry and free of mold. I am wondering though, can you tell me just where you picked up the desiccant? I’m not too far from Ciudad Colon and would make a special trip there anyway just to pick up the desiccant.

  6. Tim on October 21, 2013 7:00 am

    Yup! Happy to oblige.

    For desiccant:


    It is near the Escuela de Brazil de Mora. Two addresses… buy at one then drive to the other to pick it up.

  7. Tim on October 21, 2013 7:04 am

    Sad…. Any good camera tech should have been able to clean those lenses… mine were in terrible shape. Or… maybe the techs here have developed their own methods, though hard to believe humid areas like Florida would not have the same issues.

  8. Tim on October 21, 2013 7:14 am

    A few folks have written for contact info for the camera tech who cleaned my lenses. Here ya go…

    Gilberto Bolanos
    2224- 4186 8379-0823

    No English

  9. Teri on October 21, 2013 8:11 am

    You are always so thorough, I appreciate your detail and YES, mold is a HUGE problem here. I’ve taken my telephoto into Canon twice and honestly, it is not the same lens since it’s been cracked open. Avoid mold if possible! Questions,,,, for a fee, would you send to me the disiccant? by bus maybe?
    Thanks again for your post!

  10. Carlos on October 22, 2013 9:32 am

    Here in Jaco Beach, I use a lightbox with a 25w bulb inside. and small ventilation holes on top, keeps the equipment slightly warm and dry. Use a bag that “breathes” for the equipment. Started using this in the film days for my negatives and gear, works great. Fungus likes cold, damp and dark places.

  11. Teri on October 23, 2013 6:47 pm

    I use a DAMPP-CHASER Eliminador de Humedad – I was bought at EPA I think around San Jose area. Made in the USA. Google the name brand for info.

  12. John Imbault on July 12, 2014 5:56 pm

    Hi Tim,

    Loved your post and was very surprised by hongos getting in. Makes me wonder about notebooks now. My question has to do with camera equipment but in a different environment. I have read much about security, and most has to do with plain logic and being careful. But can one during the day walk with a camera in a town or city and have a good camera hanging and not have to worry about someone running by trying to snatch it. Or even walking with a medium size sling type camera bag. I will be in CR in 2 weeks and can’t make up my mind how much to bring. Thank you for your time and honest opinions.

  13. Bob Boxberger on August 27, 2014 8:05 pm

    Hola, Tim:
    Much gratitude for addressing camera mold problems. Costa Rica’s on my bucket list, and I’ve been concerned about camera and lens viability in a humid climate (you’d think that living in Washington State 50 years would make me expert, yet I’ve never had a mold problem, just keeping the gear dry in slashing rain).

    I’ve only recently chanced on your site and blog, and have yet to digest your encyclopedic content. I’m more than favorably impressed by what I’ve read although, to be just as frank as you seem to be, i was a miserable, ink-stained scribe for many years, and developed a bunch of scepticism. You write a fetching line, and I sincerely hope that you do not disappoint me as a reasonably honest source for information Costa Rican.

    Sincerely, Bob