Everything has a Home - Storage and Care for Old Cameras Pt.1

When I was younger, my mother would encourage me to clean my room by telling me, “Everything has its home”. It could be a game, a toy, or a rock; every object lived somewhere. I still think this way when organizing and storing my photo gear. While it doesn't seem uncommon for photographers to romanticise their gear, my mother's words might explain why I have such parental fondness for what are, essentially, just image-making tools.

In this article, I’ll talk about my current storage setup, provide some tips for storing cameras, and will review my favorite tool for storing film gear: the Patu Dry Box 9L.

STORAGE

I put away my film cameras whenever there isn't film in them. This not only helps protect them and keep them usable for years; it also prevents me from accidentally opening an already-loaded camera and ruining the film. If the camera is on my desk or a shelf, I know it's loaded. If it's in a dry box, I know it's unloaded and the shutter is uncocked.

A dry box is, as the name implies, a moisture-proof box. They're used to protect against rust and fungus, but will also protect against most environmental hazards like dust and pests. The Patu Dry Box uses a small rechargable dehumidifier to keep humidity levels low, which is perfect for long-term gear storage.  

An ideal dry box covers the basics of preservation. When storing gear you want:

  • A relatively stable climate (Temperature, humidity).
  • A low relative humidity, around 35-45%. (Go too low, and you'll dry out any lube your camera uses; too high, and other damage can occur.)
  • Protection from drops or shock while transporting.
  • Protection from UV/strong sunlight (To prevent cosmetic fading and damage to leatherette. Some UV can actually be healing--more on that in a later article!).

Specifically with storing cameras, you also want the following:

  • The shutter uncocked-- leaving the shutter cocked will wear out the spring that controls shutter speed.
  • Lens stored upright with caps on, to prevent oil from leaking onto the apertures. (I leave my caps in the dry box when using a lens; I don't need them very often in the field).
  • Batteries removed to prevent corrosion damage.
I use these little boxes for misc. studio items now.

I use these little boxes for misc. studio items now.

Really, anything could be a dry box. Before investing in the Patu cases ($69/box), I just used Sterilite Boxes ($2/box) and packets of silica gel. There are also large electronic dry boxes that look like a mini-fridge for your gear, but I find those a bit excessive and never tried them. Unlike the airtight Patu, simple plastic boxes have some airflow and can adjust to the environment, making them a fine solution for a home or studio that already has climate control. I live in an apartment from the 1920s and work in a studio that was built even earlier, so I don't quite have that option.

 

I was drawn to the Patu case because it was the first under $100 that I've found with a hydgrometer (which measures relative humidity). A major advantage it has over the plastic Sterilities is that its inside is padded, which gives the case some shockproofing. Knowing that there's some cushion, I am much more comfortable transporting my Patu boxes than I was the Sterilites. There's even a carrying strap and the padding inside can function as a camera bag when removed.

There is basically no information about the Patu on the web. From what I have gathered, the box and all its included parts are made by a Chinese camera bag brand called Eirmai. It rebranded as "Patu" for the American market, and is sold only on Amazon.

The Patu comes with everything you need for camera storage when it arrives: the dry box, a black padded camera bag, a bag strap, a renewable dehumidifier, and a small case for loose batteries. Two pamphlets are included with the specs and some tips. When first opening the package, you'll also find a little note above those extra items that reads: "Gift for Patu Dry Box". It's a cute touch. 

After getting a dry box, the best order for setup is to first plug in the dehumidifier and then seal it in the box until the humidity drops to the desired level. Remove the dehumidifier and store it until it's needed again. If your gear has any batteries, remove and place them in the little case. Seal the camera in the box.

Patu-Dry-Box-10.jpg

The provided dehumidifier plugs right into the wall to charge. I've been using the Patu for about six months, and I've only had to charge the dehumidifier once. The boxes stay pretty stable, with just a little flux across the seasons, and every time they are opened and closed.


PELICAN VS PATU

The most comparable to the Patu 9L is the Pelican 1300 Protector Case, which is almost the same size and is a similar price. I've evaluated them below.


PATU 9L

$69

Padded shockproof bag

Moisture-tight lid & airtight hygrometer seal

Manual pressure equalization valve

Plastic padlock protectors

Hygrometer

Hard ABS and Polycarbonate materials

Includes strap, dehumdifer, battery case

 

PELICAN 1300

$51

Shockproof impact foam

Watertight seal

Automatic pressure equalization valve

Steel padlock protectors

N/A

Crushproof & chemical-resistant Polypropylene-copolymer material

Built-in handle


While I do use and trust both Pelican and Vanguard style cases for storing lighting and peripherals, I won't use them for storing my film gear. Pelican and the like have the better waterproof and environmental hazard protection, but their design can also trap in moisture and bacteria that can damage sensitive gear. Indestructible cases also use impact foam as a shock-absorber. NEVER use foam for long-term camera storage. I've seen too many cameras damaged by the cases they were stored in, almost always because of foam deterioration. When foam begins to age, it turns into a sticky, flakey mess, which will get inside cameras and their lenses. Flakey foam reeks mechanical havoc and can ruin the exterior of a camera. Deteriorating foam can even release a gas that will fog lens elements, if left unchecked.

Fabric lens wraps and bags have long been the standard for gear storage. Stick with what's tried-and-true.


ANOTHER OPTION - HAKUBA Dry Box 5.5L

Patu-Dry-Box-12.jpg

The Hakuba Dry Box is another option I tried out for this write-up. It is half the size of the Patu, and half the price, at $35. I bought it from Amazon like the others, but instead of shipping from the US, it shipped from Japan and arrived after 5 weeks of waiting. 

The box is part-Sterilite and part-Patu. It has a cute design on the front, and the dark plastic is nice, but this box just doesn't perform as well as the Patu. With the Hakuba, you have to use Silica Gel packets kept inside of a cage in the lid. Recharging the packets is more of a chore. You have to reheat them in an oven rather than simply plugging a device into the wall. You can also expect to recharge much more often because the seals aren't as tight on the Hakuba. 

I now use the Hakuba to store loose film before putting it into a black archival binder. The darker color of the plastic does help to keep UV away from the film. Aside from that, there really isn't much difference between the pricier Hakuba and the $2 Sterilite.


Final Thoughts

Ultimately, your need for a dry box depends on your own environment and goals. I know for myself; I need the extra protection for my film cameras. My goal is too keep them working for as long as possible. Some of my cameras were inherited from my grandfather--- he was a pharmacist with a love for photography. I was lucky that he stored them properly and if I do the same, maybe I, too, can someday pass on these historical cameras to another photographer (if film is still around, that is, one can only hope).

LINKS

If you enjoyed this article, or you plan on picking up your own Dry Box, consider using these links below, as they help support my site. Thanks!

Patu Dry Box on Amazon

Pelican 1300 on Amazon

Sterilite Boxes on Amazon

 

Chicago, IL

At the end of september, Sara Suppan and I boarded a Chicago-bound plane. We'd been filling an old pasta jar with spare change since 2013, which finally had enough in it two buy us roundtrips to the windy city.

We stayed with our friend Cami Rose on the 19th floor of a high-rise near south side. She was also our local guide for the majority of our trip, and an excellent one at that. Combined with Sara's planning skills, we were able to go to nearly every major art museum in the Chicago area.

One of the most influential parts of the trip (aside from the Zelda Symphony I attended), was going to the Art Institute of Chicago. Some of the classical paintings that I saw in the museum have altered my thinking about the current equilibrium in photography, something I hope to explore in the following months. I was mostly paying attention to the painters use of light and value on their subject. Unlike photography there isn't necessarily a "correct exposure" that is accepted as the norm.

Upon my return to Minneapolis, I attended Gene Pease and Levi Tijerina's Adventure and Story Photography Workshop. I thought about the paintings I saw in Chicago throughout the day, and tried to explore my use of shadow while taking photographs during the shooting session of the day. The workshop in a way felt like an extension of my trip, an additional educational experience. You can see photos from that here.

 

These are photographs I took while in the city from September 29th-October 2nd. 

 

If you are curious about any of the art that has been photographed as part of this post, the photos filenames contain the artists/pieces name.