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Cleaning vintage lenses

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I've gone a little crazy and ordered a bunch of cheap vintage lenses, some with fungus in them.  I've ordered some without fungus, but I'm not 100% that they won't contain any, and cleaning them is probably a good idea anyway, so I'm kind of jumping in at the deep end, and I thought I'd just make a new thread to compile my notes etc.  This might be useful because in my reading I've discovered that  there are a bunch of threads online about cleaning fungus where people don't know the first thing about anything, so they're just full of BS basically.

Here are some interesting links and notes I've gathered so far:

  • Alcohol, vinegar, consumer grade acids, UV from the sun or otherwise, aren't effective (or will damage the lens if concentrated) says a microbiologist, and they recommend caustic soda (Sodium Hydroxide) (source)
  • This is a nice tutorial on how to do it and they recommend Hydrogen Peroxide and Household Ammonia (source)
  • Sodium Hydroxide / caustic soda is widely available, but is a powder and must be dissolved to be used, unfortunately neither of the above talk about concentrations to use.  Adding it to water also creates a lot of heat, risking splashing, so it's not nice or safe stuff to work with.
  • I've looked for tips from a lens maintenance person and unsurprisingly I couldn't find anyone that would give away trade secrets for free.
  • It's kind of difficult to tell who knows what as lots of people say "I did X and it worked" but the consensus is that storing lenses without lens caps in a relatively well-lit room will prevent fungus growth, so these people might be completely full of it and just have a well-lit room.
  • You can never fully cleanse lenses of fungus (or protect them from it in use either) so you need to view every lens as potentially contaminated and store them somewhere there is light available and is dry.  Leaving lens caps off and using a desiccant are commonly recommended strategies.  Some suggest using cheap filters instead of lens caps but your mileage may vary.

More research is required.

The lens tear-down videos I've watched show that many of these old lenses were designed to be serviced and that you can get to the optics without having to mess with the sensitive aperture mechanisms which is really cool.

Only one of my fungus lenses has arrived so far, but here's a shot of my new friend....  No, the lens isn't cracked, that's just the edge of the rear of the lens being lit up by the torch.  Apart from the colony the lens is super nice, and basically looks new.

IMG_3446.thumb.jpg.77d3ae92a2fe9a3ff0ea80fd99379839.jpg

Anyone else taken the plunge with cleaning lenses?

 

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EOSHD Pro Color for Sony cameras EOSHD Pro LOG for Sony CamerasEOSHD C-LOG and Film Profiles for All Canon DSLRs

Although fungus can be contained and cleaned from lens elements, the main issue to consider is what damage has the fungus already done to the lens coatings?

I’ve recently purchased a couple lenses that could use a CLA but I’d rather have them professionally done. But if you find some lenses at a cheap price, no harm at giving it a go. Just be very meticulous when you take the lenses apart, these lenses aren’t as simple as they look and the springs alone can cause you a major headache when trying to reassemble.

With that being said, I look forward to your hearing about your progress. Have you come across and good storage solutions for lenses... dry boxes?

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I had success using florescent lights going straight into the lens and putting some aluminum foil on the other side of the lens to reflect the UV back up through the rear element to remove some light fungus from the inside of a Super Tak,  

I also opened up and cleaned a Rokkor lens that had significant fungus with rubbing alcohol, a week long light treatment and then opening it back up to clean up the dried fungus.

The owner of the camera shop in my town recommended using this cleaner https://www.amazon.com/CleanSmart-Toy-Disinfectant-Spray-Bacteria/dp/B011ANDC78 which is normally used to clean kids toys.  I haven't tried it yet, but he's restored hundreds of lenses.

 

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35 minutes ago, mercer said:

Although fungus can be contained and cleaned from lens elements, the main issue to consider is what damage has the fungus already done to the lens coatings?

I’ve recently purchased a couple lenses that could use a CLA but I’d rather have them professionally done. But if you find some lenses at a cheap price, no harm at giving it a go. Just be very meticulous when you take the lenses apart, these lenses aren’t as simple as they look and the springs alone can cause you a major headache when trying to reassemble.

With that being said, I look forward to your hearing about your progress. Have you come across and good storage solutions for lenses... dry boxes?

Yeah, the lenses might already be toast, but who knows.  It's fun trying, right? :)

Dry boxes is the general concept I think.  Anything that protects them from dust and you can keep humidity out of is fine.  I'm thinking some kind of translucent container like a lunch box or small organiser should be fine, but I haven't done the research yet so maybe there's a piece missing from my knowledge as yet.

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1 hour ago, mercer said:

Although fungus can be contained and cleaned from lens elements, the main issue to consider is what damage has the fungus already done to the lens coatings?

 

I think most lens coating are on the outside of the front lens element. Not many have coatings inside the body. But yeah it is possible severe fungus could etch right into the glass permanently.

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9 hours ago, webrunner5 said:

I think most lens coating are on the outside of the front lens element. Not many have coatings inside the body. But yeah it is possible severe fungus could etch right into the glass permanently.

That's the impression I get too.  I figure that if it has etched into the glass then the light that hits that point will get scattered randomly and I'll just get a bit less contrast, and maybe a dark spot?  It looks like it's further back in the lens, which I understand is more in-focus than spots on the front of the lens.

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Well if a person has the tools there are some amazing values around for old lenses infected by fungus. Like you I have no clue how many are really salvageable? From so9me articles on the web it does look like some forms of fungus over time DO permanently etch into the elements. So not good.

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10 hours ago, CyclingBen said:

I had success using florescent lights going straight into the lens and putting some aluminum foil on the other side of the lens to reflect the UV back up through the rear element to remove some light fungus from the inside of a Super Tak,  

I also opened up and cleaned a Rokkor lens that had significant fungus with rubbing alcohol, a week long light treatment and then opening it back up to clean up the dried fungus.

The owner of the camera shop in my town recommended using this cleaner https://www.amazon.com/CleanSmart-Toy-Disinfectant-Spray-Bacteria/dp/B011ANDC78 which is normally used to clean kids toys.  I haven't tried it yet, but he's restored hundreds of lenses.

Interesting.  

That stuff looks promising - 'kills fungus' 'leaves no chemical residue' seems to be hitting the right points.  I liked the idea from the tutorial I liked earlier of running things under water then blowing the droplets off with a blower.  I'd be inclined to do a rinse cycle in distilled water so that on the chance that any droplets are left they would evaporate without leaving anything behind.

Do you know how your camera shop friend cleans the lenses?  Does he spray that stuff onto the lenses and wait, or does he just get in there and rub?  When using the chemicals method they say you have to wait until the fungus gets rinsed off under running water, and not to scrub it because you might scratch the lens.  That makes sense I guess as the fungus might have sharp bits in there, so with the toy disinfectant I wonder if it dissolves the fungus if left to soak?

7 minutes ago, webrunner5 said:

Well if a person has the tools there are some amazing values around for old lenses infected by fungus. Like you I have no clue how many are really salvageable?

No idea.  I've read that you want the fungus to be smaller (as they're less old and won't have eaten into the glass as much) and around the edges in preference to in the middle, and towards the front in preference to the back.  

So basically everything opposite to the one I have!  I would imagine there are some people quietly beavering away buying the lenses they know are saleable, serviceable, and putting them back on sale.  I'd imagine this would be the same for adapting lenses and other niche things.  

If you look through the listings for a popular lens on ebay you'll notice that every so often one of them will have 10 people watching it, when the lenses either side of basically identical price will have no attention at all.  I look through listings like this trying to work out why some get attention, and is there something that other people know that I don't, like is it a different version or whatever.  One thing that always gets attention is a PL mount, sometimes it's converted mount but other times it's just a lens with an adapter, but the people searching for "lens PL mount" won't know there are heaps of them and will only choose from those search results.

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Well from what I read you have to kill the fungus first or you are wasting your time sort of just cleaning it. Lots of crazy ideas on You Tube. And yeah most Real PL mount lenses  that started out they way, not converted, are really quality made stuff. More Pro like than the run of the mill stuff.

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17 minutes ago, webrunner5 said:

Well from what I read you have to kill the fungus first or you are wasting your time sort of just cleaning it. Lots of crazy ideas on You Tube. And yeah most Real PL mount lenses  that started out they way, not converted, are really quality made stuff. More Pro like than the run of the mill stuff.

It's a good idea to kill the fungus, but they release spores so you can't completely kill every spore that will be distributed all through the whole lens mechanism, you'll only be cleaning the glass elements, not the sides or all through the aperture blades, etc.  That's why I said you have to treat all your lenses like they're infected, because they probably all are.

11 hours ago, CyclingBen said:

I had success using florescent lights going straight into the lens and putting some aluminum foil on the other side of the lens to reflect the UV back up through the rear element to remove some light fungus from the inside of a Super Tak,  

I also opened up and cleaned a Rokkor lens that had significant fungus with rubbing alcohol, a week long light treatment and then opening it back up to clean up the dried fungus.

The owner of the camera shop in my town recommended using this cleaner https://www.amazon.com/CleanSmart-Toy-Disinfectant-Spray-Bacteria/dp/B011ANDC78 which is normally used to clean kids toys.  I haven't tried it yet, but he's restored hundreds of lenses.

That stuff is only sold in the US, and although I can get it shipped the product page says to ensure it's never frozen, so I'm not that confident about shipping it.

Does air cargo ever freeze?  It's pretty cold up there..

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13 minutes ago, Mako Sports said:

I heard once a lens has fungus it can never be 100% removed as it will just grow back..

I think that's because the spores get into all the grooves and mechanisms.  Of course, non-infected lenses can become infected at any time just by sucking in a spore during normal use.  Ultimately it's about keeping them in such a way that prevents the fungus already inside them from growing.

Dry and exposed to light is the way to go.

My second infected lens arrived.

Looks like a different type, and has a lot more coverage, but perhaps with smaller colonies than the last one.  It's important to have variety in life I think.

The front elements:

IMG_3450.thumb.jpg.0b6ed844931f945bfc7bde99618c4f01.jpg

The back elements:

IMG_3452.thumb.jpg.67d7bbe870a51bbea91b296c143af05e.jpg

This lens is also as new.  From same seller, so I suspect from the same source.

This one came with a lens hood! :)

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8 minutes ago, webrunner5 said:

Wow that one is the poster child for fungus on the rear element! Yikes.

You'd be surprised.

I already own these lenses and so am taking photos to highlight the fungus.  Many ebay auctions don't shine a light into the lens so you can only just tell that there's fungus there - notice how the auctions all say something like "the photographs are part of the description of the lens, please make sure you check them before purchase".  Lots of the auctions don't even have photos through the glass at all.

This one is interesting....  it's from a current live auction, and it's going for about three times the price of previous fungus-free items.

s-l1600.jpg

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This is an interesting article on making your own cheap desiccant pouches for keeping a sealed container low in humidity. 
https://www.instructables.com/id/Inexpensive-Dessicant/

The highlights are, buy kitty litter and put it into those little mesh gift bags that people put lollies or whatever in at weddings.

I've ordered a hygrometer to measure the humidity in my house and see if I have an issue to start with.  it's not that humid here, so I'm not that worried.

This is also useful: https://www.zeiss.com/camera-lenses/int/service/content/fungus-on-lenses.html

Quote

Where does fungus come from?

Fungus spores are everywhere and germinate under suitable environmental conditions:

  • Growing conditions
  • Relative humidity of at least 70% (more than 3 days)
  • No or little airflow
  • Darkness
  • Nutrients (textile lint, traces of grease, varnish, dust and dirt)
  • Temperatures between 10 and 35°C

How can fungus be avoided?

  • Reduce the relative humidity to less than 60% (never under 30% as it is dangerous for the instrument) by storing:
  • in climate-control cabinets in which hygrometers maintain environmental conditions
  • next to driers (e.g. silicagel orange packs) in the containers
  • in a special cabinet whose interior is heated to 40°C (max. 50°C) using a fan heater/ incandescent lamps, thereby reducing the relative humidity
  • in hermetically sealed cabinets with fungicides with high vapor pressure (fungicide depot must be replaced at regular intervals)
  • in an dehydrator above driers

 

So, if fungus is everywhere, then nothing stopping me putting these lenses on my camera and seeing how bad the images are :)

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Both lenses work almost flawlessly.

Here is a sample shot from each:

P1066610.jpg.08d6d39360f443a25713d33d4c0ec624.jpg

P1066613.jpg.dda5cd035b2a4d221bbf85c083d96fdd.jpg

There are some spots when you stop down to f8 or over, but a lot of it is common to both lenses, so the quick sensor clean I did with the air blower wasn't 100% effective it seems.

I'll still clean the lenses, but it's amazing how well they work, considering :)

 

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8 hours ago, kye said:

It's a good idea to kill the fungus, but they release spores so you can't completely kill every spore that will be distributed all through the whole lens mechanism, you'll only be cleaning the glass elements, not the sides or all through the aperture blades, etc.  That's why I said you have to treat all your lenses like they're infected, because they probably all are.

That stuff is only sold in the US, and although I can get it shipped the product page says to ensure it's never frozen, so I'm not that confident about shipping it.

Does air cargo ever freeze?  It's pretty cold up there..

You'll probably be fine as long as none of the airports or road legs have sub-zero conditions (celsius). I have worked with temperature sensitive logistics and most of our issues came during the loading/unloading process, but we also had heated trucks.

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Hey Kye,

I took apart some old Nikkors and found this dude to be very straight forward. https://richardhaw.com/

For my nikkors it was quite helpfull to have the propper Japanease screwdrivers to not strip anything. Watchout for the coil?!? threading you really have to mark that stuff other wise all is lost, you will loose infinity or close focus afaik. you can always find it again but re and disasamling the Lens more then 20 times and testing for infitiy will drive you nuts, my brother in law did it, I got the lens still laying around here, perfekt for macro stuff but, hmmmm.

Keep infected glass away from the others!!!

From my point of view, it is the labour intensity that makes it only viable for better ish lenses. I cleaned a Nikkor 50 1.2 from a little fungus and it is great. Screw the coating it is all about character and bang for the buck.

 

Happy fiddling.

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22 hours ago, kye said:

Yeah, the lenses might already be toast, but who knows.  It's fun trying, right? :)

Dry boxes is the general concept I think.  Anything that protects them from dust and you can keep humidity out of is fine.  I'm thinking some kind of translucent container like a lunch box or small organiser should be fine, but I haven't done the research yet so maybe there's a piece missing from my knowledge as yet.

Research a lot about that, since I lived in somewhat humid cities. Best solution is active dry cabinets (Ruggard and Benro have some models in USA, but probably just Chinese models rebranded like everyone else), which have Peltier based electric dehumidifiers.

Tried to seal a cabinet and put a like this one (https://www.amazon.com/Pro-Breeze-Electric-Dehumidifier-Portable/dp/B01DC5PPWM/ref=sr_1_5?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1548855820&sr=1-5&keywords=dehumidifier - but my unit was from another brand), which is Peltier based too, but the results were not good, and the power supply burned twice.

My current solution, that works very well:

- Cheap higrometers for monitoring, like: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Mini-Digital-LCD-Indoor-Temperature-Humidity-Meter-Thermometer-Hygrometer-WOUS/182188821858?hash=item2a6b4ccd62:g:zzMAAOSwm6VbrsqX:rk:2:pf:1&frcectupt=true
- Clear plastic rubber-sealed food storage containers - I'm using Daiso ones;
- Orange tinted silica desiccant (looks like the blue tintwd ones contains cobalt, which could be dangerous for the health when heated to dry the desiccant again).

Put the silica inside little netted bags, and put them inside the container with the equipment. The humidity will drop good and fast (sometimes even going to around 10% humidity), then you take the silica out (it could be reused, just dry it in an oven) and close the container again. Humidity raise very slowly afterwards - but the ideal range is around 40%, very low humidity could dry the grease in older lenses).

Never had a single lens damaged by fungus.

And important - never store a lens with fungus in the same container of the clean one, they can spread.

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