“(I’d) imagine that other manufacturers haven’t considered use of disinfectants on photographic equipment,” says Mark Weir, Senior Manager of Technology at Sony. When I emailed the camera manufacturers about this story, I wasn’t expecting conflicting answers. Yet, as I wrote this article, it became a bit confusing. In some ways, manufacturers are saying the same things. But in other ways, one has to remember that camera manufacturers use different materials and finishes on their cameras. To that end, we got different dialogues. Amidst Coronavirus fears, we talked to manufacturers, a former Doctor, and an Insurance provider for freelancers about what to do.
What Manufacturers Say
“The COVID-19 virus primarily spreads when one person breathes in droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” says Harvard Health in an article. “In addition, any infected person, with or without symptoms, could spread the virus by touching a surface.” With this comes the practice of social distancing, which many photographers have been doing. Much of the professional photography world is hurting right now because of gigs being canceled, but that doesn’t mean folks aren’t going out and shooting together. Indeed, Photowalking is great for your mental health, and the social aspect of it is still relatively safer than being stuck in a cramped party and shooting.
“Maybe don’t share your camera if possible?” suggests Mark Toal, Manager, Retail Services at Panasonic. “We do not suggest you use any products with alcohol as they may damage LCD screens and any porous surfaces such as grips. Many of these wipes come apart when using them and only leave an additional residue.” He continues to warn that some of that residue may get in your eye if it remains on the eyepiece after cleaning. This isn’t the case with the non-rubberized parts of lenses, but as far as cameras go, some camera manufacturers indeed have an area of the leatherette finish that can get a bit grimy. I’ve only really felt this with more affordable models though.
Panasonic, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of electronics, is a company lots of customers trust. On that note, the advice from Fujifilm, another highly trusted camera manufacturer, suggests differently. “Our service department is using 99.9% isopropyl alcohol to clean the camera and lenses,” says Dan Scarola, National Manager Service & Support, FUJIFILM North America Corporation. “The only wipes we recommend are the ones with 99.9% isopropyl alcohol only and no other chemicals. Using other chemicals may cause damage to the product.” Indeed, Isopropyl alcohol has been an industry standard for cleaning electronics for over a decade. Photographers can get better performance from their cameras and lenses by just cleaning out the contacts with Q-Tips. Of course, those who clean the cameras also wear gloves.
If you really look at what Fujifilm and Panasonic are saying though, they’re urging consumers to be careful. While Fujifilm uses 99.9% isopropyl alcohol, Panasonic warns that this could damage the LCD screens and certain surfaces. Fujifilm agrees to leave the glass parts of your camera well alone. From what we gather, we’d probably use 99.9% isopropyl alcohol on the more solid parts of the camera rather than the area around the grip. Unfortunately for photographers, the grips are the areas most likely to be touched and therefore transmit possible diseases like the Coronavirus. If anything, Sony unofficially provides a bit of advice that could be useful to a photographer. Mr. Weir wrote the following to us in an email:
Thanks for your inquiry. Unfortunately, we don’t have any official advice for cleaning products beyond the traditional “clean, dry cloth” which is practical for times other than the these.
Unofficially, we recognize the interest in the use of disinfectant wipes, but would offer the following cautions:
- Try to identify the liquid used as a disinfectant. One could assume that non-caustic materials would be used in products designed for use on skin, but that might be naïve.
- Avoid contact with excess liquid – some wipes have more than others. Allowing liquids to enter a camera or lens (especially when lens not attached to camera) should be avoided.
- Disinfectant liquids and wipes are not a replacement for lens cleaning materials. Coatings on lenses may not be a good match.
Mark continues to state that he imagines no manufacturer has even considered the use of disinfectants on photographic equipment. But the truth is that many photographers are hurting right now due to any cancellations. And if a gig comes though, they need to be cautious.
So What Do You Actually Do?
“Solutions of at least 60% isopropyl alcohol should disinfect – have to let it stay for 60 seconds,”Roger Cicala
With manufacturers in disagreement about what to do, the issue of Coronavirus can easily become more confusing for photographers. There are few folks that I’d think are really qualified to speak about this, but Roger Cicala, the Founder of LensRentals, is a former Doctor and a big techie. “Solutions of at least 60% isopropyl alcohol should disinfect – have to let it stay for 60 seconds,” explained Roger to us in an interview. “As far as we know it’s completely safe for camera/lens/light, etc.” Considering how much he and the crew at LensRentals fix gear, Roger is a great source of information. When asked specifically if they destroy virus particles, Roger confirmed that this is indeed the case. So there’s at least a chance that it may affect Coronavirus.
“You can also use 2% peroxide or diluted ‘safe’ (not chlorine) bleach. But the safety factor of those on gear is unknown. We are using those latter solutions to wet down tables, boxes, etc.”
Roger also offers the following about Coronavirus and your photography gear:
- UV light is too impractical to use. “It’s a good sterilizer but surfaces are what we’re most worried about here.”
- Avoid mixing anything in a bottle that used to have bleach or ammonia (Windex, etc.) without thorough rinsing. Chlorine bleach/ammonia/alcohol/vinegar combinations can give off some toxic fumes.
Roger is hoping people will be able to move some studio stuff outside as the weather improves, in order to make a little bit of a living. But, some of us photographers will probably take the risk anyway. And though we wouldn’t ever condone putting your life in possible jeopardy, we asked for more advice on what to do. “First off, if there are shoots you can avoid or postpone, especially ones that involve groups of people in close proximity to each other, definitely play it safe and cancel (this guide from The Atlantic is a great resource for any questions on social distancing),” says Julia Pugachevsky of Trupo, an insurance company targeted to freelancers and from the former founder of the Freelancer’s Union. “If you have to be at a shoot, you want to practice all the protocol you normally would in a public setting right now–washing your hands for 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer that’s over 60% alcohol, and covering your mouth if you cough.”
Lead image by NIAID used with permission.