How to Disinfect Your Camera Equipment

March 24, 2020

By Roger Cicala

Photo courtesy of Lensrentals

Lensrentals founder and former physician Roger Cicala is someone who spends a lot of time handling photo and video equipment. Which is why he keeps being asked more and more during the COVID-19 pandemic how photographers can disinfect camera equipment to keep themselves healthy and safe.

Here, Cicala shares with the Rangefinder audience some of his suggestions for best practices to disinfect gear, including what works and what doesn’t work. Read the full article on the Lensrentals blog here (which also includes a list of disinfectants to safely consider).

I’m qualified to talk about this subject to some degree; I take care of a ton of camera equipment, and I was a physician in my past life. And I’ve had so many requests for information about this that it seems logical to put something out about the right way to disinfect your cameras, lenses and other gear, so everyone has access to it.

[Read: What Reopening a Portrait Photography Business Will Look Like in 2020]

That being said, at this moment in time, there are no right answers. This is my best knowledge and best opinions. Other people have other thoughts. Two weeks from now, new information may make some of this incorrect or show there are better ways to do things. If I say something today and the CDC says something else next Thursday, go with the CDC.

[See our COVID-19 resource page for business information and creative inspiration that will help you rise to the occasion.]

Disinfect Camera Gear and Equipment

Lensrentals founder Roger Cicala suggests using a Q-Tip to get into small areas or places where you’d rather not spray when you want to disinfect equipment and lenses.
Photo courtesy of Lensrentals

First, remember that if your gear has been sitting away from people for a couple of days, it’s safe. If you’re on a video production or multi-camera shoot, don’t share cameras. Assign who uses what equipment as much as is possible.

[Read: How Editorial and Commercial Photographers Can Book and Shoot New Sessions Now]

Alcohol and Soap

Despite what some manufacturers have said, we, and every repair shop I know, have used isopropyl alcohol in 60 percent or greater concentrations on camera equipment for a long time and haven’t seen any adverse effects. Some manufacturers said 99 percent isopropyl might maybe affect lens coatings. I respectfully disagree, although I will say vigorous rubbing can affect some lens coatings, so take it easy and don’t use wire brushes or such.

Don’t soak it; that is asking for trouble and isn’t necessary. Just moisten it. Use common sense to try to keep your disinfectant on the outside and not let it run into the inside. A light mist with a spray bottle, or a cloth or paper towel dipped in alcohol works great for large surfaces. You might want to dip a Q-Tip or similar thing to get into small areas or places where you’d rather not spray.

A little soap and water applied with a dipped cloth and rubbed can be used on appropriate places; lens barrels, camera rubber, light stands, etc. and wiped off with a cloth and water after half a minute. Spray alcohol may be better in nooks and crannies if you can find it. I recommend only to use Q-Tips or a dipped cloth around camera viewfinders, etc.

There is a chance that alcohol used repeatedly could dull the rubber of lens rings or camera bodies. I haven’t seen it, but I have seen it claimed. I have also heard that it can dull or fog the finish of LCD screens, but again I haven’t seen it, and I do know the monitor cleaner I use contains isopropyl alcohol. Still, given the others who claim it can, at least in some cameras, I’d try to keep it to a minimum.

Either of these disinfectants can be used on light’s fresnel screens, but I would not apply them to high-intensity tungsten or strobe bulbs themselves. Any residue could, like finger oil, cause issues and burn out your bulb. They should be fine for LED lights though.

I think it’s pretty easy and pretty safe to disinfect all of your equipment and studio space or office effectively except for your camera. Let’s face it; you (or them) got your face all up in there, so it’s the most likely place to have received a big viral load. It’s also the place you don’t want to soak and saturate with any of the above solutions. Plus, the areas around the LCD, viewfinder, etc. are full of nooks and crannies, making them more difficult to get to, and according to some manufacturers, LCD screens might be sensitive to disinfectants. (Again, my own opinion is I haven’t seen it, but what manufacturer’s say can’t just be ignored).

I’d recommend just not sharing cameras on a shoot, right now. If you do share, disinfect it carefully with a minimal solution and set it aside for 24 hours; 48 hours if you are paranoid. Virus particles don’t make spores and are not going to last on a surface for a long time. I, personally, am comfortable that 24 hours is long enough, but there is some evidence that it takes 72 hours to be absolutely safe.

And while we’re talking about cameras, don’t forget that memory cards (and in some cases, like video shoots, batteries) get passed around a bit. They need to be disinfected when this happens.

Read more of Cicala’s suggestions, and a list of disinfectants he recommends here.