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Spring Cleaning: Examine Your Gear and Dump What You Aren’t Using

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Every so often it is a good idea to sort through all your gear. With winter releasing its grip and nicer weather on the way, now is the perfect time to assess what you have, what you’ve lost, give it a good cleaning, and figure out what needs repair, what needs replacing, and what you should just shed. If you are a gear junkie like me, the thought of getting rid of any piece of gear probably sends panic screaming through your system. After all, this is the gear you’ve worked hard to purchase, and perhaps you think, “So what if it isn’t shiny and new? I can still use it on a job, I can’t get rid of it. What if one day I need it and I don’t have it?”

The reality is that if you are hoarding it “just in case,” it is either packed into an all-too-heavy equipment case—or the day you need it, it will be at home sitting on a shelf, so you wouldn’t have it on your shoot anyway. I know how you feel; I still have my DVX-100. I haven’t used it in a couple of years and was only keeping it around because I had one project that kept demanding new footage. I finally convinced the director to move out of the SD world, and I haven’t used it since. I keep it now because it has more than paid for itself a long time ago, I can use the batteries for other cameras via battery plates, and I have a mess of DV tapes to digitize. If any of those excuses sounds reasonable to you, then remember the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Take a Day

Schedule a day for yourself, and spread out all your gear. I’d suggest separating camera from lighting and grip, or audio (if you have more than one category of gear); you may want to spread out a sound blanket or something to protect your floor and to keep your gear clean. Then, don’t forget to take a sheet of paper and make an inventory, if you don’t already have one. While you are at it, look at your cases and bags. Give them a good going over once you’ve emptied them of your gear. Clean them out; shake them out, check for any small components that are hiding inside. A small stiff brush is an excellent tool for cleaning bags and cases, or wind some tape on your hand, sticky side out, and run it over the inside of the case/bags.

Air them out, replace any one-time-use silica desiccant , or dry out the reusable indicating silica gel. With your case/bag empty of gear, now is the time to patch and repair, replace any decaying foam, or if it has movable internal dividers, consider rearranging. It is also a good time to evaluate if you need to move on from this bag or case. Maybe you’ve outgrown it, and are stuffing too much gear inside. An overloaded bag/case can become a hindrance on a shoot, just as with hanging on to too much gear. Once you’ve emptied out your bag/case and given it a good going over, it is time to turn your attention to your gear.

Ewa-Marine Reusable Camera Dry Silica Gel Desiccant

Bring a Friend or Make it a Networking Opportunity

Going through your gear can be a fun process, but it can easily become tedious. You may consider having a friend come help you, especially if you are doing an inventory of your gear (highly recommended). If you are starting out your career and are trying to ingratiate yourself to some of your connections, offering to help someone with a lot of gear to go through will go a long way to making you a hero in their eyes. Besides, this way you get to know what they have and become familiar with their gear, which will make you more valuable on a shoot with them.

The Gear

Got your pen and paper ready? A spreadsheet app of some kind is handy. Don’t forget to make columns for item description, serial number, condition, and remember a notes field. You’ll want to clean the gear as you go through it, so some soft lint free towels will be the order of the day.

Drytac TacCloth Tacky Lint-Free Cloth

Camera Gear and Lenses

For cameras and lenses, your cleaning tools will be lens cloths, lens tissue, lens cleaning fluid (put the fluid on the tissue and not directly on your lens), hand blowers or compressed air. Never blow air into a camera and, if using compressed air, always hold the can upright and don’t shake it, not before and not while using it—the propellant can come out and coat your gear—very bad. Don’t use compressed air on the glass of your lenses. Also, do not use solvents of any kind on the exterior of your camera or lenses, a dry rubdown with lint free cloths will suffice for most purposes.

Zeiss Lens Cleaning Kit

Grip and Electric

Moving on to grip and electric gear, assemble your tools and your cleaners: contact cleaner, rubbing alcohol, WD-40, are all good to have on hand. Use contact cleaner for the metal contacts on your stingers (extension cords), alcohol or baby wipes to get tape residue off stands, cables, or anywhere else it may have clung, and check the outer jacket of your cables to make sure they are resistant to your cleaner. WD-40 is good to use, sparingly, but it is a good choice for the knuckles on your stands (what you tighten to lock the stand).

Don’t spray WD-40 directly on your equipment; put all the solvents onto a clean cloth and rub it down. You may want to pick up a box of rags or something similar. Don’t use the good towels in your bathroom—you will regret that the next time you have company. Now is also a good time to fix or replace your cable wraps. If you have hook-and-loop wraps that aren’t working well, you can try running a comb through the prickly side to clean out any fibers that may have embedded themselves there. It is a great way to refresh the wrap. You may also want to consider permanently attaching the hook-and-loop wrap, by poking holes in the wrap where it sits on the cable, and fastening it in place with a zip-tie.

Pearstone Touch Fastener Straps

Audio Gear

Because audio recorders use solid-state media these days, you don’t have to clean the Record/Playback heads anymore but, still, there are some areas that can be attended to. For audio patch bays, you spray cleaner directly onto a ¼" phono plug to create a light film and then insert and remove that into the patch bay several times. Do NOT spray it directly into the female connectors in the patch bay. I got this tip from one of the audio writers here, and he recommended CAIG DeoxIT for the cleaner. For cable exteriors, much the same as with stingers, baby wipes are your safest bet, although rubbing alcohol will work—just check to see that the exterior jacket is safe from whatever you are using to clean it.

Hosa Technology CAIG DeoxIT Equipment Care Kit

Broken Gear

If you come across some gear that is broken or not working properly, and cleaning it doesn’t solve the problem, put it to side. Broken gear needs to be repaired, if possible, or replaced if too far gone.

Wrapping it Up

As you go through and clean your gear, before you put it back in its case/bag, consider the last time you used it. If it is a specialty piece, then it may be worth keeping, but chances are it is just a piece of gear that you have moved beyond and it doesn’t serve a practical purpose. Owning gear is not like having a pet—if it is taking up space and not being used, no matter how wonderful it was in the past, when it is time to move on from a piece of gear, move on. Either recycle it, or donate it. It may feel difficult now, but you will thank me later: stevengl@bhphoto.com. Most of the gear we use is made of metal or has electronics, so don’t just chuck it in the trash, recycle it responsibly. Other options include selling you gear, and for that I recommend the B&H Used Department, donating it to a film school or media program, giving it to the person whohelped you go through your gear, or to a buddy who is starting out.The great thing about donating gear to a friend is that if you ever do need it, at least you know where you can find it.

5 Comments

For inventory purposes, I use Evernote, a cloud based solution  It has a web browser interface as well as an Android app (and probably Apple app).

But since I still shoot with my 37 year old Canon A-1, I'm not giving that up. Also, forget about me selling that rare Canon Macrophoto 20mm f3.5 lens that I bought from B&H. The magnification on that lens is awesome. I wowed members of the local photography club when I held a quarter up to the lens.

Very cool Ralph, thanks for sharing that information. I'll have to check out the software.And you hold onto that gear, as long as it is working for you, no reason to get rid of it. 

If you are in the Los Angeles area, consider donating it to Venice Arts. It is a media arts program for low income youth here in Venice. I teach there and they can always use donations of any kind of gear in good condition. Lenses, cameras both still and video, lighting, grip, audio, etc. It is all tax deductible too.

Great info Ed, thanks for contributing

What is the location in Venice? I have a canon lens to donate. Can you provide a receipt?  

Thank you,

deneen

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