Moisture is the enemy. Leica, Sony, and every other camera maker recommend storing cameras and lenses in an environment where the relative humidity is controlled to between 40% and 50%. This isn’t always easy to do in a home, office, or studio environment. Luckily, I’ve found an effective and affordable solution in the Ruggard line of Electronic Dry Cabinets.
Up until a month ago, I was storing my Leica in a cheese dome. If you don’t know what a cheese dome is, well, it’s a glass dome within which a person might keep cheeses. Not an ideal storage solution for a camera, but it kept the dust away. Unfortunately, cheese domes don’t do anything against humidity.
My home office happens to be in a basement, and even though we have climate control and dehumidifiers the relative humidity in the basement can sometimes reach 70%. This is terrible for photo gear, especially the sort of old, legacy gear I tend to use and collect. Have you ever seen a rare and valuable legacy lens loaded with fungus due to improper storage in damp and dusty conditions? I have. And I still have nightmares.
When B&H Photo sent me the Ruggard EDC-80L at the beginning of our humid New England summer, I was eager to give it a try. After using it for a little more than a month, there’s no question in my mind that this dry cabinet is one of the smartest purchases a photographer or collector could make.
What is a Dry Cabinet
The Ruggard EDC (Electronic Dry Cabinet) is a relatively simple thing. It’s a sealed cabinet that’s able to regulate its internal relative humidity to ensure that the contents of the cabinet are stored free of excess moisture. Simple. But what’s ingenious about this particular cabinet is the way that it goes about regulating relative humidity.
It uses what’s known as a TEC (thermo-electric cooling) wafer. I’m not too smart, but I’ll try to explain this technology as best I can. The TEC wafer has two sides made of differing materials, and when an electric current is applied it transfers heat from one side (the cool side within the cabinet) to the other (the hot side outside of the cabinet). Part of the genius of this device is that the “hot side” is connected to a heat sink, which keeps the “hot side” from getting any hotter than the ambient room temperature (it remains cool metal to the touch).
Another benefit of using a TEC wafer to regulate humidity compared with more traditional devices is that the TEC wafer is a solid state device. There are no moving parts, no refrigerants or gases, and the unit emits no noise. There’s no condensation and the unit is dripless. Simply plug it in and it does its thing.
Build Quality and Features
Before the Ruggard Electronic Dry Cabinet arrived, I was somewhat worried that it would be cheaply made and ineffective. Happily, these fears were quickly quieted upon the cabinet’s arrival. It’s well made and thoughtfully designed.
The unit itself is robust and heavy. Though not built like a safe, it’s certainly solid enough to safely hold whatever gear will fit. The entire unit is made of steel, top-to-bottom. The feet are rubber pucks in the rear of the unit, and the front feet are adjustable for leveling the cabinet on uneven surfaces. These leaving feet are thick metal, not flimsy plastic.
The hinged front door is framed in steel, with a rubber gasket, and the glass window is thick and solidly mounted. The hinges swing beautifully with very little play, and the door handle is metal as well. Underneath this door handle is a simple lock, which actuates via a key (two are provided). This lock shouldn’t be considered a security device (the lock is rudimentary and the door is glass, after all), but rather a device to simply dissuade honest people from fiddling with your gear (it’s already saved my Nikon SP from a five-year-old daughter’s sticky fingers).
My unit, the Ruggard EDC-80L, came with one adjustable metal shelf. It also came with two pads, one for the bottom compartment and one for the top. These pads ensure that gear or the cabinet doesn’t get scratched.
Humidity and ambient temperature are displayed on a lighted LCD panel on the fromt of the cabinet. Next to this we find the extremely simple control panel. Hold the SET button to set the desired humidity level, and then use the arrow buttons to adjust the value. When not in SET mode, the UP arrow activates a bank of LED lights in side the cabinet, and the DOWN arrow displays the currently set relative humidity level.
The Ruggard Electronic Dry Cabinet in Use
Installation and setup of the cabinet is simple and takes just a few moments. If you’ve built an Ikea shelf you’re overqualified for this job. Unpack the Ruggard cabinet from its box, install the door handle (only necessary on certain models), connect the unit’s power cable to the back of the cabinet and then plug that into the wall. Install the shelf to the desired height (if need be), set your desired relative humidity level, and shut the door. You’re done.
The unit operates silently, and depending on the humidity in the environment and the set relative humidity level within the cabinet, reaching the desired humidity level can take anywhere from a half hour to three hours. In my testing, an internal relative humidity of 40% was achieved consistently in 90 minutes when the ambient humidity level in the office was 70%. Opening the unit and retrieving a piece of gear will cost about 10% relative humidity. If the door stays open for any longer than 90 seconds, expect the humidity level in the cabinet to match what’s outside.
There are a set of LED lights on the righthand side of the interior, above and below the center of the unit. These do an adequate job of lighting the contents of the cabinet, however top and bottom mounted LEDs would have more evenly distributed the light throughout the unit. As it is, objects on the right of the cabinet will cast shadows over objects to their left. This is one area where my particular unit could be improved. Some other models in the Ruggard EDC line have better lighting.
The unit uses very little electricity, approximately 8 watts, in fact. This is about the same power consumption as a modem or router. During the month in which I’ve thus far continuously operated the Ruggard EDC-80L, my electricity bill did not increase at all.
Ruggard makes a lot of different models of the Electronic Dry Cabinet, in numerous configurations. From the super affordable tabletop EDC-18L to the mid-sized EDC-180L to the largest EDC-600L, there’s a dry cabinet to suit every need and budget.
I’ve mentioned that the cabinet that B&H sent me is the EDC-80L. This has an internal capacity of 80 liters, or 2.8 square feet. To explain this further, the cabinet’s internal dimensions are 17.7 x 12.9 x 21.1″ (45 x 32.9 x 53.5 cm). While this is big enough to hold a lot of gear, about ten or twelve cameras and a number of combinations of lenses, I think I’d ideally have opted for a larger cabinet.
The EDC-120L model, to me, seems to be the best balance of capacity and price. It could easily hold far more gear than I’ll ever own at one time at a price that’s less than what it would cost to replace or repair any one of the few pieces of valuable gear that I own. And I could fill the empty space with manuals, or original boxes, or other soft materials that I’d like to keep moisture free.
The thing about humidity control is that it’s not very exciting, and you can’t really see the negative consequences of storing your gear in a humid environment until it’s too late. You’ll grab that beautiful vintage Summicron off the shelf where it’s sat for the last eight months, mount it on the camera, and suddenly notice a spiderweb of fungus etched across an internal lens element. It’s happened to me, and the cost of getting that single lens cleaned was greater than the cost of this cabinet.
At the end of the day, I really feel like this is a no-brainer. The Ruggard Electronic Dry Cabinet is a must-have product if you’re the kind of photo nerd who loves his or her gear and who wants to keep that gear as nice as possible for as long as possible. Put your precious gear inside, close the door, and live your life knowing your cameras and lenses will stay dry and clean, and fungus free.
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