Drybox on the Cheap!

Having lived in Asia and seen the cool fridge-like camera storage boxes out there, such as this one:

And having owned one of the cheaper alternatives available in Asia...

I was a bit disappointed with dry box offerings on this side of the world. The reason--well, there are two: one is price, the other is availability of camera equipment storage solutions.

While it's possible to buy those fridge-like storage units at the big auction house, they are way overpriced! Back in Seoul a fridge-like storage unit like the one depicted above runs around $100-200US; at the big auction house they're going for $250+ and then you need to add shipping, insurance, and any custom/duty fees. The imported ones available on Ebay come with a pointless warranty, because shipping it back to China for any repairs would cost you just as much as buying a new one. The fridge-like units made in North America are mostly made for scientific purposes, and can be as expensive as all of my gear put together. Don't believe me? Just Google "desiccator" and find one that fits your camera gear. Overkill? You bet. And unfortunately, those available on Ebay and for Scientific purposes are the only alternatives for North Americans in terms of fridge-like containers.

Rather than hope I'd find a decent deal on a fridge-like unit, I thought I'd look around for something like what I had owned back in Korea--a simple dry box with a hygrometer. The closest offerings I could find were "vacuum" and "anti-moisture" dry boxes at the big auction house and some online retailers that were either too small and overpriced or a decent size but still overpriced, and almost as expensive as the fridge-like storage containers offered in Seoul. The storage box I owned in Korea was 27L and it could handle pretty much all of my gear and then some, and I only paid ~35US (with the hygrometer included). There was nothing available in North America at that price range from any manufacturer. I knew the only option was to go the DIY route. This wasn't as easy a task as I thought it would be--it took me a couple of months to get everything together. To spare you the trouble I had in finding the right things I'll jump straight to what I found:

It may not look like much, but for the price it was, and still is, the largest dry box available at retail stores in North America.

There were some boxes that were either a bit smaller or a bit larger, but all of them were too much money, and I wasn't willing to head into rip-off territory for a plastic container.

The box shown here costs $6.50 US + taxes and the lid has a seal and the box has a lip, so it'll do what it was designed to do--keep moisture out, and prevent fungus from attacking your gear.

What box is it? And where did I buy it for such a low price? It's a Sterilite "Room Essentials--Keep Safe Storage Box", and I bought it at Target. And, yes, the price is still the same as of Dec., 2010. This picture doesn't do the box much justice, as it doesn't really tell you its size.

Before I go on to give you the specs, please note that it is an "air and moisture resistant seal" box. It'll keep moisture out, but if you live in a house that's highly humid, or in a state or province that's quite humid (like the GTA in Ontario or the states along the Great Lakes), then you'll also need something in the box to help control and monitor moisture levels.

Some photographers think such storage containers are overkill, but I've yet to meet one who was happy to find mold growing on the lens they placed in storage last year. My brother-in-law lost an amazing $400 Nikon rifle scope to mold because he stored it in his basement in a cabinet that wasn't designed to keep out moisture. Mold is a serious issue, even if you live in an area that's not known to be humid. It's always best to play it safe with any expensive optics you may own. And at the price this box goes for, cost isn't an excuse.

The box is a transluscent white. While not exactly great, it'll suffice for most purposes as the point is to use it to store your gear, not to look at your gear or have others ogle it. The following pictures will give you an idea of the things I've used in order to keep moisture in check beyond the lip on the box and the gasket on the lid.

Lid with gasket; box with lip. Together they provide a good seal.

A hygrometer I bought from Ebay for ~4.50. This let's me monitor the moisture level.

Hygrometer is held on side of box by Velcro.

"Ciesta" brand padded bag. I bought this back in Korea. They are inexpensive there, but in North America DIY is probably the best option.

The box has two handles that lock. Four would've been ideal, but for the price of the box I'm not complaining.

The translucent white makes it difficult to see the hygrometer. I only look at it when I need to get something from the box.

Plastic desiccant packet. This can be microwaved and "reset" within 3 minutes. Purchased at McMaster-Carr. Part 2219K92. Expensive, but worth it!

That's the Nikkor 80-200 f/4. It's a fairly long piece of glass. This give you a better idea of the size of the box.

Note 2 different types of desiccant canisters. Both can be reset. The aluminum one takes 3 hours in an oven. The plastic one takes 3 minutes in a microwave.

The actual dimensions of the box are as follows:

16-1/8" L x 11-1/4" W x 10-7/8" H

40.9cm L x 28.5cm W x 27.6cm H

Cost breakdown:

Box ~ $6.50

Hygrometer ~4.50

Velcro ~1.50

Dessicant Canister ~$22.00 for plastic version or ~8.00 for aluminum version. I recommend the plastic one, as it only takes 3 minutes to reset it in a microwave.

That's all you really need. I didn't add the cost of the padded bag, as that was purchased in Korea. To make your own padded bag would cost around $10.00-15.00US. I'm currently working on a project to make padded inserts, and they're nowhere near as expensive as what manufacturers charge for them. Keep your eyes on my site for a tutorial on that project; I hope that'll point you in the right direction to making your own padded bags and inserts.

Anyway, for those of you who don't want to spend an arm and a leg on a dry box this is probably the cheapest DIY that's available in North America. If I come across any new boxes that are as cheap, and have four lockable handles, I'll update this tutorial.

Till my next review, rambling, or tutorial, this is, hey, hey,