• Ed Dozier

“Safe” Storage of Camera Gear

Many people have purchased a safe to store their camera gear and protect themselves from theft and fires. This might not be the best idea. Let me explain.

Safes (mostly advertised as “gun safes”) are usually advertised as being fireproof, typically able to withstand a fire for about a half-hour. How is this achieved? It’s achieved typically in two different ways: via the gypsum in drywall material, or through clay-like materials.

Typical fire-rated gun safe with electronic lock

Typical gun storage cabinet with key lock

This fireproof insulation material makes up the bulk of the wall thickness of a safe. I bet you thought those safe walls were pure steel. Nope. If that were true, a safe would weigh probably triple what it actually does.

So why should you care how a safe is made fireproof? The key here is moisture. These fire-proofing materials contain water molecules, and that can create a high-humidity environment. High humidity is not a friendly environment for cameras or lenses. The way these materials work is to convert water molecules into steam during a fire, which keeps the safe’s flammable contents from igniting. A “steamed camera” is probably a dead camera, so fire-proofing won’t really help you anyway.

Some, but not all, fire-proofing materials in safes may keep a high-humidity environment inside the safe. The worst offenders here are “document safes”. I used to use one of these myself, and noticed that my camera LCD screen would always fog up when I started using my camera. Not good.

Another concern with fire-proof safes is formaldehyde. The drywall insulation material (often from China) might contain formaldehyde.

It would be great if you could buy a safe that used Space Shuttle tiles for insulation, but I doubt you could afford it.

So, how do you keep your gear secure, without ruining it by high humidity? One solution is a lockable steel storage cabinet. It won’t have insulation that can pose a humidity problem. Steel cabinets can be secured to the floor or a wall via lag screws, etc. Cabinets made for gun storage typically have the heaviest gauge steel, which rival the steel thickness found in modestly-priced safes. These gun-storage cabinets typically have hardened steel, as well.

What about storage capacity? You will gain about 4 inches in all interior dimensions for extra storage space if you omit insulation. You will find over time that you ALWAYS need more space.

Professional thieves probably have grinding tools that can penetrate most safes without much more difficulty than a steel cabinet. It’s probably more important to protect your gear from humidity and resign yourself to protection against mere amateur thieves. Fire protection? Forget it.