|A clean, dry, well-lit workspace like this camera table on the Sun Dancer II is ideal for pre-dive camera maintenance.|
|A freshwater immersion in a commodious dip tank is the best defense against the hazards of salt water. Fresh water displaces the salt water relatively easily if the immersion happens immediately after the dive.|
|There are probably more than 500 O-rings in all the cameras on this table. Each one has the potential to cause a flood unless properly maintained.|
|A light coating of the appropriate grease is the first best step in keeping your O-rings happy and healthy.|
I flooded my first camera back in '79, my initial encounter with the awful truth about underwater photography equipment: If you take cameras in the water often enough, sooner or later, water will end up on the wrong side of the O-ring.
Since that time I've flooded plenty of underwater cameras and housings. Most floods were my fault and could have been avoided, but sometimes floods--like DCS--just happen. Here are my tips for avoiding it when you can and taking care of it when you can't.
Flood Avoidance: Love Thy O-Rings
An O-ring is the magical device that keeps water on the outside. Helping O-rings do their magic involves seven basic procedures:
- Clean 'Em. The O-ring should be cleaned of grit, lint, hair and detritus each time the camera door is opened or lens changed. Make sure the O-ring channel on the camera or housing is also clean.
Flood Avoidance: Bathe Thy Camera
If we used our cameras only in fresh water, maintenance probably would be much simpler. But we go into the ocean. Minerals and salts from seawater are left behind once the water evaporates. This grit finds its way into tiny orifices and can also disrupt the seal. That's why you should insist on a freshwater rinse bucket on every dive boat--and learn to use it properly:
- Rinse It. Put your cameras and strobes in fresh water immediately to displace the salt water. Operate the knobs, buttons and controls while it's immersed in fresh water.
A flood can happen even when you do everything right. The trick is to recognize it immediately and take immediate appropriate action. Your camera may be flooded if:
- bubbles stream from camera back
Flood First Aid The First Steps
|You'll probably see this depressing sight eventually. It could be a housing or an amphibious camera, but mistakes happen and cameras get wet.|
|In preparation for repair, use a small Phillips head screwdriver to remove the four screws on the cover to the electronics panel.|
|Remove the cover and expose electronics module.|
|Insert garden hose into battery compartment and use sufficient water pressure to flush water through the camera.|
|A moisture alarm (note the two tiny prongs at the bottom of the housing) can help minimize flood damage. The best moisture alarms will have visible LEDs in the viewfinder, as well as an audible buzzer.|
|A housing will typically have a space at the bottom so that small bits of water don't hit the delicate camera inside. If you suspect a flood, keep the housing absolutely upright until you can open the back and dry the inside of the housing. Tipping it dow|
Since you could be several days from the nearest professional repair facility, what do you do about it? If it is a flooded Nikonos V, you'll probably wish you had brought along a copy of The Traveler's Guide to ER (Emergency Repair) for the Nikonos V Camera by Mike Haber and Mike Mesgleski. This handy little booklet provides step-by-step illustrated hints on how to get your wet camera operational again. Here are their suggestions for immediate first aid:
- Turn off power by setting the camera to R, B or M.
But you have a choice: Wet E-6 slide film can be processed. If you get it into the lab before it dries out, it can be rinsed and run like any other film. But, if you open the camera and expose the film to light, it will be destroyed. You'll have to be the judge of how important the latent images might be. If it's a highly productive roll, rewind and take your chances.
- Remove strobe cord and lens and examine closely for water damage. If the camera body floods, it is possible the lens did too, and maybe the water inside isn't obviously visible. It would be a shame to do thorough first aid on a flooded camera, get everything back in order, and then have water that is trapped in the lens seep back inside the camera body.
Flood First Aid: Major and Minor Surgery
With a very minor flood, the best move may be to dab out the droplets and keep working. However, if significant water intruded, and particularly if you see water on the shutter blades, major surgery is recommended, beginning with some level of disassembly and a freshwater rinse.
Here's what I do with a flooded amphibious camera. Locate a Phillips head screwdriver, a garden hose and fresh water, and a hair dryer:
- Remove battery, film, lens and sync cord. Leave all ports open.
This is not to imply only amphibious cameras flood. Actually, they are pretty rugged. It's just that there are more of them out there than any other underwater camera. Housed cameras can flood just as easily due to improper O-ring maintenance or operator error.
Bad news: If you get most modern housed electronic cameras wet, there is no means of economical repair, and you definitely won't get them operational in the field.
Good news: There is a fair bit of space inside the housing, so a little water intrusion may never hit the camera at all. With a moisture alarm properly installed, housed cameras are safe from minor floods.
Contact Stephen Frink: e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, post: Frink Photo, PO Box 2720, Key Largo, FL 33037.