When Disaster Strikes…
Know what to do when your camera floods
So you spent your money, you've honed your underwater photography skills, you've even started to "improve your game" by learning from some mistakes in composition and exposure. You're really beginning to enjoy the art of underwater photography, and filled with anticipation and excitement, you decide to book yourself onto an exotic live-aboard.
Armed with rolls of film and your prized underwater camera system, you head out to sea. You've waited eagerly for this moment for months and now the time has finally come. Your heart beats wildly with excitement as you mentally prepare for your first exotic underwater photo shoot. With one giant step, you find yourself beneath the surface and within seconds you begin descending to a beautiful coral reef below. Your attention is grabbed immediately by schools of colorful fish swimming lazily over the vibrant seascape. Your mind soon conjures up images of the great photos you will be able to take over the next week and bring back home.
Suddenly, disaster strikes!
Out of the corner of your eye, you spot a small stream of bubbles escaping from the back of your Nikonos V. Your excitement turns to despair as you quickly head back to the boat, fearful of what you will find when you open the camera.
As you unlatch and open the back, you find your film diving in a pool of seawater; your camera is flooded. What do you do next? We all know that salt water is the primary enemy of most dive equipment, but for cameras, it can be an executioner. Well, the good news is that all underwater photographers experience a camera, lens or strobe flood at some point in their career. Of course, it always seems to happen at the worst time and in the most remote of places! So, don't beat yourself up too much…you're in good company!
The bad news is that the presence of water inside the camera, lens or strobe can be deadly to the camera and quick action is required to try to prevent further damage. Before we talk about what to do next, let's first examine the possible causes of how cameras, strobes or lens can flood. As you are aware, the Nikonos V and its accessories are protected from the surrounding water by a series of "O-rings", which are used to create a watertight seal around various openings into the system. There are usually two sets of "O-ring" seals, factory installed and user serviceable. Factory installed seals are usually clear or opaque in color and should only be serviced by an authorized Nikonos repair facility. User serviceable seals are usually black. When we talk about servicing "o-rings" or watertight seals for now on, we are referring to "user serviceable" seals only.
Rubber O-rings should be maintained regularly and checked for damage, cracking or drying prior to any dive. In addition, each O-ring should be removed prior to the dive and lubricated with a light coating of silicone grease. The same silicone grease, which ensures smooth "O-ring" operation, ironically can also be the culprit, that caused your equipment to flood in the first place. Because all grease is inherently sticky, it acts as a magnet and attracts dirt, sand, lint and anything else that comes in contact with it. O-rings and O-ring grooves should be inspected and cleaned and any dirt or other debris removed before assembling. Try not to use cotton-tipped swabs to clean and O-ring grooves. Since they are made of small fibers, they may come loose and cause a flooding problem. We recommend using lint or fiber free swabs (generally used for cleaning VCR components).
Below is a short list of equipment that you maybe using which have "o-rings" and require the same maintenance and attention prior to the dive.
- Camera/Strobe Battery Covers
- Camera/Strobe Synch Cords
- Camera Film Back Cover
- Macro Extension Tubes
- Light meters
Once you are sure that the O-rings are clean, free from defects and properly lubricated make certain they are seated properly into the O-ring grooves. A pinched O-ring can spell disaster. Once, while diving on the wreck of the U-853 off Long Island, we flooded an SB-102 strobe because the strobe's "O-ring" was "pinched" in its groove, resulting in $300 worth of damage!
Be aware that strobe synch cords can come loose during a dive, so make sure all the connectors to the camera and strobes are properly tightened. But don't over tighten them because over tightening may cause the seal to compress, which may cause them to fail. Once, while hanging on a decompression line after a deep wreck dive, a diver flooded a Nikonos V because the camera kept rubbing against the decompression line as we bounced around in the surge, inadvertently unscrewing the sync chord to the strobe!
Lastly, make sure all lenses and lens attachments are secured properly. Extension tubes are great for enabling the photographer to produce exciting macro photographs, but they also represent another possible place for water to enter your system. Be careful not to bang, bump or handle the camera by the tube because this can break the watertight seal between the camera and the lens. Make sure others handling your camera know this as well.
As we've tried to describe, preventing a flood takes preparation and attention. However, as you can see, even the best-laid plans sometimes go awry and the worst happens. So, what do you do next? First of all, we do not advocate repairing your own camera. Unless you are properly trained, disassembling and repairing the system can void your warranty and cause further damage. However, there are some things you can do to try to save your system or at least minimize the damage.
Let's first talk about what to do with a flooded Nikonos V camera body. If you suspect that water has entered the system, turn the shutter speed dial to M90, which turns off the camera's electronic system. If you have a strobe attached, turn that off as well. Next, remove the lens and set it aside. The lens may be flooded as well, so lay this with the rear lens facing down. Finally, remove the camera's battery and leave the battery compartment open.
If the flood is a major flood, chances are the film inside is destroyed. Try to rewind it first, but if you feel resistance, it is probably wet and swollen. Even if you had those once in a lifetime Whale Shark shots, you will have to open the camera's back and discard the film. It is a good idea to always hold the camera with its back facing down when opening so that any water inside will fall down and out as opposed to falling further into the camera's internal systems.
With the camera back open, you can now submerge the camera in fresh (preferably distilled) water. With the camera submerged, work the camera's shutter several times at M90. If possible, you should change the water three or four times and repeat the process of working the camera's shutter. Soaking with fresh water will (hopefully) stem the damage being caused by the offending salt water inside the system. If you are adventurous, you can try to disassemble the camera at this point and attempt a full repair. However, as we stated earlier, this does require training and special tools and could cause further damage. We recommend drying the camera at this point and taking it promptly to a certified repair shop for a thorough maintenance and repair of the system.
In order to dry the Nikonos V; first use a normal household hair dryer, set on low power and low heat, to dry the shutter curtain blade assembly. Direct the flow of air into the front of the camera and operate the shutter release. The shutter may stick in one position, which is normal when the system is damp. Just keep trying to dry the system and be patient! You can place the camera in a box and direct the flow of air into the camera for a half-hour, trying the shutter again and repeating the process until the shutter is completely dry. Once this is done, you will need to dry the entire camera for several hours. One solution to this problem is to place the camera into an old-fashioned gas oven with just the pilot light burning for an overnight drying.
Lets recap, if your Nikonos V camera body is flooded:
- Set shutter speed dial to M90
- Turn strobe off and remove synch cord from camera (leave compartment open)
- Remove camera battery (leave compartment open)
- Remove lens (leave compartment open)
- Open film back (leave compartment open)
- Dry camera
- Sent out for repair
In addition to the camera, lenses and strobes can also flood. Because all lenses are constructed differently, we will not describe how to disassemble lenses for repair of flooding conditions. In some cases, for minor floods it is possible to remove the inner lens barrel, dry the lens and mounting hardware and then re-assemble them. Check with your instruction manuals for information on how to do this. However, be aware that it is possible to upset the focus on the lens by taking it apart. We recommend professional attention to flooded lenses When salt water enters a strobe, often the batteries and battery compartment are damaged. Remove the batteries immediately, disconnect the strobe from the camera and soak in fresh water. Use a hair dryer to dry the inside of the strobe. Depending upon the extent of the damage, you may be able to salvage the strobe's electronics. A major flood will most likely require the replacement of these electronics by a professional technician.
Hint: strobes will sometimes tell you when water is entering the system. If the system is turned off and yet continues to "beep" or "fire", the presence of salt water making contact with the batteries and electronics is indicated. After surfacing from a dive we always place our camera systems in the boat's "rinse tank". Shortly after submerging our equipment, we soon started to hear a beeping sound coming from the strobe unit, but the strobe was turned off. Because of this clue, we soon discovered a slight leak and we're able to act quickly and save the SB 102 strobe through quick action.
Lets recap, if your strobe floods:
- Turn strobe off and remove synch cord from camera (leave compartment open)
- Remove batteries (leave compartment open)
- Dry strobe
- Sent out for repair
In summary, floods can happen to anyone and any piece of underwater camera equipment. If you are unfortunate enough to experience this, don't panic. Act quickly and remove the batteries and film, turn off the electronics, and soak in fresh water. Remember that fresh water can cause far less damage than salt water so don't be afraid to soak the system in fresh water once a flood has occurred.
Finally, as soon as practical, have the system over hauled by a professional who will replace any damaged components. Eco Photo Explorers does not advocate the disassembly of these camera systems by untrained personnel. However, if you are in a remote location, if the damage is severe and if the cost of the dive excursion you are on far outweighs the cost of a new camera, you may want to try more drastic repairs by taking the system apart carefully. Just remember, it is always easier to prevent a flood than to repair one!
Take good care of your camera's "O-rings"
Be diligent in making sure the camera is ready and Dive! Dive! Dive!
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