Taking good care of your underwater equipment and caring for your underwater camera system are essential steps towards avoiding any dreaded leaks and will help to ensure your underwater camera system lasts you a long time.
Many people have had their cameras ruined through not knowing how to look after or properly set up their equipment. So what can you do to prevent the untimely demise of your underwater system?
Main Causes of Flooding an Underwater Camera System
The first and most common cause of flooding your underwater camera system is getting something caught in the o-ring, which in turn prevents the door closing properly causing water to flood into the housing. Hair, sand, silica sachets, dirt etc are all culprits, making it essential to check the o-ring before you close the housing.
Other causes include salt build-up in the o-ring grooves, damaged o-rings, o-rings not being in the right position (can you see a theme here?!) catches not being closed properly, jumping into the water with your housing and sync-cords not being attached properly.
So as you have probably guessed, your o-rings are a very important part of your kit and need to be looked after properly. O-rings are generally found on the doors of equipment such as your housing and strobes. They form a seal which the water cannot pass through, making your things waterproof. If they get damaged or get something caught in them, this will prevent the seal from forming and leaks will more than likely occur.
The best way to look after o-rings is to keep them supple and lubricated and we do this by applying silicon grease to them. The grease prevents the o-ring from becoming dried out or unflexible which will stop it from working effectively.
However, many people make the mistake of applying a thick layer of the grease while the o-ring is in the housing. You need to take the o-ring out, avoiding using your nails or anything sharp which could cut it. Then you want to give it a good check over for any signs of wear and tear. If it is starting to look stretched or a bit worn then its probably a good idea to get it changed.
Then, give your o-ring a clean and apply a SMALL amount of silicon grease so that a thin layer covers the o-ring. If you use a lot so there is a thick covering, then the risk of getting dirt and things stuck to it is greatly increased. Less is definitely more in this instance!
If you won’t be diving for a while, you should remove the o-ring, clean it, lubricate it and put it in a sealing sandwich bag to prevent it from drying out.
Tips on how to Set Up your Underwater Camera System
When you are setting up your camera before going diving, try to do it in a cool area with plenty of light so you can see what you’re doing. Also try to give yourself plenty of time so you are not rushing. Cameras set up in a hurried manner inevitably end up with problems such as flooding or lens caps not being removed.
A good place to start is with cleaning both sides of the housing lens. This will ensure you have a nice clean lens with nothing on it which could spoil your pictures.
Firstly, use a blower to blow off any dirt or particles and then use a soft brush. Do this before you use a lens cloth or you may scratch the lens. Using a few small drops of lens cleaning solution and a soft lens cloth, gently rub the lens until it’s clean. I like to then finish it off with a lens paper to get a really streak free result.
Next, check and lubricate the o-ring as stated above, remembering to clean the o-ring groove if the housing has one. Also check the buttons, bulk head and door catch for signs of wear and tear or damage. Once you have ensured that everything is fine, pop in a couple of silica gel sachets to help prevent fogging, making sure they are not blocking the lens port or likely to get caught in the o-ring. Then place the camera carefully inside, close the door and secure the latch.
It’s a really good idea to do a couple of test shots to ensure all the connections are working, strobes are firing correctly, batteries are charged and the memory card is inserted. Its very frustrating to realise once you’re in the water that you have a simple problem but its too late to fix.
It’s usually prudent to then submerge your housing into a dunk tank or bucket of water to check for leaks before you jump in for your dive.
Hold the housing down as deep as you can and look for bubbles. If there are none, then its probably fine and properly sealed. If you see a steady stream of bubbles, it usually indicates water getting inside the housing.
If you have a new housing, remember to test it by taking it on a dive WITHOUT the camera first. Put in a piece of tissue paper, take it down to around 30 meters and press all the buttons a few times. This will show if the housing is working fine or has any leaks.
General Care Tips
Keep the housing in a cool place if possible away from direct sunlight. Having it sitting in the sun is not good for the housing and will cause it to fog when you take it on your dive. At the very least keep it covered with a wet towel.
When entering the water, make sure you bring it in GENTLY or ideally have it passed to you once you are already in. A camera which hits the water hard has a high potential to flood.
If you have a lens cover, make sure it is on at all times to prevent any accidental damage to the lens.
After the dive, make sure you rinse it with clean fresh water, pressing all the buttons to make sure all the salt water is flushed out. Then keep it somewhere it cannot be damaged such as in a box or plastic container. If you don’t have any fresh water, keep the camera in salt water until fresh water is available. This will help prevent salt particles drying in the buttons.
Dry off the housing with a lint free towel, paying particular attention to the lens so water marks do not form.
Once you know your housing is properly sealed and not leaking its best to leave it like that. However, if you do have to open it to change batteries or whatever, try to do it in a dry area away from lots of people. Thoroughly dry it and yourself off and remember not to lean over the housing once it’s open so you dont drip water inside. Use a paper towel to dry off the o-ring as soon as you open the housing and remember to check it again before you close it.
What to do if your underwater camera system floods or leaks?
Don’t panic! Try to stay calm, as you may be able to save your camera and housing. Turn your camera lens port down so any water collects away from the camera. Ascend safely and dry everything off, taking the battery and memory card out of the camera. If the leak has been minor then maybe the camera will still work.
If you’re experiencing your strobe firing independently on the dive, this can sometimes indicate moisture in the bulk head. This could mean there is a leak at the sync cord or water got into the bulk head during set up. End the dive and check it out before it leads to a more serious problem.
The more carefully you look after your underwater camera system, the longer it should last you. Of course mistakes and accidents will always happen, it comes with the territory, but remembering the pointers above should help to reduce the risk of them happening and help you make many happy dives with your camera.