Cameras in the rinse cycle.

Wet Cameras

Sooner or later, you will take your camera close to water, or get severely rained upon, or someone will spill a drink in your direction. Things happen. This post, however, is about deliberately taking your camera near or into water.

A word of warning: Sometime in the last century, I worked in a camera repair shop. We would regularly get wet cameras coming in. Many of them went straight to the parts bin for cannibalism. A few we rescued, often for not much less than replacement cost. Camera importers want nothing to do with wet cameras. That is what your careful actions and insurance is for.

If your camera falls into salt water, forget it. If it falls into fresh water, there is a chance of recovery if you can get proper attention quickly. Cameras with electronic parts are especially susceptible to water damage. 

There are ways to lessen the possible loss of your good camera.

One is to use an old camera you may have declared obsolete. It probably still has life in it and will not be a big loss should it (or you) fall in.

Better yet, get a water-resistant camera or camera housing. 

Cameras in the rinse cycle.

Water Resistant Cameras 

GoPro cameras are popular but they are aimed more towards the video crowd. They do give good results within their limitations—a fixed focal length and focus.

Panasonic and OM Systems make waterproof cameras that are quite popular with the on-the-water communities. A number of kayakers that I know have them. They are waterproof to a depth of 15m although, personally, I would limit the depth to 5m. Unless you are scuba diving, you are not likely to go deeper anyway. These cameras are also somewhat drop resistant—great for the klutzes of the world. These cameras do take good photos in daylight but the picture quality rapidly drops off as light levels drop. They will also make quite good video. They easily fit into a shirt pocket or, amongst my kayaking friends, into the pocket of a PFD.

The OM System TG5-TG7 have a few interesting settings including ‘microscope mode’ that will allow you to take photos much closer than you probably ever have. It has a decent quality underwater housing which is good to 45m. This combination is very popular amongst snorkelers and scuba divers as a less expensive way to get a camera into the water.

These cameras are fairly water and klutz resistant, though I have wrecked two over the years.

Outex camera housing

Waterproof Camera Bags

Outex, Ewa Marine, and other companies make soft bags for your camera. Open up the bag, fit the camera inside, make sure you have properly closed things up, and away you go.

Waterproof camera bags are good for protecting against splashes and casual splashing around the beach. When I took my Ewa Marine diving, my video camera controls would not work below 5-8m. The water pressure prevented me pressing or releasing the control buttons. The Outex bag, which I have but have not taken into the water, would have a similar limitation. But both would be great to protect from splashes or to protect on rainy days, in dusty conditions, and during the ‘Colour’ events when coloured powder is thrown all over the place. The outside of the bag is easier to clean than your camera.

Underwater Housings

These are designed for use to 50m or deeper. They are hard sided enclosures which keep the camera dry, have controls on the outside, and are usually user configurable to accommodate different lenses. These are not intended for casual use, are often twice as big as the camera inside, and are often more expensive than the camera inside. On land, they are big and bulky; underwater, they feel weightless. To use them underwater, however, you must rethink everything you have ever learned about photography.

Use and Care

Water is the great destroyer of cameras; your task is to keep the inside of your camera dry. Camera housings rely upon a good seal between a rubber O-ring and the two mating surfaces.

Careful removal of all sand, salt, lint, and hair is necessary to ensure water tightness. Water molecules are very small; they will get past all but the most secure of water seals.

You can use a small brush or Q-tip to gently wipe the mating surfaces clean. Wear your reading glasses. A close examination will tell you if things are clean. The rubber O-ring needs to be very lightly coated with silicone grease. Remember, though, the grease is not the waterproofing agent; the O-ring is. Too much grease is a waste. All the grease does is to ensure an easier fit.

Before you close up the housing, make sure all controls are set in your preferred position. Battery fully charged? Lots of space on your memory cards? Flashes connected and working properly? Checking these things will save a lot of hassle when you are under water.

Close up the housing or bag, connect the flash if you are using one, and then test all the control functions. And double check to make sure everything has been done correctly.

Getting Wet

If possible, try to avoid strong splashes of water. The rubber O-rings are not designed to take sudden forces. Gently get into the water, check your gear for water and function, and, if all checks out, go have fun.

If you see water suddenly appear somewhere unexpected, it is time to surface ASAP. Hopefully the water is just pooling in the housing and hasn’t yet got to your camera. (I almost flooded my underwater camera this past week. I noticed water inside the housing and got the camera out of the ocean fast enough that things did not get even worse. I had not closed up the housing properly.)

Apres Wet

Just like you when you get into the water, cameras and housing do not like a sudden rush of water. Never wash one off under a tap. The best way to clean your camera is to soak the camera itself or the housing in fresh water for a few minutes. Work all the buttons, making sure that all salt water is pushed out, and then towel dry. Only then should you open up the camera or housing. The only exception to these steps is if you see water inside the housing. Then you want the camera out as quickly as possible. Once the housing is dry, disconnect any flash cables. Make sure everything is clean and dry before putting things away.

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