Troubleshooting Underwater Cameras

Tips for dealing with water damage to underwater cameras

Woman using an underwater camera

Jamie Grill / Getty Images 

You already know that water and electronics don’t mix. Digital cameras follow this rule unless you’re using a model specifically designed for underwater photography. If you own an underwater camera, the last thing you want is to end up with water inside the case itself.

If water gets inside the case, the chances are good that the camera will no longer work. The exterior of an underwater camera is waterproof, but the interior and the electronics are not. Water damage is almost always permanent. 

Avoid Water Damage to Your Underwater Camera

Use these tips to avoid problems with water damage for your underwater camera.

  • Flexible O-rings — If you’re using an underwater case for your camera, inspect the O-rings used in the case. The O-rings must be flexible and free of dirt or other particles, or they cannot protect your camera.
  • Follow recommendations — If you’re using an underwater camera that doesn’t require a case, follow the manufacturer’s rules for the distance underwater the camera is safe to use. Don’t exceed the recommended water depth.
  • Look for signs — Some clues that water may be leaking into the case include air bubbles coming from the camera while it is underwater, a malfunctioning strobe light, condensation in the viewfinder, and malfunctioning buttons.
  • Take your time with repairs — If you fear that water has leaked into the camera case, don’t panic. Take your time to dry the outside of the camera case before you open any parts of the case. You’ll feel bad if you open the camera case, find that it’s dry, and then realize you forgot to dry the case first, allowing water to leak inside.

Dealing With Water in the Camera

As soon as you ascertain that water has gotten inside the camera, take action to avoid permanent damage to the camera.

First steps to try

  • Remove the camera from the water immediately if it is submerged. Less time exposed to the water gives you a better chance of avoiding damage. 
  • Turn off the power immediately, both to the camera and to any strobe light or external flash attached to the camera. 
  • Keep the underwater camera upright, which will, hopefully, keep any water at the bottom of the case.
  • Don’t turn or flip the camera, which may introduce water to other parts of the camera.

Check the battery compartment 

Next, remove the battery and memory card, checking for any water or moisture that has leaked into this area of the camera’s interior. If you see water inside the battery compartment, leave the compartment door open to allow the water to evaporate.

Use drying techniques 

You also can gently use a hairdryer to try to speed the evaporation process. However, don’t use excessive heat or high air pressure, which could spread the moisture inside the camera. Drying the camera with a hairdryer should be a slow process on the lowest heat setting possible.

Long-term drying options 

If you have plenty of time to dry the interior of the underwater camera, place it in a sealed plastic bag with a packet of silica gel or a cup of uncooked rice. Leave the battery and USB compartments open while the camera is in the plastic bag to give the camera a better chance of drying properly. After a day or two, reinsert the battery and memory card to see whether the camera is operational.

Consider a repair center 

There’s a chance the camera won’t turn on despite all your work. Even if the camera does seem to be working properly, you may want to have it checked out by a camera repair center to make sure that it’s OK. Water damage may not show up immediately.

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