CHAPTER FOUR: "OH, NO! I SEE WATER IN MY CAMERA!"
Text by Bob Warkentin
"When I opened the camera to change film, I saw drops of water. Did I flood the camera?"
"Why worry about how much water?" you ask. "I'm in a hurry to clean it. I'm going to put it in the sink now!"
"How could water have gotten into my camera?"
"Where do I look for signs of water leakage?"
"How can water get past the flash connector? I always tighten the flash connector to the camera as tight as I can!"
Electronics Compartment Damage/Leak Check
"Oh, No! Water!"
Water Droplets in Film Canister Side or on the Plastic Rewind Fork
Film Advance/Shutter Speed Selector Knob Area
Mechanical Chamber Leak Check
"Oh, No! Water!" Tissue/Toilet Paper Test
Business Card Test
Inspection Techniques for Lens O-Ring Leakage
Lens Mount Ring
The "Fast, Complete, Problem-Solving" Cleanup Procedure #1
The "Pass the Buck" Cleanup Procedure #2
The "Let's Flood It For Sure" Cleanup Procedure #3
The "Tourist Water Follow-up" Cleanup Procedure #4
The "Pipe Cleaner Mop-up" Cleanup Procedure #5.A
The "Business Card Mop-out" Cleanup Procedure #5.B
If water is seen (drops, droplets, spray, or full), the questions that must be answered before corrective action (if possible) can be taken are; "How much water?" and, "From where?"
First, let's get our terms right. "All I saw was one or two drops of water," or "about half a teaspoon of water," or, "I now see rust on the shutter blades," or just plain, "'This time, I really flooded it bad."
Most people feel that when water gets into the camera, it requires soaking to get rid of the salt. Well, guess what! Soaking is definitely a flood - freshwater flood but nonetheless a controlled flood of your camera. So, before we tackle "controlled flooding" of your camera to attempt to remove the effects of "accidental flooding," let's determine if this drastic action is really necessary.
Water damage can occur from either your "accidental" flood or your soaking controlled flood). The water drops you see may be only the tip of the iceberg. Since there is a large body of mechanical and electrical parts in the camera, a lot of water can be trapped and hidden from your view. You may see only a drop or two of water that filtered their way through all the internal parts and seeped out from around the edges of the inner body.
Any time you either see or suspect water leakage has occurred immediately turn the shutter speed dial to either 'M90" or "B" (electronics off), and lock the trigger, and then remove the batteries as soon as possible. This will make it more difficult for electronic damage to occur.
Remember, in the Nikonos V body there are 15 O-ring seals. Ignorance and neglect are the two primary causes of water leakage. As was explained in previous "Nikonos Workshop" chapters of Ocean Realm, they occur from:
You do not have to completely disassemble a Nikonos V to locate water. For this reason, no complete disassembly techniques will be mentioned, including the expensive tools necessary; leave that to professionals. Remember, you had a problem while controlling three user-servicable O-rings. Can you imagine what would happen if all the parts and O-rings were taken apart? I can't! I see it professionally all the time, and the customers see it on their bill.
Before we talk about taking some parts of the camera apart, let's look into those areas that are normally accessible and don't require tools. Remember, water can get into areas you can't see. So, just because you can't visually see it doesn't mean "it ain't there."
First, be certain that the outside of the camera and lens are really towel-dry. You would hate to waste a lot of worry and time just because a drop of water accidentally fell off a wet camera during your inspection. Likewise, it would give you misleading information about the location of the source of water leakage.
Remove the camera from the flash tray, but leave the flash cable attached for now. If you were diving with a 35mm lens, you must remove it next (see "Inspection Techniques for Lens Removal" section below). If not, leave whatever lens you were using mounted until later. Have your dry 35mm lens available, because you will be using it as a magnifier for inspection of many areas of the camera for water droplets (photo 2). But before we go directly into the camera, let's get rid of the wet flash cable.
This is an extremely common area for a source of serious unnoticed flooding to occur, resulting in expensive damage. So, let's check it for signs of hidden water. The main symptom/problem here will be that the flash will not fire, or continuously fires during diving.
Tightening the flash connector to the camera doesn't keep water out - the O-ring does. Therefore, a connector O-ring that is dirty, worn-out or flattened from prolonged storage when left mounted to the camera, or one that has been covered with the dust caps or carelessly inserted over the sharp screw threads of the flash port of the camera, cutting or chipping the O-ring - all will cause a flood just as easily as an unscrewed flash connector.
Holding the camera upright, unscrew the flash connector and slowly remove the connector from the camera. (If you jerk it out, or remove it with the camera upside down, water droplets collected around the screw-in threads will fall into the camera flash contacts and/or onto the cable contacts, giving you false information about water leakage.)
Set the camera down, upright and out of your way for now. Let's first inspect the flash cable connector using the 35mm lens. If this is the source of water leakage, water or droplets should be present at 1) the metal surface or between the metal surface and plastic mount holding the flash connector, or 2) on the face of the plastic flash connector, or 3) into one or more of the flash-pin holes. If water is present, dry the flash connector surfaces and shake the connector (NOT like a Yo-yo, or you will break the wires) - until no more droplets come out. No sense ruining an $80.00 cable.
If the cable or connector wires have been damaged, this is the cause of the problem -not flooding. Check the cable with someone else's camera before you panic over a flood. (Use Chapter Two for check-out guidance.) If the cable checks out OK with the other camera, then read on carefully. You will need the information.
Next, inspect the flash pin connector of the camera. Before turning the camera upside down for inspection, use a cotton swab or tip of a towel to dry only the threads at the mouth of the flash port. Don't force either one up into the pin socket at this time. (Water will be on the threads, so don't wipe it into the connector pin socket area.)
Now, turn the camera upside down and with your 35mm lens, inspect for the presence of water 1) at the edges of the plastic/metal wall interface or, 2) collected around the two retractable TTL pins/pin holes or, 3) around the edges of the flash pins. If droplets are present, you cannot shake the camera enough to remove the water. Now, towel-dry (or use a cotton swab) all remaining droplets of water. Do not blow air into the flash port as you will force any remaining water into the camera. If no professional help is available (trust me, it's cheaper in the long run than to do it yourself), then follow the "Business Card Test" - the procedure for inspection of the internal areas of the camera (especially the lower areas) - described in the "Leakage around the Back Door" Section. This will help you determine the extent of water leakage into the camera. Also follow the outlined cleanup procedure.
WARNING: Remember, water will be trapped in all O-ring channels for up to ten days after diving if the camera is not opened and allowed to dry. So, the first time you open the back door of the camera (photo 4) for any reason after diving (even if it's the first opening and it's been seven to ten days since the camera has been in the water), point the lens up, and open the back door downward. Then, hold the door completely open (180 degrees from its closed position) and rotate the camera on its long axis. This procedure keeps the water that is trapped in the O-ring channel from falling onto or into the camera "guts," giving you a false appearance of a real water leakage problem.
With leakage from around the backdoor area, either the inside of the camera will be a "lake" or, hopefully, just small puddles. Obviously, if your electronic Nikonos V flooded while you were using any of the electronic operations, chances are those expensive electronic parts are now "fried" and completely worthless - even before service can be started to save the rest of the camera's mechanical parts. If the camera is that full of salt water, I would probably treat it like a horse with a broken leg and get on with the business of enjoying an expensive vacation.
However, if large droplets are present below the edges of the interior O-ring seating area of the camera, I would suspect a twisted O-ring in the door, or a piece of salt, sand or fiber (even a hair) to be present on the O-ring. An isolated leakage, depending upon where the water is, could occur from the ASA/rewind, film advance, flash connector, or even the lens. In such cases, you may still be lucky and in time to prevent major mechanical/electrical damage.
Now, inspect all around the door O-ring seat area of the main camera inner body for large drops of water (not droplets where the O-ring grease has collected). Make either a mental note or draw yourself a picture of where the drops are seen.
First, towel-dry any drops and droplets from around the O-ring seat of the main inner body (where the door closes), and you are ready to find out if there has been any leakage into the "guts" of the camera. If the large drops are present down onto and around the half-inch-wide plastic plate that runs across the top of the camera (the electronic compartment cover), towel-dry the drops.
Now, with your small Phillips screwdriver, remove the four screws and lift off the plate (photo 5). Examine the interior, especially the surfaces immediately under the plate. (Remember, the leakage must start here before it can go elsewhere). Also, notice the rubber foam on the back of the plate. Water can be trapped in this sponge and continue to bathe the electronic components, causing the components to short out when the electronics are turned on.
To check this sponge area for the presence of water, take a facial tissue or toilet paper (the length of the plate) and lay it down on a fiat dry surface. Take the plate, turn the foam side down and lay the plate onto the tissue. With a dry hand, press down on the plate evenly two to three times. Remove the plate, and examine the paper for water. If water is present, dry the foam with a hair dryer (medium setting) for a few minutes and re-test as above.
If no water is found in the rubber foam, chances are no leakage has occurred around the edges of the plate and into the electronic "chamber" from the back door. But to be safe, use your 35mm lens and check all along the exposed electronics. However, leakage could have occurred from the ASA or rewind knobs.
Next, pay particular attention to the right side of the camera where the notch has been cut into the plastic plate (photo 6). Water drops can fall through this hole and onto metal gears without being trapped by the sponge. Check internally for leakage from the film advance and shutter speed knob.
First and foremost, if water leakage anywhere in the electronic chamber did not come from an identified backdoor O-ring problem, you can clean off the water and maybe save everything. But, unless you can positively determine the source of any water leakage and correct the cause, don't even think about diving the camera again until the internal nonuser serviceable O-rings or other watertight parts are replaced by a qualified technician. Try to prevent corrosion to internal parts and realize you can't be the "little Dutch Boy with the magic thumb" this time. Sorry!
Use Cleanup Procedure 5.A (outlined at the end of this article) for electronic chamber cleaning and water removal. Remember, dried water (whatever this is) won't hurt electronics. Only wet water containing salts (electrolytes) will do damage when a current of electricity is on.
However, metal gears work better wet than if a dried salt residue has caked on them. So, thoroughly mop up all metal gear areas accessible from the electronic chamber.
Could it be you have been opening the camera like a land camera (and the water fell off of the wet O-ring), or have you really got a leak?
As above, follow the procedures for removing the half-inch-wide plate that covers the electronics. Inspect the left side of the electronics chamber as well as the ASA assembly that goes through the electronic board. Also, inspect the film canister/rewind fork, especially around the top where it goes through the metal inner body. Water leakage through the rewind or ASA areas are due to worn-out, dirty internal O-rings, or from adjusting the camera underwater - changing the ASA or rewinding the film.
Cleanup Procedure 5.A may take care of water damage to the electronics, but it cannot return your camera to a usable underwater condition. The repairs to this area can only be done by a qualified person, and don't be surprised if parts have to be replaced.
Even if you have just noticed water in this area of your camera, chances are that leakage has been going on for a long time. It only becomes obvious when the corrosion to metal parts (and damage to other parts) lets in more water that now leaks into the area you see. Remember, this area is surrounded by electronic components. They, too, are probably getting corroded (and destroyed).
No doubt your have noticed the hole in the plastic plate that contains a black plastic square. The purpose of the hole is to allow the finger on the back door to push the square forward (when the main door is closed), which starts the counter wheel moving each time you advance film. Well, not only can the door "finger" get into this hole, but so can drops of water.
If the water drops fall to the right, it can freeze up the counter wheel. If the counter wheel doesn't advance - no electronics! This is no problem if you remember how to use the camera (M90) and strobe (not TTL).
Ah, but if the water falls to the left, you can have all kinds of really neat damage. The water can damage the three adjustment pods that control the LED display, shutter speeds and TTL operations. Or, the water can be shaken further into the camera - onto the shutter assembly, onto the selector linkages, and so on. And lastly, you could have a steady drop by-drop leak from any of the three internal O-rings on the film advance/shutter speed selector knob parts. If the film advance feels rough, and the shutter speed selector is hard to turn, the damage is already done. Don't use the camera unless you happen to have a pocketful of new, non-pitted parts and O-rings. Just mop up what you can using Cleanup Procedure 5.A and get professional help as soon as you can.
Next, inspect down and along the right (hinge) side and across the lower edge of the camera's inner body. You will notice a gray color material between the inner body and outer case (photo 7). This is a rubber foam that can trap water and retain it to cause later damage from corrosion.
Again, using a facial tissue or toilet paper, lay the tissue over the opened camera. With your plastic "C" card, press the tissue lightly onto the sponge area (photo 8), lift off the card, and press down onto another area of the sponge. Use the rounded corner of the "C" card to get into the rounded comer of the camera (do not slide the tissue around the sponge; this will only tear the tissue and will not tell you if or where water is present.
Lift off the tissue. You should see the line of the impression from across the bottom, around the comer and up the right side of the foam area of the camera's inner body. Laying the tissue flat, inspect for the presence of water.
If you have been accustomed to opening the back door of a Nikonos V like a land camera to change film, you will no doubt have had water drops and droplets (with the help of gravity) fall into the camera without you knowing. The foam will prevent small drops from getting into the camera's gears, but large drops - or continuous dripping of drops onto the foam over a week of diving (and from opening the camera wrong) will saturate the foam. Then the water will get onto the gears.
If water is present, the question is "how much?" To make that determination, take the tissue, roll it up into a tight, long roll and place it around the foam area. Close the back door of the camera (to hold the tissue in place), but don't try to completely close and lock the door. (Be sure there are no wet areas on the door by removing the door O-ring and drying this channel as well). Tilt the camera back at a 45 degree angle (definitely don't lay it flat) for 15 minutes. (Note: Place the camera in a plastic zip-lock bag to prevent normal water evaporation during this 15-minute test.) Hopefully, any water inside will roll to the sponge and be picked up. You can tell if water is present by the tissue paper.
Open the camera and inspect the tissue. If still wet, repeat this process two more times. If the tissue is still very wet, then yes - there is water inside, and your camera has big problems. Before going to Cleanup Procedures 3 and 4, try the following "Business Card Test."
There is the possibility that a substantial amount of water may still be trapped inside the camera, and that tilting the camera at 45 degrees for 15 minutes didn't let the water run out to the sponge area.
To further evaluate these areas for possible hidden water, use a Business Card (or paper of equal thickness and durability, such as a birthday greeting card, a 3 x 5 index card, etc.). First, remove the battery cap, then insert the corner of the business card between the foam and outer metal housing and carefully turn the card, inserting as you go, until the short side is fully inserted and pushed as far in as it will go (just about an inch). (photo 9)
Leave the card in place for at least three minutes. Withdraw it and inspect for signs of water. Repeat the process until you have gone around the bottom and right side of the camera (usually a total of three cards will complete the hidden area inspection).
Remember to leave the camera in a ziplock plastic bag during this test to prevent evaporation. When salt residues dry, they can no longer be rinsed off with water. The camera must be disassembled and cleaned part by part - costly labor.
Before going to Cleanup Procedures 3 and 4, try using a lot of cards to "mop" out trapped water. It just may work. But if you do, try to keep the camera upright as much as possible. No sense letting water drops get into the shutter mechanisms or other delicate parts. Also, don't forget to work the camera mechanics periodically (without the cards inserted, of course).
A worn or dirty lens O-ring, including extension tube O-ring or other lens-area mounted accessory, causes damage to two expensive items: the camera and lens.
To remove the lens, point the lens downward, turn 90 degrees and slowly remove it from the front of the camera. Towel-dry only the exterior of the camera, lens, and any accessory. Do not dry the silver lens mount ring at this time. Also, if you jerk the lens off fast, the turbulence of air will carry water droplets everywhere and give a false sign of water leakage.
Now, lay the camera face down. We will inspect the lens first. On the rear of the 28mm, 35mm and old-style 15mm lens, look for water droplets (not O-ring grease smears) on the flat surface (this wide surface does not exist on the 20mm, 80mm or new-style 15mm lenses). If droplets are seen or suspected in or on any lens, place the lens face-down on a flat surface. Simply use a hair dryer, holding it about six inches away from the lens, and turn the dryer on the medium setting for 45 seconds and warm the lens. If moisture (water) is present, it will fog up the lens or lens elements. If no fogging appears, repeat the warming once more. If no fogging appears, you can feel certain no water has entered the lens. (If fogging appears, see LENSES section below). After inspection and checking for fogging, set your lens aside (face-down) and cover the rear optics with the lens cap.
Pick up the camera body, which has been laying on its face. Continue holding the camera face-down and inspect the silver lens mount ring area for water droplets (very small water droplets should be present only on the O-ring wall of the lens mount ring, not where the three screws are located). If water droplets (not to be confused with your excessive use of O-ring grease, which may look like water drops) are present at the three screws, you have had water leakage.
Now, towel-dry the lens mount ring, and the camera body is now ready to be turned upright. (If you turn the camera upright before drying off the lens mount ring, the water droplets that normally collect on the O-ring wall could fall onto the shutter blades).
Using your 35mm lens as a magnifier, inspect the edges of the silver-colored lens mount ring on the front of the camera. Specifically, check the area just inside of the black painted metal surfaces for water drops. Then, open the rear door of the camera, and with the shutter speed set at "B," trigger the shutter (if it still works) and hold it open. Lift up the film plate and again use your 35mm lens "magnifier" to inspect the backside of the silver lens mount ring area for water drops going into the camera.
If you determine that some water has gotten into the internal area of the camera from the lens area, it becomes extremely important that you proceed with the "Business Card Test," as well as the mop-up procedure of the accessible areas just behind the lens mount (if qualified repair services are available). The reason for quick action on this problem is that the green electronic component just behind and above the lens mount ring is easily damaged or shorted out by salt water. If it is damaged, it will destroy all automatic functioning of the camera. (photo 10)
If the water is found to be too extensive for the "mop up," freshwater flooding, using Cleanup Procedure 3 and 4 must be used.
Continuous minute leakage of salt water from either the lens O-ring or the silver-colored lens mount ring O-ring can cause serious problems to go unnoticed until a full lens flooding or camera flooding occurs.
The leakage can be so small that wet saltwater droplets are usually not seen. Because "no news is good news," the camera may be left to dry while the trapped salt water eats away at the camera's outer metal case.
So, before use, inspect the lens mount area with your 35mm lens for signs of white salt residue buildup 1) on the external interface between the lens mount ring to the outer body and, 2) more particularly, to the internal interface. Salt buildup in these areas may mean serious corrosion to metal and deterioration to the O-ring have taken place. Don't use the camera until it has been professionally serviced and the outer case pressure-tested. This area is no do-it-yourself area. Don't even think about cleaning it or regreasing the old O-ring - it won't work! Just don't use the camera.
If you are in a hurry to get you and your equipment into the water, Mother Nature will inform you that the pitting and extensive corrosion of the two metals you have been ignoring are now sufficient to flood the camera and lens.
Also, be aware that if you have had an extensive flood, even if it originated elsewhere, the lens mount ring must be moved from the camera and the interface dried completely.
To dry this area, remove the three Philips screws holding the lens mount ring onto the camera. Carefully, carefully push this ring up and off the front of the camera. (photo 11)
WARNING: There is a very, very thin O-ring just beneath the top edge of the lens mount ring. Don't cut it by accident! Also, when you are using a jeweler's screwdriver to push off the lens mount ring, do not pry or twist the blade side to side. This will permanently damage the tight O-ring seat of the outer-body, and the camera can never be taken into water again. By the way, the outer-body replacement part costs about $250.00.
Again, after careful removal of this lens mount ring, I would not advise you to try to regrease the O-ring, reassemble and dive again. Have the lens mount ring checked by a qualified technician, replaced if necessary, and pressure-tested to be safe.
The Stupid "What about Alcohol for Drying?" is Cleanup Procedure number Zero -This is so stupid a concept it doesn't deserve a number:
No, Never! Remember, 70 percent isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol is 30% water. "Everclear" was meant for drinking, not wasting. But worse than this, any alcohol will ruin the sensors and other parts of the camera. Use fresh water and continuous warm air only! No compressed air guns, oils or other fancy aerosol products should be used.
If the equipment was fully flooded while all electronic operations were in use and if you are rich, the easiest way to fix your problem is to create a new artificial reef with the camera and enjoy the remainder of your trip and time. Then reach into your camera case and make ready your "octopus Nikonos V" and continue diving.
Get your equipment immediately (not tomorrow) to the resident photo pro who is familiar with the equipment. But remember, the professional repairman was not put on the island just to drop all of his other responsibilities to take care of your mistakes. Also, a full food takes hours of work with no guarantee that everything will work like new. So, beg, plead and offer the repairman anything (well, almost) to help you out. Then try to borrow your buddy's Nikonos, lens and strobe before everyone in your group finds out what you did.
Are you absolutely sure you want to work on your camera instead of having fun? Well, if you've had your shower, no one is at the bar, and your wife has gone shopping, let's kill some time and see how lucky you can be.
First, remove the battery cap and battery (you should have done this on the boat a long time ago). Open the camera back, and remove the four screws holding the plastic plate cover of the electronics. Then shake the camera (with door open over paper) to see if water drops are still present, and then follow up with the Business Card Test. If water is still present, repeat the above process for one-half the time and check again until you are sure the camera is dry. Of course, remove the lens and flash cable.
Holding the camera upright, connect a garden hose to the battery port. Turn on the water and watch the water flow through the lens port (front of the camera), around the base and side walls (foam area), and out through the top (electronics area from the back).
Tilt the camera slightly forward and backward, but not upside down. What you don't want to do is to turn the camera upside down under the water faucet. You want to prevent getting water into the view finder and LED's if at all possible. This is only more labor cost and damage.
After at least five to ten minutes of good "pressure" flushing with good water, you are ready for drying. Laying the camera face down, lift the film plate and catch it under the film advance lever (this will hold it open). Turn on your hair dryer to medium setting, and at four to six inches from the base of the camera, warm it for at least five minutes.
Next, set the camera on its base (upright), and warm the interior back area of the camera for at least ten minutes, working the mechanics periodically. Then, warm the front through the lens mount port for another ten minutes. Then, shake the camera (door open) over paper to see if water drops are still present; if so, repeat the above process for one half the time and check again.
Caution: 1) The metal will become quite warm (in fact downright hot to the touch). When you pick up the camera, use a towel. 2) Do not use a "high" setting on the dryer, you will bum out the hair dryer (staying on 25 to 30 minutes) and damage the camera. 3) If you have only a low setting, double the drying time and pray twice as hard.
If you can find distilled or de-ionized water in one-gallon plastic bottles, you can follow up the rinsing procedures in #3 above, just in case the local water is brackish.
Using a saucepan, warm (don't boil) a quart or so of water. Place the camera (door open) in another saucepan and carefully pour in the warm water so the water fills to a level just equal to the top of the electronics. When all bubbling stops (water is completely in every part of the camera), remove the camera and drain the water into a sink. Repeat as many times as you want, but don't forget to pour the "used" water into a sink. Then dry as in #3 above.
Take a pipe cleaner, and before you use it, run it through your clean fingers to get rid of any loose fibers. Rub it carefully over and around the camera areas you are drying. Bend the pipe cleaner if necessary to get in behind tight areas. Be gentle, but thorough.
The big gamble. To flood or not to flood (with fresh water); this is the question. If your "Tissue Paper Test" showed water to be present beyond the rubber foam ( in the area of the lower gears), I would recommend not flooding the camera (Procedures 3 and 4) with fresh water just yet.
Instead, use business cards ( or an equivalent thickness of paper, like a birthday card) and try to mop out the water. (Thin paper will deteriorate with water and you will then be really "up a creek.")
Only if you feel you have mopped out most of the water should you then remove the plastic electronic cover, set the camera upright ( lens off, and dry the camera with a hair dryer (medium setting, four to six inches away) for ten minutes. Don't forget to work the camera on M90 setting frequently. However, if the cards are still wet after four or five tries with this method, then unfortunately Procedures 3 and 4 (or 1 or 2 ) are necessary.
Remember, the camera gears will work (maybe not correctly, but they will go "click-click") when wet. When the gears are dry, the salt residue will crystallize and everything stops. Operating the camera manually during the drying process may, I repeat may, keep any crystallization from freezing up the works as the camera dries.
Reprinted with permission from Bob Warkentin's Southern Nikonos Service Center, Inc.
9459 Kempwood, Houston, TX 77080 713/462-5436