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Camera Housing Maintenance

Camera Housing Maintenance

Avoiding Owning An Aquarium

No subject scares underwater photographers and videographers more than having an expensive housed camera turn into an aquarium. Even a bit of water can turn electronics into a corroded mess.

Here are a few general tips on O-ring maintenance that should help you avoid finding Nemo in your underwater camera housing.

  • Read the Manufacturers' instructions — All housings are different. Some O-rings are not removable but need to be wiped off. Some housings have controls that are user-serviceable, some don't.
  • O-rings are probably the most important and miss-serviced parts — If you don't need to service an O-ring, don't. Ports for instance if left on the housing can be left alone.

How To Clean Underwater Camera Housing O-Rings

O-ring Maintenance ToolsBe Meticulous In Checking O-Rings

  • Remove the O-ring — Carefully pinch the O-ring at the corner and pull it out. If it sticks, use the corner of a credit card to gently pry it up. Many housings come with a thin O-ring removal tool. Do not use any metal tools like a pick or screwdriver.
  • Wash the O-ring in warm water with a drop of soap — Pat it dry completely with a lint-free dishtowel. NOT a paper towel or Kleenex. Try not to stretch it as you dry it.
  • Examine the O-ring in a bright light — Use a magnifying glass if necessary. Look for dirt, sand, cuts, or hair. Be picky and meticulous; even the smallest hair can ruin your day.

O-rings can get cut or abraded fairly easily from salt or sand as it slices them with their sharp edges. Replace them from your spares as necessary, and order replacements.

How To Lubricate O-Rings

Use the Right Grease and Don't Over Do It

  • Lubricate the O-ring — If an O-ring is clean and in good shape, lubricate it with just a drop or two of the proper silicone grease. It is only a lubricant, not a sealant. All you want to see is sheen on the O-ring, not globs of grease that can attract sand.
  • Use the manufactures' silicone grease — They will not cover floods if you don't. O-rings can be made of varying materials and react with the wrong grease to melt or get hard.

Clean Both Surfaces

Remember That There Is A Housing Seat And A Face Seal

  • Clean the housing seat and seal — Carefully clean the flanges and grooves where they contact the O-rings.
  • Make sure that your cleaning tools are lint free — Use foam swabs, or a cotton swab with a piece of lens tissue wrapped around the tip. A clean used toothbrush also works well too.

Re-Install The O-Ring

Sweep For Any New Debris

  • Carefully install the clean, greased O-ring — making sure it is not twisted and lays flat in its intended spot. If it seems out of shape, let it sit there for a minute, then try pressing it into place again.
  • Make sure the O-ring is seated properly — You havenít pinched it out of position. That there's not a sync cord or the edge of a silica gel bag stuck in between the surfaces.
  • Always do an O-ring "sweep" — Run your finger along the entire surface of the O-ring before you close the back.

Other Camera System O-Rings

Don't forget the other O-rings that are a part of you underwater camera setup. For example, the port O-ring, the strobe battery compartment O-ring, and video light battery compartment O-rings. They all deserve your regular cafefull attention.

Underwater Camera Housing Maintenance Do's And Don'ts

  • Always do any underwater camera housing maintenance on a totally clean and dry surface — If you need to make repairs or adjustments to your underwater camera housing before, after, or between dives, always do so on a suitable clean and dry surface.
     
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    Create your own clean workspace to service your housing while on location. This is a flat, clean surface that's large enough to accommodate virtually any housing and lens port.
  • Be meticulous and careful when setting up your rig — Concentrate and develop a method for putting things together. Do it the same way every time and you won't forget a step.
  • Always test your housing in the dunk tank on the boat — Better to find out there that you have a problem.
  • Clean, inspect and service your O-rings if in doubt — If you've been diving off a beach that's sandy or gritty, it's a good idea to be very careful. Off a boat or liveaboard your serviced O-rings can probably just be inspected carefully and continue to be used.
  • Close your cover or port carefully — If something seems off, it usually is. A latch that's hard to close may mean something isn't loaded correctly. Rotary housing latches can be sand traps. If you've rinsed the housing and still find sand, then you may have to disassemble it.
  • Always do a test of your camera and strobes — Make sure your settings are correct, go over anything you don't understand about their operations while you can still look at the manuals.
  • Always do a test dive without the camera in the housing if you are worried there might be a problem — Go down to depth, and work the controls. Adding a small soft weight as a counter-balance is a help, as is a wad of tissue or paper towel inside to help spot where a leak is occurring.
  • Use a dab of anti-seize compound, or even silicone grease, on any stainless to aluminium bolts/screws — Most are anodised, but some anodising is better than others.
  • Consider getting a "Vacuum Check" leak detection system — These systems allow you to pump a bit of air out of the housing and let it sit. If the pressure drops, then a light changes colour to allow you to fix the leak.
     
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    Get the peace of mind that every underwater photographer and videographer should have when shooting. It allows you to draw air out of the housing to have a pre-dive check to know if everything is okay. Suits any underwater camera housing with a M16 port. Comes with Vacuum System and Manual Pump as standard.
  • Don't leave your camera in the rinse tank between dives, or for longer than a couple of minutes — Many floods happen in the rinse tank. Cameras get dropped in on top of each other and latches get sprung etc. Scratched ports are the least of your worries. Also, during your dive the housing and controls get compressed. Coming up from the bottom and then putting the camera in a non-pressurised tub of water can allow some controls to weep a bit. So just rinse it well, "work" the buttons and controls for a few seconds while the camera is underwater, take it out, and leave it under a towel out of the sun between dives.
  • Don't let anyone clean their mask out in the camera rinse tank — Anti-fog solutions have been known to be hard on O-rings.
  • Never jump in the water holding your camera rig — The fast pressure change can pop things open, along with it getting bumped and scratched. Have a deckhand hand it to you, or suspend it from a line, then retrieve it once in the water.
  • Dried salt water is your housing's enemy — Salt crystals form in the controls and they can cause leaks. If you don't have access to a fresh water rinse, leave it in saltwater. As long as it doesn't get dry, it's fine.
  • Try not to let water dry on the glass ports, especially in the sun — You'll get some cosmetic water spots on the port's coating if it does. There is nothing you can do to remove them once they're there. They won't hurt the photo/video quality at all, but it's nice to avoid them.
  • Keep a neoprene cover over your dome port — To avoid getting the dome port scratched keep it properly covered as much as you possibly can. Try to enter and exit the water with a cover on your dome port. If you don't have a cover on your dome port when you exit the water, train the crew to put your dome port cover on immediately to avoid scratches.
  • Get your underwater housing serviced every year — If your have an expensive mirrorless or DSLR underwater camera housing, one of the best things you can do to keep it properly working and protecting your camera is to have it professionally serviced each year.

Strobe Sync Cord Maintenance

Be sure to unplug your strobe fibre optic cord(s) carefully after every few dives, and carefully dry out the bulkheads, and wipe water off the sync cords. Use a toothbrush to clean off the metal threads on the ends of the cords.

The washers of the sync cords can freeze up permanently if they are not unscrewed after every few dives, and the area under them cleaned with a toothbrush.

When you remove sync cords, it's easy for water to drip into the open bulkheads, be careful and dry out any water that is in there.

Carefully remove and wipe off the sync cord O-rings, and re-lube them every time the cords are removed.

If you are ever on a dive, and your strobes fire on their own, chances are you have a little moisture inside one of the bulkheads where your sync cords connect. Leave the water, carefully open, check, and dry all connections.


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