CHAPTER THREE: PREVENTATIVE MAINTENANCE

Text by Bob Warkentin
Photos by Bob Warkentin and Chris & Donna McLaughlin


"What's the difference? A camera is a camera!"
The First Preventative (Reduction) Maintenance Responsibility: Prevent Salt Water From Drying Out on the Camera.
"That's easy! I will leave the camera in the fresh water rinse tank on the boat, right?"
"Then what do I use?"
"Put the camera in salt water on the boat? That's stupid! I've been told that will hurt the camera."
The Second Preventative (Reduction) Maintenance Responsibility: Fresh Water Cleanup. "OK, you've convinced me. Keep it wet until rinsing. But are there tricks I should know about rinsing with fresh water?
"Only 60 Seconds? One Minute? That s too easy!"
"Hot, cold or warm water cleaning?"
"If I follow these tips, do I still have to have periodic professional service?"
"What if I wash the camera with soap and water. Doesn't this clean the camera better?"
"Water and vinegar -I hear this helps clear the camera."
"What about spraying silicone or oil on the camera and other photo equipment in those tight areas when they get sticky?"
"What about changing film between dives if l keep it wet in the trash can?"
"What do you mean; 'a certain way' ?"
"What about blowing the excess water off the camera with a regulator hooked up with an air nozzle?"
"How often should I have the internal O-rings serviced if I follow the above cleaning procedures?"
Summary

"I'll have you know that I've used cameras for years, and all I bad to do was change the film and batteries. I never bad to have it serviced by anyone!
I know bow to take care of my stuff!"

"Did you say that was a land camera or an underwater camera?"

"What's the difference? A camera is a camera!"

This is like a person moving from the dry climate of Arizona to the salt air of the Florida Keys. Soon, rust spots begin to appear all over the painted (protected?) surfaces of the car. Since frequent washing and specialized care of the car was not needed in Arizona, why now should it be needed in Florida? Simple: Mother Nature attempts to corrode all metal objects which are in or near her Salt Water Oceans - cameras included.

Nikonos
Photo 1

Salt residue happens, or something to that effect. Therefore, for underwater photographic equipment, "preventative maintenance" should more accurately be called "reduction (of salt buildup) maintenance."

There are many tight spots on your equipment that will trap salt water. When the water evaporates, the salts will be left behind to crystallize, coating and damaging the metal and O-rings. (photos 2 & 3) Preventative maintenance means reducing the amount of salt residue buildup that occurs after each dive, giving you longer periods of time between professional servicings and expenses.

Salt residue
Salt residue
Photo 2
Photo 3

So, other than the necessary changing of film, batteries, and keeping user serviceable O-rings clean, greased and in good condition, there are only two real preventative maintenance concepts left: preventing salt water from drying out and building up on the camera, and proper rinsing techniques.

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The First Preventative (Reduction) Maintenance Responsibility:
Prevent Salt Water From Drying Out on the Camera.

Remember that there are 15 O-ring seals (as explained in Chapter One of this series) just in the camera body alone.

Likewise, there are 15 metal O-ring ports that can become corroded or abraded. Every O-ring seal and O-ring port in a Nikonos V will, if neglected just a few times, cause serious (expensive) electrical and/or mechanical damage to occur due to leakage of salt water.

So, to reduce the salt buildup, don't let the equipment dry out. (photo 1)

Place the camera (and all other O-ring sealed photo equipment) in water within 5 to 10 minutes after salt water use.

Fresh or salt water, it doesn't matter. But leave it in water between dives, for the boat ride back to shore, or until you are sure you are 5 to 10 minutes away from a "true" fresh water washing. The objective is to prevent the salt (water) from drying out on your equipment.

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"That's easy! I will leave the camera in the
fresh water rinse tank on the boat, right?"

Wrong! First, don't always count on one being available. Be prepared to use other measures. In fact, you are better off not using the "community" rinse tank. (photo 4)

Rinse tank
Photo 4

The "community" rinse tank on many boats is frequently a "destruction derby" for camera gear if more than one photographer is on board, and many cameras are damaged from using these "community" rinse tanks. You, being the first diver, put your camera into the rinse tank then, the second diver puts all of his photo equipment on top of or around your photo equipment, and so on. When you want yours, you have to first un-pile everyone else's equipment. Cables get caught, framers get caught and bent, lenses come off, etc., and people get mad.

Next, if everyone uses the "rinse tank" to rinse off salt water, where does the salt go? Into the now salty (fresh?) rinse water! So when you give it a couple of shakes in the "rinse' water and lay it out to dry, you have just wasted your time and fooled yourself into believing you "done good cleaning your stuff."

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"Then what do I use?"

Simple. Use the plastic trash can from your motel/hotel room (or bring one from home)! Within 5 to 10 minutes after your dive, fill the bucket with ocean salt water - yes, SALT WATER - and submerge your photo equipment into it. Leave it in the "WET" salt water until you can rinse the camera in "WET" fresh water. (photo 5)

Rinsing camera
Photo 5

This way, the majority of the salts from the salt water stay wet (in solution) and can be washed off before they permanently dry.

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"Put the camera in salt water on the boat? That's stupid!
I've been told that will hurt the camera."

Come on! Where have you just been? Remember, you just dived in salt water. It wasn't until you got back in the air that the "water" began to dry out, leaving salt (and other materials) to dry out on your face, eyes, arms, belly button, etc. The same is true for your camera (and all other dive equipment as well). Salt water collects in all those tight O-ring areas. When it dries, it forms a coarse concrete-like insoluble residue on the O-rings and in the O-ring ports that no amount of water can rinse away.

The only way it can then be removed is professionally, by full disassembly, and the scraping away of this concrete-like residue from all the parts. Additionally, the damaged O-rings must be discarded and replaced with new ones.

Remember, if you leave parts screwed together for a full week of diving, the salts will cement things together. When you try to take them apart, things break. (photo 6)

Broken part
Photo 6

All these problems, costly ones, and only because you let the "salty" camera dry out within 5 to 10 minutes after diving. If allowed to continue, you will just be adding layer upon layer of salt residue (photo 7) and very soon the O-rings will become worn and abraded (sanded) and the metal parts will become pitted (photo 8), causing water to leak into the camera.

Salt residue
Pitted
Photo 7
Photo 8

And so on and so on . . . O-rings are easy to replace, and cheap compared to replacing the whole outer case, (over $250): If this becomes necessary the metal ports become scored and pitted.

So, use your own personal, private "God's Little Acre" - a trash can. Since it is just big enough for your equipment, and it's yours to begin with, you have solved the keeping-it-wet problem at the same time you solved the community Nikonos "mass destruction" derby. It also give you a place to safely keep your camera equipment on board the boat. Remember, you can only rinse off salt water - Wet - with fresh water - Wet!

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The Second Preventative (Reduction) Maintenance Responsibility:
Fresh Water Cleanup.

"OK, you've convinced me. Keep it wet until rinsing. But are
there tricks I should know about rinsing with fresh water?

Of course! I wouldn't have written the question this way if there weren't things to remember. For the moment, forget your definitions of rinsing, soaking, washing and cleaning and just listen to the following:

When you dive, you are typically at or below 30 feet (2 atmospheres) of water pressure in depth. This creates a vertical pressure, forcing salt water into every tight spot of the camera. However, on land and back at your room, you are in only one atmosphere of pressure. Merely "soaking" in fresh water at one atmosphere of pressure, even overnight, will leave you with a wet, dirty camera for the next day's use.

Instead, submerge your photo equipment in fresh water, and vigorously shake ("shake-n-bake") in a side-to-side movement through the water. This generates a horizontal "water force" which will remove or reduce the trapped salt water and replace it with fresh water. "Shake-n-bake" for a full 60 seconds in plenty of fresh water. That's all! And, at least every second day, remove the camera from the tray, unscrew the flash cable (both ends), etc. and clean all threaded areas.

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"Only 60 Seconds? One Minute? That s too easy!"

Remember, that's 60 seconds of "side-to-side" movement. Most people can take 10 to 15 seconds of this activity before stopping to rest, or mopping up the water that splashed onto the floor. SIXTY SECONDS - OF MOVEMENT - IN WATER! Too easy? It will soon become a labor of love, but the one that will really pay off.

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"Hot, cold or warm water cleaning?"

HOT - definitely not! It will damage the film as well as produce unwanted pressures inside of the camera. When you open a very warm (hot) camera, it will seem to "explode" open. This causes unwanted turbulence at wet O-ring joints.

COLD - No problem. Remember, it's the quality of the water, not its temperature, that leaves you with a clean camera after the "fresh" water bath.

WARM - "Gray area." Warm to some people can be too hot or too cold for others. So, forget this gray area. Anyway, on many islands, there "ain't no hot water" no matter what the bath tub knob says.

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"If I follow these tips, do I still have to have periodic professional service?"

Of course! And for many good reasons (including the fact that I make a living providing this service!).

First, remember that most "waters" we call "fresh" have minerals dissolved in them. While these minerals do not noticeably consist of "salt" (sodium chloride) concentrations, they do consist of other salts and maybe some chlorine.

Chlorine is hard on rubber and will cause it to deteriorate. Other minerals cause what is called a "scale" to build up (hard deposits of calcium). In areas where water wells are used, people treat either for "hard" or "soft" water with water additives. Municipalities do the same thing, but on a larger scale.

On islands, desalinization may not be 100% effective in removing ocean "salts" (the water you drink at dinner or in your room will be your best tester). Distilled or deionized water (used in irons) is the best, but expensive to produce, and if bought in one gallon jugs, becomes a very costly and unmanageable way to clean your equipment.

And last, but the most overlooked of all, is the fact that the more fresh water you use, the more effective your salt removal efforts will be.

Consider the analogy of bathing in a tub of soapy, dirty water verses a shower where fresh water rinses the dirty soapy water down the drain. The same principal is true for saltwater removal from a camera.

Unfortunately, a "shower" of fresh water is not effective in getting into the hidden areas of the camera: the camera must be fully submerged. Since technically your cleanup techniques are only diluting the amount of salt in the water, the larger (fuller) the bathtub is, the more effective the "shake-n-bake" exercise will be.

If you only have a shower stall, put a rag in the drain and fill it to the lip of the step-over. Since this holds less water than a larger tub, you may want to fill it a second time and do a second "shake-n-bake." (The smaller the container of fresh water, the more times you want to refill with fresh water). Don't forget that even fresh water "salts" can buildup just like ocean "salts," but over a longer period of time.

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"What if I wash the camera with soap and water.
Doesn't this clean the camera better?"

Unfortunately, yes! It fact too clean. Just as soap takes grease off your hands, a soap and water wash will take the needed O-ring grease off around those internal O-rings. This will cause operations to become sluggish, and O-rings to wear out faster. It will not, however, remove dried salt residues.

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"Water and vinegar -I hear this helps clear the camera."

Absolutely not. This is good for salads, personal hygiene and cleaning coffee pots, but it will not clean a Nikonos. In fact, it will pit the front view window optics, making it appear sandblasted. Also, it will degrease the surfaces of the internal O-rings (making them dry), slow operations and increase O-ring wear. Unless you have the "green" Nikonos V and want it to smell like a pickle, don't use vinegar!

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"What about spraying silicone or oil on the camera and other
photo equipment in those tight areas when they get sticky?"

1) First, why are they getting sticky? Could it be that you neglected to keep the equipment wet before freshwater cleaning and now everything is caked up with salt residue? (see photo 7)

If this is the case, don't fool yourself by trying to do your own brain surgery. You need professional help.

Sprays don't remove the salt residue that has built up over time; only full disassembly and lots of labor can remedy this problem.

2) Sprays also damage the coatings on the lens optics and front glass port.

3) Sprays also get onto parts designed to operate free of lubrication. If you must use a spray, remove all photo equipment from the room, and don't bring it back for at least 15 minutes. Reason: the excess spray (and there always is some) gets into the air, and is carried around the room by an air conditioner, fan or whatever. (Think of a room deodorant sprayed in one part of a room: in two to three minutes, you can smell it throughout the room. Aerosol lubricants act in the same manner.

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"What about changing film between dives if l keep it wet in the trash can?"

Again, simple. Just take the camera out of your water-filled trash can, change film, and then, return it to the water, leaving it there until you are ready to dive. This guarantees it's not going to dry out.

However, before you begin opening a wet camera for any reason, be aware that there is a certain way you should do it.

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"What do you mean; 'a certain way' ?"

It is a little realized fact that even though the outside of the camera is dry, unless it has been left open to dry, water will stay in all O-ring channels of a Nikonos V for 7 to 10 days after use. So you can imagine the amount of water not only around the seals, but also being trapped under the ASA knob, shutter speed knob, between the camera body and tray and so on.

To prevent drops of water from getting into the camera, any time, follow this simple rule: always take the O-ring away from the camera.

A. Opening the camera's back door

Always take the O-ring away from the camera!

1) When changing film any time on a dive trip, even if not on the boat between dives, always take the camera off the tray. Reason: a lot of water is trapped between the camera and tray. Also, although you don't have to unscrew the flash connector, remember water can be trapped in the "loops" of the flash cord. So, watch out for the cord and keep it away from the open camera.

2) Point the camera lens up. Unlock the door latch and let the back door fall downwards. Any water drops, including the film canister, will fall into your lap, not into the camera. Remember, that the door O-ring seals are on the inside of the camera body, not on the outer edges.

3) Open the door fully. Now, holding the door open, rotate the camera on its long axis and lay it down flat. Reload the camera.

4) To close the door, don't close the door onto the camera. Close the camera onto the door. No, the film won't fall out, but the water trapped in the O-ring channel will. When you close the door, you will see droplets of water squeezed out the sides.

5) Remount the camera to the tray, and you are ready to go diving.

B. Changing Lenses

Take the O-ring (lens) away from the camera!

1) Point the lens towards the ground, turn it the typical 90 and remove downwards slowly.

2) Set the lens off to the side - still face down, and place a rear lens cap on it loosely for now.

3) With the camera still pointing down, towel dry the water droplets off of the silver-colored lens mount ring on the front of the camera.

4) You may now right the camera, or mount a new lens.

Reason: If you rapidly pull apart a lens from a camera, you will create a vacuum you can hear. The vacuum will cause the water droplets that normally collect around the O-ring seal on the lens to become an atomized spray that will get onto not only the rear optics of the lens, but also the many shutter blades. Left unnoticed, it will damage the optical coating and rust the shutter.

C. Opening the battery compartment or flash port

Take the O-ring ( battery compartment or flash connector) away from the camera!

1) Dismount the camera from the tray.

2) With the camera in an upright position, unscrew the flash connector and/or battery compartment.

3) Towel dry water droplets from these areas before inspecting these areas.

Reason:

Flash Pins: This area is EXTREMELY easy to damage by ONE DROP of water. The two TTL flash pins are spring loaded, and designed to retract into their respective holes when any strobe is connected. One drop of water will freeze up the spring or corrode the pin, either of which will kill all TTL operations.

Battery port: With the cap off, what you are seeing is the actual inside "guts" of the camera, as well as plenty of room around the edges to drop water onto linkages and the bottom of the shutters.

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"What about blowing the excess water off the camera with
a regulator hooked up with an air nozzle?"

This misconception ranks right up there with the all-time "stupid ideas"

Reason: The maximum operating depth for a Nikonos is 160 feet, or approximately 75 P.S.I. However, think back to your basic SCUBA lessons. The first stage of a regulator is designed to regulate tank pressures and deliver from 135 to 150 P.S.I. down the hose to your mouth, or to wherever the air nozzle is connected. In essence, you are blowing air at twice the maximum pressure as that for which the O-rings were designed. True, you will blow off alot of water and grit, but you will also blow the water into the camera and grit into the O-ring seating surfaces.

If you need air to blow off excess water, huff and puff and do it yourself.

Also, air pressure used to blow water off a Nikonos V shutter will blow the blades out of their guides and quickly ruin everything.

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"How often should I have the internal O-rings serviced if I
follow the above cleaning procedures?"

My experience (and Nikon's recommendation) is that you should have the internal O-rings replaced, and the outer body metal O-ring seats cleaned of corrosive and abrasive deposits at least every twelve months. (3 to 4 months for cornmercial rental programs; 6 to 12 months for professional underwater photographers). These cleaning time tables will help reduce additional corrosion and abrasion to the metal O-ring seats of the outer body.

For sport divers who do not have their camera serviced annually, who take only one or two dive trips a year (5 to 10 dives per week) and who follow the above "keep-it-wet - then shake-n-bake" procedures, you might get by for a couple of years (I didn't say you absolutely will not have any deterioration in the O-ring areas, only that you might get by for a while longer than one year). It's your equipment, and your decision.

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Summary

  1. Salt residue happens. Preventative Maintenance means Reduction Maintenance: reduce the speed of salt residue buildup.
  2. Keep the camera equipment wet in salt water after diving until fresh water is available.
  3. Use your own water-filled trash can, not the "destruction derby" rinse tank on board a boat.
  4. Submerge equipment in fresh water, and "shake-n-bake" for a full 60 seconds in cold water.
  5. Don't use soap or vinegar for cleaning.
  6. Water stays in O-ring grooves for 7-10 days unless opened for drying. Therefore, always take the O-ring away from the camera when opening, and fold the camera onto the back when closing.
  7. Internal O-ring replacement is cheaper than replacing a corroded and pitted outer body.
  8. Don't leave things joined together for the entire week of diving. Take your photo equipment apart at least every two days and clean.

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Reprinted with permission from Bob Warkentin's Southern Nikonos Service Center, Inc.
9459 Kempwood, Houston, TX 77080 • 713/462-5436