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Basic maintenance

by Brian Pitkin

Reproduced from in focus 24 (Oct. 1987)

A resumé of the BASIC COURSE talk for August 1987

The problems

Amphibious and housed cameras and flashguns can be used in fresh water with little maintenance. It is only when we take our system into salt water that the problem begin. Firstly. most cameras, housings and flashguns designed for use underwater incorporate a variety of different materials such as plastic, stainless steel and aluminium alloy. Each of these materials on its own can quite safely be taken into the sea without any detrimental effects. However, most system combine all three materials. Combine steel and aluminium alloy and salt water corrosion Is a serious problem, causing flash connectors and the like to sieze, making removal difficult or impossible. Secondly, once out of the water, salt crystallises out as the equipment dries. Unfortunately salt crystals form an abrasive, just as severe as sand, and left an the '0' rings can facilitate the access of water next time the equipment Is submerged.

The solutions


Fortunately both of these problems can be quickly and easily overcome by rinsing your equipment in freshwater. preferably tepid, immediately after your dive. This will ensure that no salt water Is left in contact with any steel /aluminium interface or on the surfaces of the '0' rings exposed to salt water. It Is essential that you leave any flashgun connected whilst you rinse. if you have finished your film. set the Shutter speed control to 'R' and rewind the film carefully In freshwater, If you are using a faucet or tap ensure that the pressure Is not so great as to distort the '0' rings otherwisae a flood my result. Still in freshwater, rotate the focus and controls. It the film has been rewound, reset the speed to 1/'60th and operate the shutter release.


Once thoroughly rinsed, your equipment should be equally thoroughly dried, using low beat such as above a radiator. Once dried carefully remove the flashgun plug (some photographers prefer to leave flash plugs in situ until they fail, but they run the risk of seizure). Clean the electrical contacts on the plug and inside the camera. A toothbrush and typewriter eraser may prove invaluable for this cleaning. Remove the flash plug '0' ring, clean the groove and '0' ring and finally regrease the '0' ring before replacing it, taking care not to overgrease. Sufficient silicone grease to make the '0' ring shine and no more is all that is needed.


If you are using a Nikonos IVA or V, assuming you have rewound the film, you can open the camera back and remove the film. Remove the '0' ring. being careful not to scratch or score it as you do so. Clean the groove in which the '0' ring sits and the face on which it seals using a cotton bud. Clean the '0' ring and regrease it sparingly with silicone grease by applying a single blob and spreading it over the entire surface of the '0' ring by running it through your clean fingers. Refit the '0' ring and, using silicon spray, grease the rewind and wind-on shafts and the hinge and lock, being careful not to spray silicone inside the camera.

Before you load the next roll of film wipe any grease off your fingers as silicone and processing chemicals do not readily mix. Load the film, close the back and lock it. Reconnect the flashplug, greasing the threads lightly with silicone grease. Check that the flashgun fires when the shutter is released, thus exposing the leader of the film - usually the first two or three frames before the frame counter registers '1'. This is also an excellent opportunity to observe the flash recycle time. If it exceeds the manufacturers recommendation - usually anything from 2 to 15 seconds - or your own patience, change the batteries. Clean the '0' rings, grooves and sealing surface and regrease the '0' ring, as described for the camera. before closing the flashgun battery compartment.

Finally, having wound the film on to frame '1', check that the LED display lights up indicating that the camera battery is still in good condition. If the LED does not light up, try shooting one more frame before assuming that the battery is dead. If the LED still does not light up, change the battery. The battery compartment can be opened with a coin. As with other '0' rings, remove, clean and regrease but take care not to touch the now battery with greasy fingers, as this may prevent electrical contact. Insert the now battery and close up the battery compartment. Unless you want to change lenses, you should now be ready to expose your next roll of film.

Should you wish to change lenses then carefully remove the existing lens by pulling the lens slightly away from the camera body_and rotating it through 90°. This is best done holding the camera face down, as any small droplets of water still on the lens '0' ring will fall away from the camera rather than into the body_of the camera. Once removed. dry any small droplets remaining in or on the camera and lens. Remove the '0' ring, clean and regrease ready for re-use before fitting the dust cap. Ensure the lens mount is clean before inserting the next lens. If you fit the lens upside down this will enable you to read aperture, focus and depth of field more readily by tilting the camera backwards towards yourself (don't take my word for it, try for yourself).


If you are using a likonos II or III. once the system has been thoroughly rinsed in freshwater and dried, the procedure Is such the same as for the Nikonos. IVA and V except. of course, you must first remove the lens before you can remove the inner body_to unload and reload film. Also, being entirely mechanical, the Nikonos II and III do not have any integral batteries.


If you are using a housed land camera, follow the washing and drying procedure described above before removing the housing back. Take care not to get grease or water inside the housing whilst cleaning the main '0' ring, rewinding and changing film. Grease the housing controls with silicon grease. If your housing is polycarbonate do not use silicon spray as the propellant used may react.


Should you be so unfortunate as to suffer a seized flash plug or control, rinse the assembled equipment again before applying gentle force. If this does not work, try soaking In a very wild acid, such as weak vinegar. Try controlled force, never brute force. If you are still unsuccessful return the equipment to a qualified repairer.


If you are unlucky and your camera or flashgun floods, do not panic, it really is something every underwater photographer can expect at one tim or another. As soon as you become aware of the flood, switch off any electrical circuits. Once out of the water, remove any batteries and then check the extent of the flood. Often the lens of a slightly flooded camera my be perfectly alright, do not wash It unnecessarily. If both lens and camera are flooded rinse them in freshwater, operating all controls. remove lens, open back (likonos IVA and V) or remove inner body_(Bikonos II and Ill), remove film and ditch it. Rinse all components thoroughly in freshwater, again operating all controls to ensure as much of the saltwater as possible is flushed out. Remove equipment from the freshwater and gently shake off any excess. Dry the camera thoroughly using low heat. When thoroughly dry it my be possible to re-use the camera on manual without any apparent further problems. Re-inserting batteries in an autonatic camera that is not throughly dry my finish the electronics for good! Finally get It checked by a qualified repairer as soon as possible and check your insurance.

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