Underwater camera maintenance – Water damage, lens fogging

Your underwater camera is the most costly part of your snorkel gear but lasts for long years if you handle it with care, pay attention to regular cleaning and protect it from environmental damages. This underwater camera maintenance guide will help you how to take care of your waterproof camera and give you good tips on how to avoid camera lens fogging and water damage.

Underwater camera maintenance steps

Taking care of your underwater camera is an easy process that can be divided into a ‘before use’ and an ‘after use’ section. Although the purpose of the process is the same – to make sure if seals are damage-free and get rid of dirt and foreign objects – there are some differences depending on your camera type. Therefore, before moving on to the underwater camera maintenance steps, clarify what is the difference between a waterproof camera and camera with underwater housing.

Underwater camera types

When you decide to start a journey in underwater photography, first you need to get something to take photos with. Depending on your needs and budget, you have two options. Buying a camera that is waterproof without any additional case or using a normal non-waterproof digital camera with extra underwater housing.

Waterproof camera: can be used on land and underwater too without any additional housing up to a specified depth. So not just splash- or rainproof but completely submersible models like Olympus TG-5. A budget snorkeling camera is usually waterproof up to 33ft (10m) while a professional underwater compact camera even up to 100 ft (30m) like Nikon W300  model. To know the limits, always check the depth rate in the user manual. Waterproof cameras are popular among snorkelers thanks to its compact size and easy operation. Snorkeling cameras usually feature pre-programmed underwater mode that helps to get sharp, clear images with balanced colors even for beginner photographers.

Tip: Learn how to take sharp and clear images from our snorkeling photography tips.

Olympus TG-5

  • top-rated professional underwater compact camera
  • 12MP high-speed image sensor
  • 4K UHD video resolution
  • GPS, temperature sensor, manometer and compass
  • waterproof up to 50 ft, shockproof, dustproof

Digital camera with underwater housing: normal non-waterproof cameras used with extra underwater housing. Diving cases usually can be taken up to 130 ft (40m) or some models even up to 195 ft (60m) deep. A sturdy housing provides a better protection underwater although this is a more expensive solution. A good underwater camera housing usually cost nearly the same as the camera itself. (not mentioning accessories like lens ports and lightings) For this reason, dive housings are mainly used by underwater photographers who shoot with DSLR models. When purchasing underwater housing, check if it will fit 100% to your camera. Buy original product from your camera’s manufacturer or from trusted diving case manufacturers like Fantasea or Ikelite.

Canon G7x Mark II Camera + FantaSea Underwater House

Snorkel Around The World Tip: due to dramatic smartphone developments in the past few years, smartphone underwater photography is gaining ground too. Should you use your iPhone underwater don’t forget one thing! Although leading smartphone manufacturers’ flagship models are advertised as waterproof, this refers to freshwater only! Saltwater can damage the sensitive electronics and erode metal parts, moreover sand and salt might block the mic and speaker. Warranty doesn’t cover damages caused by saltwater! If you want to use your iPhone while snorkeling or diving, buy an iPhone waterproof case! A good quality case costs almost nothing comparing to the value of latest iPhone models. Samsung waterproof cases are also available! Our underwater camera maintenance tips apply for smartphone – waterproof phone case combinations too!

Checklist before using your camera in water

Visual check-up is a crucial part of underwater camera maintenance that has to be part of your daily routine. The purpose is to make sure that the battery door closes perfectly, sealing is dirt and damage-free. Most waterproof cameras usually have only one opening door at the battery and this is where you can insert the memory card too. Any foreign objects, even dust or hair can cause leaking. To clean off fine sand and salt parts, you can use a lint free cloth, mini brush, air blower cleaner or else cotton swab. If you have a model with more doors like a separate media card slot door, clean and check the seals one-by-one. Once you are ready with the cleaning, close the doors while paying attention if locking systems work well. If you use underwater housing, you have the clean and examine if O-rings, locking-system and see if buttons function. In case of any damage, tear on sealing, crack on the housing, don’t take the camera underwater!

Underwater camera seal checkup If everything is alright, enter the water slowly, never jump with your photo equipment in your hand! Immerse the camera and ensure there is no leaking. You will see small bubbling, but that’s normal since air will escape from the mic/speaker. This should last only for a few seconds. If air escapes around the battery chamber door or other openings, remove the camera immediately from the water and dry it.

Tip: attach an adjustable wrist strap  to your camera to prevent losing it. A floating strap  is also a great idea that will make your device float so it won’t end up at the sea bottom.

Camera cleaning after snorkeling/diving

After an enjoyable snorkeling session or dive, the camera or the underwater house must be cleaned with water as soon as possible. Use fresh water only and avoid soap and detergents. Never wipe it before rinsing because salt and sand parts can scratch the lens! If possible, fill a bucket with water and immerse the camera otherwise rinse it thoroughly. Press the power button in order to clean the sealing around it. Don’t open the battery cover of the underwater case if still wet. Dry it completely with a clean, soft microfiber towel or cloth. Never let it dry with water droplets on it because water stain will build upon the lens and body! Once it is dry and clean, you can open the battery compartment (underwater case) to remove the battery and memory card. Clean off any foreign objects like sand, salt, hair etc. from the seals. You can leave the battery door open while charging, but if humidity is high, better to place a packet of silica gel inside and close the battery cover door for the purpose of absorbing moisture. (See more about this below in the Camera Lens fogging part)

Underwater camera maintenance tools

When purchasing a new waterproof camera, big brands often include some basic underwater camera maintenance items in the package like cleaning cloth, mini brush or even a silicone grease. Don’t worry if you didn’t get them, lost something or the silicone grease finished. These tiny but useful underwater camera maintenance accessories can be purchased online just for a few bucks. Always keep spare O-rings with you just in case! Don’t let a damaged seal ruin your holiday!

Camera lens fogging

Very common problem in hot, humid and windy environments. Camera lens fogging caused by significant changes in temperature resulting condensation on the inner side of the lens.

Lens fogging happens when:

  1. camera temperature is too high and you put it suddenly underwater
  2. you moved the camera from cold area (air-conditioned room) to a warm area
  3. camera side door/battery compartment was opened in a high-humidity room, sealing keeps moisture in

Once the lens fogged up, the only thing you can do, wait until the temperature inside and outside equalized and condensation disappears. Usually it happens within 10 minutes if underwater. If the lens fogged up on land, leave the camera in a shady room, open the battery compartment and let it dry out. If condensation is on the inner side of your underwater housing, just simply remove the camera and dry it with a clean cloth.

Tips to prevent camera lens fogging

We know how annoying is if the best shots of your snorkeling holiday came out blurry because of a foggy lens… But luckily there are some easy tricks to prevent camera lens fogging!

  • First of all, don’t leave setting up your underwater photo equipment for the last seconds. Prepare it always in advance to let equalize the temperature
  • Use Silica packs! These tiny desiccant packs are mainly used by divers who regularly place them in the underwater camera housing, but they are useful for waterproof cameras too. While charging your battery, put a pack of silica gel inside the camera and close the battery door. It will absorb the moisture so your lens won’t fog up. Remove it before placing back the battery. Good to keep with you GoPro anti-fog inserts! These thin moisture removing inserts can be easily placed in any housing system!
  • While preparing yourself for snorkeling or diving, leave your camera in the shade never in direct sunlight
  • Don’t turn the camera lens towards the wind. Strong wind can cool down the lens in seconds resulting instant fogging
CamKix Anti-Fog Inserts

  • reusable anti-fog insert for GoPro camera
  • can be used with all GoPro and also with other underwater cameras housings
  • high-quality silica gel to absorb humidity

Camera water damage

Water, particularly salt water causes irreversible corrosion on the sensitive electronics. Corrosion and rusting build up gradually on metal parts killing the internal circuitry slowly, so errors might occur after some time only. Sadly, serious water damage rarely can be repaired. Therefore we recommend following these underwater camera maintenance tips to minimize the risk of camera water damage. Always double check that the seals are good and doors close perfectly before putting the device in the water! If using a new underwater housing or replaced O-rings, the best is to test the diving case empty by putting only a dry tissue inside. Submerge it to see if the paper gets wet if not, then sealing is good.

Underwater camera house O-ring

What to do in case of camera water damage?

If you experience any sign of leaking, immediately remove the camera from the water and turn off power. Less time in the water means better chance to avoid damage. Dry it with a clean towel, remove the memory card (in worst case try to save your memories at least!) and the battery. Never try to dry it with hairdryer as heat might damage plastic and rubber components causing more problems. If you have silica packs with you, try to dry the camera by putting it in a bag of silica packets. Or else close all openings of the camera and put it in a sealable plastic bag filled with uncooked rice. It works as a desiccant! As mentioned, saltwater is extremely damaging on fine electronics. Therefore the best is sending the device to an underwater camera service department.

How to store your underwater camera?

The underwater camera maintenance doesn’t stop when your holidays finish, it is also important how you store your equipment when not in use.

  1. clean it thoroughly. After weeks of use, the best is to soak the camera in a bucket of water for a longer time (30-60 mins).  Like this sand or salt parts got stuck in tiny gaps can be washed off too. For cleaning, use only fresh water and lint-free cloth, never apply chemicals, alcohol or anti-fog spray as they could damage the seals
  2. dry it completely. Wipe off all droplet using a microfiber cloth so they won’t leave water stain spots. Make sure that all the openings, seals, and O-rings are totally dry
  3. store it in a dry, ventilated place at room temperature. Don’t leave it for long periods over 104°F (40°C) or below 14°F (-10°C)
  4. it is OK to leave the battery charged in the camera for a week or two, but if you’re not planning to use it for a longer period, remove it.
  5. if you use an underwater housing, you need to lubricate the O-rings periodically to keep them from drying out. Also, it is good to put a little silicone grease on the O-rings if you go for holiday but didn’t use your equipment for a longer period to help O-rings form the perfect seal. The process is very simple! Just put a tiny droplet of silicone grease between your index finger and thumb finger and pull the O-ring while it becomes coated with silicone. Use only underwater camera silicone grease for O-rings! Other lubes like paraffin based ones and vaseline can damage the O-rings
  6. Dive housings should be stored unlocked to keep O-ring from being compressed for long periods
  7. don’t forget official maintenance schedule! We are sure you love your equipment and take underwater camera maintenance seriously but there are things you cannot investigate yourself. In order to preserve the waterproof feature (and warranty too if so), leave your camera in a certified service center to change the seals if necessary

Do you find our Underwater Camera Maintenance guide useful? Share it with your finds and help them to keep their photo equipment safe!

Anett Szaszi

Anett is a certified scuba diver, freediver and an expert in snorkeling with more than 10 years experience. She fell in love with the ocean when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea in 2008. Since then , she is traveling all over the world to discover our waters. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. Visiting mega-cities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. She is interested in sustainable traveling and marine conservation. She is hoping to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!

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