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.

Things to know before underwater camera maintenance

The purpose of the underwater camera maintenance process is always the same: making sure if the seals are damage-free and getting rid of dirt and foreign objects around the opening. But there are some differences depending on what type of camera you have. Therefore, before moving on to the ‘what and how to do’ steps, clarify what is the difference between a waterproof camera and a 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

The such-called outdoor cameras can be used on land and underwater too without any additional housing up to a specified depth. Some models are just splash- and rainproof, while others are completely submersible like the Olympus TG-6 which is what we currently use to take our snorkeling photos together with a Canon G7ii.

Snorkeling cameras are usually waterproof up to 33ft (10m) but some models even up to 100 ft (30m) like Nikon W300 model. To know these limits, always check the depth rate in the user manual.

nikon waterproof camera
Waterproof outdoor cameras can be used on land and underwater too

Waterproof cameras are popular among snorkelers thanks to its compact size and easy operation. They usually feature a pre-programmed underwater mode that helps to get sharp, clear images with balanced colors even for beginner photographers.

If you want to know what models we recommend for snorkeling, read through our best waterproof cameras post. Should you look for an easy-to-use, simple version that even children can operate, see here the top kids underwater camera recommendations.

Olympus TG-6

  • top-rated professional underwater compact camera
  • 12MP high-speed image sensor
  • 4K UHD video resolution
  • GPS, temperature sensor, manometer and compass
  • waterproof up to 15m/50 ft, shockproof, dustproof

Digital camera with underwater housing

This setup includes a normal non-waterproof camera that is submersible when used with an extra underwater housing. Diving cases usually can be taken up to 130 ft (40m) or some models even up to 195 ft (60m) deep. Sturdy housings provide better protection underwater although this is a more expensive solution. A good underwater camera housing usually costs nearly the same as the camera itself (not to mention accessories like lens ports and strobes).

Canon G7x Mark II Camera + FantaSea Underwater House
Canon G7X digital camera with a FantaSea underwater housing

For this reason, dive housings are mainly used by underwater photographers who shoot with DSLR models. When purchasing an underwater housing, check if it will fit 100% to your camera. Buy original products from your camera’s manufacturer or from trusted diving case manufacturers like Fantasea or Ikelite.

Smartphone with waterproof case

Due to dramatic smartphone developments in the past few years, smartphone underwater photography is gaining ground too. Therefore, we thought it is useful to talk a little about smartphone waterproof cases too.

Should you use your iPhone or Android device underwater, don’t forget one thing! Although the latest models are advertised as waterproof, it is not true. In fact, they are only water-resistant and this refers to freshwater only!

samsung smartphone in underwater case
You can use also your smartphone to take photos underwater – but make sure to use a quality case!

Saltwater can damage sensitive electronics and erode metal parts, moreover salt particles might block the mic and speaker. The normal 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 compared to the value of the 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 the water

A 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. In case of any damage, tear on sealing, crack on the housing, don’t take the camera underwater!

Follow this 3-steps checklist below every time before taking your camera underwater to minimize the risk of water damage!

Clean the sealing

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 cotton swab.  Most waterproof cameras usually have only one opening door at the battery, and this is where you can insert the memory card too. If you have a model with more doors like a separate media card slot door, clean and check the seals one by one.

Check the locking system

Once you are ready with the cleaning, close the door while paying attention to the locking mechanism. If you use an underwater housing, you have to examine the O-rings too and check if all buttons function. 

Underwater camera seal checkup
Always check the sealing and make sure that the battery opening door locks properly!

Observe the camera when submerging

If everything seems to be OK after the visual check-up, you can enter the water slowly. Never jump with your photo equipment in your hand! Immerse the camera slowly and ensure there is no leaking.

underwater camera with dome port
Submerge the camera slowly in the water, observe if there is any leaking!

You might experience small bubbling, but that is 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, you need to clean the camera or the underwater house 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.

underwater camera with dome lens
Underwater camera with lens after diving – now it’s time to clean them!

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 stain will build on the lens!

Once it is dry and clean, you can open the battery compartment (or the 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 the humidity is high, better to place a packet of silica gel inside and close the battery cover door. Like this, the silica will absorb the moisture (see more about this below in the Camera Lens fogging part).

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

Underwater camera maintenance tools

When purchasing a new waterproof camera, big brands often include some basic underwater camera maintenance items in the package. These complimentary kits usually include a cleaning cloth, mini brush or even silicone grease.

Don’t worry if you didn’t get them. These tiny but useful underwater camera maintenance accessories can be purchased online just for a few bucks. Moreover, always keep fitting spare O-rings with you just in case! Don’t let a damaged seal ruin your holiday! 

See here a few useful underwater camera maintenance tools that we recommend to purchase:

Camera lens fogging

It is a very common problem in hot, humid and windy environments. Camera lens fogging caused by significant changes in temperature resulting in 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 equalizes and the 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!

how to prevent waterproof camera fogging
Follow these tips to prevent camera 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 moisture-absorbing 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 moisture so your lens won’t fog up. Remove it before placing back the battery. If you don’t find silica packs you can use GoPro anti-fog inserts too! These thin moisture-removing pads 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 in 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 salty water causes irreversible corrosion on 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.

Underwater camera house O-ring
Underwater camera house O-ring – check if it’s damage-free before each use!

Always double-check that the seals are good and the door closes perfectly before putting the device in the water! If using a new underwater housing or fresh O-rings, the best is to test the diving case empty by putting a dry tissue inside. Submerge it to see if the paper gets wet. If not, then the sealing is good and the housing is safe to use.

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 the power. Less time in the water means a better chance to avoid damage. Dry it with a clean towel, and remove the memory card (if the camera would die, at least you save your memories) and the battery.

Never try to dry it with a hairdryer as heat might damage the plastic and rubber components causing more problems. If you have silica packs with you, put the camera in a bag of silica packets so it can absorb the water. A DIY solution is using rice. Close all openings of the camera and put it in a sealable plastic bag filled with uncooked rice. It works as a desiccant!

If you are lucky and the amount of water that got into the device was small, the camera will work again. But as mentioned, saltwater is extremely damaging to fine electronics. Therefore the best is to send the device to an underwater camera service department.

How to store your underwater camera?

The underwater camera maintenance doesn’t end when your holiday finishes! It is also important how you handle your equipment when returning home from a short or long beach vacation. These tips will surely help you store your camera safely 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, you can remove sand and salt particles that got stuck in the tiny gaps. For cleaning, use only fresh water and a lint-free cloth. Never apply chemicals, alcohol or anti-fog spray as they could damage the seals.
  2. dry it completely. Wipe off all droplets using a microfiber cloth until no water stain spots remain on it. Make sure that all the openings, seals, and O-rings are totally free of water.
  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 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 a few days before your holiday. Silicone helps the O-rings to form a perfect seal. The process is very simple! Just put a tiny droplet of silicone grease between your index finger and thumb finger. Pull the O-ring until it becomes coated with silicone. Use only special underwater camera silicone grease for O-rings! Other lubes like paraffin-based ones and vaseline can damage them.
  6. dive housings should be stored unlocked to keep the O-ring from being compressed for long periods.
  7. don’t forget about your 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 check the device and change the seals if necessary.

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

underwater camera maintenance tips

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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!