Continually concerned with underwater housing leaks, and having experienced a number of images and videos ruined by dust or other material on the lenses, I border on obsessive when preparing and cleaning my underwater housing lens.
Underwater housing lenses suffer the usual problems of dust and lint, but are also susceptible to things like sunscreen (my pet hate), salt residue, sand and other nasties.
Whenever I travel through Cairns, I always stop in to visit the friendly staff at Digital Diver and pick up cleaning accessories.
I follow a set procedure each time for housing preparation:-
- Remove the main o-ring and use a lint-free cloth to wipe around the o-ring groove, removing any excess silicon, sand or hair that may have lodged in the groove. A piece of hair or sand under the o-ring can cause the housing to leak. (Tip:- use a plastic credit card to remove the o-ring so you do not damage it. I use my cert card as a reminder for me to take it diving).
- Use a second lint-free lens cleaning cloth on the inside and outside of the underwater housing lens to remove dust, lint or finger marks.
- Unfortunately cloths can adsorb oils and spread them around. My new favourite cleaning accessory is lens cleaning tissue paper. I had ignored these until recently, as they are normally sold in cheap cleaning packs. One side of the tissue typically has a slightly “waxy” coating, and I discovered purely by accident that this is excellent for removing oils, sun screen and water marks from underwater housing lens. (I read an article recently about using cigarette papers to cleans lenses, but have not verified this solution yet.)
- Making sure the camera batteries are charged and lenses cleaned, I insert the camera into the housing with 2 gel packs located on the bottom. The gel packs will absorb any moisture in the housing that forms due to temperature variations and stop fogging. By placing the packs on the bottom of the housing, they are also a good indicator if the housing has a leak as they will absorb the water and change colour slightly. (Depending on the size of the leak, this may give you just enough time to get the camera back to the surface and save it).
- Clean the o-ring with fresh running water, and inspect for any damage by running your fingers around it to detect and abnormalities in the surface. The o-rings can collect sand and hair if they are greased, and they can also be pinched or collapse.
- Apply high quality silicon grease to the main o-ring, and insert the o-ring back into its groove on the housing. I recommend using the high grade silicon grease, as low grade grease is not able to absorb into the o-ring correctly.
- Close the housing. I have found my housing makes a slight “whoosh” sound as it closes, and is a good indication of it being air tight.
- Submerge the housing in the kitchen sink or a bucket full of water. Check for bubbles that could be an indication of a leak. Press every button and turn every knob 6-8 times to make sure there are no leaks through their o-rings.
- Also submerge your flash and video lights to make sure they do not have a leak.
The underwater housing is now ready for use. I find the process typically takes around 20 minutes to complete.
Tips on the boat
- The first thing I do on boarding the boat is put my housing in the camera wash bucket. This allows the temperature of the housing to drop to water temperature, stopping moisture forming on the lens.
- I prefer to place my camera “lens-down” in the camera wash bucket to minimise scratching from other cameras. On a recent dive trip, I noticed one diver used an old thick sock to protect his lens.
- Before jumping in for each dive, I use “soft soap” to clean the housing lens. “Soft soap” is great for removing sunscreen. Typically a camera will pick up sunscreen from around the boat, or even in the camera wash bucket which tends to build up a film on the surface.
- Once in the water, I regularly check for particles stuck to the front of the housing lens. Use a purged regulator to remove the offending material, rather than your fingers that may have sunscreen or other oils on them.
At the end of the day
At the end of the day, I soak the camera in fresh water in the kitchen sink again. I repeat the process of pressing every button and turning every knob 6-8 times to flush out any salt residue.
I remove the main o-ring with my cert card and wash it in fresh water. The housing and o-ring are then stored in a dry area out of the sun.
Like many things in both photography and diving, success comes from attention to detail.
I hope these tips from my obsessive cleaning behaviour have been useful, and would be interested to hear from others who have any further tips.