10 Steps - Saving a Wet Camera

A recent trip to the Capilano National Park in British Columbia was cut short when my Canon 5D Mk IV went for a swim in the river. Shortly followed by me, diving in the river to rescue it! 

I was experiencing pretty much the worst case scenario a photographer could run into, after all, the cameras we work with are the lifeblood of our art and profession. There's nothing that will prepare you for the shock and horror of seeing your camera sink to the bottom of a flowing river, but in case you find yourself in the same position as me - here's a guide on how to (hopefully) save your camera!

Canon EOS 5D Mk IV Drying in Rice After Getting Submerged in Water

Step One - Retrieve Your Camera.

Every situation will be different, and it's up to you to judge how safe it is to rescue your camera. If it means putting your life in danger, don't do it! Provided it is safe to do so, then retrieve your camera from the water as quickly as possible and quickly dry it off with an absorbent cloth (my t-shirt did the job quite well!).

Step Two - Switch Your Camera Off

It's important to turn off your camera as quickly as possible, as any water that may have got into the body could short-out circuits that still have an active power supply. It's incredibly important that you resist the urge to test your camera out, as trying to use it could short circuits and guarantee your gear is wasted.

Step Three - Remove the Battery

Batteries can very quickly suffer from water damage, and you don't want this to happen whilst they're still in your camera! They can quickly corrode, and the water can also cause short-circuiting issues by drawing power from the batteries even when the camera is switched off.

Step Four - Remove the Lens

Ensure that all visible moisture has been dried from the outside of the camera - you don't want any rogue droplets dripping inside when you detach the lens! Point the camera towards the floor, gently remove the lens and then keeping it face-down, use a microfibre cloth to gently dry the seal and any moisture that may have collected there.

DO NOT attempt to dry the mirror, sensor or inside compartment of the camera - you stand a huge risk of moving any moisture around, introducing dust/dirt and causing an even bigger issue.

Step Five - Dry Visible Moisture

Open up the side panels, SD/CF access and battery compartment of your camera and pat-dry any visible with the microfibre cloth. Be careful not to shake and move the camera too abruptly, so that any moisture that may have got inside isn't moved around too much.

Step Six - Insert Silicon Gel Packs

Silicon gel moisture absorption packs are awesome for drawing water and other fluids out of electronics. Gently place one or two inside the camera body and place the camera cap over the lens mount, then do the same for the battery compartment before closing it up with the silicon packs inside.

Step Seven - Cover with Rice 

Find a large tub and part-fill it with uncooked rice, any variety will do. Then place your camera gently on top, before pouring the rest of the rice over it until your camera is completely covered - with at least an inch above.

Rice is highly absorbent and will help to draw moisture out of the camera... but it takes time.

Step Eight - Wait 

Perhaps the hardest step of all, wait. Patience is your friend and the longer you leave you camera in rice, the greater the chance it will be revived!

I did occasionally turn my camera over a couple of times (every other day or so) just so that any moisture trapped in one side might more easily escape on the other. I'm not sure if this helped or not, but it's unlikely to do any more damage.

There's no set amount of time that you must wait, but all I can say is - wait as long as you can, and at least 4/5 days.

Step Nine - Check Your Camera 

The moment of truth.

Exhume your camera from the rice and remove all of the grains and dust that will have collected on it, being careful not to let any get inside the body as you also remove the silicon packs from the interior and battery compartment.

If your camera still shows signs of moisture, get it back into the rice and wait some more. If it looks good so far, then insert a fresh battery and try it out!

Hopefully it will be in full working order...

Step Ten - Get it Cleaned

It's likely that your camera will have had some dirt and grime build-up from the process of being submerged in water and also from being stored in rice.

If everything seems to be in working order, then I'd recommend taking it to a local camera store for a proper clean - where they'll be able to remove any debris from the inside of your gear, clean the sensor and check it over for you.

Fungus build up can also be a common issue in photography equipment after exposure to the elements, it isn't a problem at first but over time it can cause electrical and mechanical issues - fungus also loves moisture, so this is another reason to take your gear for a good clean.I hope this helps you save your camera!

Photographing a Sunrise over Loch Linnhe at Dawn in Scotland

It's undoubtedly a horrible situation to encounter and few people other than fellow photographers will appreciate how painful it can be to see your gear dropping below the surface of the water... I wouldn't wish it on anyone!

If the rice method hasn't helped to save your camera, then you can always take it to a licensed repair centre - but you may encounter some issues, as many places will not touch equipment that has suffered water damage (and similarly most insurance policies won't cover it either!). I'm sorry that I can't be of much more help in that sense!

I'd love to hear your own methods for saving a camera from water damage - I'm sure this won't be the last time that I or other encounter the issue and the more knowledgeable we all are the better.

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