by Harry Flashman
Wounded camera syndrome
There is much similarity these days between mobile phones and digital
cameras. I was reminded of this the other day when my daughter managed to
drown her (reputedly waterproof) phone. Cameras also do not swim well
either, unless it is an expensive Nikonos. Neither piece of modern
technology does well in the dropped stakes either.
Since it is always better to have a fence at the top of the cliff, rather
than an ambulance at the bottom! Let’s begin by thinking about all the
disasters, how you can avoid them and what to do if the ultimate disaster
The first is dropping the camera. Cameras are very complex devices full of
electronic trickery. The electronic shutter on even the cheapest camera can
open and close in 1/500th of a second. It doesn’t take much to knock the
operating electronics around. The camera is also a lightproof box, dropping
it and distorting the case will soon let light in.
So what should be done beforehand? Just as you buy a shockproof case for the
smartphone, get a decent case for the camera. My own one cost over 1000 baht
- but it will keep the camera safe in the situation of it falling out of the
car or slipping from the shoulder. If you have one of those leather cases,
you should throw it as far as you can. It will not save your camera from any
Another important point - always loop the camera strap around your neck. OK,
so now you have the camera hanging on the strap around your neck, what can
go wrong here? Well the strap can slip or the eyelet rings can break, and
the whole lot hits the floor unless you have lightning reflexes. Answer?
Check and make sure that everything is correctly attached and not worn.
Replace regularly. Especially the eyelet rings.
So it did hit the floor, what now? Turn it on. Is it still electrically OK?
If no power, take the batteries out and then put them back in - they may
just be jolted out of position. Unscrew the lens and put it back on. Look
through the viewfinder - if it looks normal, then try to take several shots
at different shutter speeds and apertures and carefully look at each one,
blowing them up if necessary. Pray a lot. You may be lucky.
After dropping, the next disaster is water. Cameras are not like children,
you cannot “drown proof” them. They stay drowned. In the rain you must take
precautions. A plastic bag wrapped around the camera with just the end of
the lens poking through, and held on with rubber bands is the way to “safe
photography”. Even then, as soon as possible you should take the camera
inside and dry the outside of the case thoroughly. Take the lens off and dry
carefully around the lens mount too, making sure you do not touch the
mirror. Take the batteries out and thoroughly dry the battery compartment
and the contacts. Batteries and moisture do not go well together.
Now we should think about the great shots you can get on board speedboats
and similar situations. Resist the temptation to take your good camera - you
can buy a waterproof compact for very little money or even one of the
disposable ones. Do not take your good one!
So what do you do when you drop the whole lot in the drink? If it is a
modern electronic camera you have probably just lost your investment -
especially if it is salt water you drop it into. One camera technician’s
advice was, “Leave it there!” However, you can try flushing the camera in
running tap water for at least an hour, then drying it and taking it to the
repair shop. An audience with the Pope would be a good move as well.
Drowning the camera in fresh water is not quite so bad, but you have to pull
it apart as much as you can and then dry it out as thoroughly as you can - a
hair dryer set on “No Heat” can help, but again your chances are slim. You
can also immerse it in rice for a couple of days - but?
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