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You Dropped Your Camera in Water… Now What?

Caleb Ward

Dropping cameras into water doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ruined if you take the following steps to nurse it back to life.

Summer is the best time of the year to get out your DSLR (or DSLM) and shoot some amazing photos or video. And while your photographic talent, coupled with you fancy camera gear, is surely going to yield incredible images, your vacation may be trying to sabotage the whole thing. One accidental trip into the pool, tripod failure near a lake, or tropical rainstorm can yield your expensive camera a useless, wet hunk of electronics. But thankfully there are a few things you can do if your camera accidentally gets wet. Follow the following steps:

1. Turn Off Your Camera

If you’ve dropped your camera into water you need to turn your camera off immediately. This is because water acts as a conductor of electricity. Leaving a camera on can cause short circuiting and failure throughout the electronic area.

2. Remove the Batteries

Batteries are normally the very first things to be destroyed when a camera is dropped in water, so make sure you take them out ASAP. Put them in a dry place with good air flow.

3. Remove the Cards

Thankfully most SD and CF cards are extremely resistant when it comes to water (there’s even be cases of cards lasting YEARS underwater). Even still, take out the cards and let them dry completely before trying to get the photos off of them.

4. Remove the Lens

Unscrew the lens and dry the lens coating with a microfiber cloth. Dab, don’t wipe. Modern lenses have coatings that can be rubbed off if you are not careful. If you have dropped your camera lens into salt water it is important to clean the lens as quickly as possible, as the salt can eat the lens coatings.

5. Diagnose the Problem

If you’ve dropped your camera into regular water or left it out in the rain, go ahead and skip down to step 7. If you’ve dropped your camera into salt water or some polluted water you need to perform one extra step:

6. Soak Your Camera

It may seem counterintuitive but if you’ve gotten salt water in your camera you need to get it out immediately. Salt is corrosive to the inside of your camera body so you need to clean it out ASAP. If you get salt water on your camera sensor and do nothing your camera is going to be nothing more than a piece of junk if you don’t do something fast. Get a large bowl of clean water. Place your camera completely in the water for 5 seconds, no more…no less.

7. Dry with Rice

Place the camera body in a sealed bag of rice to dry it out. Don’t let rice get down into your sensor! Simply open all the doors in the camera and place in the rice bag. You will want to put the camera and rice in a warm dry place.

8. Wait…and Wait Some More

The drying process can take anywhere from a few days to a week. It really comes down to how long it was in the water. If it was submerged in water for a few minutes you probably need to wait at least a week. It is crucial to wait until the camera is completely dry. Try to activate it too early and you might short circuit your camera.

If you’ve performed all the steps listed above and your camera is still not working you will need to contact the camera manufacturer. There is a slight chance that accidents will be coved in your camera’s warranty. If not, you may be looking at having to pay the manufacturer a lot of money to fix the camera, if they can at all. Here are the numbers to the customer support lines for the most popular manufacturers:

  • Canon: (800) 652-2666
  • Nikon: (800) 645-6687
  • Sony: (888) 222-7669
  • Panasonic: (800) 211-7262
  • Blackmagic Design: (408) 954-0500
The following video created by FuncFish explains how to do the rice trick listed above. He is using a consumer grade point and shoot, but the concepts are still the same for DSLRs. Notice how the batteries that were in the camera don’t work anymore…remember step #2!

Expensive cameras typically have more weather proofing inside of them than their cheaper counterparts. So if you find your Mark III or D4S sitting at the bottom of a pool, proceed quickly but don’t freak out. If you’re unsure if your camera will hold up in water or wet environments go check out the owners manual to see what weatherproofing your camera has.

If you want to go underwater there are underwater housings that can be applied to most consumer grade cameras. A great place to look is Ikelite. They also have some pretty cool strobes for underwater lighting.

Have any tips for getting water out of your camera? Have any horror stories? Share in the comments below.