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Tips & Tricks

How to Rescue a Drowned Camera

By Gavin Hardcastle on December 8th 2013

It was bound to happen, the inevitable calamity of my Canon 5D Mark II meeting its demise on one of my many death defying photo adventures. Did it get dropped from a treacherous cliff edge or mauled by a cantankerous grizzly bear?  No, nothing so glamorous.

My beloved camera met its maker due to a faulty telescopic leg in my tripod while standing unattended for just two seconds in the icy waters of Oneonta Gorge, Oregon. It took a dive in four feet of water, hit a rock and had to be pronounced dead after I tried resuscitation by toweling it off and attaching a different lens.

[REWIND: Von Wong’s 9 Tips for a Successful Underwater Shoot]

To say that I was mortified would be an understatement, especially when I exited the canyon to witness one of the most majestic sights I’ve ever seen as 100 ft rays of light chased me out of the glowing canyon walls, teasing me with what could have been.

As I drove home with a heavy heart, a flicker of hope ignited as I recalled a story I’d heard on a radio show a couple of weeks earlier. I remembered that a boy had found a lost iPhone in the Ocean and successfully managed to bring it back to life by slowly drying out the phone in a bag of rice.

Could this work for my poor, drowned DSLR that was currently exhibiting signs of interior condensation and completely failing to power up? We’re talking blue lips and zero pulse here. I had nothing to lose by trying it out.

rice_trick1_small

Here’s What I Did:

  1. As soon as I got home I made sure there were no traces of moisture visible on the camera and set about finding a container big enough to house both the camera and more than its own bodyweight in dry rice.
  2. I found the ideal Tupperware container, half filled it with two different kinds of rice (it’s just what was in the cupboards) and then placed the perished camera body on top of the rice with the mirror facing down.
  3. I then poured more rice on top of the camera until it was completely covered with about 1 inch of rice above the top of the camera body. This effectively sandwiched the camera in between two super dry layers of rice just itching to suck out the moisture in the camera.
  4. I placed a tightly fitted lid on the container and stashed it on my office drawer for about 6 days.

rice_trick2_small

It Worked!

After about 6 days of drying out in the hermetically sealed ‘rice box of resurrection’, I was able to switch on the camera and scroll through all the menus. It’d gone from a complete dead loss to a chance of survival just by using a bag of rice.

Rice Won’t Fix a Smash

I was amazed that the camera now had its electronics back in full working order. Sadly the mechanical damage from when the camera and lens collided with a rock underwater meant the camera was a complete loss.

So the moral of the story is, if your camera goes for a swim, there’s a good chance you could save it by using the simple rice trick. If it goes for a swim and collides with a rock, you’ll be calling up the insurance company like I eventually did.

Did you ever drop you camera in water?  Did you manage to save it? Tell us your story

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Gavin is a professional landscape photographer from Vancouver Island, BC. He teaches photography workshops all over the world and writes extensively about his experiences on location. You can read his photo guides and tutorials at his photo adventure blog www.fototripper.com His fine art prints can be purchased from www.gavinhardcastle.com Find Gavin on Google+

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Lynn Hilgers

    Despite having purchased a dry bag, I still managed to dunk my Canon T3 during a kayak trip down the Current River in Missouri.  Not because I tipped or dropped the camera, but because I waded into relatively shallow water to help someone unsung their raft that was pushing up against the roots of a downed tree.  I forgot to take the camera off and leave it on the beach (they were like 2 or 3 feet from the gravel bar we had stopped on) and missed my footing or something and went sploosh for about a second.  So I didn’t do all the steps because I had no info at the time.  I dried the exterior, then opened to see if the interior was soaked.  Some drops inside, tried to turn it on (I now know, bad!).  No joy, heart sunk.  We were about a 3rd of the way through a 5 hour float.  Each time we stopped I took off the lens and let it sit in the sun.  Put it in rice when we got back to our lodging but hadn’t immediately taken out the battery.  Read this post the next morning and did the steps I had missed.  Anyway, tried the camera after 6 days and it powered up but the display screen was showing pics as negatives and then stopped.  Heart sinks again but put it back in the rice.  Got it out today (after another week in rice) and the screen is still weird but the main camera functions appear to be working in good light.  Flash does not work and the display screen is not very useful, but the pictures are correct when downloaded to the computer.  So I can save up a little before buying a replacement!

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  2. Ji Hoon Heo

    My good Kiwi friend told me this haha “If your electronics get wet, try putting it in dry rice. At night, the rice will attract the Asians who will fix your electronics for you.”

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  3. Kurk Rouse

    I wish I knew about this when my D7000 fell into salt water , I thought I was composed during the whole experience, but now that I look back at that moment I may have been in some kind of shock. HA….. :(

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  4. Owen

    It can be hard to figure out the right game console for you.
    At least we earn money from doing something that we really loved.
    Their true job description should be something more akin to Quality Assurance Provider, as they are making certain that the game works as it should, flows smoothly, and is fun and engaging.

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  5. Anette Mossbacher

    Great advice how to solve this. Not happened yet to me, but you never should say never :)
    Will keep it in mind for sure.
    Thanks so much

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  6. Peter Hill

    A good guide, but the most important thing to do is take the battery should be taken out of the camera immediately upon retrieval, don’t even think about switching the camera off and on. On your way to your rice, use the car heater to blast the interior of the camera (drive safe). Use a hair dryer for same purpose when you get home and before placing the camera with rice. And put the camera in a thin fabric such as a thermal before placing it in the rice – you don’t want a grain getting stuck inside.

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    • Kailene Klix

      Hi I know I’m late but wondering if I missed this and rice did get stuck in my camera do you know a fix? Can I bring it into a camera shop to be taking apart and cleaned? Thank you!

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  7. Charles

    My dad dropped a Canon AE-1 in a creek about 30 years ago. He put it on our fireplace mantle for a week and it dried out and functioned normally. It is still working today ;)

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  8. Mike Rickard

    In my day job I see a lot of liquid damaged electronics and most times people try to salvage them with rice and most times it doesn’t work as the damage is already done. Sometimes you might get lucky but rice does nothing to counteract corroded circuits, so don’t be surprised if the reprieve is only temporary.

    Bottom line is, if you’re working near water, protect your camera in every way possible and make sure you have insurance.

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  9. Martin Joergensen

    I partly drowned one of my old Minolta flim bodies in salt water. The camera revived, but had issues with the shutter button years after. I finally cured that using contact cleaning spray, and the camera works today.
    But my track record with p&s cameras is more impressing. I have drowned three! All revived and one took four dips before it finally died. The story can be found here http://500th.net/articles/how-drown-canon-powershot

    Martin

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  10. Squirrel Girl

    I have 2 stories: The first one was back in about 1999 or so. I was on a big volunteer project and I was running the website. I had a very early version of a digital camera (a Nikon with 1.3 megapixels!) and a brand new film camera since digital wasn’t good enough for printing back then. We were at a state park and I went to the ladies room, but used the stall w/o the hook on the door. I took both cameras from around my neck and set them on the toilet tank. Whoosh, the film SLR went straight in the bowl. I fished out out in microseconds, but not before it got soaked. I can’t recall how hard I tried to dry it out (fortunately clean toilet water), but it went back to Nikon where I paid about 85% of the original cost to repair it. :-(

    The second story was much more recently. I use a Canon G11 in the Canon underwater housing for diving. I was doing decompression when I saw the water dripping, drip, drip, drip through one of the buttons into the housing. Yikes! And there was nothing I could do because I was on deco. I just held the camera as horizontally as I could, so the water wouldn’t slosh up too high. I skipped my 3 minute safety stop and surfaced as soon as my deco was over. That night I set the camera in front of the air conditioner. It worked. There was still some weird glow-y blobs on the LCD, but the camera was fully functional!

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  11. LuciCJ

    My Nikon D90 took a plunge into the snow last winter… I was careful to immediately wipe all visible traces of snow and brought it back to room temperature gently, leaving it longer in the staircase to warm up and then refraining from opening the bag for a couple of hours. Still, when I opened it, it sweated like feverish. Guess the rice advice would have been helpful, had I known it back then. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, the camera is alive and clicking.

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  12. Jesse

    Just dropped my D600 in a muddy grave… I tried the rice trick for a week but with no luck.. Thank God for my insruance!!! https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-frc3/971401_660385820670704_2098211366_n.jpg

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  13. mathias nielsen

    I would drown it in clean, fresh water for a minutte before drying it, to avoid salt. Or if you can open it, use a cotton swap with denatured alcohol on to clean the circuits. Salt leftovers on electronic circuits lead to instant rust in moist environments!

    Best wishes

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  14. Mead Norton

    I have drowned 2 Canon 5D’s and here are few extra tips:
    Once the camera has been submerged, do not try to turn it on and remove battery as soon as possible
    Where the camera is dropped also makes a difference- fresh water or salt water
    Even if you are able to get it running, it will probably never be the same and I would not want to trust it for a big shoot.

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  15. John

    I’ve brought two cell phones back from the dead by doing this. One plunged into the washer, the other into the toilet. One took two weeks to recover, but it worked! I call them my Lazarus phones.

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  16. Helmut

    While the rice trick can always be used in a hopeless situation, be aware that on the long-term, corrosion can be an issue. Especially when submerged into saltwater.
    So after a while, when the camera shows signs of malfunctioning, remember the original mishap!

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  17. Jack

    My 50d took a nose dive into 2 feet of water. I didn’t want to wait 6 days so when I got home, I took my wifes’ hair dryer, put it on low heat , placed it about 1 foot from the front of the camera with lens off and let it run for 2 hours. I was shocked that it started up and I used it for another 2 years!!!

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  18. vilo

    First of all take a all batteries out ASAP out of water damaged camera. The Sea water is corosive to the fine electronics such as digital camera. Its also not recommended to rinse in drinking water as it is not pure and also is corrosive. You should submerge the camera to container filled with pure 100% isopropyl for a day or longer and then use the rice as above. Hope it will help someone. Works with mobile phones too.

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    • Gavin Hardcastle

      That’s right Vilo. I forgot to mention that removing the battery and memory card immediately are a good idea. Luckily my memory card was fine as it hadn’t been in the water more than a few seconds.

      Another point worth mentioning is that before I placed the camera in the rice I opened all of the doors/slaps and left them open. That includes battery slot door, memory card door and those side flaps where the connectors live.

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  19. Fernando

    Thank for sharing this trick.
    Lost my canon 50d (was it 50d ?) 12 years ago in the salt water
    as I was walking along the beach.
    I have dry it with an hair dryer mais no hope.
    Arrived at home 10 days later a specialist told me it was too late :
    your trick is great (!) but with salt water, you need to wash it before drying it
    to take off salt (dive it without battery in clear water for at least a few hours).
    It’s amazing to think that if you want to save your camera from salt water
    that you even dont see (few drops are enough), you need to dive it completely
    in other water !
    It took me 10 years to throw it, sure, it didnt’t still work :-(

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  20. Sherri

    Yes that’s great but after living on a boat for a couple of years I learned that anything that is soaked in salt water never really dries and has a sticky film on it. So I always tell people to give whatever item gets wet a fresh-water rinse first (it’s already wet duh!) and then do the rice dry out procedure.

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  21. David

    I wish I would’ve know this when I spilt some beer over my camera……

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    • Gavin Hardcastle

      hehe, not sure if the rice trick works with beer David but you’d need a keg to have it fully submerged.

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  22. Ed King

    Good advice, wish I had come across this when my two day old 60D took a plunge in the water. My camera was pretty much toast I though, when I pulled it out of the water the flash was firing and the shutter was going off till no end. I ended up having to pull the battery and it sounded like everything was starting to fry from the inside out, not sure if this trick would have saved it but it sure would have been worth giving it a try.

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    • Gavin Hardcastle

      Was that in the ocean? My disaster was in a fresh water river so I expect salt water does more damage. I hope I don’t have to test it out ;)

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  23. Hanssie

    Cool! Wish I knew about this when mine went for a swim at the beach :(

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    • Salvador

      There is a really big chance that even dryed, your camera will dye because of the salt and not for the water, this rice trick is more reliable if done with non salt water. So dont be sad, knowing this problably woudnt save your camera anyway.

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  24. krishna rao

    Great one- A similar procedure was recommended for drowned mobile phone – Thanks

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