Testing an old Nikonos for watertightness

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mrmekon

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I just picked up a Nikonos V for a great price at auction, with the plan to use it as a boat/rain camera. I'm no diver -- barely even much of a swimmer -- but I would like to try an underwater shoot or two next summer, should the camera allow. The faint scent of sea tells me this one has seen the ocean before, but otherwise it looks like it is in perfect condition.

There is plenty of information out there about how to use and maintain these things, but almost nothing about how to test if it is water tight in the first place. The only thing I could find were instructions for building a pressure chamber, and I'm afraid that's extreme overkill for this little project. I'm well aware of all of the internal O-rings and the recommendation for yearly professional CLAs, but that's out of the question for my purposes. I ordered a set of user-replaceable O-rings and grease, and that's all it's going to get.

My main question is: do you have any advice on the safest way to test it for leaks? Should I just plunge it into a bucket and see what happens, or take a more gradual approach? Splash it first? Or dip one side at a time? Is there any good way to test it "gasket-by-gasket"? Furthermore, what is even the best way to tell if it is leaking?

Question two is a long shot... it came with an Aqua-Craft Novatek III underwater strobe. These things don't seem to be mentioned at all on the internet. The battery compartment of mine is a nightmare of rust and corrosion from a multi-decade nap with a couple of leaking batteries still inside, but that much I can fix. However, there is no gasket of any sort between the battery holder and the strobe body. It's just two pieces of hard plastic that crank down against each other very tightly. That can't be water tight, right? Does anybody know if this is supposed to have a gasket? I might just run a bead of silicone sealant along the whole rim...
 

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BrianShaw

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If you plunge it, which I'll be doing with my IV-A... be prepared to promptly remove the camera from the water at the first bubble.
 
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Check the instruction manual on how to replace the o rings and clean and grease everything. You could place the camera in fresh water in a bathtub afterwards to see f there are any leaks. Keep in mind that you'll have more risk in salt water and it'll be under greater pressure. Did you get o rings for the lens and other areas as well?

Here's a link for the camera manual and a search for the strobe.

 

Sirius Glass

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Order the correct Nikonos grease and O rings on the internet. Buy them by the bag rather than one or two since the shipping will dominate the price and the shipping price is about the same.
 
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mrmekon

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If you plunge it, which I'll be doing with my IV-A... be prepared to promptly remove the camera from the water at the first bubble.

I'm not sure I'll be able to tell the difference between surface bubbles and internal bubbles, but I'll certainly pull it out if they look like they're coming from a gasket area. I'm guessing it can also have non-bubbling leaks, though.

I think I might try submerging the six sides independently first, before going for a whole plunge. There won't be much water pressure, but it will be more obvious where any leaks originate from.

Do those links work from Sweden?

Yes, but not too helpful in this case, I'm afraid. I've read the manual and all of Bob Warkentin's page (Southern Nikonos), which both start from the assumption that you have a working and recently-serviced camera. I'm dealing with one that has been stashed in a musty basement for 25 years and trying to determine how much life it still has left in it. I'm mostly concerned about the internal, non-user-serviceable seals.

Both Nikon and Bob recommend sending it in for service at the first sign of a leak, which I won't do. So my question implies: how do I test it without triggering a leak in a sensitive area, and how do I best identify and recover from such a leak if I do cause one.

The Novatek google search just confirms what I said before: "These things don't seem to be mentioned at all on the internet." :smile:
 
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mrmekon

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Order the correct Nikonos grease and O rings on the internet. Buy them by the bag rather than one or two since the shipping will dominate the price and the shipping price is about the same.

This I have done. I will replace and regrease those four, and give everything I can reach a very thorough cleaning. But there's something like 18(?) more that can't be replaced, and who knows what condition they are in... or where they leak to if they are bad?

I'm quite optimistic, since it looks just fine. The outer seals are dry and a bit dirty, but not obviously compressed or damaged.
 

bdial

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I was told that if I don’t intend to submerge the camera, just servicing the external o-rings is fine, it will be plenty waterproof for rain and other inclement weather.
 

Melvin J Bramley

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The Nikonos takes very good images.
Mine failed through lack of maintenance.
After a flight to Mexico I suspect my Nikonos sucked in a destructive amount of moisture and corroded.
 

ic-racer

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Before going in salt water with the camera you might want to read this important user's information. I read it all and decided to use mine above land only as a 'bad weather' camera. I don't live anywhere near salt water so no chance of salt water damage anyway.

 

GRHazelton

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Check this website: https://www.southern-nikonos.com/ There seems to be some confusion over whether or not the site is still active, since the proprietor died recently, but it looks as though someone is running the business. Lots of good info.
 

SteveInNZ

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Try your local dive shop and see if they have a pressure pot for doing exactly what you want to do. You fill it with water and plug it into some compressed air. You'd want to pass your bathtub test first.
I stuff the thing with toilet paper, do your test and then remove the paper carefully, checking that it's dry. You need to dry the outside well with compressed air first, or you'll get water from the outside when you open it up.
There are indicator strips that change color with water.

Steve.
 
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mrmekon

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Try your local dive shop and see if they have a pressure pot for doing exactly what you want to do. You fill it with water and plug it into some compressed air. You'd want to pass your bathtub test first.

I probably won't go much deeper than a bathtub anyway... I have thalassophobia :smile:

I stuff the thing with toilet paper, do your test and then remove the paper carefully, checking that it's dry.

That's a good idea, though maybe with a stiffer paper. If there is a leak, I don't want melted toilet paper crumbs all over the inside.

There are indicator strips that change color with water.

That's a very interesting idea. Any idea how sensitive these things are? I would worry about false positives.

They also sell silica gel desiccant balls that change color when exposed to moisture... maybe a tea bag full of those would be good. Though a nightmare if any of the rocks escape...

Then the question is how to get them to the most important areas. Checking for leaks in the film compartment and behind the lens is fairly easy, but those don't instant-kill the camera. The areas I really want to test thoroughly are wherever the electronics are hiding.
 

film_man

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Check this website: https://www.southern-nikonos.com/ There seems to be some confusion over whether or not the site is still active, since the proprietor died recently, but it looks as though someone is running the business. Lots of good info.

If anyone contacts them please do report on whether the business is going or not. There's also this one https://www.narcosis101.com/ if you follow the links therre's a $20 pressure test option. I contacted him a year (or two?) ago and full service was around $130 if I can remembmer, roughly the same as what I last paid Southern Nikonos. I have since sold my Nikonos V but if you are serious about using it the $130-150 service is worth having, these are amazing cameras, I sort of regret selling mine but in the end it hadn't seen water in 2.5 years and wife got me a GoPro which is infinnitely more fun with the kids splashing about...
 
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My Nikonos IVa is over forty years old and looks great although I haven't taken it for a swim in over 25 years. My old o rings and seals look great just the way they are.

If your camera was just sitting in an attic, I wouldn't worry too much. Get a new set of o rings with light grease and you should be OK. Using it in the rain shouldn't be a problem. When you get to use it underwater, the worse that will happen is it will leak and you'll lose one roll of film.

Note that when you replace the film each time, check the seals to make sure there isn't any dust, hairs or other things on them that would break the seal and cause a leak.

Your bigger issue is the strobe light. I can't help you there except to suggest a pro look at it.

Also, keep in mind that U/W strobe lights are more important at depth when you're scuba diving where it's darker and the colors fade without a strobe. If you're shooting near the surface under ten feet let's say, there should be enough light to get decent pictures just from the sunlight. Shoot with at least an ISO 200 color film.
 

SteveInNZ

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That's a good idea, though maybe with a stiffer paper. If there is a leak, I don't want melted toilet paper crumbs all over the inside.
You're just looking for the little leaks. A drop at a time.
The idea of the soft paper is that you can see where the leak is and attend to it.
If you have a catastrophic flood, you won't mind hosing out the inside anyway. It can't get any wetter. It's quite rare that you have a catastrophic flood. Usually you'll open up a camera after a dive and there's a teaspoon of water in there.

That's a very interesting idea. Any idea how sensitive these things are? I would worry about false positives.

The stuff I'm thinking of is like Litmus paper but changes from Blue to Pink slowly in high humidity and instantly in contact with water.
It might be called Cobalt Chloride paper but it's been a while.

Steve.
 

Sirius Glass

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My Nikonos IVa is over forty years old and looks great although I haven't taken it for a swim in over 25 years. My old o rings and seals look great just the way they are.

If your camera was just sitting in an attic, I wouldn't worry too much. Get a new set of o rings with light grease and you should be OK. Using it in the rain shouldn't be a problem. When you get to use it underwater, the worse that will happen is it will leak and you'll lose one roll of film.

Note that when you replace the film each time, check the seals to make sure there isn't any dust, hairs or other things on them that would break the seal and cause a leak.

Your bigger issue is the strobe light. I can't help you there except to suggest a pro look at it.

Also, keep in mind that U/W strobe lights are more important at depth when you're scuba diving where it's darker and the colors fade without a strobe. If you're shooting near the surface under ten feet let's say, there should be enough light to get decent pictures just from the sunlight. Shoot with at least an ISO 200 color film.

Old O rings and dried out lubrication will not help if taking photographs while walking in a ran storm or going behind Niagara Falls to take photographs.
 

Swordman

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Waterproof watches can get pressure tested without even getting wet. It's done in a pressure chamber. Perhaps you can take it to a watch shop that provides that service. This is assuming the camera can fit in the chamber normally designed for watches. The advantage is, if it fails the test, you won't damage the camera.
 
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mrmekon

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Watchmaker pressure chambers are also interesting... but I'm probably overthinking this, and I'll just try some toilet paper and a bucket of water and see how it goes.
 

film_man

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If you're really serious about using the camera underwater just send it for a service and be done with it. Also, where exactly will you stuff the toilet paper to check the o-ring under the advance crank doesn't leak? Some of the o-rings protect things you don't get access to without disassembling the camera. You assume that the water will all go toward the bottom of the camera in the film chamber or front of the shutter box. But there are plenty of other places it can get to.

So for all you know, the back and lens rings won't leak but the camera will have just that one drop of water in the right place, ready to die when you put the batteries in after the "successful" test you just completed.
 
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mrmekon

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If you're really serious about using the camera underwater just send it for a service and be done with it. Also, where exactly will you stuff the toilet paper to check the o-ring under the advance crank doesn't leak? Some of the o-rings protect things you don't get access to without disassembling the camera. You assume that the water will all go toward the bottom of the camera in the film chamber or front of the shutter box. But there are plenty of other places it can get to.

Well, no, I don't assume that. This is exactly what I'm asking about here: what can leak, where does it leak to, and how can I find those leaks if they exist? Disassembly is absolutely an option. I have screwdrivers!

Sending it away to be serviced is not an option. At about $250 for service plus round-trip shipping across the world, that's a hell of an expense to shoot a couple of rolls of film. If it's leaking, it's leaking... I won't use it underwater.
 
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