What to do with a sandy digital camera?
March 1, 2012 10:21 AM   Subscribe

People who know about cameras, or who have had this experience - what should you do with a digital camera that gets sand in it?

My Canon S95 fell at the beach today, and now it has sand in it. It didn't fall hard; it was in my bag on the ground and slipped out of my hands right as I took it out of its case. Unfortunately, I had already turned it on, and sand got all up in the lens. Now, it makes a grinding noise when I turn it on and off (that is, when the lens extends/retracts).

On my way home I went into a camera/camera repair store and the picture the dude there painted was pretty bleak. After using some compressed air on the lens, he said the sand was inside, the camera would be broken soon, and I would have to pay a bunch of money to get it repaired. I don't know if I should trust that entirely. On one hand, he clearly despised me for doing something so stupid to a really nice camera (I actually think he wanted to see me cry), and there's something in it for the store if I get it fixed there - but then, I have no doubt that sand destroys cameras.

At the moment, the camera works fine, apart from the grinding noise. If you know anything about this, what do you think I should do? Is it even possible for the damage not to progress any further? What if I just use the camera until it actually stops working? (It seems like it will cost a ton to fix either way?) Should I put it away and stop using it until I can afford to get it cleaned? Or something else?

God, I can't believe I've done this. Thanks so much for any advice you can give me.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars to Technology (12 answers total)
My wife got sand in one of her point and shoots, and I can confirm that while it did work for a good while (with grinding noise and everything!) it did eventually cease functioning entirely. I think it took about 6-8 months. Though I'm sure it will depend on how much sand got in and how often you use your camera.
posted by Grither at 10:25 AM on March 1, 2012

I'd send it to Canon so that they can take it apart and replace what needs replacing.

In the interim, I'd stop turning it on and off (i.e., don't cause it to make the grinding noises).

The question will be whether it is economical to fix--I dropped a really nice Nikon digital a number of years ago and it made horrible noises; fixing it cost $150 or so, but the camera was $800 or so. Canon will give you a quote before they do the work.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:27 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry this happened. I'm afraid I don't have any consoling advice for you about this specific incident, but in the future if you want to take your camera to the beach, you might want to consider investing (a small sum!) in one of these. After losing a digital camera to sand and damp air in a similar fashion, I bought one and have been really happy with it.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:31 AM on March 1, 2012

I got sand in my point and shoot, and it made bad grinding noises for a while, then it stopped working entirely, THEN it started working again. This process took about a year, but it has worked great for the past year since it got better. I went through many cans of compressed air. I may not have had as much sand in mine to start with as it sounds like you do. But hey, there's always hope, is what I'm saying.
posted by mskyle at 10:40 AM on March 1, 2012

Yeah, my camera got some sand in it - and the lens opened maybe one or two times afterward - and then it was done. I tried everything. Had to buy a new one.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:43 AM on March 1, 2012

If you go the DIY route, let us know if it works. My DIY approach would involve a shop vac ...
posted by zippy at 11:04 AM on March 1, 2012

Sand is one of the worst things to happen to a camera. I'd get a second opinion if you don't trust this one guy, but I don't know how this could be fixed without taking it apart. The closest thing to a silver lining that I can think of is that, as expensive as repairing an S95 would be, it'd still probably be cheaper than getting another one.

dlugoczaj has a good point about getting a water/sand protection thingamadoo.

Alternatively, you could look into replacing your S95 with one of those schmancy weather-proof point-and-shoots, like the Pentax Optio Wg-1 or Olympus Tough TG-610, or something similar.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:05 AM on March 1, 2012

With an older camera, some sand stopped the lens cap from closing; we just ended up removing it and being a bit more careful when carrying it around. Then when I got a bit of sand in my S90, I had trouble with the flash going up and down, but it eventually worked itself out. You have a reasonable chance of something similar happening.

I'd just use it as long as it goes and hope it works itself out or lasts a while, but it depends on how risk averse you are. So if you do nothing, you're looking at maybe 50-75 percent chance of it working and your spending zero dollars vs. 25-50 percent chance of losing the camera and spending $300-$400 to replace, or if you chose to repair, spending "a bunch of money" - I'd guess at least $200 - and having a near 100 percent chance of having a working camera. And of course, those odds are complete guesses.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:20 AM on March 1, 2012

I would send it to Canon, not a local repair shop. Sand is very abrasive, and cameras are full of very delicate, precision-fit parts. A thorough cleaning may get all the sand out, but will not repair the damage that has surely been done. From prior experience, and just the tip of the iceberg, I'd expect your focus to be sloppy, possible scratches in the optics, and if the sand got in deep enough, stutters or limits to zoom range. Canon will be able to replace any needed parts, which is what is really needed here.

The S95 is a nice point & shoot, and expensive enough that repairing it (perhaps for half the replacement cost) still can make sense.
posted by xedrik at 12:01 PM on March 1, 2012

If you are determined to try to fix it yourself, maybe have a shop vac going with the hose over the lens when you turn it on, so that when the parts are moving, if there is an opportunity for something to get sucked away, the vac can pull it out of there.

I would probably send it to Canon for repair.
posted by markblasco at 12:42 PM on March 1, 2012

After getting some sand blown into a manual focus lens, such that extending it made grinding noises, a mail-order camera repair outfit charged me $50 to have it cleaned out. Works like new now.
posted by Hither at 8:42 PM on March 1, 2012

Thanks, everyone! I'm thinking the safest course of action would be to send it in to be repaired now... but that's not the plan. I bought this camera last year largely in anticipation of a trip I happen to be taking tomorrow, so I'm going to try and use it for ten more days, if it will let me. As for getting it repaired, I'm not sure. I paid 285 euros for this camera, and the camera repair store guy made it sound like it would be 150-200 euros to fix. Even if I somehow saved up 200 euros to put towards a camera (rather than like, my rent), I don't know if that makes sense. After all, I'd be over two thirds of the way to a new S95, or halfway to an S100. I just don't know yet. But I'm not going to buy a weatherproof camera because I'm never going to the beach ever again. :(

Thanks again for your advice, people!
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:45 AM on March 2, 2012

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