Hot Shoe Blues
I have always had problems with the hot shoes on my
cameras. I shoot a lot of pictures very close to saltwater -
sometimes even wading in saltwater - and that invariably means
saltwater sprays all over my cameras.
Most of them have endured this otherwise rough torture, but a few have suffered the BHSCS (Bad-Hot-Shoe-Contact-Syndrome).
I have on more occasions than I care to remember expected my SB-800's to work their CLS-magic with my D200, but been sorely let down when they failed doing their wizardry and either staid completely dark or just didn't make full contact for full intelligent control.
Fair enough, because the flash and camera expect to be able to communicate through four contacts placed in the hot shoe, and these contacts have been very corroded - VERY - on my D200. They still are in a sorry state, but some cleaning has made them work most of the time. The flash does have these spring loaded spikes that are supposed to drive into the contact through any corrosion or dirt. But the layer of dirt, salt and oxidation found on my cameras has at times been too much - even to spring loaded spikes. You can see examples on the two images above. A bit of wiggling has oftentimes fixed it, but wiggling is - in spite of all the wonders it can work - a bad way of repairing things.
I have cleaned the contacts with an eraser. Yes, the type you use for pencils. That has worked really well. The only problem is getting one that is sufficiently small to get into the holes where the smallest of the contacts are located. I remember having a pencil-shaped eraser once, but haven't been able to find it lately. I'm sure my local stationary or book shop has one.
Helpful Nikonians have recommended a contact rinsing and protecting gel called DeoxIT and others have pointed to dielectric grease, which should be obtainable from electronics stores. I have once cleaned the contacts with a similar contact cleaner fluid and a cotton swab. That worked fine, but just for a while.
But my good friend and fellow Nikonian Henning came to the rescue recently with a nifty hot shoe cover. I have several of these for my old Minolta gear, but not for the Nikon ditto. That was before Henning gave me a couple. They are original from Nikon and called BS-1 in the strange but simple Nikon numbering system. They are generally available, although probably not stocked by any old local photo shop. The cover fits very snugly into the hot shoe, and protects it from spray and dirt.
For stuff like this, I always turn to Precision Photo (BocaPhoto.com), who has a ton of really useful accessories for almost any camera. Their Nikon selection is huge, and amongst the goodies you will find the above mentioned hot shoe cover (US$ 4.95) and a plethora of spare lids for all the openings on your Nikon as well as spare screw-in caps for flash sync outlets (4.49), screw-in caps for remote release outlets (4.49), LCD-covers for all models, LCD-shades, lens caps plus a few more things that you didn't imagine was available like spare battery doors, grips, locks and much more.
With the hot shoe cover in place I haven't had any recent flash failures. My only problem is where to put the thing while I use a flash on the camera. I usually stuff the cover in my pocket, but often forget to put it back on when I'm done.