How a Little Bead of Silica Gel Drove Me Absolutely Insane (And Screwed Up My Canon 5D Mk III)

Silica Gel: it comes in packets that we often don’t care about or toss to the side when we receive electronics, bags, or anything really. Like it or not, it helps to keep moisture out of our goods. Sometimes though, silica gel can explode in your bag and the process of getting it all out can be a bit tedious.

This is the story of how one little bead drove me insane for nearly half a day. Grab a cup of coffee.

I’m writing this on Sunday, July 29th 2012. A couple of hours ago, I was trying to go through my gear to prep for a shoot tomorrow; a portrait session for a friend where I also test out the capabilities of the Canon 5D Mk III.

After reading about how Tom Bol achieved high speed sync with his monolights and radio triggers, I decided to try something a tiny bit different as an attempt to mimic what he did but in a different way. So I hooked my Phottix Odin receivers up to my Impact LiteTrek and a Canon 580 EX II. The transmitter was placed on the 5D Mk III and then I shot a photo to see if they all worked together. They didn’t. Then I pressed the test button on the transmitter and saw that the LiteTrek and the 580 EX II went off.

Puzzled, I took a couple more photos. It still didn’t work. I took the trigger off, reattached it, went through the menus and kept trying different things. Nothing worked. I knew that the combo worked only the other day and that the Odins worked with the Canon EOS M, so why would the 5D Mk III be any different? There is no way that something could have become problematic in such a short amount of time.

I decided to try it out later and see if my 5D Mk II worked with the Odins. Everything triggered with no problems, but I couldn’t achieve high speed sync with the LiteTrek. So I said forget about that and let me focus on the problem with the 5D Mk III. Afterall, I need to do a shoot tomorrow with it.

After much trial and error and exploring different problems mixed in with browsing around online, I didn’t find a single solution. Then I decided to update my Odins to the latest firmware update. After that was all done, nothing still worked.

I stepped back from the problem, did some ironing of my laundry, cleaned the bathroom, took a long shower, edited, cut my mailbox down to size, and even shot some video around the block using a SteadiCam. It was a nice distraction.

I came back and tried to Odins again, nothing worked.

I attached the 580 EX II to the 5D Mk III, and even that didn’t fire. That was how I knew it was a problem with the 5D Mk III and not the triggers. So I cleaned the contacts the best I could, and the flash would only fire manually at full power. I couldn’t work like that for a while. Well, I could, but I wanted to work in E-TTL.

Then I remembered a problem that happened with my Canon 7D where I needed to use a bobby pin and slide it under the sides of the hot shoe to depress a pin. Because the 5D Mk III was so similar to the 7D, this had to be the problem.

I didn’t find any pin problems, but what I did find was even more disturbing: there was a little piece of silica gel blocking the end of the hot shoe and preventing my flash and triggers to slide on perfectly. Therefore it also threw off the alignment of the contacts.

Using a pair of tweezers, I was able to extract it, and I was back in business.

Despite the fact that Silica Gel can be an awesome thing for us photographers by keeping our gear safe, it is often a good idea to protect all the little nooks and crannies.

So what does this tell me? Granted that this is an extremely rare occurrence but it got me thinking that Hot Shoe development may need to take a step up. The fundamental premise and design hasn’t changed in ages, but there must be a way to better protect it from dust or anything else without having to use a Hot Shoe cover.