This is fascinating. I’m sure there are lots of photography jobs with very strict requirements like this one. Would be fun to do a column on all the weird photo jobs out there. If anyone has one they want to write about let me know.
For starters, due to the risk of flammable gas coming up the oil well, normal electronics are banned outside the living quarters. Smartphones are strictly forbidden and regular cameras require “hot work permits” be opened prior to use.
The idea behind the permit system is that all potentially-hazardous activities must be centrally coordinated by a responsible/accountable person, to ensure that risks are managed appropriately and ongoing operations do not interfere with each other. The permit must be signed by the rig’s on-board management and posted in a central location. The permit then expires when the approver’s shift ends. Even once the permit is approved, you still need to carry a gas detection device when taking pictures, to provide a warning if flammable gas is present. It’s kind of a pain.
So to avoid that hassle, we use explosion-proof cameras. It sounds cooler than it is.
The first time I ever heard the term “explosion-proof,” it was at a job interview for an environmental toxicity testing facility. We were doing a tour and I saw the words “EXPLOSION-PROOF” in big red lettering on the side of a refrigerator! My mind immediately went to putting bombs inside it for safety, but all it really meant was that the fridge would not act as an ignition source if flammable materials (solvents, etc) were placed inside. Kind of disappointing.
Flash forward about six years, and working with explosion-proof equipment is now a part of my job responsibilities. We use airtight seals, gas purges, current-limiting devices, and all sorts of other methods to ensure nothing ever starts a fire if there is a gas release. This is a highly regulated area of engineering with very strict design requirements. Level sensors inside gasoline tanks, blower fans for grain silos, and coal mine excavators all must be designed according to tight standards such as ATEX.
These standards are intended for heavy industrial equipment, and can result in some absurd designs when applied to consumer electronics like cameras. Here’s a picture of our $5,000 explosion-proof camera:
Big, right? For $5,000 and the size of a brick, you would expect a high quality camera, but no. My flip phone in 2002 took better pictures. You have to hold it rock-steady for 5 seconds to get a decent picture, and the auto-exposure adjustment gives you all-white or all-black pictures about 10% of the time. The rechargeable battery (that metal thing bolted to the front) dies in about 30 minutes. Zoom lens? Hah! Macro shots? Hah! It’s a terrible, god-awful camera — and it’s one of the best available. As a result of using this beast, I have gigs worth of blurry, grainy pictures from the rig. They’re good enough to put in a daily work report, but mostly not fit for publication on the internet.
Read the whole piece here: http://oilgas.quora.com/Taking-Pictures-Seriously