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How do I learn camera repair as a trade?
August 28, 2005 2:28 AM   Subscribe

How does one go about learning classic film camera repair? (I don't need one fixed at the moment, I would like to know how to get into the trade. I have the eyes, fingers and mechanical aptitude for it.)
posted by loquacious to Technology (9 answers total)
 
Do you have a good camera repair shop in your area? I'd say ask them. I was going to suggest going to the excellent Calumet and asking them, but there doesn't seem to be one in AZ.
posted by scazza at 6:15 AM on August 28, 2005


I second scazza. I patronize a great camera shop for my repairs. Sometimes I have to wait a month or two for even a simple cleaning...because the one repair guy they have is so busy. Clearly, the demand exceeds the supply, and yet camera shops are increasingly turning to the digital trade. Anyway, I would start by asking places like this is there is the opportunity for an apprenticeship. Keep in mind that it would be a big, giant favor for anyone to train you in this -- why should they share their hard-earned knowledge, only to set you up in competition for the same market? So expect to and offer to pay well for the training.
posted by Miko at 7:28 AM on August 28, 2005


I'm assuming from the wording of the post that it is the business, not technical, aspect of old cameras that you wish to learn about. In that case, I'd suggest that your biggest clientele won't be photographers, but antique collectors. As with all antiques, learn your market: collectors will probably be looking for rare "name" systems like Leica, Nikon, Rollei, Voigtlander, Exakta, Speed Graphic, Linhoff, Brownies, etc. Buy 'em broke, fix 'em up, put 'em on eBay or look for auctions in your area.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:46 AM on August 28, 2005


I taught myself, but only up to a point. I ran the camera repair dept in a large store, and I learned to do some simple stuff just so they wouldn't have to send the thing out for weeks. I took junk cameras apart. Save all parts and screws with the corpse. The screws are not interchangeable between brands. Most of that stuff, you need fancy tools for, like a shutter timing thing. I think there used to be schools you can go to, but most of the old timers apprenticed out.

Easy stuff is like missing screws (duh), corroded battery compartments, changing the ground glass if it's changeable, cleaning the mirror (which is not really a job most people should do at home.) When somebody would bang the edge of a filter so the screw threads got buggered up and you couldn't get it off, I'd make a big production of out of the "special tools" in the back and whisk it out of sight. One guy caught me, on a lens that cost a fortune, and he said "You really don't have tools in the back, do you? Can I watch?" Not really, I'm gonna smack it in the middle with a pair of pliers, just hard enough to break the filter without touching the front glass, and then use the pliers to grab the ring, twist it inside so it's smaller, and just pull it out. He watched, and never even flinched, but that's how the pros did it.

Old film Nikons used to get a thing where the blades in the shutter mech would like explode, and they'd sit there in the mirror box all twisted up and partially out of the channel. That was either several hundred bucks for a mirror box repair, or "I get my Q-tip." If you stare at the mess a while, like a diamond cutter, you can find the key blade. Then you gently push on it with a Q-tip, it all flops back into place, and you fire it about 20 times. If it doesn't re-explode, it'll probably never do it again. (Never touch the blades with a finger, the grease can make them stick.)

There's a reason why mirror box repairs cost a lot more, it's a lot tougher job, and you do need the special tools. Lenses, generally not much you can do with those, again, special tools and a lot of training. You can learn to do stuff inside the top and bottom covers of the cam, though.

Lenses get a thing called "oily blades", which is a pro job if it's worth it at all. That's caused by the oil they leave in the round ring of bearings at the factory getting too hot in the car. The oil vaporizes, and then settles on the aperture blades in the lens. You can see the oil on them if you look, and when you change apertures, the blades look really sluggish.

There used to be a couple of specialized camera repair tool catalogs you could order from. You can do a lot with a few special screwdrivers and some inexpensive spanners and things though.

If you do anything to a non-SLR, remember the capacitor for the flash will store a lot of current for some time frame measured in millennia. Alcohol is good for a lot of things, but electrically conductive. Clean lenses with a fancy 10$ microfiber cleaning cloth, or a piece of an old silk blouse, and either your breath (which is distilled water) or alcohol. It won't hurt the multi-coating. Be more careful about plastic parts though, like viewfinders, and don't use it on a mirror unless it's already toast if you can't get the peanut butter off it.

Those litte tiny screws with a cross on them aren't Phillips, they're cross point, and don't try that until you get the right screwdriver, it strips the screws (Different angle.)

The point here is you can teach yourself up to a point, but after a certain point you will need training.

Good luck!
posted by unrepentanthippie at 8:13 AM on August 28, 2005


As a trade? There has to be something more financially rewarding. Everyone I know who works on manual cameras has been doing it for decades, and the work is being consolidated into fewer and fewer repairshops. There are less operations run out of homes, and more outsourced shops, places that stores act as front-ends for... just taking note of the problems, and sending it out. I think watch-repair is much easier to learn, in terms of classes and such, and must be easier to make a profit off of.

If you really love cameras, and are ok with it being a labor of love, I'd find the names of some of the old pros, and see what they say about training, or even working for them. There's info on photo.net about some of the trusted names.

I would guess that Miko is lucky to have such a shop nearby. In NYC a number of in-house guys have started operating out of their homes, and dealing with multiple shops.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 10:31 AM on August 28, 2005


C_D: Nah, I'm not really looking at it from a business standpoint of buying them and fixing them.

To elaborate, I'm interested because: I like repairing things. I've got really good hands, fingers, patience, and mechanical aptitude. I'm the guy in my peer group everyone turns to with broken gadgets and gear - even though my assets don't lie in experience, but simply intuition and mechanical ability. Though I have a fine collection of second hand tools, I don't really have the tools required for real camera repair.

They don't make mechanical film cameras like they used to, and they really wont make them like that ever again. Generally speaking about electronic stuff - camera or not - it's often cheaper to toss the faulty component or subsystem and replace it, or simply upgrade. Unless it's a niche and/or rare item, or is easily repairable.

It seems like there's a unique opportunity there for someone who is both comfortable with mechanical systems and electronic systems.

I'm not interested in piles of money, but doing something enjoyable and interesting that also puts a little bread and butter on the table would nice.

unrepententhippie: Thanks, both for the detailed response and the tip about the Nikon shutters. I'll keep an eye out for that on my FE2.

I think I'll have to call around the local shops and see if they're interested in an apprentice.
posted by loquacious at 4:46 PM on August 28, 2005


I did not tell you this, and I was never on this submarine.

When film cameras get old, the shutters go out of time a lot. The way this works, the cam starts with a short shutter time, and as you make it slower, it just takes the original time and throws it into a bunch of gears that turn repeatedly, until it counts so many revolutions of the original gear multiplied by the rest of the gears and now you're up to a 1/2 second or a 1/4 second or a whole second. There's a tiny screw in there that controls the timing, and you can adjust it by turning the screw.

Now. If you set it for a range of time you can hear, like 1/4 or 1/2 second, and fire it next to one that you know is good, and listen to it, you can time it by ear. The idea is if you get it right at 1/2 second, the original gear will be close enough for government work, or anyway close enough for color film. I have no personal knowlege of this, but I have heard, that if you smoke something first, it vastly improves your sense of time.

Try this at your own risk, I was never here.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 7:27 PM on August 28, 2005


Old film Nikons used to get a thing where the blades in the shutter mech would like explode, and they'd sit there in the mirror box all twisted up and partially out of the channel. That was either several hundred bucks for a mirror box repair, or "I get my Q-tip." If you stare at the mess a while, like a diamond cutter, you can find the key blade. Then you gently push on it with a Q-tip, it all flops back into place, and you fire it about 20 times. If it doesn't re-explode, it'll probably never do it again. (Never touch the blades with a finger, the grease can make them stick.)

I know this thread is going to eventually end up in a William Gibson novel.
posted by mecran01 at 7:46 PM on August 28, 2005


Cory will probably get there first.
posted by Caviar at 8:18 AM on August 30, 2005


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