• Getting to this page reflects a healthy skepticism about camera repair. Even the simplest cameras described on this site have precision components and tearing into them with abandon is likely to result either in an expensive repair bill or a disassembled camera that sits in a shoebox on your desk until you decide to offer it at the next garage sale. On this and the other Tech Notes pages, I have tried to give you some guidance that will help you estimate how much you can do.
  • NOTE. While the site began as one focused on a specific group of Kodak cameras, other subjects and brands have gotten their noses under the tent. In this Tech Notes section you will find lots of information that applies to general camera maintenance and some that may apply to other more specific categories, for example non-Kodak folders. I hope this section reaches and is useful to non-Kodak collector audiences, but it is always wise to ask yourself, just how much generalization you can draw from my explanations.


  • Tech Notes describes several levels of maintenance. You can follow the steps to clean up your camera without getting into the more complex processes like flood-cleaning a shutter. Cleaned cameras look better in a collection and take better pictures.
  • Start simple. Pick up a box camera for $3 at a garage sale and take it apart. It won't have a complicated mechanism. You will test your skills. If you can't reassemble it, you haven't made a large investment.
  • Buy a Kodak Tourist on eBay or at a garage sale. One with a simple lens should cost about $15. Restore it and experiment a little with medium-format photography. You will have to reroll 120 film onto 620 spools, but otherwise this is a simple experiment.
  • For your first effort, find a camera with a working shutter. Shutters are by far the most complex part of simple older cameras. You can do the cleaning described here without having to get into more complex mechanics.
  • Almost all amateur camera repairers get to a point where the complexity of the work and/or the value of the camera advise against going further. This is the point to put the repair into the hands of a qualified technician.


  • You probably know by this point whether you have mechanical aptitude, unless you are a woman. Too few girls are given an opportunity and the encouragement to test their mechanical abilities and often arrive at womanhood without realizing they have those abilities. Good visual and spatial perception and manual dexterity help with mechanics. If you have done other mechanical work--car repair, plumbing, home electrical work, sewing, woodworking, pottery, furniture refinishing--you have established that you have some skills that will transfer to camera maintenance.
  • Being well-organized is essential. The ability to see how a mechanism works, then retain either a mental note of that understanding or be able to make written notes or drawings is important in getting a camera reassembled correctly. Keeping removed parts identified and organized is essential.


  • Obviously, you don't need a large work area to do camera maintenance; four to six square feet is about right. A Formica countertop is generally stain resistant and cleans up easily. The only chemicals I use are glass cleaner, naphtha, leather dressing, shoe polish, and light oil. None of them is particularly toxic if left on surfaces, but if you use the kitchen counter you should clearly separate food preparation and camera maintenance operations. Naphtha is highly volatile and flammable. Your work area should be well-ventilated and have no open flames or other ignition sources.
  • Your work space should be as dust free as possible.
  • This area should be clean and well-lit. A task light that can be easily positioned is essential. A small, high-intensity light on a movable arm stays out of your way visually and provides focused light.
  • Small camera parts easily find their way onto the floor. A shallow 'fence' on the edge of your work surface will help prevent this.
  • Small plastic boxes with compartments--the kind fishermen use for lures--are very helpful in keeping parts sorted. You can identify the parts with small stickit notes attached to each compartment.
  • Small and medium plastic containers used for food storage are good containers for storing larger parts and camera chassis.
  • You will also need a place to store a small collection of tools.


  • Naphtha is lighter fluid. Having naphtha in a lighter fluid can is convenient. Buy one can, then refill it from larger cans you can get at the hardware store.
  • Q-tips are very convenient for cleaning the many small areas that collect dust and grime on a camera.
  • Lens cleaning tissue and fluid. Thomas Tomosy, the author of several camera repair books, recommends Windex and any soft tissue. Avoid any cleaner that is acidic. Other camera technicians feel safer using photo lens cleaner. While I use facial tissue and paper towels, I do find that lens tissue is effective in getting a lens sparkling clean.
  • A tooth brush is a good mildly abrasive way to clean metal and plastic parts.


  • While there are several entire curricula on camera repair and these are taught with textbooks and other instructional material, there are not many general camera repair books. Thomas Tomosy has written a series that include two volumes on general techniques, each of which also has sections on specific cameras. He also has two volumes that describe repair of older cameras--one volume for cameras before 1945, and the second for cameras manufactured between 1945-70. Don't expect lavishly illustrated, step-by-step instructions for a particular camera model. Camera manufacturers also publish manuals, some of which are quite extensive and others that are little more than exploded diagrams and parts lists.
  • Ed Romney has written basic camera maintenance texts and advanced texts for particular camera models.
  • Another source of support is the Web. There are sites for professional camera repair technicians to share information, but these normally require affiliation and certification as a professional. Discussion lists can provide an opportunity to ask questions and share information between photographers and collectors. Photo.net covers a broad range of forums on photographic subjects. Bob Monaghan's Mid-format/Large-format site is generally a distillation of discussion list threads that relate to these two formats; the site is large and primarily text-based. Browse the indexes for general topics or use the search feature to pinpoint specific information.


  • Tool quality. Many tools now come from Southeast Asia and are available in several qualities. Quality tends to follow price, so the $3 set of jeweler's screw drivers you buy in the budget bin at the drug store are probably made of soft steel and will bend and break in time. Better quality tools are available from hardware stores and specialty suppliers. You may find the same $3 screwdriver set at the hardware store, but they should be able to offer you an alternative quality.
  • Tool selection. Most of us collect cameras that we don't use on a daily basis. This allows us to build a tool collection gradually, buying new tools when we need them.
  • The tools you will need depend entirely on how much you expect to do. If you have a single camera that you would like to clean up, investing in many tools would be an extravagance. If you are starting or have a collection, a modest investment in tools will allow you to clean up new purchases and maintain your collection.


  • Most communities have at least one hardware store that will have a collection of precision tools.
  • Radio Shack has traditionally carried small tools of reasonable quality.
  • Probably the largest supplier of photographic repair tools is Fargo Enterprises, which has a paper catalog and also an inclusive Web site. They carry all of the Tomosy volumes.
  Magnifier. Sometimes known as a jeweler's loupe, a magnifier is essential for work with small parts. There are several styles. Monocles that clip on to existing glasses frames, binocular version worn like a cap, desk lamps that combine a large magnifier with a light source. Prices range from about $7-35.
  Small (jewelers) screw drivers. Though there are several styles--some with permanent handles and some with a handle that will accept a selection of bits with different ends--I find the ones with a rotating end on the handle to be very convenient. You can place your forefinger on the rotating end and spin the shaft with your thumb and middle finger. You will encounter many different screw head styles across a broad range of cameras. With the Kodaks described here, assorted sizes of slotted and Phillips head screwdrivers will satisfy most of your needs.
  Pliers are often a little large for camera work, but you should have at least one pair with fine needle points and another with flat jaws. These should be small precision pliers, typically about five inches long.
  Brushes. You will need a soft lens brush, a stiffer bristle brush for cleaning camera body areas, and a toothbrush for scrubbing.  
  Blower. You need a source of clean dry air that you can use to dislodge dust. The simplest device is a small plastic bulb with a plastic nozzle.
  Tweezers are essential for grasping the small parts used in cameras. Ones with curved or offset points seem handier to me. Tweezers made from very strong metal are important, since the surface area you are applying pressure to is very small.
  On higher quality cameras, you will find screws with heads that require a spanner wrench. Don't be tempted to attack these with pliers; very likely you won't loosen them, but will distort the holes. If you have cameras with these kinds of screw heads, invest in an adjustable spanner wrench. You will also use these to remove the rear retaining rings on lens/shutter assembly, especially in folders.

Rubber bottle stoppers can be used to loosen threaded lens elements. You can find these at hardware stores in various sizes.

  Lens element wrenches. Except for scale focusing lenses, front lens elements, and all back lens elements, are threaded and tightened into threaded sleeves in the shutter. If the rubber stopper will not loosen the element, you will need a tool like soft jaw pliers or special lens clamps to remove them. In my experience, only a small fraction of lenses require this kind of tool.

Specialized tools. There are many specialized tools for cameras--special wrenches, lens clamps, lens rim straighteners, special screwdrivers and pliers that allow you to deal with exceptional situations. These tend to be expensive and have limited usefulness, though sometimes the right tool is the only way to attack a problem.





05/12/2006 16:26