- 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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- A tooth brush is a good
mildly abrasive way to clean metal and plastic parts.
BOOKS AND INFORMATION SOURCES
- 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
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.
SOURCES FOR TOOLS AND SUPPLIES
- Most communities have
at least one hardware store that will have a collection of
- 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
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.
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.
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.
will need a soft lens brush, a stiffer bristle brush for cleaning
camera body areas, and a toothbrush for scrubbing.
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.
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.
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.