Recently a few members said they’d like to know more about camera repair or maintenance. A few years ago, I took a deep breath and jumped right into the deep end of DIY camera repair. Since then, I’ve scoured the web, assiduously bookmarking useful web page articles about various sorts of film cameras and downloading virtually any free repair manual I’ve found, for future reference, whether I owned the camera in question or not. In some cases, I ended up with one further down the track anyway, or I’ve been able to assist friends and acquaintances. So, in response to Cameron’s and Ruby’s requests for FSC members to take on the writing of articles on various topics, I’ve jotted down a few suggestions for how to get started, and where to find advice about film camera repair.
We all have to start somewhere. There’s a lot to be said for finding yourself a few inexpensive, basic, cameras on which to try your hand. Better to break a part and learn from your experiences, on a cheap and cheerful Zenit, or Praktica, than barge ahead and come to grief with your Leica or Rolleiflex—and you might actually manage to get whatever you start out on working—I did. But, there are a few books that you might like to find, first, to get an introduction to some basic principles of camera design and operation, and to learn essential ‘do’s” and “don’ts” that you’ll need to remember. Let’s look at some texts that will help you get started.
The enigmatic, controversial, eccentric, and (from what I’ve read), mercurial Ed Romney wrote his book on camera repair some years ago. In many ways, I find it to be the most helpful of all the reference books I’ve read, to date. Romney (now deceased) had a unique style of writing—he was opinionated, and minced no words about the merits of various types of cameras, including which ones are better to pick up for DIY repair and which, in his opinion, definitely are not. I doubt Ed and I would ever have seen eye to eye on a number of topics—because I seem to enjoy using and repairing such German classics as Voigtländer’s Bessamatic and Vitessa models, or Zeiss Ikon’s Contaflex SLRs. All unique, unusual and complex designs, with pitfalls for novice repairers. But Romney was an autodidact who used plain English, and wrote with a strong emphasis on practical techniques for getting repairs done without access to the factory tools or specialist equipment many manufacturer manuals typically stipulate. For example: His discussion about what he calls “backsighting” (his own term for the technique of using a trustworthy single lens reflex as an autocollimator) is a good example of his no-nonsense, practical approach to repairs, that works. It’s a procedure I’ve discussed, myself, from time to time in the FSC Facebook group.
Romney’s book was available to purchase directly from his own website until several years ago but since his death his website has lapsed. Electronic copies of it are out there on the web if you look hard enough or used hard copies turn up online from time to time.
Joe Lippincott has authored a book on camera repair which I’ve read some positive things about. I’ve yet to acquire this one myself, but, if you happen to spot it second hand you might like to grab it, as it’s said to be a decent effort. If you do, tell me what you think of it!
The Tomosy Repair Series
The best known publications available for budding camera technicians were those published by Amherst Media and written by US repairer/author Thomas Tomosy. Tomosy is highly experienced in a wide variety of makes and models. His Camera Maintenance & Repair Book 1 & 2 are introductory texts to fundamental and more advanced repair topics, respectively. I started off with these myself, when I wanted to develop some basic repair skills.
His subsequent books Restoring Classic and Collectible Cameras and Restoring the Great Collectible Cameras build on his first two volumes, going into more detail about specific classic camera models. I initially sourced Tomosy’s books from my local public lending library and you may care to check your own for them, also. I found myself referring to them so frequently I eventually purchased copies. Clean, used, ex-library examples can be found online via Amazon, Book Depository and Abe Books quite affordably, should you end up with a strong interest in repair work.
Tomosy’s texts aren’t perfect—if I was uncharitable, I could point out the occasional factual error I’ve confirmed from personal experience. And he and I will forever vary in our views about graphite as a lubricant for photographic equipment (I’m not a fan of it, except in one or two limited situations). But his books cover the basics you need to know about issues such as which cleaning solvents or lubricants to use, (and, more importantly, which ones not to use), as well as exploring useful tools you can purchase or even make yourself. In the absence of any other foundation series on camera repair, they rate as essential reference materials for newcomers.
I'm a photographer who images on 35mm or medium format film. I enjoy using older, all manual cameras from my collection, and I'm also a self taught camera repairer who can never resist just one more German classic (according to my long-suffering wife). We live on a few acres of forest and pasture near Hobart, with our two children, four Border Collies, three cats, alpacas, goats, geese, ducks, peafowl, turkeys and chickens, and Tasmanian native fauna species like echidnas, wallabies, kookaburras, bandicoots, (and many others). You can see more of my work here or via my Facebook page. I have also recently started a blog about my adventures in film and collecting and repairing old cameras.