In Part One of this series we looked at the various books which are available to help you get started. But you may be keen to get on with repairing a particular camera. You should definitely invest a little time, first, procuring specific information about whatever problem ails your camera patient, its likely causes and potential fixes for same.
The digital age we are living in has arguably been the prime cause of the decrease in popularity of film photography. But the internet means that it has now never been more convenient to seek information and advice about rehabilitating a very diverse range of film equipment. Of course, there is always Google, but, the following list of online sites, by no means exhaustive, covers some of the online communities and independent sites where you’re likely to find information pertinent to camera repair. We’ll look at them according to type. In no particular order:
Internet forums can be a love/hate experience for many people and photography ones are no exception. I have my own ideas about these, and you may well disagree with them. Nevertheless…
The Analog Photography Users Group (APUG) is one of the few online communities dedicated solely to film imaging. Unsurprisingly it includes members who have been shooting film and fixing film equipment for many years. Hasselblad specialist Douglas Fairbanks is one such highly experienced, and knowledgeable, member, who definitely knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Hassys. When he posts, he is always worth listening to what he has to say. So is Dennis Purdy, who has been shooting with Rollei TLRs longer than some of you have been alive.
On the not so positive side, after a number of years of lurking at the site and more recently, making the occasional post, I’ve definitely noticed that a lot of APUG members shoot from the hip without doing a little basic homework first. The Dunning—Kruger effect is very much in evidence at the site (Google it, if you need to).
Do not be mistaken—APUG also has some highly experienced and knowledgeable members, however I find the signal to noise ratio to be too poor. But it’s a site that contains a trove of valuable knowledge with a history of members who have done a lot of repair work. You may search its archives for relevant information whether you are a member of the site or not. It has a subforum dealing with Camera repair.
photo.net contains much in the way of repair information about a wide range of film equipment. In web terms, it’s been around for a very long time, indeed, back to the 1990s, and its search engine also does a better job than some forums of finding relevant hits. As is the case with APUG, you do not have to sign up to the site in order to search and read their discussions. A core of collectors and capable photographers who, like me, are enthusiastic about using their classic and collectible kit, such as Rick Drawbridge, JDM von Weinberg, Tony Lockerbie, and Subbarayan Prasanna (to name a few) keep me coming back to photonet’s “Classic Manual Cameras” forum, (despite the occasional frustration with a few of its members). If you are having a problem with one of the more unusual or classic types of models, photonet’s Classic Manual Cameras forum is the place to ask for help.
Stephen Gandy hosts an online community for photographers which has evolved out of an initial focus only on classic film Leicas, Contaxes, and other rangefinder cameras into a site that caters for all aspects of photography, film and digital. It does however retain a solid core of members who are active film photographers and they use all types of equipment from large format to 35mm.
RFF is often criticised as being a very gear-centric site—and this is undoubtedly true. But, when one is in need of information about one’s camera (or what ails it) perhaps this is exactly what you need? My perspective is that its membership has a generally higher level of theoretical and technical knowledge than most similar communities. Calling it a just a “gear site” also does a disservice to many of its members, many of whom really know how to shoot.
RFF has many specialised sub forums. The most topical for the purposes of our discussion is the Repair/Camera Care area.
Here, you will find threads with questions and replies including from some members who are highly competent camera repairers. Random topics covered over the last year or so include DIY re-silvering of a Leica M beam splitter prism, and a DIY Leicaflex strip down and repair that ended well. Both activities not usually regarded as the most straightforward of tasks. I’ve had a fair amount of experience in persuading a range of various German and Japanese cameras to work well, so I frequently post there myself, if I can provide any useful input.
Until several years ago, the best online site for film camera repairs, bar none, was the Classic Camera Repair Forum. Dealing exclusively with repairs to film equipment it was the first place to consult, if one needed input on fixing a particular item. Sadly, due to forum software problems the site closed permanently a few of years ago and the disappearance of its archives was a huge blow to DIY repairers. Following the collapse of the site it has been picked up at RFF courtesy of Stephen Gandy. The original CCRF is available to view in archival mode (read only), thus enabling hundreds of topics containing very specific and helpful information to still be accessed. You can view the forum archives, as well.
As it is now hosted as a read only archive, the original search engine of the CCRF site is still visible on screen, but it no longer works. My suggestion for finding relevant hits efficiently is to take advantage of the search functionality your web browser includes and scan the relevant hits in the thread titles on each of the archive pages. Eg. “Control + F” for Firefox lets you search for, and then scroll through relevant hits for the keywords you need to find.
With the presence of a number of active DIY repairers, a high level of technical expertise and the Classic Camera Repair Forum archives, I think Rangefinder Forum is currently the most useful web forum for repair related queries.
Yahoo has a Groups system catering for innumerable general interest topics. Included in these are a few camera-specific groups you could consider joining in order to search and view their archives or perhaps even posit a query of your own. The groups catering for Rollei and Zeiss, in particular, include cores of people with solid historical knowledge and/or technical expertise—in some cases they are even the authors of foundation texts on some of the makes of camera. If your interests include the classic Rollei twin lens or single lens reflexes, or the lenses and cameras connected with Carl Zeiss/Zeiss Ikon, (as my own definitely do) you might also like to check them out Rolleiusers and ZICG.
There is also a Yahoo group catering for general camera repairs. It isn’t super active, but it has been around for a number of years, so it also features a decent archive of discussions and these cover a lot of ground.
Facebook seems to have a group for just about anything these days, and camera repair is no exception. The Film Camera Repair Directory and Resources group is not particularly old, but it concentrates on repairing, so it may also be worth joining if you use Facebook, as you can network with other enthusiasts who may be able to offer referrals or even advice.
Many types of cameras have dedicated Facebook groups of their own too, of course. These have their resident “experts”. If you’re lucky, some of them might even know what they’re talking about! I tend to avoid them these days, personally, I’ve learnt from bitter experience that some people don’t take it too well when informed—no matter how tactfully it’s done, or how much evidentiary material is tendered—that they’re actually wrong about their cherished make or model. The Dunning—Kruger effect strikes again! So I’ll let you seek such groups out for yourself. Perhaps you’re more tactful than me, and will find them easier to fit into. Just remember that in the age of the web, everybody can be an “expert”, even if it is only in their own imagination…
There are, of course, any numbers of camera enthusiasts or bloggers who have authored articles about various repair procedures. These can range in quality from as good or better, in some cases, than a manufacturer’s own, to truly woeful. The latter can be quite dangerous, initially until you develop a basic level of proficiency needed to work out what you know, and what you don’t know. I can, however suggest a few people I’ve personally found to be consistently knowledgeable, reliable, helpful and—quite critically—accurate.
At the very top of this list is American Rick Oleson. Rick is a truly versatile repairer of all manner of camera makes and models, old and not-quite-so-old. Equally at home replacing the shutter ribbons of a pre-war Contax, delving into a rare Ducati half frame or fettling an American Argus RF, he’s that rare kind of repairer who can turn his hand to almost any kind of camera, and get it working properly. He’s also a really nice guy, generous to a fault, and irrepressibly helpful. His website contains a raft of information, sketches, tips or great advice about persuading all manner of cameras back into life. Rick has my unqualified endorsement.
Hans Kerensky is another name one finds oneself running into again and again, when researching camera repairs. Like me, for the most part Hans tends to work on the classic German camera makes although he has taken on the odd Japanese type occasionally. Hans doesn’t run an independent site, but his Flickr account comprises an unrelenting stream of photos showing various aspects of his repair jobs to numerous models. He’s another helpful enthusiast who frequently comments on repair queries over at Rangefinder Forum.
Chris Sherlock of Dunedin, New Zealand, is arguably the best known expert on the Kodak Retina cameras. (The various Retinas, whilst some of the finest cameras ever to wear the Kodak name, and available with high quality lenses from makers like Schneider and Rodenstock, were actually German-made at the former Nagel camera works). Chris has also mastered the workings of Kodak’s notoriously complex Retina Reflex leaf shutter SLRs, and he is one of very few professional repairers actively taking on repair work for these interesting cameras.
Chris is a lens shutter specialist, and he’s uploaded an increasing number of texts about the repair or adjustment of various German Kodaks to his website aptly named Retina Rescue. But his excellent articles about topics such as the Synchro Compur shutter (used in so many of Germany’s finest cameras and lenses) makes his site an interesting, and valuable, resource for owners of other German cameras, too. Chris is another really helpful person who happily shares his knowledge freely, despite being in the business of repairing classic Kodaks—the sign of a genuine camera enthusiast.
Further topics that can be covered may include some case studies of certain configurations of cameras. Depending on sort of kit what members have an interest in I’m happy to document some future repairs I do and walk through the process of making them work. Alternatively, general topic such as: Eg. focus calibration for TLR; focus calibration for SLR; servicing a basic focal plane shutter design; lens shutter cleaning or other topics could be discussed.
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.