Camera Maintenance and Repair
One thing that goes hand in hand with classic camera use and collection is how to keep a camera’s hundred-plus or more parts working as intended for use in the field or just pride of ownership. Camera maintenance is a significant consideration and commitment. The following comments are meant for the beginning collector or for someone who maybe inherited a collectible camera.
Learn how to safely operate
If you are lucky enough to have a camera Instruction Book -- read it and go through the various manipulations before putting film in it. Most instruction booklets start with an expanded view of the camera’s controls which are explained further in the text. Many have real-life pictures of the device in operation and do a good job getting you started. It can’t be stressed enough that these cameras are precision instruments and controls should never be forced! Doing so can cause irreversible damage to the shutter, lens, or film transport mechanisms. Most of the film cameras are obsolete or from orphan manufacturers where there are no repair parts available. One invaluable source of camera instruction information is Butkus Camera Manuals. Butkus,org will list scores of camera companies and their products. There are also many interesting links to related material and vendors.
Lens – clean front and rear elements with a clean, soft cotton cloth lightly moistened with 70% isopropyl alcohol then dry with a clean, soft microfiber cloth (preferred). Do not oversaturate cloth or drop solution directly onto glass elements (that will cause internal problems). Once clean, keep it that way with a soft brush or lightpuffs of compressed air. Lens caps and/or camera cases are helpful here in most instances.
Body – To get embedded dirt, fingerprints, or minor corrosion from metal body parts, use 70% Isopropyl, or in severe cases a little acetone (found in most nail polish removers). Be careful with acetone around painted areas as it will often remove paint. Leather can be cleaned with household leather products depending on the finish. Neatsfoot Oil can be useful in conditioning and cleaning old leather – but be careful as it may darken its color (spot test).
General detailing – Use brushes of various bristle lengths and stiffness, along with compressed air, will get into all the little crevices and corners that fill with dust and grime. When using compressed air, be careful not to drive dust into critical areas containing lenses or electronic parts. Many point-and-shoot cameras have been ruined that way.
Many newer 35mm cameras and accessories have some reliance on battery power either for metering, shutter, flash, or transport functions. One of the most common situations is when a camera is put away with the batteries still installed. This quite often leads to a serious problem when the battery leaks or spews noxious gasses. Usually, if not too bad, the chamber can be rehabilitated by careful cleaning of the contacts and holder, and the camera will continue to function with a fresh set of batteries. Use vinegar to clean the dirt and contacts - after a good amount of scraping. You can also use a silicon electrician’s grease (dielectrics grease) to obtain a good electrical connection between the battery and contacts.
A particular problem can be button cell batteries - usually loaded from the bottom of the camera. You may find that the meter or shutter still works fine with a 20-year-old mercury cell. It won’t for long. When these need replacing, use a silver oxide replacement if available, or an alkaline battery. These have a different voltage than the original mercury cell. The battery loses voltage over time, unlike the original mercury cell. In use, it is wise to calibrate the meter with a known source of light emission. Calibration can be achieved by adjusting the camera’s ASA speed dial to correspond with your standard. You can use a lamp shade set on low which gives a constant EV of 10 which can be adjusted to with whatever camera meter you’re using. Button cells are best bought online (five for the retail price of one).
This is a big worry looking forward. Certified camera repairmen are becoming few and far between due to age, failing health or vision, or occupational changes. The local sources I have used are out of commission. You can do some basic repairs yourself by using YouTube for instructions. Here are some camera repair specialists you can try:
Don Goldberg for Leica and Minox repairs (Wisconsin) www.dagcamera.com “the best but long wait”
JW Camera Repair for general work and meter repairs (Chicago) Jwcamerarepair@gmail.com “fast and reasonable but sometimes must send items back for re-do. Also does not speak English and works through his daughter Michelle Lee”.
Youxin Ye for Leica, RF Canon, and clones, possibly others (Chicago) email@example.com “Ye has set prices below Don Goldberg’s and shorter wait times – does good work with excellent communications”.
Woodward Camera Located in Birmingham, MI “good old-fashioned camera store that lists camera repairs as one of its services. Probably expensive.”
Please do not hesitate to give me a call or email regarding this topic. Sometimes what appears to be broken or not working is only a misunderstanding of how controls work or a procedure missing a step. If I can, I will be happy to help.
Chuck Fehl, 248-318-3771 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Submitted by Chuck Fehl, MiPHS board member. June, 2023.