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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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Why repair cameras?
Old 12-31-2010   #1
Roger Hicks
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Why repair cameras?

As a business, that is: not from the user's point of view, but from the repairers'.

Doing a proper job -- several hours skilled labour -- is going to be EXPENSIVE.It doesn't look like an attractive job for someone like (say) the late, great Marty Forscher, with the intelligence and dexterity to do it.

How many camera repairers are there out there under (say) 40?

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Old 12-31-2010   #2
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Just been pondering this myself Roger. There is a very good young fellow in the Philadelphia area, who did magnificent work on several of my very battered F4 bodies.

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Old 12-31-2010   #3
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As a business the answer is easy, it is to make money so the owner and the employees can be paid (much like every other business).
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Old 12-31-2010   #4
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I can only speak for one, my friend Michael Levira at Kiwi Camera Service. Michael just likes precision mechanical things. He certainly is not in it for the money although between he and his wife they manage a reasonable existence. He comes from a family of independent business people. Besides his temperament is such that he is much better working for himself than someone else. That allows him to spend hours trying to build something or modify something that really has no viable economic return.

Roger, you are right thinking camera repair people are a rare breed.
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Old 12-31-2010   #5
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Beats working in a slaughterhouse?
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Old 12-31-2010   #6
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I wish I'd started tinkering with camera repair about 15 years ago, before my I got so entrenched in my career. No turning back now. Camera repair will remain a hobby.

That is the part that interests me the most about people who get started early with it, how they got started early enough to make it their focus before something else took hold.
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Old 12-31-2010   #7
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I suspect the business of camera repair is not unlike the business of antique clock and watch repair. We have a family heirloom mantle clock needing work. There are two people in our area doing this; both do it as a sideline. On a $ per hour basis, they couldn't make a living, but they enjoy it and in conjunction with a more mainstream job, they maintain a reasonable lifestyle. One of them gave me a suggestion on improvising a tool for camera repair!
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Old 01-02-2011   #8
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The camera industry has purposely and successfully adopted the business model of the computer industry, which is, obsolete them technologically in time for the warranty to expire, so that a) the manufaturer limits their exposure to warranty claims, and b) the consumer sees it has "throwing good money after bad" to repair something when its successor has better this or that. While there are a small number of people who for whatever reason choose to get them repaired from an even-smaller number of repair shops, most people just chuck their old ones and buy new.

Watches are a different story. A lot more people buy expensive mechanical watches than expensive mechanical cameras. And watches have always been seen as heirloom possessions, where cameras have not (putting aside a few Leica users who sincerely believe that their grandchildren will be using them some day).

High-end cameras owned by professionals get serviced under warranty, and repaired only if economical. That leaves "collectible" cameras, most of which are not worth the money to repair, but the owner nonetheless considers it a worthwhile expense in the name of sentimentality. I've been guilty of that many times! The one exception is probably the Leicas, which remain expensive enough that someone can actually charge enough per hour and still be busy enough to make a good living. In the US there are less than a handful, and none TTBOMK are <50.
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Old 01-02-2011   #9
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Pete Smith of Nikonsmith is, I'm afraid, a dying breed. He had over 300 Nikon F bodies to pilfer from, plus scores of others. Alas as he slows down there is no one to take his place. But then should there be? 30 years from now will anyone care if a M3 or an F can be repaired? And will there be anyone to do it? I suspect there will.
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Old 01-02-2011   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalintrigue View Post
I am not sure this is a concerted effort to purposefully obsolete things, rather, it's the nature of the technology to continually evolve.
But camera manufacturers could choose to intro new models in longer increments of time, embracing more evolution in each. The fact they come out with new ones in very short order with very incremental feature upgrades is what leaves me suspicious there's an economic agenda at play.
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Old 01-02-2011   #11
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Pete Smith of Nikonsmith is, I'm afraid, a dying breed. He had over 300 Nikon F bodies to pilfer from, plus scores of others. Alas as he slows down there is no one to take his place. But then should there be? 30 years from now will anyone care if a M3 or an F can be repaired? And will there be anyone to do it? I suspect there will.
I drove by Pete's shop (Fotocamera Repair) about three months ago and it was empty other than the empty display cases, with nothing posted to indicate a new location.
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Old 01-02-2011   #12
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I know a few, and most are getting on, but it may also be relative to culture.

Some cultures and economies have significant niches in repair of most things, am afraid those niches in the US are shrinking.

I recall two or three of the big companies had their factory repair in Prague for a long time, Olympus and Nikon are two I can think of, perhaps one of the lens makers?

Best to get items fixed / serviced while you can.

A proper valve job on a motor in Mexico may well be $150, but not for much longer.

Another question-- if you were a fine repairman of cameras, would you find someone to train to replace you?

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Old 01-02-2011   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kshapero View Post
Pete Smith of Nikonsmith is, I'm afraid, a dying breed. He had over 300 Nikon F bodies to pilfer from, plus scores of others. Alas as he slows down there is no one to take his place. But then should there be? 30 years from now will anyone care if a M3 or an F can be repaired? And will there be anyone to do it? I suspect there will.
I'm sure you have heard of Sover Wong in the UK. I've had a few F2's serviced and repaired by Sover who's work is fantastic. He says he only does F2's but he does F's on request. Passionate about F2's and he's got all the right tools for the job.
Living as I do in the Nederlands, Will van Manen and Cathy can't go unmentioned. A very nice couple, always willing to chat and explain stuff when I drop in.
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Old 01-02-2011   #14
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Ben, I think that manufacturers do want people to upgrade but do not expect us to buy every new model. I think Fred is right, people who have an old 6 mp camera should buy there newest model with no real great upgraded features from the last model. Those of us who are happy with our current camera should not get a new camera. We are not expected to buy a new car every year so why do people assume camera manufacturers think we will buy a new camera every year. That is unreasonable.

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Old 01-02-2011   #15
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Bob, this Matt F. sounds promising. Have you had him work on any M of yours? Do you know if he does work on Leica Ms?
I've not. When I first got my M5 and it needed work he didn't work on them- now though his site states yes for Leica M bodies- good news. When I next need something done I will give him a call. Fast turnaround back when I last used him.
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Old 01-02-2011   #16
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I must say I find it reassuring that there are quite a lot of qualified repair people knocking about, although like film emulsions, a continued dwindling of folk in the business of camera repair has become an accepted trend.

I'm not sure what the answer is, and must say you have raised an interesting question Roger, in asking what makes repair people tick. I imagine much of it is passion, but it seems lunacy to suggest so, to many people today, that someone would engage in something for more than the love of money. I will follow this thread with interest.
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Old 01-02-2011   #17
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Ben, I think that manufacturers do want people to upgrade but do not expect us to buy every new model. We are not expected to buy a new car every year so why do people assume camera manufacturers think we will buy a new camera every year. That is unreasonable.
I never said they expected us to, just that they pull out every trick known to the psychology of marketing to try to influence/persuade/cajole as many people as possible to do so.
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Old 01-02-2011   #18
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There is a Pentax repairman in Tennessee who iwill do a CLA, replace light seals and other small parts, and ship a Spotmatic back to the customer for $63.00. I would imagine it's mostly enjoyment and the fact that he has it down to an art.
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Old 01-02-2011   #19
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When we upgrade or replace our main computers, lot of everything else which hook up to them often require upgrade.
I swear I will keep my current laptop as is from here on, no more OS upgrade. My last upgrade nearly caused my scanner software replacement.
Manual film cameras on the other hand do not upgrade anymore, but there are autofocus film cameras out there which can run and share (with the most current DSLR) the most current lenses. I have to think 5 times before repairing an old set up, when I can get a used autofocus for a song and a new used lens for the cost of repair of an "obsolete" body. If this was a discussion about a car repair (not collector item), or a digital camera, our conclusion would be fairly obvious.
There is no equivalent in RF though. Maybe that's the reason Zeiss and CV do not produce digital models.
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Old 01-05-2011   #20
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IMO, the constant turnover with electronics is exactly what turns me off. I am making a more determined effort than ever before to buy something to do what I need and keep it as long as it continues to perform.

I always ask myself, is it the camera or the photographer?
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Old 01-05-2011   #21
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Chatting with a well known UK camera specialist, he bemoaned the amount of time spent on endless inconclusive calls with customers who couldn't bring themselves to send their cameras in for appraisal.

Of course he is always happy to chat but he wondered what the chat vs actual work ratio was.

He also paints cameras and despite what he charges is pretty certain that he doesn't really make money on this. So he'd agree that there is money in a straightforward CLA type job which can be done and invoiced quickly but anything that requires refinishing or rare parts is seldom financially rewarding.

Why then does he do it? Maybe because he used to be in a band...

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Old 01-05-2011   #22
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Quote:
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.....
How many camera repairers are there out there under (say) 40?
My guess is that when mr. van Manen of Will van Manen Kamera-Service vof in Holland retires, the workshop will be continued by ms. Cathy Kuiper, who joined the company in 2006, after being trained in-house
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Old 01-05-2011   #23
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I think I read somewhere that Pete was (is?) having health problems. Hope he's recovered.

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Old 01-05-2011   #24
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Maybe we should actually ask Don Goldberg, Sherry Krauter and John Hermanson why they do it. I'm just glad they're there.
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Old 01-05-2011   #25
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But camera manufacturers could choose to intro new models in longer increments of time, embracing more evolution in each. The fact they come out with new ones in very short order with very incremental feature upgrades is what leaves me suspicious there's an economic agenda at play.
The incremental time frame may have been a little different (but not that much), in the 70s and 80s with film, when auto exposure and auto focusing came along. Every manufacturer decided he could add some little twist that no one else had, to sell his cameras. New models abounded in SLR and P&S.
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Old 01-05-2011   #26
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I just ordered a folder from Jurgen Kreckel of Saylorsburg. There might be a business in refurbishing old folders, being somewhat simpler in design, but I doubt it. I'm just glad there still are people like him around.
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Old 01-05-2011   #27
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I think there is a wonderful opportunity for a young interested party to do some apprenticing and could find skills to make a reasonable living for the rest of his/her life. The internet has opened up the world market to shops like this. I do believe that with a little understanding and experience you can make a living for many years working for customers around the world.

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Old 01-07-2011   #28
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What I was really wondering is why anyone would take it up now. The youngest repairers I know are in their 40s; many are in their 50s and older (I've known some of them 25 years); and quite a few I've known are now dead. There have to be easier ways of earning more money.

I hope you're right, Bill, but equally, I can't help feeling that the internet provides so much extra scope for timewasters, whingers, liars and non-payers that it's a lot MORE risky than running a little shop like my nearest repairer's, maybe 15 miles away.

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Old 01-07-2011   #29
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Marty Forcher's shop, Professional Camera Repair was a thing of beauty. There was nothing else like it. A friend of mine apprenticed with Buddy, who did all the fancy machining and adapting different lenses to different cameras. Buddy's room was right across the hall from the main repair shop. Marty and Buddy designed the first Polaroid back for 35mm. Specifically the Nikon F. My friend Noah is somewhere up in Rhode Island these days, machining, repairing, and designing speciality photo gear. He is an expert repairing Polaroid cameras. He is a little over 50. I don't anyone else like him.
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Old 01-07-2011   #30
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there is a repair shop in this area that I use once in a while, saw a couple of 20-ish guys working at the benches in back; proprieter looks to be in his forties. pretty sure they're all from Russia. they seem to be keeping the doors open, even growing while everybody else has closed up

they did a decent job on my Barnacks.
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Old 01-07-2011   #31
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Why repair camera could be down to many things we now buy, the replacement is often less than a repair. I am sick of this though, we are filling landfill full of stuff that if it was well made in the first place.. This is down right morally criminal but as Neil Young put it; 'Its a Piece of Crap'. Gone are the days of good serviceable cameras, stereos, cookers and so on. Its sad to see these craftsmen go but, we are all just being fed tat.
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Old 01-07-2011   #32
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The reason we have some repairmen today is that there is still a generation out there that believes in fixing rather than replacing...
Whenever something breaks in our home our 19 year old daughter says..."Let's go buy a new one..."
I tell her it doesn't need to be replace just fixed...
I am a Service Technician for Printing Presses (not copiers, presses) so fixing things is what I do...I have no problem taking the Washer or Dryer apart when they quit working and normally it's a minor part costing less than $20...
When our Instant Hot Water dispenser ($110) quit working I took it apart and found it was a $2 part that went bad...I saved $108...

We live in a time now where people have been trained that once it breaks we just bite the bullet and replace it...
There are some things that replacing rather than fixing is smarter like...Irons & Toasters...stuff like that...
There are cameras out there that get repaired and the repair is more than the street value of the camera...they get repaired by owners who love them and have a sentimental attachment to them...something my 19 year old doesn't understand due to her age and the age she grew up in...
I have a passion for fixing things and that may be the driving force behind people who repair cameras...just a plain old passion for cameras and things mechanical...troubleshooting and a curiosity for... "what's inside there???"
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Old 01-07-2011   #33
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al1966 raises an important point. We have a new category of trash called e waste. Old cell phones, i pods, pda's and computers and it's nasty stuff that is difficult to recycle. Further, these products use up rare earth elements and other resources. It just may be that a long lasting film camera is more environmentally friendly. Joe
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Old 01-07-2011   #34
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al1966 raises an important point. We have a new category of trash called e waste. Old cell phones, i pods, pda's and computers and it's nasty stuff that is difficult to recycle. Further, these products use up rare earth elements and other resources. It just may be that a long lasting film camera is more environmentally friendly. Joe

Pretty soon we won't be able to throw away our light bulbs (CFL's) in the regular trash...they took away mercury batteries because they were/are bad for the environment and now they're cramming these things down our throats...all the while saying they're good for us...
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Old 01-08-2011   #35
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Pretty soon we won't be able to throw away our light bulbs (CFL's) in the regular trash...they took away mercury batteries because they were/are bad for the environment and now they're cramming these things down our throats...all the while saying they're good for us...
Well, mercury batteries are bad for the environment -- twice. Once during manufacture, and them again in landfill. In the shop or in your camera, they're fine. Same with cadmium (as in old batteries, old photo papers, even some films -- it was cadmium that killed Super-XX). The water that leaches through landfill can end up in your drinking water...

If people recycled things more, fewer things might get banned. Or of course they could buy things that are reparable, as you say. Even a toaster is reparable if it's good enough quality (Dualit).

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Old 01-08-2011   #36
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We are looking into led based light bulbs as a alternative to these CFL things. The problem is I am plagued with migraines and those cfl bulbs are a trigger so as they are removing trad bulbs I have to find some form of alternative. LED based bulbs though cost an arm and a leg plus a kidney though.
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