When you shoot old gear, you have to expect it will develop faults sooner or later

Nikon F3, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Superia Venus 800

I took my Nikon F3 along on a trip to Chicago with Margaret early this month. I shot two rolls of color and one of black and white in it. The color rolls are back from the processor and immediately upon opening the files my heart sank.

Dollars to doughnuts my F3’s light seals have failed. This red streak appears in direct proportion to how long it was since I made the previous photo. A photo made quickly after a previous photo didn’t leave enough time for light to sneak past the failed seal.

I’m going to try to replace the seals myself. I’ve never done it before, but I’ve read instructions and it looks tedious but totally within my skills. A set of seals with instructions were just $12 on eBay (here). Many thanks to everyone who has “bought me a coffee” with the button at the bottom of each post for your part in buying those seals!

This makes me realize, however, that I should send my F3 out for CLA (clean, lube, and adjustment). This is one of my go-to cameras — indeed, it’s the only camera I’d keep if I could keep only one. I want it to work reliably for the long haul. The friend who donated the F3 to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras suggested Blue Moon Camera and Machine for the CLA, and so that is where it will go.

Several cameras are in my CLA/repair queue. First up: my Nikon F2A, which has had a fussy meter for as long as I’ve owned it. It’ll go to Sover Wong in the UK. Eric Hendrickson will eventually get both my Pentax KM, which I dropped and damaged the last time I used it, and and my Pentax ME-F, which has an inaccurate meter. I also want to send my Yashica Lynx 14e to Mark Hama to give it an overhaul and correct its meter, which is a stop off.

I have also received a Pentax ME Super and a Kodak Retina IIa from a reader, both of which minor issues. I’ll put test rolls through both as soon as I can, but I’ll be shocked if I don’t enjoy them and want to keep them. They’ll end up in the CLA queue too. The Pentax will go to Eric Hendrickson but the Retina will go to Chris Sherlock in New Zealand.

Finally, my sister-in-law gave me the Kodak Retina Reflex III that had been her father’s. My initial inspection shows that it basically works, though the meter is hit or miss. I’ll eventually put a test roll through it. If it functions well enough mechanically, I’ll send it to Chris Sherlock for overhaul in honor of the family connection.

Readers left lots of great suggestions about where to send cameras for CLAs and repairs in this post.

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34 responses to “When you shoot old gear, you have to expect it will develop faults sooner or later”

  1. J P Avatar

    You have described the terrible weakness of film cameras, which is that you only discover failures after you have taken *all* of your pictures from an event instead of after the first or second one. At least you lost “hobby photos” and not “important life event” photos as would have been likely in film’s heyday.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Welllllll, in the film era we tended not to use a camera for so many years that it would fail like this. This Nikon F3 is on the order of 30 years old!

  2. Dan Arnold Avatar
    Dan Arnold

    I use a few sources for CLA. Garry’s Camera Repair in Illinois is very fast and reasonable. They do basic repairs on a limited number of models. I also use Bill Moretz at Pro Camera in Virginia for more involved repairs. He is very good and very fast.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve been aware of Garry’s for a long time and for the cameras he works on his prices sure are reasonable. I should give hiim a try. I wasn’t aware of Bill Moretz; thanks for putting him on my radar!

  3. Mike Connealy Avatar

    Thanks for the link to the light seal kits; looks like an excellent deal. I have quite a few candidates for that treatment.

    My Nikon EM has a similar leak, though not so dramatic as yours. I think it is pretty clearly from around the little tab that resets the film counter. I thought I might try a little piece of black yarn to mend the leak.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ll write here about my experience installing the new seals. There are seal kits for lots of cameras out there, made by individuals and sold on eBay. I bought a kit for my old Canonet QL17 several years ago that I never got around to installing; I included the kit when I sold the camera.

  4. fishyfisharcade Avatar

    I’ve replaced light-seals on a number of my cameras, and it’s fairly straightforward – the hardest part is when a camera has thin channels above and below the film chamber that need re-sealing as it can be a bit awkward to get the sticky-backed seal in there without it twisting. Cocktail sticks are useful to help push the seals into place in these situations (as well as aiding in scraping out the old seal).
    Get some isopropyl alcohol too as that’s great for cleaning off the gunk the old seals leave behind. Finally, just be careful of sticky bits of crud getting onto the shutter and stuff.

    The fact that *I* have succesfully performed this task on a number of occasions is testament to it not being too difficult! :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, it just looks like tedious work and I try to avoid tedium! But the more I can repair on cameras myself the better, as the number of experienced film-camera repair people is not increasing, if you know what I mean.

      1. tbm3fan Avatar

        Well it is tedious but it can’t be so bad since I know I have done over 100 cameras. I got pressure fit channel seal strips from Jon Goodman long ago when sold in bulk for cameras. Then repackers came around, brought his stuff in bulk, broke it down, and then re-sold the strips for just one camera at $10-12. Justifiably Jon stopped selling in bulk. I also got sheets of different thickness foam to use on the doors and elsewhere. I luckily had a tool which actually works perfect for removing the foam, on one end, and getting into the channels, with the other end. I prefer Ronsonol to remove the sticky residue after getting the old foam out. Simply cut some tissue about 1/4″ wide by 1″ long, fold it up, soak with Ronsonol, then push in with my tool tip and wipe back and forth. Repeat several times till clean.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Good tip on the Ronsonol. I have some somewhere. 100 cameras eh? You could start a business.

        2. Mark Avatar

          Thought read Jon Goodman now made seal kits for specific cameras but can’t find a website or current email so can’t verify. Anyone know?

  5. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I’ve decided to slow down camera acquisition dramatically this year in an effort to divert hobby funds to servicing the cameras I love and intend to keep. I think it is a worthwhile investment.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m slowly starting the same process. The cameras I use most, I want them to last. I could conceivably use them for the next 30 years.

  6. jon campo Avatar
    jon campo

    I am really surprised that this isn’t discussed more. The best camera is the one you can still get repaired in 2020. Even the best camera need a little help now and again.I think most people would say the Nikon F2as is a pretty reliable camera, but mine jammed last year for no reason that I could see. Luckily it was a quick, inexpensive repair, and I had a full service done at the same time. Over the last 20 years I have used most of the techs you mention, and been more or less satisfied, but Sover Wong is in a class by himself, literally. He isn’t cheap, but still less than getting a Leica M or Hasselblad serviced by a long shot, and repairs are done absolutely correctly, no “flush cleaning” in his shop.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s a brilliant point and I might steal it and write a blog post around it. Yes. A great camera from years ago that nobody can repair — isn’t really a great camera because when it breaks, it’s done forever.

  7. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    Yeah the CLA is one expense that I never take into account when I buy the camera but can be very necessary when you start doing critical work. My local guy though nice, doesn’t seem to do the most thorough job; my favorite Spotmatic has developed problems outside of warranty twice now, I’ve put down $250 for two CLAs about a year apart and now need another. Next time I get a camera serviced I’ll send it out to one of the best.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s good to find the expert repairers when you can. That should reduce the risk of premature failure. Eric Hendrickson for Pentax, Mark Hama for Yashica, Sover Wong for Nikon F2s, for example.

      1. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

        Hey also, good on you for putting the money in to work on your best cameras. It can be expensive, but definitely worth it as long as the camera’s good for another 20+ years. But you do have to send it to the right guy!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Thank you! Step one was Operation Thin the Herd (which is about 95% finished) and step two is to invest in the gear that’s left so it lasts.

          1. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

            Operation: Repair the Herd

  8. DougD Avatar

    That sounds like the story of my life Jim. I have old cameras, old cars, old guitars, old washer and dryer. And I’m not getting any younger myself.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good heavens, I hope you never need *your* seals replaced! :-)

  9. dionyb Avatar

    Future post request please report on your experience with Blue Moon Camera. I also have an F3 in need of service and seeking a quality repair shop for it. Regarding Garry’s Camera Repair I’ve sent a couple of Minoltas there for CLA and I am satisfied with the work done.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It will be a while before I send the F3 off, but you bet I’ll report on my experience when I do! Thanks for the vote of confidence in Garry’s.

  10. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

    Good luck with the fix, I’ll look forward to reading about it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! I hope I can get to it soon. So much going on not related to my hobbies!

  11. Rob B. Avatar

    I sent my FE to Midwest camera repair and they did a stellar job on it. My F3 shutter is capping at one of the higher speeds now, so it will be going soon.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s great — I’ll bookmark their site!

  12. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    I have replaced light seals in just about every old SLR that has come my way…some are easier than others. I go direct to uscamera.com as it is a little cheaper than buying from them through ebay. They have a great website with lots of information and instructions. And there is a great tech here in New Zealand who seems to know his way around most 35mm cameras, he has done a great job on the ones I have sent to him. CW Services in Timaru.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for the tip on uscamera.com — I didn’t know about them! And I hope other NZ readers see your tip about CW Services.

  13. Sam Avatar

    Sorry to hear your F3 issues Jim! Even the best cameras eventually have issues as you know but light seals, even if it’s messy, should be easy for you.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yep. Tedious, messy, but totally within my abilities.

  14. Andrew in Austin, Texas Avatar

    If you are fond of classic cameras, it is a definitely possibility that a newly acquired camera or lens will arrive with either a debilitating fault or an irksome defect .

    In the past ten years, I’ve sent at least five cameras out to be serviced and have self-serviced at least twice that many here at home.

    With regards to light seals that perish over time, how was it that the Germans were able to design cameras that didn’t need light seals on the film doors?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, I’ve bought my share of cameras that I discovered on arrival were not functioning properly. It’s a hazard of the hobby!

      Those Germans were mighty clever.

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