Sooner or later your cameras will break

I got out my Nikon F3 earlier this year, as it is one of my very favorite cameras and I wanted use it just for the pleasure.


To my disappointment, I found it to be not working — the winder was stuck, and the meter wasn’t reading.

Whatever is causing these failures is going to be beyond my meager repair abilities. I boxed up the F3 and sent it to International Camera Technicians for evaluation. They charge $50 to figure out what’s wrong with your camera and what it will cost to repair it. If you then have them do the work, they apply that fee to the repair charge. I hope to hear from them soon.

So it goes with old photographic gear — sooner or later, it will break. It’s why I’ve started to learn basic repair skills. I replaced the light seals on this very F3 myself a couple years ago.

Finding my F3 on the fritz led me to test every camera I own for proper functioning. Now that I’ve thinned the herd to about 25 cameras, it was a pleasant afternoon’s task.

I discovered metering problems in five of my cameras. The meters in both my Olympus OM-1 and my Olympus XA were reading several stops off. The meter in my Yashica Lynx 14e is one stop off (but I’ve known that for years). The meters in my Nikon F2AS and in my Pentax Spotmatic F had both gone all jumpy.

I also found that the winder on my Nikon F2A sometimes gets stuck mid-wind, but if you back off the pressure and try again you can finish winding just fine. This was disappointing, as I has Sover Wong, the premier Nikon F2 repairperson, overhaul the camera a couple years ago. I’ll test this camera with film soon to see if the condition persists.

Finally, my Sears KSX-P is dead. I bought it only last year, immediately put two rolls of film through it, and then set it aside in my camera cabinet. I can’t fathom what would cause it to not respond at all now.

That’s how it seems to go with old cameras. I’ve never had one fail under use. They always malfunction or die while sitting on the shelf.

I’ve already had the Spotmatic F repaired; I wrote about it here. I had the OM-1 repaired, too; a post about it is coming on Monday. I chose to test the Olympus XA with film — it actually has two meters, one to power the viewfinder needle and another that sets exposure, and one meter can go south while the other works. A post about this test is scheduled for early May. I hope to have the F3 back soon, and will share my test roll with you as soon as I have scans.

Next, I will send the F2AS out to have its meter repaired. I will use Sover Wong, but I’m bracing for impact, because his service is expensive. Also, his wait list is currently two full years.

I’m on the fence about the Lynx 14e. I’ve not shot it since completing Operation Thin the Herd. It’s either time for that camera to find its new owner, or to go to Mark Hama for repair.

The KSX-P also has me on the fence. It is a surprisingly pleasant camera to use, which is why I kept it. On the other hand, it’s worth essentially nothing. Perhaps Garry’s Camera can do it, as he lists other Sears SLRs on his site. Perhaps this camera should just go into the trash.

Now is the time to have your broken cameras repaired, and your working cameras overhauled, so they might last. The men (it seems always to be men) who repair old cameras are no longer young. I know of no young pups learning the film-camera repair business.

One day, when our old gear breaks, that will be that.

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36 responses to “Sooner or later your cameras will break”

  1. conspicari Avatar

    My battered Nikon FM2n’s winder has given up the ghost, I’m sending it out for repair soon, hopefully it’s just adjustment as I’m not sure if parts are available.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There should be enough broken-beyond-repair FM2ns out there to cannibalize for parts!

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    The sad thing about this is that 40 years ago, there was a place down the block from you that could fix your item, if you lived in any half-large metropolitan area! In the mid 70’s, I had a guy 8 blocks from my parents house that was a Leica expert, could obviously fix the Nikons and Canons of the day, Hasselblads, and even work on view camera shutters like Compur and Copal, as well as center, and drill lensboards for view cameras, and stocked flanges to mount non-standard view camera lenses on to thick wooden boards like the Deardorff, before the shutter/jam-nut systems got so standardized. He was busy all the time.

    Part of this was based on the fact that we had 3 large national retail chains that had home offices or regional sites in the area, so there were 3 multi-photographer studios, as well as a pretty big local ad business for people that couldn’t afford Chicago agency prices. This also meant there were multiple labs with 90 minute transparency processing turn-around time!

    Our world today means not only do you have to find a repair person maybe hundreds to thousands of miles away from you, you have to find out if they can really do the job, and try and parse through the worthless reviews written by unknowledgeable amateurs that think they know what they’re talking about. Sometimes you win, many times I’ve paid a lot of money for substandard service. Makes me sad. At lease I know I can trust Hendrickson for Pentax and Flutot’s for view camera shutter repair.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s supply and demand, you know. There just isn’t the same demand for repair of film gear as there was when film was the only way to go.

  3. Marc Beebe Avatar

    One thing that can cause a mechanical camera to fail is use. Another thing that can cause it is lack of use. Occasionally ‘exercising’ your cameras is a good idea, and can avoid that disaster of finding it doesn’t work when you really want to use it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      One of the main reasons I got rid of so many cameras was to have a collection of a size that would allow me to use them regularly. My goal is to put a roll through each of my cameras every 1 to 2 years. I also now make it a point every January to pick up each camera and shoot it dry at each shutter speed.

  4. Theron Avatar

    A few years back I shot a couple rolls through my Nikon 8008s and put it up. Pulled it out a month or so later, played with it, shot some imaginary frames, took the batteries out and it went back in the camera bag.

    6 months later I load it up with batteries and film, and it’s got some kind of error message, doesn’t know if film is loaded, can’t keep count of frames, auto focus is all wonky, etc….

    The only fix was buying another. The first one cost me about $800. The second one was $38

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is crazy how inexpensive the late film SLRs are now.

      I wonder who can even fix them when they break.

      It can even be hard to get rid of them. I’ve had a Nikon N50 for sale on eBay for something like four months now, and nobody’s interested.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        At the dawn of plastic molded film auto-focus cameras, it was understood from day one that they were “disposable”. Even cameras people laud like the Nikon FE and FM, were considered down-line disposables for the F and F2. I knew a guy whose total work professionally was 35mm for magazine and corporate report, and when the Nikon FM came along, he used them religiously for a year, then traded them in on a new body, and the difference between what he was given for the trade, and the cost of the new, was less than the CLA cost for the body at the repair station. He never got another body CLA’d.

        You’re always going to find people to work on the mechanical jewels: Nikon rangefinders, F, F2, Canon F1, and FTb, any Leica, Hasselblad, etc. But those plastic cameras like the Nikon 8008? Priced to toss if something goes wrong, and might not have even been designed to repair, other than replacing full “modules” inside.

  5. adventurepdx Avatar

    I’m happy/fortunate that Portland still has at least three camera repair shops in town. But I’ve noticed a drop in quality/service over the last year. I think that pandemic and interest in film has made these shops busier than before. Now they have turnarounds of three months or so–not as bad as Sover Wong, but it used to be more like a couple weeks.

    And the increased workload has increased rushed, sloppy repair jobs. For example, I had my Olympus 35 RD into the same shop twice, for different repairs. The first time was because beer was spilled on it. When I tested it out after pickup, I realized that the shutter speeds were all off, so I had to bring it back and wait some more. The second time was because I cracked the viewfinder glass. This fix was faster/easier, but when I picked it up I noticed that the readout in the viewfinder was different, they forgot to swap that. A minor thing, but I was running out of time that day so I couldn’t wait the hour for them to do it on the spot. I had to wait another week until I could get back out that way.

    Now it looks like my Minolta SR-T 101 may be developing an issue. It was CLA’d last year, but it’s long enough that it’s out of warranty. I’m hesitant to return it to that same shop, as I don’t want a repeat of the last situation. But I know they’ve done good work on my cameras in the past…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re definitely fortunate to have so much film-photo support in Portland.

      Jerome of Earth Sun Film is a dedicated Minolta man who might have a good recommendation for your SR-T repair.

    2. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      You know APDX, that’s the kind of stuff in the “olden days” that was always checked before return. If you brought your camera in for light seals changing, they would automatically take a poke around and check the shutter speeds, and make sure the winder was winding and the f/stop actuator was actuating; blow dust out of it, stuff like that. If you don’t have that going on, it’s probably not an old school repair person…

      Another thing, similar to what I find in Chinese restaurants in my city, they can be fabulous, then all of a sudden go “meh”, because a great cook left and what’s left in back is not so good. A repair shop is only as good as the repair people, and if all of a sudden, you’re not getting comprehensive work, you might ask around and find the the “ace” repair person that was there retired, or left for someplace else.

      It makes me nervous when I read on-line about “kids” offering repair service who opened up a few cameras they owned and started poking around and “fixing” a few things. In the film days you had to have perfect working cameras, brought back to spec by trained repair people. This shouldn’t be a side-hustle for millennials who are kind of interested in film stuff, and if work a few times then breaks again “shrug”, they’ll get another on-line.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        Now that you mention this — I’m reminded that I had my Canonet 17 repaired by some younger dude who offered his services via eBay.

        I’m sure he figured out what to do by repairing some Canonets along the way, and then decided to make a few extra bucks repairing them commercially.

        The guy did a good enough job. There were a couple things wrong with the Canonet that he was able to solve. He said he calibrated the shutter but I of course have no way to test it to be sure.

        Thing was, for my amateur purposes, it was fine. The camera was in much better shape than when I started.

        1. adventurepdx Avatar

          And the thing to remember is that we’re going to need these “young dudes” for repairs, because the old dudes are retiring/dying. So we can’t write off “the millennials” when it comes to repairs. The best we can hope for is that some of them apprentice with Ye Olde Camera Repairperson to gain that institutional knowledge.

      2. adventurepdx Avatar

        As far as I can tell, the “old guy” is still at the shop, but there are definitely newer folk there too. I’m wondering if it’s a case where the old guy did the major work and it was passed along to the new kid for the final check, and the new kid didn’t do their job.

        The part that gets me, though, is that there was no apology from the shop when these things happened. It was obviously an error on their part, but ‘sorry” was never uttered. I’d like to give them one more shot, and explain to them my reservations with their recent service. If all else fails, there’s still Blue Moon which I haven’t used for repair work. I haven’t heard anything bad about them.

        1. Andy Umbo Avatar
          Andy Umbo

          There have always been “young dudes” at the repair shops, working under the tutelage of an older master, similar to the German Trade Guild thing in the past. BUT, they were task-masters and demanded a reverence to detail, and it took a pretty long time to get competent. I doubt anything like that happens with the “young dudes” today. Nobody needs a “young dude” that isn’t dedicated and committed to the type of process that was going on 75 years ago. After managing a studio with 18 some-odd millennials in it, I can tell you that “under-trained”, “untrainable” and lackadaisical are the first things that come to mind. As most of the people in my industry say: “I’m happy to be retired, and wish I might have been older so that I could’ve been retired before it even got to this level.”

          1. adventurepdx Avatar

            I don’t agree with your line of thought here.

            I’m sorry that you had bad experiences with millennials at your work. But I don’t subscribe to this practice of whole-scale dismissal of a particular generation, especially when it comes to a generation younger than yours. I’m sure that generations older than yours didn’t think much of yours when you were youths.

            I will be the first to admit I’ve had my own grumblings about “the millennials”. But when I do, I take a step back and look at the positives a particular generation has–and each gen does have good points.

            And we shouldn’t forget how much “the millennials” have impacted the revival of film. A lot of the revival is because a generation raised on the internet and electronics wanted to have something analog and tangible. Yeah, there’s the hype around glamcams that’s usually associated with those born between 1981-1996. But every generation has their faults, too.

        2. Andy Umbo Avatar
          Andy Umbo

          Sorry APDX, you might not agree with my thinking, but it’s all based on experience and I’ve got the human resources documentation from two different companies to prove it. I’m sure there are competent and dedicated millennials, I’ve met many, but it’s not the people entering my area of expertise or in my area of the country. The people applying for positions in my field are far, far different in abilities, intelligence and enthusiasm than what was available 40 years ago. It’s all situational.

  6. Tom Avatar

    How do you test the meters in your cameras? I’ve got an FE2 that I think is overexposing by at least a stop, but I’d like to have a good way to test this.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My quick and dirty method is to compare my camera’s reading to the reading on the light-meter app on my phone. Alternatively, I compare the camera’s readings to those on my DSLR, which I know is trustworthy.

    2. Kodachromeguy Avatar

      Tom, buy hand-held light meter, like one of the more recent units from Gossen, Minolta, or Sekonic. With one of these, you can use any camera with decent shutter speeds even if its internal meter is broken.

      Note for Jim: I had mixed and poor results from light meter apps. Maybe they depend on certain phone models.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        The metering app I use on my iPhones has been pretty good and consistent.

    3. Jerome Avatar

      I use an 18% gray card, Minolta Meter IIIF, Maxxum 7D, and iPhone Pocket Light Meter app for testing.

      I test in room light, placing the gray card on a table under the overhead light. The room’s walls are pale yellow, and they are the second target.

      I then use the Minolta meter to read incident light next to the gray card, and then do readings on the card with the camera I’m testing, iPhone app, and 7D.

      Next I place the Minolta meter against the wall and take a reading, then test the camera in question, app and 7D against the wall as well.

      Ideally, all agree. The 7D meter has proven to be consistent in agreement with the IIIF. The iPhone app is about 90% consistent with those two. I have the myLightMeter app, but it is usually off by 1/2 to full stop from the others. When in a rush, I use the 7D and gray card only.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        That’s a good practice. As you can see, I am not so rigorous.

  7. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    Jim at ICT is my go-to guy for most Nikon. He also just did a Canon A-1 for me. He does great work!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m about to find out – I just got word that ICT has completed repair on my F3 and is shipping it back!

      1. bodegabayf2 Avatar

        Let me know what you think.

  8. Kodachromeguy Avatar

    The diagnostic check from International Technicians is similar to the Check-to-Spec Service Special from Hasselblad in USA. If the camera, back, or lens needs repair, then they apply the $99 check-up fee. I read somewhere that H may have discontinued this service special, but it still existed in 2020. Hasselblad will still service their 500, 501, 503 mechanical cameras. If any of you have older units, get the service now! Do it while parts are available.

    1. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      This is good to know, I have two 500CM’s I’ve owned since new in 1985, and the “body shutters” which we all call the “flappers” have been starting to slow down and hang up a little, dependent on temperature. Probably don’t need parts, but surely need a CLA! I’ve always sent my stuff direct to Hblad.

  9. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

    I hope it won’t be too expensive a repair on the F3, I’d like to get one and knowing where to go when it does need a CLA will be essential! I sent two F2s to Sover Wong back in October last year so hopefully that will last me for a while, but I don’t have an F2AS/SB yet and I want one. I know he’s said on Facebook that he’s going to stop taking orders after June so he can catch up…hope you have already got on the waiting list!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It cost about $275 to have it repaired and CLA’d. That’s a good amount more than I hoped for, but the F3 is one of my top favorite cameras and so I decided to make this investment.

      1. Joe shoots resurrected cameras Avatar

        Considering what I paid for my F2s, I’d say that’s a bargain, if the work is good!

  10. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    I am very lucky to have a good technician not too far away, and the fact that he is younger than me means that I should still be able to send my cameras to him for a while yet! But, it will become more of an issue over time I guess!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That is fortunate indeed.

      I’m told that my local camera shop has a network of independent techs they use for repairs, but I’ve never looked into that. Maybe I should.

  11. Gert-Jan Avatar

    “Perhaps this camera should just go into the trash.”

    As they are not manufactured anymore, each camera going into the trash is one camera less.
    Even when broken, a camera still contains a lot of parts that can be used to repair other cameras. It surely is still of interest to someone…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re right. Last year someone gave me a bunch of Olympus OM-system gear and in the box was a badly broken OM-4. I donated it to John Hermanson, the leading OM camera repairman in the US.

      The thing about that Sears camera is that it is little known and not popular. Who would I send it to who would use it for parts? I suppose I could list it on eBay for a dollar and see if someone takes it.

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