I’ve owned hundreds of film cameras since I started collecting in the 1970s. Over and over again, I’ve loaded a camera and set about using it to find either that something about it isn’t working, or that I can’t figure out how to use it. Even after nearly 50 years, I still occasionally encounter a camera I can’t figure out!
You’d think I’d check a camera’s functioning first. You’d especially think I’d RTFM (read the #$!& manual) first, given that for about 10 years I wrote manuals for a living! New old cameras excite me, and I leap before I look.
It’s not that I have a strong drive to figure things out on my own. I am happy to follow good instructions. When I repaired the focus stop on my Certo Super Sport Dolly folding camera a few years ago, fellow photo-blogger Mike Connealy told me how to do it. I replaced the light seals in my Nikon F3 a couple years ago after buying a kit that came with instructions.
I prefer to pay skilled technicians to do this kind of work, but I also need to be careful with my money. Many years ago I did a $500 refresh of my master bathroom. It badly needed done, but I couldn’t afford to hire it out. My brother taught me how to mud the drywall. When I needed to install an electrical junction box and a new toilet, I found articles on the Internet with step-by-step instructions.
A few weeks ago I replaced the exterior handle on my daughter-in-law’s car door. It broke off in her hand on a below-zero day. She asked for my help, so I Googled “replace exterior door handle 2002 Hyundai Excel.” Up popped a YouTube video of a mechanic explaining every step as he did the job. Even though it involved dismantling the door, it looked to be within my capabilities. It took me a couple hours and several four-letter words, but I got it done.
Sometimes a repair is complicated enough that I won’t do it myself. A few years ago the heater control knob quit working on my car. I found a shaky cell phone video on YouTube of a country boy replacing the heater control cable on the same model of car. He first removed the driver’s seat and then dismantled half of the dashboard. Then he contorted his body to reach a tight space in a way that would have been challenging for me as a young man, let alone as a middle-aged man with a tweaky lower back. That was a giant bowlful of nope for me, as the kids say today. I bought the parts and had one of our sons do it. He’s mechanically gifted and finished in under an hour.
I was thrilled to have scored a gorgeous Kodak Monitor Six-20 with the top-tier Anastigmat Special lens. Excited, I spooled some expensive Kodak E100G slide film right into it. I regretted it on the very first frame when pressing the shutter button did nothing. Oh no! I turned the camera around and noticed that the button was connected to a complicated linkage to the shutter. I fiddled with that linkage, which fired the shutter. Thankfully, my face was not within the lens’s focus or you would have been able to count my nose hairs. That Anastigmat Special lens is sharp!
That linkage often fails on Kodak Monitors, I’ve learned. I’ve not found a service manual for this camera to see if repairing it is within my capabilities. I’ve also not found a technician willing or able to try to fix it. I can use the camera, but I need to stick my finger awkwardly behind the lens board to fire the shutter. I’d love to have this camera restored to full working condition, but if it’s going to happen, I’m going to have to do it. I’m afraid to take it apart and lose some tiny part (as has happened to me before) or, worse, find I can’t get it back together again.
Eleven years I’ve lived with that fear, and therefore with a not-fully-working Kodak Monitor. But there’s always another old camera for me to try. It lets me keep kicking that can down the road.