Good instructions

Me, by accident
Kodak Monitor Six-20, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2012

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.

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27 responses to “Good instructions”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I’ve walked away from more interesting folders I’ve found at junk and thrift shops because the linkage to the shutter release is all futzed up. This is such a weak link in these cameras, it makes you wonder why Kodak, and others, just didn’t forego this and slap a big shutter release knob on the lens/shutter combo, and call it a day. They had to know this was problematic. I salute your DIY-ism, I think my capacity for this mayhem is a lot shorter than yours.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      When I bought the Monitor, I was pretty new to folders. Now I know their foibles. I’m going to try a McGyver fix to the Monitor – stick something on the end of the shutter linkage that provides contact with the shutter button.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        I see an amazing amount of folders that the give-away is that they can’t be folded! The linkage is so goofed up, that it’s jammed the camera open! The second most seen is that the camera opens and closes, but the linkage doesnt seem connected, it flexes but doesn’t fire…

  2. matt Avatar

    Another option is finding another example for parts or repair so you have a practice platform.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Excellent point. I did that with my Pentax ME-F. I bought two parts cameras to fix my main one, but ended up practicing on them first.

      1. matt Avatar

        I fear it’s soon going to be the only way to ensure there’s someone capable of doing the work… even if, as in my case, he’s not particularly inclined or talented with such dexterities.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I do worry what happens when the current crop of repair people retire or pass on. Who will be left?

          1. Kurt Ingham Avatar

            You tube how-to videos are amazing. One friend just saved a bundle on changing his Toyota v8 timing belt. Another, Swiss, and with no woodworking experience, built a beautiful playhouse for his grand daughter I’ve had terrible luck with Monitors 0/3 -pinholed bellows. Neat cameras maybe I’ll try again. My high spec Tourist stands in for it (maybe the widest range of specification for any Kodak?)

            1. Jim Grey Avatar

              Yes, the Internet has enabled so much DIY!

              My Monitor’s bellows has been remarkably good although last time I used it there was a tiny amount of light leakage. I use black fabric paint to close pinholes and it works fine.

              I had the lowest-spec Tourist for a while and it was terrible. Maybe I should try a highest-spec one!

  3. Marc Beebe Avatar

    I can’t relate to this post. :D

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s because you’re more badass than me! :-)

  4. Kurt Ingham Avatar

    The ‘new guy’ at my camera repair place is in his 40’s- and wasn’t fazed by my Alpa. Charges 3x more than the retired friend, but I never begrudge skilled artisans their pay. I don’t see them driving Bentleys ((plumbers excepted)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s great to hear! I hope more people pick up the trade.

  5. sonny rosenberg Avatar

    Great article Jim! I sympathize with your adventures and willingness to take on projects but delegate them to an expert when it’s more prudent to. I keep telling myself that I’m going to learn basic camera repair and have even bought a few tools to that end. But so far I’ve managed to put the actual learning off.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My own skills grow with each project I take on, but it’s just good to send something to an expert for repair for the peace of mind.

  6. Mike Connealy Avatar

    I’m a reluctant repairer of cameras, but I have great affection for the few I have restored. My most helpful guidance has come from Chris Sherlock for my Retinas and Rick Oleson for everything else.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s definitely good to have trusted sources of information and instruction. I am not one to blaze those trails myself.

  7. tbm3fan Avatar

    I have no problem attempting a repair project as long as I have some sort of instructions then I will try. Repair cameras on up to say a Spotmatic is fine but I’ll defer on the F2. Take an engine apart, sure. Reassemble that engine from scratch after the machine work, sure. Replace a roof, sure, but not on my favorite list. Over engineer a wood fence to stand till the end of time I am your guy.

    Now replace bomb bay doors on a TBM-3 Avenger? I am not an A&P mechanic by any stretch of the imagination despite what others think. One month ago I walk onto the hanger deck of the USS Hornet Museum and see a group of people around the TBM. One turns around, sees me, and points at me upon which everyone turns around. I heard “he knows”. Pieces were scattered around like a puzzle and they asked me to sort. Way more pieces than I knew of. Yet, figured it out. All were cut off planes in the 60’s to make fire bombers. Can we make a complete set? Maybe, if I can get a diagram. We need the layout for the stringers and I have the aluminum sheets. I taught myself to rivet and have the correct paint Yesterday, the TBF/TBM construction manual showed up in the mail off eBay. The several year adventure starts. The group has two guys and a girl in their early 20’s wanting to help.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I know that I have little patience for tiny parts. So I generally draw the line there. I’ve had wistful thoughts about going into camera repair as a retirement thing, but I know darn well that I’d spend half of my time frustrated to the max over the small parts that I would surely lose.

      Sounds like you have quite an adventure ahead with your restoration project!

  8. davepowell01 Avatar

    Hi Again Jim! Did you try screwing a release cable into the little hole that’s on the black lens housing behind the 1/100 shutter-speed mark? The shutter button on my Monitor 620 also doesn’t work… but the release-cable port still does! P.S. After my Monitor 620 piece appeared on your site, I did start writing for Hamish Gill’s 35mmc site. And I’ve linked back to my piece on “Down the Road” several times!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hole? What hole? I went to the camera and looked. There’s a screw at about 1/100! A ….screw. Hm. What happens if I unscrew the screw? Well, now there’s a hole. So I screwed in a release cable — et voila, a functioning shutter. Thank you!!!

      I have noticed your articles on 35mmc! I’m pleased for you!

  9. davepowell01 Avatar

    You’re most welcome Jim… and I’m elated that your Monitor 620 is now “fixed”!!!

    I didn’t even think to mention that little screw because my Monitor 620 didn’t have one. BUT, the Kodak Flash Bantam 828 camera that I’m currently “half-framing” in a 35mmc series did. I should have guessed that the Monitor would as well.

    Enjoy your Monitor folder!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m now itching to put film through it! That screw is very short, by the way. It will easily get lost.

  10. J P Avatar

    Next time we meet up for a drink we can discuss Hyundai/Kia door handles. I need to order the part for my second one.

    I am also in the process of repairing a broken wire on a cheese slicer. Something broken is my kryptonite. I immediately say “I can do that” whether it’s a good use of time or not.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We’re overdue for a drink! Who knew Kia/Hyundai door handles were so fragile?

  11. Steve Rosenblum Avatar
    Steve Rosenblum

    “ a giant bowlful of nope” just made my day. I laughed out loud. Thanks! I’m a pretty handy guy who can fix many things and learn how to fix other things on the fly by working through them. This ability shocked my wife when we were first married because her own father (a wonderful guy) never fixed anything around the house despite spending his days fixing people’s teeth! Ultimately I became a cardiologist and helped to develop some of the tools/techniques used to fix people’s hearts. When my wife and I used to go on a cruise or something similar, I preferred to not reveal to fellow passengers what I did for a living because they were there to enjoy themselves and I didn’t want them to avoid that big steak knowing a heart specialist was sitting at their table. If pressed I would say I did “plumbing and electrical work” which was true!

    Anyway, like you, despite knowing I can probably fix something with enough time, skinned knuckles, and choice swear words, I way the aggravation of the learning curve against the benefit (of having someone else do it), and sometimes it’s a giant bowlful of nope! =) Thanks for that.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That’s awesome – “plumbing and electrical work”! It’s amazing how easy it can be to tell the truth and still leave the listener in the dark!

      I stole “bowlful of nope” so please steal it on!

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