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Risk and reward when repairing cameras

Every repair attempt has an obvious potential reward, and along with this, there comes an element of risk. Things routinely do go wrong when repairing cameras, springs disappear, screws may break, or threads may strip-out, leatherettes can be completely destroyed, or some internal component may simply choose this particular moment to give up the ghost. A camera might be rendered completely useless as a result of some mishap during the repair process, or you may find that the simple repair you envisioned becomes much more complex and extensive if some other sub-assembly needs to be removed first in order to reach the problem you want to address.

Factors to consider before repairing your camera are your general repair ability, your familiarity with the camera in question, the difficulty of the proposed repair, the availability of spares, the value of the camera, the working state of the camera in question, and probably other factors, like the availability of good service information.

The potential reward may well include having ending up a fully-functioning camera, one with an improved cosmetic condition, or perhaps an increased sales value.

The risk side of the equation is perhaps more complex.

A person with a well-developed mechanical aptitude, a good, general engineering background, and experience using tools successfully, will have a much higher likelihood of getting a positive result than a person completely lacking such skill and experience. Most of us will fall somewhere between the two ends of the scale.

Cameras might look much the same on the outside, but the best way to dismantle them varies from model to model. A lot of previous experience with repairing the particular camera in front of you will put you a long way ahead of someone who has never encountered that particular one before.

As for difficulty of repair, some tasks require a greater degree of dexterity, judgement, perhaps regarding the correct positioning of gear teeth, springs etc. or the use of ‘special tools’ that you might have to make for yourself. Other tasks are inherently much simpler, like cleaning exterior surfaces, although there is certainly risk there too. The risk-to-reward ratio is higher for more complex repairs, lower for simple repairs.

With old cameras, any replacement parts almost always have to come from an organ donor. If you already have a suitable donor on-hand, you will be at the other end of the scale from someone who lacks that resource. For some cameras, finding an organ donor can be very difficult, or involve so much expense that it would make more sense to buy another camera and service that instead. There have been times when I have done exactly that, repaired the ‘parts’ camera, not the original subject. When access to spare parts is likely to be a significant problem, the risk-to-reward ration is high.

A valuable camera can be one that someone else would be willing to pay you a lot of money for, or it may be a camera with little commercial value to anyone else, but a very high sentimental value to you. Commonly, this includes cameras you used earlier in your life, or ones you have inherited. At the other end of the scale would be cameras found easily, little regarded by collectors, and perhaps one you found cheaply at a garage sale or similar venue. A camera with a higher value to you will have a higher risk-to-reward ratio.

With the working state, consider what improvement the proposed repair would actually make. If the camera appears to work quite well, perhaps it is only a little stiffer in the controls than a freshly-serviced camera would be, then embarking on a full strip-down and service might make little sense if the camera was not destined to be used, and would be simply put back in the cabinet once completed. In other words, the risk of something going wrong during the repair process may very well outweigh the potential reward. The risk-to-reward ratio is high.

A camera that is broken to the extent that it cannot be used, and that you do wish to use is an example at the other end of the scale. Here you have a camera, useless to you in its current state, but with the potential to be very useful if you can repair it. The risk-to-reward ratio here is much lower.

If the camera you are thinking of repairing belongs to someone else, this raises the risk far higher than if it were your own camera. If things go completely pear-shaped, you might ruefully consign the remains to a box at the back of the cupboard if it were your own camera, but a paying customer might have very different ideas about that as a suitable outcome.

Camera service manuals vary in both their availability and degree of detailed content. For some cameras, service manuals were never freely available. For others, only parts manuals were made, it being expected that the camera repairer already had the skills to make sense of the mechanism. It is always much more challenging to service a camera without service information to refer to.

All of these factors swing the balance one way or the other, and you must make your own decision as to what is the best course of action to take. Overall, a lot of this comes down to your own appetite for risk. Some people are happy to bet their pay on a horse and walk away without a worry if it comes in last, others seem to think that life can, and should be made risk-free.

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