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It works fine . . . except . . .

How many times have you heard a similar line when asking about a vintage camera you're thinking about adding to your collection? The seller smiles and says, "It works fine...except...." Immediately, all may not be as happy as it seems and you hold your breath waiting to find out what the exception is and, if you're like me, how hard it will be to fix!

One of the requests I get most often is the need for a "How To" section describing the kinds of repair issues many of us have to undertake if we are serious about having working copies of the cameras in our collections. Even though I believe there is a lot we can do ourselves, for many requests I recommend letting a professional do it.

I was once contacted by a man whose shutter curtain had jammed, and he wanted to know how to fix it himself. He admitted he had never tried it before, but couldn’t see paying his local camera shop $100+ to repair a 30-year-old film camera. But, since he didn't want to ruin it, he thought I might be able to walk him through it, step-by-step. C'mon! Get real! I don't have the time for that! I thought the camera shop was doing him a favor at that price, but he didn't see it that way. The trouble was, as a novice, he had about as much chance of fixing it himself as he did trying to learn bullfighting from a magazine article.

Professional repairs, if you can find someone to attempt them these days, can be expensive. Particularly when compared with the apparent worth of the camera. But the reason they are expensive is because it is highly skilled work. Often, specialized tools are needed, or hard-to-find parts may need to be made, and even taking apart a simple camera requires experience and patience. Those who dabble with camera repairs as a hobby - like me - are also usually prepared to accept the fact the operation might fail, leaving a dead patient on the table. Are you?

Think of it this way: Imagine you had to go to the hospital for surgery. Do you want the scalpel in the hands of someone just thinking about studying medicine? While there is a lot most novices can do to fix a camera, the shutter curtain roller of a Mamiya XTL is no place for most of us!

If the camera means a lot to you, a full service repair, including fixing the meter, will often cost less than $150...but your camera would come back working like new, and you'd have another twenty years of good service out of it (assuming you can continue to find film).

Other requests . . .

I receive other requests that deal with how to use the camera. Not instruction manual questions (OK, those too), but things like, "What is the Sunny 16 Rule?" or "What's the Rule of Thirds all about?" or some other "how-to-shoot" question. It's almost as if, in this age of digital gizmos that do so much for us, or allow so many instant "makeovers," that many have forgotten the basic tenets us old-timers were taught about creating images with light. No, scratch that. It isn't is.

So, after much procrastinating and mumbling that all the digital noobies should pay a professional to fix their film cameras, I decided it made sense to provide information for those who really wanted to learn how to do some of the simpler things themselves. To begin with, I gathered the "do-it-yourself repair" questions and tried to decide which ones could not only be answered quickly, but were really the kind of repairs that the "average" collector would (or should) be likely to attempt for themselves. Then I added answers to some of the simple "general photography" questions, to come up with a workable list. It is by no means complete, but the items I am working on so far are listed below. I'll probably post others, as I receive new questions (or, more honestly, as I have time to create the responses to them).

Note: you will probably figure this out yourself fairly quickly, but the line items below in blue are live page links; those in black are pages still under construction. If you don't see a link... well, there's a obviously a reason for that, too!

If you would like a specific repair or instructional item to be considered on this site, simply go to my Mamiya 35mm Forum! and make your suggestion known. I will add it to my list of things to do. However, please don't hold your breath, because it is likely to be some time before I can get around to documenting all the things that might need explanations, and I would hate to be the reason for portions of the camera-collecting population turning deep blue! Also, because mechanical and technical skills vary widely from person to person, no liability for results or damage is either expressed or implied in the use of these notations.
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