How to maintain your film camera

January 10, 2022

Benedict Brain meets John Quantick, the Mr. Fixit of film cameras, to learn about the art and crafts of maintaining your analog gear

Capture Black on white, a camera repair shop in Bristol, is like stepping into a cave of Aladdin’s photographic gadgets. A photographic paradise. The shelves are filled with old film cameras in various states of repair and devices for measuring this and adjusting that. Camera owner and magician John Quantick is in the store, located in one of the city’s hippest areas, where he’s been repairing cameras for over 30 years.

Portrait of John Quantick

John quantick

Its main purpose is to repair and restore movies rather than digital cameras, although it also works on digital cameras. As you might expect, his business has seen some downturns as digital photography took hold, however, in recent years he has become increasingly busy, especially with young people who are crossing their lines. doors, eager to experience the “real” process of imaging.

Old pundits are re-emerging too, hankering to the good old days of cinema. I’m here for advice on how to maintain and look after a film camera, what to look out for when buying a second hand camera, and to learn more about the process from John in establishing the condition of the device and how it goes about the repair process.

When a device is delivered in John must first establish what condition it is and has some basic principles to follow. The first is the shutter. “I especially want to know if the shutter is working,” explains John. “I want to know what the blinds are shooting and establish what the shutter speeds are doing. I have a machine – a shutter speed tester – that tells me exactly what the blinds are doing and if the shutter speeds are correct.

Daily maintenance of your film camera is crucial, but the big jobs are best handled by a professional like John

The shutter is often pulled out, which is usually due to lubrication or a lack of lubrication. As a camera ages, the lubricant dries up and the blinds drift, affecting the accuracy of speeds. Once I have access to the blind mechanism, I can lubricate properly and then adjust the blinds and speeds to be correct. It’s mostly just age and there’s not much you can do to prevent it other than having it serviced regularly. Fabric blinds are the worst for drift speeds because they stretch.

The whole process of a function test is to eliminate unknowns and the next step for John is to determine if the lens mount is square and aligned with the film plane, which can lead to focus issues. point. “More often than not this is off on old cameras,” reveals John, adding, “This is probably because the camera has been dropped or it is swinging with large lenses attached.

I am using a dial gauge to determine if it’s off and if so I can easily wedge it. We’re only talking about alignment microns, but even these very small amounts can show up with some parts of the image looking oddly smooth. On older cameras, the front alignment is almost always off. ‘ Using a lightbox, John will also establish the accuracy of the camera’s light meter if there is one in the camera.

john hold the camera

John’s Shop is an oasis in the midst of trendy restaurants and artisanal cafes …

Finally, John checks the objective. “I’m using a collimator,” John explains, looking at the gun of the device. “I’m looking to see if the lens is on focus or if it’s the body that’s off, and then I work on the net in between. I’m just trying to establish if a sharp image forms in the shot of the film and wonder if things are sharp or not.

If there is still a problem and I know the image on the film plane is good, I can assume that the fault could be with the range finder. I’ll check the rangefinder; it’s a separate reflex system with the mirror and the screen and over time things drift here as well. It’s about eliminating and isolating the problems.


Second-hand traps to avoid

John is very hesitant to buy used equipment online without having the opportunity to see it first. “It’s 50-50… it’s a danger zone, you just don’t know the state of what you’re looking at; a lot of the issues are hidden, so it’s really hit and miss. ‘ Searching secondhand and charity stores as well as flea markets and yard sales is a much better idea.

John tells me the first thing to look at is the shutter. “A simple audio test at a shutter speed of about a second should tell you if the shutter feels good, and so does the ‘feel’ of the winding mechanism,” says John. Of course, visual inspection is also vital. “Look through the viewfinder and see what it looks like at infinity, because everything is set back from infinity,” says John.

film camera

A few simple tests and you can pocket a real beauty at a garage sale

“Also, look for mold and corrosion, especially in the battery case. Batteries left in the cameras for a long period of time will leak and the acid that seeps in can drastically degrade the wiring, deep in the camera, causing all kinds of problems. Fortunately, most older film cameras are primarily mechanical, so complex electrical systems and the like are less of a problem. Finally, a full function test, to establish the parameters mentioned in this feature, will give you peace of mind that the lens alignment, shutter speeds and light meters are all working and will set you back £ 30.

John’s top tips for maintaining your film camera

Keep dry

keep the camera dry

Dry your camera properly in an open dry area. Do not leave the camera in your bag especially if it has been wet and cold. Fungus really starts off in dark, airless conditions like a bag, and the moisture from the condensation feeds on the spores. By leaving your camera in the bag you are essentially creating the perfect mushroom growing conditions.

To sweep up


Use a makeup brush such as a soft blush brush to gently remove thick dust and sand so that it does not scratch the lens. A blower brush can also be useful for this. Do not be tempted to blow with your mouth, as sputum can easily get on the camera or lens causing damage. Makeup brushes are widely available and inexpensive.

Immobilize him

use a camera strap

It sounds obvious, but one of the best ways to maintain and maintain your film camera is to use a wrist strap to prevent yourself from accidentally dropping it. If you’re going for the “hipster movie shooter vibe,” there are plenty of cool strings to choose from, and again, many are reasonably priced. A decent padded bag is also essential.

Filter tips

how to maintain your film camera, close-up of the lens

John suggests that the best way to protect the front of the lens is to use a simple UV filter. Keep the lens back cap on (well, both really) so that dust doesn’t build up and fall into the camera (especially true for digital cameras with sensors). Try to change as few objectives as possible in the field; and if you must, find a sheltered place away from the wind.

Storage capacity

film camera in a bag

If you will not be using your film camera for a long time, remove the batteries to avoid corrosion problems should the acid start to seep in. Leave the shutter in the firing position to relieve the shutter. Finally, disconnect the lens and use the body and lens caps to store it; it is also a good practice on long journeys to take the strain off the lens mount.

John quantick

John Quantick started repairing cameras when he was 18. He spent a few years in London learning medium format before returning to Bristol in the 1980s where he worked at Pelling and Cross for around 4 years working on professional material. In 1987 John started his Black on White camera repair shop and it still works well today. See

Further reading

How to Clean Your Camera Sensor – Safe and Simple

The repair of your precious photo equipment

How to check a used lens for faults

About Debra D. Johnson

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