Film Camera Repair

Many photographers still love their film cameras. This Fix-It Guide on film camera repair tells how a film camera works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a film camera problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix it. It then gives simple instructions for how to test the batteries and clean the lens and mirror. Be sure to refer to your owner’s manual for specifics.

How Does a Film Camera Work?

A camera holds light-sensitive film that is momentarily exposed to the light from an image. The film then is developed or processed into photographic prints outside of the camera. So-called instant cameras actually process and print the photo inside the camera. Also see the Digital Camera Fix-It Guide.

Popular film cameras fall into three main categories: 35 mm point-and-shoot, 35 mm SLR (single-lens reflex), and instant. The cameras differ in how the image is viewed (through the taking lens or through a separate viewer), how the lens is focused (automatically or manually), and how the image reaches the film. What they all have in common is a lens and a method of holding and moving photo-sensitive film. Some have built-in flashes or attachments for holding flashes (called the shoe). Others have various add-on accessories such as replaceable lenses, filters, lens covers or caps, and straps.

What Can Go Wrong with a Film Camera?

Film Camera Repair

Set the multimeter to the appropriate function (DCV) and range.

The most common problem with cameras is operator error. Sorry. Even point-and-shoot cameras won’t work if a thumb is hiding the lens or if the batteries have insufficient power to operate the flash. And, in most cases, the problems are resolved by reading the owner’s manual that comes with the camera and periodically replacing batteries. Unfortunately, some manuals suffer during translation or from poor writing–or both. Fortunately, you typically can find a friendly camera store clerk who will show you how to operate your camera if you don’t have or just don’t understand the owner’s manual.

Fix-It Tip

Purchase a lens-cleaner brush or chemical from your local camera store and keep it with your camera. Or you can use canned air. Also make sure the camera has some type of lens cap or automatic cover to protect the lens from dust and scratches. Once damaged, the lens should be replaced or it will include marks in every photo you take thereafter.

How Can I Identify a Film Camera Problem?

Film Camera Repair

Test the battery in or out of the camera, placing one probe on the back (negative) and one on the edge (positive).

Most camera problems will show up on a photo that doesn’t look quite right, such as a consistent streak across all photos. The flash may not sufficiently illuminate the subjects. Or the lens motor doesn’t allow it to zoom. Sometimes parts jam or wear out.

What Do I Need for Film Camera Repair?

Keeping your camera clean and in fresh batteries is relatively easy. All you’ll need are a lens-cleaner brush or chemical, some button batteries and/or some household batteries, and maybe a small Phillips screwdriver. Your owner’s manual will suggest the best batteries for your camera.

What Are the Steps to Film Camera Repair?

Film Camera Repair

Carefully use canned air to clean the mirror and lens.

Beyond keeping your film camera in fresh batteries and the lens cleaned, there’s actually little you can do to repair it. Any solutions beyond these should be taken to a camera repair service once you’ve determined that the camera is no longer under warranty. Or you can replace the camera, donating the old one to a curious child.

Fix-It Tip

Put new batteries in, but the camera still doesn’t work? Check to make sure that the batteries have full power (see below) and that they are installed correctly. The battery cover or holder typically will have a diagram showing how the batteries should be installed.

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