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Taking apart a camera


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#1 Andre LeBlanc

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Posted 18 September 2006 - 02:21 AM

Hi all,

I'm a newbie who's shot a bit of film, and a fair amount of video. I'm wondering if anyone on this forum has ever purchased a beat up film camera (8 or 16mm) for purposes of taking it apart to learn the ins and outs. If so, was it a valuable experience? I'm sure if I were to attempt something like this, I'd ruin the camera, but I've been wondering if the process is not beneficial (or at least therapeutic). Or is it just a waste?
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#2 Michael Collier

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Posted 18 September 2006 - 02:36 AM

It's probably a waste unless you wanna be a camera tech. If you want to be in the creative side, watch a good movie and 'dissasemble' that. Thats the best way to learn. A camera should just work. If it doesn't, you send it to a camera tech. When I was young I took apart a camcorder (because at the time I wanted to be an electronic engeneer.) I learned some things, and now if something is going wrong in a camera, I can usually pinpoint a head missalignment from a pinch roller or slack problem. Thing is it doesn't matter. Its not my camera, so even if I know whats wrong, I still have to give it to my engeneer to fix. You can take that 16mm or 8mm and actually make a movie with it, which would be an infinatley more enlightening experience.
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#3 Nick Mulder

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Posted 18 September 2006 - 04:09 AM

Hi all,

I'm a newbie who's shot a bit of film, and a fair amount of video. I'm wondering if anyone on this forum has ever purchased a beat up film camera (8 or 16mm) for purposes of taking it apart to learn the ins and outs. If so, was it a valuable experience? I'm sure if I were to attempt something like this, I'd ruin the camera, but I've been wondering if the process is not beneficial (or at least therapeutic). Or is it just a waste?



You end up learning more about the camera when the time comes to put it back together again - it might look the same to you but there are many critical alignments to be made, especially in the film path...

I think if you have the $$$ then buy a good bolex or similar and a beater version of the same model - pull apart the beater and learn, then you also have a good pile of spares should you need them (;

But, I do agree with the first reply - so it really depends on what your passion is... and there certainly is nothing wrong about being passionate about the technical aspects of the camera.

I personally find the challenge of finding a new technique in film that cannot be replicated in post or digital authentically drives a lot of my creative ambition... You still gotta tell a story tho!
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#4 David Venhaus

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Posted 18 September 2006 - 06:57 AM

It is interesting to see how they work and how the people that designed them overcame the engineering challenges to make them work. It would help alot if you are mechanically inclinded, even very old movie cameras are rather complex, rather similar to that of mechanical clocks, in certain ways. It is very helpful to have a repair manual with exploded-view diagrams of it before taking anything apart. Always be careful, if you take apart a spring wound camera, as the spring can dangerous when trying to remove it. Movie cameras are precission made pieces of equipment and unless you cannot afford it, as mentioned above, take it to a camera tech for the best results. I don't think it is really a valuable experience unless it is something that interests you. If you do decide to take one apart, good luck.

Edited by David A Venhaus, 18 September 2006 - 07:01 AM.

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#5 Bob Hayes

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Posted 18 September 2006 - 10:46 AM

I used to be able take apart and reassemble Arri II C and even did a BL II with some help. It was useful when I was a first AC and actually used those skills several times. The problem with cameras today is they are so electronic and software driven it is pretty tough to figure out what makes them tick.
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#6 Zamir Merali

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Posted 21 September 2006 - 04:58 PM

Make sure to take digital pictures at each stage of taking it apart so you know what to do when you are putting it back together. I had to learn that the hard way.
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#7 Nick Mulder

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Posted 21 September 2006 - 05:22 PM

Make sure to take digital pictures at each stage of taking it apart so you know what to do when you are putting it back together. I had to learn that the hard way.


Its harder without a digital camera for sure.. I find also helpful is putting related parts into closable containers, even bundling related screws together with tape or 35 still canisters/pill containers if you have them..

if youve got a cat like mine she will jump up and flip the lot of it on the carpet otherwise
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#8 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 21 September 2006 - 06:15 PM

Funny. This topic reminded me of a Betacam SP shoot I had in Jamaica a few years ago. The mission was to shoot footage of real weddings on the island for the Tourism Board. After two days of bumping through the rough roads through the mountainous interior, we ended up on a beach in Negril close to sunset.

So, there I was trying to figure out how on Earth I was going to see enough detail in the ebony faces of the bride and groom being that they were completely backlit by the quickly dropping ball o' light. My Producer taps me on the shoulder and like a miracle from Heaven, somebody had run power to a nearby tree and nailed an outlet to the trunk. I couldn't have had it better had I planned it (under the run and gun circumstances anyway).

Ok, that problem solved, and then it happened. I couldn't get the tape in the camera. The whole mechanism appeared to have just locked up completely. Wedding is starting, sun is dropping, Producer is looking at me with growing concern on his face...there on the beach with the wind picking up, I grab a screwdriver and dive in. I honestly don't know exactly what I did, but just minutes from disaster, the thing started working well enough to get a tape moving and I hit record. The guts on the right side of the body were exposed for the world to see, so my audio guy grabbed a jacket and threw it over the camera while I shot this backlit sunset wedding. It turned out beautifully. :)

I thought the problem had to do with humidity, so when we finally got to a hotel in Ocho Rios that night, I cranked the AC and blew out everything that I could see. When I put it back together again in the morning, everything worked fine.

Got it back to LA and the engineer tore it apart again. A small piece of plastic had apparently broken off from some tape long before and all the bumping around on the roads had lodged it into the mechanism on our way to Negril.

I'd rather not repeat that if I can help it. :blink:
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#9 Glenn Brady

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Posted 23 September 2006 - 05:38 PM

I purchased several Bolex amateur 8mm cameras at eBay (a P1, P2, and P3). While they were in very nice cosmetic condition, the mechanism in each was sluggish or completely inoperative, no doubt owing to years of neglect. Given what I'd paid for the cameras, it made no sense to send them to anyone for repair, so I just opened them up. These cameras are of relatively simple, although very good, construction, and I was able to lubricate the critcal parts, get everything back together, and run film through them. I don't know that I'd trust my skills on anything more expensive though. If anything does break in these cameras, parts are still available through www.bolexrepair.com.
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Tai Audio

Visual Products

The Slider

Paralinx LLC

Abel Cine

Aerial Filmworks

Glidecam

Technodolly

rebotnix Technologies

CineLab

Broadcast Solutions Inc

Opal

Ritter Battery

Wooden Camera

Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

Willys Widgets

Metropolis Post

CineTape