Jump to content




Photo

Is there a new generation of camera techs?


  • Please log in to reply
53 replies to this topic

#1 Heikki Repo

Heikki Repo
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 350 posts
  • Director
  • Finland

Posted 29 June 2016 - 05:34 PM

As my Eclair ACL has gone in for some maintenance, I kind of woke up to wonder the question above. There are excellent specialists who can make our film motion picture cameras purr and improve them in many ways. Unfortunately, at some point they will retire.

Do some of the masters of this art of mechanics have apprentices? Or do we have a bleak future without techs to service our cameras?
  • 0




#2 JD Hartman

JD Hartman
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1491 posts
  • Gaffer
  • Edison, N.J. U.S.A.

Posted 29 June 2016 - 05:44 PM

Who is training the next generation of camera repair and prep technicians?  Every employment ad from a rental house I've seen has specified one or more years experience on......, etc., etc. equipment.  Where is that experience supposed to come from?


Edited by JD Hartman, 29 June 2016 - 05:45 PM.

  • 0

#3 Macks Fiiod

Macks Fiiod
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 451 posts
  • Director
  • OG from DC, Now in NJ

Posted 29 June 2016 - 05:52 PM

Some of their offspring will be running it next I guess. Or extremely dedicated individuals who created scenarios for themselves leading to experience within the field.


  • 0

#4 Simon Wyss

Simon Wyss
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1143 posts
  • Other
  • Basel, Switzerland

Posted 30 June 2016 - 03:26 AM

Basically, the field is always open to interested persons. Fine and precision mechanics will continue to attract corresponding minds. The mechanics of film motion-picture cameras (printers and projectors as well) are no rocket science (which is also nothing that an open-minded engineer couldn’t understand). On the contrary, I believe that fresh generations of mechanical engineers, self-taught tinkerers, and otherwise professionally engaged wrenches are just growing up and into the trade. I can pass on my knowledge, am doing it actually. My sometimes bumpy English reconciled one is invited to read up. Most of what I’ve published is found here. If somebody wishes a translation of a particular text, I am open for help.

 

What makes it so fascinating for me is the coming together of technical mechanics, optics, and the requirements of practice. Experience from working with cine machinery is paramount. So, although primarily speaking of cameras, projectors are the holy grail of cinema. Projection of photochemical films with white light in the dark will never be replaced by anything else.

 

A bridge to the unknown land


  • 0

#5 Tyler Purcell

Tyler Purcell
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2369 posts
  • Other
  • Los Angeles

Posted 01 July 2016 - 12:30 AM

From my perspective, the big problem is that most of these technicians charge so much for their work, many cameras wind up sitting unused in peoples possession because they can't afford to fix them. So very few techs and similar demand, means those techs that exist can charge anything they want and provide any level of service as well.

The big problem in my book is the fact there are fewer and fewer parts available and every part is custom. It's not like a classic car or old house, where tens of thousands were made... in many cases, we're talking very few numbers made and specialized parts.

I personally see some value to specializing in a brand, Arri, Aaton, Movicam, Bolex, etc... because then you can pull apart cameras and make/find replacement parts before they're needed. Put in the effort to figure out what wears and then do the work to find solutions. This requires a machine shop and some know how. It's not difficult, but it's challenging and most people don't put money into doing challenging things unless they're getting paid.

So conservation is the key and I'm hoping with my school to achieve some of that for the future... here is hoping it all happens as planned! It's a long road and I hope to eventually be a pioneer of keeping it going in the US, it would be a lot of fun.
  • 0

#6 Simon Wyss

Simon Wyss
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1143 posts
  • Other
  • Basel, Switzerland

Posted 01 July 2016 - 02:27 AM

Perfectly agree. The profession of the mechanician, if I may call him that way, is endangered anyway. We’re having too many operator-machinists and too few mechanical engineers. Workshops, yes, and know-how, absolutely.

 

The question of pricing roots in equipment and attitude. On the equipment side there are things you need to have for camera work, gauge blocks, depth dial, caliper, micrometer, ID measuring instruments, collimator, and tools. From what I can say about attitude, it is my belief that a good camera repair person should know the basics. Of course does it help to be at home with Paillard-Bolex or Eclair products but it is much more valuable to be able to explain the technical interrelation of the things. One example: the asymmetrical optical situation with the prism block of the H-16 RX. In that view the real lack of know-how will be with optics, not mechanics, in the future. Which is the weakest link in the optomechanical chain of a camera? The ground glass. What’s the depth of the dull surface? Is it ground, is it etched? LASERed? Many people complain about a dark view with the Paillard-Bolex H finder. It’s an amateur camera. That finder doesn’t compare to one of a professional camera such as Arriflex or Aaton.

 

I have just finished work on a Bell & Howell Filmo 134 TA. This is an amateur camera, construction-wise: die-cast main frame, hotchpotch screwed in. On the other hand it’s a professional camera, if one studies the mechanism. Several prime cog wheels in the gear train, perfectly designed bearings of main axle and governor and more. You can oil the bearings of the fast moving parts from the outside ( ! ). One of the best cameras for Double-Eight film, it will be working in another 59 years. That’s its age, I have the bill slips from 1957.

 

Worse still the situation with projectors. I have worked with theatre machines built in the twenties and thirties after having learnt on a pair of Philips FP 20. The loss of an art, cinema, includes that of making heavy, rugged machinery. Film archives most often have a collection of apparatus, too, but the artefacts most often only collect dust. I think it is an unpleasant aspect of the new (digital) age that everybody shies away from physical work. Dirt und sweat are uncool. Seely


  • 0

#7 Dom Jaeger

Dom Jaeger
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1201 posts
  • Other
  • Melbourne, Australia

Posted 01 July 2016 - 11:31 AM

For most camera technicians around the world I suspect there's not enough continuing work to sustain them let alone take on an apprentice. On top of which, what sort of fool would undertake the years long training to master the repair and maintenance of obsolete equipment? There's simply no future in it. All the camera technicians I know that are still working have transitioned to other work, most commonly lenses.

I'm speaking here of the professional technicians who carried the responsibility of making sure that what were sometimes very expensive productions didn't grind to a halt because of equipment failure. That kind of training typically took at least 5 years, working under master technicians in a type of ongoing apprenticeship along with periodic training with manufacturers. (I personally spent about 10 years in training but then I didn't come from an engineering or instrument making background.) I very much doubt that sort of training is happening with film cameras anymore. There were never courses or diplomas in film camera maintenance (aside from an occasional week of disassembly demonstrations by manufacturers), it was always a practical, learnt on the job thing.

I'm sure there are tinkerers or even engineers who can teach themselves to pull apart cameras and give them a lubrication, certainly for the simpler or more amateur ones like Bolexes and such. A 435 or an Arricam however really does need someone who has had training, and can often require knowledge of electronics and optics as well as fine mechanics. There are also quite a few expensive tools and jigs depending on how far into a camera you need to go, and encyclopaedias of service literature.

Complaining about the cost of an experienced technician like Tyler does always seems churlish to me, not just because of the years of training and required tooling, but also because filmmaking is an expensive pursuit, and an equipment failure can cause a great deal more cost in lost time when you have an entire cast and crew standing around, or just simply in wasted film and processing expenses. But now that the cameras have plummeted in value, some people seem to think the associated human labour should be devalued too. That mindset is another reason there's no future for young people in film camera repair.

Parts can be a problem, and will only get worse, although many things can be re-machined. The best way to avoid parts wear, of course, is to have cameras regularly serviced by someone who knows what they're doing, and to try to avoid getting the gear contaminated. But I'm afraid the number of people who know what they're doing is only diminishing.
  • 0

#8 Satsuki Murashige

Satsuki Murashige
  • Sustaining Members
  • 3081 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • San Francisco, CA

Posted 01 July 2016 - 01:00 PM

I had a conversation about this with my camera technician Jorge Diaz Amador when I dropped off my 35mm cameras for service. He says it's tough to strike a balance between passing on information to the next generation that might otherwise be lost, but also holding back some special tricks, parts and supplies sources, and custom tool designs in order to simply stay in business.

Sounds like a tough gig these days, and I'm incredibly grateful to people like Jorge, Dom, and Simon for their dedication to keeping these cameras running for as long as possible. Thank you guys!
  • 0

#9 Heikki Repo

Heikki Repo
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 350 posts
  • Director
  • Finland

Posted 01 July 2016 - 01:26 PM

Exactly! Your work and expertise are truly invaluable to film based workflow.

Thank you! :)
  • 0

#10 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 18789 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 01 July 2016 - 03:36 PM

It's sort of a no-brainier why a skilled repair technician specializing in increasingly rare and low-usage equipment should charge a hefty fee for their services, that's sort of Capitalism 101... otherwise it just would be a hobby.
  • 0

#11 Tyler Purcell

Tyler Purcell
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2369 posts
  • Other
  • Los Angeles

Posted 01 July 2016 - 07:14 PM

Yea but labs and the film manufacturers are willing to work deals in order to stay in business.
  • 0

#12 David Mullen ASC

David Mullen ASC
  • Sustaining Members
  • 18789 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Los Angeles

Posted 01 July 2016 - 07:41 PM

But if everyone got a deal, they couldn't afford to stay in business...


  • 0

#13 Tyler Purcell

Tyler Purcell
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2369 posts
  • Other
  • Los Angeles

Posted 02 July 2016 - 01:14 AM

But if everyone got a deal, they couldn't afford to stay in business...


The only way to prevent film from dying is to have a community of people who care about it's preservation. The days of it being a big money maker are long gone. Everyone who has anything to do with the film industry should understand that and be willing to help keep it alive. People who wish to make money, they can focus on other aspects like lens repair or maybe retiring from the industry all together and train future tech's.

The big problem is the lack of community and it's easy to fix. Give the power to fix most things to the users and then those specialized techs won't be needed anymore. I have yet to work on a film camera and found it difficult in any way. It's only complex due to the smallish parts and timing of the assembly. The lack of parts is also a problem, but again... easy to remedy by scanning in parts that already exist and duplicating them with a mill. It just takes a dedicated machinist on their spare time to help forward the film community's agenda.
  • 0

#14 Simon Wyss

Simon Wyss
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1143 posts
  • Other
  • Basel, Switzerland

Posted 02 July 2016 - 01:31 AM

Just now I’m participating in a discussion of flange depth and adjusting of ground glasses in an other forum. There are people who think everything is in order when the test target appears sharp in their collimator. Having a hard time to explain that the last subtlety has to do with the depth of the, how shall I say, fractured surface of the ground glass. Camerapeople focus lenses by the image they see on/in the GG. Of course, the situation differs among the film formats, that is the story is less critical with 35-mm. cameras than with those for 16-mm. film.

 

Self-delusion is a terrible disease.


  • 0

#15 Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes
  • Sustaining Members
  • 11234 posts
  • Other

Posted 02 July 2016 - 04:02 AM

If it's any consolation, I feel much the same way about computer stuff.

 

...yes, computer stuff.

 

I am now old enough to have met a generation of walking, talking adults who are younger than me. People I went to school with were commonly capable of reinstalling an operating system on a computer or patching in new hardware. The most recent generation are dismally incompetent at anything other than facebook on a cellphone.

 

Perhaps this comes to us all. I feel old.


  • 0

#16 Dom Jaeger

Dom Jaeger
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1201 posts
  • Other
  • Melbourne, Australia

Posted 02 July 2016 - 04:25 AM

.. People who wish to make money, they can focus on other aspects like lens repair or maybe retiring from the industry all together and train future camera techs..


I'm not sure what planet you're living on Tyler, but in the one I live on making a living is a necessity, not something you may or may not "wish" to do. I have a family with 2 children, I can't just give away my time and skills for some imagined cause. As I've said to you before, film isn't a charity like homelessness or cancer research, it's a format choice for art and entertainment. I've given plenty of free advice on forums like this, I give student discounts and regularly undercharge for film camera repairs, I've documented service procedures online for a number of film cameras in an effort to pass on knowledge, but at some point I also need to sustain my family.
  • 0

#17 JD Hartman

JD Hartman
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1491 posts
  • Gaffer
  • Edison, N.J. U.S.A.

Posted 02 July 2016 - 07:00 AM

. The lack of parts is also a problem, but again... easy to remedy by scanning in parts that already exist and duplicating them with a mill. It just takes a dedicated machinist on their spare time to help forward the film community's agenda.

 

Please explain that statement.  Do you mean taking measurement and creating a physical drawing or drawing the part up in a CAD system?  You're measuring a used (worn) part, how do you determine the original dimensions and the tolerances for those dimensions?  I machine replacement parts and adapters on the side.  Most people have no idea how long it will take to mill or turn a part and think that machinists, even armature ones shouldn't make much more than minimum wage, let alone $65 an hour.


  • 0

#18 Tyler Purcell

Tyler Purcell
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2369 posts
  • Other
  • Los Angeles

Posted 02 July 2016 - 09:41 AM

Please explain that statement.  Do you mean taking measurement and creating a physical drawing or drawing the part up in a CAD system?  You're measuring a used (worn) part, how do you determine the original dimensions and the tolerances for those dimensions?  I machine replacement parts and adapters on the side.  Most people have no idea how long it will take to mill or turn a part and think that machinists, even armature ones shouldn't make much more than minimum wage, let alone $65 an hour.


Well, it depends on the part. I was thinking more of parts that were damaged/missing, rather then "worn". So taking a good camera body, measuring parts that could get damaged and having replacements ready to be milled, that's kind of what I was thinking of.

Obviously, finding original drawings would help considerably, but most manufacturers won't just give those up and neither will some techs who think it's 1964 and they're at the prime of their business.

Ohh and I know MANY open-source film guys who would do this work on their spare time for free, just to keep film going. They make money with their machines all day long building other things.
  • 0

#19 Tyler Purcell

Tyler Purcell
  • Sustaining Members
  • 2369 posts
  • Other
  • Los Angeles

Posted 02 July 2016 - 09:51 AM

I'm not sure what planet you're living on Tyler, but in the one I live on making a living is a necessity, not something you may or may not "wish" to do. I have a family with 2 children, I can't just give away my time and skills for some imagined cause. As I've said to you before, film isn't a charity like homelessness or cancer research, it's a format choice for art and entertainment. I've given plenty of free advice on forums like this, I give student discounts and regularly undercharge for film camera repairs, I've documented service procedures online for a number of film cameras in an effort to pass on knowledge, but at some point I also need to sustain my family.


If you need to make a living off a dead business model, you're unfortunately in the wrong business. People fixed Steam engines, probably felt the same way, but they had to adapt or change industries.

Now, I have no idea how much you charge or were at all talking about YOU, someone who lives in not only a different country, but one VERY far away with it's own currency model. I was very much referring to the country I live in and the difficulty dealing with service/repairs here.

I just got an e-mail from a young filmmaker who has taken things into his own hands. He's bought high-end film cameras, he's purchased scanners and telecine machines on the used market, so he can make a difference.

Without competition like that, without someone really pushing to keep the prices low, to make it affordable, the price for shooting on film will continue to go up and eventually it will be a format only available to the rich, like it was not that long ago.

Servicing film cameras is not rocket science and honestly, it's really time for a shift of the guard on this one. Lets get the youth involved, lets get them excited and lets save film for future generations in a way that's open source, unlike the past where it was restricted to being a "specialty".
  • 0

#20 JD Hartman

JD Hartman
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1491 posts
  • Gaffer
  • Edison, N.J. U.S.A.

Posted 02 July 2016 - 10:02 AM

Well, it depends on the part. I was thinking more of parts that were damaged/missing, rather then "worn". So taking a good camera body, measuring parts that could get damaged and having replacements ready to be milled, that's kind of what I was thinking of.

 

That kind of thinking has driven many a small business, out of business.  Making parts in anticipation of orders that may not ever come in.   The other issue is if the cameras themselves have lost value, do you think someone is going to pay top dollar for a handful of parts (even critical, unobtainable ones) that might equal 10 to 25% of what they paid for that used camera?

 

If...if you were adapt at CAD and had a 3D printer, you might be able to make some of them more easily through printing than machining.  But that's a different skillset entirely.


  • 0


Glidecam

Willys Widgets

Ritter Battery

CineLab

Paralinx LLC

Aerial Filmworks

Technodolly

Rig Wheels Passport

Pro 8mm

CineTape

Zylight

The Slider

Broadcast Solutions Inc

rebotnix Technologies

Visual Products

Tai Audio

Abel Cine

Tai Audio

Visual Products

The Slider

Willys Widgets

CineLab

Rig Wheels Passport

Broadcast Solutions Inc

rebotnix Technologies

Aerial Filmworks

Abel Cine

Zylight

Pro 8mm

Glidecam

Technodolly

Ritter Battery

CineTape

Paralinx LLC