Broken Camera

Some cameras are fun when they’re broken. You know, the kind you pick up in a junk pile for next to nothing. It’s assumed from the beginning that the camera is broken, but sometimes it seems worthwhile to take a chance. You clean it up a bit, maybe put in new batteries if it’s a modern camera, maybe add a few drops of oil in the right places… If it’s still broken it’s no big deal. But if it should suddenly come back to life the feeling is really gratifying! In particular there are a couple of old medium format cameras; the Pentax 6×7 and the Pentax 645 (original version) that have a few novelties which often lead people to the mistaken conclusion that they are broken. Knowing how to deal with those particular features can often win you a working camera for next to nothing. I’ll just give a few hints. On the 6×7 and the subsequent 67, learn how to use the manual mirror return button! As for the 645, learn how to use the manual advance function that uses the wheel accessory, which is normally stored on the bottom of the body. It’s often missing in old beaters so have one of your own. Secondly, learn to recognize the signs of improperly aligned batteries. Believe it or not, inserting the batteries the wrong way doesn’t render the camera completely lifeless. It still will turn on and show a few signs of life… which can make it look like a broken camera. And of course, be familiar with what does and doesn’t work when the back is removed on that camera, or when the temporary testing back is attached in place of a real film back. You would be surprised how many used camera store clerks don’t know these things!

But some cameras are definitely not fun when they are broken. I’m talking about cameras that are expensive and as such, are expected to work flawlessly and render great images. My FujiFilm GF670 Professional is one such camera. And yet for several years I’ve had a nagging problem with it. I often would get one or two frames per roll that were completely blank. It’s pretty hard to think of “user error” that could lead to such a result. The camera can’t be advanced to the next frame until the shutter has been tripped. The shutter can’t be released unless the front is opened, which turns on the camera. There is no lens cap… so I just can’t figure out how I could get a completely blank (transparent after being developed) frame unless the shutter was failing to release. It used to be one or two frames per roll, and not every roll. But then while in the U.S. for six months recently it seemed to get worse. In one particular case five of the ten frames were entirely blank! That’s when I decided to take it in for repairs. I got back to Japan at the end of March and finally took the camera to the shop in late April or early May. About a week later the store called me and said the repair crew at Fuji couldn’t find any flaws in the camera and were sending it back! I objected and told the store to send it right back to Fuji and insist that they actually run film thru it and check the results. Another couple of weeks went by and it came back again, Fuji still claiming they couldn’t find anything wrong and this time they had a roll of 160NS to prove their point.

I took the camera back somewhat reluctantly and immediately loaded a roll of Acros and started by taking a picture in the store and finished the roll by the time I got home. I meant to develop it right away but somehow didn’t get around to it and ended up shooting three more rolls of the same film before getting around to developing it. Well, lo and behold! No blanks!! I’m not sure why and I’m still sort of expecting blanks to show up in the future, but my best guess is that they did some general servicing and cleaning right at the beginning and that must have taken care of the problem. But since Fuji repair staff had spent a significant amount of time on the camera and weren’t charging me anything I decided to just be happy! Here are some of the results from the first test roll.

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