Note: This article was originally published in the December, 1982 issue of Career World magazine. David Arnold is a Eugene, Oregon based travel photographer who has been writing about travel, photography, and computers since 1980. His photos have appeared in Popular Photography, Petersen's Photographic, US Air Magazine, The Rotarian, the TWA Calendar, and elsewhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) David Arnold 1982 - All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission. - - -
Take the optical parts from one telescope. Add the electronic parts from two video games or one small computer. Then add the moving parts from four bicycles. Mix well, and shrink the mixture down to a one-and-a-half pound package that you can hold in your hand. Now make it work.
Welcome to the world of the camera repair technician.
When the first snapshot cameras appeared on the market, just over 100 years ago, Kodak advertised them with the slogan, "You press the button, we do the rest." Today a big part of "the rest" is done by camera repair technicians.
The box camera of the last century had fewer moving parts than a pop-up toaster. Today's cameras are marvels of technology. Many have more parts than an automobile engine.
More Parts Than an Auto Engine
No wonder that two of the qualifications for people who repair cameras are excellent eyesight (with or without)glasses) and excellent dexterity (skilled hands).Patience is needed, too. Can you build a radio-controlled model plane that calls for days of work to get the servos lined up just right? Or can you needle-point with every fine stitch just where it should be? And can you do these kinds of things without getting impatient or frustrated? Then camera repair might be right for you.
There are other qualifications. Today's cameras combine three technologies: optics, mechanics, and electronics. The camera repairer has to know all three areas. You don't need to be an expert in optics-the science of light-sensitive instruments. But you do need to learn the basics, The other two, mechanics and electronics, you'll have to know inside out. The shutters and film-carrying mechanisms of many cameras look like roller coaster or ski lift squeezed to the size of a tape cassette. You'll get one on your workbench with a note: "Customer says shutter jams about once every two or three rolls." Or, maybe the note will say: "Film hard to advance." You'll have to figure out what's wrong and make it right. A challenge? You bet your sweet magnifier, jeweler's pliers, and soldering iron it is
So why do it? There are lots of reasons. The challenge itself is one. While you grow in experience and expertise, the cameras you repair will keep changing. You'll be solving puzzles all the time-and you'll be at the forefront of technological innovation. Repairing cameras, unlike manufacturing them, is not assembly-line work: the repairer is totally responsible for what is done to any given camera.
Some jobs make great demands on your lifestyle: Your hair has to be cut a certain way or you may have to work when and where the company wants. In some cases, even your spouse must be "presentable" in company eyes. But there also are jobs that demand only that you do your work well. Camera repair is one of these.
Focus on Relaxed Lifestyle...
You usually can dress as you like. If you move from one part of the country to another, you're likely to find work. You may have a say in working out of schedule. You can work in a small shop, a large shop, or open your own shop. You can even work out of your own home, either full or part time. If you want to take off for a couple of months to travel, write a novel, or have a baby, you can find another job when you need one again-as long as you've kept up with the changes manufacturers introduced in the meantime.
A lot of jobs claim to be "equal opportunity": Camera repair really is. Women, minority-group members, the handicapped-all who have good eyes and good hands can do the work. The technical director of National Camera, the largest repair school in the United States, is confined to a wheelchair.
"It sounds good, I hear you saying, "but will I really be able to find a job?"
Elsa Kaiser, executive director of the Society of Photo-Technologists, the professional association of the camera repair field, said, "if you could bring qualified technicians tomorrow I would have no trouble placing every one of them." There is a shortage of camera repair technicians in every paart of the country. This situation shows no sign of letting up for at least the next few years.
Notice, however, Ms. Kaiser's us of the word "qualified." You have to know your stuff. While there is an apprenticeship program, only about one repair shop in 20 is willing to take part in it. Most can't afford to, since, unlike some fields, a camera repair firm cannot make money from unskilled workers.
It sounds like one of those Catch-22 situations: You need experience. But you can't get it. There is an answer, though: formal training. You can learn camera repair through resident programs. (This is where you go to the school.) You also can take a home study course. (The school comes to you in the form of a mail-order course.) Some repairers learned their skill in the military.
It also helps if you take a lot of math, physics, and machine shop in high school.
A resident course is almost always best. But, like most training schools, it can take a lot of time and money. However, you'll get plenty of hands-on, supervised experience. This is what repair shops are looking for.
The military also can give you these. But the time commitment is greater. Also much of your training and experience will be with specialized equipment that is not used in civilian photography.
A home study course is more flexible. You can learn camera repair while holding down another job. But it does have drawbacks.
First, you must be "self-winding." Since there are not classes to go to, many people who start with the best of intentions do not follow through.
Further, you don't have the benefits of informal contact with teachers and other students. Nor do you get as much hands-on experience. But many successful camera reair technicians hav started out this way.
Carrick Montague is such a repairer. Six years ago he was working full time selling cameras at a store in Novato, California. He wanted to know how to do more. But he could not afford to take off to study full time. So he enrolled in a mail-order repair course. Montague spent his evenings studying camera repair for about two years. Halfway through the course he started doing some repairs for people out of his home. In this way he could both pay for the course and gain extra experience. When he finished the course, Montague worked out a detailed proposal. He suggested to the owner of the store where he worked that a camera-repair shop be added . His boss liked the idea. Soon Montague hound himself doing the work he wanted in a job he himself had created. It took him more than a year before he felt really good at the work. But today the camera repair shop at Old Town Photo is a success.
He Created His Own Job
What about pay for camera repair technicians? Is it OK? Yes. Will you get rich? No.
Your field of Vision?
After you finish training, you may earn between $800 and $1,000 a month. With experience you could earn almost twice that. The average repair technician earns between $18,000 and $21,000 a year. [Note: Earnings are 1982 figures.]
There you have it-a field that combines old-world craftlike work with modern state-of-the-art technology. Camera repair is a career that requires you to be part mechanic, part electronics technician, part machinist, and part problem-solver. The public pushes the button...but you make it work.
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