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Caring for your camera (02/13/2005)
By Tom Hirsch

Have you ever taken a camera in for repair? If not, you haven't experienced the shock of a lifetime, and if you have, you have. The cost of camera repair is enough to cause many of us to abandon photography and take up stamp collecting. As far as I know, there are no repair costs connected with that hobby.

The best way to deal with camera repair is to avoid it. Treat your camera with the same respect you would a $70,000 new car. Dropping a camera, any camera, a distance of three feet is like driving the car into a brick wall at 30 miles an hour. I've never done either one, but it sounds like a good analogy.

Dropping the camera or hitting it against a hard surface may result in some external damage, but it's what happens inside that you should worry about. The focusing system thrown out of kilter, lens elements jarred out of alignment, the shutter speed timing thrown off are just a few of the things that can happen.

The best way to avoid damaging the camera is to always keep the neck strap around your neck, even when, or especially when, changing film, and while changing lenses on an SLR.

If you own a compact 35mm or digital camera that came with a wrist strap, replace it with a neck strap. There is a tendency to swing the camera while hanging on to a wrist strap. This gives little protection when you pass close to a wall or walk through a doorway. A wrist strap also affords much less protection against theft.

Many 35mm and digital SLRs come with a 3/8th inch neck strap. This width is okay if the strap also has a wider section that fits along the nape of your neck. If not, and even if it does, you might want to buy a wider strap. Most of these are made of soft material, and are quite comfortable around the neck, even when you're carrying a fairly heavy camera and zoom lens for long periods of time.

Incidentally, if you're still a film camera user, many purchased camera straps are equipped with slits that allow you to insert two film canisters for extra rolls of film. Mine didn't, but, with a needle and some heavy black thread, I modified it for this purpose.

There are a number of simple things that can be done to promote camera care. Many are just plain common sense, but it doesn't hurt to have a reminder once in a while.

If a camera will be left unused for a long period of time, remove the battery or batteries in order to avoid the possibility of battery leakage or corrosion. Batteries also lose a small percentage of their life when they are in a camera, so by removing the batteries you will also prolong their life.

A lens cap will help prevent scratches on the lens. With any camera that came with a removable lens cap, the cap can get lost very easily, so buy a lens cap keeper. They are inexpensive, and are available at any camera store. A UV filter kept on the lens at all times is also a good way of protecting the camera's lens. If the filter gets scratched, it is much less costly to replace than the price you'd pay to have the lens recoated.

In a car, the glove box and trunk can get hot, cold and dusty. Never carry a camera in either of these places.

Don't touch the front or back elements of a lens with your fingers, or anything other than lens cleaner and lens tissue, for that matter.

And finally, never attempt to repair anything, external or internal, on a camera. Specialized tools must be used, and only a repair person has them. If something sticks, a drop of oil administered by you can gum up the works, resulting in a much more costly repair job. Leave all repair work to the experts. 


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