My Eccentric Attraction to Old Cameras

It was about 4:30 in the afternoon on a Tuesday after I had been up all night working on a podcast. My brain was tired, and all I wanted to do was take a nap. Too late in the day for that.

So, instead, I climbed the stairs to the workroom on the second floor where I refurbished 35mm film cameras for my online store, TheFilmCameraShop.

There was this Nikon FE that I had been meaning to work on. I sat down at the bench and lifted the camera to my eye. The viewfinder wasn’t too bad. There was a bit of dust, but I could drop down the focusing screen and hopefully blow that out. Seems like a good place to start.

That is, until I touched the mirror bumper with my index finger. It was sticky and ready to fall apart. Can’t let that happen or it will drop goo all over the mirror and the focusing screen. Cleaning that up is a far more difficult task. I better replace the mirror bumper first.

So I carefully scraped away the old gooey foam, cleaned the metal beneath it, then cut a new bumper and installed it. Nice. Now I can drop the focusing screen and blow out the viewfinder. Got it all. No dust in the viewfinder.

I then tested the shutter button, only to discover that it was sticking on the higher speeds. Darn. I tried a little lubrication, and wouldn’t you know it, it worked. What a magnificent sound that shutter is, and the film advance lever was equally satisfying as I pushed it forward with my thumb after each exposure.

I opened the back of the camera to discover that its door seals had long ago crumbled away. I cut new seals and installed them by rolling a penny in the narrow channel around the film chamber to pat them down securely. I then cleaned the entire body and the lens.

I looked at my watch and it read 5:45 pm. An hour and 15 minutes had just passed in seconds. During that time I never once felt fatigued, worried about my clients, or fretted about the unchecked boxes on the ToDo list.

I raised the camera to my eye and pressed the shutter button again. It sounded beautiful. What mechanical miracles those 1980s film cameras were. Nearly 40 years later, this Nikon FE still had its looks, and sounded good as well.

I know that some people think that I’m eccentric for working on these old cameras. Maybe so.

But I know that this Nikon will soon provide great joy for a photographer that I’ve never met. He or she may live in North Carolina or Idaho. I won’t know anything about them except for one thing - we share a deep appreciation for this mechanical device that is both handsome, and can make beautiful images.

I sat the camera down and got up from the workbench. What a satisfying way to end the day.