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Reverse engineering: Hope for the future of electronic film cameras
Old 02-16-2019   #1
aizan
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Reverse engineering: Hope for the future of electronic film cameras

Let's try to be more positive when it comes to repairing electronic film cameras. We've become too fatalistic about it, accepting their "inevitable" demise without so much as a fight. Don't give up!

We're so pessimistic about the repairability of electronic film cameras (ones with printed circuit boards, not ones that are simply metered), a lot of people forget or are ignorant of the fact that many problems such as bad capacitors, dirty contacts, and rust can be easily fixed. Also, some parts may be standardized, and they can be replaced without setting up custom manufacturing.

The hard part is replacing PCBs and other custom components like integrated circuits, LCDs, and flex cables. These can all be reverse engineered. There would be legal and financial hurdles to sort out, but technically you could make replacement parts.

It might mean that only a handful of classics will be supported in the future, but it's at least possible!
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Old 02-16-2019   #2
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Good thought, but for some of us, what is possible is meaningless if it can't be done in a reasonable turn around time at a reasonable cost....
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Old 02-16-2019   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aizan View Post
Let's try to be more positive when it comes to repairing electronic film cameras. We've become too fatalistic about it, accepting their "inevitable" demise without so much as a fight. Don't give up!

We're so pessimistic about the repairability of electronic film cameras (ones with printed circuit boards, not ones that are simply metered), a lot of people forget or are ignorant of the fact that many problems such as bad capacitors, dirty contacts, and rust can be easily fixed. Also, some parts may be standardized, and they can be replaced without setting up custom manufacturing.
+1.
Most electronic defects are rather small defects which can be repaired easily - if you have the knowledge.
In general electronics are more durable than mechanics in the long term because there is no wearout / attrition as it is in mechanics.

Currently most of the older repair guys are "mechanic fundamentalists" who don't want to start to learn about electronics.
But younger technicians want to do that. Camera Rescue in Tampere just have hired a young electronic specialists to extend their repair capacities for electronic cameras.
In England there is a 22 year old genius who is repairing defect Contax T2.

Electronic parts are also often not the problem. E.g. in China (Shanghai, Bejing, Shenzen) there are really huge electronic parts supermarkets where you can buy absolutely everything whats needed in electronic hardware. At extremely low prices.
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Old 02-16-2019   #4
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Yes, a lot of electronics issues can be fixed, especially the older cameras with discrete electronics, which don't require any reverse engineering really. The problem is usually cost. Finding a fault in discrete electronics can be hard enough, reverse engineering entire circuit boards is prohibitively expensive for the small numbers we'd be talking about. I don't think it'll happen on any scale larger than individual afficinado's labor of love.
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Old 02-16-2019   #5
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I'm not going to try and repair a fidgety electronic camera that can be replaced for 30 bucks. It just isn't in the cards. In the trash heap it goes, and on w/ the replacement, and lest someone moans about landfills and the like, keep in mind that all things in the universe are impermanent, and all things, every single one of them, eventually go back to the earth, air or water.
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Old 02-16-2019   #6
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Quote:
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I'm not going to try and repair a fidgety electronic camera that can be replaced for 30 bucks. It just isn't in the cards. In the trash heap it goes, and on w/ the replacement, and lest someone moans about landfills and the like, keep in mind that all things in the universe are impermanent, and all things, every single one of them, eventually go back to the earth, air or water.
Besides, the economy needs us. Planned obsolescence is part of a healthy economy. What's good for business is good for (insert your country).
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Old 02-16-2019   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve M. View Post
I'm not going to try and repair a fidgety electronic camera that can be replaced for 30 bucks. It just isn't in the cards. In the trash heap it goes, and on w/ the replacement, and lest someone moans about landfills and the like, keep in mind that all things in the universe are impermanent, and all things, every single one of them, eventually go back to the earth, air or water.
Well sure, a $30 item doesnít really apply here though.
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Old 02-16-2019   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve M. View Post
...and lest someone moans about landfills and the like, keep in mind that all things in the universe are impermanent, and all things, every single one of them, eventually go back to the earth, air or water.
That is one of the most short sighted and selfish things Iíve heard in a while. Sure, throw it out, eventually it will decay. Eventually. Like in 100,000 years. Who gives a rats arse how much damage it does along the way. A single plastic bag could kill hundreds of marine animals on it way back to earth, but who cares right. Who cares that your electronic waste concentrates toxic elements in ways that are never found on the surface of the earth. Itís not my problem. I canít see it.
A broken $30 electronic camera does just as much environmental harm as a broken $2000 electronic camera. If you canít be bothered fixing it, at least make an effort to recycle it.
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Old 02-16-2019   #9
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Back to the OPs topic.
The reason they aren’t repaired isn’t because they can’t be. Like Steve M said, it just isn’t economical to. No one is going to pay me for however long it takes to debug the electronic problem and then maybe fix it. Western wages are too high for that. Some places have tried to get a repairing mentality back through tax incentives (like no tax on repairs for example), but it doesn’t go far enough. In places where wages are much lower “low cost” electronics are repaired.
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Old 02-16-2019   #10
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Well sure, a $30 item doesnít really apply here though.
If your wage for the month was $30 (as opposed to your wage for 30 minutes), then you would get the $30 item repaired.
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Old 02-16-2019   #11
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$30 an hour?
Holly crap, in Canuckistan it is high wages!
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Old 02-16-2019   #12
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Quote:
The hard part is replacing PCBs and other custom components like integrated circuits, LCDs, and ribbon cables.These can all be reverse engineered.
So you have this P&S that appears to be brain-dead, or just acts funny. Open it (try not break those latches that were designed to snap shut once for all) and you discover this tiny ASIC (application specific integrated circuit, i.e. custom IC) "brain". Then what?

Or, what I have on my table, this nice Konica Big Mini. The flex harness between main body and back (display, buttons) has broken where it goes around the hinge. Sure, I have already repaired a flex circuit in my Nikon scanner, only it was in a flat section; here it is in a tight bend.

Could you give us one or two examples of repair and/or reverse engineering you have actually performed, as opposed to what the NSA might in principle be able to do?
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Old 02-17-2019   #13
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I far as I'm able to see the OP did not say that all cameras can be repaired, and indeed some of the plastic fantastics of the 70's and 80's are best forgotten. But as Michael says; do not let them end up in a landfill. The "economy needs us" argument is not much worth if our planet is poisoned. I agree with the OP that many failures are due to dirty / bad contacts and are easy to fix. To make new electronic circuitry to fit in the most popular cameras could be done, the price will certainly depend on production quantities. Some companies like Mint are already fitting old cameras with new advanced electronics and putting them on the market.
But there could be simpler ways to make these cameras work. I have a few very nice Konicas from the sixties in a drawer, and I've been wondering if they could be turned into manual cameras. A simple circuit to control the electronic shutters manually would suffice for me if I could start using those cameras again.
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Old 02-17-2019   #14
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I suppose also a cultural issue...throw whatever doesn't work. In Vietnam, there are still very many repairmen who will try to repair whatever camera you'll bring in. They seem to be well connected and able to source parts locally, both mechanical and electronic.
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Old 02-17-2019   #15
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Even (quality) P&S cameras from the 90s sell for well over a grand now, and will only appreciate as time wears on, so getting one repaired for $100 or even $200 could be well worth it, compared to buying another one - that's probably their appreciation in value on Ebay in a month
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Old 02-17-2019   #16
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I think it's less of a money problem than many people think electronics are cheap at least cheaper than high quality mechanical parts. It's just that problems in the IC can't be seen by simply opening the camera and therefore people are overwhelmed and can't conceive how to repair the electronic parts. It's not much different in the cine world where cameras cost quiet a bit more than still cameras the CP16r or CP GSMO are two such examples they are considered throw away items because the circuits "can't be repaired" once they have a defect. The Arri 365BL1 is another such example in both cases it's BS pretty much all all electronic components made in the 70's are still around the main problem is the lead solder but again there are ways around it.
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Old 02-17-2019   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aizan View Post
The hard part is replacing PCBs and other custom components like integrated circuits, LCDs, and ribbon cables. These can all be reverse engineered. There would be legal and financial hurdles to sort out, but technically you could make replacement parts.
As a technical matter you can; as a practical matter you can't.
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Old 02-17-2019   #18
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Originally Posted by DominikDUK View Post
I think it's less of a money problem than many people think electronics are cheap at least cheaper than high quality mechanical parts. It's just that problems in the IC can't be seen by simply opening the camera and therefore people are overwhelmed and can't conceive how to repair the electronic parts. It's not much different in the cine world where cameras cost quiet a bit more than still cameras the CP16r or CP GSMO are two such examples they are considered throw away items because the circuits "can't be repaired" once they have a defect. The Arri 365BL1 is another such example in both cases it's BS pretty much all all electronic components made in the 70's are still around the main problem is the lead solder but again there are ways around it.
The problem of cost isn't because of the parts, it's the labor. Or if we're talking about reverse engineering whole boards in small series, the labor that goes into these parts. LCDs etc, the tooling would be prohibitively expensive I think.
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Old 02-17-2019   #19
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Again to repair an electronic part isn't more expensive or time consuming than a technical part. IC designed in the 70's are still available, you need Knowledge in electronics that's it but as a previous poster wrote most repair techs are not very knowledgeable about that part of camera repair.
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Old 02-17-2019   #20
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Originally Posted by DominikDUK View Post
Again to repair an electronic part isn't more expensive or time consuming than a technical part. IC designed in the 70's are still available, you need Knowledge in electronics that's it but as a previous poster wrote most repair techs are not very knowledgeable about that part of camera repair.
How many custom ribbon circuits for cameras have you fabricated? Just wondering how much of this is theory rather than practice? My own experience working on non-camera ribbon circuits is that they are a nightmare.
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Old 02-17-2019   #21
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Actually, the reality is that many such cameras cannot be repaired without deep pockets and access to re-manufacturing. Despite what the OP thinks, huge swathes of '70s electronic parts are no longer available, both analogue and digital. In addition, there are circuits where the manufacturer used unmarked ICs and then there are flexible circuit boards that simply cannot be re-soldered with a soldering iron because they melt. Custom LCDs would also be insanely expensive.

Yes, it's possible to fix anything if you have the resources but in the real world those resources are simply not available, certainly not in an economically-sensible way.

Lead-based solder is a non-issue, I'm wondering why anyone thinks otherwise?
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Reverse engineering: Hope for the future of electronic film cameras
Old 02-17-2019   #22
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Reverse engineering: Hope for the future of electronic film cameras

I thought the issue was actually caused by the introduction of non-lead solder, where initially products suffered solder cracks which led to them having to be replaced early ( becuase non-lead solder is more brittle). Allegedly an issue with a lot consumer electronics, just as presumably the capacitory plague had been. Either way, by now a non-issue as anything likely to fail for that reason almost certainly has already.
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Old 02-17-2019   #23
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Being able to repair things is important of course, but even better is not allowing things to deteriorate so badly in the first place! Look at manufacturer's literature for many electronic components and you'll sometimes see MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure) and other environmental data. And in general, electronics last longest if kept under conditions which are dry, not too hot, and not too cold. To which I'll add "and clean / dust-free".
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Old 02-17-2019   #24
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There are a couple themes in this discussion I should elaborate on.

First, there's the cost that people assume is "prohibitively" expensive. Does anyone know how much it costs to reverse engineer something like the PCB inside a Contax T3 or Konica Hexar AF? How much money are we talking about? There are specialized labs all over the place (SunMan in San Jose, Sigenics in Chicago, ENA in Canada, LTEC in Japan) that offer reverse engineering services. Some types of parts like ICs will be more expensive, others will be less expensive. Some might actually be impractical to recreate. (ASICs have traditionally been one of the hardest, but AFAIK they are only used in digital cameras to process sensor output.) But you have to consider the type of business that's trying to replicate parts. A big camera service center with multiple employees will be able to do more than a single independent repairman; they could even make licensing agreements with camera companies to get the original specs of parts. Obviously, it's not prohibitively expensive for many industries because these labs and services exist. Is the film photography community and camera repair industry too poor to afford it?

Second, there's the environmental and political aspect. I support the Right to Repair movement. It's my property, I should be allowed to fix it and not have to throw it away or have it repaired only by the manufacturer. If they run out of spare parts after the 10 years they're legally obligated to provide service for, I should be permitted to make new parts. Maybe people don't like electronic film cameras enough to bother, but that's just a matter of preferring all mechanical cameras. How would preferences change if they were both equally repairable?
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Old 02-17-2019   #25
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I sent a link to this thread to a friend of mine who has a couple of EE degrees and was a NASA engineer before he retired. He got quite a chuckle out of it. He said he’d show it around to his friends. One of his comments was, “going to the moon was probably easier.” He wondered, given the comments, how many people actually understood the level of complexity and miniaturization in electronic cameras, and the nature of the manufacturing processs in the real world. And costs.

This is a pipe dream. Harmless to dream, but don’t get your heart set on any significant amount of this coming to pass in the world of conscious people.
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Old 02-17-2019   #26
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Electronic cameras of the early 80's or earlier can't be compared to modern electronic cameras like an F5 F6 etc... those electro mechanical cameras that don't have a mini Computer build in a very far from extremely complex. I would agree with your friend in regards to cameras made in the late 80's until today that are more or less miniature Computers. But those earlier electro mechanical cameras are repairable also regarding flex circuits you can print them with printers so in a way you have it easier today than the mfg. from the 70's and 80's. The setup costs are not cheap but the rest
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Old 02-17-2019   #27
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Quote:
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I sent a link to this thread to a friend of mine who has a couple of EE degrees and was a NASA engineer before he retired. He got quite a chuckle out of it. He said heíd show it around to his friends.
Maybe some of them would be interested in coming out of retirement for a fun project?
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Old 02-17-2019   #28
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Quote:
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This is a pipe dream.
Probably not in general, but in some special cases.
For a long time it has been said that for example the Leica Minilux is not repairable: It has one weak point, the electronic connection to the lens. But then some technicians tried to solve the problem and succeeded. Now there are at least two repair companies who can repair it.
Same with the Contax T2. But now there is a 22 year old repair enthusiast in England who can repair it.

As I have said in one of my earlier posts: In most cases cameras get defunct because of only 1 or 2 failures, weak points a certain model has. And that are often not complicated reasons for failure. But condensators, flexed cables, corrosion. And these failures can mostly be repaired.
In most cases you don't need to "reverse engineer a PCB or an internal processor". PCBs and processors are extremely robust.
We should not think too complicated. Lots of problems are not so severe and can be repaired with a certain amount of knowledge. And that is the real challenge and task for the future: To get more (young) repair technicians with electronic knowledge into the camera repair business. Exactly that has now been started by the company 'Camera Rescue' in Finland (see the parallel thread).
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Old 02-17-2019   #29
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Dealing with specific weak points is less daunting.

How hard would it be to make replacement flex cables for Konica Big Minis? Or film counter LCDs for Contax cameras?
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Old 02-17-2019   #30
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Yep, good point. I'm learning to fix things myself and acquire or create the appropriate tools to fix and not botch up.
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Old 02-17-2019   #31
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Maybe some of them would be interested in coming out of retirement for a fun project?
Iíll ask, but I think theyíre good
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Old 02-17-2019   #32
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I hear the USAF plans to still fly the B-52 when it's 70+ years old.

Anything is possible given deep enough pockets.

Mine aren't so deep; I'll stick to my old mechanical cameras.

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Old 02-17-2019   #33
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Dealing with specific weak points is less daunting.

How hard would it be to make replacement flex cables for Konica Big Minis? Or film counter LCDs for Contax cameras?
As an aside, as it concerns the known issue of LCD bleeds on Contax film counter windows:
Iíve got more Contax film cameras than I care to admit. Some of them I have had for well over thirty years, from new. Some bought later, several bought with LCD bleed issues already there.
People should not let that issue put them off these cameras, especially if the seller is discounting the camera because of the LCD issue. Itís not a big deal, it doesnít interfere with the functionality of the camera in any way, it just looks scary. (If you are easily scared.) None of the bodies I purchased with LCD bleeds over ten years ago have gotten any worse over time, so that isnít a given. Even if the film counter totally disappeared, which event would be rare, the camera will still work. You just wonít know exactly how many frames you have left. (Surprise!) And these bodies are really cheap right now for what they are. For what itís worth.
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Old 02-18-2019   #34
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There are many film cameras being sold for parts online. A marketplace that could match working parts with cameras that need it would perhaps be an easier first step.
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Old 02-18-2019   #35
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I thought discussion was not to turn cameras into part donors?
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