Friday, 2 November 2012

Conversation in Kotor: Failure on the Job

Could you please hold my bag while I look for the camera instruction manual? I had to buy this camera at the airport since my last one failed completely last week. To make matters worse, my wife's camera of the same model failed a couple of weeks earlier.
Yes, sure. That's bad luck. Were they as dead as dodos?
Completely dead; tried new batteries. Only had the cameras a few months. The model was highly recommended in a magazine. Will never go near that brand again.
Ah, the old problem. Reliability never seems to feature in magazine reports. Not so bad as in the 1950s and 1960s when — according to the magazines — every duck of a camera was a swan.
Thanks, at least I can see how the menu works with the manual in front of me. Have you ever had a camera fail as you were using it, other than a battery of course?
Yes, I have, twice in fact. The still camera was the Olympus OM-2SP (spot-program) at a graduation. The linkage between the shutter release and the wind-on jammed completely. Could not wind on the film. Catastrophe. The guy who specialised in OM repairs soon sorted it out but the story that there was a problem in the design only emerged years after the camera appeared. Not a word appeared in the photographic press until the OM series began to be discussed as collectors' items.

Until I converted to Nikon, we were a hard-core Olympus family. Pen-FT, OM-2n, OM-2SP and, ultimately, the OM-4Ti. A colleague had bought an OM-1 when they first appeared and those of us who used the small Olympus cameras viewed Canon SLRs as suitable for ham-fisted individuals who could not handle small precision instruments. However, the failure in action of my OM-2SP was never quite forgiven.

The other camera that failed completely when in use was a Leica cine camera — the Leicina 8SV — taking double-8 mm film. There seems some confusion over the variants of the Leicina. Mine had the fully enclosed zoom lens but it was an Angenieux, not a Variogon. However, the point was that the electric motor faltered for a while and then died. I did not bother to get it repaired because super-8 had appeared and provided a leap in quality; double-8 was on the way out. However, I had an instrument technician look at it and he was not impressed by the mechanical design or its execution. As an early 1960s cine camera, the Leicina was excellent in use: superb lens; built like a tank; auto-exposure (through a meter parallel to the lens; peculiar but useful pistol grip which folded away. However, I never quite got over the mechanical failure of a Leica camera.