Photographic equipment technicians, sometimes called camera technicians, maintain, test, disassemble, and repair cameras and other equipment used to take still and motion pictures. They are responsible for keeping the equipment in working order. Photographic equipment technicians use a variety of hand tools (such as screwdrivers, pliers, and wire cutters) for maintenance and repair of the complex cameras used by motion picture and still photographers.
As hobbyists’ cameras and equipment become more convenient to use, they become more complicated to maintain and repair. Professional cameras—especially those of filmmakers—also have become increasingly more complicated and expensive. In both cases, photographic equipment is too valuable to entrust to the care of anyone but a trained photographic equipment technician. Today, there are approximately 5,100 of these technicians working in the United States, providing services that range from quick and simple adjustments to complicated repairs requiring specialized equipment.
Photographic Equipment Technician Career History
Although the first permanent photographs were made in the 1820s, it was the introduction of the Kodak camera in 1888 that brought photography within reach of the amateur. This hand-held, roll-film camera developed by George Eastman replaced the earlier bulky cameras and complicated dry-plate developing processes that had restricted photography to professionals. The Leica camera, the first 35-millimeter “miniature” camera, was introduced in 1924. It immediately created an immense interest in candid photography and had a great impact on both everyday American life and on the use of photography as an art form, an entertainment medium, and an influential advertising tool.
The early development of motion pictures was also tied to a series of inventions—flexible celluloid film; Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope, in which motion pictures were viewed by looking through a peephole at revolving reels of film; and his later projecting kinetoscope, the immediate forerunner of the modern film projector. In 1876, Edison presented the first public exhibition of motion pictures projected on a screen.
Further improvements in cameras, projectors, lighting equipment, films, and prints have contributed to making still and motion picture photography one of the most popular hobbies. Early cameras were completely mechanical. Now they are computerized, with internal light meters, and automatic focus and film advancement. Photographic equipment technicians must be able to repair both the mechanics and the electronics of modern cameras. Digital cameras are the newest development in photographic technology. Film has been replaced by microchips that record a picture in digital format, which can then be downloaded onto a computer.
Photographic Equipment Technician Job Description
Technicians diagnose a camera’s problem by analyzing the camera’s shutter speed and accuracy of focus through the use of sophisticated electronic test equipment. Once the problem is diagnosed, the camera is opened and checked for worn, misaligned, or defective parts. At least half of all repairs are done without replacing parts. All tests and adjustments are done to manufacturer’s specifications, using blueprints, specification lists, and repair manuals.
Most repairs and adjustments can be made using small hand tools. A jeweler’s loupe (magnifying glass) is used to examine small parts for wear or damage. Electronic and optical measuring instruments are used to check and adjust focus, shutter speed, operating speed of motion picture cameras, and light readings of light meters.
Many modern cameras designed for amateur use include built-in light meters as well as automatic focus and aperture (lens opening) settings. These features are convenient for the user, but the mechanisms require careful adjustment by a skilled technician when they malfunction.
Cameras must be kept clean and well lubricated to operate properly. Photographic equipment technicians use vacuum and air pressure devices to remove tiny dust particles and ultrasonic cleaning equipment to dislodge and remove hardened dirt and lubricant. Lenses are cleaned with a chemical solvent and soft tissue paper. Very fine lubricants are applied, often with the aid of a syringe or fine cotton swab.
Occasionally technicians, especially those employed by manufacturers or shops servicing professional studios, fabricate replacement parts. They use small instrument-makers’ lathes, milling machines, grinders, and other tools.
Technicians must be able to discuss a camera’s working problems with a customer in order to extract the necessary information to diagnose the problem.
Photographic Equipment Technician Career Requirements
To prepare for this career, high school students should take classes in shop and mathematics. More than 21 million digital cameras were sold in 2005, so be sure to take computer science classes to understand how computer chips can store and download photographic images. Many camera technicians are photography enthusiasts themselves, so take courses in photography, film, and other art forms to gauge your interest.
Because their work is highly technical, photographic equipment technicians need specialized training, which is available through either classroom instruction or a correspondence course. Training provides basic technical background information to work with cameras as well as a thorough understanding and working knowledge of electronics. Not all camera models can be covered in a training course. More specialized training on additional models is obtained on the job or through specialized seminars.
Camera manufacturers and importers provide training for their technicians. This training usually covers only the technical aspects of the manufacturer’s own products.
In order to work with extremely small parts, photographic equipment technicians need excellent vision, manual dexterity, and mechanical aptitude. Those who work directly with the public must be able to communicate easily with people.
Exploring Photographic Equipment Technician Career
Larger camera stores often have an on-site employee who does limited camera adjustment and repair. This person can be a good source of information about opportunities in this field. You can also obtain information from technical schools and institutes offering photographic equipment courses. In addition, many schools and community centers have photography clubs, some with their own darkrooms, which offer an excellent chance to explore the field of photography.
Many of the approximately 5,100 photographic equipment technicians in the United States work in shops specializing in camera adjustment and repair or in the service departments of large camera stores. Quite a few technicians work for camera manufacturers, repairing cameras and photographic equipment that customers have returned to the factory. Some camera dealers have their own in-house repair departments and sometimes hire technicians to adjust cameras on site. Technicians specializing in motion picture cameras and equipment may work for motion picture or television studios or companies renting such equipment to studios.
Individual shops looking for technicians usually notify schools in their area or advertise through national photographic service publications. Manufacturers hire technicians through their personnel departments. The placement counselor of a student’s training institute can help locate openings for graduates.
Advancement in a photographic equipment repair facility is usually from trainee to worker to supervisor. Many manufacturer’s technicians also open their own shops, perhaps starting part time on weekends and evenings. Although technicians who have worked for a manufacturer usually know only one line of cameras well, they can learn other manufacturers’ models on their own.
Independent technicians advance as their reputation grows for doing quality work. They must become familiar with all the major brands and models of camera equipment. In recent years, major camera manufacturers have been offering more training courses and seminars to inform independent technicians about their newer models, particularly covering which repairs can be done efficiently in the technicians’ shops and which repairs need to be handled at the factory. Because of this increased cooperation, technicians who decide to open independent businesses are now much better able to provide quality services for the cameras they service.
Some independent technicians expand their activities into selling small “addons” such as film, accessories, and used equipment. Some photographic equipment technicians also work as professional photographers during their off-hours.
The median salary for photographic equipment technicians was $34,900 in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $19,790, while the highest paid 10 percent earned $53,610 or more a year. Self-employed technicians have earnings that vary widely. In the right location, independent technicians can build up businesses that give them earnings higher than those of technicians who work for manufacturers or shops.
Photographic equipment technicians work in clean, well-lit shop conditions. They are usually seated at a bench for much of the time, working with hand tools. Eyestrain and stiffness from long hours of sitting are common physical complaints. Tedium can be a problem for some technicians.
Photographic equipment technicians work alone most of the time, concentrating on their work. Patience and steadiness are required to work successfully with the small mechanisms of modern camera equipment.
Photographic Equipment Technician Career Outlook
The Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts a decline in employment growth for photographic equipment repairers through 2014. In general, the low price of many of today’s point-and-shoot cameras and the high cost of labor make it uneconomical to do extensive service on these cameras. However, as digital cameras have become more popular, technicians able to repair the more sophisticated electronics will be in demand. Technicians whose training has covered a wide variety of equipment brands and models will have the greatest chance of employment.