Camera Maintenance with Bernie O’Doherty

I’ve just returned from Boothbay, Maine, where two other filmmakers and I trekked to take a one-day workshop in camera maintenance and repair with by Bernie O’Doherty of Super 16, Inc.

Saying Bernie knows some things about motion picture cameras is like saying Jacques Cousteau (whose cameras Bernie serviced) liked to make little movies of the fishies in the sea. Bernie’s not just a renovator that repairs all sorts of movie cameras and converts standard 16’s (like my Eclair ACL) to Super-16; he’s an innovator. The guy developed a viewfinder brightening process that was nominated for an Academy Award.

It would be unfair to Bernie’s business for me to share all his tricks on this blog, but I can say that his workshop covered everything from how to realign whacked viewfinder diopters to how to do a film scratch biopsy. For me the highlight was learning how to fully disassemble, clean from the inside out, and then reassemble my own camera’s magazines. Suffice to say that eight hours, several disassembled cameras, and one lobster feast later, Bernie looked to us less like an engineer and more like a guru, a sensei, a jedi master of the movie camera.

Make no mistake: There are plenty of things (say, collimating a lens) that I would never, ever attempt to do myself. But the workshop aimed to give each of us a much higher level of ownership, confidence and control over the tools we already use, and it did that in spades. Knowing that, if I absolutely had to, I could take apart my camera on a shoot and diagnose a problem is a great feeling. That feeling is, in fact, part of what this blog is all about.

Bernie and his wife Julie were uncommonly warm and generous hosts, too, and that made the workshop all the more fun. My two fellow-travelers and I left for Philadelphia glowing not just from the empowering knowledge we’d gained, but also because we felt like we’d made some new friends. It was a great start for the new year.

Obviously, if your camera needs some work or, in a more self-reliant vein, if you want to do a workshop similar to the one we did, give Bernie and Julie a shout.

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