Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of film cameras, in that time I’ve picked up all the ways of testing and checking if a film camera works properly.
Whether you’ve just found your camera in the attic or bought it second-hand, you’ll always need to check the essential things, the lens, battery compartment, light meter, does it power up and does it load film. If any of these aspects don’t work or have issues, then your camera may be useless.
Read on if you want to discover exactly how to easily test if your old point-and-shoot or SLR camera works properly!
Why Do You Need To Check If An Old Film Camera Works?
There are many reasons why you might have come here to figure out why your 35mm film camera works or not. Personally, I learned because I was buying and selling a lot of old cameras. You might have found one in your attic, bought one from a second-hand shop or bought one online and you’re not sure if everything is as it should be.
We all need a bit of help sometimes and I really have got the best guidelines on how to check if your camera works properly or not. This is not an exhaustive list but it’s about the best you can do without taking it to be serviced or checked at a shop (which can cost a hell of a lot).
First Of All, What Type Of Camera Have I Got?
Two of the most common types of cameras are point-and-shoot cameras and SLR cameras. You might not be sure so it’s best I show you the difference.
The cameras above are SLR cameras (Single Lens Reflex), they tend to be bigger, more professional cameras with removable lenses. Sometimes they look more expensive and more complicated but this isn’t always the case.
These cameras above are point-and-shoot cameras, they’re smaller, simple cameras that have a lot of electronics (and more chance of an electronic problem). Some of these cameras can be worth significant amounts of money.
There are a few other types of cameras such as rangefinders, these are most similar to SLR cameras in terms of the way you would check if they work properly or not.
How To Check If A Point And Shoot Film Camera Works?
The easiest way to show this is via this video that I made, I’ll also lay it out with step-by-step instructions below the video!
Check the body and flash casing for any aesthetic damage. There may be small chips or damage to the battery door, most small chips or bumps aren’t really an issue but if you have damaged the battery door and it might not hold the batteries in and that is something that needs fixing. Sometimes the flash may be cracked this is not a big deal as long as the flash is not completely open/ it’s not likely that you would touch the flash etc.
Check the lens for any fungus, scratches or dust. Fungus is the most common issue with the lens, fungus looks like a spider’s web crawling across the front of the lens, if there’s only a small amount that’s not too big of an issue, however, if it covers the lens it will be pretty much unusable. Small scratches need to be noted but if they are only small the camera is still usable. The same goes For dust, if there’s only a small amount of dust which is generally OK but should be noted.
You can turn the camera on and see if it turns on properly, then shoot so you can check the flash. If your camera has an LCD screen then the LCD screen should come on when you turn the camera on. The lens may extract and if you press the shooting button then the camera should shoot. If you use the flash then the flash could also shoot.
Check the battery compartment for any corrosion, when batteries are left in the battery compartment for too long the acid will leak and that leak will sometimes cause damage to the wiring inside and make the camera unusable. Dried battery acid tends to look like a bluey white sort of crust and to remove it you would need white vinegar and a cotton bud. Once you’ve checked the compartment is clear, you can replace the batteries.
Check if the shutter is shooting properly and there are two ways to do this. Some cameras will allow you to open the back of the camera up and press the shutter button and shoot and this will allow you to see if the shutter is actually opening when you shoot. If you are not able to do this then you can ensure that your flash is turned off half press the shooting button then turn the camera to face you and press the shooting button you should then be able to see through the lens the shutter has actually shot.
Load some film into the camera to see if it is loading properly and if all other functions are working well. Simply take the film open the back of your camera, pop the film into the back and pull some of the film across and then close the back door. Some cameras will load the film automatically and with some cameras, you’ll need to take a quick photo in order to load the first bit on. Once you’ve loaded it and taken a few shots, you can manually unload it (if your camera does unload manually) or you might have to shoot the whole roll for your camera to finally automatically unload.
Finally, if your camera has zoom or anything of that nature just check if these things work does the zoom zoom in and out but other than that your camera should be good to go.
How To Check If An SLR Camera Is Working Properly Or Not?
The easiest way to show how to check SLR cameras is via video, I’ll post mine once it’s completed.
I will put an asterix (*) next to the most important issues to check.
Check the camera body for dinks and damage. Often the metal parts of the camera can get small dinks to the corners or to the prism at the top. These aren’t usually massive problems but they are worth noting especially if you are selling the camera. There can also be ‘brassing’ or rust in severe cases.
* Check the lens for any fungus scratches or dust. Fungus is the most common issue with the lens, fungus looks like a spiders web crawling across the front of the lens, if there’s only a small amount that’s not too big of an issue, however, if it’s all over the lens it will be pretty much unusable. Small scratches should be noted but if they are only small the camera is still usable. The same goes for dust, there may be a small amount of dust which is generally OK but should be noted. You will have to check the front and back element of the lens which means you have to remove the lens.
* Check the battery compartment for any corrosion, often when batteries are left for too long inside, the battery acid will leak and can cause damage to some parts of the electronics which may mean that your camera will not work. If there is leaked battery acid inside the battery compartment then you can clean this up by using white vinegar and a cotton bud or something like that but this will not necessarily fix the issue. If the battery compartment is nice and clean then replace the batteries to see whether the light meter working if your camera has a light meter.
Check the light meter is working. To check the light meter is working (if your camera has one, not every SLR has one), You need to look through your viewfinder and look for some lights or an indicator on the side or bottom of the viewfinder. If the lights or indicator respond to light then your light meter is working in some form.
This is important and must be noted if you’re selling a camera but most SLR cameras can work without a light meter.
* Check the shutter/winder work. Press the shutter button and listen to see if the shutter shoots, then wind on using the winder next to the shutter button to see if the camera winds on properly, if you can then shoot again after winding on then the winder is working correctly.
* Check the shutter speeds are working correctly by setting your shutter speed to 1 second and listening to see if it sounds as if it takes around 1 second. Then you can set your shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second and shoot to see if it sounds like it’s very fast. This will give you a rough idea if your shutter speeds are correct because sometimes if there is an issue, you may change your shutter speed to 1 second and it sounds fast, then you’ll know there’s a problem with your shutter speeds.
* Check your lens aperture is working properly. The aperture settings of a lens are located on the lens itself (usually ranging from 2.8 – 16 or something like that). You can remove the lens and rotate your aperture ring and you should see the lens opening and closing. If you attempt this and it does not show it opening and closing then you can put the lens back onto your camera, open the back of your camera, set your shutter speed to 1 second and take a shot while rotating your aperture. This will give you a chance to see if your aperture is changing while using it on your camera, if it doesn’t change while doing this then your lens is defunkt.
Check the ISO dial is working properly. Usually, the ISO dial is located within the shutter speed dial and you have to pull up the outer ring of the shutter speed dial to change it. Usually there is no issue with this but it’s worth checking.
* Check the light seals are intact. The most common issue with old SLR cameras is that the light seals have perished. This is the mirror dampener in the front of the camera (not the biggest problem) and the light seals internally in the back of the camera. You’ll be able to tell if these fully perish if you open the back door and there is light seal foam stuck to the outer part of the door.
Light seals definitely need noting as an issue as they cause light leaks but they’re a fairly easy fix that most people could do at home with the right utensils.
These are the most important checks that you can do at home, virtually for free. Of course, there are more checks that a professional can do and if that’s what you want, I’m sure you could find a camera shop to get your camera professionally serviced.
I hope that this really helped you figure out whether your camera is working well or not!