Resurrecting my Dad’s Pentax 645 – Part Three – Troubleshooting a 40 Year Old Camera.

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A Rollercoaster of Emotions

If you’ve been following along, I inherited a Pentax 645 Medium Format film camera from my late father. I’ve been trying to get it operational. When I left off in the last post, everything seemed to be working fine and I had loaded some film into the camera and it advanced the film and was ready to shoot. The intervening week or so has been a rollercoaster of emotions.

So the camera advanced the film to the first exposure and I took 5 photos on the Portra 400 roll I had loaded into the camera. Everything seems to be all sunshine and rainbows and I switched the power off and went to bed.

The next morning I powered it up and went to take a picture of Daisy working on something on her sewing machine. I pressed the shutter, and…nothing happened. I noticed that when I pressed the shutter the LCD display on top that shows you your current settings went totally blank and then faded back in after I released the shutter. I assumed that the mixed batch of random rechargeable batteries were not up to the task of running this old tank, so I put in some basic alkaline batteries I got from Amazon.

I wasn’t too worried at this point, I figured I would install the batteries and everything would be cool. Everything was not cool. Even with the new batteries the display just faded out to blank and I couldn’t get it to fire the shutter. Realizing that I was going to need to remove the film back to troubleshoot this, I manually wound the rest of the film onto the roll and took it out.

At this point I thought it was just in a weird state because the batteries had failed in the middle of the roll and the backup battery was ancient. I hoped loaded new batteries and new film would bring it back to life. I had a roll of Fomapan 200 black and white and pressed the shutter button. Nothing. It was just saying “M1000” on the display which means it’s in manual mode at shutter speed 1000. It’s the default for having no film in it, and the display kept going blank when I pressed the shutter button.

I read on an old forum post that someone with the same problem solved it by replacing the coin cell battery and using lithium batteries in the camera and cleaning the battery holder contacts.

I got an old toothbrush and some vinegar and go absolutely nuts on the contacts. I mean you can eat off my battery contacts now.

I also got an Energizer Lithium CR1220 battery to replace the probably ancient one in the bottom of the camera.

I rinsed the contacts with rubbing alcohol and let it completely dry and loaded it up with Lithium AA’s. I put the film back on the camera and pressed the shutter button, and again I got nothing.

As a last ditch effort, lots of people on that Pentax forum suggested a contact cleaner and dielectric liquid called DeOxit. I decided it was worth a shot, even though it’s priced similarly to human blood.

I took the batteries back out and cleaned them with the DeOxit, which didn’t seem to make any difference because I had already cleaned them VERY thoroughly. I also applied a little dot of it to each contact as recommended in the instructions.

Again I loaded up the batteries and put the film back on the camera and powered it on a pressed the shutter button and nothing happened.

Defeated, I set it on a bench in my entry and decided to go look up camera repair shops that work on the Pentax 645. About half an hour later I came out of my office and my crazed child was standing on said bench with one foot putting her other food on the column in the entry way doing weird child acrobatics. Afraid she was going to kick the camera onto the ground, I picked it up to go put it in my office to box up and ship off for repair.

On a whim, I decided to power it on and press the shutter button and it whirred to life! It advanced the film to the first exposure and let me change the mode and settings and no longer said “M1000” on the display. I wandered around my house and shot the entire roll of film. It SEEMS to be working perfectly again.

So what fixed it? Uh, I dunno? Maybe after all the new batteries and the contact cleaning and all it needed to sit for a while and think about what it did? Maybe my kid did kick the camera and that made it work? Maybe DeOxit is as magic as the people on the Pentax forum seemed to imply? No clue! But I *appear* to have a working 645 again. The real test will be loading up a new roll of film and shooting it over a couple of days. If it does that I will call it totally fixed.

And Now, More Cameras!

As you can imagine, the sequence of events actually played out over the course of a few days. I would come up with one possible solution and then order the battery or cleaner or whatever and then try it and then find another one, etc.

In the intervening days while waiting on parts and supplies and stuff, I stopped back by my mom’s house to drop off some groceries and she mentioned that there were more cameras in the closet and I should just take them all. I’m not gonna say no to that!

First up, a Kodak Bantam Special. A very old and very cool looking Art Deco style camera.

This thing is super old, dating to between 1936 and 1940. It was probably a hand-me-down to my dad. The camera is inside a shell of sorts, which opens to 90 degrees to expose the actual camera, bellows and all. It shoots 828 film, which basically doesn’t exist anymore. A handful of places sell it still, but it’s very much a speciality thing and the prices reflects that. It’s around $30 a roll, and you only get 8 exposures per roll. Having said that, I’m totally gonna buy some at some point and give this camera a shot. The coolest thing about this camera to me is that my dad seemed to get it at some point when he was pretty young. He wrote his name and address on the back of it and it was still his childhood home.

Next up we have a Zeiss Ikon Tenax. Also a weird little unit. This thing takes 35mm film and it’s all mechanical and seems to work, so I will definitely run a roll of film through it at some point.

This little guy is from 1938. I love the pop up viewfinder. Definitely gonna give this guy a shot at some point. Looks like you can take some pretty interesting pictures with this thing. I’ll get to it at some point.

The last one is something that’s more modern, a Nikon FG. This thing was a camera my dad probably actually used a lot. It’s a 35mm camera with aperture priority mode and built-in metering. It hails from the early 80’s and is modern enough to still use.

I got it cleaned up pretty nicely, including the very 70s strap which is, coincidentally, the most comfortable camera strap I’ve ever used. I loaded up a roll of Fuji Superia 400 and shot through the whole roll in a couple of days. I have some more film on the way for it, and I’m going to send the roll of Fuji off with the 120 Fomapan I shot in the Pentax and finally have some actual photos to post here.

There were also a couple of mid 90’s fuji 35mm automatics, but I haven’t really gotten around to messing with them yet and this post is already super long so I’ll save them for another day.

In theory, I now have a working 35mm Nikon FG, a working Medium Format Pentax 645, and a bunch of film on the way to play with. I’ll send some film off to be developed probably tomorrow and actually post some pictures here shortly. I’ll also tinker with those other cameras soon and probably make a post about that too. Until then!