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Restart Radio: Cameras, the eternal and disposable – analog, digital, mobile and GoPros

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Ugo interviews Philip Le Riche, Restart volunteer and retired cybersecurity professional – about his passion for camera repair. We talk about the technological development of these very summertime devices, and the consequent changes in their repairability and product lifetime.

First, we discuss some news. While many this week may be excited about discounts on Amazon Prime Day, we highlight the news in the background: Amazon workers in various European countries are striking for fairer wages and working conditions. Also, with the increasing success of online retail, high street shops are going through hard times. Or even, like Maplin, closing down. It has been estimated that up to 10,000 stores will be closing down in the UK in 2018, and one of the reasons why is the higher incidence of business rates on these stores compared to online retailers. We discuss how repair shops are also affected by this trend, while, at the same time, online marketplaces such as eBay have been a game changer for repairing gadgets, making it easier to get spare parts.

Next, we talk about Philip’s interest in cameras. It all started back in 2011, when his cousin’s camera stopped working and Philip took the initiative to take it apart and fix it. This led to him buying and sticking to this same camera model, and to eventually building a great expertise and confidence in repairing it. He then talks about his passion for writing, and for using this medium to share his knowledge and skills with others. Philip has so far been a driving force behind the Restart wiki, including the camera page, and has also created and contributed to guides on iFixit, the most popular online platform for repair manuals.

Alongside his volunteering work at Restart Parties, our community repair events, Philip helps at a local school in their Computer Club, where he motivates kids to tinker and repair. He tells us about a camera success story, when two female students managed to repair a broken battery door. We then go through some tips for camera repair, starting with safety. Cameras have a flash capacitor, which may hold a dangerous residual charge long after the camera is switched off, sufficient to give you a nasty shock. While they are normally protected by a plastic shield, it is not always the case. We then talk about some ‘quick wins’, such as what to do with stuck lenses, which normally just need some cleaning – Philip gives some tips to succeed.  

Now cameras have gone through a rapid technological development. Philip tells us how the shift from film to digital cameras makes them harder to diagnose and hence repair. We also discuss the changing expectations of the longevity of these gadgets – Philip talks about his dad’s cameras, which lasted up to 30 years!, while now updated camera features attract some people to upgrade their smartphones frequently. In terms of repairability, complex smartphones marketed for photography such as the recent Huawei P20 Pro often have very low repairability ratings. We also mention Nikon’s restrictions on providing spare parts to independent repair businesses, reducing chances that broken cameras would be repaired.

Finally, we talk about some alternative camera options. Ugo talks about Polaroid Originals (formerly ‘The Impossible Project’), which manufactures film for the classic Polaroids, bringing back public interest for these vintage cameras – we even used them for some Restart team pictures! We learn however that each “roll” of instant film contains a single-use lithium battery, which is hard to extract for recycling. While it is great that Polaroid does share how to disassemble the film, overall these pictures are not just costly economically (2£/ picture) but also environmentally. We end the show discussing waves of interest in other devices such as GoPro, which seems to be on its way out, and how the smartphone has encompassed the function of cameras and other gadgets, like music players. 


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