Visitors to The Camera Repairman on Washington Road can get a history lesson as they browse Thompson’s collection of old cameras and camera testing equipment.
Thompson studied camera repair after college and worked for repair shops in San Diego, Calif., before moving to Augusta and purchasing the business from Walter Garcia in 1997. It was started in 1975 by Bill Love.
The business is basically a one-man show, with Thompson making all of the repairs himself, though he does have a part-time employee at the front desk.
As the camera industry changes, there aren’t many repair shops left, he said.
“We’re definitely a dinosaur industry,” he said. “People come in here all the time and say they’ve looked everywhere and I’m the only one in town. There’s nobody else that I know that fixes cameras.”
Cameras have changed drastically in the past decade with the rise of digital technology, and so has Thompson’s business. Until five years ago, most of his business consisted of repairing cameras. Today, most of his work involves duplicating and transferring videos from VHS tapes, camcorder tapes and hard drive camcorders to DVD. He also converts cassette tapes, LPs and other audio formats to CDs, he said.
Because new cameras are hitting the market so frequently and at cheaper prices, point-and-shoot cameras have become more disposable.
“A lot of people are breaking cameras, but they just go buy a new one,” Thompson said. “Camera repair prices haven’t gone down because camera prices have gone down. The same amount of work is required to fix them.”
Thompson said film cameras started dying out after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because the economy crashed, bringing camera repair down with it. Also, digital cameras were starting to hit the market, and consumers wanted to try them.
“By the time they get out information on how to fix a camera, the technology is not selling anymore,” Thompson said. “You basically have to figure out how to fix them on your own.”
Film cameras are more complicated to repair than digital ones because the mechanical systems have to be precise, he said.
“A new guy getting into camera repair has only had digital cameras to work on, unless he trains alongside an old technician,” Thompson said. “For old film cameras, you’ve really got to know what you’re doing with those things.”
In the past few years, there has been a renaissance for film cameras among those frustrated with the photo quality of digital cameras, he said.
Thompson loves his work and plans to keep doing it as long as he has customers.
“It’s an interesting vocation,” he said. “It’s very challenging, but it’s always something different.”