In the digital-camera industry, Nikon and Canon are king. Sure, lower-tier brands like Sony and Fujifilm are in the market as well, but let's face it: There's only two major players. And they're steadily and rapidly churning out cameras that are harder to fix — even for people who specialize in camera repair.
"They're trying to keep people out of cameras," says Ron Sinnott, the 65-year-old owner of Camera Care, a digital and analog camera repair business based out of a workshop in his South Hill home. "More and more, they're coming up with different screw heads to where you have to buy other tools, maybe like watchmaking tools or whatever."
That's on top of the fact that Nikon, as a company, refuses to sell replacement parts to independent repair businesses like Camera Care. The policy has been in place since 2012.
"It was like losing my left arm," Sinnott says sitting at his desk. "Because it's pretty much a Canon-Nikon world.
"It's challenging in this field when they're not supporting you," he adds.
Both trends are more indicators of an era where throwaway consumerism is increasingly incentivized by private industry and repair is not encouraged. But that doesn't stop Sinnott from providing high-quality camera maintenance and maintaining a humming business. He's just had to get more creative. He relies on eBay and tips and tricks from his peers in the Society of Photo Technologists, an international organization. An old mentor of his who is involved in the organization, for instance, has connections to manufacturers in China where he can make custom parts at "a real reasonable price and with precision."
"I can still buy genuine brand-new Nikon parts off of eBay somehow, but it's like four times the price," Sinnott says. "I always try and solve the problems to the best of my ability."
Sinnott is a veteran in the field who has lived through the transition from film to digital. Originally from Spokane, he completed a camera-repair program at Spokane Falls Community College in the late '70s before moving to the Bay Area in California to work at a repair shop. When he moved back in 1989 — "I started missing the seasons," he says — he eventually started Camera Care out of a previous home in North Spokane, and it's been running strong ever since. His clients are photography enthusiasts, college students experimenting with film cameras in classes, local school districts and professional photographers, and he says he takes in around four to five cameras daily.
While there were never very many camera-repair businesses in the area, Sinnott says, he still gets a lot of business these days because he's currently the "only" specialized camera repair facility. Additionally, digital cameras are becoming increasingly complex as technology evolves, meaning more can go wrong.
"Things aren't quite as rugged as they used to be and cameras are like three or four computers all sewn together and everything has to communicate exactly right," he says. "A lot of things can get shut down kind of easily."
Like other repair-oriented trades, Sinnott doesn't see the up-and-coming generation clamoring to fill future gaps left by retiring camera fixers — especially with how camera companies are putting the squeeze to independent repair shops.
"I see the industry just waning," he says. "A lot of people are aging out."
But there's some hope. Sinnott points to the right-to-repair movement, which seeks to pass laws in state legislatures that limit companies' abilities to prevent consumers from repairing products, ranging from electronics to appliances.
"The right to repair is a real thing with cameras and your appliances," he says. ♦