Monday, March 25, 2013

Camera Repair - ARRI S

I was the Head Repair Tech for NYU Film & TV for almost 12 years and during that time, one of my biggest jobs was keeping over 90 ARRI S 16mm cameras running.  Up until Summer 2012 the ARRI S was the workhorse of the introductory film class but NYU finally made the transition to digital and while they still shoot a lot of film, the amount of digital projects continues to grow and the ARRI S has been retired.

I may have moved on from NYU but I inherited a massive amount of new and used ARRI S parts and still do camera repair when I have time. Contact me if you are looking for any parts or need some work done.

During the ARRI S heyday it was vitally important that we had the capability to repair them in-house.  It was not feasible economically and time-wise to send every camera out for repair.  When I became the Repair Tech, there was a lot of knowledge that had not been documented and therefore lost or incomplete.   What information there was got passed down by word of mouth and I felt that there was a lot missing.  The cameras were breaking down more frequently, repair parts were almost impossible to get and NYU was seriously considering finding an alternate camera.  I spent the next three years amassing information, speaking with old ARRI repair techs, buying tools, and even tracking down a nearly impossible to find service manual on eBay.  By then I could completely tear down and rebuild an S and even developed some custom replacement parts.  The pinnacle of my obsession came with the tracking down and purchase of a long out of print multilingual cinema dictionary which allowed me to translate some of the old German repair documents.

I love this camera and am extremely proud of my work to keep them going.  The following documents what I did.

The tower of ARRI S parts.  ARRI stopped producing most of the ARRI S parts long ago but we were lucky to have a large graveyard of cameras to steal parts from.  I spent many hours sorting, cleaning and documenting all of these parts.

Below are just some of my many notes, diagrams and how-to guides I have made, parts manuals I tracked down and my beloved Cinema Dictionary which helped to figure a lot of this out.

One of my custom repair rigs, the ARRIFLEX Crash Test Unit.

I took a damaged shell from a dropped camera and cut out the side so I could install the movement and make adjustments without having to tear apart the camera each time.  It also has a custom power switch so the door does not have to be on.

It's silver because I sandblasted off all the paint.

Custom jig I built so the camera could be held level for repairs that required drilling or milling.

One of the major problems were the variable speed motors.  Many of them would jump all over the tachometer when adjusting speed, they were noisy, ran rough, hard to turn, etc.  ARRI had stopped carrying many of the motor bearings so I tracked down replacements through other sources.  I would do a complete tear down, replace the bearings, clean everything, repair wiring, lubricate everything and adjust the rheostat.  I rebuilt about 30 motors and even resurrected dead ones.

I salvaged, cleaned-up and sorted parts from motors that were beyond repair.

Another motor-related problem was the drive coupler.  The metal ball on the end of the motor driveshaft would simply friction-fit inside this rubber coupler which also acted like a clutch.  If the camera jammed, the motor would slip inside the coupler if the torque got too high. The problem with this is that eventually the rubber would rot and/or stretch out and it couldn't grip the motor anymore.  This became a major problem for us when ARRI stopped making couplers.  I spent many months, trying out various type of  rubber and parts to fix the problem.

Eventually I came up with this kit which I built from scratch including the spanner bit.  I installed this on many cameras with great success.

This is one of the old-style diopters that were on our cameras.  They are perfectly fine but ARRI stopped making the rubber eyecup for this model long ago.  I was unable to find a replacement that would fit, so I figured out an adapter that would allow the newer eyecups to be used instead.

Check out some more of my camera-related projects here.