Getting to interview people who love what they do is a joy in itself. The task suddenly doesn't feel like a task at all but an opportunity to be able to connect with some of the most gifted people in our small analogue world.
And that's exactly the feeling we had when we got in touch with Pierro Pozella of PPP Cameras. Pierro is a camera repair specialist based in Birmingham, UK, and he loves bringing old and broken film cameras back to life. He also refurbishes cameras and gives them a full makeover that makes them stand out wherever they are.
Pierro possesses such a passion for all things related to film cameras that it rubs off on other people as well. He also has an unyielding hope for the industry that makes us feel even more optimistic about the future of film photography.
Hello Pierro and welcome to the Magazine! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello, my name is Pierro and I run a company called PPP Cameras, which specializes in analogue camera repairs, repainted cameras, and other analogue products. I started learning how to repair cameras when I was 15 and have been refining my craft ever since. It took several years of building my knowledge and honing my skills before the pile of broken cameras turned into working cameras again. 11 years later, I am now capable of repairing a whole variety of cameras including rangefinders, SLRs, medium format, and even large format 18th-century plate cameras. This knowledge which I have built up over the years has allowed me to expand the range of services PPP Cameras can offer—now including custom repaints, producing limited run lens conversions, and modeling parts to keep cameras alive.
What made you pursue camera repair and maintenance?
It began mostly because of the number of cameras I would see being thrown away—parts of history being discarded and forgotten just like that. That’s when I started salvaging camera parts and would practice bringing them back to life. Since then I can not get enough of the history behind each part that is engineered inside the camera. This continuously feeds my passion for repairs as I am forever learning more and more from one repair to the next. Another reason for pursuing camera repairs and maintenance was because at the time I started, there were not many places accessible to the younger analogue community. Furthermore, most shops were not taking on compact film camera repairs or electrical repairs, making it increasingly difficult to have them serviced.
Where did you learn how to repair cameras?
In the beginning, I learned everything through reverse engineering as many repairers at the time did not want a youngster annoying them. After building up a substantial amount of knowledge over a few years, I then approached many camera shops in London. I was fortunate enough to be allowed a space to practice on much more expensive equipment such as Leica and that's where I learned how to repair Hasselblad Xpan. That experience also helped with the diversity of repairs I could do—from cameras from the 1900s, which I really enjoyed due to everything being mechanical, all the way to the early 2000s with modern point-and-shoots.
After several years of approaching many repairers to do apprentice work for them, I eventually found a master repairer to help join the dots of what I have already learned over the years. That felt like the final piece of the puzzle for me as they were able to share knowledge from their factory training—piecing together the fragments of everything I had learned through years of learning. All of a sudden, the bigger picture made sense.
What do you like about your trade?
The part I enjoy the most about my trade is the continuous innovation from the community and the public. They are constantly redesigning and developing the analogue world by producing new cameras, light meters, parts, and so much more. This keeps the passion of the film community alive and thriving. Another thing about this trade is that the community is so supportive and they have helped me establish PPP Cameras since day one. Without them, I would not have been able to learn all the things I have.
With the repair trade, I constantly enjoy the new challenges I face day-to-day. With cameras getting older, they develop new weird and wonderful faults which always push my skill set and knowledge further forever helping me to refine my craft. No single repair is the same as the next, so there is always a surprise thrown in from time-to-time.
What are the most used tools in your workshop?
My most used tool is my glasses. I can't see a thing without them! My most used tools in the workshop have to be a combination of my screwdrivers, shutter speed/ee tester Kyoritsu EF8000, and my collimator. Without them, I would not be able to carry out the quality of work I currently produce. These machines ensure that I am able to recalibrate as close as possible to the factory specs along with helping me diagnose issues and refine the repairs I routinely carry out.
What are the challenges that you typically face in your work?
One challenge that keeps coming up is the lack of spare parts currently available for some repair jobs. I have started to develop a parts archive to help eliminate this challenge. Our archive is especially useful when we come across a repair that needs a replacement part. We digitally create a replica of that part so that it can then be manufactured with CNC, 3D printing, casting, etc. This means that in the future when a part is needed, it can be accessed via our archive and printed/manufactured as needed. Currently, we have only a small number of files available to the public for free, however as we develop more parts, they will be added to the archive for everyone to use. Hopefully that will help keep cameras alive for years to come.
For electrical components that need replacing we have started building up a catalog of modern alternatives that can take their place to make sure electrical film cameras do not become completely obsolete.
What are your favorite cameras to work with?
I really enjoy working on cameras from the 1920s to the 1950s as I spent many years practicing on these and enjoyed seeing their iterations and developments internally over the years. I find these the most enjoyable as they are fully mechanical. You can see every piece every bearing, every spring moving interlocking with the next causing action and reaction to take place. Seeing how a few companies (Zeiss Ikon) over-engineer mechanisms and designs to work in weird and wonderful ways, whilst still performing just a basic function is a joy. It's exciting to see the companies during these eras taking so much pride in the design and engineering of their cameras.
Any least favorites?
The least favorite is hard to say as I enjoy the challenges I face despite being difficult and sometimes very annoying. They teach me an awful lot, helping me expand my knowledge. But if I have to choose, my least favorite repairs mainly involve rust and water damage since many of these are considered unrepairable. But I still try my best to work at them. When jobs take an obscene amount of time and effort, I am quickly reminded why I don't usually do those kinds of repair jobs. But somehow, I seem to keep on trying despite that. Passion sometimes gets the better of me over logic.
We see that you also repaint and customize cameras. Where do you get your inspiration from when making the designs?
We have recently started repainting cameras and have collaborated with companies such as Kith to produce the repainted Contax G2 cameras along with Skylander optics to help repaint lenses for 35mmc. For the designs, we work with the clients to develop ideas around the color schemes so I cannot take all the credit for this one. We do take a lot of inspiration from history for the repaint jobs we offer, incorporating the history from the camera itself and designing an iteration or a nod to its history.
Where do you see film photography in the next ten years?
Film photography in the next 10 years will be booming. Seeing how the market is at the moment, with the increase in camera prices and lack of film, it will only encourage big corporations to develop film cameras to meet demand. Many independent companies will also develop film cameras as there is a market and funding to do so. There will be many more film options to come with many companies already developing new color film.
Modern technology will only allow repairers to eventually repair a lot more. It will also develop a new generation of repairers with advanced technology such as shutter speed testers becoming more accessible and more people will have the chance to learn and develop the skills. As much as the recent price increase across film and cameras is frustrating, I think it will eventually have a positive impact on the industry. I am already seeing this side as compact cameras that were once discarded and thrown away as soon as they break are now being repaired and kept alive instead. The change in the market will allow for things to become viable rather than just being another financial risk. I believe the future of film photography is bright and we are yet to see many exciting things to come.
What would you be if you weren't a camera repair specialist?
I studied photography for my BA and then finished my master's degree in Information Experience and Design that I have used to develop my own cameras from scratch for the science realm and also do stuff like read electromagnetic fields and capture X-ray video. I would have loved to become an inventor and further progress my work developing cameras to see beyond realms visible to the human eye for conservation work.
What does a perfect day look like for Pierro Pozella?
The perfect day for me would be spent sitting down and repairing all day. No paperwork, no emails—just an old camera, my record player, a cat to keep me company, and getting caught up in my own little world.