Photography has changed a lot over the last 50 years, but one thing hasn't-people still drop cameras-and that is one of the reasons Victoria Camera Service has managed to survive half a century.
The small firm owned by Dan and Jan Brunet is tucked away in a corner suite of an apartment block on Pembroke Street, yet does a steady business with people streaming in to have their camera gear cleaned and repaired.
Photography has undergone a few major shifts over the five decades since Gunter Rink started the company in a small downtown space, but the service company- they have never sold gear-has adapted and evolved to deal with the digital age, the collectors and the kids into retro gear.
"People still drop their cameras, they still take them to the beach" said Mark Langer, Victoria Camera Service's head technician who runs the shop daily with Greg Holman. "There are seasonal perils with more trips to the beach, lakes, hiking. Cameras take such a beating in backpacks going up mountains or under water. They get beat to hell and still work. Business is steady."
Langer, who has been at the company for nearly 17 years, has seen everything come across the desk in that time, and is adamant there's no real secret to the company's longevity.
"Obviously there's still a market for it," he said, noting they have made a mark by being competent, reliable and offering good customer service. "We get a lot of return customers."
Digital has changed the whole landscape. Langer said before digital cameras, the big manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon maintained a product line for years, and it was easy to stockpile parts and see trends in what was likely to go wrong with any model. Now the product lines are expansive and change often. It's meant being nimble and quick to react for the guys who do repair work.
The company has been insulated for the other big change_ on line sales. With more consumers heading to the Internet to research, price and buy new cameras, several camera stores have downsized or closed.
We've never done any sales so we haven’t been affected by that, and are specialized. We are the only shop on the Island and one of the few places left in Canada that just does repairs,' said Langer. "There's not many doing this any more."
The repair business mostly deals with digital equipment these days, but 20 per cent of the work focuses on legacy gear and other items.
"We've done all sorts of stuff like microscopes, basically anything with a lens or shutter," said Langer. One of the strangest was cleaning the thick Plexiglas porthole of a robotic underwater vehicle that was used for filming.
The shop has an impressive collection of old cameras that take people down memory lane. Langer said, "Many of those models still come through the shop door as people find old camera bodies in the attic and junk drawers, and young people are seeking them out to be retro cool." Langer said there's a lot of work in that sphere because "cameras are like old cars, they like to be used." And many customers get quite attached to their camera equipment.
In any age when electronics continue to get cheaper, they often tell people the cost of the repair may not be the most economical solution. "But people have an emotional attachment to their camera, and sometimes I think it's a comfort thing," he said. "They know they can pick it up, press the button and it does exactly what they wan."
While people like to use the cameras in their pone, Langer said there's something different about a device that just takes images. "People are more connected to that camera and there is an implied quality when you hold a dedicated camera," he said.
That connection, coupled with the fact people will keep dropping them; means Victoria Camera Service likely has a long life ahead.