The plastic bins are piled high with cameras-hundreds of them. Point and shoots. SLRs. Digital. Film. A rubber band around each holds a neatly folded sheet of paper with the owner's name and address, as well as the reason the camera is here: "Doesn't focus." "Won't turn on." "Everything is blurred."
Welcome to Mack Camera & Video Service, the photographic equivalent of the Intensive Care Unit. In a squat yellow building on the main drag of Springfield, NJ, 17 technicians poke, probe, and power up each camera to cure what ails it. Each year, Mack sells more than 200,000 extended warranties, which kick in after the manufacturers' expire. Though only a small percentage of the cameras break, those that do land in these plastic bins.
Mack's President Melvin I. Kevoe and his team have seen it all. From the guy who mailed his camera in a bed of freshly popped popcorn, to those who can never get their cameras to work because they refuse to read the manual. But most of the problems fall into fairly clear-cut categories.
Here are the top ten things that put cameras in the Mack Infirmary:
"People don't want to say that the camera was dropped," says Kevoe. "OK, then it was 'impacted'-it hit something, or something hit it."
This one is an obvious camera-killer.
A damp windy day at the shore can wreak havoc with a camera's electronics. Salt in the air may not work its evil magic right away, but when it does, things get ugly. "You look inside the camera, and it's green," says Service Manager Eric Menkin. "It doesn't take much corrosion to short it out."
4. Bent Pins
Those gold pins at the bottom of the camera's memory card slot are as delicate as they appear. On some cameras, a couple of pins are higher than the others. So if you insert a memory card sideways, backwards, or any other way that pushes on these pins, they can bend and touch other pins. The result? A short circuit affecting one or more functions. For instance, you may be able to review photos, but not take them.
5. Bent Blades
With the DSLR turned on and the shutter set to Bulb, a do-it-yourselfer pokes a swab inside the camera to clean the image sensor. Suddenly, the shutter blades snap closed around the swab. Instinctively, the swab is jerked out. The blades assume an awkward new shape.