Occasionally I wonder what would happen if every one of our 1900+ clients had
video problems at the same time. All of the service shops in the country could not handle the
demand. The fact that video gear on the whole is really very dependable explains why that scenario
never happens. Kudos to the manufacturers for producing such quality gear.
Video equipment is
made of thousands of components that are held together with solder, screws, friction, adhesives,
and all sorts of means. Together they take an image from a lens, scan it, convert it to an
electrical signal, process it, and record it. Added to that video image is time-code information
and audio. If you have a chance, just look at the usual two volume service manuals with hundreds of
pages of operational, mechanical and electrical alignment, mechanical service information, circuit
diagrams, block diagrams, exploded views of parts, parts lists and lists of required tools and
jigs. A quick look at these and you can understand the incredible engineering marvels these units
To show the extent
of our camera service, I have categorized our repair business below for
* 6% of repair
invoices for presale and prepurchase check-ups.
* 42% of repair invoices for annual or periodic
* 49% of invoices of gear that required repair.
* 3% of invoices for gear with intermittent
Camera set-ups are
not included in the above statistics because they are not considered repairs, but instead
improvements in picture quality. A poor quality picture is most often due to lack of proper initial
camera set-up. More about that in upcoming articles.
As you can see, the
percentages of identifiable problems are a lot higher than the intermittent ones. However, when you
face those intermittents, the problems can actually be a lot worse. You and I would most likely
agree that a known failure is better that an intermittent one. When a unit fails you repair or
replace it and go on with your shoot. With intermittent problems, you live in the fear of the
unknown. Will that video I just recorded be any good or not? There is nothing worse that not
trusting you gear. Your livelihood depends upon the reliability of your
What do we do about
intermittent problems? We take them very seriously. We first start with getting as much information
as possible about the circumstances leading up to the problem. Was there a camera or deck warning?
What warning was given? RF, servo or error code number? What were the conditions? High temperature
or humidity? Could bad tape be the problem? Could power source be a problem? Did the unit in
question recently take a hit or fall? (This information can save us a lot of time in
trouble-shooting because we know enough to look for internal damage) Whas is the age of the unit?
Could it be suffering from the Attack of The Killer
Did you see the
problem in the viewfinder during the bad recording or was it only discovered by the editor weeks
after the shoot? If that is the case, did any other later shoots have problems? Often we find head
clogs that come and go and are not a deck-related problem at all. VTR heads don’t clog themselves,
tape, along with operating conditions, does.
As many of you whom
I have dealt with in the past know, it is very important to get the actual tape that exhibited the
problem. This tape is the evidence that often leads to resolution of the problem. We once received
a tape with several lines of video missing resulting in a client that refused to pay the shooter
for the job, even though this was only one bad tape out of several. Upon evaluation of the tape
stock, we found that there was a metal burr on the exit tape guide inside the tape cassette. This
burr was scraping off the oxide as the tape was recording. With no oxide on that part of tape the
result was missing lines of video. Who supplied the tape stock? The client, of course. Our
videographer got paid for the shoot.
Repairs are pretty
straight forward, the intermittents are not. We will spend phone time with our existing clients to
help them troubleshoot their equipment before they ever ship it to us. Too often we receive the
gear in working condition with no signs of the problem they had. As with anything mechanical, if a
unit has not been serviced for some time there are usually other maintenance items that may not
have contributed to the problem, but should be taken care of.
Our procedure is to
attempt to recreate the problem first. We try to duplicate the conditions the crew had as a start.
Did the problem happen when first fired up or was it after five hours of operation? We heat, cool,
shake, or do whatever it takes. As I mentioned in a previous newsletter on this subject, we have
even created a Florida Room using a small bathroom with a heater and humidifier to recreate summer
humidity conditions. Just this week we ramped it up into a Guam Room with worse conditions
than Florida, to recreate an intermittent viewfinder problem. We also consult our problems and
solutions database, which was built from our experience performing 10,000+ repairs. Unfortunately,
we are sometimes unable to get the unit to fail.
There is time
pressure to get the gear back in service, which also works against the troubleshooting process. It
can take a week or longer of spot checking equipment to see the failure happen. The whole procedure
is hard on everyone involved.
How do you pay for
such service? I doubt you would find any independent service center that would perform such a
service with a flat rate. Consider a Betacamcorder that has an intermittent problem with the CCD
block. The quick solution for some service centers is to tell you they need to replace it. It could
cost in excess of $15,000 for a refurbished one. We’ve had more than one occasion where a client
was told, after a brief examination, that he would need a new or refurbished block , then sent it
to us for a second opinion, only to find out that we were able to trace it to a poor connection, or
a component on its way out. We take whatever time is needed in trouble shooting, but generally
charge a fraction of the true cost for the time spent trying to recreate the problem. We do charge
a minimum charge to cover our base expenses. Like any other business, we have to take the "bad"
intermittent work with the "good" repairs. Hopefully the client will reevaluate his unit and keep
using it himself until it finally fails consistently and he replaces it. Or he may choose to
continue working it to a point that he can again trust it or just use it as a
It is prudent to
question the reliability of aged gear anyway. Older video equipment should be checked for proper
operation on a regular basis, say weekly, to insure maximum reliability. We occasionally get calls
from clients who’ve had a failure a year after last use. They assume that because it wasn’t used
that everything will work. They forget about the aging issue of components such as rubber belts and
capacitors. These components fail more from lack of use than actual
The moral to this
story is that you must be diligent in your operation and maintenance of your video equipment. All
video gear requires some care to keep up to spec and operate properly. Proper maintenance helps
minimize future problems, and periodic â€˜exercise’ or use of older gear helps increase the
reliability and trust factor.
I sincerely hope
that this series has been, and will continue to be helpful to you during the "trying" times of