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Killer Capacitors 2 

 

Things have certainly been exciting the past few years. Although, I’m sure many of us would describe it a little differently, with some choice, spicy adjectives thrown in. 

When it became clear that the industry standard – Beta SP - was on its way out, you resigned yourselves to the fact that you would have to purchase something as an “interim” camera/format, until the new “standard” was adopted. Well, several “interims”, loans, and handfuls of hair later, we still seem to have a hodgepodge of cameras/formats you have had to purchase, and we have had to re-outfit our shop to service, complete with manuals, test tapes and jigs, equipment on hand to swap circuit boards, etc., in troubleshooting a seemingly endless plethora of new “symptoms, failures and quirks.” 

In the meantime, I hear from many of our customers that Beta just keeps hanging on. Most of you have been shooting with it less and less, but a fair amount of you are telling us that you still shoot a high percentage of Beta, and expect to be for another year or more. 

For those of you who only have a few more months of work for your Betacam, a failure in the camera at this time presents are real problem. You don’t want to put money into something that may not have time to pay for itself, but you do want a reliable camera for the remainder of your shoots (a client is a terrible thing to waste/lose). This is usually when we get asked to keep the bill down, but take care of the problem. As you can understand, this puts us in an awkward position. For us, it costs more and more to fix the equipment, considering rising costs of parts, labor, infrastructure (insurance, rent, health care, etc, etc etc), and investment in new test and repair equipment for the blizzard of new models/formats.  

Normal, yearly maintenance items, such as pinch rollers, gears etc., don’t present a major problem, but if the heads on the upper drum are worn, or if the surface-mount, electrolytic capacitors on the circuit boards are near leaking, or actually leaking, these can present quite the costly invoice.  

At this time, we have three or four good, used upper drums from cameras we have purchased from clients whose camera may have taken a fall, and were totaled by their insurance company. So, if you know your heads are worn, and need to keep the camera alive for a while longer, we can replace the upper drum for about half the usual part-cost, plus labor. 

If your capacitors are near leaking, the camera will most likely have a problem soon. If they are actively leaking onto the circuit board, you will definitely have problems now, or very soon. Since this type of capacitor is on nearly every circuit board in Beta camcorders, the problems may manifest themselves as audio, video, servo, system, and any number of other symptoms.

At this time, when we see signs of caps (capacitors) getting close to leaking, we suggest replacing all of them as a package (there are about 100 caps in all). Years ago, we would replace them as individual caps went bad, but by now, if they haven’t been replaced already, it’s a good bet that they are very close to needing to be. 

The good news is, in most cases, although not in every case, we are able to see, physically, the aging of these caps. The surface-mount caps themselves are shaped like little barrels, with one, small lead extending out from both sides. These leads are soldered to the circuit boards. When the caps are in good condition, the leads have a shiny, chrome color to them. As they age, they become gray, then darker gray, then eventually turn black, then actively leak the very corrosive solution onto the circuit board, doing severe damage to the electronic traces and surrounding areas. Sometimes, the damage can be so severe that the board is irreparable, and needs to be replaced. Our goal has always been to catch these before they actually leak onto the circuit board. 

When we see that the cap leads have become very dark gray, we suggest replacing all the caps as a package. We are then usually asked, “If I don’t have it done now, how much longer will I have before I start seeing problems?” At this point, we have no idea. It may be tomorrow, or it may be next year. We’ve had some clients who decided to hold off, then the camera failed a short time later, and some who luckily squeezed out another year or so. We had one client who, after a camera failure with his best customer, insisted that we only replace the four or five leaking caps that we could see, and he’ll cross his fingers on the rest. Well, the camera failed again after some time with that same client! Don’t know if he still does work for that client. But, then again, we recently suggested a cap replacement package with another client, who decided to think about it for a day. He then got on a popular bulletin board and asked advice of other shooters. Some advised him to have it done before they leaked, but one guy wrote that we were full of “bs”. We had suggested to him that we replace the caps, and he decided not to, and then got two more years without it failing. Go figure. I suppose if your auto mechanic suggested you have him replace your bald tires, and you decided not to, you may or may not go another year without a blowout.  

If you have not had your caps replaced by now, you can do an easy check to see what yours looks like. Just open the side door of your Betacam, and pull out each board, using the pull tab. Check out the pictures below. Number one shows what caps in good condition look like. Notice they are a shiny, chrome color. Number two picture shows them very dark gray – this is when they are very close to leaking. Number three shows them having turned black – the corrosive solution has just started to leak. Number four shows one that has leaked out onto the surrounding area, and begun to corrode the electronic trace, and areas around it. When they get to this stage, it is very difficult for us to completely repair them, as the corrosive solution has possibly made its way to some of the thruholes. It then goes to the other side of the board, getting under other components, and hidden from sight. There is no guarantee of a complete fix, and it adds many hours to the repair. This is why we so strongly suggest we replace them BEFORE they get to this point. Honest, that’s no “bs”. Number five shows what it looks like after we remove the cap, then scrape and clean the area.

 

 1

 Cap Good Small

 Cap Bad Small

 Cap Leak Small

     

 4

 

 Cap Off Small

Board Clean Small 

 


There are other types of capacitors on these circuit boards, but they tend to last longer than the surface-mount electrolytics. 

I hope this helps you determine if your camera needs this service.  

Oh yes, one more thing. Some of you may be saying to yourselves, “I’m done with Beta, so I don’t have to worry about that anymore.” Well, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water……… Yes, these rascals are still being used in nearly all video equipment. I named my first newsletter on this issue, “Attack of the Killer Capacitors.” I guess this one’s just the second of many sequels. Stay tuned. 

Take care,
Roger 
 

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