View Full Version : My camera caught fire.

8-Aug-2017, 07:05
pretty much my favorite camera.. Trusty, reliable, simple. the Preanniversary 4x5 speed graphic I've been using for years to make soft focus photos that please me.

I was at the Owls Head Transportation Museum Sunday morning photographing a B17 before the place opened and crowds showed up. At around 8am, I was done with that and was asked to go for a flight in a B25 for some photos, which got me kinda excited and distracted. I forgot to unwind the shutter back to (o)pen. I lugged the camera into shade under cover. Apparently the lens was not in the shade because within 30 seconds, smoke was pouring out of it. I did the equivalent of "stop drop and roll" and released the shutter back from 3/4 to O to smother the fire. The fire was out, but the damage was done. The smoke was very metallic smelling mixed with tire-burnout smell. (I had other cameras with wider lenses for shooting within the b25)

A belt and suspenders approach in the future would be to not simply set the shutter curtain to open when not taking a photo, but to remove the lens. If it's heavy lens like a AE or my Gundlach Hyperion, I always remove it because of the weight and value. I had a 7.25 verito on it which is pretty light and not a risk of physical damage from the weight... But it can burn things pretty well.

If anyone has experience fixing this, I'd be glad to hire someone to fix it. I can use it without the 3/4 speed ranges, but it's now full of ashes and the 3/4 inch shutter speeds are very useful. I have a nos shutter curtain that probably goes to RB-D or Super-D slr but not sure if that's compatible. I could tinker with it, but if someone is skilled in this, I'd rather have it work nicely as I'd like the camera to be reliable.

https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4413/36276034072_e0bb4263dd_c.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/XgAa6j)
IMG_20170808_083642 (https://flic.kr/p/XgAa6j) by Jason Philbrook (https://www.flickr.com/photos/13759696@N02/), on Flickr

Peter Collins
8-Aug-2017, 07:20
All I can say is "wow." Now forewarned.

8-Aug-2017, 07:22
And I thought this only happened to cameras with lithium-ion batteries.

8-Aug-2017, 08:03
So, I don't understand what the source of the heat was.

8-Aug-2017, 08:06
I had the same thing happen with a big projection lens on my Speed...after that I made a cardboard lens cap and try to remember to use it. The hole in my shutter was about an inch in diameter. I was able to repair this with sticky back black nylon repair tape designed for tents and sleeping bags. I put a piece with rounded corners on both sides of the shutter and so far this has held up. Quite a surprise to have smoke coming out of a camera!

8-Aug-2017, 08:11
That is very dramatic. Hope you get it repaired soon. So was the B-25 ride cancelled?

Tracy Storer
8-Aug-2017, 09:27
The lens focused the sun on the shutter curtain.

So, I don't understand what the source of the heat was.

8-Aug-2017, 10:58
So, I don't understand what the source of the heat was.

So take a magnifying glass and put it over a piece of paper (or your hand if you like pain) in the sun and focus it on a small point and you'll quickly figure out the source of the heat was.....

8-Aug-2017, 11:35
Leicas are famous for doing this, on a smaller scale.

Kent in SD

Michael Clark
8-Aug-2017, 12:07
Flying on in a B17 with a full load of bombs and fuel, who would ever think a Speeder would start a fire.

Mark Sampson
8-Aug-2017, 15:22
If jp had been airborne in the B-17 when that happened, the Speeder would have become a small incendiary bomb very quickly, I think.
(Off-topic- In 1944 my father threw a Kodak aerial camera overboard from a B-17, in a futile effort to lighten ship; with two engines shot out they ditched in the North Sea and were picked up by the Royal Navy.)

In 1991 I burnt a 3/8" long hole in my Leica M3's shutter, the same way- left it on a table in the sun for a while without the lens cap. Didn't start a fire, and I didn't find out until I processed the roll of film. I still have that shutter curtain somewhere... a very expensive small piece of cloth.

jp, I'd love to see any pictures you have from that day.

8-Aug-2017, 15:27
I think there is someone in Portland, OR who works or worked on these. I'll try and dig up a name.

Bob Salomon
8-Aug-2017, 15:27
Leicas are famous for doing this, on a smaller scale.

Kent in SD
Almost every camera instruction book for rangefinder cameras came with a warning not to leave the camera pointed directly at the sun to prevent burning a hole in the cloth shutter curtain. This was one of the selling features for the RF Contax cameras as they were equipped with a metal focal plane shutter.

8-Aug-2017, 15:37
If jp had been airborne in the B-17 when that happened, the Speeder would have become a small incendiary bomb very quickly, I think.

No wonder TSA wants us to unload cameras from bags from now on. :D

8-Aug-2017, 16:14

Sorry about your Pre-Anniversary. They are my favorite Speed Graphic too.

Thought I would pass on that I bought an old used focal plane shutter on the auction site last year for an Anniversary Speed that I have. The previous owner had ripped the shutter cloth out. I think I only paid $35-40 for the shutter. The gears on the spool were a little different than the one in my camera, so I took the shutter cloth off the spools it came on and used contact cement to install it on my spools. Took about 45 minutes from start to finish and worked out great. I was going slow and taking my time, you could probably do it faster. The back comes off very easy, and it should be a simple matter to clean the mess up and glue in a new shutter cloth. Give it a try.


8-Aug-2017, 16:39
Sorry about the burn, but better that than a retina (in a foolhardy attempt to view/photograph the solar eclipse, etc)...

Since it is centrally located, you might be able to try patching it with a thin, flexible, lightproof material as a last ditch effort, as much of the tensions are along the edges, but keeping it thin and not lumpy might work...

Watch out for that mean old sun!!! An old "desert rat" I know could not figure out where many burns on his van camper bed where coming from, when he realized the clear old wine jug water bottle he kept there was lensing the sun and burning holes...

A few weeks ago during my move, I stepped outside to see a billow of smoke coming from the back of an office chair, and saw that a small concave magnifying mirror (in a nearby box) was focusing the sun there and burned a big-assed hole in the backrest...

Angry sun warning!!!!

Steve K

8-Aug-2017, 18:12
I'll try and dig up a name.

Thank you for the private message!

If professional repair leads end up not going anywhere, I may try patching it with members' suggestions. I also have a suggestion on the shutter curtain material. Thanks.

The accident didn't prevent me from missing the b25 flight. I took my Nikon DSLR and Rolleiflex and got some nice photos. The photos look good but I haven't gone through them with LR or scanned film yet. This was also a nice photo shot with my cell phone (nexus 5x) over Camden harbor:


Mark Sampson
8-Aug-2017, 18:20
jp, you're a lucky man despite your Graflex troubles. That's a great shot- I look forward to seeing your other images. (26 years this month since I got a ride in a B-17, still a peak experience for me.)

Jim Andrada
8-Aug-2017, 20:59
Two sort of similar stories about focusing the sun

1) When I was in high school (around the time of the last dinosaurs) the father of one of my friends brought home a 3 foot diameter glass parabolic mirror. Of course we propped it up and focused the sun on a piece of angle iron - cut it in half in a few moments.

2) One of my neighbors when I lived near San Francisco left a shaving mirror on his deck. When the sun reached the right (wrong?) angle it started a fire and burned the whole house down - very dramatic.

They used to sell little parabolic mirrors a couple of inches in diameter with a hole in the center as cigarette lighters.

8-Aug-2017, 23:11
They used to sell little parabolic mirrors a couple of inches in diameter with a hole in the center as cigarette lighters.

They still do: https://www.aliexpress.com/item-img/FE-Survival-fire-Outdoor-Camping-Solar-Lighter-Waterproof-Windproof-Fire-Starter-Emergency-Fire-Tool-Drop-shipping/32622381971.html?spm=2114.10010108.1000017.1.416690afhReBvY#

9-Aug-2017, 20:21
There was a hotel in Las Vegas with a curved glass wall that focused the sun on poolside, melting plastic chairs: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/39403349/ns/travel-news/t/death-ray-vegas-hotel-pool-heats-guests/#.WYvQN1FOkdU

To bring this back to cameras, I had an Exacta VXIIa where the sun burned a hole in the shutter curtain just below the mirror. I patched it with some glue and india ink.

10-Aug-2017, 06:44
sorry to hear of your troubles !
i think you are the 2nd person i have heard
this happening to their speed .. i think it was domenic fochi
who had similar troubles in LA ...

Steven Tribe
10-Aug-2017, 10:53
A few years ago, I was checking out a Plasticca 600mm on a 30x40cm in a conservatory. I left it for a few hours, but turned it away from the sun - approximately NE. Not enough. The setting sun had just enough power to burn an interesting track in the left-hand bellows. Fortunately no flames, but an elongated hole. This is not a good way to calculate coverage!

Ron (Netherlands)
11-Aug-2017, 04:04
rest for sure now it's a museum piece...

16-Aug-2017, 08:20
I'm not a mature adult, so I spent an afternoon trying to light a cigarette with a 360mm Tele-Xenar once. I couldn't get it to light, but my Fresnel lens on the ground glass made short work of it. It also burned a temporary hole in my retina where I was staring at the light trying to maintain focus. Like I said, I'm not a mature adult. Had there been an ant hill near by, I'm sure I wouldn't have gotten any work done that day.

As for the shutter curtain, your best bet is to buy a replacement someone pulled off a broken Speed Graphic from the auction site. They're easy enough to DIY a replacement. It's just a couple of screws and setting the tension of the spring, which is easy and not that delicate. If you have a DSLR, you can calibrate the speed yourself. I've also seen someone sell raw fabric like that. I can't remember where, but they specialized in shutter curtain fabric for rangefinders and didn't advertise any large rolls for Speed Graphics, but apparently you could special order some from them. Then you'd have to cut the holes out yourself and install the rods that go along the holes (which would be a bit more difficult than just buying another used one). You could also patch it up yourself with some fabric glue (or sew it on) and fabric from a changing bad. Just make sure you patch it evenly so the rollers roll up the fabric evenly across. If the fabric is thicker on one side than the other, it'll try to roll off center and bind up the rollers. That wouldn't be too hard, but it probably wouldn't be the best long term solution.

21-Aug-2017, 14:27
I've decided the first thing for me to try is to patch the shutter per some suggestions... If I can make it as light tight and remain lightweight, it should function consistently. If not, we'll move on to more involved solutions.

I ordered three patch materials... These are all pretty lightweight and strong.. I thought it'd be cool for the Singer patches if they worked because they owned Graflex... But they came with packaging staples through the patches and were not light tight. Who wants staples holes in their patches? Crazy... The Coghlans are about 90% light tight and lightweight but not as dark as the Tenacious tape. The Tenacious tape appeared to not pass light and is quite thin like the Coghlan patches. This is what I'll patch the shutter with this week...

My plan is to remove the back, blow out any ashes and dust and do any cleaning that seems necessary, re-install the back, patch the hole, try it out. I should have time to do this later in the week.


7-Sep-2017, 17:50
The camera is back from the dead.

The suggestion to patch the shutter was successful and low cost and low risk. I spent probably $20 on a bunch of patching materials I didn't need just to evaluate the options. If you want to patch a shutter, get the Tenacious tape shown above. Maybe some of the other tape can fix my nylon and velcro wallet I've had since 1990 or so.

I removed the back, used compressed air to remove ash and dust from the inside. I also repainted the back which had some missing or worn paint in places.


The patch was applied to both sides of the hole. It's very sticky. Stickier and thinner than gaffer tape. I used an old floppy as a backing so I could rub/burnish/bray the patch to the shutter cloth.. Anything flat would do. I just wanted the adhesive to be flat and the final composite to be flat.


It looked good. I let it set for a week and sometimes wound and unwound the shutter to see how the patch stuck.. It's been good. Will it work was my question. I went shooting this long weekend and used 400 speed film as a good test.. Still works very well.

https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4427/36922979232_a9092c7e78_c.jpg (https://flic.kr/p/YfKVmd)
img937 (https://flic.kr/p/YfKVmd) by Jason Philbrook (https://www.flickr.com/photos/13759696@N02/), on Flickr

7-Sep-2017, 18:18
Huzzah! congrats. now we know to look to tenacious tape for future projects.
any thoughts on how it might be useful for bellows?

I hope it holds up well, and look forward to an update in a few years =)

7-Sep-2017, 18:29
I bet it could work for patching contemporary fabric covered bellows. All by itself, 1 layer is not 100% completely light tight, but two layers (one on each side, or folding over on corners if for bellows) certainly is. The shiny backing paper is stiffer and thicker than the tape itself if you're curious about it's material qualities. It does have a fabric texture to it.

8-Sep-2017, 18:33
I had always wondered if that could happen ... not sure why it hasn't happened to me yet. Brilliant save with the tape. And brilliant new image. Just admired it on Flickr.


neil poulsen
9-Sep-2017, 18:24
Very sorry to hear about the loss of your camera. None the less, thanks for posting this thread; I will keep this in mind.