Film Bros Interviews Pierro Pozella (PPP Repairs) 📷🛠
Pierro Pozella, better known as PPP Repairs, is the 23 year old that's saving film cameras from the graveyard. He uses his in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of mechanical and electronic cameras to service and repair them allowing their owners to enjoy them for years to come. From premium point and shoots to classic TLRs, he works on them all. We caught up with Pierro to find out to discuss everything from his favourite photographer to the most expensive kit he's worked on. Read the full interview below and if any of your film camera gear needs work make sure you head to his Instagram profile and drop him a DM.
Film Bros: What ignited your love of shooting film?
Pierro: My passion for photography started at a young age and the one thing that truly ignited my love of shooting film was when I was introduced to traditional darkroom processes such as film developing and print processes by a lady called Emma Champion when I was 14/15, showing me the technical processes involved in how light sensitive emulsion works, and also introducing me to building pinhole cameras. This was where I learnt to build my first basic pinhole camera from a tin can. From here, it sparked a curiosity to keep exploring film photography looking into how each part of the camera functioned along with the history, leading to me shooting on a range of film cameras from the 1800s to modern day models. Even to this day my favourite camera to shoot with is my 1900s Thornton Pickard reflex with a Carl Zeiss F2.9 lens.
When did you start repairing film cameras and at what stage did you decide to make a career out of it?
I started to learn how to repair film cameras at the age of 15, unsuccessful to begin with , but the more I practised and as time went on, the more successful I was at repairing. After I had built up a few years’ experience, I started repairing for a local camera shop at the age of 16, quickly progressing as it gave me an opportunity to work on a variety of cameras. This was when I realised I was capable of making a career out of camera repairs, but it wasn’t long before I reached a level where I was able to approach Mr Cads in London around the age of 18 where I repaired a variety of mechanical rangefinders and was given the opportunity to work on electrical compact cameras. This allowed me to teach myself how to repair these electrical compacts through reverse engineering where l learnt how to repair Olympus MJU II along with Yashica T4 and T5 compacts. After learning basic repairs on these cameras it did not take me long to progress onto high-end compact cameras such as Contax T3 and FujI Klasse. After repairing for Mr Cads I then started to repair for the Camera Museum, a Hasselblad and Leica specialist where I was given the opportunity to work on high-end expensive photographic equipment, allowing me to heavily refine my skills in repairing Leica and Hasselblad gear including teaching myself how to repair Hasselblad Xpan shutter issue “0000” through reverse engineering. I now have around eight years’ experience in camera repairs ranging from 1800s plate cameras all the way through to the most modern electrical compacts that are well-known today.
How did you learn the expertise required to work on such a variety of cameras?
I learnt everything I know through reverse engineering. I approached multiple camera repairers in London and no one would take me on to teach me the process. This meant I had to learn myself and without access to repair manuals, this was not the easiest process, taking several years to learn and I am still learning. However, through this way of learning, I have seen the progression of technology used within several cameras allowing me to transfer the knowledge of repairing one across a variety of film cameras. For example the shutter mechanism inside a constant G2 is very similar to Konica Hexar RF and Hasselblad XPan, so learning to repair one, I’m able to apply the same approach to the other two. I learnt how to repair compact electrical film cameras in a similar way for the mechanical parts involved, but for the electrical components, I learnt basic knowledge around circuits and coding to understand how the cameras were operating.
What's the coolest/your favourite camera that you have worked on?
The coolest camera I was able to work on was a Norita 66 due to its unusual design of a double wind on and carrying out a complete rebuild including the prism and the 80mm F2 lens which is one of the best lenses I’ve used to date rendering highlights and shadows incredibly well. Another cool rebuild I carried out was a conversion of a Leica M2 to a Leica M3 upgrading the frame counter swapping out the viewfinder and other components. This was so interesting to do as I could see how they progressed in building the rangefinder, only changing certain components whilst retaining the same camera body size and internal mechanism, which all retained their original positions. The most unusual was a Contax AX as it allows autofocus with any manual lens it was so over-engineered, it was incredible.
Do you ever get nervous working on rare/expensive cameras or lenses?
Expensive and rare repairs do not necessarily make me nervous, as I am more excited for these repairs; they’re a lot more interesting than the usual replacing light seals or shutter service. With rare cameras, they tend not to follow the same design patterns or engineering as mass-produced film cameras of their era making it far more interesting to reverse engineer. It allows me to learn a whole new way of building from that era, and how they refined certain movements within the camera at the time. This is when I take extra care with the repairs. This is because some repairs cannot be replaced due to the rarity of the camera and cameras with sentimental value. The most expensive piece of equipment I have worked on to date is a £5,000 Special edition Leica Lens.
What are the most difficult pieces of analogue photography gear to repair?
The most difficult piece of gear to repair is fungus between sealed optics because to repair this requires a microwave, a bowl of water, and hope for the best! In actuality, recalibrating shutter mechanisms inside electrical compact cameras is hard because of the amount of delicate flex cable that needs to be navigated, taking a lot of concentration and time.
What do you think of the resurgence of film amongst younger photographers and what do you think is the reasoning behind it?
I think the resurgence of film amongst younger photographers is definitely a good thing as the younger generation is needed in order to keep film photography alive. The positive impacts of the film industry has already been seen with lomography bringing out several new rolls of film along with Kodak bringing back film they once discontinued along with several individuals producing their own film, for example Japan Camera Hunter and Street Candy. I believe the reason behind this is because it’s tangible, it is a physical object in a fast moving world of digital technology.
What is your favourite camera, lens and film combination and why?
My go-to film camera I take most places is my Leica MP with a 28mm F2. This is because it’s mechanical with only the battery needed for the meter, I can rely on the camera and if anything goes wrong, I can repair it. Most of my personal cameras are fully mechanical as I know if anything was to go wrong, it can be resolved and if parts are needed, they can be fabricated. My favourite film is CineStill for shooting colour as this combined with Leica glass rendering work incredibly well together. With black and white film, I like to use either Ilford HP5 as it's great for pushing a pulling iso or currently I have been using a lot of Fomapan because it has a lot of latitude, thus it’s flexible for developing temperature.
Who is your favourite photographer? Any other notable mentions our readers should check out?
My favourite photographers are Susan Derges, especially her river taw series along with Chris McCaw’s sunburn series. Chris McCaw developed his own cameras using old WW2 lenses with exposure times of up to 12 hours long resulting in some exposures burning during the process. Readers should look at The Shadow Catchers, a book on cameraless photography so they can understand photography is possible beyond the camera.
Lastly, any tips for film photographers to keep their cameras in good working order so they don't end up in your workshop?
Yes, avoid leaving cameras in the loft or in the shed as moisture is a huge issue for all cameras. Do not be afraid to polish your camera from time to time, as I’ve had some repairs come in purely due to the amount of dust buildup causing issues (more with electronic film cameras). You may like the beach, and I do too, but cameras do not!
Remember to use them, leaving a camera on the shelf for years and years just as a display piece is also just as bad. When they are not used at all it causes them to break as well, they’re built to be used and can be a lot tougher than most perceive them to be. They’re like old cars in a sense, they need to be used, shoot a roll of film through every now and then, otherwise they seize up. Enjoy using them as much as you can, if it breaks I’ll fix it!