Nine Tips to Keep Your Camcorder as Fresh as a New Baby.
When you shelled out your hard-earned cash for your first camcorder and pulled it out of the box to hold in your hands for the first time, did you sense a slight trepidation about whether you’d know how to care for it properly and keep it safe from harm? Did you get the feeling that you were holding a very delicate instrument in your hands, one that would someday quit working forever if you weren’t nice to it? Granted, you probably knew a couple of things about taking care of your wonderful new device, especially if you’d had experience with still cameras and/or other types of consumer electronic devices. Still, you may have had a nagging suspicion that there were plenty of tips and tricks to learn about keeping your camcorder investment safe and sound for years to come.
In this month’s column, we’ll be taking a look at some of those basic camcorder maintenance tips and tricks that professional and consumer videographers have developed and used over the years. We’ll cover some ground that might seem basic to many of our readers; nonetheless, we feel that even the more experienced camera-jockeys out there might do well to review these basic principles. (If you have an old camcorder sitting on a living room shelf at home, for example, with no lens cap, box or padded case to protect it from the elements, then keep reading, this is for you too.) Camcorder maintenance can be deceptively simple, which means that it’s such a basic skill that many forget to pay it proper homage. However, if you pay attention to these few simple rules, you can rest assured that you’ll be doing your part to keep your camcorder in good working order.
Rule number one: never touch the lens with your fingers. Okay, I know that you’re probably rolling your eyes back in your head, amazed and perhaps offended that we would put these words in print. Nevertheless, we list this rule first because it’s one that almost everyone seems to know, and almost everyone seems to break at one time or another.
It may seem like no big deal, just accidentally swiping your fingers across the glass momentarily, but what you may not know is that the outer element of your camcorder lens is more than just a hunk of glass: it’s a hunk of very high-quality optical glass that’s been treated with a super-thin protective coating. This protective coating reacts very poorly with the oils and miscellaneous crud that reside on your fingertips, which can actually eat away minute portions of the lens’s protective surface. Repeated contact with your fingers can reduce the light-gathering efficiency of your lens by a significant amount, so be very careful not to allow your skin–or anybody else’s–to touch the glass on the front of the camera, ever.
Rule number two: keep your lens protected. Use the lens cap at all times when the camcorder is not in use. For extra protection, consider purchasing a clear or ultraviolet lens filter and attaching it permanently to the front of your lens; if something nasty should happen to the filter, you can simply buy another one (a luxury that most built-in camcorder lenses do not afford).
Rule number three: use only lens tissues, lens cloths or very soft brushes to clean your lens. Some people have an uncontrollable urge to use a shirt sleeve or handkerchief in a pinch; in a word, don’t. Though they may feel soft to the touch, most fabrics we come into contact with are actually quite abrasive, and can damage the protective coating of your lens permanently.
The Outer Parts
Rule number four: wash your hands before you handle your camcorder. Once again, the notion of keeping your hands clean is so basic as to recall archetypal childhood images of mother keeping you hungry at dinnertime until your grubby paws passed inspection. Still, it is surprising how quickly a sloppy videographer’s dirty hands can gum up the tiny buttons, dials and other controls of a camcorder. You don’t have to be an auto mechanic to have dirty hands in this case; all it takes to make a perfectly functional button stop working is a normal buildup of sweat and dead skin.
Rule number five: use a slightly damp cloth to clean the camcorder body when necessary. Don’t use soap or harsh chemicals; these can mar the surface or harm the delicate electronics of the camera. Don’t use a spray bottle–even if it’s just filled with water–as this can help liquids find their way into nooks and crannies where they ought not to be. It can also cause condensation or short-circuiting to occur, both of which can be disastrous to your camcorder’s health. A pass or two with a damp cloth and a little bit of elbow grease should be able to take care of most cleaning problems on the outer surface of the camera.
Rule number six: buy a camcorder case, and use it. This will not only help to soften the occasional blows that a camcorder will inevitably experience from time to time; it will keep dust, dirt and moisture away from the camera’s delicate electronic and mechanical systems. It will also serve as a method of organizing and storing much of your accessory gear, such as lens tissues, filters, tapes, spare batteries, headphones, etc., as well as provide an easy way to carry your video gear from place to place.
The Inner Sanctum
Rule number seven: don’t clean the inner parts of your camcorder unless you really know what you’re doing. It’s not a bad idea to run a head-cleaner cassette (the wet kind, not the dry) in the tape transport for a few seconds every once in a while. But before you start reaching for the alcohol and cotton swabs, go out and buy yourself some chamois-tipped swabs and be very, very careful about it–or better yet, hire a professional camcorder maintenance technician to do it for you.
Rule number eight: clean the viewfinder regularly. When we say viewfinder in this context, we really mean one or both of two separate devices: the traditional eyepiece-style viewfinder, and/or the larger LCD monitor attached to the camcorder body. The latter, LCD-monitor type viewfinder is pretty easy to clean: all you have to do is periodically buff the fingerprints and grime off the plastic or glass surface with a soft, non-abrasive cloth. Many LCD-monitor camcorders come with a cloth designed for just this purpose.
The traditional eyepiece-style viewfinder can be a little more difficult to clean. Most of them consist of two surfaces: the small diopter lens that magnifies the viewfinder, and the face of the actual image-bearing viewfinder itself. In this type of viewfinder, the lens portion sometimes flips up to reveal the viewfinder portion beneath. With any luck, the viewfinder itself won’t get any debris or dirt inside it, and so won’t require much in the way of cleaning beyond a quick air blast to remove dust particles. The lens, however, often comes in contact with eyelashes and eyelids, which leave deposits of lashes, dust, dirt and skin oils that must be removed carefully with a lens cloth.
Rule number nine (and final): use common sense, and always handle your camcorder with conscientious care. Remember that it is a very delicate piece of machinery that can quit working forever if you drop it just once. There hasn’t been a shock-proof camcorder invented yet, nor one that is completely impervious to water, dust and grime. Follow these few simple rules, however, and you should have a camcorder that will last decades and never wake you up for a 3:00 a.m. feeding.