Fixing Light Seals On The Cheap

Our cameras are getting old: That’s just a fact. With that age comes the deterioration of certain parts and materials. One of the most common of these are light seals.

My Light Seal Issue

Often times when you find an old camera, whether it’s been sitting for years or well used, the light seals can start falling apart. They get all gummy and sticky, and you start finding bits of it in areas you don’t want it; in the viewfinder, on the shutter curtain, or on the film plain.

This was exactly what started happening to me with my X700. I cleaned up the outside body of my camera, getting the dust out of the little crevices to make it look all purdy. However, when I looked through the viewfinder (thinking that cleaning the outside of my camera will somehow make my viewfinder brighter), I noticed I had knocked some light seal bits loose and they were all inside my viewfinder.

I removed the focusing screen and cleaned it up nicely, then went about my jolly way taking pictures. Shortly there after, I began seeing signs of light leaks and they continued to get worse, eventually ruining almost an entire roll.

Remove Old Seals

When the light seal starts falling apart, it’s best to quickly remove them as the seals will continue to crumble away and get in places where you really don’t want it. I recommend using Q-tips dipped in alcohol to clean out all the old yucky seals. Expect to use several Q-tips to get it all out.

What ever you choose to use, make sure it’s good for clean delicate electronics and mechanics. The last thing you want to do is to get water inside your camera where it can corrode and rust. Water will destroy your camera – don’t do it. Use a substance that will evaporate with no residue.

Light seals are typically located in the grooves where the camera-back fits into as it closes and on the camera-back itself, especially around the hinge. There is also usually a foam pad at the lens mount where the mirror flips up (in an SLR of course).

In my X700, this foam pad at the lens mount was practically non-existent: it was beginning to deteriorate in my Canon AE-1 as well. While I wasn’t necessarily having issues with light leaks in my Canon just yet, I figured it was a good idea to replace it anyway.

New Light Seals

You can find light seal kits on ebay that I’m sure will work just fine. They have specific kits for each individual camera and can go for about $15 or so, plus shipping. Having never used one or ordered one, I can’t really say much about them other than I’d rather pay less.

I picked up the above sheets at a Michael’s for less than $2 per sheet. I picked up both a foam and a felt adhesive sheet, with specific uses of each in mind. The adhesive back is, of course, essential as you need it to stick into place.

At less than $2 a sheet, you can’t beat it. The benefit of having a large sheet to cut from, is if you mess something up, you still have plenty of material to try again… and again.

Installing The New Light Seal

Once you have the old seals removed, and you’ve cut out the new seals, you’re ready to start stuffing them into place. The seal at the lens mount is quite simple as it’s easy to cut to size and place with some tweezers. For this seal, I chose the foam.

At first, I tried using the felt here as it more resembled the old seal, but I found it too fuzzy. Here, the foam was a much cleaner option and is very easy to cut to size. While being a light seal, it’s also a sort of pad for the mirror to slap against. The foam is also nice to use on the actual camera back simply because it’s cleaner.

For installing the light seal into the grooves at the back of the camera, I used the felt. The felt proved to be more suitable for this as the foam was a bit too thick, not allowing the back to close. Cutting the felt into thin little strips was much easier and seemed to do the job.

For fitting the felt into place, use a toothpick, tweezers, a micro screwdriver, anything really that fits. Gently start at one end, and work your way to the other end, ensuring the seal is being securely set into place. You don’t want it sticking to the camera-back and peeling right out when you open your camera (which is what happened to me the first attempt).

While it’s all fairly easy to work with, the felt can be a bit messy and delicate. Try not to put too hard as your stuffing it in. You’ll find that the thinner the strip is, the easier it is to just pull apart. Just be gentle and you’ll be fine. Like I said before, you’ve got plenty of material to try again.

And That’s It

It really is that easy. When I first started noticing the light leaks, my X700 sat on the shelf for a while. I didn’t really know what to do about it. It seemed like a much more difficult task than it turned out to be.

I saw this tip on using the Michael’s sheets on a YouTube video, and figured it was cheap enough to give it a go myself. After all, those light seals weren’t just going to go away on their own. The worse that could happen was turning an almost unusable camera, into an unusable camera.

After getting the new seals into place, I shot a roll of HP5 to test it out. Unsure of my own abilities on fixing my camera, I just shot a lot of random scenes in bright light, simply trying to get to the end of the roll. That said, some of them turned out pretty cool!

I hope this gives you the courage to attempt replacing your own light seals! I’m really glad I did and I’m so happy to have the X700 off the shelf and back in the camera bag.

Let me know in the comments what you think and if you’ve ever tried it! Thanks for reading.

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