The ‘camera whisperer’ who fixes what the industry experts can’t, or gained&#039t

By | August 13, 2017

SINGAPORE: With an earth cable hooked up to his wrist, he pulls a rubber glove in excess of just one hand and picks up a screwdriver with the other. David Hilos, a hobbyist digital camera fixer, then commences getting apart the physique of a Nikon D7500.

The proprietor of the digital camera experienced complained about its “erratic” conduct right after dropping it in h2o, and he’d rushed it to Mr Hilos in the hope that he could do something to make it perform yet again. Mr Hilos is, right after all, identified in the on line hobbyist community as the “camera whisperer” who performs miracles on defective cameras that even the provider centres will not contact.

“Chances of correcting flooded cameras are slim, but at times I get fortunate,” he remarked.

Meek and humble, the 49-yr-old Filipino shies absent from praise. But among the his clients, he is respected for the “hardcore repairs” he pulls off, which involve reviving drowned cameras, changing digital cameras to infrared, and at times, even transplanting important components like an total prism from just one digital camera to yet another.

Mr Hilos does his repairs from a little study table in the corner of his living area. 


Like a surgeon, Mr Hilos skillfully removes the camera’s screws, some concealed underneath the rubber pores and skin, many others tucked absent in little grooves then arranges them in a clockwise sample on his workbench.

“Everything about digital camera repairing has to be specific. Even for the screws, the amount of turns have to be returned to the specific placement,” he mentioned. 

To the ideal of his workbench, a assortment of watchmaker-grade screwdrivers are laid out nicely – from German-produced Wiha to Mercedes Benz screwdrivers, these equipment are crucial to the high quality of the perform he does.

Mr Hilos even has a Mercedes Benz screwdriver that does not depart marks on the camera’s screw-heads. 

“A fantastic screwdriver will not build marks on screwheads. Some customers really feel unfortunate if the screws have indicators of cosmetic damage – it affects the resale benefit of collector merchandise,” mentioned Mr Hilos, incorporating that dealing with fussy customers has, in simple fact, enhanced his requirements as a fixer.

With all the intricacies involved in correcting a digital camera, it is stunning that Mr Hilos does it all from a little study table in his HDB flat. And he reveals that at periods, correcting a challenging problem can be finished with easy household merchandise like chopsticks and a toothbrush.

As he lifts the casing of the drowned Nikon D7500, he scans the motherboard with his eye loop and helps make his diagnosis. “There is a good deal of corrosion”, he mumbles.

Some of the components he functions with are so little, faults can only be spotted using his eye loop.

His procedure for a corroded motherboard is easy – detach it from the physique, and clear it with a disposable chopstick wrapped with tissue paper dampened with lighter fluid.

“Once it is flooded, provider centres commonly will not contact just about anything. It signifies they would have to overhaul every little thing, and it expenses a good deal to resolve,” he mentioned.

For Mr Hilos nevertheless – who charges a fraction of what provider centres would – correcting something that appears to be like an unachievable activity is something he finds “fulfilling”.


Mr Hilos is an electronics and communications engineer by occupation, but his penchant for precision in equipment is something he appears to be to have been born with. 

As a little one, he made a peculiar obsession that drove his mom and dad insane – each time he was supplied a new toy, his 1st intuition was to wipe out it. From easy plastic gizmos to electronic toy cars and trucks, they all ended up in parts.

I would disassemble it, then little by little reassemble everything… to me it was like a puzzle.

Small did his mom and dad know that these engage in periods made his essential being familiar with of mechanics. It was only when he was older that they set two and two with each other.

“My father realized, ‘oh, which is why’, due to the fact I started correcting items – bicycles, radios, television sets, just about anything that was damaged, I preset. I just favored to resolve items,” he mentioned.

Mr Hilos has been enjoying with gizmos considering the fact that he was a little one, providing rise to his deep being familiar with of mechanics and electronics. 

Mr Hilos was born in San Pablo, Philippines, a little town that was “peaceful, peaceful, with not substantially going on back then”. His mother was a trainer, and his father labored quite a few odd careers ahead of commencing his own photography business enterprise.

My father released me to some digital camera fixers. I realised it wasn’t that tough (to do) – I guess it was my passion, so I learnt speedily. I preset and cleaned all our cameras.

It was at faculty that Mr Hilos realised his curiosity for mechanics could get him additional in lifestyle. Regularly topping his course in science and physics, he made the decision to depart his hometown for Manila, where by he took up a degree in electronics and communications engineering.  

Mr Hilos would assist his father at picture shoots, but his genuine curiosity in was finding to manage the equipment. 

On graduating, he labored as a auto audio technician for a Japanese company in the Philippines, and experienced many other stints in electronics right until 1997, when he moved to Singapore for a occupation with Panasonic as an engineer in their R&D office.

“NOBODY Reliable ME”

Adapting to a distinct culture in this article wasn’t effortless, in particular considering the fact that he was just married with two youthful little ones at the time.

“It felt monotonous and lonely. I did not have several buddies, and I did not really feel acknowledged. I just went to perform, arrived household, and went to perform yet again,” mentioned Mr Hilos.

Then just one working day, he noticed a lens for sale in the on line photography forum Clubsnap. “The male mentioned, ‘there’s some minor problem. You do not thoughts?’ I mentioned ‘oh it is easy, I can resolve this.’ And the male mentioned, ‘you can? Truly, can you resolve my lens?

I believe I billed him S$20. He was so joyful. He mentioned, ‘if I despatched this to the provider centre, they would cost me S$a hundred and twenty. 

Just like that, Mr Hilos’ passion for correcting was reignited. He made the decision to promote his digital camera-correcting services on line. One particular hitch? “Nobody dependable me! Since I billed only S$15 to S$20.” 

Mr Hilos commenced sharing guidelines on on line community forums. Sometimes easy equipment like chopsticks, tissue paper and lighter fluid do the trick when cleansing.  

As he turned a lot more active in on line community forums, he started providing guidelines and tutorials on how to resolve cameras. But he started getting complaints from other fixers who mentioned he was spoiling the industry by “disclosing the secrets”.   

“There was just one lens which I shared how to resolve. Then I realised there was a male who fixes only that just one lens,” he mentioned.

Around time, he started getting so several restore requests that he experienced to commence turning people today absent. “Even at 11pm, people today would knock on my doorway. I got SMS messages at 2am, 3am. Some people today do not have a sense of time!” he grumbled.

And something else unforeseen transpired.

I am a shy male. But by way of this, I fulfilled so several distinct people today. There are people who, every time we fulfill, I resolve his digital camera for just one hour and we converse for two several hours.

“I got invited to a good deal of gatherings, I turned a lot more open up, to understand the culture in this article and how items perform socially. And I started to really feel acknowledged.”

Camera correcting turned the prism by way of which he lastly commenced to in shape in and understand the social workings of culture in this article.

“WHEN It is Complicated, I GET Extra INTERESTED”

These days, Mr Hilos spends a lot more than ten several hours a 7 days of his no cost time repairing his clients’ cameras. Sometimes at the weekends, he stays up till 3am seeking to get a occupation finished.

“The compensation is not normally worth it, but I appreciate executing it. It is not just about the monetary reward.”

It is almost like an outlet absent from perform for him. “As engineers, we do calculation, we do a good deal of documentation, we perform conferences. This is true. I resolve true stuff, and it is pretty satisfying.”

He is like a detective at perform – totally scanning each component of the merchandise to place where by the fault is. 

Aside from repairing cameras, Mr Hilos also normally takes on requests to restore other varieties of electronics, this sort of as drones, DVD gamers, or even other appliances all around his home – something he sees as a vital problem from time to time.

Some digital camera styles have weaknesses, so they have the similar problem in excess of and in excess of. It gets boring. I want to resolve something new. If there’s a new model, I want to see what is actually within. 

“When it is tough, I get a lot more fascinated in seeking to resolve it. Sometimes, even professionals go items to me,” he added.  

Other periods, people today request him to reset the camera’s shutter depend, or to alter the serial amount of their equipment, in buy to cheat provider centres or second-hand prospective buyers.

“I do not accept people types of requests. I would really feel responsible,” he mentioned.

Difficult preparations like this DVD participant motherboard do not discourage him, but in simple fact spur him on a lot more.

And then there was a customer whose digital camera experienced difficulties reading through the memory card. On getting it apart, Mr Hilos realised that some bent pins in the memory card reader were being the problem, and all he experienced to do was straighten the pins out.

The regular process by the provider centre would be to substitute the total motherboard, which could price in between S$600 to S$800, according to Mr Hilos. “It’s easier for the centre to do that due to the fact they don’t keep little components, and the technician does not have to pinpoint the trigger of the problem.” 

ADVOCATING A Repair Society

Changing something just due to the fact it is old or it is a lot more convenient to do so is a strategy Mr Hilos plainly balks at.

His restore equipment apart, all the other gizmos in his household glimpse like dated contraptions of the 80s and 90s. “I’m a supporter of old stuff – my Pc is from my good friend, this monitor is from yet another good friend. It might not be new, but it is still functioning,” he mentioned.

His sentiment echoes an emerging movement from the buy-and-toss-absent culture, where by a lot more people today are deciding on to restore instead than substitute their defective gizmos. (Understand a lot more about this in this article: Repair Kopitiam)

For instance, Mr Hilos speaks proudly of a Nikon D300 which he bought for S$fifty. “It experienced no difficulties. Just that it is ten years old. Sometimes even when items are not damaged, people today have a tendency to substitute.

“But then yet again I have customers who like lovely cameras. I are not able to blame them. Cameras are like cars and trucks,” he added.

This is his graveyard of cameras that were being irreparable. Mr Hilos retains them for spare components. 

It is not just consumer conduct that is the problem – at times the provider centres themselves do not restore older models, mentioned Mr Hilos. He sees clients who have been turned absent due to the fact the centre stopped carrying the components for their model, which could be as new as five years old.

So the natural way, for several buyers, the effortless possibility is to buy a newer model. “I really feel it is this sort of a waste,” he mentioned.

In the Philippines, electronics and appliances are pretty expensive, so a good deal of people today can resolve stuff. Persons there have a tendency to recycle, instead than buy.

“In my hometown, they use stuff older than what they toss absent in this article. I wished to obtain all people defective merchandise, resolve them, and deliver them back for charity – if only delivery it back was easier.”


Like the present-day in a circuit board, Mr Hilos’ knack for correcting items appears to be to operate in his two daughters way too, who are finding out engineering at college.

“When my eldest was about a few or four years old, she handed me some screws and mentioned, ‘Daddy, these are screws’ – that was just one of my unforgettable encounters,” he mentioned.

“When it will come to pcs, my eldest is improved than me. She is a bit particular –  she does not want everyone touching her laptop computer, even the provider centre. So she will buy the components, and she can figure out herself what demands to be finished.” 

Mr Hilos just needs that his own father, who handed on in 2002, were being still all around to be very pleased of him the way he’s very pleased of his own daughters.

“I normally say ‘dad, if you were being still alive possibly you will be very pleased of me,” mentioned Mr Hilos.

“When my father was still alive, there were being two items he favored to demonstrate off – his gear, and me,” he mentioned. “He would inform my neighbours, ‘this is my son, he can resolve stuff. If you have something damaged, my son can resolve it’.”

“So I do this for him,” he mentioned.

Back again at his perform table, Mr Hilos cleans up the final specks of rust on the Nikon D7500, and proceeds to dry the parts with an air-blower. Almost everything appears to be new and shiny yet again. He pops the battery back in, and in a second of anticipation, powers up the digital camera.

It functions.

“The customer will be so joyful. He assumed it was a useless digital camera,” mentioned Mr Hilos.

And this is why they call him the digital camera whisperer. 

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