Steve used to run a camera shop near Chinatown, Philadelphia on between 9th and Arch Street called Camera Care. When cameras starting going digital he had to sell his shop and later retired from the business. But he never left. Instead, Steve ran his camera shop from his home largely focusing on repairs and calling his online shop the Classic Camera Workshop.
I only knew him just this past year but he was one of the few guys around who had the history, know how, and love of old cameras and lenses. He had the gift of restoring and bringing them back to life.
Though I only knew him for a short time from my own need to get some old c-mount lenses repaired, I definitely felt a connection to his love and passion for classic cameras and lenses and learned a lot from him. His knowledge in the field and his persistence to tackle any problem was really amazing and he had a gift for doing what he loved to do.
Steve never charged you hourly for his services. He was one of the few camera repair guys who gave one price and stuck by it. No matter how long it took he’d get it done and repair that lens with all the tools he knew in his trade. He took a hell of a long time with your lenses though because he got them to his strict standards of perfection. Most would wait and give nudging e-mails or phone calls but then months later when you least expect it you’d be rewarded with an amazing lens that was overhauled and restored with care.
He never did get paid for what he truly deserved. He just loved doing it. He had the unique history to know how to work on so many cameras and lenses before digital came into being. Ironically, his knowledge is needed now when most people are investing to have old lenses repaired and restored to be used with DSLR cameras.
I never met him in person. Never even saw a picture of him or any pictures that he took until after he passed away. I only talked to him by phone and through e-mail. Camera lenses is why I came to him but through the process of repair and restoration he shared his life, his love of cars, taking care of his wife and mother-in-law, and his love for his son who recently just got married.
When his wife Barbara called me and told me he had passed and that she had my camera and lenses to return, my heart sank. I wanted to pay my respects in person. I drove out to his beautiful home just outside of Philadelphia and met his wife and she shared a picture of when they first got married and her own stories too, the good memories as well as the times of struggle, his health challenges and how the life of a camera repair guy was always a struggle but it’s what he loved to do.
Before I left their home, she took me down to the basement where he did all his repair work. It was as if he never left. Piles of old cameras on the floor, his beat down chair bent and slightly swiveled waiting for his return and a few tools and hardware strewed on his desk as if Steve was right in the middle of a repair.
It was truly a mess but I could see some semblance of structure. There were scribbled tags in plastic bins identifying someone’s lenses or camera body. Some bins were in the middle of repair and he needed a part or two while others were not touched at all. All were just waiting to be fixed. He was the camera doctor and this was really his labor of love. In all it’s chaos it was his sanctuary. His home.
In all this organized clutter of old cameras and lenses this is what he loved to do. Being able to restore a bad lens and get it back up and running to its full potential was something that he took pride in especially the ones that were impossible to repair. I remember he repaired an old cine Nikkor 10mm c-mount lens that was impossible to repair. I told him if you can’t do it just let it go. He stayed up all night and gives me a proud call on the phone 8:30am the next day explaining how he could not sleep and was able to get the helicoids unfrozen. That was the kind of dedication he had to his craft.
When I picked up my plastic bin containing my last set of lenses from him, I imagined him telling a long story of why he was delayed with my lenses saying he was at the hospital and had meant to send them to me sooner. He would then say, “I didn’t forget about you. I got your lenses and camera right here.” And there I was holding the last of the lenses repaired by his hands. In the bin was also my GH1 camera which he used to test out all my lenses. When I turned on the camera, I saw his test pictures that he took shooting his shop and backyard using my c-mount lenses. Most pictures were really bad but it was a nice gift. They were little snap shot memories documenting a brief moment of his day to day repairs.
On my way back home I decided to take a last minute stop where his shop used to be near the Chinatown Arch in Philadelphia, one of the beautiful landmarks of Philly. It was cold that night and no one was around except the few cars that passed by. I looked up and noticed there were new lights on the arch. It looked beautiful. It was a classic camera moment. I took out the plastic bin and I pulled out one of Steve’s lenses and placed it on my camera and looking through the viewfinder said, “Here’s to you Steve.” And I started shooting.
Though he could not take very good pictures, he sure knew how to restore classic cameras and lenses. These pics prove his worth in gold. He was a humble master allowing his art and spirit to live on through the people who he touched and through the lenses that he restored.
Every time I use any of his lenses I’ll always think of Steve Serota.
I will be creating special shorts with each of the lenses that he has restored for me.
For those who have had their lenses repaired by Steve, I invite you to send me your stories, pictures or films. I will add it to this post.
And for those who may still be anxiously waiting for your lenses and camera. His family asks for your patience at this time and are in the process of contacting all his clients.
Please feel free to contact them at Steve’s e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org