The Beautiful Work of the Folks Who Do Camera Customization

“I had no idea what it would lead to,” says Aaron Parke of Camerakote about the first time he attempted to customise his beloved Spotmatic with a new coat of paint. What started as a personal project to spruce up his camera has turned into something that has gotten him a steady stream of clients. He’s not the only one doing this in recent times. I spoke to three customisation experts specialising in giving old cameras a brand new look by overhauling their exterior. The personalisation possibilities are endless once you realise what these specialists are capable of doing to turn your beloved camera into a one-of-a-kind collectable. What’s amazing is that I contacted each of the three independently, but it turns out they’re all quite well connected with one another.

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When I began growing my vintage camera collection about six years ago, one of the cameras I couldn’t easily find back then was a working Polaroid SX-70. Some months later, I stumbled upon a working one on eBay for a half-decent price. However, upon closer inspection, I realised it wasn’t in the best cosmetic condition. The leather was peeling off in many places, and a few corners needed a decent polishing. There really aren’t any stores in Dubai that could fix this, so I set about finding places online for a solution. And there it was, on the 3rd page of the google search results – DIY cutout leather for my SX-70. Two weeks and some painful yanking off of the original tarnished leather, and my SX-70 looks like it came straight out of the factory.

I doubt I’d ever attempt anything more complicated than a reskin to give my beloved cameras a new look. Instead, I’d send my cameras to any of the below-mentioned companies if I ever wanted to revamp them. They don’t just re-skin, they repair and repaint your prized camera to showroom or possibly better condition. Got a colour you have in mind for a repaint? Chances are one of them has a very creative version of it. Want to add some unique texture? They’ve got the right tools for it. And from the conversations I’ve had with them, it’s pretty clear that your camera is in safe hands. They love what they do, and the pieces they present make you wonder why camera manufacturers aren’t this imaginative when it comes to colours and finishings.

Who Are These Expert Customisers? Where Did It All Start?

Marc fell in love with photography at a young age.

Shueido Camera is the company’s name, and its founder Marc discovered photography when he was in high school. He started the company soon after that, in 2003, and began by selling used camera equipment. Shueido Camera is based in Taiwan with a studio in Japan. And producing high quality, visually distinct refurbishing and painting are what they specialise in.

Shueido’s camera customisation is probably the most unique that I’ve seen. It’s not just in the different styles of paints they have. They also have some interesting methods of finishing off the bodywork. Hammertone (seen in the picture above), Brassing, and Accenting are just a few of the finishes they offer.

He used to paint cars expertly. Now, he’s moved those skills onto cameras.

“In terms of applying liquids to a solid surface, there isn’t a lot I don’t know,” says Aaron Parke confidently. “I was trained by a ‘Coach Painter’ a technician whose brush paintwork was like sheet glass. His attention to preparation details included greasing himself up for some of the higher-end jobs to avoid even a flake of skin departing from him and landing on the job.”

Look at the exquisite paint customisation finish here. All done by hand.

“I’m someone who enjoys capturing images, the process of composing and taking a photograph and believe I have a good eye. I am, however, far from what anyone would consider a professional. I am a qualified Mental Health Nurse, an Independent Prescriber and have worked in this profession for the last 18 years. Prior to this, I spent a good 20 years working in the motor trade as a vehicle repair technician, focusing mainly on high-end classic and some custom work for wealthy clients as well as a healthy supply of the humdrum average family wagon. I entered the trade directly on leaving school and found I had a real aptitude at wielding a spray gun.”

Camerakote began a little over two years ago, almost by accident. I have always kept my trigger finger practised in my workshop at home on various projects. Anything from the neighbour’s car park bumps to my brother in law’s typewriter refurbishments. But one day, I decided my old Spotmatic needed a spruce up. I spent a little time travelling back and forth from home to my local camera technician’s shop to experience the abuse I hadn’t been exposed to since I was an apprentice motor repairer, developing some level of skill in disassembling and rebuilding cameras. I then set about preparing the aged SLR for a finish that I thought would suit it and I picked a colour from Cerakote’s ‘E-Series’ polymer coating range.”

“Cerakote is commonly used on firearms and auto components, external and internal engine components as an ultra-thin, ultra-hard and friction-free coating) just because I thought it would work well for this application. Put the camera back together and advertised it as a ‘Look What I Can Do’ post.”

A designer who became a photographer, who’s now doing both.

Adrian Prada of Columbia was a graphic designer who became a full-time photographer for Rolling Stone Latin America magazine. Hired to shoot photos of music bands who tour his country, a trip to Japan changed his outlook on how a camera should be adored. “There is a deep love and respect for photography in that country. There are analog camera stores that look like museums. I was surprised that some of those cameras had different colors, and before the trip, I had seen some custom cameras on the internet.

“Looking up in Japan, I found out about the existence of Kantocamera, and they also showed me Shueido’s Instagram, and my mind exploded. I couldn’t believe someone had the ability to customise a camera in such ways. When I returned to Colombia, I thought “I have to do this”, and I did it. It was a process of a year of research since there were no manuals or courses to learn.”

“The first camera I painted was made for myself, an Olympus trip 35. Of all the cameras I have had, it has been the most important to me, I have a very strong emotional bond with her for several reasons: it was my first analog camera, with it I had my first approach to photography, when I painted it I remember I was surprised that I was able to achieve that, every detail was done with a lot of love, with her I showed myself that it was possible. I no longer have it, I gave it to a girlfriend who loves it a lot, I know that it is in good hands, I hope she still keeps it.”

What are some of the more unique customisation requests they’ve received?

Emotions play a part in the choices, according to Shueido Camera.

“From our experience, most people want a customised camera for three reasons,” says Jessie Lin of Shueido Camera.

  1. They love the old model but it is broken or in poor condition. A lot of people are willing to restore their film cameras at any cost.
  2. There are those who prefer unique pieces that are like no other. If photography can reveal one person’s personality so can the camera. 
  3. It can be a really special and intimate gift for someone special.

Aaron is surprised by the popular trend in camera customisation finishing.

“Initially, it was consistently Chrome to Black along with a common question “will it brass”? It took me a while to get used to the idea that people were requesting a surface finish that would wear down rather than a hard-wearing and scratch-resistant finish. I sense that is changing quickly though.”

“I have completed quite a few ‘one-offs’ in colours not often seen. A Bubblegum Pink Contax T2, a Candy Red Canon VI-L, and a rather nicely turned out Canon F1(new) in a combination of Bronze and semi-gloss Chocolate brown.”

Adrian cherishes all the customisation requests that come his way.

“They are all unique, every time I get a camera that I have never disassembled, it excites me, the first Rolleiflex, the first Leica, now I am painting a Hasselblad of mine, I am already finishing my first painting of a digital camera, a Fuji X-pro 1.”

A one-of-a-kind customisation request for an Olympus

“To date, I have painted 38 cameras, and each of them is a challenge. Each one is different. With each camera, I learn something new. 

Where does the inspiration come from for their customisation ideas?

A Leica M3 undergoing customisation at Shueido

“In the beginning, we use the original classical repaint as our references like black or military olive,” says Jessie of Shueido Camera. “Marc is the kind of person who always likes to challenge and try different things, and he thinks it will be cool to bring these old cameras back to people’s sight again with a totally different look. So, once he had a better command of the repainting technique, he started to design different looks.”

It’s like a first date. Nervous, prudent and excited. We spent a lot of time on the pre-work and the painting part took three times to start over again until we have the ideal result. It feels unbelievably satisfying. 

Shueido Camera about their first ever customisation job – a Canon P

The Nikon S2 commission was for Hamish Gill, of 35mmc.com fame. I came up with ‘Camerakote’ as a fusion of Cerakote and Cameras that night and I haven’t looked back since.

“I am sure that my efforts to do something a little different, alongside some other artisans across the world, have ‘nudged’ the market some, says Aaron. “Adrian Prada, based in Bogota, Columbia is a close connection; we share our insights in terms of pushing materials to their optimum. He is doing some fantastic work, really ‘out there’ colour combinations and his product images are superb.”

Another important person in my apprenticeship is Blas Ianini, a man who repairs analog cameras here in my city,” says Adrian. “He is a true genius. I have learned a lot from him about the process of disassembling cameras, and I am very grateful to him.”

I think I was somewhat annoying, asking Shueido’s Marc a lot of questions. Their work was my inspiration. Everything that Marc published on his Instagram was a light for my learning. I wondered how he did that, and I tried at home until I succeeded. Marc was a teacher, and he doesn’t know it.”

How do customers get in touch for their customisation requests?

“We usually prefer clients with specific ideas on the design,” says Shueido’s Jessie. “Of course, we will also provide our suggestions on different raw materials, types of paint and colour as references. The final work will contain the client’s thoughts, the technician’s experience and the old spirits of the classic camera. “

“Customers approach me directly via Instagram, Twitter or my Website contact form,” says Aaron, “and I work closely with customers on their ideas to try to evolve something that works in terms of their vision and what is possible to achieve. Feedback has been incredibly positive. I have also forged a strong link with Chris of Skyllaney Opto-Mechanics a real lens wizard who, in partnership with Hamish is one part of Omnar Lenses. I am honoured to be their chosen component finisher and excited to be part of their project producing a brand new M Mount lens in the UK.”

“Those interested write to me, and I send them a detailed document with the processes and costs,” states Adrian, “then they tell me what they want, and we make a quote, they send me the camera or the parts they want me to work on, I do my thing, and then I return what I received initially. Payments are made via Paypal.”

I’ve got plenty of cameras that could use some body work. But, I can’t make up my mind about which of the above stalwarts I should send my cameras to. They’d each give me a lot more than what I’d expect in quality finishing, that’s for sure.

Feroz Khan

Never seen without a camera (or far from one), Feroz picked up the art of photography from his grandfather at a very early age (at the expense of destroying a camera or two of his). Specializing in sports photography and videography for corporate short films, when he’s not discussing or planning his next photoshoot, he can usually be found staying up to date on aviation tech or watching movies from the 70s era with a cup of karak chai.