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

SINGAPORE: With an earth cable attached to his wrist, he pulls a rubber glove over a person hand and picks up a screwdriver with the other. David Hilos, a hobbyist digital camera fixer, then begins getting aside the system of a Nikon D7500.

The proprietor of the digital camera experienced complained about its “erratic” conduct soon after dropping it in drinking water, and he’d rushed it to Mr Hilos in the hope that he could do something to make it perform again. Mr Hilos is, soon after all, recognised in the on the net hobbyist group as the “camera whisperer” who performs miracles on defective cameras that even the service centres will not contact.

“Chances of fixing flooded cameras are slim, but sometimes I get fortunate,” he remarked.

Meek and humble, the 49-year-aged Filipino shies absent from praise. But among his purchasers, he is respected for the “hardcore repairs” he pulls off, which contain reviving drowned cameras, converting electronic cameras to infrared, and sometimes, even transplanting critical areas like an entire prism from a person digital camera to one more.

Mr Hilos does his repairs from a compact examine desk in the corner of his dwelling area. 


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

“Everything about digital camera fixing has to be specific. Even for the screws, the selection of turns have to be returned to the exact placement,” he stated. 

To the ideal of his workbench, a collection of watchmaker-grade screwdrivers are laid out properly – from German-produced Wiha to Mercedes Benz screwdrivers, these applications are critical to the excellent 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 great screwdriver does not produce marks on screwheads. Some buyers sense unhappy if the screws have signals of cosmetic destruction – it affects the resale price of collector things,” stated Mr Hilos, including that working with fussy buyers has, in fact, enhanced his expectations as a fixer.

With all the intricacies included in fixing a digital camera, it is shocking that Mr Hilos does it all from a compact examine desk in his HDB flat. And he reveals that at periods, fixing a complex problem can be finished with straightforward family things like chopsticks and a toothbrush.

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

Some of the areas he is effective with are so compact, faults can only be spotted utilizing his eye loop.

His remedy for a corroded motherboard is straightforward – detach it from the system, and clean up it with a disposable chopstick wrapped with tissue paper dampened with lighter fluid.

“Once it is flooded, service centres normally won’t contact just about anything. It suggests they would have to overhaul anything, and it costs a good deal to fix,” he stated.

For Mr Hilos although – who costs a fraction of what service centres would – fixing something that looks 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 machinery is something he looks to have been born with. 

As a little one, he formulated a peculiar obsession that drove his parents ridiculous – just about every time he was provided a new toy, his initially instinct was to wipe out it. From straightforward plastic gadgets to electronic toy autos, they all ended up in parts.

I would disassemble it, then slowly but surely reassemble everything… to me it was like a puzzle.

Little did his parents know that these perform sessions formulated his essential knowledge of mechanics. It was only when he was more mature that they set two and two with each other.

“My dad realized, ‘oh, that is why’, for the reason that I started off fixing points – bicycles, radios, tv sets, just about anything that was broken, I set. I just preferred to fix points,” he stated.

Mr Hilos has been participating in with gadgets considering that he was a little one, offering increase to his deep knowledge of mechanics and electronics. 

Mr Hilos was born in San Pablo, Philippines, a compact town that was “peaceful, tranquil, with not considerably occurring back then”. His mother was a instructor, and his father worked many odd positions before commencing his very own photography business.

My dad introduced me to some digital camera fixers. I realised it wasn’t that hard (to do) – I guess it was my passion, so I learnt quickly. I set and cleaned all our cameras.

It was at college that Mr Hilos realised his curiosity for mechanics could get him further in lifetime. Consistently topping his course in science and physics, he determined to depart his hometown for Manila, where he took up a diploma in electronics and communications engineering.  

Mr Hilos would help his father at picture shoots, but his true fascination in was finding to maintain the equipment. 

Upon graduating, he worked as a car audio technician for a Japanese firm in the Philippines, and experienced numerous other stints in electronics until eventually 1997, when he moved to Singapore for a occupation with Panasonic as an engineer in their R&D section.

“NOBODY Trustworthy ME”

Adapting to a unique lifestyle listed here wasn’t uncomplicated, primarily considering that he was just married with two younger youngsters at the time.

“It felt monotonous and lonely. I did not have a lot of buddies, and I did not sense approved. I just went to perform, came home, and went to perform again,” stated Mr Hilos.

Then a person working day, he saw a lens for sale in the on the net photography forum Clubsnap. “The dude stated, ‘there’s some minor trouble. You don’t intellect?’ I stated ‘oh it is really straightforward, I can fix this.’ And the dude stated, ‘you can? In fact, can you fix my lens?

I consider I billed him S$twenty. He was so pleased. He stated, ‘if I sent this to the service centre, they would cost me S$120. 

Just like that, Mr Hilos’ passion for fixing was reignited. He determined to publicize his digital camera-fixing expert services on the net. One hitch? “Nobody trusted me! Since I billed only S$15 to S$twenty.” 

Mr Hilos started sharing strategies on on the net message boards. From time to time straightforward applications like chopsticks, tissue paper and lighter fluid do the trick when cleaning.  

As he grew to become much more lively in on the net message boards, he started off offering strategies and tutorials on how to fix cameras. But he started off acquiring complaints from other fixers who stated he was spoiling the current market by “disclosing the secrets”.   

“There was a person lens which I shared how to fix. Then I realised there was a dude who fixes only that a person lens,” he stated.

In excess of time, he started off acquiring so a lot of restore requests that he experienced to start off turning people today absent. “Even at 11pm, people today would knock on my door. I received SMS messages at 2am, 3am. Some people today don’t have a sense of time!” he grumbled.

And something else unanticipated took place.

I am a shy dude. But through this, I met so a lot of unique people today. There are all those who, each time we meet, I fix his digital camera for a person hour and we discuss for two hours.

“I received invited to a good deal of gatherings, I grew to become much more open, to recognize the lifestyle listed here and how points perform socially. And I started off to sense approved.”

Camera fixing grew to become the prism through which he ultimately started to in good shape in and recognize the social workings of culture listed here.

“WHEN It’s Difficult, I GET A lot more INTERESTED”

These days, Mr Hilos spends much more than 10 hours a 7 days of his no cost time fixing his clients’ cameras. From time to time at the weekends, he stays up until 3am attempting to get a occupation finished.

“The payment is not generally well worth it, but I love carrying out it. It’s not just about the monetary reward.”

It is practically like an outlet absent from perform for him. “As engineers, we do calculation, we do a good deal of documentation, we conduct conferences. This is genuine. I fix genuine things, and it is really gratifying.”

He is like a detective at perform – carefully scanning just about every element of the merchandise to location where the fault is. 

Apart from fixing cameras, Mr Hilos also takes on requests to restore other styles of electronics, these as drones, DVD players, or even other appliances all over his home – something he sees as a vital obstacle from time to time.

Some digital camera models have weaknesses, so they have the exact trouble over and over. It receives unexciting. I want to fix something new. If there’s a new product, I want to see what’s inside of. 

“When it is really challenging, I get much more intrigued in attempting to fix it. From time to time, even technicians go points to me,” he included.  

Other periods, people today ask him to reset the camera’s shutter count, or to change the serial selection of their equipment, in get to cheat service centres or second-hand consumers.

“I don’t accept all those sorts of requests. I would sense guilty,” he stated.

Sophisticated preparations like this DVD participant motherboard don’t discourage him, but in fact spur him on much more.

And then there was a consumer whose digital camera experienced problems looking through the memory card. Upon getting it aside, Mr Hilos realised that some bent pins in the memory card reader were the trouble, and all he experienced to do was straighten the pins out.

The typical method by the service centre would be to change the entire motherboard, which could price concerning S$600 to S$800, according to Mr Hilos. “It’s simpler for the centre to do that for the reason that they never hold compact areas, and the technician does not have to pinpoint the trigger of the trouble.” 

ADVOCATING A Maintenance Society

Replacing something just for the reason that it is aged or it is much more easy to do so is a notion Mr Hilos plainly balks at.

His restore applications apart, all the other gadgets in his home look like dated contraptions of the 80s and 90s. “I’m a enthusiast of aged things – my Personal computer is from my good friend, this monitor is from one more good friend. It might not be new, but it is even now functioning,” he stated.

His sentiment echoes an rising movement in opposition to the invest in-and-throw-absent lifestyle, where much more people today are choosing to restore rather than change their defective gadgets. (Find out much more about this listed here: Maintenance Kopitiam)

For instance, Mr Hilos speaks proudly of a Nikon D300 which he purchased for S$50. “It experienced no problems. Just that it is 10 decades aged. From time to time even when points are not broken, people today are inclined to change.

“But then again I have buyers who appreciate attractive cameras. I can’t blame them. Cameras are like autos,” he included.

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

It’s not just customer conduct that is the trouble – sometimes the service centres on their own do not restore more mature types, stated Mr Hilos. He sees purchasers who have been turned absent for the reason that the centre stopped carrying the areas for their product, which could be as modern as five decades aged.

So obviously, for a lot of people, the uncomplicated option is to invest in a newer product. “I sense it is really these a waste,” he stated.

In the Philippines, electronics and appliances are really highly-priced, so a good deal of people today can fix things. Individuals there are inclined to recycle, rather than invest in.

“In my hometown, they use things more mature than what they throw absent listed here. I needed to collect all all those defective things, fix them, and ship them back for charity – if only shipping and delivery it back was simpler.”


Like the recent in a circuit board, Mr Hilos’ knack for fixing points looks to run in his two daughters also, who are learning engineering at university.

“When my eldest was about a few or 4 decades aged, she handed me some screws and stated, ‘Daddy, these are screws’ – that was a person of my unforgettable encounters,” he stated.

“When it arrives to computer systems, my eldest is greater than me. She is a little bit particular –  she does not want any individual touching her notebook, even the service centre. So she will invest in the areas, and she can determine out herself what requires to be finished.” 

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

“I generally say ‘dad, if you were even now alive maybe you will be very pleased of me,” stated Mr Hilos.

“When my dad was even now alive, there were two points he preferred to exhibit off – his gear, and me,” he stated. “He would inform my neighbours, ‘this is my son, he can fix things. If you have something broken, my son can fix it’.”

“So I do this for him,” he stated.

Back again at his perform desk, Mr Hilos cleans up the last specks of rust on the Nikon D7500, and proceeds to dry the parts with an air-blower. Every thing appears to be new and shiny again. He pops the battery back in, and in a moment of anticipation, powers up the digital camera.

It is effective.

“The consumer will be so pleased. He considered it was a lifeless digital camera,” stated Mr Hilos.

And this is why they get in touch with him the digital camera whisperer. 

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