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

SINGAPORE: With an earth cable attached to his wrist, he pulls a rubber glove around 1 hand and picks up a screwdriver with the other. David Hilos, a hobbyist camera fixer, then begins getting apart the system of a Nikon D7500.

The proprietor of the camera experienced complained about its “erratic” conduct just after dropping it in water, and he’d rushed it to Mr Hilos in the hope that he could do one thing to make it perform all over again. Mr Hilos is, just after all, regarded in the on the internet hobbyist community as the “camera whisperer” who performs miracles on faulty cameras that even the service centres will not touch.

“Chances of repairing flooded cameras are slim, but often I get blessed,” he remarked.

Meek and humble, the 49-12 months-previous Filipino shies away from praise. But amid his consumers, he is revered for the “hardcore repairs” he pulls off, which include things like reviving drowned cameras, converting electronic cameras to infrared, and often, even transplanting crucial components like an whole prism from 1 camera to an additional.

Mr Hilos does his repairs from a compact examine table in the corner of his living space. 


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

“Everything about camera repairing has to be precise. Even for the screws, the number of turns have to be returned to the exact placement,” he claimed. 

To the suitable of his workbench, a selection of watchmaker-quality screwdrivers are laid out nicely – from German-built Wiha to Mercedes Benz screwdrivers, these tools are essential to the top quality of the perform he does.

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

“A very good screwdriver won’t generate marks on screwheads. Some consumers truly feel unfortunate if the screws have indications of cosmetic damage – it impacts the resale worth of collector goods,” claimed Mr Hilos, introducing that dealing with fussy consumers has, in point, improved his standards as a fixer.

With all the intricacies included in repairing a camera, it’s stunning that Mr Hilos does it all from a compact examine table in his HDB flat. And he reveals that at occasions, repairing a complicated concern can be carried out with uncomplicated domestic goods 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 lot of corrosion”, he mumbles.

Some of the components he is effective with are so compact, faults can only be noticed working with his eye loop.

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

“Once it’s flooded, service centres usually won’t touch just about anything. It implies they would have to overhaul every thing, and it prices a lot to fix,” he claimed.

For Mr Hilos although – who charges a portion of what service centres would – repairing one thing that seems like an impossible activity is one thing he finds “fulfilling”.


Mr Hilos is an electronics and communications engineer by career, but his penchant for precision in machinery is one thing he seems to have been born with. 

As a child, he made a peculiar obsession that drove his parents ridiculous – every time he was presented a new toy, his 1st instinct was to demolish it. From uncomplicated plastic gadgets to electronic toy vehicles, they all finished up in parts.

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

Minimal did his parents know that these enjoy periods made his standard being familiar with of mechanics. It was only when he was more mature that they place two and two collectively.

“My father realized, ‘oh, which is why’, due to the fact I started out repairing items – bicycles, radios, television sets, just about anything that was damaged, I fixed. I just liked to fix items,” he claimed.

Mr Hilos has been actively playing with gadgets due to the fact he was a child, offering rise to his deep being familiar with of mechanics and electronics. 

Mr Hilos was born in San Pablo, Philippines, a compact town that was “peaceful, quiet, with not a lot taking place back then”. His mom was a teacher, and his father worked quite a few odd work prior to commencing his individual photography business enterprise.

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

It was at faculty that Mr Hilos realised his curiosity for mechanics could get him further in life. Continually topping his course in science and physics, he determined to leave his hometown for Manila, the place he took up a degree in electronics and communications engineering.  

Mr Hilos would help his father at image shoots, but his actual curiosity in was finding to keep the devices. 

On graduating, he worked as a car audio technician for a Japanese company in the Philippines, and experienced numerous other stints in electronics right until 1997, when he moved to Singapore for a career with Panasonic as an engineer in their R&D department.

“NOBODY Trustworthy ME”

Adapting to a different culture listed here wasn’t straightforward, particularly due to the fact he was just married with two younger young children at the time.

“It felt monotonous and lonely. I did not have quite a few mates, and I did not truly feel accepted. I just went to perform, came residence, and went to perform all over again,” claimed Mr Hilos.

Then 1 day, he saw a lens for sale in the on the internet photography forum Clubsnap. “The person claimed, ‘there’s some slight problem. You will not head?’ I claimed ‘oh it can be uncomplicated, I can fix this.’ And the person claimed, ‘you can? Essentially, can you fix my lens?

I believe I billed him S$20. He was so happy. He claimed, ‘if I despatched this to the service centre, they would charge me S$a hundred and twenty. 

Just like that, Mr Hilos’ passion for repairing was reignited. He determined to advertise his camera-repairing services on the internet. 1 hitch? “Nobody reliable me! Due to the fact I billed only S$15 to S$20.” 

Mr Hilos began sharing strategies on on the internet boards. In some cases uncomplicated tools like chopsticks, tissue paper and lighter fluid do the trick when cleansing.  

As he became much more energetic in on the internet boards, he started out offering strategies and tutorials on how to fix cameras. But he started out getting issues from other fixers who claimed he was spoiling the sector by “disclosing the secrets”.   

“There was 1 lens which I shared how to fix. Then I realised there was a person who fixes only that 1 lens,” he claimed.

Above time, he started out getting so quite a few maintenance requests that he experienced to get started turning people today away. “Even at 11pm, people today would knock on my doorway. I got SMS messages at 2am, 3am. Some people today will not have a feeling of time!” he grumbled.

And one thing else unanticipated took place.

I am a shy person. But through this, I fulfilled so quite a few different people today. There are those who, each time we satisfy, I fix his camera for 1 hour and we converse for two hours.

“I got invited to a lot of gatherings, I became much more open up, to recognize the culture listed here and how items perform socially. And I started out to truly feel accepted.”

Digital camera repairing became the prism through which he at last began to healthy in and recognize the social workings of society listed here.

“WHEN It is Hard, I GET Much more INTERESTED”

These days, Mr Hilos spends much more than 10 hours a week of his no cost time repairing his clients’ cameras. In some cases at the weekends, he stays up until 3am seeking to get a career carried out.

“The payment is not generally value it, but I delight in doing it. It is not just about the monetary reward.”

It is practically like an outlet away from perform for him. “As engineers, we do calculation, we do a lot of documentation, we carry out conferences. This is actual. I fix actual things, and it’s very rewarding.”

He is like a detective at perform – completely scanning every aspect of the item to place the place the fault is. 

Aside from repairing cameras, Mr Hilos also takes on requests to maintenance other kinds of electronics, these types of as drones, DVD gamers, or even other appliances all-around his house – one thing he sees as a necessary problem from time to time.

Some camera patterns have weaknesses, so they have the exact problem around and around. It receives boring. I want to fix one thing new. If there’s a new product, I want to see what is actually within. 

“When it can be challenging, I get much more intrigued in seeking to fix it. In some cases, even technicians pass items to me,” he added.  

Other occasions, people today ask him to reset the camera’s shutter depend, or to modify the serial number of their devices, in get to cheat service centres or next-hand buyers.

“I will not settle for those sorts of requests. I would truly feel guilty,” he claimed.

Sophisticated preparations like this DVD player motherboard will not deter him, but in point spur him on much more.

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

The regular treatment by the service centre would be to substitute the whole motherboard, which could charge between S$600 to S$800, according to Mr Hilos. “It’s a lot easier for the centre to do that due to the fact they really do not maintain compact components, and the technician doesn’t have to pinpoint the result in of the problem.” 


Changing one thing just due to the fact it’s previous or it’s much more handy to do so is a notion Mr Hilos obviously balks at.

His maintenance tools aside, all the other gadgets in his residence glance like dated contraptions of the 80s and 90s. “I’m a enthusiast of previous things – my Laptop is from my good friend, this screen is from an additional good friend. It may possibly not be new, but it’s still working,” he claimed.

His sentiment echoes an emerging movement from the purchase-and-throw-away culture, the place much more people today are picking to maintenance rather than substitute their faulty gadgets. (Understand much more about this listed here: Fix Kopitiam)

For occasion, Mr Hilos speaks proudly of a Nikon D300 which he bought for S$fifty. “It experienced no difficulties. Just that it’s 10 a long time previous. In some cases even when items are not damaged, people today have a tendency to substitute.

“But then all over again I have consumers who like stunning cameras. I cannot blame them. Cameras are like vehicles,” he added.

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

It is not just buyer conduct that is the problem – often the service centres themselves do not maintenance more mature designs, claimed Mr Hilos. He sees consumers who have been turned away due to the fact the centre stopped carrying the components for their product, which could be as recent as five a long time previous.

So in a natural way, for quite a few consumers, the straightforward alternative is to purchase a newer product. “I truly feel it can be these types of a squander,” he claimed.

In the Philippines, electronics and appliances are very highly-priced, so a lot of people today can fix things. People there have a tendency to recycle, rather than purchase.

“In my hometown, they use things more mature than what they throw away listed here. I needed to gather all those faulty goods, fix them, and ship them back for charity – if only shipping it back was a lot easier.”

THE Digital camera WHISPERER

Like the current in a circuit board, Mr Hilos’ knack for repairing items seems to operate in his two daughters far too, who are studying engineering at college.

“When my eldest was about a few or 4 a long time previous, she handed me some screws and claimed, ‘Daddy, these are screws’ – that was 1 of my unforgettable activities,” he claimed.

“When it comes to desktops, my eldest is superior than me. She is a bit unique –  she doesn’t want anybody touching her laptop computer, even the service centre. So she will purchase the components, and she can figure out herself what requirements to be carried out.” 

Mr Hilos just wishes that his individual father, who handed on in 2002, were still all-around to be happy of him the way he’s happy of his individual daughters.

“I generally say ‘dad, if you were still alive probably you will be happy of me,” claimed Mr Hilos.

“When my father was still alive, there were two items he liked to exhibit off – his equipment, and me,” he claimed. “He would tell my neighbours, ‘this is my son, he can fix things. If you have one thing damaged, my son can fix it’.”

“So I do this for him,” he claimed.

Back at his perform table, Mr Hilos cleans up the last specks of rust on the Nikon D7500, and proceeds to dry the parts with an air-blower. All the things looks new and shiny all over again. He pops the battery back in, and in a instant of anticipation, powers up the camera.

It is effective.

“The consumer will be so happy. He considered it was a lifeless camera,” claimed Mr Hilos.

And this is why they call him the camera whisperer. 

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