Canon A-1 wheeze fix

There’s a well-known issue with Canon A series cameras where the mirror damper mechanism’s lubrication dries out and the mechanism becomes slow and noisy. The noise sounds to me like a wheeze, but other people call it a squawk or a squeal or a screech. The human ability to be flexible with onomatopoeic terminology is still an advantage that we have over the computers that will one day rule us, but it does make it a little bit more challenging to google.

I bought an A-1 recently, and apart from the wheeze it was in pretty good condition. I decided to fix the wheeze. There are quite a lot of methods going around the internet, but they fall into one of two categories based on how you re-lubricate the mirror damper:

– Through the bottom of the camera

– Through one of the lens mount screw holes

There’s also a lot of really bad advice out there about spraying WD-40 in towards the mechanism. This is like using a shotgun to nail a picture to the wall. It’s not the right kind of tool, in the first place; even though a shotgun and a hammer/nail combo would both end up putting a hole of some kind in the wall, the shotgun will make the wrong kind of hole. WD-40 is only partly a lubricant; when sprayed, it goes everywhere and gets sticky over time. See my previous posts for what I think about sticky substances around cameras. For this fix, you need a tiny drop of the right kind of lubricant in a very precise location. Other fixes online suggested dropping oil into the camera body from the bottom of the camera, and that’s bad because it’s not precise, and there are things (i.e. the focusing screen) that you really don’t want to get oil on.

The most precise fixes involved using a long needle to place a tiny drop of oil on the mirror damper mechanism. Using a long, straight needle from the bottom of the camera seems to be a fairly common way to do this; however, this seemed to require a fairly precise guess about where the end of the needle was. If you go in via the top-left (looking at the front of the camera) lens mount screw with a curved needle, as described in this video, you can get a bit more feedback.

Canon A-1 Wheeze Fix

I used a 25-gauge needle that I curved a little more than the needle in the video. With this curvature, I could find the axle that needed lubrication and feel that the end of the needle was in the right place by moving it back and forth across the curved top of the axle. With the needle on top of the axle, I could also move it side to side to make sure that the needle point was close to the gear. I practiced this a few times before applying the oil. I also practiced making a tiny bead of oil on the end of the needle so I knew how much pressure to apply to the syringe – really not much at all!

Canon A-1 Wheeze Fix

The first few shutter releases sounded about the same. I waited about a minute, tried again, and the noise was getting softer but was still there. After about 5 minutes, the noise was gone, and has stayed gone.

I would very much recommend the method of re-lubricating the mirror damper mechanism through the screw hole. A blunt-end syringe needle of the kind I used here can be gently curved with some careful pressure from round-nosed pliers, giving a tool that provides enough feedback to be sure of your accuracy.

2 thoughts on “Canon A-1 wheeze fix”

  1. If you have to use liquid lubricant then this method seems the best way to apply it but I was wondering if a dry lubricant, such as molybdenum sulphide, could be used instead. It’s a dark grey pasty solid that works like graphite. You only need the faintest smear of it and, unlike graphite powder (and oil), it tends to stay where it’s put and you don’t need to blow out the excess because you need so little of it in the first place. I use it on levers, cams and in bushes, applied with a toothpick in tiny amounts.

    1. Hi John,
      Thanks for your comment! I’ve got two thoughts. Firstly, the absolute best way to apply any lubrication, I have since learned, is to properly open the camera. Among other advantages, that lets you see what you’re doing 🙂 flying blind is dangerous with any lubricant. Secondly, I know there’s a lot of discussion around the place on what lubricants to use when repairing cameras, but a good guiding principle seems to be to use the same kind of lubricant as the manufacturer (wet/dry, oil/grease, etc.). I haven’t used moly but I’ve read that it does have some very good use cases, though I haven’t read enough to know if this would be one of them. However, the pros who do the proper breakdown to fix the squeal do seem to use oil and let it migrate into the bearings before testing, which suggests that the migratory habits of oil might be useful here in a very controlled manner.

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