Landmark Baltimore Camera Repair Shop Closes After 29 Years

In November of 2021, with work picking up again from the COVID lockdowns, I decided to pay a visit to my local camera repair shop and get a few things things back in order.

I took my Nikon 35mm 1.4 AIS and 105mm 1.8 AIS in for service and was inspired to write an article for Petapixel on the history of my experiences at Baltimore Photo-Electronic Service. My article chronicled my coming of age in photography and the importance of Lev Gutman’s cluttered little shop that has been supporting my efforts for the last twenty years.

In the article, I wrote “And yet, Baltimore Photo-Electronic Service survived the digital revolution that ended the local labs. It survived the rise of online shopping that ended the local camera stores. And now it appears to have survived COVID-19 that ended numerous small businesses.”

Sadly, today I’m here to report that Mr. Gutman has retired and BP-ES is permanently closed.

A few months after my article was published and there was some renewed interest in BP-ES, another member of the Film in Baltimore group posted that Lev told her that he was retiring and closing his shop. When I phoned that familiar old number to get the details, I found that the line had already been disconnected.

Last I visited, Lev gave no indication of these plans. The Russian, as we used to call him, looked as healthy and fit as ever. The shop looked no different than it had for decades. I have no means of contacting Lev to find anything more about this mysterious end of an era, and found no trace of further information online. Likely, it was just time for him to retire. And that is not a bad way to end things after nearly thirty years of greatness.

As a bit of a send-off, I wanted to share a few personal photos that I’ve taken with the 35mm 1.4 Nikkor that my wife gifted me for Christmas years ago and Lev revived just a couple months before withdrawing his profound talent, knowledge and kindness from the community that he served for so long.

I took these photos using Kodak TMAX 100 in an FM2n that Lev also serviced. They depict some peaceful moments during a sunset sailboat charter that I recently enjoyed with my family in downtown Annapolis, Maryland. They feel a bit fitting to celebrate Lev’s retirement and the closure of the best camera repair shop in Baltimore.

I say it all the time and this story is an important reminder. GET YOUR VINTAGE CAMERA GEAR PROFESSIONALLY SERVICED. If it’s worth shooting, even if it’s worth keeping on a shelf, it’s worth paying an experienced professional to bring it back to 100%. With the loss of every skilled repair tech like Mr. Gutman, we creep ever so much closer to the end of film photography as we know it. Sure, new techs will step in and sure we can do some DIY work ourselves. But for the continuation of film photography on any kind of reasonably serious level, we need to keep our local repair shops busy. A standard Clean, Lube and Adjust is so much cheaper than a missed photo op due to neglect of classic equipment.

Let’s keep film alive, folks. Support your local repair techs and they will support us.

Thanks for reading, happy shooting!

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9 thoughts on “Landmark Baltimore Camera Repair Shop Closes After 29 Years

  1. This is sad news. Sadder still because I bet a younger person would have apprenticed with ‘The Russian’ and carried on. Who knows?
    I agree 1000% with your CLA advice. Actually, I was taken to task because I posted on another blog that if you buy a film camera, before you commit to really using it, get a CLA. Listen, would you buy a 57 Chevy that was stored in a barn for the last 20 years and just drive it? No. You’d put in a new battery, oil change, check hoses, etc. same with older camera equipment. Just because the film advance lever moves and the shutter clicks, doesn’t mean the camera is ok. But, there is a consideration of cost vs value w/a CLA. A $50 Nikkormat? Prob. not. A $300.00 F3? Sure.
    Best wishes,
    Dan

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Total agreement on the 57 Chevy – I use a similar metaphor frequently. I don’t understand why people have gotten in the habit of buying very old cameras and attempting to use them without service.

      I really don’t think the $50 Nikkormats should be neglected either! There are certainly some cameras not worth repairing, but rather than the artificially deflated resale prices, I think we should consider a camera’s ability to hold repairs and its durability/usefulness following service. A Nikkormat, in every practical sense, is actually more valuable to me than an F3. And it’s funny you mention them because the last camera I bought from Lev was a black FTn that I feel he asked too much money for but that I bought anyway because of my opinions on them!

      Thanks for your thoughts!

      Like

  2. Yeah that is terribly sad, I’m really sorry he didn’t try to sell the business, get an apprentice, something like that! I’ve been leaning on my local stores Cameraworks and Mike’s Camera pretty heavily since the pandemic and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon! Sorry to see another one go under.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For a stretch of time, he had an employee who seemed to be shadowing him but I guess that didn’t go any further. When I was younger, I was very interested in learning repair and read several books, bought some tools and did some basic stuff on my own. I’d considered asking to work there and learn a few times but for various reasons I don’t think it would have worked for me.

      That’s great that you’re taking advantage of your local resources, I’m sure that they appreciate your business! They don’t do Leica repair, do they? I am talking to a few shops about doing some modifications to a Leica III for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sure they might give it the old college try but I wouldn’t say it’s their specialty and I’ve been a bit underwhelmed with a few of the repair jobs they’ve done for me. Got a few lenses CLA’d there and it’s hit or miss. Just like with your Russian, there’s this one cranky old guy who does all the repairs, I’ve talked with the store manager about them getting an apprentice in there but it hasn’t happened yet…been mildly interested in doing it myself.

        As far as Leica stuff goes, the licensed Leica specialist in Colorado Springs was Jeff Cloutier, but I don’t know if he still does it.

        Like

  3. Yes! It’s not cheap, but if you’ve a decent camera, get it serviced!

    My two favourite (and most heavily used) cameras are a Pentax MX and a Pentax LX. Both have developed problems recently that have led me to distrust them a bit, so I sent them off to Pentax Camera Repairs in Harrow, UK, for a checkup. Peter Emanuel there had a look, then last Friday we had a phone call. He thinks the issue with the LX is likely dirty contacts, and should be fixed with a standard service. The issues with the MX are more complex, and will need a standard service plus probably both the film advance and rewind systems replacing (he has parts). In both cases the cost is not that far off the price of a new/used model from fleabay, which made the decision tricky… for a few minutes, until I remembered that a new/used model of either would need a service! Plus, Peter pointed out that my MX is a black one (nicely brassed), with an unusual viewfinder screen. So, deep breath and say yes.

    It may be an arm and a leg, relatively, but two lovely cameras should stay in the land of the functional camera for a few more years.

    And from his voice, Peter isn’t anywhere near retirement yet.

    Meanwhile, I’m making do with the Pentax ME I bought new in 1978 (you can guess I’m well past retirement), and that Peter fixed a few years back, and a Pentax P30 that a friend gave me. I’m hoping to sell the latter on behalf of a Ukrainian refugee camera once the others are back, since it’s not really my cup of tea.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. compared to the repair costs of Leica and many modern cameras the $100-$150 CLA costs of most classic cameras doesn’t seem unreasonable to me at all. And as you rightfully point out, ALL vintage cameras need their routine service at this point, so it makes little sense to just go buy another one that has not been serviced when there’s a perfectly normal problem with a camera that one currently owns. And yet, this is what I think most people do. They run things that haven’t had an oil change or calibration for decades and then abandon it for the shelf the first time that the shutter naturally jams. Not wise.

      Anyway, sounds like you’ve got a great Pentax arsenal, good luck with the repairs. Thanks for your comments!

      Liked by 1 person

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