Full disclosure: I spent the better part of a pandemic cyberstalking Aaron Parke from Camerakote. The impetus was my frustration that every skate kid and every dad with a skateboard around my hometown of Encinitas, CA knows what a Leica is and wants to talk with me about my camera when I am out shooting. I needed to stealth out my silver Leica m10.
I almost went so far as to send a test case his way as I had a need to pink out a Contax RTS for a project that required a pink camera but that project ultimately fell through. During my stalking (dating?) phase I wanted to see if Camerakote had staying power. When I saw that Skyllaney Opto-mechanics and Filmfurbish were return customers I was about ready to pull the trigger. When he posted that Rolleiflex it was go time. In late stage pandemic 2021, right after reeling from my second vaccine injection, I decided to pounce because if I am correct 1) he will soon have a 6 months backlog of cameras to coat and 2) sometime soon I will be back photographing in a skate park in San Diego. No offense skate dads but you don’t shut up (1).
This is my love letter to Aaron Parke and Camerakote.
At the start of this process, all I knew about Aaron was that he was doing some interesting stuff on Instagram and he responds back to Instagram DM’s in about 10 seconds almost regardless of the time of day.
During the process, I learned that Aaron apprenticed in a body repair shop when he left school and spent 15 years working on classic and race cars. After a turn of life events, he studied to become a mental health nurse and for the last 20 years worked as an independent nurse prescriber including a role in management.
At this point in our story you would be well served to note that he is not just a camera nerd with a spray gun. He has years of domain experience coating things. More importantly, he also has domain experience in dealing with people with mental issues. That is a superior skill stack for someone dealing with camera fanatics who want to mod their cameras. I imagine that instability may be a character trait he will encounter in that population. A population of which I am a member. I am not sure which skill, coating or mental health, is more important to the longevity of his business. My gut is that it is the latter.
Anyway, a few years ago Aaron bought a compressor, spray guns, and other workshop equipment with a goal of doing some freelance work on “whatever needed repairs or paint.” That business didn’t go particularly well until last year when he coated an old Pentax. After advertising it on eBay as a “look what I can do,” Hamish Gill of 35mmc asked him to recoat a Nikon S2 and I know you know what happens next….Hamish posts the Nikon S2 and the rest is history. Malcom Gladwell could have used this as a case study for his book The Tipping Point.
In this post I am using the word coating rather than painting. Aaron uses a product called Cerakote which should not be confused with paint.
In these United States of America we ‘muricans like our guns. I don’t personally own a gun and but I recently learned that if I did, there is a nonzero chance I would want to mod it out and/or coat it. As you can imagine, paint was a not designed to survive war, repeated trips to the gun range, or shooting up old electronics on the back 40 at the July 4th barbecue.
Guns require something more resilient than paint and one of the most popular products is a ceramic and polymer coating originally designed for firearms called Cerakote. According to the Cerakote website:
“The unique formulation used for Cerakote ceramic coating enhances a number of physical performance properties including abrasion/wear resistance, corrosion resistance, chemical resistance, impact strength, and hardness.”
That description wasn’t quite enough to bring the point home for me. This video, however, got me to finally understand what Cerakote is supposed to do.
If it is good enough for the marines, I am thinking it is good enough for my camera. Apparently, I can now rub brake parts cleaner on my camera and scratch a nail across the top plate with 500grams of pressure without harming the finish. I would have to imagine that means that the internals of my camera will likely break before it scratches but time will tell.
This coating is decidedly not an option for you if brassing or black paint Leica’s are your thing.
Working with Aaron was a pleasure. In business, I am oftentimes considered to be a pain in the ass. I am not a Steve Jobs level pain in the ass but I am, admittedly, a pain in the ass nonetheless. I dont wear this as a badge of honor and it is something I am working on but it is important to this story because when I say working with Aaron exceeded all expectations – even the expectations of a known pain in the ass – that is high praise.
There were a few issues worth mentioning but they were all outside of Aarons control. Unfortunately (for me anyway), Aaron resides in England (2). In the pre-post pandemic spring of 2021, England is sorting itself out from the double whammy of Covid and Brexit. Shipping rates from the USA to England recently skyrocketed. Some shipping services actually told me not to send the camera because it might not get there and/or it would be unreasonably expensive to even try. If you do send a camera to England, shop around. There was up to a $200.00 difference between shipping services. Ultimately, I shipped using FedEx but I went to 6 different shipping locations in 2 cities before I found a friendly British man who owned a Postal Annex that knew how to navigate the system and get a reasonable price (2).
To make matters worse, England is also charging a tax of 25% on everything entering the country. Declaring the contents of your package “for repair” is supposed to help but I got taxed anyway. You can expect to have that tax returned to you once the camera is sent back but there is time and paperwork involved. At the time of writing, I am still waiting for my refund.
One tip I learned is that if you are sending an expensive camera, don’t declare the value for more than $2499. If you do, it is guaranteed to get stuck in customs. If you follow this advice, and your camera s actually worth more than $2499, that also means that you cannot insure for the full value of your camera.
Other than the shipping issues related to Covid/Brexit the process couldn’t have been smoother. At one point, I was surprised that Aaron didn’t reach through the phone and smack me as I was crippled with indecision about a color scheme. I would have smacked myself if I had to deal with myself. Aaron, on the other hand, chose a different approach and played the role of a patient, mollycoddling, mother teddy bear allowing me to work through my indecision paralysis.
During the process it became clear that Aaron’s non-camera geek background allows him to approach refinishes without the bias that comes from being a camera nerd. It was abundantly clear that Aaron is ready and willing to push the boundaries of what is possible. You should expect him to at least try to encourage you to stray from your comfort zone. I ultimate opted for stealth but I was about a gnats hair away from something more controversial.
Camera mod predictions (3)
My first prediction is that within 24 hours of posting this, someone will DM me, post on Reddit, or put some comment on some forum and say something along the lines of “This guy from LLFNP is a total dumba$$. Doesnt he know that digital cameras only lose value? Who would spend the money modding a Leica m10? Leica fanboy DB!!!” (4)
My second prediction is that by 2022, Aaron will be backed up, like a constipated kitten with atresa ani, trying to catch up with demand. There is some degree of scorn or ridicule on the interwebs toward people who mod their cameras but the reality is that there are loads of use cases for a camera mod and my bet is that there are many people who will want use a service like Camerakote. Some use cases are practical. Some are indulgent. Nonetheless, there are guys who would pink out a camera or otherwise draw attention to themselves, CEO’s who would make a shelf queen in the corporate colors, Star Wars fans who want to shoot with a stormtrooper or R2D2 TLR, women who will refurbish a prized camera as a present for their camera nerd husband, hipsters who will hipster, people who couldn’t find or afford a black Leica but want one and believe that thieves are out to theive their silver Leica and a black camera will prevent theivery, people like me who want to stealth out their rangefinders to fend off skate dads, Genxr’s (again like me) who thought Eddie Van Halen’s guitar was the pinnacle of art and they still cant shake that feeling that personalizing stuff is OK, granddaughters who want to refurbish their grandmothers camera, people who want to go all in on Lenny Kravitz or take a Safari but skip the $20,000 price tag, a pool of people who will want to match their cameras to their re-housed Contax lenses or, conversely, match their re-housed Contax lenses to their cameras, everyone who understands what Miyazaki is doing with Urushi, and all of the people who don’t understand how Leica failed make a #prideofgypsies Khaleesi version and want to right that transgression by creating their own. Most importantly and practically, we all need to come to terms with he fact that they aren’t making many film cameras any more. As time goes on there will be a growing market to bring them back to life as legacy film cameras start to deteriorate and decompose.
My third prediction is predicated on my second prediction. I believe that there might be a day where camera mod artists will be recognized as artists and not technicians. We are already seeing something similar in the Leica world when lenses and cameras are sold at a premium with tags like “recent CLA by Youxin.” Artists will have different styles and looks they will become known for. It is possible that a camera will be worth more if it is modded and refurbished by one artist or another. It, therefore, possible that one day you may see posts on eBay with something along the lines of “Leica M6 [enter name of artist] repaint.” We are already seeing this with Kanto and Shintaro.
My fourth prediction is that there will be a yearly contest for the best camera mod/refurbish. I know this one to be true because I am thinking about funding the contest myself. In the next few months I am going to look for a partner home for the contest (5).
If you think these predictions are foreign or crazy, you don’t live in my world, you don’t know who I know, you don’t game or build your own computers, you don’t understand syle watts, and you have never been to a car show. People like to mod stuff.
That is my love letter to Aaron Parke and Camerakote. This is my LeicaM10 that used to be silver with a red dot.
1. My wife never reads this stuff but if you are reading this one, that one is for you. I don’t like to talk with anyone when I am shooting so you don’t to get to take it personally. Silence = me thinking. I am not unfriendly, I am simply too inept to focus on two things at once.
2. Aaron lives in Stoke-on-Trent. Simon from the Classic Lenses Podcast lives in Stoke-on-Trent. The British shipper who helped me has a sister who lives in Stoke-on-Trent with a French guy. What is this Stoke on Trent convergence and why is there so much good film related photography stuff going on in the UK (Skyllaney, Sunny 16, Emulsive, 35mmc, Anil Mistry)? We do have Casual Photofile, Cinestill, Negative Supply, Cameraquest, and Analog Talk but proportional to the population difference, UK is doing an outsized job here….at least with the exception of this import duty nonsense.
3. My lifetime hit rate with predictions is abut 50% so there is that.
4. I probably wont respond other than to say that they are correct (because fundamentally they are entirely correct) but I have my reasons which they probably won’t be willing to understand or accept and/or will likely make them hate me more. Such is life in the time of social media. Such hate.
5. 35mmc, Emulsive, Casual Photophile, JCH….any takers?
DISCLOSURE STATEMENT: other than being a normal paying customer, I have no business relationship with either Aaron Parke or Camerakote. This is not in any way, shape, or form, a paid advertisement.