The ‘camera whisperer’ who fixes what the industry experts cannot, or received&#039t

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SINGAPORE: With an earth cable connected to his wrist, he pulls a rubber glove above 1 hand and picks up a screwdriver with the other. David Hilos, a hobbyist digital camera fixer, then starts having aside the system of a Nikon D7500.

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

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

Meek and humble, the 49-calendar year-outdated Filipino shies absent from praise. But amongst his shoppers, he is respected for the “hardcore repairs” he pulls off, which incorporate reviving drowned cameras, changing digital cameras to infrared, and often, even transplanting essential sections like an overall prism from 1 digital camera to a different.

Mr Hilos does his repairs from a small analyze table in the corner of his residing space. 


Like a surgeon, Mr Hilos skillfully removes the camera’s screws, some concealed beneath the rubber pores and skin, many others tucked absent in small 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 variety of turns have to be returned to the exact posture,” he stated. 

To the appropriate of his workbench, a selection of watchmaker-quality screwdrivers are laid out properly – from German-produced Wiha to Mercedes Benz screwdrivers, these instruments are vital to the 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 excellent screwdriver does not generate marks on screwheads. Some buyers feel unfortunate if the screws have symptoms of beauty destruction – it influences the resale price of collector objects,” stated Mr Hilos, including that working with fussy buyers has, in truth, improved his criteria as a fixer.

With all the intricacies concerned in correcting a digital camera, it’s shocking that Mr Hilos does it all from a small analyze table in his HDB flat. And he reveals that at situations, correcting a complicated problem can be performed with easy residence objects like chopsticks and a toothbrush.

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

Some of the sections he performs with are so small, faults can only be noticed using his eye loop.

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

“Once it’s flooded, assistance centres generally will not touch everything. It means they would have to overhaul all the things, and it charges a lot to take care of,” he stated.

For Mr Hilos nevertheless – who charges a portion of what assistance centres would – correcting something that appears to be like an unachievable job is something he finds “fulfilling”.


Mr Hilos is an electronics and communications engineer by profession, but his penchant for precision in equipment is something he appears to be to have been born with. 

As a boy or girl, he formulated a peculiar obsession that drove his parents mad – each time he was supplied a new toy, his 1st instinct was to demolish it. From easy plastic gadgets to digital toy cars, they all finished up in items.

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

Small did his parents know that these play classes formulated his standard knowing of mechanics. It was only when he was more mature that they place two and two jointly.

“My father recognized, ‘oh, that is why’, since I started out correcting things – bicycles, radios, tv sets, everything that was broken, I set. I just appreciated to take care of things,” he stated.

Mr Hilos has been participating in with gadgets due to the fact he was a boy or girl, giving increase to his deep knowing of mechanics and electronics. 

Mr Hilos was born in San Pablo, Philippines, a small town that was “peaceful, tranquil, with not a lot occurring back then”. His mom was a teacher, and his father labored many odd positions before setting up his have pictures business enterprise.

My father introduced me to some digital camera fixers. I realised it was not that really hard (to do) – I guess it was my passion, so I learnt immediately. I set and cleaned all our cameras.

It was at faculty that Mr Hilos realised his curiosity for mechanics could get him even further in life. Consistently topping his course in science and physics, he resolved to leave his hometown for Manila, in which he took up a diploma in electronics and communications engineering.  

Mr Hilos would guide his father at picture shoots, but his actual interest in was acquiring to sustain the devices. 

Upon graduating, he labored as a motor vehicle audio technician for a Japanese enterprise in the Philippines, and had numerous other stints in electronics right until 1997, when he moved to Singapore for a work with Panasonic as an engineer in their R&D division.

“NOBODY Trusted ME”

Adapting to a various culture right here was not effortless, especially due to the fact he was just married with two youthful little ones at the time.

“It felt monotonous and lonely. I did not have quite a few mates, and I did not feel recognized. I just went to perform, came dwelling, and went to perform yet again,” stated Mr Hilos.

Then 1 day, he noticed a lens for sale in the on the net pictures discussion board Clubsnap. “The guy stated, ‘there’s some small issue. You don’t brain?’ I stated ‘oh it is easy, I can take care of this.’ And the guy stated, ‘you can? Really, can you take care of my lens?

I assume I charged him S$twenty. He was so pleased. He stated, ‘if I despatched this to the assistance centre, they would charge me S$a hundred and twenty. 

Just like that, Mr Hilos’ passion for correcting was reignited. He resolved to advertise his digital camera-correcting providers on the net. 1 hitch? “Nobody trusted me! Since I charged only S$15 to S$twenty.” 

Mr Hilos commenced sharing ideas on on the net discussion boards. At times easy instruments like chopsticks, tissue paper and lighter fluid do the trick when cleaning.  

As he grew to become additional active in on the net discussion boards, he started out giving ideas and tutorials on how to take care of cameras. But he started out obtaining issues from other fixers who stated he was spoiling the market by “disclosing the secrets”.   

“There was 1 lens which I shared how to take care of. Then I realised there was a guy who fixes only that 1 lens,” he stated.

About time, he started out obtaining so quite a few repair requests that he had to start off turning individuals absent. “Even at 11pm, individuals would knock on my doorway. I obtained SMS messages at 2am, 3am. Some individuals don’t have a perception of time!” he grumbled.

And something else sudden took place.

I am a shy guy. But through this, I met so quite a few various individuals. There are these who, each time we satisfy, I take care of his digital camera for 1 hour and we talk for two hrs.

“I obtained invited to a lot of gatherings, I grew to become additional open up, to fully grasp the culture right here and how things perform socially. And I started out to feel recognized.”

Digicam correcting grew to become the prism through which he last but not least commenced to healthy in and fully grasp the social workings of society right here.

“WHEN It is Tricky, I GET More INTERESTED”

These times, Mr Hilos spends additional than 10 hrs a week of his free time fixing his clients’ cameras. At times at the weekends, he stays up until 3am making an attempt to get a work performed.

“The payment is not constantly well worth it, but I love doing it. It is not just about the financial reward.”

It is practically like an outlet absent from perform for him. “As engineers, we do calculation, we do a lot of documentation, we perform meetings. This is precise. I take care of precise things, and it’s incredibly satisfying.”

He is like a detective at perform – completely scanning each aspect of the item to location in which the fault is. 

Aside from fixing cameras, Mr Hilos also normally takes on requests to repair other styles of electronics, this kind of as drones, DVD gamers, or even other appliances all-around his home – something he sees as a important obstacle from time to time.

Some digital camera styles have weaknesses, so they have the exact issue above and above. It receives dull. I want to take care of something new. If there’s a new design, I want to see what’s inside. 

“When it is complicated, I get additional intrigued in making an attempt to take care of it. At times, even professionals pass things to me,” he included.  

Other situations, individuals inquire him to reset the camera’s shutter rely, or to alter the serial variety of their devices, in buy to cheat assistance centres or second-hand potential buyers.

“I don’t accept these forms of requests. I would feel guilty,” he stated.

Intricate preparations like this DVD player motherboard don’t deter him, but in truth spur him on additional.

And then there was a customer whose digital camera had troubles reading the memory card. Upon having it aside, Mr Hilos realised that some bent pins in the memory card reader ended up the issue, and all he had to do was straighten the pins out.

The regular treatment by the assistance centre would be to swap the overall motherboard, which could expense involving S$600 to S$800, according to Mr Hilos. “It’s less complicated for the centre to do that since they really do not continue to keep small sections, and the technician doesn’t have to pinpoint the result in of the issue.” 


Replacing something just since it’s outdated or it’s additional hassle-free to do so is a concept Mr Hilos plainly balks at.

His repair instruments aside, all the other gadgets in his dwelling look like dated contraptions of the 80s and 90s. “I’m a fan of outdated things – my Computer is from my pal, this display screen is from a different pal. It may well not be new, but it’s however working,” he stated.

His sentiment echoes an emerging movement versus the get-and-toss-absent culture, in which additional individuals are selecting to repair fairly than swap their defective gadgets. (Understand additional about this right here: Mend Kopitiam)

For instance, Mr Hilos speaks proudly of a Nikon D300 which he bought for S$fifty. “It had no troubles. Just that it’s 10 yrs outdated. At times even when things are not broken, individuals have a tendency to swap.

“But then yet again I have buyers who adore lovely cameras. I are not able to blame them. Cameras are like cars,” he included.

This is his graveyard of cameras that ended up irreparable. Mr Hilos retains them for spare sections. 

It is not just customer conduct that is the issue – often the assistance centres on their own do not repair more mature models, stated Mr Hilos. He sees shoppers who have been turned absent since the centre stopped carrying the sections for their design, which could be as modern as five yrs outdated.

So naturally, for quite a few shoppers, the effortless solution is to get a newer design. “I feel it is this kind of a squander,” he stated.

In the Philippines, electronics and appliances are incredibly costly, so a lot of individuals can take care of things. Folks there have a tendency to recycle, fairly than get.

“In my hometown, they use things more mature than what they toss absent right here. I desired to obtain all these defective objects, take care of them, and send out them back for charity – if only transport it back was less complicated.”


Like the present in a circuit board, Mr Hilos’ knack for correcting things appears to be to operate in his two daughters way too, who are studying engineering at college.

“When my eldest was about three or four yrs outdated, she handed me some screws and stated, ‘Daddy, these are screws’ – that was 1 of my unforgettable ordeals,” he stated.

“When it will come to computers, my eldest is superior than me. She is a bit distinctive –  she doesn’t want any individual touching her notebook, even the assistance centre. So she will get the sections, and she can determine out herself what demands to be performed.” 

Mr Hilos just wishes that his have father, who passed on in 2002, ended up however all-around to be happy of him the way he’s happy of his have daughters.

“I constantly say ‘dad, if you ended up however alive possibly you will be happy of me,” stated Mr Hilos.

“When my father was however alive, there ended up two things he appreciated to clearly show off – his gear, and me,” he stated. “He would explain to my neighbours, ‘this is my son, he can take care of things. If you have something broken, my son can take care of it’.”

“So I do this for him,” he stated.

Back again at his perform table, Mr Hilos cleans up the past specks of rust on the Nikon D7500, and proceeds to dry the items with an air-blower. Almost everything appears new and shiny yet again. He pops the battery back in, and in a moment of anticipation, powers up the digital camera.

It performs.

“The customer will be so pleased. He imagined it was a useless digital camera,” stated Mr Hilos.

And this is why they simply call him the digital camera whisperer. 

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