Replacing your Film Cameras Light Seals

Replacing your light seals is an essential skill to have if you are a film photographer. You may be thinking to yourself "Oh no, I could never do that" but it is actually an easy skill to master. 

What are lightseals?

Light seals are the thin foam strips that help keep the inside of your film camera light tight. If these seals are damaged in some way, you will get light leaks, which appear on your colour film photos as orange or blue splotches or lines, and white lines in black and white photos. Following this simple guide, you will be able to replace these seals and give your camera a new lease of life.

How often do you need to replace light seals?

Normally you would replace your light-seals every 5 years or so. This is a short enough time that the light-seal material has not degraded. This is an important factor, because while your film may not have light leaks, the foam material the light-seals are made from may crumble and get on your film or trapped in the lens or film winding mechanism. I would highly recommend if you purchase a film camera from a private seller, you replace the light-seals regardless of condition as you don't know the true history of the camera and have no option of refund or repair.

Which seals need to be repaired?

Depending on the colour of the light leak, you can tell where the issue is.

If your light leak is red, orange or yellow, it has hit the rear, red sensitive layer of the film first. This is by far the most common type of light leak and normally appears as a straight line down the photo, where light has entered at the rear door hinge of the camera.

If your light leak has a blue colour to it, it means it has come from the front of the camera, entering through the lens and hitting the blue sensitive colour layer of the film first. This normally means you will need to send your camera for a repair

How to change your light-seals in 3 steps

What you need to change your seals

  • Cocktail sticks
  • Cotton swabs
  • New lightseals
  • An exacto knife, ruler and cutting mat
  • Isopropyl/rubbing Alcohol
  • An air blower and brush

1. Strip your old seals

It is essential to remove all of your old light-seals before putting in your fresh ones. Old foam can be very crumbly which is why I recommend having an air blower and brush on hand so you can remove any dust or crumbly bits as you are working.

I typically use toothpicks to remove my light-seals, they are soft enough that using them does not damage the paint of the camera in any way . Using a thin sharp screwdriver  to remove light-seals can be quicker but this is highly likely to scratch the paint with a small slip of the hand

Run your toothpick along the bits highlighted below, removing all foam that is visible. 

Once you've removed the bulk of your old light-seals, you can remove any residue by using cotton swabs, dipping them in alcohol to remove any residue remaining from the old light-seals.

2. Measure and cut new seals

You can skip this step by buying pre-cut seals which are available for the majority of popular cameras, but it is often better value to buy an uncut foam sheet and measuring out and cutting the correct sizes yourself.

The light seal foam normally comes as a foam sheet with a sticky side covered with a paper backing, this means you have to draw a mirror version of your light seals on the backing as they will be flipped so you can install them to the camera.

Using a pen and ruler, measure out your light-seals and draw them in a mirrored version onto the backing paper of your foam. Then using an exacto knife, or at a pinch a scissors, cut out your lightseals. 

Dry fit them into the camera before peeling off the backing paper, and make any adjustments needed, you dont have to have them 100% perfect as once the backing paper is removed, the foam can be slightly stretched or squashed to fit into any crevices.

3. Installing your new seals

Once everything is measured and cut into shape, you are ready to install your lightseals. Lightseals are installed the exact same as stickers, you peel the back off them and apply them into place. Once you’ve got the right shapes measured and cut, it’s time to glue them on. 

A handy trick i use for the long thin pieces is to apply a little alcohol to the sticky side of the light seal, this makes the light seal easier to apply as it temporarily stops the sticky side sticking. However, a little goes a very long way as you dont want the light seal to lose its stickyness permanently. As you install the new seals, try to be neat and not leave any of the glue side facing outwards; fill the entire gap, but don’t leave any extras that could prevent closing the film door. And remember to fill all the places where you scrubbed the old material. 

The final test is to close the camera door and ensure it isn’t too tight. It should add more spring than with the old seals, as the new material acts like rubber padding, but you shouldn’t have to use significant force to close the camera back.

Now you are ready to shoot! 

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