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The Broken Cable Release Problem ... and Solution

This week's tip has a bit of a history to it. Back in 2003 on a trip to Manitoba, Canada with other members of Nikonians, I was unfortunate enough to break off a cable release in the socket on my D100 camera. After a period of deep thought the solution turned out to be fairly simple, but it almost ruined the rest of my trip. Allow me to explain, in case this ever happens to you.

Elements of the broken cable release problem ... and solutionThe D100 uses a standard mechanical cable release that screws into a hole in the middle of the shutter release button. A pushbutton at the free end of the cable connects to a wire that runs throughout, depressing a plunger on the camera end that trips the shutter. You know the kind: simple, and mostly trouble free. Yet the point at which the cable screws into the button is a weak link, and weak links sooner or later may fail.

I shoot virtually everything on a tripod with a cable release. One fateful morning on that Manitoba trip, I was carrying the tripod a short distance with the camera still attached, the cable release dangling from the top. It was at this unfortunate moment that I encountered an unexpected tree branch that severed the cable from the camera in a clean break that left a tiny fragment of metal still inside the screw threads of the shutter button socket. Bummer.

Over lunch, my fellow Nikonians and I sat around and compared how things went that morning. Several of us who were shooting digital had gotten some good shots and were able to show them off via the LCD screen on our cameras. Those who were shooting film of course could only make educated guesses as to how they did until they got their slides back. But I digress.

The lunch conversation got focused when it turned to my cable release problem.

The piece that had broken off (shown here at the right along with other elements of this story) was quite small and completely below the surface of the shutter release button. We were trying to figure out some way to extricate it but weren't having much luck thinking of a way to do it. I wouldn't be back to a major city for several days and didn't want to leave the fragment inside the camera. I had tried screwing in another cable release on top of the broken off piece, but the threads still exposed weren't enough to hold it in place.

One person suggested trying a pair of needle nosed pliers he happened to have with him, but even they were too large to reach in and grab the piece. Tweezers were also suggested, but even if we could find something small enough to fit, there really wasn't much to grab hold of. The tiny fragment was just a small ring of metal broken off the end of the cable threads, less than an eighth of an inch thick. It was recessed far enough inside the button that there really didn't seem to be any way to reach it, let alone unscrew it in order to get it out.

As lunch wound to a close, one of my dining companions took a toothpick out of the dispenser on the table and proceeded to use it for its intended purpose. It was at this point that the allegorical light bulb went on over my head and realized I could use a toothpick for a different purpose. The metal fragment I had been seeking to remove had rough edges from being broken off in the accident. What I envisioned was that if I forced the end of a toothpick into the hole in the shutter button, the soft wood would catch on the ragged metal edges, allowing me to unscrew the fragment by simply twisting the toothpick counterclockwise. Trying it, I found that the end of the toothpick was too pointed and bottomed out in the hole before its tapered sides connected with metal piece. Breaking the tip off the toothpick though and trying again worked perfectly. When I unscrewed the toothpick the rough metal of the broken off piece dug into the wood and unscrewed right along with it. The toothpick came out cleanly with the small band of metal around its end, leaving nothing behind.

Once I got the fragment of metal out, I was back in business. The cable that broke was now useless, but at least the camera itself was back in working order, good as new. With a new cable release, I was able to get back to shooting after lunch as if nothing had ever happened.

I now shoot with the D2x that uses an electronic release, but still keep a D100 as a backup body. The repair kit I carry with me now includes a wooden toothpick, just in case.

Since this happened to me I've met two other people whose cable releases met similar demises. One ended up sending their camera in to be serviced in order to remove the remnant of the cable end. The other was still pondering what to do about the problem, worried that he was going to have to do the same. I outlined the solution we came up with over lunch back in Manitoba and he gave it a try. Worked like a charm from what he later told me. Hopefully you won't ever find yourself with a cable release broken off in your camera, but if you do, get out a toothpick and see if it works for you too.

Date posted: June 12, 2005


Copyright © 2005 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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