Bringing a tossed away DCR-VX1000e back to life

I have always loved the VX1000-series of video cameras from Sony. Released in 1995 at a price of $3500, this camera revolutionized what Sony calls the “prosumer” customer segment, being the first DV-camera using Sony 3CCD color-processing and firewire interface. To this day, the VX1000 has a huge active community and a refurbished camera can still bring up towards 800 euros, something you rarely see with 19 year old electronics.

dcr-vx1000 2

A friend of mine was lucky finding one of these tossed out on the streets of Amsterdam a half year back and as soon as i saw it i wanted it. It had no charger but he knew what he got his hands on and figured he could probably get it working.

Some time passed and my friend realized he would not get around to fixing it so i figured i could give it a try and bought it cheap.

First thing i checked was the battery, which was dead. At 7.4 volts, i had nothing that could charge it but building chargers and batteries gets boring at some point and that point was reached for me :). For 49 euros i got a pirated battery and charger:


I charged  the battery and inserted it and a tape in the camera. It sucked in the tape and i recorder a minute.. At this point i wanted to play back what i recorded to see that it was working. I was a bit confused as i could not see any controls such as play, stop, rewind and so forth anywhere :)

I downloaded the user manual, checked the playback part and tried to follow the instructions. “Press play” was the last step. I could still not see a “Play” button anywhere. I verified that i was reading the right manual, and i was. “What a fuck?!”.

Googling the camera model, they all looked the same to me. Where the hell was the play, rewind and so forth?!! Then i stumbled over this picture:


Turns out these are back-lit by leds and can not be seen when the camera is powered off. That’s when i discovered this broken flex-ribbon:


This was gonna be tricky.. I had attempted to solder onto flex-ribbons before but always failed miserably. I checked youtube and found this guy in the same situation. His solution was to scrape the plastic off, scrape the copper until it was really shinny, put a tiny amount of tin on the connector and solder on a tiny copper to each missing link. His was missing 4 and he had all the space in the world while mine had 6 and was in the worst thinkable place. Luckily the hatch hiding the tape can be opened while both filming and replaying content allowing me to make a ugly fix to verify that this was the only problem.


I unscrewed the button panel and cut of 10 plastic pieces that held the controller together and unsoldered the tiny piece of flex-ribbon left on the board. I soldered a flat-cable that i took out of a IDE-cable as a replacement for the broken flex-ribbon. On this side it was quite easy to fit the wiring as there was some space left, once pieces of the plastic was grinded away with a dremel. I resealed the panel with 2 component epoxy-glue and continue to getting ready to attach the other end of these 6 cables.

Like i said, soldering something onto a flex-ribbon is not a simple task and having failed before i refused to start doing this on the camera until i mastered it. Luckily i still had the tiny piece of flex-ribbon left from the control. It was only 8mm long but big enough for me to get some practice. As i felt i had control of it, i moved over and started working on the camera for real. Two down, 4 to go:


By placing the soldering’s like a step-stair along the lanes, even these “thick” cables could be connected right on the lanes without short-circuiting any of them. I would lie if i said this was easy and that i did not curse during this whole exhausting 1 hour procedure.

If you are doing something similar and and need to solder on to a flex ribbon my best advise is avoid breathing. Place the replacement wire using a scalpel and once you think you got it where it needs to be, hold your breath and just touch the cable with the solder-iron for a fraction of a second. Make sure you have space around you while working and that cables aren’t being tangled up and potentially destroying your work as you lean out. A good magnifying glass is almost a must. Make sure you don’t support the weight of any parts on these tiny solder-points as it will rip of and potentially destroy more than you just fixed. Additionally take time to verify that every connector is soldered firm and does not cross-connect to other lanes using a multimeter, before connecting the battery/power.

About half an hour into the process the plus and gnd is connected, allowing the LED’s to once more shine:


After all 6 wires are back, i re-mounted the hatch and did a little measurements to verify all was good. All but one line worked but it didn’t take long to find the faulty connection.

Don’t let my cats lack of cooperation undermine anything i have just written, she just hates cameras:

Saving Mat’s cellphone

A good friend of me approached me 2 months back with his broken Nokia cell-phone, that all of a sudden died on him.. Number, pictures and messages were stored in the phone, leaving him without all his contacts.

I figured i could just have a look if it was something simple and if so, get it alive again to be able to back it all up. Once home i first tested a regular micro-usb cable but i did not see any led blink or indicate that charging was taking place. Measuring the battery it was totally flat but lacking means of charging it i told him that i didn’t get very far. Since that the phone has been laying around, doing no good to no one.

As i finished of the video camera charger the other day, i still had some max1555’s li-ion charger circuits at my disposal and figured i could build a second charger and see if i could get some life in the battery circumventing the phones own charging system. Since this would not be a permanent install i figured i would build something that could be reused, that had clear test-points and that could easily be connected to whatever cell i needed to charge. As space was not an issue i mounted the MAX1555 on a separate board (cigarette for scale, the MAX1555 is a non-smoking IC)


And then continues to lead out the tiny legs of the MAX1555 to the board. This board was added on top of the next circuit board using basically almost the same schematic as for the video-camera in the earlier article.


The battery belonging to the phone turned out not to accept charge, and in retrospect i find out the phone broke when he tried to charge it with a 220 volt charger in New York (110 volts ftw!).

This explained a lot. I took old nokia li-ion battery, hooked up the charger and the multimeter to see that the charger was working and the cell accepted the load:


Turns out this old battery also had done it’s fair share of heavy lifting, and i had to dismiss it. Next battery in line was another Nokia battery from one of it’s first smart-phones. This battery worked straight off, and as i reached the magic 3.7 volts, i connected the battery to the phone and pressed the power-button, VOILA!


I called Mat to inform him the phone was alive again, who was very happy but this celebration lasted short, as the aluminium connector from the battery broke off, and no matter what i tried, i could not reconnect it. Having ran out of Lithium-Ion batteries i was stuck with Lithium-Polymer batteries. I desoldered the battery controller seen under the accumulator in the picture above, i soldered it to the LiPo cell instead resulting in a working but franken-phone seen here:


It’s not beautiful, but it is working and all contacts and sms are once more safe. Yet another happy customer :)