If you are a parent, you might have a child who has the annoying habit of pulling his toys apart almost as soon as he gets them instead of playing with them nicely. Well, I was like that, too. My poor parents! Before long, the Christmas or birthday presents they bought me on their hard earned money were meticulously dismantled and their pieces scattered around on the floor. Not a cheerful sight... to them. But, I saw things differently. To me playing with, say, a wind-up toy car was only half the fun. The other half was to find out what was inside and to see how things worked.
I was simply curious. And, I think, this curiosity is still with me to some extent. Although, today my motivation to take apart an old camera is understandably not quite the same. Unlike professional repairmen, I don't do it for money, so it can't be for financial gain. I guess what drives me must be things like; wanting to get it to work like it did when it was new and use it, or the desire to save a nice piece of equipment from destruction, and quite possibly to feel a sense of achievement when an ugly witch is metamorphosed into a pretty queen under my hands. (Hah, that was sooo poetic.)
So, these pages here are records of my journeys to camera repair land. I hope they will be useful to people who are relatively new to this pastime and could do with some guidance from someone who has walked the path before. I can't teach anyone how to be a professional repairman, as I'm only an amateur myself, but I can at least save people from making some regrettable mistakes.
These are things I learned the hard way. Hopefully, by reading this you'll learn the easy way. Actually, most of these are common sense. Nothing Earth-shuddering here. But, I think they are still worth mentioning.
I could start with a question like 'What are the three most important things when it comes to...?' Well, I believe the three most important things you need when repairing cameras are: patience, patience, patience. For two reasons; 1) it's a fiddly job, so if you don't have patience you'll never going to make it, 2) rushing, using short cuts is probably the commonest cause of ruining something. There is a tremendous amount of eagerness to get to where you want to be (be it gaining access to some internal mechanism, getting the leather pealed off the body, having some parts painted, etc.) and it is tempting to go ahead somehow even though you don't have the right tool, the paint or glue hasn't dried properly, and so on. Stop. Don't continue until you established the right conditions.
Have the right tool for the job at hand. Most tools can be bought, but sometimes there is a part that calls for a custom made tool. I often find that the slots in the screw heads are narrower than my screwdriver tip (or the screw head is wider - which is looking at the same thing differently). Prakticas, for instance, have very narrow screw head slots, but they are not alone. And for the Exakta, you need a screw driver tip which is curved. These kinds of tools are fairly easy to make and it is definitely worth the effort. It makes a world of difference when the screw driver fits into the screw head snugly.
Have an area set aside for repair work where you can leave things undisturbed overnight. Everything will take longer than you thought, so it makes things much easier when you don't have to pack and unpack all the time. When this is unavoidable, put all your stuff on one or more (large) trays and leave them there even while you are working. (An added benefit is that little screws, etc. that like to roll off the desk, will get caught on the side of the tray.)
Good lighting is important. This needs to be diffused (to avoid shadows) and cover the entire work area fairly evenly. Earlier I used two desk lamps with in-built magnifying lenses - one on each side of me -, but now I found a better solution. I bought one of those Chinese studio lighting set-ups that work with cold-light globes housed inside reflectors. They haven't been much good for photographing anything apart from fairly small objects, but they turned out to be excellent lights for my repair desk. Plus, I can take good photos of the camera I'm working on as I go. Very convenient. Lots of light and very easy on the eye.
It helps if you are able to locate a service manual for the camera or lens you want to work on. Before you start, do a search on the internet - chances are someone has done this, or a similar job before. (Hey, but this is what this site is all about!) On the other hand, I don't recommend spending too much money on buying parts diagrams. Yes, they are better than nothing, but without explanation you might still not know how (and in what order) to remove the pieces. I think the best strategy is to start simple (with inexpensive cameras that you don't regret loosing, if it comes to that) and gradually build up your skills through experience. (When I say inexpensive I don't mean cheap, or toy-like. It is a bit of a contradiction, but cameras at the low end of the scale are not necessarily easy to repair, because their parts are often welded or glued together and cannot be separated without breaking. Pick one that is mid-range and is in abundance on the second-hand market.) One thing that worked for me very well is to get two of the same camera (or lens), work on one, and use the other as a reference.
Before you start working on a camera, decide what you want to do and don't just let things develop as you go. Failing to have a plan can easily result in a whole heap of dismantled pieces that you are never going to put together, because you run out of steam prematurely. With old cameras it is often the case that the deeper I go into them the more things I find that need fixing. And the danger is, that eventually I create myself so much work that I don't much enjoy doing the restoration any more. Everyone's level of perseverance is different, but just be warned.
A controversial topic among amateur repairers is the cleaning of optical elements (lenses, mirrors, viewfinders). Opinions about what one can and must not do, what chemicals to use and the 'right' method of physical contact differ widely. I myself have been through phases when I would swear by one set of recommendations and then abandon it and embrace almost the opposite. I also ruined a few things (but that's ok, everyone does). By now I developed my own technique (and beliefs), although I am sure they will undergo modifications in the future. (We forever learn, don't we?) If I may, I will say a few words about my current approach:
Firstly, we tinkerers don't have the same advanced facilities as the manufacturers, so we can only achieve a relative result. In other words, whatever we do we won't be able to restore the piece to its original new condition, only hope to make it better than what it is now. The worse its current condition is, the better our chances are that there will be an improvement. So, if it is not too bad, don't mess with it. You can make it even worse.
If I think I can make a lens cleaner, I go into the trouble of disassembling it and removing every component that I want to clean. I try to avoid cleaning a lens element while it is still in the barrel. However, when removal is not practical, I go against a common advise and spray the cleaning fluid onto the glass..., but in an upwards direction with the lens facing down. This is to lessen the chance of the fluid finding its way inside where the glass meets the metal ring or tube. I then immediately run a piece of cloth (or sometimes a Q-tip) along the perimeter of the lens further preventing the fluid to seep inside. This is very important! If moisture gets trapped in between the lens elements it can do a lot of damage over time. I then carefully wipe the rest of the lens with a soft cloth. I never rub. Why do I spray and not moisten the cloth? Simply, because I find there is a reduced chance of patchiness and accidental scratches, if there is a good measure of liquid on the glass to work with.
The above technique is, of course, only good for the outside lens surfaces (typically the front element). Lenses that are in every-day use and generally in good condition don't even have to be wiped clean, as blowing off the dust is usually enough. I hardly ever touch my modern lenses, as a few specs of dust is lesser of a problem than the fine hairline scratches that I might introduce to the coating when I wipe them. I only employ cleaning fluid if I find a fingerprint, and in this case, clean locally with a moistened soft cloth. With old, neglected lenses the story is, of course, different. Disassembly is usually in order, because most of the problems (fungus, oil) are found inside, often close to the aperture blades. Once a piece of glass is free, I usually begin with putting it under the tap to let the flow of water do the initial cleaning. Two things to watch out for: 1) Don't use warm water with lens groups (two or more lenses glued together). The balsam can soften and make a mess. 2) The reflection reducing black paint on the side of some lenses is not strong, and some chemicals can dissolve it. (Not a big problem, if you can repaint it afterwards.)
Many people wrote about the chemicals they use for cleaning. I don't particularly want to expand on that, especially, because in my part of the world we have brand names that would not mean anything to most readers. Anyway, you can't go wrong with alcohol - the purer the better. I would not use the commonly available lens cleaning fluids or the cleaning tissues they are often sold with. The one thing they are entirely unsuited for is the very thing they were made for. It is very easy to scratch a lens with those tissues. I use my well-washed cotton underwear, instead. :-)
The mirror in old SLRs often gets soiled by the disintegrating foam above it. "Never touch the mirror!" - goes the stern caution. Why not? Again, I think it depends on what condition it is in. If it is really grotty, rejoice - you will probably be able to improve on its condition and be rewarded with a sense of achievement. If it is not too bad, then your efforts will quite likely end in disappointment. Cleaning the mirror is tricky, because it is hard to access, and it is risky, because the surface is delicate. (It is not like your bathroom mirror where the reflective substance is behind the glass. On the mirrors of SLRs there is a thin layer of silver or aluminium on top of the glass.) Generally, the older a camera is, the less scratch resistant the mirror. So, yes, some mirrors are better left untouched. From my experience, mirrors made from the 1960's onwards can be wiped clean, if one does it with care. The job is a lot easier, if you can remove the focusing screen. Blow off anything that can be blown off. Then, remove specs of dirt with a Q-tip. Do it very gently. When there is nothing left on the mirror that can scratch it, go in with a damp cotton ball (or other soft material) with the help of tweezers. Now, as you probably have guessed, this is not for the faint hearted, so apply some self criticism here - do you have steady hands? If not, maybe this is not for you. (Note: using a hand blower is a double edged sword, if you can't remove the focusing screen. The dust you blow off the mirror might end up on the focusing screen. Or gets inside the camera. So, this is not necessarily a good idea.) Another thing to be aware of is that on some more modern 35 mm SLR mirrors there is a semi transparent (beam splitting) region which plays a role in light metering. If you see a faint pattern in the middle of the mirror, than it is one of those types. Take extra care with these mirrors.
There are tiny mirrors in rangefinders. Two types: semi transparent and regular (like those I wrote about above). The semi transparent mirrors are often colored (pink, gold, greenish). I never touch these. Never ever. (Ahm..., never since I ruined a couple.) If I find fungus on them, as I sometimes do, then I sprinkle them with cleaning fluid (maybe ammonia) and rinse them under the tap. Then I blow off the water droplets. Don't let the water droplets evaporate, because they can leave residue. Notice, that I never mentioned wiping. Naturally, this process necessitates the removal of the mirror from the camera. If you can't remove it, make do with blowing off the dust.
Focusing screens are almost as delicate as mirrors. I only attempt to clean them, if I can remove them, or at least get an easy access to them. Very old cameras (eg. Exakta) only have a frosted glass for a focusing screen. These don't pose much of a problem. More typically - at least in the viewfinder of not-so-old SLRs and TLRs -, we find a plastic (acrylic resin) and a glass component. The plastic is the actual focusing screen, which is frosted on the 'focus' side and grooved on the other side. The grooved side is the Fresnel lens, whose purpose is to make the image brighter, especially in the corners. In TLRs the glass' job is to protect, and it might have some lines engraved in it to aid composition. In SLRs the glass is domed and acts as a condenser lens. (By the way, in the usual arrangement, the 'sandwich' looks like this; frosted surface faces down (or towards the lens), Fresnel lens faces up, and then we have the glass cover next. I say the usual arrangement, because there are exceptions. So, make sure you make a note of the orientation of the viewfinder components when you disassemble them.) To clean the glass is a piece of cake. The Fresnel lens is a different matter. If you wipe it, tiny specs of dirt can get caught in the grooves and they are almost impossible to remove. Blowing doesn't always work. What worked for me best so far is this; sprinkle with cleaning fluid and blow away the cleaning fluid before it dries. Then - optionally -, rinse with water and blow off the water droplets before they dry. Hopefully, the fluids loosened up the dirt and they got blown off. Or, the running tapwater washed them off. (I have been found helping this process gently with my wet fingers.) Warning: don't use chemicals that might be harsh on plastic.
Disassembly, cleaning the internals, lubricating the focusing mechanism, cleaning the mirror and lenses.
Cleaning the viewfinder of the Super 23 (black version). Includes removal of top cover and camera front.
Resurrecting an old workhorse from the pit.
Fixing the slow shutter speeds. (With detailed instructions, so even a beginner can do it.)
Who would have thought, that two FXs, whose serial numbers are not even far apart, would have different body castings?!
As the title suggests, this is a horror story.
Taking off the top to fix a broken film advance lever return spring. Removing the front and the Compur shutter.
Complete disassembly for cleaning. Easy. Good to learn on.
The disassembly of an old Beirette for cleaning, repair, or just pure fun. Egy régi Beirette szétszerelése tisztitás, javitás, vagy akár csak tapasztalatszerzés céljából.
This Nikon lens was badly infected with fungus, so I took it apart and cleaned it.
Although dirt in the viewfinder has no impact on the quality of the photograph it can be annoying. If it is not a daunting task, why not go ahead and clean the viewfinder. Here I'll show you how to do it on the Nikomat FTN. Additionally, if the shutter speed readout is misaligned, this article will reveal where the source of the problem lies.
Including top cover removal, etc. etc.
The disassembly of the Minolta Dynax 3xi involves the removal of a lot of screws. When you though you have removed them all, there is at least one more lurking somewhere.
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