Disassembly, Cleaning and Restoration

To go out and take photos on the street, at special events or during travel can be a lot of fun or even a form of artistic expression.   There may also be times, quieter times, when one finds satisfaction in tinkering with a mechanical device at home between the four walls - exploring and fixing, cleaning and beautifying.   Photographic equipment made by the leading manufacturers were often marvels of technological achievement in their own time.   Although technology relentlessly marches on, the sight of a thoughtfully designed and carefully constructed old camera still fills the technically oriented person with admiration.

Unfortunately, time and mishandling or inappropriate storage takes its toll on even the best equipment.   The desire arises to make it right, give back the camera or lens its former glory.   This section is about this undertaking using the skills and tools of the vocational tinkerer.   If you are new to this kind of stuff it will be useful to read the text that follows, otherwise click on the link at the top right of the page to jump to the list of repair headings.


Some general advice

I believe the three most important things one needs when repairing cameras are: patience, patience, and even more patience.   For two reasons; 1) it is a fiddly job, so if you are impatient your efforts are unlikely to end in success, 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 screwdriver with a curved tip.   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 fitted 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.


Some more advice (somewhat more specific)

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, then 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.



  • FED-2
  •    Camera top removal.
    
  • Canonflex RP
  •    Resurrecting an old workhorse from the pit.
    
  • Canonflex RM
  •    Fixing the slow shutter speeds. (With detailed instructions, 
       so even a beginner can do it.)
    
  • The deadly foam
  •    As the title suggests, this is a horror story.
    
  • Agfa Ambi Silette
  •    Taking off the top to fix a broken film advance lever 
       return spring. Removing the front and the Compur shutter.
    
  • Disassembling and cleaning a Nikon 135 mm f/2.8 non-Ai lens
  •    An almost complete tear-down of this lens step-by-step.
    
  • Fungus removal from a Micro Nikkor lens
  •    How to take apart and clean off the fungus from a 55 mm 
       Micro-NIKKOR-P Auto lens.
    
  • Mamiya Press restoration
  •    This article is mainly about cleaning the viewfinder of  
       a Mamiya Press Super 23, but I also touch on how to adjust 
       the rangefinder alongside general instructions on disassembly.
    
  • Mamiya Six IV B
  •    After removing the camera top, the range-finder is
       examined, cleaned, and adjusted.
    
  • Mamiya MSX 500
  •    Removing the front, the top, the focusing screen, etc.
    
  • Yashica TL-Electro viewfinder cleaning
  •    Removing the camera top cover and dismantling the viewfinder
       for cleaning purposes.
    
  • Beirette
  •    The disassembly of an old Beirette for cleaning, repair, 
       or just pure fun.
    
  • Nikkormat repair
  •    Removing the top cover of a Nikomat (or Nikkormat) FTN 
       and cleaning the viewfinder.
    
  • Getting my hands dirty with a Minolta Dynax 3xi
  •    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.
    
  • Ricoh 500
  •    Camera top removal and viewfinder cleaning.
    
  • Pentina fm repair
  •    The Pentina fm is a repairman's nightmare. If you are
       crazy enough to tackle it, I have detailed instructions
       to make the journey less torturous. 
    

* * *

More to come ...

I welcome your feedback.

24 comments:

  1. I have discovered your website trying to find some more information on the FED 2 camera. I am having some difficulty setting the frame counter correctly when loading in a new roll of film. Do you happen to know a technique for doing this? It seems like the process gives different results with the same steps.. I will try and describe the process I go through... With shutter cocked depress and clockwise turn of the shutter button. Now the frame counter / advance dial spins freely. I turn the shutter button anticlockwise... then spin film advance knob clockwise. It spins with little force then clicks into place. It seems as if the time when it spins is not consistent between times I try it. Any thoughts on this?

    Also, there seems to be a strange light leak of sorts happening. On the negative is looks like a shape on one side of the frame that expends out side of the frame. I wonder if it is a reflection off one of the internal parts back onto the frame and also outside of the frame. It only seems to happen in higher light situations (eg outdoors).

    Your dissasembly guide of the top of the FED2 also seems interesting to me! I can pondering removing the top metal parts and giving it a coat of matt black paint so I can pretend to be Breson! =P

    Peace. - Wim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Setting the film counter is easier than what you described. After loading the film and closing the back door fire a couple of blank shots. Then, with the shutter released, rotate the film counter dial anticlockwise until the 0 lines up with the mark. On some cameras this can be challenging because the dial may be tight. There are two little protrusions on the dial to help you take a hold with your finger nail. Be careful not to rotate the dial in the other direction even a little bit, because the shutter will start to wind up and your alignment will be out. The film counter is pretty accurate when correctly set. You can experiment without actually putting a film in your camera.

      The sprocket release should only be used when rewinding the film. Do not disengage the sprocket wheel when loading the film. The inconsistent results you got were caused by the different amounts of rotation needed for the sprocket wheel to click into place.

      While internal reflection cannot be ruled out, a more likely cause of fogging would be light leaks through the back door where it meets the body. Try to mask that area off. I don't think there is much to be gained from painting the inside of the top cover black.

      I hope this helps. Cheers,

      Delete
  2. sir you are to be congratulated, it takes a brave person to sort sometings out and you are one, hopefully i may be able to use some of your info. in future if i ever need to repair such an excellent camera as the canonflex

    keep up the good work

    sincerely

    robert

    ReplyDelete
  3. hey,

    i'm currently dismantling an msx500, in my free time.

    i was wondering, how do you remove the film rewind knob? been able to remove everything else with quite a bit of help (from here) thus far.

    cheers
    dave

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. oh no!

      i've found the answer myself. just hold the bottom in place and unscrew the top.

      :))))

      Delete
    2. Yes, that's it. The good thing is that it's a fairly standard procedure. I wrote about this elsewhere (e.g. here:
      http://tinkeringwithcameras.blogspot.hu/2015/10/yashica-tl-electro-viewfinder-cleaning.html
      and here:
      http://tinkeringwithcameras.blogspot.hu/2008/03/canonflex-rp-restoration.html)


      Delete
  4. Hi!

    I just want to look inside a Yashica TL-Electro, and the "shiny disc" wont come off that is under the film rewind knob. It is like glued like hell or welded, but it is holding on crazy. I stuck a lot of things under it(knives, screwdrivers) and tried to stretch it, but no luck. :(
    How could I remove it?
    Thanks,
    Tibor

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Tibor,
      The "shiny disc" should screw off, so rather than sticking things under it and trying to pry it off try to turn it. If a piece of rubber doesn't work you might want to drill a couple of small holes in it and use a spanner wrench to rotate it. Best of luck.

      Delete
    2. Hi George,

      I've just found out that it was threaded at inside. :) I misunderstood the text, I thought there is nothing that holds it :) I was an easy process after I found the secret :)
      Thank you,
      Tibor

      Delete
  5. Hello and thanks for the article on the Mamiya MSX 500--just what I was looking for. I needed to remove the top as the show shutter speeds were sticking. I would like to add the following comments regarding the MSX 500:

    *On my camera, accessing the screw to remove the shutter speed dial required setting the dial at 1/500, rather than B.
    *Once the film advance lever cover button was removed, I found that the lever itself was also secured with glue.
    *There are three screws attaching the top cover: one on each side, and a small one under the shutter speed dial.

    A nice camera, if a bit oddly designed.

    Thanks,
    Dave E.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Dave for the extra info.

      Delete
  6. How to fix that? the second courtain stucks in the canonflex RM.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I read your very helpful article about the Canonflex RM slow speed problem.
    I have two RM that showed slow speed being too fast (1/15 for speed under 1/15). I removed the frame counter (easy, just 2 screws to remove), cleaned the gears with liquid and I discovered that the problem was coming from the attachement of a spring that is located under the winding mecanism. I just had to reinstall the end of the spring in its groove. After that the tongue that is supposed to retain the second curtain works perfectly.

    Easy repair !

    Good luck to all of you

    ReplyDelete
  8. Well done! If only all repairs would be that easy. My last project - the Pentina fm, see above - was a tough one.

    ReplyDelete
  9. very interestig the article about Pentina. J also have a Pentina with problem: when j clock the shutter the mirror moves but doesnt stop in the correct place: so it is impossible to see through the finder. Have you some idea to suggest to me? Thank you and best wishes! Michele Gordini. migordon@libero.it

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The shutter and the mirror are closely interlinked. One of the pictures shows the back of the shutter and a pin which is responsible for the movement of the mirror. That pin might not be doing its job properly. Unfortunately, to fix this, one has to do a lot of disassembly. It is a complicated camera and hard to get it right, so I would not recommend taking it apart, unless you are an experienced repairer.

      Delete
  10. My FTn recently and suddenly developed a jammed winding mechanism, I'd appreciate your thoughts.
    I've disassembled the top and bottom enough to learn that:
    1. The winding mechanism operates smoothly up to the point at which a pawl engages a cam to drive the film advance gears, this happens in that stack of cams etc... on the top of the takeup shaft. The gears on the plate under that shaft are not jammed tight, but something prevents them from moving.
    2. Pushing the rewind button changes nothing.
    3. I can release the mechanism by pulling back the pawl near the top of the takeup shaft stack and the system returns to "unwound."
    4. On the underside of the camera, I disconnected the rack from the bottom of the takeup shaft and can cock and fire the shutter - I tested several speeds (not B) and they all seem to work as they're supposed to.
    5. I see nothing blocking full movement of the cam on the bottom of the takeup shaft that pulls the rack.
    6. Lifting the film counter assembly, I see nothing obviously out of place/broken/stripped on the gears or the cam stack on the takeup shaft.
    7. I have not actuated the self-timer, and am hesitant to do so.
    I'd very much like to fix this particular camera - I bought it in 1974, it was my first "nice" camera, and has been around the world with me. Any thoughts on where the problem is and how to fix it?
    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Phil, I haven't got an FT in front of me, so I am only going by your description. You say by disconnecting the rack at the bottom you can cock and fire the shutter as normal. Does the mirror also flip up and return properly? When I worked on an earlier model I found linkages between the shutter and the mirror operation. If everything else at the top and bottom seems to work unobstructed, then perhaps the problem is in the mirror box. Just a guess, so before you disassemble, get a second opinion :-) (If I can find some time on the weekend, I'll have a look.)

      Delete
  11. George, thanks.
    Yes, cocking the mechanism by using the disconnected rack also drives the mirror - in other words, I think what I've learned so far is that there are two related mechanisms, linked only by that cam stack on top of the takeup spool: the film advance mechanism is located in the right side of the camera, and the shutter/mirror mechanism is located centrally. When using the film advance lever the first thing that appears to happen is to cock the shutter via the cam on the bottom of the takeup spool pulling on the rack. About midway through the stroke it looks like the cam mechanism on the top of the takeup spool (under the top cover of course) is activated to advance the film. And that's where the hangup is on my camera. The shutter/mirror mechanism appears to be working fine. I've not yet tried to lift the mechanism under the frame counter (which is now out of the way), but I'm starting to wonder if that's the next step...and it looks tricky (tiny little springs I can see.....) so I'm looking for guidance! Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Curious if you have gone any further into the Yashica’s I have a film curtain and shutter jam and want to get this girl firing again as it’s been in the family since new. Mine is a Yashica TL electro.

    ReplyDelete
  13. HI George,
    I have a Nikkormat FT2 with focusing accuracy problem; with lens set to infinity, split prism is not aligned, but, well... splitted. The same lens (Nikkor 50 1,4 AI) shows no problem on FM2. FT2 is ok with aperture above, say, f:4, but I am concerned about using the it with 105/2,5 fully opened at closer range (portraits, to be precise). The camera is not beaten up, shows no marks of heavy use, so maybe is a factory fault. Can you help me with advice on how to perform a proper adjustment of a mirror alignment maybe? Or this is about mirror lockup gear? And this site is pleasant surprise; I love and use film all the time. Thanks, and hello from Croatia,
    Steven Frey

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Steven,
      I wonder if you tried the camera with other lenses, as well, apart from the Nikkor 1.4/50? Just to make sure the problem is with the camera and not the lens. If so, and this is a camera you bought second hand, then there is a chance it's been taken apart in the past and wasn't put back together properly. I doubt it is a factory fault. Quality control at Nikon has always been superb. The first thing I would do, however, is to check the viewfinder eyepiece. Is there a correction lens on it by any chance? Second, rather than the mirror alignment the culprit could be the focusing screen. Small inaccuracies in its placement can make a huge difference. It may have been put back upside down. (The engraved side should be facing down.) My blog on the FTN can guide you if you decide to disassemble the viewfinder. It is unlikely, but still worth checking if the lens-film distance is incorrect. The easiest way to do it is to take photos of targets at known distances (e.g. 3m, 1m). Measurement should be done from the film plane which is indicated on the top of the camera with a symbol; a circle with a line though it. Let me know how you go.

      Delete
  14. I might have a tricky one... a friend of mine has a yashica tl-electro with a broken mirror... is this replaceable? I would do it for him if it is, I am moderatly handy but I never worked on a camera before and I would hate to ruin his camera even more.
    Greetz from Belgium
    Gilles

    ReplyDelete
  15. The mirror of the Yashica TL-Electro is glued down, so removing the broken mirror would be the matter of dissolving that glue. But I am not sure what glue they have used so I can't recommend a solvent. One could experiment, of course. I would advise against using force, as it could result in getting the metal parts misaligned. If the mirror is simply cracked, but otherwise usable I would probably not venture replacing it. Considering that you haven't worked on cameras before there is a risk that more is lost than gained. And of course, a replacement mirror of the right size would be needed. It can't be just any odd piece of mirror, but I think you are aware of that. I hope this helps to make a decision.

    ReplyDelete