Spring Cleaning, late July…

I’m trying to update the blog, stylistically.  The old design and layout was tired.  Not sure what I’m doing, but please bare with me.  

Also, I’ve added an image gallery page, right here in the blog.   I’ll be adding to it as time allows.


Automat K4/50 – First roll/Scenes from the WWTP…

It’s always a little like Christmas when the first negatives from a camera rehab see the light of day. There’s a lot of anticipation, some nerves, and with any luck, a decent pay-off.

I loaded the K4/50 yesterday with some Acros and brought the camera to the wastewater treatment plant, where I spend the days largely behind a desk. While not a glamorous place by any stretch, there are some things to be found to point a TLR at.






The shots aren’t as razor-sharp as I’d been expecting, though. I’m attributing this to two things: A sticky shutter release button, and my own inability to handhold below 1/100 any more. The former I hope to rectify by removing the button, cleaning, polishing, and lubing it, and reinstalling. The latter, well, I’ll just have to be more conscious of my technique. And maybe load some ISO400 film.

My next roll of film will be a proper test – tripod, release, target, and a full running of the apertures. In other words, boring. I’m still undecided on a replacement screen, as well. Hmm…




With the Rolleiflex about ready to film test, I felt like shooting a TLR, so I loaded up the Yashica-Mat this weekend. This was an end-of-roll shot, with my daughter hamming. Exposure was fine, but not enough time in the soup, and I think I could have agitated a little more. But the Yashinon is a strong performer, regardless.

Will be loading the Automat tonight for some test shots before I sink money into new leather…

Automat K4/50 – progress…

Last night was productive.

When I got home, I opened the shutter. Gently lift the speed cam so as to not dislodge the cocking ring (which isn’t difficult to reset, but better to leave things alone until they need to move).



The escapements for the slow speeds and the self timer required little work. I know many people are proponents of “dip and dunk” shutter cleaning. I’m not. I find that dunking seems to let all kinds of nastiness migrate into parts of the shutter where it shouldn’t go. In cases of extreme dirtiness, I’ll remove pieces as far as necessary, then swab the interior clean. A difference – I generally use straight xylene, rather than Ronsonol/lighter fluid to clean parts. I’ve found it’s a little more aggressive with old oils and grime. I always start conservatively with shutters, dripping small amounts of xylene off a small screw driver onto pin shafts in the escapements (or anywhere a rotating part is binding). Not a flushing, just enough to wash down the shaft. If the parts remain free after the xylene dissipates, I’ll move on. If things refuse to improve, I’ll remove the part for ultrasonic cleaning in xylene.

Small disclaimer: Xylene’s bad for you. Carcinogenic bad. Don’t breath it; wear gloves, use common sense. Don’t blame me. You’ve been warned.

This shutter responded well to the conservative treatment. The slow speeds are running a little long, and an adjustment can be made by sliding the escapement in towards the center of the shutter, but I’ve found doing this often creates more problems than it solves. The speeds are within 30%, which is fine for print film, and likely slide film. I’ll test before I move the escapement.

Compur Rapid shutters were designed to run dry, but I’ll often hang a very small drop of Rem oil (a light lubricant) off my smallest screwdriver and apply to the pin shafts in the shutter.





The speed cam and cover plate are then replaced. When installing the speed cam, rotate gently back and forth to make sure all the tabs within the shutter, which ride on edges of the cam, are seated properly. Check for gaps around the outside of the shutter between the cam and body. If there’s a gap, something’s not seated properly. I apply a very, very thin coat of Teflon grease to the underside of the cam and the outer plate before installing.

The cleaned front cell goes in next. Again, I apply a very slight amount of the Teflon grease to the threads to aid in installation, and to prevent seizing.


The front standard cover plate goes on next. Adjust the speed and aperture wheels to their extremes, and note where the square cutout and pin are on the underside (at 11:30 and 3:00 below):


Adjust the aperture and speed ring on the shutter to match.


When you install the cover, you may need to gently rock the wheels back and forth to seat things correctly. Make sure your shims are in the proper places, then screw down the plate.

Next, I remove the inner cell of the taking lens to clean the front and rear surfaces. I have a special tool for this, cut from a woodworking cabinet scraper, which spans the lens and seats in the two notches on the cell.



The cell unscrews counterclockwise.


The glass is again cleaned with microfiber cloths. This glass cleaned nicely. A little grease on the threads, and back in it goes.

I then removed the hood. Four screws hold it in place.



Surprisingly, the mirror is in very good shape, needing only some very light cleaning (the front-surface mirror is easily damaged).


The hood is a little cockeyed, and pivot points need some lubrication. I gently realigned the sides so the viewer pops in and out correctly; lubrication will have to wait.

Automat K4/50 – Digging in…

Last night, eager to start working on the Automat, I laid out my work station:

I learned long ago to make things portable, as I tend to work over a period of days (weeks, months…). I have an old cookie sheet that I line with paper towels and keep all the parts within that space. If there are a lot of small pieces that may otherwise get lost, they go into a 35mm film canister (which are becoming harder to find these days). My kit for this work generally consists of a few small screwdrivers (some specially ground) and a cheap spanner I picked up years ago for about $8. It’s junk, but gets the job done. I’d like to replace it, but probably never will.

To work on the shutter, the front face of the camera has to be removed from the standard. First step: Remove the self-timer switch. Comes off with the spanner wrench.


Next, the leather comes off. I know people who can carefully remove and reuse the skin, but I’m either not adept enough, or patient enough, to do that. I lift the skin with a screwdriver. I find the old leather is dried enough that it usually isn’t worth saving (to my mind, anyway).


Once the leather is removed, four brass screws which hold the cover plate in place are accessible.


When the screws are loosened and the plate is removed, you have to make note of any washer shims installed, as they need to be reinstalled in the same positions. I mark the locations with a Sharpie. I remove the front cell of the lens for later cleaning.



The shutter has a cover plate with a rotating lock screw. The screw is turned with the pin spanner, and the plate rotated counter clockwise to release it.



The cover plate can then be removed, exposing the shutter’s speed ring.


At this point, my daughter decided we needed to hit the local consignment stores in search of doll clothes, so I wrapped it up on the mechanicals for the night. Later, though, I decided to clean some glass. Here’s the front cell, with the familiar spanner.


There are two notches in the name ring for the spanner tips to engage. The name ring is very thin brass, easily marred, and the slots for the spanner are easily fouled. Gingerly, I remove the ring.


Take note of the orientation of the element that comes out; the rear element is cemented into the barrel. I clean the glass with microfiber cloths to protect the coatings. The glass cleaned up nicely. I always add a very small amount of Teflon grease to the threads of the trim ring before reinstalling it.

That’s it for last night’s progress. Stay tuned.

Swapping projects…

Well, I found out that I don’t have time, or really desire, to do a full resto on a wooden field camera right now, so I sold the Rajah along to another rehabber. In it’s stead, in today’s mail, came this:





A circa-1950 Rolleiflex Automat X (K4/50). A brilliant milestone in engineering and workmanship.

Okay, it’s a little rough. I probably overpaid for it, but I’ve been doing leaf shutter work longer than LF work, and haven’t been into a TLR for a while, so it seemed like a good idea. On the work list:

  • Fix the shutter. Speeds are all over, and anything lower than 1/25 sticks. Escapement needs cleaning. Haven’t tried the self timer, but I’ll pull and clean that escapement, too.
  • Clean the glass. Hazy, but free of fungus or scratches. Should be fine.
  • Likely replace the mirror and screen. Old Rolleiflexes have notoriously dim screens; this one is no exception. This is rectified by replacing the first surface viewing mirror, and a new Fresnel screen improves usability by leaps. Will have to adjust focus after replacing the mirror and screen, though.
  • Repair the paint chips and new leathers. Have a new recipe to try for the paint, and have a new skin picked out already.
  • I’ve always found this kind of work relaxing, and this should be a good project. TLRs are reputed to be extremely difficult to work on. But that’s never stopped me.

    No more…


    No more...

    I know I’ve said it before, but I think I’m swearing off large format portraiture for the foreseeable future. Took the last photo of the boy this afternoon. Momma was not happy with it. “It looks like a depression commercial.” Great – just what I was going for. But I can’t force the boy to smile, and holding a smile for LF shots is much harder than blank expressions. Set up the 5D and 70-200/2.8, point it at the boy, make him laugh, and assemble a triptych. Much more fun, much better results. No need for all the gyrations, especially if I focus on the results. The process is fun sometimes (well, most of the time), but I think I need to reserve it for other subjects now.