Ansco Speedex Special R…

Quite some time ago (more than a year, anyway), I sniped my way into a Speedex Special R. I’ve had dozens of these over the years. They’re fun to fix, fun to shoot, and produce wonderful results. I used to spend an awful lot of time fixing old cameras. A sickness, really. But it had been years since I’d worked on one of these. I contacted Sandeha and ordered a new bellows, knowing that the stock ones would be trash. Camera arrived. Not in stunning shape, a little corrosion on the metal, and the usual maladies – stuck focus, wonky rangefinder, loose coverings, and bad bellows.

Then I stalled. Decided it would take more attention than I would have to put into a flip camera. Everything went in the drawer. It all sat long enough that I eventually listed the bellows for sale, figuring the odds were against ever finishing the camera.

Well, no one bought the bellows, and I got to thinking about it again. Read some of my old threads about the work, and yesterday had a couple hours to play. Broke into the shutter, cleaned and adjusted the rangefinder, replaced the bellows. The camera’s now ready to load and test the focus. I remember now why I used to do this.

Ansco Speedex Special R//

I’m sure I’ll sell this someday, but not today. I have two kids interested in playing with it. My wife and I have a summer vaca planned, and I’m thinking about bringing the Speedex along with some Ektar just for kicks. And now I’m trolling for more projects.

Told you it was a sickness…


Automat K4/50 – New skin…

After a slow start on the re-covering, I was able to finish installing the new leathers last night:

Rolleiflex Automat X (K4/50)

Rolleiflex Automat X (K4/50)

Rolleiflex Automat X (K4/50)

Rolleiflex Automat X (K4/50)

It’ll never be a shelf queen, but the leathers clean it up and make it nicely presentable. Everything is working well now, and as a last test, I ran a roll through last night. Nothing but quick grab shots, but this one turned out nicely:


The lens is sharp, the focus precise. Count this one finished.

Because I do this as a hobby, I’ll be selling this one shortly to fund future projects. Contact me if’n you’re looking for an affordable Rolleiflex.

Automat K4/50 – Test results…

A few nights ago I set up the Rolleiflex on a tripod, put it close to the bottom baluster on the stairs, and shot.


This is a crop of the full frame. Shot at minimum focus distance, wide open at f/3.5. The focus looks good, the lens sharp. I’m pleased with this camera now. To finish the roll, my daughter hammed it up.


Now, I’m still undecided about the screen. It’s wicked sharp, but the wax creates a horrible hot sopt on the ground glass. Easier to focus, harder to compose. Not sure I like the compromise. I may be putting an RB67 screen in this camera yet.

Automat K4/50 – More tweaking (shutter release and viewing screen)…

While I was pleased overall with the test shots posted yesterday, there was enough motion blur in all the shots that I figured something was up. While I may just be unable to consistently hand-hold at slow speeds anymore (doubt it), the shutter release button was stiff, and tended to stick on use. I needed to improve that. So, last night, I took the lensboard off the camera again and cleaned the button shaft. Some xylene on a cotton swab worked fine.



I added some Teflon lube to the tip of another swab and lightly coated the shaft. The button slides effortlessly now.

Next, on a tip from Patrick at APUG, I decided I’d try to improve the focusing screen with a coat of paste wax. I’d heard of this before, but honestly never tried it, and completely forgot it until Patrick mentioned it. Skeptical, I removed the screen. There are two small tabbed springs holding the screen in place.


The springs are pressed down against the glass and twisted slightly to pop them out. They’re a little tricky to remove, but go in much easier.


When the springs are off, the screen lifts out.


Be very careful with the screen – it’s very thin, and very fragile. I cleaned the screen with Windex before applying wax.

I applied wax to half the screen to see if there was any noticeable improvement first. Let the past dry a few minutes, gently buff, and see the results:


The results are dramatic, but pose yet another compromise: The detail and brightness are vastly improved, and focus is very quick now. But there’s a distinct hot spot in the middle of the screen, which may yet hamper focusing. I stripped the wax off the screen with xylene (applying another coat would result in uneven transmission of light between the two sides), Windexed again, and applied a light coat of wax. I’ll shoot with it for a while before I make a final decision.

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…

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.