Zenit E

Zenit E – a 35mm film SLR from the KMZ factory in Russia.

The Zenit E is a Russian camera made in the USSR by KMZ in the town of Krasnogorsk (also made in Belarus). Soviet era cameras have a poor reputation – mostly undeserved in the West – but my Zenit E purchased in 1973 was an excellent camera. It performed well for many years with much neglect (including being dropped off a moving bus!). I now have a newer Zenit E from 1981
Zenit E
lens:  Helios-44
focal length:  58 mm
apertures: f2 to f16
focus range: 0.5 m (2.6 ft) to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: cloth focal plane
speeds: 1 s to 1/500 s
flash: PC socket
film size: 35mm
The camera is solid and weighty – weighing 700g. The body is made from die cast aluminium with brass base plate and top housing. The controls are well placed and accessible – they compare well with a Fed 5 where I have to fumble for the poorly placed shutter release. I have large, not very nimble, hands and I find this camera very easy to use.
The shutter offers speeds from 1/30 to 1/500 plus B which is plenty for normal use. The focal plane shutter  synchronises with the flash socket at 1/30 both for electronic flash (X) and for Bulb flash (MF).
The built in meter is a selenium meter which does not require a battery and is not TTL. It is no improvement over a hand-held meter other than you only need to carry one item. The meter is of the traditional match needle type and has settings for 13 – 28 DIN and 16 – 500 ASA (new scale, the same as ISO).
Zenit E
Zenits came with a Helios-44 lens with a focal length of 58mm which is normal for 35 mm film (‘normal’ means it gives the same perspective as the human eye does). The Helios-44 lens is a copy of the Carl Zeiss Jena Biotor lens. This lens has an aperture range of f2 to f16 which is more than adequate for most situations. The aperture setting ring has click-stops and there is a second ring to close the aperture after focussing. – the lens does not stop down automatically when the shutter release is pressed, you have to do this manually after focussing and before touching the shutter release. This lens has an excellent reputation and is considered to be better than the Carl Zeiss Jena lens it copies – the Helios lens is multi-coated which the Biotar lens was not.
Focussing is from 0.5m to infinity. The fitting is the Pentacon M42 thread as was standard on Praktica and Pentax (and many other cameras) up to the advent of bayonet fittings in the 1970s. The focussing screen is plain ground glass with no micro-prism or split image focussing aids found on more expensive cameras. There is a printed depth of view scale on the lens barrel and a hyper-focal position marked which will give a focus range of 5m to infinity at f8.

There is an accessory shoe fitted on top of the pentaprism but it is not a “hot” shoe, flash connection being by way of a PC connector on the face of the camera.

Zenit E

Loading film is simple and easy. The back is hinged along one short side and the other short side is locked by a sliding catch. The rewind knob has to be pulled up to allow for the insertion of the film cassette and when pushed back in, locks the cassette in place. The film travels over the film plane, over two sprocket wheels and fits into a slot on the take up spool. Once the back is closed it is necessary to wind on two frames to place unfogged film behind the lens. At this point, you can set the film counter to zero.

Focussing is not as easy as with most manual SLRs of the period as the focussing screen is plain ground glass – no micro-prism, no split image – but it is certainly adequate.

The Helios-44 lens is very sharp and if stopped down to f8 the depth of field is more than capable of removing any defects in poor manual focusing.

When one is used to an automatic camera, it is easy to forget to manually stop down the lens before pressing the shutter release. To make focussing easier, the aperture ring has click stops at each f number but does not actually alter the aperture which remains wide open until the secondary aperture ring is turned after focussing. Once used to this camera, it becomes second nature and adds to the slowness of using this camera. I find that this slowing down to be useful as you are forced to be more considered in your actions and this leads to better pictures.

Zenit EZenit E

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex

I have been after a Contaflex for while now. Zeiss Ikon put a lot of thought into the design of their cameras and all that I have come across have been a joy to hold. The Contaflex is no exception.

P1040144After WWII with the partition of Germany, Zeiss Ikon became two concerns.  Both continued to use the Zeiss Ikon name and initially produced the same range of cameras.  After litigation, East German Zeiss Ikon were not allowed to use the Zeiss Ikon name outside the Warsaw Pact countries – their products became Pentacon and Pentax.  West German  Zeiss ikon continued as much as before as they could.  Both Zeiss Ikons developed Zeiss Ikon’s flagship camera – the Contax.  This article is concerned with the West German Zeiss Ikon’s development of the Contax into, amongst others, the Contaflex.

The Contaflex is actually a completely new camera which owes little to the Contax.  Zeiss Ikon continued to use elements of the Contax name – Contaflex, Contina.  Zeiss Ikon needed to produce a camera to compete with East German Zeiss Ikon’s new range of SLRs – the Pentaprism Contax.  They took a different route and used a between the lens leaf shutter rather than a focal plane shutter.  This proved to be a developmental dead-end but continued in use for a decade or so. Initially, several manufacturers followed suit – Voigtlander, Kodak – but now just about all SLR’s follow East German Zeiss Ikon’s (Pentacon, Pentax) lead with a horizontally travelling focal plane shutter.

P1040146The Contaflex was aimed at the serious amateur market.  It is very well made and very heavy.  The quality of both design and build is evident in that they still work just fine  fifty-plus years after they were made.  The cameras were introduced in pairs – I & II, III & IV, Alpha & Beta and so on.  The pairs either did not have a built-in exposure meter (I, III, Alpha) or did (II, IV, Beta).  Up to and including the Beta, the meter was not coupled and offered nothing over a separate hand-held meter and had the disadvantage of being attached to a very heavy camera making it harder to use than a separate hand-held meter would be.

The shutter is a between-the-lens leaf shutter rather than a focal-plane shutter. This is a superior design in several ways. Firstly, the shutter moves radially and so confers little in the way of vibration to the camera. This is, unfortunately, offset by the need to close the shutter, lift the mirror, open the secondary shutter and then open and close the main shutter again. The result is a very firm shutter release and a respectable “clunk” when the shutter is fired. Secondly, the shutter and flash can be synchronised at any shutter speed. Thirdly, the shutter does not distort moving objects in the way a focal plane shutter must.  Usually, the shutter was a reflex version of a Synchro-Compur shutter, but the Alpha and Beta models has a Prontor Reflex shutter (the Super has Synchro-Compur shutter). Similar cameras were produced by Voigtlander and Mamiya amongst others.

The main (only) drawback of having a leaf shutter is that the lens is difficult to replace. Zeiss Ikon overcame this by having the front element replaceable to give wide angle and telephoto versions. This was not as big a drawback as it might seem as in the 1950s and 60s it was rare for amateur photographers to use anything other than the standard lens that came with the camera. Collections of lenses had to wait for modern design and manufacturing systems and cheap lenses. The strangest part of Zeiss Ikon’s shutter design here is that the mirror does not return automatically after the shutter is fired. It is hard to understand why Zeiss Ikon did this as there is no great technical problem with having the mirror return automatically.  In the Super, the action of the shutter has been improved by angling the secondary shutter to sit just behind the mirror so it has less far to move before the primary shutter can open.

P1040145In the Contaflex I, II III, IV and Super, the lens was the renown Carl Zeiss Tessar f2.8 lens.  The Alpha and Beta models had the cheaper three element Pantar lens, with front element focussing.  The filter size is 27 mm.  In the Super, the Tessar lens focusses by moving the entire lens.

P1040147To load the film, the camera is opened by removing the base and the back as one. I was a little nervous of this technique initially as the only time I have come across this before was with my Ukrainian FED 5. With the FED 5 the fit is loose to say the least and it leaks light. The Zeiss Ikon version works well, fitting together reassuringly well.

As I mentioned earlier, the lens in the Alpha and Beta focuses by turning the front element.  With this camera, there are two drawbacks to this. The first is common to any camera and that is that the performance of the lens drops as the front element moves relative to the rest of the lens elements. It is much better to focus by moving the whole lens. This is difficult with the shutter in the middle of the lens so front element focussing was easy option in the lower priced models.  The second drawback is that the front element can be removed to allow a replacement element to give either a wide angle or telephoto lens. There is a small lever below the lens that needs to be depressed to remove the front element and this lever gets in the way whilst focusing. Apart from that niggle, focusing is easy as the viewfinder has a split-image microprism circle in the centre. The viewfinder is certainly bright enough to see what you are doing.

With the Super, the whole lens moves and has two ‘knobs’ attached to the focussing ring which makes focussing much easier – in fact, only one finger is required for fine adjustment.

There is also an light meter which is not a TTL meter.  With the Beta, it is not coupled and gives you an exposure value which you set on the Prontor shutter.  The meter covers film speeds from 12 to 33 DIN and 5 to 650 ASA.  Unfortunately, this is old style ASA where 21 DIN equates to 40 ASA rather than to 100 ASA as the new style ASA standard would have it (new style ASA is the same as ISO).  The ASA range was adjusted in the late 1950s to be a more “sensible” range.  This makes using modern films with old exposure meters fraught.  Personally, I rely on using the DIN scale which has remained constant since its introduction.
With the Super, the exposure meter is still not TTL but is coupled.  It has an indicator in the viewfinder which makes using this version much easier.  It also uses the modern ASA range and so can be used with modern films easily.  This is a shutter priority system – you set the required shutter speed and then turn the front meter-setting knob until the meter needle in the viewfinder points at the central notch.  Turning this knob moves the aperture ring on the lens to an aperture that matches the shutter speed for the required exposure.  If your initial setting of the shutter speed was inappropriate, it will not be possible to set a suitable exposure and it will be necessary to change the shutter speed accordingly.

The following extract is from the 1957 copy of the British Journal of Photography Almanac. It is not the model described here but gives a flavour as to how this camera was presented to the public.

1957 004

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex
Busker, Lincoln Stonebow

Voigtländer comparison

It is interesting when looking at a series of cameras to see what has been improved and at what cost.  Generally, improvements cost money and as the retail price is set by the market. as cost saving must be made elsewhere. This article looks at the three Voigtländer cameras that I have – Vito II, Vito B and Vito Automatic I – which are more or less an equivalent series aimed at an enthusiastic amateur. Each of these came in variations but I am restricting myself to the actual cameras I own.

Of the three Voigtländer cameras that I have, the Vito B is the nicest design, the easiest to use and aesthetically the most pleasing. The Vito II lacks in both use and aesthetics as a result of the design of the shutter. Voigtländer bought their shutters from Gauthier (a part of Zeiss Ikon) and the Vito II uses a Pronto and the Vito B a Prontor-SVS. The Pronto is little, if at all, changed from pre-war designs and is mostly painted black apart from the front bezel, while the Prontor-SVS has a much more modern look – it is all stainless steel and chrome. The Vito Automatic I has a Prontor-matic 125 shutter which doesn’t manage to look quite as elegant as the Vito B’s shutter although it is not that different
The Vito II is also larger (125mm wide)than the Vito B (115mm wide) – a necessity due to the folding bellows behind the lens: they take up a fair bit of room when closed. Apart from the width differ3ence, they are much the same size in use. The Vito Automatic I is also 125mm wide plus the catch for the back making an overall 130mm. This is due to the large toothed sprocket beside the take-up spool which is absent on both the Vito II and Vito B. The Vito Automatic I is also much taller at 90mm compared to 70mm (Vito B) and 75mm (Vito II).
The overall finish is the same in the three cameras – stainless steel and black leatherette.
Shutters – The design changed drastically between the Vito II and the Vito B. Apart from appearances, the main differences are the number of speeds available and the fastest speed.  The Vito II has four speeds available (1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/200) and the Vito B has eight (1 second, ½, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/300). The Vito Automatic I while being the more modern camera has only three speeds available (1/30, 1/60 and 1/125). All three have B available as well.
The next change is in how the shutter is cocked. The Vito II has the old fashioned manual cocking lever that needs to be set by hand. The Vito B has the shutter cocked when the film is advanced. Both of those only need a gentle touch on the shutter release button to fire the shutter. The Vito Automatic I has the shutter cocked by the shutter release in the first part of its travel which means that a much “firmer” touch is required.
The biggest fault with the Vito B is that the shutter blades are behind the lens and so it is possible to touch them – and damage them – when cleaning inside the camera. In both the Vito II and the Vito Automatic I the shutter is in between the lens elements and in front of the iris diaphragm.
The diaphragms themselves are very different. The Crudest is the Vito Automatic I which has only four blades giving an almost square aperture (almost square as the iris blades are curved). In my example, the diaphragm does not open evenly and at f4 the aperture is decidedly kite shaped.
The Vito II AND Vito B both have 10 iris blades and produce a nearly circular aperture. The reduction in iris blades in the Vito Automatic I seems to be one of the trade-offs required to pay for the automation.
The Vito Automatic I also has only two shutter blades (or at least only two visible) while the Vito II and Vito B both have the five blades we would expect of a Pronter shutter – another cost saving it would seem.
All three are synchronised for flash and have a PC socket available. The Vito II and Vito Automatic I have no setting for synchronising the flash and I assume they are permanently set for bulb flash, The Vito B has M, X and V settings – bulb, electronic and delay.

Accessory rangefinder from Voigtländer

Voigtländer produced a small rangefinder as an accessory for their range of cameras in the 1950s.  There were at least two versions of this as evidenced by the shoe connector.  The rangefinder sits in the accessory shoe on top of the camera and is entirely independent of the camera. This was still available in 1970 and Wallace Heaton in London were offering it for £7-8-8
Voigtländer rangefinder
Voigtländer rangefinder
The rangefinder is die-cast in an aluminium alloy.  Externally, there is one eyepiece and two objective lenses with a central knob/dial.  Internally, the eyepiece looks through a half-silvered mirror out through the left-hand objective lens.  The light coming in the second, right-hand objective lens is reflected by a sloping mirror onto the left-hand half-silvered mirror and hence out through the eyepiece.  The sloping mirror behind the right-hand objective lens is controlled via a cam by the external knob/dial.  Turning the knob/dial alters the angle of the mirror and so alters the path of the light towards the eyepiece.
In use, one looks through the eyepiece and sees two versions of the scene – one directly and one reflected through the second lens.  Turning the central knob/dial moves the second image from side to side.  When the images are superimposed, the correct distance can be read off the knob/dial.
Voigtländer rangefinder
This is a very simple mechanism and there is little to go wrong with it.  My rangefinder had a quantity of dust inside which was easily removed with a soft brush.  I also gently polished the surface of both mirrors.  Adjusting the rangefinder is also easy.  You merely focus on an object at a known distance away and move the knob/dial on its spindle so that the correct distance is against the mark.
Voigtländer rangefinder
The only real fault is that the second, right-hand objective lens is rather small so the image reflected off the half-silvered mirror is relatively faint – half the light from from this objective passes through the half-silvered mirror and we only see an image that is half as bright as that from the left-hand objective lens.  To help, the half-silvered mirror is tinted orange (actually, ‘silvered’ with gold) which makes the faint image easier to see.
Voigtländer rangefinder

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

Voigtlander Vito B & BL

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

Vito B (BL details lower down)

This is a very nice camera from the 1950s (1956 for this camera). It is well designed and well made – no plastic (at least not visibly) and the pressings and millings are neatly finished. It is a pleasure to look at and to hold.

  • lens:  Color-Skopar
  • focal length:  50 mm
  • apertures: f3.5 to f16
  • focus range: 0.8 m (2.6 ft)
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Prontor SVS
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/300 s
  • flash: PC socket
  • film size: 35mm

Voigtlander’s Vito B was their first rigid 35mm camera – made in Braunschweig, Germany.  It was brought out in 1954 and was a replacement for the excellent Vito II .  It was discontinued about 1961.  The Vito B spawned a number of other cameras – Vitomatics I and II and the BL series.  These had built-in light meters and, in the case of the Vitomatic II, a coupled rangefinderThe price new in England was around £24 for the model with the Prontor SVS shutter.  In 1959, a new model was brought out with a larger bright-line viewfinder.  The camera is only 115 mm wide, 70mm front to back and 70 mm high. This fits well into the hand and is small enough to fit into a coat pocket. It also has a lens hood which adds a further 25 mm to its length. This is the successor to the Vito II folding camera and is both slightly smaller and slightly heavier than its predecessor but with the disadvantage for carrying that the lens does not fold away. The main structure of the camera is die cast with pressed chrome plated covers.

The film advance lever falls nicely to the thumb in use but travels well to the front of the camera which is a bit awkward in use. There is also an accessory shoe on top which is designed for a rangefinder as much as for a flash gun. There is a PC  (for Prontor Compur) socket on the underside of the lens for a flash gun – the camera can synchronise for bulb flash (M) and electronic flash (X). The flash synchronising lever is also used to set the shutter delay timer (V for Vorlaufwerk) . The shutter is cocked by advancing the film – an improvement over the Vito II which had a manual cocking lever on the shutter housing. It is also an improvement over the later Vito Automatic I where the shutter release also cocked the shutter during the first part of its travel.

The lens is a 50mm Color-Skopar with a maximum aperture of f3.5. This lens is based on Zeiss Ikon’s Tessar lens – four elements, two of which are cemented together and air gaps between the others. These lenses are surprisingly good, especially if you stop the lens down to f8.   Focussing is by way of the whole lens assembly so image quality is not reduced as you focus closer.  The lens takes a 32 mm push fit filter or lens hood.

Focussing is either scale focussing which relies on you knowing the distance to the subject or zone focussing with two settings – o which focusses the lens to between 15 feet and infinity and ߜ which focusses the lens to between 8 and 18 feet. Both of these need the aperture to be set to f5.6 or better.   Voigtländer  produced a small rangefinder to fit on the accessory shoe which allowed accurate measurement of the distance but this was not coupled to the focusing and needed the user to read off the distance from the rangefinder and then set that distance on the focussing ring.

Behind the lens is a either a three speed Pronto or an eight speed Prontor-SVS shutter.  There is also a shutter delay timer but on old cameras it is supposed to be a bad idea to use this – although on my 56 year old camera it works fine on fast speeds (1/100, 1/300) but not at all on any of the slower speeds. The shutter works quite well at faster speeds from 1/300 to 1/25) but is very slow indeed on the slower speeds – 1/10 second is actually above five seconds! This probably means that the shutter mechanism needs a service but I have to ask if the cost of this is warranted. I have found on other cameras that the shutter works better after it has been used a few times. When acquiring a new old camera it is worth bearing in mind that the cameras has probably been sitting unused in a drawer for the last thirty years or so.

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

The film chamber opens in an unusual way – first you open a small door in the base and then the back will swing open.  This is designed to make inserting a film easier and works quite well but for some reason Voigtländer abandoned this on subsequent cameras. Fitting the film is extremely easy. The film sprocket holes fit over a large toothed wheel which serves to cock the shutter when the film is advanced. For this reason, an empty camera will not allow you to fire the shutter. When the film is fitted, you have to turn a toothed wheel on the underside to set the number of frames available. This number appears in a window just above the lens and shows the number of frames still available – the camera counts down from 24/36 to zero. There is also a strange prong just below the lens – this appears to be a foot so the camera will stand on a flat surface when using the shutter delay timer but no mention is made of it in the manual.

The view finder is very small being 8mm in diameter at the rear and 10×16 mm in the front. This means the view is rather smaller than real life  at about two thirds but is adequate and certainly bright enough.

The pictures that this camera produces are good even by modern standards.

Vito BL:

The Vito BL is based on the Vito B mark II – that is, the version with the larger viewfinder. There are two changes. One is the addition of a light meter to the camera. The second is these of an EV enabled shutter (I am given to understand that some Vito B cameras also had EV enabled shutters but I have never seen one). The shutter is a Prontor SVS – the same as the Vito B above.

The light meter uses a selenium cell which does not need a battery to work. Selenium light meter‘s get an undeservedly bad press predicated on their losing sensitivity over time. While this is theoretically correct, I have yet to see a selenium meter that was not still accurate, even with meters that are over 55 years old.

With the design of the meter, film speed (ISO) is set by turning a knurled knob on the back of the top plate. This moves a series of numbers into view. Each series is identified by a letter – each letter represents a different ASA/ISO or DIN rating. B is 12 DIN/12 ASA, C is 15 DIN/25 ASA, D is 18 DIN/50 ASA, E is 21 DIN/100ASA, F is 24 DIN/200 ASA and G is 27 DIN/400 ASA. For those who are not aware, films speeds double with 3 added to the DIN rating. 24 DIN is twice as fast as 21 DIN. With ASA/ISO, double the film speed has double the ASA rating. 400 ASA is twice as fast as 200 ASA.

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

To read the meter, turn the knob on the back until the letters representing your film speed comes into view.  You then point the camera at the subject and look at the needle in the meter display. It will be sitting in either a white or a black zone. At the left edge of the zones are the EV values. The EV value adjacent to the zone the needle is in is then set on the EV range on the shutter – to do this, you have to depress a chrome lug on the left, besides the EV 2.

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

The EV enabled shutter has the usual shutter speed and aperture rings but they are linked by a third ring – the EV ring (EV stands for Exposure Value). When you set the EV value from the light meter, you link a range of shutter speeds to a range of apertures. You can then turn the shutter speed ring to select a combination of shutter speed and aperture but only those that give the required exposure (it is rather like P mode on a digital camera in that a respect). See three photos below. The range of EVs available are from 2 to 18. EV 2 is 2 seconds at f/3.5 and EV 18 is 1/300 seconds at f/22. A summers day in England is usually going to be about EV 14 to EV 15.

In every other aspect, this Vito BL is the same as a Vito B.

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

EV set to 11 – 1/60 second and f/5.6
Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

EV set to 11 – 1/200 second and f/3.5


Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BL

EV set to 11 – 1/4 second and f/22

Photos from the Vito B:

Voigtlander Vito B and Vito BLVoigtlander Vito B and Vito BLVoigtlander Vito B and Vito BL


Old Cameras

Part 1

Old cameras have probably lain in a draw for a considerable number of years. As they lie the lubrication dries and the moving parts get settled into one position. Dust collects inside and out and has a tendency to reinforce the settled position. The dry lubricant means that moving parts are likely to be sticky and will resist moving.
The first thing I do with a “new” old camera is clean it. I tend to use spray lens cleaner on all exterior parts – there is nothing in it to damage either lens or case, but take care around gaps in the shutter housing. There has to be holes and slots for the controls to access the insides and we do not want the cleaner getting into the mechanism. First I brush off dust and lose dirt. In some ways, the more dirt the better- it indicates the no one has used inappropriate methods to clean the camera for sale.
I also carefully brush the insides – Care! With some cameras, the shutter is exposed (always with SLRs). Shutters should not be touched at all. Leaf shutters are very delicate and will stop working if touched. Focal plane blind shutters are not quite so delicate but still should not be touched.
When clean, I try the controls – but carefully. It is rare for an old camera to come with its manual – not unknown but rare. Sometimes there are specific ways to carry out adjustments. For this reason, I always obtain a copy manual from the internet – there are several sites that have them available. Fed cameras, for instance, must have the shutter cocked before the shutter speed is adjusted and some Voigtländers have a release that must be pressed before setting the shutter to B. In the absence of a manual, use common sense. Never force anything – if a camera part will not move easily, it probably won’t move at all.
When I have tried all the controls and seen that there is nothing drastic wrong, I try to shoot a dummy picture. The shutter will not fire unless it is cocked and there are various ways in which the shutter is cocked. In most modern cameras, the film advance will cock the shutter but older cameras have a variety of methods. If the shutter will not fire, assume it is not cocked before you assume it is broken.
In addition to cocking the shutter, many cameras have interlocks to prevent double exposures. My Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex II must have the shutter mechanically cocked, have a film in the camera AND have the film wound on after the last shot. An empty Ikoflex II will not fire! My Voigtländer Vito B has the shutter cocked by the film moving past a sprocket wheel. An empty camera will not fire – but you can rotate the sprocket wheel by hand to cock the shutter.
Do not force any controls as cameras are delicate, sophisticated devices. Yet some controls will need a firm touch if the camera has not been used for 30+ years. Older shutter mechanisms have two separate timing systems. Short shutter speeds are usually easy to set but 1/30 down to 1 second (or sometimes 2 or 5 seconds) have a separate mechanism with a bigger spring – these resist the touch much more than the short settings do – but still do not force them. You should be able to feel the difference between mechanical resistance and mechanical seizure.
If the controls are stiff, I find it helps to pretend to take pictures – cock the shutter, release the shutter, repeat – repeatedly.  Do this for various combinations of shutter speed and aperture. I might spend 20 minutes doing this repeatedly and this frees the shutter and aperture well. Not only does this dislodge any dust it also redistributes the remaining lubrication.
Once the camera mechanisms seem to be working as they should, it is time to try a film in the camera. It is possible to get 135 (35 mm) and 120 (6×6) films from most camera shops and 127 films can be obtained over the interweb. You need to used the common shutter speeds (1/60 up to the maximum available) and a variety of apertures – but avoid using the timer function if one is available. It helps when the time comes to assess the resulting pictures if you have kept notes on the settings for each frame.
When assessing the pictures, there are a number of things to look out for. Before looking at the actual pictures, check the shutter is fully opening (I have had a focal plane shutter that only exposed half of each negative) and the film is advancing as it should. If the film is not advancing as it should, that is either a faulty film advance or a faulty photographer. I have inadvertently taken pictures on 120 film as 6×6 but advanced the film as if it was 6×9 – that was an option I had not understood and is possible on my Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex II, Zeiss Ikon Nettar and Franka Solida II.
Assuming that the shutter and film advance are both working ok, it is time to look at the pictures. If you have used a reliable external light meter the pictures should all be exposed correctly – look at the negatives to assess this as the prints will have been adjusted as well as possible by the printer. I always use an external light meter even when there is a built in meter as this checks the built in meter as well. If the negatives have a good density then you can assume that the shutter and diaphragm are working at least reasonably well.
Is there anything else to look for? Yes. Focus, for starters. If the camera has been dropped or if someone has fiddled with the lens, then the lens might not be capable of proper focus. If the lens is mechanically ok, then you can see if there is a problem with dirt or moisture inside the lens – both will cause the image to be softened. If that is ok, then compare the sharpness with the lens wide open (i.e. with the largest f number) with the sharpness with the lens closed down. Most lenses work best with the lens stopped down a couple of stops and a poor lens will work best with the lens stopped down considerably.
One last thing – colour fringes. Old lenses (pre-1930) were designed to work with black and white film that had no sensitivity to red light. That made lens design very simple as the lens only had to focus blue light. When used with colour film, a very old lens will often produce noticeable colour fringes around objects and some softening when used with modern black and white film.
So, you have cleaned the camera, tried a film and found that the camera is actually very good. What now? Use it! Using a vintage film camera is very different to using a modern digital camera. They are not point-and-shoot – you need to establish the exposure, set the controls, focus the lens, cock the shutter and then take the picture. It is much slower and has the advantage of making you consider what you are doing to a much greater extent than is true for using a digital camera. Also, it is so much harder to manipulate the picture once it is taken so the need to get it right in camera is much greater. I find this much more satisfying than using my digital camera and should be improving my technique.
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