Collecting Cameras

Repairing bellows pinholes in folding cameras

A common malady among old folding cameras is pinholes in the corners of the bellows. These little holes will leak light onto your film. Some photographers embrace the look, but I’m not one of them.

I learned a simple way to repair bellows pinholes from Mike Connealy’s blog. It’s not a permanent solution, but it will last a good long while and let you shoot with an otherwise functional old folder.

To check for pinholes, take the camera into a dark room, open the back, and shine a very bright flashlight around inside the bellows. I did this with my recently acquired Ansco Viking Readyset, and it lit up like a Christmas tree. Light came through every single corner.

I use a small, very bright LED flashlight that I bought from Amazon here. It fits inside a bellows with a little room to spare, so I can move the flashlight around and get into the bellows’ far reaches.

You can repair the pinholes with black fabric paint. I use Tulip brand, which I buy from Amazon here. The bottle’s tiny tip works great for applying a couple drops of paint to a pinhole. Just make sure the pinhole is completely covered.

I’m not great at fine work, mostly because I’m impatient with it. As you can see below, I globbed too much fabric paint on some of the pinholes. The paint I use has a gloss finish that makes my sloppy work very noticeable on the matte bellows. If you are careful with the paint, you will get a more cosmetically pleasing repair. Tulip also makes this paint with a matte finish.

After you apply the paint, keep the camera open and let it dry for at least four hours. I generally let it dry overnight. Then take the camera back into a dark room with a flashlight and make sure you didn’t miss any holes.

Fabric paint is flexible and hardy. The bottle says the stuff is machine washable! You will be able to open and close the camera a number of times without cracking the paint. I’m sure that the paint will eventually wear out, but cameras I repaired this way several years ago are still light tight.

A bottle of fabric paint lasts a very long time. My bottle is five years old now. I’ve repaired about a half-dozen old folders with it and the bottle is still 99% full. With the cap screwed on tight, this paint doesn’t dry out in the bottle.

The best repair is to replace the bellows entirely, but you can’t order fresh bellows from the factory anymore. A vanishingly small number of people make custom bellows — I know only of Jurgen Kreckel and Sandeha Lynch. Jurgen fits his custom bellows as part of his complete repair service for folding cameras. Sanheda will send you instructions so you can fit his bellows yourself, but offers bellows only for a few Agfa and Agfa-made Ansco cameras. Fortunately, he makes bellows for the Ansco Viking cameras for £48 plus postage, if I ever want to fully restore my Viking Readyset.

You have to decide whether an old folder you own is worth that investment. Meanwhile, a little black fabric paint will cover your pinholes and let you use your camera.

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Collecting Cameras

Remembering the Perma Matic 618

It would have been about 1970 when Mom bought the camera that she used to record our family for the next 20 years. It was a Perma Matic 618, a point-and-shoot camera that took 126 Instamatic film cartridges.

Mom told me the story once of how she came to buy it, but my memory is fuzzy. Maybe she bought it from a door-to-door salesman, or maybe she traded green stamps for it. But I remember clearly that Mom chose it for its built-in flash, which was a novel feature then. No more fussing with flashcubes — and, crucially, running out of them with photos still to make at a family event.

Photo credit: Etsy user JuniperHome

Never heard of the Perma Matic, you say? You’re not alone. There’s next to no information about the Perma Matic on the Internet. I found a mention that said its suggested retail price was $59, which is equivalent to about $450 today. That’s an awful lot of money for a 126 camera!

Everything else I know about the camera I know from inspection. It packs a 40mm f/5.6 Tosicor lens. As I’ve researched Tosicor lenses, they seem always to be fitted to cameras by Japanese maker Taron. The camera bottom is stamped “Made in Japan,” so I’m willing to bet this is a Taron camera.

A selenium light meter is next to the enormous flash. I’m not sure how the autoexposure worked — was the lens’s aperture fixed, meaning the camera adjusted the shutter speed? Could the camera stop down from f/5.6? What was the range of shutter speeds? There is no way to set focus, and autofocus hadn’t been invented yet, so this camera’s focus had to be fixed. I am guessing that the in-focus range was five feet to infinity, because a label on the back declared that the flash was good from five to 15 feet.

The shutter button is on the camera face, to the left of the lens. Push it down to activate the shutter. The winder is a lever nearly flush with the body, on the back at the bottom. Also on the back was a switch to turn on the flash, which emitted a shrill whistle while it charged. When the flash was ready the whistling stopped and a red light on the back glowed. I have no idea how the flash was powered — from photos I find on the Internet, I see no battery door anywhere on the body.

A black, zippered leather case with a strap came with the camera; “Perma Matic” was printed on the front in silver letters. Mom always kept hers in the case. Here she is holding it at Christmas in 1984. She was not pleased that I was photographing her. (Yes, people smoked in their homes then.)

This camera was enormous. It was larger in every dimension than a contemporary 35mm SLR body. This page is one of a very few on the Internet about this camera, and it shows the Perma Matic next to a Canon FX SLR from the 1960s.

This is the first camera I ever used to make a photograph. When I was about four, my family took a trip to New York State. When nobody was looking, deep curiosity about how this camera worked drove me to pick up the Perma Matic and make a few photographs of our hotel room. My mom caught me at it, and boy was I ever in trouble. Film was expensive, and I’d wasted a bunch of shots!

Some years ago Mom gave me an album of photographs from my first five years. The later photos in that album were all made on the Perma Matic. They were all in sharp focus and properly exposed, and the flash lit all of the scenes well and evenly. Here’s a scan of a print from my fourth birthday, which was in 1971. That’s my grandmother on the left; she was the same age in this photograph that I am now.

Mom still has boxes full of family photos made with the Perma Matic. I’ve not seen hardly any of them since she made them. Someday I ought to make her get them all out so I can see them!

I don’t remember now what led Mom to finally replace her Perma Matic. I had grown up and moved out by the time that happened. But I’m pretty sure she used it until she bought her Nikon Zoom Touch 400, a frankly awful camera that wasn’t available until 1990. Mom got her money’s worth out of the Perma Matic!

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Collecting Cameras

My Olympus OM-1 is back from repair and CLA

Late last year I checked all of my cameras for proper functioning and was disappointed to find that seven of them needed repair. One of them was my Olympus OM-1. This camera was a gift from a longtime friend in 2011 and I’ve put about one roll of film through it every year since. The last time was in 2020, and it worked great. When I checked it late last year, the meter was reading several stops off.

I sent it to John Hermanson at Camtech Photo Services. He repaired the meter and cleaned, lubed, and adjusted (CLA’d) the body. He also adapted the body to use a 1.55-volt SR44 silver-oxide battery. That’s a handy upgrade — the OM-1 natively takes a 1.35-volt 625 mercury cell, and those haven’t been available for a long time.

When I got the OM-1 back, I loaded some Fujicolor 200 into it and carried it everywhere I went until I spent the roll.

Olympus OM-1 and a whiskey

The camera worked beautifully, of course. Here are some images I made with the 50mm f/1.8 F.Zuiko Auto-S lens.

Welcome to McDonald's
Red barn
Father and daughter

I mounted my 21mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto-W lens for a few frames because I hardly use it and I want to get to know it better.

Power Tower
No Outlet

My OM-1 was in great condition when I got it, and I took good care of it over the years I’ve owned it. But after CLA, all of the controls were next-level smooth and sure.

For most casual photography I reach for my cameras that have an aperture-priority mode, such as my Olympus OM-2n. Match-needle metering like my OM-1 offers usually feels like a hiccup step in my flow. But I didn’t feel that way at all on this roll. Shooting my CLA’d OM-1 was pure pleasure.

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Collecting Cameras

Sooner or later your cameras will break

I got out my Nikon F3 earlier this year, as it is one of my very favorite cameras and I wanted use it just for the pleasure.


To my disappointment, I found it to be not working — the winder was stuck, and the meter wasn’t reading.

Whatever is causing these failures is going to be beyond my meager repair abilities. I boxed up the F3 and sent it to International Camera Technicians for evaluation. They charge $50 to figure out what’s wrong with your camera and what it will cost to repair it. If you then have them do the work, they apply that fee to the repair charge. I hope to hear from them soon.

So it goes with old photographic gear — sooner or later, it will break. It’s why I’ve started to learn basic repair skills. I replaced the light seals on this very F3 myself a couple years ago.

Finding my F3 on the fritz led me to test every camera I own for proper functioning. Now that I’ve thinned the herd to about 25 cameras, it was a pleasant afternoon’s task.

I discovered metering problems in five of my cameras. The meters in both my Olympus OM-1 and my Olympus XA were reading several stops off. The meter in my Yashica Lynx 14e is one stop off (but I’ve known that for years). The meters in my Nikon F2AS and in my Pentax Spotmatic F had both gone all jumpy.

I also found that the winder on my Nikon F2A sometimes gets stuck mid-wind, but if you back off the pressure and try again you can finish winding just fine. This was disappointing, as I has Sover Wong, the premier Nikon F2 repairperson, overhaul the camera a couple years ago. I’ll test this camera with film soon to see if the condition persists.

Finally, my Sears KSX-P is dead. I bought it only last year, immediately put two rolls of film through it, and then set it aside in my camera cabinet. I can’t fathom what would cause it to not respond at all now.

That’s how it seems to go with old cameras. I’ve never had one fail under use. They always malfunction or die while sitting on the shelf.

I’ve already had the Spotmatic F repaired; I wrote about it here. I had the OM-1 repaired, too; a post about it is coming on Monday. I chose to test the Olympus XA with film — it actually has two meters, one to power the viewfinder needle and another that sets exposure, and one meter can go south while the other works. A post about this test is scheduled for early May. I hope to have the F3 back soon, and will share my test roll with you as soon as I have scans.

Next, I will send the F2AS out to have its meter repaired. I will use Sover Wong, but I’m bracing for impact, because his service is expensive. Also, his wait list is currently two full years.

I’m on the fence about the Lynx 14e. I’ve not shot it since completing Operation Thin the Herd. It’s either time for that camera to find its new owner, or to go to Mark Hama for repair.

The KSX-P also has me on the fence. It is a surprisingly pleasant camera to use, which is why I kept it. On the other hand, it’s worth essentially nothing. Perhaps Garry’s Camera can do it, as he lists other Sears SLRs on his site. Perhaps this camera should just go into the trash.

Now is the time to have your broken cameras repaired, and your working cameras overhauled, so they might last. The men (it seems always to be men) who repair old cameras are no longer young. I know of no young pups learning the film-camera repair business.

One day, when our old gear breaks, that will be that.

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Collecting Cameras

Recent acquisition: Ansco Viking Readyset

I’ve been on a 35mm SLR jag for the last couple of years, in case the number of SLR reviews I’ve written here hasn’t caught your notice. I’ve discovered that I’m an SLR guy through and through. But that’s led me away from my first photographic love, which is seeing what kind of images a simple camera can make.

Ansco Viking Readyset

That’s led me to look for old boxes and folders lately. To make it interesting, I’ve narrowed my searching to cameras that take 120 film. Given how many such cameras take 620 film, this shrinks the field considerably.

I came upon an eBay listing for this Ansco Viking Readyset. Agfa made these in Munich for Ansco from 1952 to 1959. I certainly overpaid, at $45 shipped, but at least this example is nearly in mint condition. Most of these that I’ve seen over the years have been rough.

This Viking Readyset features an f/11 Agfa Isomar lens, which I’m betting is a single-element design. It offers two aperture settings, “Bright,” the full f/11, and “Hazy,” which might be f/8. An old ad I found for this camera says that the shutter operates at 1/40 sec.

The camera offers two focus zones, 5 to 10 feet and 10 feet to infinity. The viewfinder is a simple pop-up “sports” type, on the same side of the body as the winder. The body is metal with a coating that feels like it’s made of plastic. There’s a tripod mount on the faceplate, a nice touch. The camera also features a flash sync port. The Viking Readyset makes 8 6×9-cm images on a roll of 120.

Interestingly, the Readyset was the least of a three-model line of Viking cameras. The top-line Viking featured an f/4.5 lens; the next one down an f/6.3 lens. Both were set in a 1/200 sec. shutter. The Viking cameras cost $48.65, $34.95, and $19.95, respectively, when new. In comparison, an Ansco box camera could be had for as little as $4.95.

This camera looks to need no reconditioning, although to be safe I will check for pinholes in the bellows and repair any I find. I’ll also gently clean the lens with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Look for photos from this camera and a full review probably later this spring, or in the early summer.

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Collecting Cameras

Recent acquisition: Kodak Jiffy Six-20, Series II

My college chum Bill contacted me recently to ask if I’d like to own a camera that had belonged to his grandmother. Well, of course I would. Bill sent it straightaway.

It is this Kodak Jiffy Six-20, Series II, complete with its box. It also came with a little pamphlet by Kodak on how to make snapshots at night with simple cameras using photofloods and Kodak’s special, fast “SS Pan” film.

Even more interestingly, tucked inside was a brief note from Bill’s grandmother saying that she bought the camera in the late 1930s and used it to make photographs of her family. It’s not often that an old camera comes to me with evidence of its provenance. Further establishing its provenance, Bill left a card inside with a monogram of his last name on it, with a handwritten note bidding me to enjoy the camera.

The camera appears to be in very good condition. The leatherette is peeling slightly in one corner, visible in the photo above. The bellows is whole and firmly connected to the body and lens board. The shutter sounds a little weak, or perhaps it’s just naturally slow, 1/20 or 1/30 second. The lens is slightly dirty. The bubble viewfinders show slight desilvering of the mirrors, but are otherwise clean and bright.

This is a simple camera with one aperture and shutter speed. It does have two focus zones: five to ten feet, and ten feet to infinity, which you select by turning the lens barrel. The camera boasts a “Twindar” lens. When I searched for this lens on Google, every result was about the Jiffy series of cameras, leading me to believe that this was either the only, or by far the primary, camera in which Kodak ever used this lens. My educated guess is that this is a simple meniscus lens, as Kodak used them in most of its simple cameras. The few places that claim an aperture for this lens all say f/11.

Kodak made the Jiffy Six-20, Series II, from 1937 to 1948. It takes 620 rollfilm. A similar Jiffy Six-16, Series II, was made for 616 film. There was an earlier Jiffy Six-20 and Six-16 manufactured from 1933 to 1937. It is easily distinguished from the Series II by its faceplate, which is painted in an Art Deco pattern.

When the weather warms up, I’ll give this camera a go. First, I’ll recondition the camera a little. I’ll gently clean the lens with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. I’ll also take the camera into a dark room, extend the bellows, shine a bright flashlight inside, and look for pinholes. I’ll patch any I find with black fabric paint. That’s never a permanent fix, but I’ve had luck with it lasting a year or two in other cameras.

I am slightly concerned about the shutter, but it appears to be well sealed inside and not easily accessed for service. I’ll use a film with wide exposure latitude to cover myself. I have plenty of Ilford FP4 Plus in the freezer; it should do well. It’s all in 120, but I have some spare 620 spools and it’s simple enough to respool 120 onto a 620 spool in a dark bag.

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