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.