Collecting Cameras

Deep inside my Nikon F2A

Sover Wong photo

When my wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I told her that I wanted to send my Nikon F2A to Sover Wong for an overhaul. Sover is the world’s premier Nikon F2 repairman. The overhaul was expensive, but when my camera returned it was factory clean and functioned like new.

Nikon F2

This F2A joined my collection in 2013 as an incredibly generous donation from a reader. He enjoyed my blog and my SLR adventures, and wondered whether I was F2 material. “Many are called, but few are chosen,” he said to me. I loved using this camera — turns out I was chosen.

The “A” in F2A means that my camera comes with the DP-11 metering “head.” That’s the black contraption atop the camera with “Nikon” spelled out in white letters. The prism and meter are inside. Nikon made a number of other F2 models with different letter suffixes; each used a different head.

My DP-11’s meter was never quite right, so when the same reader gave me a beautiful F2AS already overhauled by Sover Wong, I turned to it and left the F2A on a shelf. But I knew I’d eventually send it to Sover. I just didn’t know it would take me seven years to get around to it!

When Sover put my F2A on his workbench, he first tested it and emailed me his findings. The meter was off by about a stop. The shutter was reasonably accurate at 1/125 sec and below, but not at faster speeds. The top two speeds didn’t work at all. Sover set to work, emailing me photographs every step of the way. He disassembled and cleaned everything, installed new foam seals and bumpers, put in new CdS metering cells, calibrated the meter, calibrated the shutter, lubricated the works, and made sure things like the frame counter, the timer, and the depth-of-field preview button worked right. He even installed fresh batteries. He did all of this work in just a few hours.

When the F2A arrived, it was clean — if it weren’t for the bit of brassing it had picked up from its years of use, you would have thought it was new. It even smelled new, thanks probably to the scent of the lubricant he used. I put a roll of Ilford FP4+ into it straightaway and took it on a photo walk. Every control felt solid and snappy. My F2A was in okay shape before I sent it to him; the controls were solid before the overhaul. But after the overhaul, they were all noticeably more crisp and precise.

I developed that roll of FP4+ today (by which I mean the day I am writing this, Nov. 13), so I’ll have images to show soon!

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Film Photography

When you shoot old gear, you have to expect it will develop faults sooner or later

Nikon F3, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Superia Venus 800

I took my Nikon F3 along on a trip to Chicago with Margaret early this month. I shot two rolls of color and one of black and white in it. The color rolls are back from the processor and immediately upon opening the files my heart sank.

Dollars to doughnuts my F3’s light seals have failed. This red streak appears in direct proportion to how long it was since I made the previous photo. A photo made quickly after a previous photo didn’t leave enough time for light to sneak past the failed seal.

I’m going to try to replace the seals myself. I’ve never done it before, but I’ve read instructions and it looks tedious but totally within my skills. A set of seals with instructions were just $12 on eBay (here). Many thanks to everyone who has “bought me a coffee” with the button at the bottom of each post for your part in buying those seals!

This makes me realize, however, that I should send my F3 out for CLA (clean, lube, and adjustment). This is one of my go-to cameras — indeed, it’s the only camera I’d keep if I could keep only one. I want it to work reliably for the long haul. The friend who donated the F3 to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras suggested Blue Moon Camera and Machine for the CLA, and so that is where it will go.

Several cameras are in my CLA/repair queue. First up: my Nikon F2A, which has had a fussy meter for as long as I’ve owned it. It’ll go to Sover Wong in the UK. Eric Hendrickson will eventually get both my Pentax KM, which I dropped and damaged the last time I used it, and and my Pentax ME-F, which has an inaccurate meter. I also want to send my Yashica Lynx 14e to Mark Hama to give it an overhaul and correct its meter, which is a stop off.

I have also received a Pentax ME Super and a Kodak Retina IIa from a reader, both of which minor issues. I’ll put test rolls through both as soon as I can, but I’ll be shocked if I don’t enjoy them and want to keep them. They’ll end up in the CLA queue too. The Pentax will go to Eric Hendrickson but the Retina will go to Chris Sherlock in New Zealand.

Finally, my sister-in-law gave me the Kodak Retina Reflex III that had been her father’s. My initial inspection shows that it basically works, though the meter is hit or miss. I’ll eventually put a test roll through it. If it functions well enough mechanically, I’ll send it to Chris Sherlock for overhaul in honor of the family connection.

Readers left lots of great suggestions about where to send cameras for CLAs and repairs in this post.

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Film Photography

Using Sunny 16 to check your camera’s meter

Something might not be right with the meter on my black Olympus OM-1. I’ve taken it out lately on some bright days and the exposure settings that give me that horizontal needle in the viewfinder aren’t agreeing with the Sunny 16 rule.

Olympus OM-1

I’ve said for years that I want to get better at reading the light with my eyes and setting exposure manually. It would let me shoot any non-metered camera in my collection without having to fumble with an external meter. But it also alerts me when one of my old cameras’ meters might not be accurate anymore.

I expect most photographers who learn this skill start with Sunny 16. I did, and I have it down well enough. I’ve even occasionally adapted it down to f/8 as the resulting faster shutter speeds are sometimes useful. (See Mike Eckman’s useful article on his “Outdoor Eight Rule” here for a dead-simple related technique.)

My OM-1’s meter doesn’t appear to be so far off that the good exposure latitude of the Kodak ColorPlus film inside shouldn’t cover it. I’m relying on the meter to see what happens.

But it’s very nice to know that I can sanity check any camera’s meter against Sunny 16 and adjust my shooting accordingly — even “go commando” and ignore the meter if I must.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Sunny 16 rule, here it is. Most negative films, both black and white and color, have enough margin to give you a usable image with these settings.

First, set the shutter to about the inverse of your film’s ISO. So for ISO 100, set the shutter to 1/100 or 1/125, whichever one your camera has. For ISO 200, it’s 1/200 or 1/250. For ISO 400, I don’t know a camera that has 1/400 so go with 1/500. Close enough is good enough.

On a normal sunny day where you see distinct shadows, set the aperture to f/16. On a cloudy day when the shadows soften, go with f/11. On a heavily cloudy day when the shadows are barely visible, use f/8. When it’s overcast enough there are no visible shadows, use f/5.6. A final tip: if the sun is blazingly bright and glaring, go with f/22 if you have it.

If you learn this well enough, you too can easily sanity check the meter on any camera you own. Set the ISO to 100, gauge the light and guess the shutter speed you should use at f/16, and then:

  • On a full manual camera, set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed according to the Sunny 16 rule and see where the exposure indicator lines up. If all’s well it should indicate close to proper exposure.
  • On an aperture priority camera, set the aperture to f/16 and see what shutter speed the camera chooses. If all’s well it should choose something close to 1/100 on a sunny day, 1/50 on a cloudy day, 1/25 on a heavily cloudy day, and down from there.
  • On a shutter priority camera, set the shutter according to the Sunny 16 rule and see what aperture the camera chooses. If all’s well it should choose something close to f/16 on a sunny day, f/11 on a cloudy day, and on from there.

Sunny 16 isn’t exact science. When I say “close” above, I mean within a stop or maybe even two of correct exposure. But if you set your camera to 1/100 and f/16 on a sunny day and the camera indicates strong over- or under-exposure, either you have a bad battery or your meter is faulty.

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Collecting Cameras

The most expensive free camera ever


Old Camera Rule No. 1: never force anything that seems to be stuck. But I was so sure that I knew better this time. The result: a broken battery door.

This Pentax ME F is a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras. It came with a 35-70mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax AF Zoom lens that, because focus motors were in the lens itself, made this kit the first mass-produced autofocus 35mm SLR. It’s a historic camera, and until that moment mine had been in mint condition.

After I finished beating myself up for my stupidity, I bought a non-functional ME F on eBay. When it arrived I robbed it of its battery door. It’s easy: remove the three screws that secure the bottom plate and there it is. You need first remove a tiny metal clip and then the door lifts right out. I repeated the procedure on the minty ME F and then swapped in the good door.

Before I could screw the bottom plate back on I accidentally bumped the battery-door release button, a tiny piece of black plastic, and knocked it off. That revealed the ittiest-bittiest, teeniest-tiniest spring I’ve ever seen. I picked up the button with my fat fingers and gently lowered it over that spring. I must have nicked that spring, as it vanished instantly. It was there, and then it simply wasn’t. I spent a few fruitless minutes searching for it.

But no worries: the parts camera’s spring was still intact. This time I used fine needle-nose pliers to remove the button, gently grasp that spring, and gently set it in place in the good camera.

But as I released the pliers, that spring instantly disappeared as well. I didn’t even see it go. As I stared right at it, it suddenly wasn’t there. I sat dumbfounded for a minute. Then I spent an hour combing my desk, the surrounding furniture, and the floor.

I had no luck. I know those springs have to be here somewhere, but I don’t know what else I can do to find them. So I went back on eBay and bought yet another ME F for parts. It arrived last week. I haven’t mustered the courage yet to try again with that tiny spring.

Maybe I should send both cameras off to premier Pentax repairman Eric Hendrickson and have him set that infernal spring. The meter needs calibrated anyway. Maybe he’ll buy both of my parts cameras to reduce my bill!

Film Photography

Repaired: Certo Super Sport Dolly

Certo Super Sport Dolly

Woot! Woot woot woot! I’ve licked all of the problems with my Certo Super Sport Dolly.

First it was a broken element in the focusing system. And then there was a pesky light leak. I’ve vanquished both.

The light leak was caused by some tiny holes in the bellows where it attaches to the body. A little black fabric paint closed those holes.

And so I dropped in some Kodak Tri-X 400…and then did nothing with the camera for weeks. I chose Tri-X because we were in a stretch of lousy weather, and I figured a fast film would work fine in the gloomy light. But the very moment I loaded the roll, the sun came out and blazed bright for days. Does Tri-X control the weather? Given the camera’s 1/250 sec. top shutter speed, my exposure options would be strictly limited.

When I had to drive up to Burlington for a meeting of the Historic Michigan Road Association, I decided to heck with it and took the SSD with me. I shot two thirds of the roll on the Michigan Road at the minimum aperture, f/22, and fastest shutter speed, 1/250 sec., and even that overexposed the film by a stop. But Tri-X is resilient.

Burlington, IN

After the meeting we toured the 1848 “American House,” which is being restored and will eventually be a museum and maybe a B&B. Boy, the house is in rough condition inside.

The 1848

I drove up to Michigantown, where this tidy Christian Church lurked on a side street.

Christian Church

And of course I stopped in Kirklin. It might just be my favorite little town on all of the Michigan Road. I’ve photographed this building many times.

Truck Parked

I wanted to see how the camera performed in light better suited to the film. As dawn broke one morning, I stepped onto my porch to photograph my garden. There was scarcely enough light; the in-focus patch was narrow.

Front Garden

A little past sunrise, the sky overcast and gray, I photographed my car just beyond my blooming peonies.

Ford Among the Peonies

Many thanks to Mike Connealy for his assistance making this Super Sport Dolly work again!

Collecting Cameras

Repairing the focus stop on a Certo Super Sport Dolly

Even though I’m not a fan of repairing my old cameras when they’re not working right, for an especially interesting camera I will do simple repairs that require tools I already own.

Certo Super Sport Dolly

Last year my friend Alice’s dad sent me all of his old cameras. He just loaded them all into a giant padded box and FedExed them to me. I’ve reviewed a couple of them here already. One I was especially excited to recieve was a Certo Super Sport Dolly, Model A, a 1930s folding camera for 120 film. Fellow photoblogger Mike Connealy owns more than one and makes wonderful black-and-whites with them. Its 75mm f/2.9 Meyer-Gorlitz Trioplan lens, set in a Compur shutter that fires as fast as 1/250 sec., is pretty capable.

I could see that this Super Sport Dolly showed wear consistent with heavy use, but the shutter sounded surprisingly snappy and a cursory check of the bellows revealed no light leaks. Those are the big things that can go wrong with cameras like this. So I loaded some Kodak Ektar and went out to shoot.

And then I turned the lens’s outer element to focus the camera — and realized that nothing stopped it from turning. It should turn no more than one revolution. I ended up accidentally unscrewing it from the camera. D’oh!

So I emailed Mike to see if he had any advice for me. He had better than advice: he accurately guessed what the problem was and told me he’d be happy to send me a part from his stash of spares to fix it. Thanks Mike!

It turns out that a ring in the lens assembly includes a stop tab, and that the lens’s outer element includes a pip that stops against that tab. I saw a pip, but no tab. Following Mike’s instructions I removed the front two lens elements to discover a broken ring inside. (In this photo, no part of the lens glass is touching the table!)


Mike sent me a good ring. It’s on the left. On the right, well, you know. How in hades does a part like this break?


I didn’t think to photograph the disassembly, but I did photograph the reassembly. Here’s the camera with both front elements and the stop ring removed. Note the white pointer just south of 3 o’clock on the camera’s face. It’s just a sticker. It is almost certainly a makeshift focusing reference point added after that ring broke.


The stop ring simply sits in this hole, held in place by the inner element. I used a dinner knife to tighten the element. Its blunt blade was the right thickness and was long enough. But you can see I marked up the slots a little bit getting it screwed in.


Then I used my fingers to screw in the outer element. Now, you can’t just screw in the element any old way, and have the stop pip and tab any old place, and expect the camera to focus accurately. Really, you have to collimate the lens. This involves placing a ground glass in the film plane, pointing the camera at something far away, and twisting the lens until the ground glass shows everything at infinity is sharp. That sounded like a lot of hassle. And besides, that roll of Ektar was still in the camera! I hated to waste it.


Fortunately, Mike gave me a quick and dirty way to set the lens set well enough. He said that the outer element would screw in at three different starting points. I could use any of them I wanted, but since I had to tighten the inner element against the stop tab ring first, he recommended using the thread point that placed the stop pip near 12 o’clock. His experience was backing the stop pip off a hair gave accurate enough infinity focus.

So I screwed in the outer element until I got it in that positon, and saw that the stop pip wound up just a hair shy of 12 o’clock. So then I unscrewed the outer element, loosened the inner element, and moved the stop ring to a hair off that pip’s final position. Then I had to unscrew and rescrew that outer element repeatedly until that pip wound up at near 12 o’clock again.

About that stop pip. You see it in the photo above at about 8 o’clock. You have to remove it from the outer element, screw the outer element in most of the way, and then screw the pip back in. Otherwise, the pip blocks you from screwing in the outer element all the way.

This pip is an itty bitty bit of metal. Fortunately, it is slotted on the end. My ittiest-bittiest jeweler’s screwdriver just fit that slot. Unfortunately, that screwdriver isn’t magnetized, so it was guts and glory screwing that pip out and in without losing it. My entire catalog of four-letter words was poised and ready should challenges with this step have made them necessary. Fortunately the pip came out and went in with only a little drama, reserving my words for another more frustrating day.

One reason, but certainly not the only one, that I don’t do more camera repair is that I really don’t like hearing those four-letter words come out of my mouth.

I took the Super Sport Dolly to Crown Hill Cemetery on a chilly late-autumn day to finish the roll of film. I shot at stuff near and far and then sent the roll off for processing and scanning. I don’t want to throw the processor under the bus so I won’t name it, but they kind of botched the scans. They apologized deeply and told me to send the negatives right back to them for rescanning. And then their medium-format scanner broke. That was two weeks before Christmas. The lab owner told me a harrowing tale of scanner repair and re-repair, but promises that the scans are finally in the mail.

But here’s one photo from the original scans that turned out well enough to show that focus is pretty good at infinity. The faraway details are a little soft, but that could be part of the scans’ many problems. Click it to see it at full scan size.


It also shows a slight light leak. See it there, on the right, about 4/5 of the way down? It’s faint in this shot but more pronounced in others. So now I get to try to find that leak. I’m betting it’s in the bellows. Mike tells me a bright flashlight in a dark room should find it, and a dab of black fabric paint should fix it right up. That job should be easy enough not to need any four-letter words.

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