Photography

Repaired: Certo Super Sport Dolly

Certo Super Sport DollyWoot! 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!

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Certo Super Sport Dolly, Model A

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What I like about old folding cameras is how elemental they are. You get a lens and a shutter, but everything else is up to you. Plus, even the most straightforwardly styled of them look elegant.

It’s like having a beautiful but difficult girlfriend. Especially when something’s wrong in the relationship and she leaves it entirely up to you to fix it. That’s how it has gone for me with this Certo Super Sport Dolly.

Certo Super Sport Dolly

Certo was a German company, headquartered in Dresden. It produced a wide range of Super Sport Dollys (Dollies?) from about 1934 to about 1942. Mine is a Model A, the most common version by far. It takes 120 film. SSDs could be had with a dizzying array of lenses and shutters, but mine happens to feature the most common lens, the capable 75mm f/2.9 Meyer Görlitz Trioplan, set in the most comon shutter, a Compur, which operates from 1 to 1/250 second.

Certo also offered the Model B, which adds the ability to use plate film, and the Model C, which adds to the Model B the ability to rewind rollfilm. Most SSDs have a pop-up viewfinder, but the Models A and C could be had with rangefinders. And some SSDs focus by twisting the front lens element, and others focus by moving the entire lens board.

Certo Super Sport DollyCerto Super Sport Dolly

But back to my Model A. Notice the three frame-counter windows on the back, behind a door that covers them. Masks that clip on inside the camera let the SSD create either portrait 4.5×6-cm or square 6×6-cm negatives. The top and bottom windows count 4.5×6 frames and the center window counts 6×6 frames. My SSD came with only the 6×6 mask. New SSDs shipped with an exposure calculator card inside the door. As you can see, my SSD’s original owner replaced that card with some personal exposure notes.

Certo Super Sport Dolly

My SSD shows signs of heavy use and rough service. But the lens is clear and focuses smoothly. And the shutter snaps with square-jawed, steely-eyed authority. It sounds like it means business. It’s the Charles Bronson of shutters.

But before I could use this SSD, I had to repair it. The focusing mechanism was broken. I outlined the repair here. Once fixed, it behaved beautifully.

Ektar 100 is probably my favorite film for testing medium-format cameras because its exposure latitude leaves plenty of margin for error. I used a light-meter app on my iPhone as I shot my SSD, but Ektar would have let me confidently go commando with Sunny 16.

I shot this roll at Crown Hill Cemetery on an overcast day late last autumn. Just look at the great sharpness that Trioplan lens delivered. The bokeh is middling, though.

Test

I found it hard to frame in the tiny viewfinder. I worried that close shots would be misframed, and I was right. My framing of landscape shots turned out fine, though.

Autumn tree in Crown Hill

I shot a lot of landscapes to check the SSD’s infinity focus. A complete repair of the focusing system would have included properly collimating the lens. That sounded like a hassle so I set infinity focus quickly and dirtily. It turned out okay.

Autumn tree in Crown Hill

Oh bother, a light leak. See it there, on the right, about 4/5 of the way down? There really isn’t much to go wrong with a simple camera like this, but bellows pinholes is one of the most common problems. My cursory initial check of the camera didn’t find any pinholes, but I suppose that’s the problem with cursory checks.

Lane in Crown Hill

This throwaway shot of cars in my driveway shows the leak at its leakiest.

Cars

If you’d like to see more, check out my Certo Super Sport Dolly gallery.

I really liked using the SSD, and so here soon I’ll take it into a dark room and shine a bright flashlight into the bellows to look for pinholes. And then I’ll seal them with dabs of black fabric paint. And then I’ll spool in another roll of Ektar take this beautiful old girl out. Because beautiful old girls do love to be taken out.

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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 DollyLast 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!)

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

32290007-proc

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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