Musings from our first three years

Since I first wrote the webpage for my website here at Spring Lake, N.J., I’ve wanted to write a few follow-ups/corrections, and additions to that first venture three years ago. So I said to the wife, “Let’s go to Spring Lake!” She was ready in seconds and booked us at a very nice B&B, The Spring Lake Inn on Salem Ave, two blocks from the beach. Well, the B&B’s at Spring Lake are all very nice, this one has a very nice porch where I can sit and use my laptop (they have wireless internet, so that’s a super plus for me). My wife goes to the beach and sits in the sun or strolls the six blocks of Main Street where there are lots of artsy stores, not quite like New Hope, PA, but very nice and high class – and I get time to write for the website.

My work repairing/refurbishing folders takes up so much of my time, that writing at home is just not “relaxing.” Spending about 3 hours per day searching the internet and answering e-mails about this and that camera, while still fun, leaves little incentive to sit down and write more text about cameras. Hence, it’s in the tranquility of Spring Lake that I can sit down uninterrupted and write.

Since I started my retirement “business” of repairing/refurbishing classic folders, I have usually been swamped with repair orders, there are usually at least 15+ cameras sitting in a pile waiting for service. As I often state in my eBay auctions, I try to stay on top of things and get the repairs done as soon as possible, but I do not do this as a 9-5 job. Often I will have work to do on the internet – or the garden calls. Rather it’s, “honey, could you do this, it’ll only take 10 minutes”and a day later I’m still doing this or that chore…

When I receive a camera for repair, I usually do not open the package until I am ready to work on it . The package arrives and it is marked with the date of arrival and stacked with that month’s arrivals. It’s far too easy to “lose” a camera when it is unpacked and sitting along with the 400+ folders I have in inventory. Much better to leave it in its box till I am ready to work on it. It is usual that a camera will sit waiting its turn for two to three weeks.. and sometimes more. Overall though, I find that my turn-a-round time is less than the industry average. I sent a Contax IIa out for service and was told that the wait time would be something like 14 months!!!! I thought at the time that that was a tad excessive… But then got to thinking realistically. There are really only a few of us doing this type of repair work today. And to keep from going batty, you can’t do this 12 hours a day, everyday. For me at least, this IS a hobby. I do it because I like doing it – not because my livelihood depends on it. Most of the “profit” from this hobby goes into materials (especially new bellows), spare parts (cameras), and tools. I spend about $15,000 a year just on postage, and another $13,000 just for bellows!!

2018 Certo6 Repair Guidelines

Repairs usually begin with an e-mail where the customer describes his camera and what they think the problem is and an inquiry as to cost and turn-a-round time. After several e-mails, they are ready to send the camera. Often though, the camera arrives without anything in the box except the camera… no name, letter, address, or particularly, e-mail address. When you send a camera, please include a description of the problem and your e-mail address. Please also realize that the turn-around time can be as much as 8 weeks. Fortunately most customers are very good about that. However, if you must have the camera back by a certain time because of vacation or whatever, I will usually try to expedite things.

When I CLA (Clean, Lubricate, and Adjust) a camera, it involves a strip-down of the camera, especially the viewfinder/rangefinder, bellows, transport mechanism, lens, and shutter. These are then cleaned. The principle “tool” for cleaning a lens, aside from disassembly, is optical cleaning fluid, lens cloths (from ZEISS), and Q-tips. Q-tips are an important tool and there’s really no substitute. However, on occasion customers have e-mailed me after receiving their camera back and having actuated the shutter several times, that they have noticed “fibers” in the lens. Unfortunately, this does happen on occassion that after cleaning (which includes high pressure air blowing), those pesky fibers remain hidden in the lens and rise after the customer receives their camera back. This is a simple thing to remedy… just send the camera back and I’ll take care of it. As I said, this happens, but thankfully not very often. If it does, don’t get bent out of shape… it’s an easy fix. The CLA of a shutter involves disassembly and cleaning with a caustic solution in an ultra-sonic bath to remove the 55+ years of accumulated dirt (no, I haven’t used the doggie dish for a long time !). There are a few websites and postings that advise cleaning the shutter in “lighter fluid!!” Everytime I read that I do a little cringe!!! The truth is that lighter fluid is meant to light cigars and cigarettes – not to clean shutters or watches! Just bathing in the lighter fluid does loosen some the dirt, true, but only for a while until the fluid dries and the dirt is still there and the shutter is back to where it was before you began. Back in the old days, my dad used to use lighter fluid “regularly” to clean his watch… I say “regularly” because it really didn’t clean the watch – it just loosened/softened the dirt for a while until the next bath. The simple matter is that the dirt must be removed from the mechanism. A bath doesn’t do it – it’s like getting in the bathtub without a washcloth!

Following the bath, any mechanical adjustments necessary are made. Lastly, I usually run the shutter through the electronic shutter tester – particularly the Compur, Compur-Rapid, and Synchro-Compur shutters. The Prontors on occasion, but these shutters are always so accurate after the CLA that running them through the shutter tester has proven to be redundant. I usually do not write down the tested shutter speeds from the shutter tester unless the customer specifically requests it.

Cleaning lenses is often pretty straightforward. Disassemble the elements and clean them individually with Zeiss optical cleaning fluid and optical cloth… I only use Zeiss cloths. Sometimes though, especially on Agfa Apotars and Solinars (though it happens with all makes) the coating is so light (or old) that a simple wipe will remove some of the coating and the lens then looks bespeckled (very disconcerting when that happens). Luckily it doesn’t happen often, but it DOES happen. If it’s one of my cameras, I usually then throw the lens away as it is not “sellable,” even though it is still perfectly fine for taking pictures. People just don’t like to see the speckles even though the film doesn’t see them. If it’s a customer’s lens, I replace it if I have a spare, but usually it’s… well, shit happens. I had a customer this past week who had sent me his Super Ikonta IV with a nice looking f3.5/75mm Tessar. Looked good until I cleaned it and upon reassembly I noticed a ring that looked like a film of some sort – perfectly round – on the rear element. Looked like it could be just cleaned off. Tried the optical fluid and lens cloth cleaning method, but it wouldn’t come off. Turns out it’s a mild separation (the rear lens element of the Tessar is a lens group , not just an “element” – it’s two lenses cemented together). The customer intimated that the lens looked worse than when he sent it for service. Well, yes…with a “clean” lens, you could NOW see the separation!!! However, here again, in actual practice it is highly unlikely that the separation will be noticed in your pictures.

While the overwhelming major of my repairs work is on medium format folders, I do also work on classic 35mm folders from Voigtlander, Agfa, Balda, Kodak, Certo, and a few others.

The Origins of this Website

In August of 2003 my wife again forced me to take her to her favorite place on the New Jersey shore, Spring Lake. Actually my favorite too. I personally hate the beach… love seashores that are scenic marvels. So we kinda compromise, she lays on the beach all day and I go off and search for places to photograph. Unlike the shoreline of Maine, or my favorite… Newfoundland, Canada, the Jersey shore at Spring Lake offers no natural wonders to entice me to take the camera out of the bag. However, Spring Lake does offer many man made wonders in the beautiful and manicured homes that are merely yards away from the beach. Staying in Spring Lake is almost only possible in Bed and Breakfast facilities. While over the years we’ve stayed in quite a few, my favorite is the White Lilac. It’s actually further from the beach than many, but its rooms are as nice as any — it has on premises parking and the owner / staff are utmost friendly and helpful.

So, while my wife did her thing on the beach… I spent the days riding around shooting all those man made wonders, the palatial homes to the “rich & probably not so famous” of Spring Lake. And at night I spent starting to write this text for my website. My objective was to shoot several shots with each of a number of folders that I normally service and sell.

The purpose of this site is to discuss the folders that I regularly service and sell… and USE!