My repair and renovation “business” grew out of my desire to use the wonderful old folders I’d pick up at flea markets… and especially on eBay. I quickly found out that the Agfa Isolettes that were offered and won at such low prices were low because they didn’t work right… a no-brainer, DUH! You don’t get anything for nothing… most of the time. So I started to fix these lovely little pocket folders and one thing led to another as they say. I also have to admit that the learning curve was paved by a number of cameras that were sacrificed to that learning curve… they now serve as parts cameras!!!!
Most of the cameras that I work with are the Agfa Isolettes, though Zeiss cameras are catching up in volume. The most common problems with folders are:
- Frozen, or at least stiff, focus lens helical
- Dirty, Sticky shutter
- Leaky bellows
Almost every Isolette has a bad bellows, the ratio of good to bad bellows is something like 1:50, and that’s no exaggeration, no matter what the eBay seller description tells you!!!! Most other maker’s folders only occasionally need a new bellows. As to shutters…no matter which model shutter, be it a Pronto or a Synchro-Compur, after 50 years, they need to be cleaned and sometimes adjusted. A shutter is an open mechanism that “allows” dust and microscopic dirt to enter… plus the constant abrasion of metal upon metal operation of the shutter and you will have a build up of dirt that will eventually retard the speeds of the shutter.
Shooting lighter fluid or powered graphite into the shutter is a momentary solution… for a few days! The shutter must be partially disassembled and the parts flushed. I do it electronically with a rather powerful medium that, unlike lighter fluid, does not leave any residue… but the fumes sure get my wife a tad upset!!
Lens elements usually must also be cleaned, reassembled, and them collimated for proper focusing. When cleaning these 50 year old lenses I have discovered a rather disconcerting problem… in some cases, and it matters not the maker or lens type, the lens coating either is or has become so soft, that even a “light” attempt at cleaning the lens will remove some of the coating… and this usually only happens on the inner element. Don’t know why!
Another “item of interest”, people often ask me “does the lens have dust?” As a famous American once said…”let me make this perfectly clear….”, every lens has dust in it, especially folders. The lenses are set into a shutter, which has open crevices to the outside world and shutter blades whirling about inside … of course it has dust.
One particular morning I awoke and brilliant rays of sunshine were pouring in through the window, cool I said! As I stepped out of bed and was at a right angle to the rays I gasped in horror and those rays were loaded with trillions of miniscule dust particles…Golly, I said to myself in my best colloquialism, we breathe those in. You think your lens in immune! For the same reasons, you can usually see these dust particles when shining a flashlight into the lens. That’s why the “Photo show” buyer has a flashlight, so he can “devalue” your lens and steal it from you at a lower price!! I got a Rolleiflex f1.4/50mm Planar once that had a loose spiral spring, some odd hardened liquid bubbles, dust, and a unidentified German insect in the lens … more nasty stuff that the average lens you would agree. I took the lens to Dresden (Germany) and used it, just to see how it would perform. The results are here to see (there’s also the same picture taken with a Super Baldax w/ Ennagon lens just for comparison)! Same result with an Agfa Isolette III whose f3,5 /75mm Solinar lens than I had “ruined” (as in not saleable) with the skipping Dremel tool across the lens. That Solinar performed flawlessly with no hint whatsoever that it was badly gouged by the dremel bit. Would I buy that lens on a camera – no, but my point is don’t spazz out because the lens has dust or mottled coating spots on it… it WILL MAKE NO DIFFERENCE IN YOUR PICTURES ! Only your ego will notice!