Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fixing a Sticky Mirror on a Pentax ES Film Camera

The Pentax Spotmatic was a break-through camera in the 1960's with it's behind-the-lens metering system. For a moment in time, parent company Asahi surged ahead of the market leaders Canon and Nikon. But the 42mm universal screw-thread mount for their lenses would end up causing some engineering trouble when it came to offering an automatic exposure model. With a couple of small changes to their house lenses, Pentax was able to create the ES model (Electronic Shutter or Electronic Spotmatic, if you prefer) around 1971. 

 The Pentax ES was a stunning beauty. Some special machining allowed certain new lenses to seat on the body with exact alignment to permit aperture-preferred automation (you choose the lens opening, the camera picks the shutter speed). It worked great.

[The Pentax "K" series a few years later solved all the engineering problems of automating with single-pin M42 screw-mount lenses by dumping the special ES mount in favor of a completely new bayonet arrangement.]

Production of the wonderful ES only happened for a few years and the price for this technology was high. Sales were restricted to well-heeled enthusiasts or pros. Thus, a Pentax ES is not easy to come by for vintage camera collectors; so I was shocked to see an example at a local garage sale going for $2. It came complete with it's case, a Honeywell electronic flash and instruction book.The owner said the camera was jammed; the mirror would not come down but the shutter worked fine. Well, as a shelf queen it looked great and the price was certainly right.

A little internet investigation revealed that an ES mirror stuck in the up position could be cured. Quite often, the bearings on the shutter drum/spindles just needed lubricating. The gear at the end of the assembly sticks slightly so that the mirror operation never gets a chance to cycle completely. Sometimes this occurs at one shutter speed, often at all. A touch of oil is all that's needed on the bearings to help clear the problem.

Before assuming you need to do surgery, first try taking the camera off the automatic setting and wind and shoot using the manual speeds. If that doesn't work proceed to the information below. 

Now, I'm no camera repair expert and you're on your own with regard to how successful this is and how good your mechanical skills are. But all you'll need is a small screwdriver and some light oil. It's a pretty easy amateur operation.

The Process

First remove the four screws on the bottom plate of the camera with a very small Philips-type screwdriver (jeweler's type). Lift the bottom plate off straight up. You'll now see a green circuit board covering the guts of the camera.

Next remove the three screws holding the circuit board. Once done, the assembly is free to be lifted up. Lift the left edge slightly (in order to clear the tripod socket assembly in the middle) and pull the circuit board gently to the left to disconnect it from the electrical connector. 

Go slowly, do not force anything. It should separate with a calm, even tug or with a wiggle.


The target for the oil is a gear located to the lower-left of the tripod socket. You're trying to reach ball bearings between the gear and the large screw center. Yep, those are some mighty small bearings.

Using some form of hypodermic, pin, penpoint, flat-head jeweler's screwdriver, etc., apply a very, very small amount/beadof thin lubricant to the area just outside of the screw that holds down the shutter drum/shutter spindle arrangement. 

I realize that you might want to know what kind of Lubricant to use. It's easier to say what I would NOT use: lithium type, graphite, 3-in1, and especially WD-40. Bad choices. You're looking for very thin oil, nealy as runny as water. Sewing machine oil might fill the bill if you can find it. I just happen to have some specialty machine tool lubricant given to me by a friend.

OK, a very small drop is what you're after. You don't want to douse the bearings. Wipe up any extra lubricant off the face of the gear with a cotton swab. 

Test the shutter a couple of times. If the mirror returns to the typical down position after the release - success! That's it! Simply reassemble the circuit board and bottom plate in the reverse order from the first step.

If the mirror still stays up, well you haven't damaged the camera, but the problem is likely located at the other end of the spindle drum, deep inside the camera. That's a professional fix. Sorry.

Hopefully, you'll find that your ES will spring back to life. The ability to make a repair like this to a forty-plus year-old camera is testimony to the wonderful precision engineering by Pentax. Good luck on your example.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ego Smack-Down at the State Fair

My family and I always make it a point to visit the Minnesota State Fair each year. Over one million of our fellow citizens go and its the absolute best place to watch people and eat food that's decidedly bad for you.

After a couple hours of munching corn dogs and taking a dare to eat something like fried Spam on a stick, I tend to break away for a half-hour and head for the Fine Arts Building at a far corner of the property. It's my annual "I'm not worthy" tour.

The Fine Arts Building is a wonderful old square brick structure about the size of a very large chain restaurant. At one time, it may have been dedicated to display something more agricultural in nature but now it's a "yuppified" mecca for art types and art wanna-bees like me.

Amateurs from around the state submit works of all kinds for competition. I've seen some spectacular carvings, sculpture and paintings over the years. Naturally, I'm drawn to the photography. Every year I an very impressed with the depth and quality of the images my fellow Minnesotans can create. But it makes me envious of their talent. I love photographic technology. Love it. I just can't seem to take a picture that's any damn good.

The worst is when I've seen photos taken in my own hometown of places I see everyday. But it's the way the photographer saw the same location or subject and translated it into something with so much better lighting, a far more interesting viewpoint and a perfect cropping that floors me. Same place, better eye.

By the time I reach the exit, I'm a muttering old guy with a crinkled, unhappy face and festering revenge growing in my heart. I tend to get angry - at my own lack of ability.

"Just once," I say with my index finger pointed skyward, "just once I'm going to take a photo as good as that one over there and submit it to the fair. That'll show 'em." I never do. I'll spend weeks afterward scouring flickr or photo.net for inspiration. By Christmas, the fair will be far enough behind me that my resolve fades.

So I was telling all this to my wife as we drove home from this year's fair. We've been together for over 30-years, so she's heard the rant easily more than two-dozen times. While still concentrating on her knitting, she said, "Well just think how that stop at the Fine Arts Building every year helps get you out and take photos again. And I think your photos are very nice."

Bless her.

She's right. The Minnesota State Fair is my personal demon that spurs me on to try and take better images. I may not ever have a photo hang on the wall in late August a the fair, but I can always get a blue ribbon from a judge I most admire. Good enough for me.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The All-American Craftex Hollywood Reflex


Found this in an antique store on sale for $9. Was going to pass on it until I picked it up. The Hollywood Reflex is a metal-bodied camera with an interesting mix of substantial metal parts that don’t function, coupled with cheap stamped/bent sheetmetal parts that are functional. The camera used 620 format rollfim to take images. A look inside the film chamber indicates an affiliation with Ansco for the choice of film you should use in it.

Also known as the Hollywood Sportsman, the Hollywood Reflex/Hollywood Sportsman was manufactured in – amazingly – Hollywood, California. From some reading, it appears this camera was made in the late 1940’s, most likely 1947. Although it looks like a twin lens reflex (TLR), it’ doesn’t focus the viewing lens, only the taking lens. This is similar to other American-made cameras, such as the Argus 40.
The lens is indicated on the bezel of the taking lens to be an 80mm Achromat; a fancy way of saying the lens is marginally better than one that’s not there at all. You have a choice of two f-stops: f/11 and f/16. So, this would be an ‘over the shoulder, full sunshine’ type of camera. To set the f-stop, you move a lever on the taking lens. 

As for shutter speeds, you get two: ‘Instant’ (about 1/50th), and ‘Time’ (shutter stays open until you release it. To focus the camera, you merely turn the lens to an estimated distance. A post on the bezel prevents you from unscrewing the lens completely. On my example, the post-stop on the lens is missing and the lens itself focuses far too easily. There seems to be a flash synchronization port just under the shutter release on the front of the camera. I’m not sure what type it is. I’m also not sure why anyone would waste their time using a flash with this camera.

The body of the camera is a hefty cast metal with that crackly paint so popular in the pre- and post-WWII era. To open the back, you push in a large metal button on the bottom of the camera next to the tripod mount. Loading and unloading film is easy with the very open film chamber. The back, however comes completely off when loading film. No problem if you have a helper or are fortunate enough to have the genetic predisposition to have grown a third hand. As with many TLR rollfilm cameras, there’s a red filtered porthole to view the exposure numbers on the film backing as they pass by. No double-exposure prevention mechanism came with the camera.

The viewfinder has the pop-up metal shrouds to improve viewing that most TLRs came with. The view is still very dark inside with the camera’s ground-glass screen. As a bonus, you can flip up a visor on the front of the viewfinder cover and view your subject by eyeballing your composition from the back of the finder through the front. Again, this was typical of most TLR cameras of the time.

Even with its many short-comings, the Hollywood Reflex has a certain charm to it that overshadows its committee-looking design and breezy construction style. This was a camera not aimed at any serious kind of photographer. I am very glad to have an example, if for no other reason, it does strongly evoke the feeling of a bye-gone era.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A visit to a NYC photo store icon

As a young man, I used to pour over various photography magazines: Popular Photography, Modern Photography, Camera 35, Peterson's Photographic, and others. Other than a focus on things photographic (no pun intended) they all tended to share large sections of the same multi-page ads each month, usually populating (dominating) the final pages of each publication. These ads were dense with camera and lens price listings, all pennies above cost - so it seemed. Back in the day, they were all mail-order purchases.

I vowed that some day, I'd try to visit one of these venerable stores. I thought that would be easy as it seemed almost all of the companies were packed into New York City. How hard would it be to find one? Why, there must be camera stores on every block, my youthful mind envisioned.

Over the years, I have visited NYC on business trips a few times. The city is amazing. I always enjoyed my stay, however brief. But I never had time to track down one of the photo stores listed in those various camera magazines. Until this month.

After attending a conference in NYC in the Chelsea district, I had just a bit of time in the early evening to be out on my own. Thanks to a cel phone with Google Maps, I located a couple of stores I remembered from those photo magazines of long ago. Both were not too far away; a short stroll up the avenues. Off I went. I had to hurry as these stores all close what I would consider to be early; around 7pm during weekdays.

My first stop was to be Adorama. They still have huge ad spreads in most photo publications just like the old days, only now with digital equipment. In my mind, I imagined that their headquarters store must be an enormous Macy's-sized structure. What with all those eager camera buyers in a city of millions, the store should, out of simple necessity, be huge. Nope, it's not. Not at all.

The shop is about mid-block with a bright blue awning over the door. After entering the store, you pass by a couple of obvious security guard who eye you as you pass to note any packages or other suspicious objects. The store, while very clean, modern and very well appointed, is made up of two rooms, each about the size of a good-sized Subway sandwich shop.

The first room comprises a series of sales check-out stations along one wall and various small counters with photo-related goods smattered about elsewhere, all arranged to provide aisles. The other room has counters along both long walls. You can look at professional photography items, darkroom equipment, picture frames, tripods, and vintage cameras with the assistance of clerks. Pretty much everything is segregated by manufacturer or by the type of product.

My interest was in the vintage film equipment. Not too surprising there. I found a small glass counter with some glass shelving behind it. The person manning the station was very knowledgeable and had about the same silvery hair color as my own. True, there were a couple items of relative rarity available on display, but I had imagined to find much, much more available in such a large city. After a good half-hour walking Adorama, I left empty-handed. Not unhappily, the store is perfectly fine. I'm the one with the expectations disconnect.

I cancelled my plans to scurry over to the other camera store and simply went back to the hotel. I learned that I had had it backwards all these years. With those big mail-order ads of yesteryear, with their present online marketing, there probably never was (nor should be) an emphasis at these type of camera stores to rely on walk-up sales. They're turning inventory behind the scenes at a rate that couldn't be achieved with potential tourist sales like mine.Like some things, my memories are better than my realities.

After dinner that evening, I went online and found everything of interest at Adorama displayed on my monitor. Plus, their eBay listings provided the hit of vintage gear I sought. Imagine that.

If I ever go back to NYC again, I will still seek out another of the camera stores I had on my 'must visit' list. I'll do so not so much out of shopping interest - I'll probably leave that to online transactions - but more like to pay my respects to those who fired my imagination.




Saturday, March 10, 2012

Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor - Ultimate Film Box Cameras

Box-Tengor 54-2 - 1934
Have been smitten by the Zeiss Ikon Box Tengors lately. I grew up with ubiquitous Kodak box cameras stored in closets or drawers throughout my parent's home. The Eastman's cardboard and wood construction and single 'you push the button, we do the rest' operation was honest to the goal of getting family photos made as easily and cheaply done as possible. Have no problem with that. Kodak box cameras - for the most part - are pretty interchangeable and lack any sort of attempt at style. That wasn't their purpose.

Flash forward to current day. I happened to purchase my first Box Tengor at an auction as part of a small lot of older cameras. My real target at the time was a pristine Argus CC 35mm camera in a large container. A dingy cube-shaped leather case came along with the winning bid of the CC. I soon realized this case contained a camera from the vaunted lineage of Zeiss Ikon - a Box Tengor. Wow. A very nice extra. An impressive camera.

For a 'simple' box camera, this was shockingly different than the Kodak boxes I knew. It offered a truly usable lens, took 120 film and had solid construction, along with more than enough elegant Euro-styling to silence any photo snobs nearby as whipped it out to take some snaps.

A trip to a local camera store resulted in the purchase of the next Tengor. This one was in even better shape and featured chrome accents. (sigh) Now I'm hooked. I'll be sure to keep my eye out for any online offerings or thrift store finds - though it seems these old Box-Tengors are not very plentiful in the US as they would naturally be in Europe.

Along with the camera came a ratty set of instructions. I've scanned them in their rather raw state for your review. Kodak never needed to shop instructions with their box cameras. With the Zeiss models, you definitely need to read-up before heading out to shoot.




Sunday, January 1, 2012

How to Pronounce that Camera Brand

Photography has long been a global marketplace, with Germany and Japan as dominant, long-time suppliers. Beyond sharing a wondrous industrial ability to manufacture precision optical devices, these two countries both have languages with sometimes difficult word pronunciation rules which elude many English speakers, particularly Americans like me.

So I though the list below might be of use. Please don't assume this is the final "word" on how to say certain brand names in their native language. I found this text in a folder from some old internet text file copies. The  attribution at the end states this text comes from an editor at Modern Photography around 1974. That would explain the inclusion of some brand names that were briefly popular during that time (for instance: Ehrenreich Photo-Optical company; the US distributor of Nikon).

Please don't send me a note arguing about the way to say any of these brand names. I'm not sure I agree, either. I mean, take a look at what's listed for Voigtlander. My mouth still hurts. Enjoy.

Accura - AH kyoo ruh
Adox - AY docks
Aetna - etna
Agfa - AHG fuh
Aires - EYE ress
Angenieux - ahn jhen YEW
Asahi - AH sa hee
Atoron - AH toe run
Baia - bah EE ah
Beaulieu - bowl YEW
Berthiot - bear tee YO
Beseler - BESS ler
Bewi - BEE wee
Bilora - bee LAU ra
Bolex - BO lecks
Braun - brown
Bronica - bu RON i ca
Brovira - bro VIE ruh
Canon - cannon
Capro - CAP ro
Carena - kuh REE nuh
Cinovid - SEE no vid
Contarex - CON ta recks
Copal - CO pah ru
Cosina - co SHEE na
Dacora - dah CO ruh
De Jur - duh Jhoor
Eclair - ay Clare
Edixa - eh DICK suh
Eumig - OY mig
Exakta - egg ZOCK tuh
Ehrenreich - AY ren reyesh
Fujica - FOO jee kuh
Fuji - FOO jee
Gevaert - GAY vart
Gitzo - JIT so
Gossen - GAH sin
Hasselblad - HAH sill blahd
Heitz - heights
Hektor - HECK tore
Heurtier - ER tee ay
Hexanon - heh KSA non
Hologon - ho lah GOAN
Horizont - go rih ZONT
Icarex - EE kar ecks
Ihagee - ee HAH gay
Jena - YAY nuh
Kako - KAH ko
Kilar - KEE lahr
Kindermann - KIN der mahn
Kodak - co DAK
Komura - KO mu ra
Konica - KO nee ca
Kowa - KO wa
Leica - LIE kuh
Leicina - lie SEE nuh
Leitz - lights
Liesegang - LEE zuh gahng
Linhof - LIN hof
Lubitel - LOO bih tsill
Mamiya - MA mee yah
Marubeni - mah roo BEH nee
Meopta - may OP tuh
Miida - mee EE da
Minolta - mi no ROO ta
Minox - MIH nocks
Miranda - mee Rahn duh
Mirrotach - mir ro TATCH
Multimage - mult ee MAHJ
Nikkor - nih KO roo
Nikkormat - nih ko ru MAH toe
Nikon - NIH kone
Nizo - NIT so
Norita - NO ree ta
Olympus - o LIM pus
Omega - o MAY guh
Mmnica - OM nih kuh
Opemus - o PAY muss
Optima - op TEE muh
Orwo - OR vo
Paillard - PIE yare
Pentax - pen TOCK soo
Pentacon - PEN tuh kahn
Petri - pe TO ri
Photomic - fo TAH mick
Perkeo - PEAR kee o
Planar - PLAH nahr
Pradovit - prah doe VIT
Praktica - prack TEE kuh
Praktisix - PRACK ti six
Regula - re GOO luh
Ricoh - ree CO
Rodenstock - RO den shtock
Rokkor - ro KAW roo
Rokunar - RO koo nar
Rolleiflex - RO lie flecks
Rowi - RO wee
Sakura - sa KOO ra
Samigon - SAH me gahn
Sankyo - sahn KYO
Schneider - SHNEYE der
Sekonica - say KO nih koo
Sekor - say KO roo
Sinar - SEE nar
Soligor - SO lee gore
Sonnar - so Nahr
Spiratone - SPY ra tone
Steinheil - SHTINE highl
Summicron - SOO mih crahn
Summilux - SOO mih looks
Susis - SOO see
Switar - SWEE tar
Takumar - TAH ku mah
Tamron - ta MU ron
Technika - tek NEE kuh
Telesar - TEL eh sahr
Telyt - tay LIT
Tessar - TEH sahr
Tessina - teh SEE nuh
Topcon - TO poo kon
Toshiba - TO shee ba
Ultima - OOL tee muh
Visoflex - VEE zo flecks
Vivitar - VIH vee tahr
Voigtlander - FAWCHT lahn der
Wratten - RAH tin
Xenar - ZEE nahr
Xenon - ZEE non
Yashica - YAH she Ka
Yashinon - YAH she known
Zeiss Ikon - tsice EE cone
Zenit - zeh NEAT
Zorki - ZOR kee
Zuiko - zoo ee KOH

Adapted from pp. 16, 76, June 1974, Modern Photography, David Miller.