Cameras I don't like to work On
Rolleiflex T is a reasonably good camera when compared to a Rolleicord, or Yashicamat, however, it is a solid step below the Automat, and not even comparable to a Letter model. These cameras were cheapened consumer products that were meant to be discarded when worn. Now they have the Rolleiflex name on them, and people pay well into the 400 dollar range, which is about four times what they are worth. So, when it comes to fixing them, I have to take several hours and charge 120-150 dollars for a camera that will have a useful life of maybe a few more years, and that I cannot warranty for more than a few months. In short the insides are not up to Rollei standards, they have plastic parts and you the photographer should get an Automat instead; save money, and have a lifetime camera. Rolleimajic, every example has a bad meter, and will not function. This is also the only Rollei product in 50 plus years and upwards of 7,000,000 cameras that uses a Prontor shutter. These are collectable's only. Yashica cameras can be very high in functionality however, they are prone to wear, and I cannot warrant them, so I will not work on them. I have opened the film advance to find metal parts that were made from Heidelberg Beer cans...Does that sound like a quality camera to you? At times, I can be talked into working on the early TLR, such as the A, C, or D. But please ask me before sending the camera--I have to be in the mood to work on them.
Undervalued Cameras, I Like To Work On
Ikoflex Cameras: Since many people are unaware of the Ikoflex line I thought I would put up a brief overview of the entire line. Firstly, Zeiss Ikon never really took the TLR seriously. I say this because they had in their inventory Planar, Biotar, and Sonnar lenses but they stuck to the Novar and Tessar lenses for their TLR line; while Rollei made a true professionals camera with Planar/Xenotar lens. That said they can still be very good cameras in terms of picture quality, and are very well engineered and built. One selling point of the entire line is that they all had bright screens, so you do not have to suffer the added expense of a Beatie or Maxwell screen. I have no experience with the Coffee Can or III, so I will start with the I. I, is a well made camera and is easy to work on, with its simple (red window) film advance and operator tensioned shutter. The view finder has a slow f:3.5 lens, but is one of the brightest in all TLR cameras, as it uses a ground condenser lens, and is slightly smaller than the actual 2.25x2.25 negative. These cameras are a good value in the 25-50 dollar range, and can be serviced for around 90-120 dollars. Ia, this is in my opinion the best of the whole line. The post war model could be ordered with either Tessar or Novar lens, has flash synch, and the film advance is a work of art. I have worked on dozens with the Novar lens and in most cases (they) equal the resolving power of the Tessar at all f:stops above 5.6.
Expect to pay 75-100 dollars for a nice example, and 90-120 to have it Shutter serviced. Focus CLA will add 30-45 dollars, and the transport will be, 75-90 dollars.
Ib-Ic, (Ic pictured) this is almost as good as the Ia, but the film advance is a bit less reliable, so I give the "A" a bit higher rating. The b, and c have the trigger repositioned to the more ergonomic position of next to the lens board, otherwise it is the same as the Ia. The metering system on the Ic is a bit cumbersome to use and many I have worked on had bad photovoltaic cells, which made them useless. Expect to pay 90-120 for the b, and 120 for the c, expect to pay 200 to 240 for a complete camera service. II, IIb, IIc, Zeiss Ikon used the same name for three different cameras, so this can be very confusing. I like the IIc (pictured) it has a good Tessar lens and the controls are easy to use. It also has the same advance as the Ia, so it will give years of service. The II, and IIb are pretty much nuts and bolts cameras with the I body and uncoated Tessar lenses. For a good IIc expect to pay 90-120 dollars with a shutter CLA costing 90-120 dollars and a full CLA running 240 dollars IIa, This is a well made camera and can be serviced for a fair price and have a resonable warranty period. You can identify the camera because it looks like the favorit below, but lacks the metered hood and has the knurled wheel for reseting the film advance. I can whole hartedly recomend this camera as a user camera and can do the shutter on one for 90-120 dollars, and the full camera service for 180-240 dollars. Favorit, the Favorit (Pictured) usse the Ic body. This camera has a very basic flaw--the film advance tensions the shutter while advancing the film, with no way to release the shutter after the 12th frame. So the shutter sits cocked for months at a time, and fatigues the main spring. In the last ten years I have not encountered one example of this camera that had a working film transport. I do not recommend this camera as a user. Expect to pay 80-150 dollars for a good example. Due to the fact that some of the later cameras have some very poor quality parts, I no longer work on the Favorit model of this line of cameras. Or to put it another way, the Favorit is my least favorite off the whole line. I hope this has been helpful and that you will purchase an Ikoflex and have me service it for you.
The Finest Camera Ever Made--CONTAX IIa/IIIa
I know all you Leica M fans will not agree but in terms of built quality, no other camera can come close to the Contax IIa/IIIa. Here is why:
1) All metal parts that touch each other, except the curtain, are chrome plated, for better wear resistance, and to prevent corrosion.
2) The only plastic parts in the camera are on the flash synch insulators, and on the meter window, the entire rest of the camera is metal.
3) The camera is flash synched from 1/50, and every speed slower, not just the 1/25 speed like the Leica.
4) Metal shutter curtain. Never worry about burning the curtain on a sunset photo again.
6) The Range finder is a longer base, and can actually coordinate with the longest lenses made for the camera, in the 250mm-300mm range.
7) The shoe is actually centered over the lens, so parallax is only in the vertical.
8) The Range finder spot is brighter and contrasts better, making it more useful in low light.
9) For lenses of focal lengths of 50mm or less can use the finger focus wheel. This is the fastest way to focus any range finder camera.
10) Good reliable self timer.
11) Superior fit and finish for all parts, including the leather covering, and all chrome plated covers.
12) Removable back making it super easy to load.
So, considering all the above, and that the lenses are about half the price, and just as sharp as any Leica lens, why would you want the Wetzlar product? Contax was and will always be the best camera ever made. And I know because I have taken all of them apart, and none can compare.
Bellows Problems :
For just about any folding camera the bellows is what limits the life of the camera. In some cases, and where properly taken care of, the bellows will last for years, and not give a lick of trouble. These bellows tend to be those made of leather, backed with card stock and then a layer of shutter curtain material. This is what the finer camera makers used, such as those form Zeiss Ikon, Voigtlander, Welta... However, some manufacturers cut corners by using a cloth backed vinyl product, that was cheaper to make, and therefore reduced the cost of the camera to the end user. This material is virtually always bad, and will require replacement, if possible or in the minimum a costly repair. The companies that used this type of material are: Agfa, Ansco, Kodak, Graflex (surprisingly these tend to last). I am regularly send cameras from Agfa, with good shutters, lenses and film transports, but the bellows are full of holes and so the camera is useless. This is really a shame, for both the customer, and myself, since we both loose money and really have no way to recover any of our investment. So, before you buy a folding camera, take bright flash light, and shine it into the bellows and see if any pin holes appear. At the current time I have no new bellows, and I can forsee no new source. So if the bellows is bad, the camera becomes a paper weight.
Aftermarket Bright-Focus Screens:
I get many repuests for installing aftermarket bright focus screens, into Rolleiflex, and Rolleicord caemras, so here is my take on them. I am a purest. In my perfect world, all caemras would be exactly as they left the factory. To this end... I believe that the engineers at the cameras manufacturer, put a lot of time and effort into figuring out what they wanted the camera to do, and designed it accordingly. Those engineers had specific standards, and they tested and measured the cameras performance to those standards. Rolleiflex did not put a Fresnel screen into a camera until the model E2, in the late 1950s, and then they continued the practice with TLRs until the end of the company in 1980. The problems with the ground glass is that it is a bit dark round the edges. The problem with the Fresnel is that it is hard to get a good crisp image while looking at the grooves, of the fresnel, and that the soft plastic is not very durable when being cleaned, and scratches easily, making focusing and composition even more difficult. So, brightness is enhanced but durability, and image quaily are degraded. Now let's move ahead 50 years to today. There are at least three different makers of aftermarket bright screens available for Rolleiflex cameras, and probably 25 different models of screens from these three makers. Some have split image focus aids, some have a bright spot for focus, there are grids on the ground side, and some just have cross hairs. For all there feathres, not one aftermarket screen has been designed by team of Opitcal Engineers. This leaves me the camera tech to try and make them work. The problems with most aftermaret screens are thus: Is the focal length the same as the lens on the camera you are using. f:3.5 Rolleiflex cameras have 7.5cm lenses, and f:2.8 cameras have 8cm lenses. This may seem trivial, but it is not. No camera equipped with a 7.5cm viewer lens will ever properly focus with an 8cm focal length bright screen. I find this over and over, with camera sent to me, that have Yashica Fresnels fitted under the ground glass. This latter example is the worst case, an 8cm Fresnel up below (closer) to the 7.5cm lens; which makes it never focus at infinity be way off up close. So lets assume the focal length is correct for your camera. Now the next problem is how many segemts the Fresnel has. The more segments, the brighter the screen is. The more segments the Fresnel has the More distorted the images is. So, the manufacture has to pick what they want, a very bright image, or a very distorted image. So, now most aftermarket screens have gone for maximum brightness, but they leave the image badly distorted. One of the most popual aftermarket screens, is so fine and badly distorted that if you view the screen off axis (not looking perfectly straight down) the images completly vanishes, leaving a black screen. It is only a guess, but I bet the Rollei engineers would have found this unacceptable. Split image focus spots. To date, I have probably installed (kicking and screeming!) 100+ bright screens with this feature. To my eye, not one of these has perfectly coordinated with the ground image, on the rest of the finder. To this end, I began using my Collimator to check the results, and take my subjective human eye out of the equation, no difference. They leave a dark spot in the middle of the ground area, they never coordinate, and they are just not needed; if you like the one on your 35mm SLR, you will hate the one on your TLR. So, in closing, I have used all three of the major makes of "Bright Screens" and in my Rolleiflex 3.5E1 I am using--you guessed it, the ground glass that came with the camera. It is ground very finely, is sharp and easy to see when the subject is perfectly in focus. I can clean it with a cotton swab, and not scratch it. The grid is accurate, but dark enough to not obtrusively intrude, into the image, and best off all, it does not cost an arm and a leg.
Let's Talk about Lenses!
I get a lot of requests from customers to make sure the lens is "Good". on cameras they have purchased from the Internet. And I hear a lot of superstitous things on the Internet about lenses. So, let's talk a bit about lenses... When you first look at lens the thing that most people pick out is the name, like Skopar, or Tessar, Xenar, Planar or Xenotar, or Nikor. What the maker of the lens is telling you in this case is the lens design. With Tessar lenses, they fall into a broad category of lenses know as Cook Triplet lenses. The term triplet in this case means the lens has three groups of lens elements. In the case of a Tessar this is four elements in three groups, one front element, one center and a two cemented elements forming the rear group. Keeping this in mind think of the different lenses to wear the name Tessar. There has to be hundreds, 50mm f:2.8. f:3.5, f:4.5... In a lens, the focal length and the maximum aperture, define the formulation of the lens. A 50mm 2.8 is not just a 3.5 with a larger front element, it is an entire different lens formulation, with not one part interchangeable with the slower lens. This is true also for a change in the focal length, a 50mm f:3.5 has nothing in common with a 75mm f:35--completely different formulation. The next characteristic for a lens is its field of coverage. I once had an argument with a camera store owner who insisted that the 83mm Anastigmat (Wollensak Veloastigmat) from his Ansco Automatic Reflex would cover 4" x 5". It will cover 2.25" x 2.25" and not a bit more, as it was formulated to cover 2.25" square, not 4x5. There are lenses formulated to be 85mm focal length and cover 4" x 5", such as the Wide Field Ektar. So lenses of a certain design and formulation are made with a certain angel of coverage in mind. Now let's put those two concepts together, focal lengths/maximum aperture, and angle of coverage. The angle of coverage increases with the f-stop number, or you could say they are directly proportional. So just as depth of field and depth of focus increase so does the maximum angle of coverage when you stop a lens down, to the higher f-numbers. Hence, the appeal to early photographers of the f:64 or even f:128 settings on their lenses. Loads of coverage angle, so they could swing, tilt, rise and shift, and loads of depth of field on a 300mm lens. Now this may seem counter intuitive, but look at it this way, as the rays of light are making their way to the corners of the frame, they travel longer distances than those in the middle, and they may become out of focus. Stopping the lens down increases the depth of focus and in many cases will render the center and corners in equal sharpness. I have had some complaints from customers regarding the sharpness of images they are getting, and they appear sharp in the middle but not at the edges, and I have asked them, what f-number they were at. They stated they always shoot wide open... Some lenses will deliver a good corner to corner sharpness wide open, some will not. Take a look at many of the 50 mm lens designed for 35mm photography. They in many cases do just as advertised, give a good sharp image wide open. Know why? The standard focal length lens for 24mm x 36mm on 135 size film is: 45mm, not 50mm and in the 1950's many manufactures went to the 55mm or 58mm focal length lens, for just this reason, increasing angle of coverage, and therefore getting corner to corner sharpness, at maximum diaphragm opening. In the medium format world, the standard lens for 2.25" square should be a 76mm focal length, most German cameras used 75mm, while most Japanese and SLR cameras used an 80mm focal length lens. Some time ago, a customer complained that the images he got with is Bronica shot wide open on an 80mm f:2.8 were better than those from his Ikoflex with a 75mm f:3.5 Tessar. I told him the lens on his Ikoflex was not designed to be used wide open, and to shoot it at 5.6 and see what happens. He posted this on the Internet and the hue and outcry was heard round the world. I had said that most Tessars I test look less than sharp wide open. Well everyone on all the forums told me, that they have 300mm lenses on a 4x5 that look tack sharp wide open and I just don't know what I'm talking about. I didn't argue, I just had the moderator take the thread down. The reason, the guy, with the 300 loves it wide open is--300mm designed/formulated to cover 8x10! He is shooting just the center of the circle of coverage and so for sure it looks sharp wide open. To do the equivalent on my customers Ikoflex, you would need the lens to be 152mm in focal length and stopped down to f:8! The typical Cook Triplet will cover a total angle of approximately 60 degrees. The angle of coverage needed for the 75mm Tessar on the Ikoflex is around 57.5 degrees, so there is little left over and the lens may when wide open, not cover the corners well. To digress from all this theory, and give you a practical measure, I have tested probably 1000+ "Tessar" style lenses, and I have seen perhaps 10 that gave truly top resolving power, and good contrast wide open. The designers expected the photographer would only use the maximum aperture, as a last resort, when there was little light, and they needed an image, regardless of the quality! Since I have beaten the angle of coverage and aperture to death, now we need to talk about coatings and lens condition. Some time in late 19th or early 20th centuries, photographers began to notice that some lenses had developed a greenish or purplish haze on the surfaces of the elements. These hazes where what is now called age coating. These lenses all of which were quite old, 60, 70, 80, years old or more, were prized by the photographers of the day and sold for thousands of dollars because of their fantastic performance. Well it did not take long for the chemists of the day to figure out what the age coating was, and for the optical engineers to figure out how to reproduce this coating artificially.
Focal Plane Shutter Theory, and Flash Synch
Let’s talk about shutter speeds on a focal plane shutter cameras. On a focal plane shutter camera, the top speed at which the camera is flash synchronized is twice as long it takes the first curtain to travel the film gate. So with a Contax the top speed is 1/50 of a second, so it takes the first curtain 1/100sec to travel the film gate, then the flash goes off, then the second curtain takes 1/100 sec to travel the film gate, 2/100 is 1/50. So, people will often incorrectly assume that setting the camera to speeds between 1/100 to 1/1250 will have give them the ability to stop action; but this is just not true, as the curtain takes 1/50th of a second to clear the film gate. The difference in exposure is the fact that the open slit created by the two curtains is not the full width of the film gate. If we apply the flash speed logic to the width of the curtain slit, we get with a Contax: 1/50 is a one inch wide slit, the full film gate; 1/100 is 1/2 inch; 1/250 is 1/5 of an inch or 0.2 inches; 1/500 is 1/10 of an inch or 0.1 inches; and 1/1250 is 1/25 of an inch, or .040, which is a very small slit indeed. Just the slightest bit of girt, or migrated lubricant will change the slit width and change the timing very dramatically. Even things like tipping the camera to take a vertical composition will create problems. I just don't like the highest speed for critical work.
A list of Cheap Cameras that Are Fun To use, and Cheap to Fix:
1) Gear focus Ricohflex all models especially the Super. Most sell for under 40 dollars and I can fix one for $30-45. These are real sleeper cameras but keep in mind that they only have shutter speeds of B, 25, 50, 100, with the super having a 10 and 200. As the lenses are front cell focus I can easily set them for optimum focus, and you will get best results. Most of these lenses resolve somewhere in the 250 line pairs per millimeter range. That is as good as a Tessar/Xenar!
One other nice thing about this range of cameras, are the number of accessories that are available: 35mm and 127 backs, Auto film advances, and 36mm clamp on filters and hoods. If you are looking for a first TLR this is the one. Here are some photos taken with Ektachrome E-100G and a Richflex holiday:
2)Rolleicord I--These are very nice cameras and sell for 20-30 dollars in the current market. Complete camera rebuild is 150-180 but a shutter only CLA is 45-60 dollars. Not too bad for a camera that has a Zeiss lens and a Compur Rapid shutter (B, 1-300)
3) Ikonta A, B, C--These sell with a Novar lens in the 30-50 dollar range, and once serviced produce great pictures. I can CLA one for 30-45 dollars. These came with either a Compur Rapid shutter or a Prontor shutter, speeds B, 1-300. 4) Netar, folding cameras--these are somewhat more cheaply made than the Ikonta, but can still be made to produce excellent images. Most sell for 20-30 dollars in like new condition, and I charge 30-45 dollars to CLA one. Most of these cameras have a Pronto shutter with speeds of 25, 50 , 100, 200, and B. 5) Flexaret III, IV, V--The III (Pictured) and IV are much simpler and less refined camera than the V, but will still take excellent pictures, get one with a Prontor shutter and Bellar lens. A good III will command 40 dollars in the used market and expect to pay 45-60 dollars to CLA it. The V is an automat camera that cocks the shutter while advancing the film, and auto spaces the exposures. All the Bellar lenses are excellent "Cook Triplet" Tessar types, and produce stunning images, however the V will cost more to service with a complete service running 120-150 dollars, and a good used example will run 50-60 dollars. 6) Argoflex--these are very simple Bakelite bodied cameras that will produce images equal to just about any of the cameras above, but they lack the slow shutter speeds of the Rollei, Ikonta and Flexaret, so they sell for far less. Shutter speeds are 25, 50, 100, 200, T, B. The T is very nice for shooting at night. Expect to pay 10-15 dollars for a 620 only version, and 20-30 for a 120, 620 version. I can CLA one for 45 dollars.
Some Good Cameras that are cheap to buy but not
to fix :
1) Ansco Automatic Reflex--This was Anscos answer to the predicted Rolleiflex shortage that never happened at the end of WWII. So, they spent a lot of time and money designing a camera that never took off in sales--and with a price of $269.99 in 1947 it was no wonder. However this turned out, you can now benefit form the fact that they are not well know, and not well respected. These cameras regularly sell for 50-100 dollars on ebay, with the most pristine pure model not selling for more than 400 dollars. These cameras have double exposure protection, and auto exposure spacing was well as a Newton sports finder, and are fully flash synched. They come with a 83mm Wollensak lens that is a fine Cook Triplet design similar to the Novar with three elements in three groups. The shutter is a Rapax with speeds of T,B, 1,2,5,10,25,50,100,200, and 400. Due to the fact that several Ansco Automatic Reflex's have come here which were non-functioning form the factory, good luck when buying one. This may be one camera that signs of use, is a good thing. I am able to work on this line of cameras, but I can tell you that they will never function perfectly, no matter how much work I put in. The problem was that many of the pats were not plated against corrosion, and they are riveted in place. So, If you can put up with a camera that works 95% of the time, I'm your repair guy. 2) Kodak Reflex II The Kodak Reflex and Reflex II are pretty much similar cameras and will cost similar amounts to be repaired. The real drawback to this line of cameras is that Kodak cemented the lens groups into the lens mounts and therefore, they cannot be easily cleaned when they become fogged, hazy or have fungus. That said, if the lens is good they can be very good cameras indeed, and in the case of the Anastar Lens version, they will produce excellent photographs. Expect to pay about 90-120 dollars to have the entire body overhauled, and expect to pay about 25 dollar for the camera in the first place. There is no way to convert this camera to 120 film so keep some money aside for purchasing a supply of 620 spools. Also if you ever decide to sell the camera, you will be eating the entire cost of the repair, as they will sell for the same amount as complete basket case cameras, as they will completely functional. 3) Ricohflex 225, Diacord
This is Ricohs answer to the Minolta Autocord. These tend to be way under valued in the current market. I have seen very nice examples of the Diacord G, on ebay selling for under 40 dollars. This is a crying shame, as the lenses are always excellent, and the camera body is well made. I prefer the non meter model of Diacord, and I like the 225 a bit more than the Daicord, as they are more robustly built. The film transport is simple, however is can be prone to wear if the parts were not lubricated properly at the factory, or by some would be repair person.
Expect to pay me 90-120 dollars to do the shutter focus, and film transport. When done though, you will have a very nice camera for years to come. 4) Graflex 22/Ciro-Flex
The Ciro-Flex line of cameras came about as an American answer to the Rolleiflex' commanding market share. So as with all American cameras what it lacks in workmanship, it makes up for in low price and heavy metals. As TLR cameras go, these are just about the most simply engineered. Open he back and you can see the entire focus mechanism, the shutter is held to the front by a locking ring, and the film transport is by the red window. Simple, reliable, and rugged, is what these cameras are. Now for the drawbacks. They use a Wolensak shutter that is less than accurate, at most speeds, and as with all Wolensak products, has lots of bare steel parts inside, so it rusts. About one in 8 is a complete loss. So they tend to be a bit of a gamble. The lens is an 85mm focal length, so they give sort of a narrow field of view, and are something less than stunning in the corners. I chard 45-75 dollars to go completely through one of these. So they are pretty cheep to work on. As for the sale price, the Graflex 22 model is somewhat collectable, and so sells for 75-90 dollars in very nice condition, the Ciro-Flex sells from 15-75 dollars depending on the model and condition. Look for the cameras with the Rapax shutter to sell for more, and the Alphax models to sell for less.
My Take On Leica Cameras:
As something of a German Camera nut, I pretty much have to like Lieca products, however as a regular repairman for Leica cameras I have a slightly different take than most Leica owners. Here is what I think: The older the camera the better made it is. When getting a model III you should try to find a pre-F model. The III, IIIa, IIIb, and IIIc are fine cameras that are extremely well made and are simple to work on. When Leica tried to keep up with Zeiss Ikon's Contax IIa, IIIa, they made a number of changes to the basic Barnac design that negatively effected reliability, and increase complexity--thereby increasing repair costs. So what you get with the IIIf (Pictured) camera is a camera that can be flash synched at one speed the 1/25, and you the user will have to test it and adjust the flash retard dial under the speed selector knob. This will basically take a roll of film and one hour of your dark room time to figure where the flash is operating correctly. On the older cameras the view and range finder were separated so there were fewer instances of taking the picture with the range finder, and not framing it correctly. Also, the older cameras only had a shutter speed to 1/500 which made things a lot less complex on the bottom of the camera, as the higher speed made necessary a curtain break and a bounce back clutch. Besides I have owned many IIIf, examples and to date have never shot one at 1/1000, and rarely at 1/500.
Built Quality of the Entire Line of SM Cameras:
Leica cameras are the Chevrolet of German Cameras, not the Rolls Royce, as many would have you believe. They are made of good materials, but they cut many corners in making them price point products. On a Contax virtually all the internal parts are painted, anodized, or hard chrome plated. On a Leica, the internal parts are typically painted, almost never chromed, and sometimes anodized. Chrome was reserved for cosmetic parts on the outside, the insides need not matter. So, what you get with most old Leica cameras is that they are rusty inside, and will need a good chemical cleaning, to remove this rust, and a good oiling to prevent it in the future. One last thing, if you are choosing a Leica, purely as a shooter, the simpler the camera is the better. I shoot a IC and love it, and use it 10 times more than I ever did my IIIf! Even the lack of slow speeds does not slow me down, I use it for daylight work, and if in lower light I shoot faster film. If you are hopelessly tied to having a range finder then get a II model, and as the slow speeds on Lieca tend to be problematic anyway. So go out a get that old Leica I, II, or III and shoot some film, who knows, you may have fun doing it!
My Take on Nikon RF Cameras:
As a repair person I take a keen interest in the used market and one area that has been of particularly fascinating is the Nikon Range Finder market. The entire line of cameras including the SP suffer from the same basic flaw as the Leica cameras--a cloth shutter curtain, and a range finder with a short base. The basic camera is designed to look like a Contax II, but the shutter is a pure rip off of a Leica design, to keep things simple. This is where the similarities between the German products and the Japanese knock off end. The built quality is like many price point cameras from Nippon--kind of cheap, with loads of soft brass parts, and little or no hardened parts. They will take some nice pictures, but don't expect them to last as long as the German cameras, because they won't. So, considering the above, it is a real mystery to me why they continue to fetch such high prices on the used market? The only thing I can think of is that people are familiar with the name and so they feel safe purchasing the cameras; or perhaps they already have a Nikon SLR and are just brand loyal. Keeping the built quality in mind, they could be a good investment though, as those being used are doomed to wear out soon enough. So forget Nikon, save money, and go Contax IIa, or Leica S.M!
My Take on Voigtlander Porducts:
In Germany prior to WWII there were many camera makers that all competed to out design each other, and pattent the lastest inovations. The Germans had at that time very strigent pattent laws, and so there was little pattent fraud. These two facts lead to each camera company having to re-invent the wheel so to speak, and so there are many different methods to accomplish the same end goal. Of all the different ways of doing things, Voigtlander is by far the most different, and in some cases, just plain strange. Take the case with Franke, and Heidecke, both of whom are Voigtlander employees, and come up with the TLR concept, but Voigtlander turns it down, by telling them: Marketing comes up with the concepts--you make them (to paraphrase the actual quote). So they start there own company, and the Rolleiflex is born! Not to be outdone, Voigtlander comes up with the Superb, just to show they are not be out done. This camera is a real oddball, the shutter body is the focus helix, the entire mirror box is hinged to correct for paralax, the film is transported from right to left, and lastly the shutter speeds are read from a little prism on the front of the shutter. All of this is done to not infringe on Rolleis pattents. It all sounds pretty good too, until you have to take one apart and work on it--hugely complex, and just plainly done wrong. This sort of design prowerse, continues on with their folding cameras like the funky little 127 Perkeo, range finder cameras like the Prominent, and the barn door Vitessa. All lack simplicity of design, and function. Why--because the best and most simple way was taken by the big boys of German camera manufacture, Leica, Rollei, Zeiss Ikon, Welta, Wirgin, KW, and Ihagee. So they engineered themselves into a corner, and ran with it. Keep in mind, I do like Voigtlander cameras, I just don't like to work on them. The lenses are awesome, and in some cases, they are the best of the best (my Prominents Ultron, out performed my Contax' Sonnar and M3 Leica's Sumicron). Here is a short list of worst cameras to work on, by type, to prove my point:
1) TLR--Rolleiflex 3.5f1, tied with Voigtlander Superb, and Ikoflex Favorit is just behind.
2) Folding Range finder camera--Barn Door Vitessa
3) 35mm SLR--Bessamatic
4) Folding Camera 120 film--Bessa I, and II
5) 35mm Range finder Camera--Prominent
The list goes on...
So, if you have more money than you know what to do with, and you like spending it, get a broken voigtlander, send it to me, and wait for the bill!
Ihagee's Exakta SLRs:
Over the last few years I have made a point of teaching myself Exakat SLR repair. I undertook this line of cameras, because they are currently grossly undervalued in the used market. This line of cameras has interchangable lenses, viewfinders and Back; yet sell for far less than a similary versatile Nikon F! The lens selection in Exakta mount is unmatched by any other camera line, even eclipsing the 42mm universal mount. The lenses tend to represent a full range of quality, and price, and on the low end will give "funky" Holga like results, and on the high end will rival any lens put on a modern Japanese SLR. So, here is my take on the entire camera line: Vest Pocket Exaktas: The vest pocket Exakta A, introduced in 1933 was the first mass marketed compact SLR camera, and produced 4cmx6.5cm images on 127 roll film. These cameras had only the waist level finder, but had interchangeable lenses, using a unique 40mm screw mount. Model A cameras have a finer thread pitch than later models, so early lenses may not fit later cameras. These cameras used the "Red Window" film advance, for spacing eight exposures on the film, which lead to the so called "left handed" operation. The way the film is advanced is to turn the camera (while looking form the back) 90 degrees clockwise, hold open the red window with your left thumb, and advance the film with your right thumb. This system was carried over to all subsequent cameras and so all 35mm Exa, Exakta cameras were "left handed." In use these are fine medium format cameras, and with a Zeiss Tessar lens, are unequaled in a pre-war compact camera. There are a list of features added to this line of cameras over time, like the famous low speed/delay timer, and the "Vacublitz" sockets on the front of the body. When more features were added to the basic model of camera, Ihagee introduced the old model as the "Junior" for less money. Later in the production of the Vest Pocket line, special fast lenses were introduced and the cameras were marketed as Night Exaktas. These fast lenses no command a very high price in the used market, and are highly sought after by collectors. I do work on Exakta Vest Pocket cameras, but I have no spare parts, so the camera needs to be complete. Expect to pay me 250-350 dollars to put new curtains in, and do a complete CLA. 35mm Exakta SLRs: Where the 35mm exaktas are concerned the older cameras tend to be better quality, and I cannot recoment any Exakta camera after the VXIIa. The early, so called Kine (little) Exakta models are quite collectable, but are an excellent camera, of very high quality, and which have sown by there age to be very rugged. The Exakta Varex (V) was the first of the line to have the interchangeable view finderr and are a good value int he used market. Expect t0 to get new curtains and a complete CLA
(lenses continued from left column)
By the end of the 1930's Kodak and Zeiss both had developed, independent of each other, artificial lens coating. They both were pretty much the same, a purplish, MgF, and baked on, to harden it. This coating was added to existing lenses and called "Anti Reflective" coating, and what it did (does) is increase the transmission of light through the glass of the lens. In physics class I was told that when light contacts glass, the two mutually perpendicular rays are split, one is reflected and one is transmitted, meaning that only 50% of light is transmitted through a transparent substance. Now with some clever chemical formulation, and careful designs this number was increased to perhaps 70% in uncoated photographic lenses. With the new anti-reflective coatings, the percentage was increased to 95%. This created a revolution in lens design, new designs that in the past had such low contrast that they were considered useless, were now being manufactured with coatings and became successful. The new coating also allowed the designers to take some rather cheep lenses and add variable thickness of coatings to give them adequate performances.
It bears mentioning at this point how lenses had been designed. At Zeiss, the camera designers would request a new lens of a certain focal length, and angle of coverage, and maximum aperture. The lens design team would split up, and come up with different designs for the given lens, and work out all the math (sometimes this was months of work with a slide rule), and then they would submit their designs for peer review. The entire team would get together, and look over the work of each, and check the calculations and based on the math, they would select several for prototype production. Once prototypes were made, they would submit them to a rigorous test program, and based on those tests, they would make a limited number of mounts and subject the lenses to practical tests. The new lenses were mounted to cameras loaded with film and shot. Based on the results of those practical tests, one lens design was selected, for production. This whole process took many months and sometimes years. So only the best performing lenses in sharpness, contrast and flair, were produced. Now with artificial coatings, those designs became truly outstanding lenses, contrast and flair were greatly reduced and photographers were free to back light their subjects for the first time. There was a down side to all this artificial coating--MgF is food for fungus! So now a problem begins that is still reeking havoc to this vary day. coated lenses grow fungus and can easily be ruined by this fungus. Older designs that were made to work without coatings, can be saved by removing the coatings, polishing them away, and returning some functionality. New designs that incorporate the coatings, are ruined when the coating is lost. There are other problems with coating, if not done well, they can flake, turn hazy or wash away over time. At this point I do need to digress to mention that not all lens makers used hard coatings. Some like Meopta in the Czech republic soft coated all the lens surfaces except the front of the front element. Leitz only hard coated the two exposed surfaces, the rear of the rear element and the front of the front element; this went on at Leitz well into the 1960s! As a repair tech, when you clean the internal surfaces of a Leica lens, you have to wash them without touching them with anything abrasive, or they are ruined. Zeiss hard coated all optics from the very beginning, but in the end this extra step cost more money, and Leica won in the end--with the cheaper product. It also bears mention that coating can be damaged in a variety of ways, but probably the worst is Sea Water. I have seen a number of lenses that got ocean spray on them, and where the water hit, the coating was removed. So when you got to the beach, put a UV filter on, and don't let sea water get on your valuable lens. So far we have discussed lens design, formulation, angle of coverage, and coatings. Now lets talk about a subject that is near and dear to me, lens condition. An old photographer I knew in Portland once told me, a lens need not be perfect to take perfectly good pictures. To this end I once attended a swap meet and across from my table was a guy who was selling his fine art photography, and he had the equipment he was using, on display. All the photographs were made with large format gear, 8x10 and larger. One of the lenses on a camera was a 10 inch f:4.5 Apo-Tessar. This lens had been dropped and the front element was shattered into three big pieces. The owner had super-glued the lens back together, and painted the fractures black with model paint. The images from this lens, were absolutely perfect. No shadows from the paint, tack sharp and very good contrast. How is this possible? Well like my physics professor liked to say: Every point on a lens transmits a complete image. Cover half the surface, all you get is a darker image, not half the image. The Apo-Tessar in the example probably lost 7-10% of the light transmitted, but that was still enough to exposure the film and with such a lens, the loss in sharpness was not even noticeable. So, from time to time I get customers that tell me: "I need a perfect lens, for my photography! If the lens is less than perfect send the camera back, and don't fix it." When I hear this, I think: Well this guy does not know what he is talking about, and is fixated on the wrong things in his photography. If they are a collector that insists on mint condition cameras in their collection, then that is one thing, but as a user, the photographer, needs to know that perfection is costly and unnecessary. Flaws in lenses, create images flaws as a percentage. A few cleaning marks account for such a tiny percent, that they can be ignored. The concept of percentage of defect leads me to a very interesting concept in photographic lenses... Fast formulations of designs, seldom perform as well as slow formulations of similar lens designs. Put it more plainly, 2.8 Tessars are never as sharp as 3.5 Tessars, and only in a very few cases have I run across 2.8 Planar/Xenotar lenses that looked as good as 3.5 Planar/Xenotar lenses on Rolleiflex cameras. Small lenses are easier to grind, and the defects in large lenses subtract from the image quality. I consider the Price increase for a 2.8 letter model Rolleiflex versus a 3.5, a complete joke. It mirrors a misconception that price equals quality, and that the 2.8 cameras were the top of the line. What you get for all the extra money, half an f-stop that in most cases is useless. The mantra of buy the fastest lens you think you will need, is flat out wrong. The mantra should be, by the slowest lens you can possibly shoot, if you need more light, use a flash! Lastly, I test every lens that comes to me on my National Collimator, and I have developed an educated opinion about each lens design and maker. This opinion of mine, often flies in direct opposition to the common opinion of the masses. I will summarize my years of experience this way:
1) Tessar type lenses (Cook Triplets) are best when used at a maximum aperture of 5.6. Below this number they just flair and loose contrast to the point of not being useful.
2) Uncoated lenses can make excellent images, when the subjects are fore-lit, or when lower contrast is needed or desirable. I would never shoot a coated lens for black and white at night. Never! Also, uncoated lenses can in many cases give better color reproduction, and make more pleasing images on high contrast films such as color positive film.
3) Slower lenses tent to be sharper, and render better images.
4) Damage to a lens, is accumulative, and in most cases minor flaws, like cleaning marks or a bad coatings, will still render a fine image. All those flaws do is lower the sale price for the educated photographer.
5) The number of elements has nothing to do with the sharpness of a lens or the image quality it will yield. Nothing at all! I have seen 6 element lenses that are soft, and three element lenses that are tack sharp. It is a matter of how the lens was formulated, what f-stop the lens starts to look soft, and how much it costs to manufacture. Money spent does not always equate to a good image. If you can live with a lens that you shoot at 5.6 and above, then go with a Novar or an Elmar, Tessar, Xenar, or Rikenon, they will make excellent images. If you think you need a 2.8 lens, remember that most will look soft below f:4, so for all that money you spend, you get one f-stop!
I hope this will change some minds about lenses and bring the common knowledge more in line with my knowledge.