Mamiya C330 shutter fails in the cold

Discussion in 'Medium Format Cameras and Accessories' started by bibi, Aug 10, 2010.

  1. bibi

    bibi Member

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    I was in Manchuria this winter and the daytime temperature was minus 35deg C at dawn, rising to a balmy minus 23deg C during the day. Using my Mamiya C330, I found the leaf shutter dragged in the extreme cold. The release mechanism tripped but then the open/shut of the iris was delayed by up to ten or fifteen secs. Fatal for action shots. If I took the lens off the camera and put it in my jacket I could warm it sufficiently to get perhaps a single shot before it was too cold to fire again. And fumbling about changing the lens is no fun in the cold. Anyone else with these problems? I've heard you can use a low temp lubricant, but will it work down to minus 35deg C?

    Peversely my motordrive Nikon F3 worked flawlessly, though I kept the batteries in my jacket as a precaution. The blind shutter does not seem to be affected by the extreme cold.

    I am going back in Jan, maybe with a Bronica SQ this time, and a cold weather battery pack. Am I going to have the same problems with the shutter though?
     
  2. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    There was a time (1960s) when Nikon Fs, Mamiya C-series, and the like were being introduced to photography in extreme conditions---deserts, the Arctic, high mountains---and it was well known that they didn't hold up as well as they did in a shirt-sleeve environment. Some service shops specialized in "winterizing" shutters, which meant removing all of the original lubrication and either reassembling dry, or using a high-tech lubricant such as one of the silicones. Silicone lubrication was only somewhat better than nothing from a wear standpoint, but these were considered to be working tools, and indefinite life was not the highest priority.

    A good repair shop can probably clean the shutter and replace the lubricant with something more suited to low temperatures, but if you return to "normal" photography you might want to have it serviced again with "normal" lubricants.

    As you may already be aware, very cold conditions mean very dry as well, and if you advance film too rapidly you may have static discharges which will produce tree-like markings on the film. Also, in very cold conditions the film becomes more rigid, and winding too rapidly can also damage the camera or even fracture the film. Putting the lens inside your jacket to warm it up is just asking for a different kind of trouble---the cold lens will condense moisture from your body, possibly even inside the shutter and between the elements, and this is something that simply letting it warm up will not necessarily fix. I trust that you already know to protect the gear from water vapor (a sealed plastic bag, for example) when you bring it back into a nice, warm yurt (or whatever).

    If you find yourself near Hoten (outside Mukden) I'd be interested in seeing some pictures of the area---my father spent most of WWII there in the Japanese POW camp.

    (My coldest personal experience with a camera was only a balmy -5 F or so, but when the shutter on my Yashica TLR froze open, I continued with the lens cap as a shutter (this was at night), timing with the second hand on my wristwatch---until the wristwatch froze, and I decided it was time to go inside!)
     
  3. mgb74

    mgb74 Subscriber

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    When was the last CLA on the shutter? While extreme cold weather will cause even normal lubricants to thicken, it may have an even greater effect on older lubricant. If you did have a recent CLA then replacing the lubricant as greybeard suggests would be called for (in fact, probably called for just as a precaution).

    I remember reading some time ago about how National Geographic photographers had their cameras serviced for extreme cold - back when they used mechanical cameras.
     
  4. bibi

    bibi Member

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    Some of my hard won experience

    Thank you Greybeard.

    Some of my hard won experience:

    I try to think that I had taken some weather precautions before I went out but my plans did not survive contact with the cold realities.
    I took some stout Ziplock bags to put the cameras into, to avoid the condensation issue. The problem is that at these extreme low temperatures the plastic is like cardboard, it simply loses flexibility and the Zip won't lock. Better is to wrap it up in a simple plastic carrier bag.

    Putting the lens under my coat did not give me condensation problems, probably because although it was under my coat it was still on top of my down jacket and all my thermal underwear, not next to my sweaty body, so it was still pretty dry.

    I also taped chemical handwarmers to the back of the Nikons, so I had no problems with the film stiffening up. The medium format film having a paper backing seems not so prone to stiffening in the cold because of the bulk of the material.

    The cold is so intense, a friend held his camera to his face to compose the shot, when he lowered the camera he took a chunk of his nose with it.

    The dryness is also a problem. I found the skin on my fingers dried out and split continuously so that winding on a film was painfully bloody business.
     
  5. bibi

    bibi Member

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    Cold service

    Thanks for that,
    sounds like a cold weather service is a good idea.
     
  6. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    Get it CLAed [Cleaned, Lubricated, Adjusted.
     
  7. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    To expect any mechanical device to work reliably at minus 35 C is asking a lot.
     
  8. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    Come on now. Did you actually expect it to work?
     
  9. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    I don't think I would operate well enough to press the shutter at that temperature!


    Steve.
     
  10. CGW

    CGW Member

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    An older Nikon.ca tech mentioned a few years back that the replacement of petroleum-based with silicon-based lubes largely solved this problem. Shutter mechanisms with silicon lube started to become common in the early 80s. My Nikon F worked perfectly in extreme cold after it got silicone injections, while my F3s never hesitated provided their batteries weren't frozen. Most extreme cold sluggishness seems to affect 60s-70s gear most commonly.
     
  11. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    The cold is so intense, a friend held his camera to his face to compose the shot, when he lowered the camera he took a chunk of his nose with it.

    The dryness is also a problem. I found the skin on my fingers dried out and split continuously so that winding on a film was painfully bloody business.


    Josef Stalin is supposed to have once said, in regard to military matters, "Quantity has a quality all it's own". It seems that extreme cold is that way, too---difficult for most of us to relate to.

    One of my father's anecdotes about Manchuria was that the POWs were not required to go out if the temperature was more than twenty below zero (I should have asked whether that was Fahrenheit or Celsius*). The decision was made by tossing water into the air. If it hit the ground as ice, it was too cold to go out!

    Most extreme cold sluggishness seems to affect 60s-70s gear most commonly.

    This may reflect closer mechanical tolerances and greater complexity in gear from that period, alleviated by even better manufacturing and lubricants in contemporary equipment. My ancient Yashica has never been serviced in its life, and still works at all speeds, while every Compur shutter that I have handled was balky at low speeds unless it had been regularly maintained. Complexity, tolerances, and basic design (a press-focus shutter can be a lot more robust than an auto-diaphragm one) all bear on tolerance of low temperatures or simple neglect.

    *if the number had been -40, it wouldn't have mattered! :smile:
     
  12. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    At Minus 35C the molecular structure of metals change, metal components became brittle and break in intense cold .
     
  13. greybeard

    greybeard Member

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    At Minus 35C the molecular structure of metals change, metal components became brittle and break in intense cold .

    Well, some metals, yes; others, no. Has anyone encountered a camera failure because of this? I'm not trying to be snarky--- I am amazed that in the years since left materials science graduate school it never once occurred to me that camera components like steel pins, gears, and springs could be at risk at sufficiently low temperatures. The frames and cases (if not plastic!) are probably safe, since they tend to be aluminum-based die castings and and don't see a lot of stress anyway. Brass and nonmagnetic stainless steels are also immune, but the hardenable stainlesses (I don't know if they are used in cameras) might not be happy at forty below.

    Anything plastic--including light-seal foam made of anything but silicone--is going to be pretty stiff at that temperature and may not function even if it isn't permanently damaged. Also, metal assemblies held together by structural epoxy can often be disassembled by simply putting them in a food-type deep freeze (typically, only -10 F) until the combination of differential contractions stress and brittleness of the epoxy allows it to simply pop apart. This could definitely be bad news, particularly if the manufacturer didn't test the materials set thoroughly.

    I seem to recall that NASA had trouble with camera lenses in extreme cold, because the outer elements of cemented lenses could expand and contract enough to break the cement bond, if the inner elements were not allowed enough time to follow the temperature change. This is probably not an issue for field photography, but it can be if you are working around things like cryogenic rocket fuels. Even if the lens doesn't fail outright, the stresses and strains probably don't do the optical corrections any good!

    Staying here in sunny California is starting to sound better and better...