Reviving an old Rolleiflex Automat

Discussion in 'Medium Format Cameras and Accessories' started by Jeffrey S. Winn, Aug 23, 2006.

  1. Jeffrey S. Winn

    Jeffrey S. Winn Member

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    Greetings,

    A few years ago I got my hands on an old Rolleiflex Automat. The camera is not in perfect shape, but mechanically everything works fine. The slow shutter speeds may be off a bit, but considering the age and condition of the camera I can live with this.

    My problem is that the taking lens has a swirl of small scratches on it. When you look from the front of the taking lens, the aperture blades are seen clearly, and there appears to be no significant scratches or haze. But, when you open up the camera and look through the lens at a light from the inside you can clearly see the small swirl of scratches. These are basically cleaning scratches.

    Is there an easy way of removing these scratches by polishing the front of the taking lens? I know a CLA by a pro is probably in order, but the CLA will cost more then the camera is worth. I'm looking for a Do-it-yourself fix, if one is available.

    I did shoot two test rolls of film through the camera, and I compared a few shots with my Canon FD 50mm f1.8 lens. In every shot the Canon FD photos were absolutely superior to the ones taken with the Rolleiflex. In fact, the photos from the Rolleiflex appeared to look "Old Fashion" or aged and faded compared to the Canon. The Canon FD 50mm f1.8 isn't Canons best lens either, so is there a chance that I may have other issues to deal with?

    My goal here is just to revive this old camera an have some fun with it. I would love to be able to produce a few nice portraits with the camera, but right now the result don't cut it. I just hate to see it sitting on the shelf without getting any use. I was able to revive my Grandfathers old Voigtlander Vito II, and it now produces decent photos. I was hoping to do the same with the Rolleiflex as well, and have the large negatives work in my favor.

    Thanks,

    Jeff
     
  2. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    If you're feeling up to it - I'd try using a dremel moto-tool and either jeweler's rouge, tripoli or (as a last resort) toothpaste. I fixed up an older LF lens that way once. The results were great.
     
  3. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    I had this model of camera when I was a student in the 60s, and its uncoated Tessar lens produced negatives of reasonable contrast, although you did have to be careful with flare under certain conditions. If yours doesn't do this, there is something wrong with it. Literally repolishing the lens surfaces is not something you should attempt, but under the circumstances it can do no harm to unscrew the front lens group and clean the inside surfaces of the front and back lens groups (gently, using a lens cleaning cloth wrapped around a cotton bud and carefully reaching through the open shutter to clean the back group). If this does not result in an improvement, any further professional repair work would, as you say, probably be uneconomic.

    Regards,

    David
     
  4. Greg_E

    Greg_E Member

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    If you are going to try and polish the lens, you need Cerium Oxide. I bought some from http://www.caswellplating.com in their windshield repair kit. Haven't used it yet, so I can't comment on how well it works. From what I've read you need to keep it very wet while using the Cerium Oxide. Hand polishing with a cotton tex-wipe (kimberly-clark) should be good enough with this polishing agent. Might be slow, but better slow than damaged.

    A normal CLA will not remove scratches, but it should get the shutter speeds back where they should be. Servicing the shutter is not that hard.
     
  5. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Subscriber

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    Repolishing camera lenses is for experts. If you have to ask about it, don't try it. Repolishing light abrasions on windshields is much more practical.
     
  6. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    That's just a big load of... well, I won't get into it. There's no way you're even going to get down (with the right abrasive) beyond 1-2 wavelengths of green light. The lenses aren't even formed to that sort of tolerance to begin with. Don't buy into all the 'labcoat mystique'.

    If it can give the guy a workable camera, and he's really got nothing to lose anyway - then why not?
     
  7. afsmithphoto

    afsmithphoto Member

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    Pre War?

    What Model Automat is it? If it predates WWII it's likely an uncoated lens. I know because I have a Rollei from this era.

    As with any uncoated lense you can expect a lack of contrast. Knowing how to use an uncoated lens can produce fine images though. (In B&W at least.) Shoot and develop your images as if you had pre-exposed the film to a small degree.

    You can get a fair idea of how old your camera is here:

    http://home.worldonline.dk/rongsted/Rolleisn.htm

    or here:

    http://www.siufai.dds.nl/Rolleiflex35_TLR.htm
     
  8. Jeffrey S. Winn

    Jeffrey S. Winn Member

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    The Rolleiflex in question has a model # of 1420261. From what I recall from looking up information on this camera, it was produced around 1950. The lens in question is a Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 1:3.5/75.

    I have a dremmel tool, and I'm considering giving this a try. I think I would like to try to polish the front of the lens by hand at first to prevent over doing it. I'll have to go slowly an check out the results as I go.
     
  9. Jeffrey S. Winn

    Jeffrey S. Winn Member

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    I'm considering using the dremmel tool. But, I think I'll first give it a try polishing by hand. The lens in question is a Xenar 1:3.5/75, and I believe it was produced around 1950.
     
  10. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    Give it a try - try it by hand at first - even with something nonabrasive. You'll probably only be able to get rid of even the most superficial of scratches even with quite a lot of elbow grease and an hour or two with the dremel. And, of course, make darn sure it's a buffing wheel you're using, and not something like a cutting disc! Just keep your method smart - and you can't really go wrong - i.e. trying to rotate the camera on some sort of turntable with the lens as central axis (so as to keep your action even across the lens). so - it just depends how deep the scratches are. if you can actually FEEL them with your fingers - well, I'd say the lens is pretty much gone - unless you want to try your hand at radically resurfacing the lens (in which case you'd have nothing to lose and it might be a fun experiment) - but otherwise for light surface scratching, that should do the trick. Look up some different optical polishing (not cutting) compounds online.
     
  11. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    I think that as long as one's using good technique, i.e. a good lens shade, etc. - coating isn't exactly the most important thing to image quality.
     
  12. Jeffrey S. Winn

    Jeffrey S. Winn Member

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    Thanks for the information. I looked up the camera, and it was produced between 1951-53. It is a Rolleiflex Automat MX, with a Xenar 1:3.5/75.
     
  13. Greg_E

    Greg_E Member

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    The Cerium Oxide was cheap, only around $25 with shipping, and it is one of the things that are used to polish lenses, not just windshields. There are a couple of grades, so this may be a more course grade, but again, you may have nothing to lose. You could send the lens to a repair place and let them fix it, or you could look around to find a telescope builder that is familiar with grinding and polishing their own lenses. Some of the telescope builders get into AR coatings and all sorts of wild stuff, you might get lucky.
     
  14. Ulrich Drolshagen

    Ulrich Drolshagen Subscriber

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    Hi,

    I'd suggest trying another film using a lensshade and see how it's coming out. Scratches on the *frontlens* have an astonishing low influence on sharpness and contrast as long they are not too many.
    Are you sure that the viewfinder and taking lens are in line? If they are not, you may have slightly unsharp negatives especially in closeups, as unfortunately I have with mine (a 3.5A MX from 52). It's going for CLA next week and will get an new groundglass as well :smile:

    cheers

    Ulrich
     
  15. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    I think this is true - but in a situation like this, it creates a LOT of stray light - so contrast is reduced and so is 'apparent' sharpness.
     
  16. Jeffrey S. Winn

    Jeffrey S. Winn Member

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    I gave the lens another hard look today, and did spend some time cleaning it with just lens paper and lens cleaning solution. Before I began this process, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't overlooking something obvious. In any event, I'll be off to get some polishing compound and the dremmel and give it a try. After all, I really don't have anything to lose on this camera.

    I'll be out of town for a few days, and I'll begin the process as soon as I return. I'll try to get this done, and post the results at a later date.

    Jeff
     
  17. Sparky

    Sparky Member

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    Just make sure you start off with something very light - in case that takes care of it. A polishing lube might be a good place to start.
     
  18. Mike Kovacs

    Mike Kovacs Member

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    Remove the front element, send it to ARAX in the Ukraine and for under $50 including postage you'll have a newly polished and MULTICOATED front element.

    This entire thread is making me sick to my stomach. A Dremel has enough speed to MELT the element. Ridiculous advice. Cerium oxide, by hand, go easy and take your time. Needless to say you do this with the element removed. It would be better to have the coating restored though. I have to assume its a green triangle coated Schneider lens on a 1950 model.
     
  19. tony lockerbie

    tony lockerbie Subscriber

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    I agree with Mike, either spend the dosh for a recoat or better still use the Rollei as is for that nice old fashioned look that you mentioned. If you shade the lens and photograph with some nice strong lighting you will get that beautiful glow that only these old lenses can give. Enjoy the old girl as she is one of the all time classics.
    Tony
     
  20. jjjs

    jjjs Member

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    Do not polish it, there should be hundreds of cleaning marks before it affecks the image quality. There must be something else wrong with the camera, are the shutter speeds accurate? If not, you are over exposing your film, a much more common reason for a poor image quality. And there can be haze inside the lens, wich can be little tricky to see, you have to use a very strong light, and lit the lens from side.
     
  21. David H. Bebbington

    David H. Bebbington Inactive

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    It just goes to show that, when attempting camera repairs, a lot of people make the mistake of using the wrong hammer and a totally inadequately-sized crowbar.

    My tip: The fastest way by far to remove scratches from lenses is with a blowtorch!
     
  22. jjjs

    jjjs Member

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    I have even faster one, use dynamite, it will blow all the scratches away in a fraction of a second.