Light Matters

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Voigtlander Vito CLR – Parts Bin Restoration Part 2

Restoring a camera is a twofold operation. You can restore a camera’s function, get it taking photos reliably, make it work the way it should (or as close as possible to how it should). But you can also restore a camera’s appearance, make it look the way it should. On some level, I’m less concerned with the aesthetics of a camera, as long as it doesn’t have a flow-on effect on function. I’d much rather have a working camera that looks a bit scrappy than a shiny camera that can’t take photos. However, if you want to finish the restoration completely, you need to address both aspects.

With this (quite obvious) dichotomy in mind, I followed up my recent work on the shutter of my parts bin Voigtländer Vito CLR with some work on the top cover of the camera, and specifically the control window for the exposure meter (to use the user manual’s terminology). The control window was separated from the cop cover and sitting loose in its hole. A few of the pictures on the internet of Vito CLRs that have the front-to-back oriented light meter show a similar state of affairs, so I think this must be a relatively common occurrence. Looking at the removed window and the underside of the top cover, I’m not surprised – the adhesive is rock-hard and looks quite a lot like rust. I’m a bit confused about how it would have originally been attached; it looks as though the adhesive went part of the way up the angled side of the window, but the hole in the top cover is large enough that this should not have been necessary. Given the state of the adhesive and the pictures of other examples, I’d be surprised if there was an example out there with the window intact in its original position (i.e. not restored), so I may never know.

Voigtländer Vito CLR light meter control window repair

The adhesive was quite stubborn – in fact, it wasn’t until it started dissolving ever so slightly in acetone (nail polish remover) that I realised it definitely wasn’t rust (isopropyl alcohol and naphtha didn’t cut it). The picture below shows how much (or how little) I was able to remove after soaking a tissue in nail polish remover and letting it sit in contact with the adhesive for around 5 minutes, then repeating.

Voigtländer Vito CLR light meter control window repair

To readhere the window to the top cover, I used some pieces of double-sided tape from a craft store. It’s not particularly heavy duty tape, but it’s nevertheless surprisingly tenacious stuff (it stuck to the semi-smoothed remnants of adhesive just fine, as to the mostly cleaned window) and it’s super easy to trim excess away with a craft scalpel. This shows where the tape went (with backing paper still in place; the piece on the right was trimmed down after the window was in place.

Voigtländer Vito CLR light meter control window repair

Initially, I readhered the window without addressing its paint. I think the paint is to add diffuse light to the light meter chamber. The meter (that is, the silhouette of the meter needle and the match needle) is reflected along the length of the camera below the rangefinder and then out through the base of the viewfinder, so I’m guessing (please chime in to correct me if I’m wrong) that the diffuse light helps to provide a more stable reflection in changing light conditions. The meter was quite visible in its current state, and I didn’t have any suitable paint, so I didn’t bother to address this at the time. I did, however, take the opportunity to clean all the viewfinder and rangefinder glass while the top cover was off.

Voigtländer Vito CLR light meter control window repair

Over the next day or so of thinking it over, I eventually realised I wasn’t really happy to leave the job half done. After all, the whole point of this part of the restoration was aesthetic; the meter already worked with its loose window, so why leave the appearance only half addressed? So I bought a paint pen from an office supplies store that was specifically for use on non-porous surfaces. I masked off the top of the meter with some scotch tape and painted the non-angled sides as a test. Getting an even coat was a little challenging at the edges, but it dried on well enough and with two coats it looked reasonably smooth. However, I hit a snag when trying to mask off the curved side of the top of the window – I had thought I could run the craft scalpel around the curved top to get the scotch tape to match the curve, but this proved too difficult. So I didn’t bother. The top of the curved side has a slight lip, and this was enough of a guide for the pen. Again, two coats and it was just about smooth enough, and the lightest of scrapes around the top edges with the scalpel neatened the edges well. I was a little concerned the two coats might be too thick to let much light through, but it’s fairly thin paint and is still translucent. And, when reattached, the window now looks much tidier. I’m not sure how close it looks to the original (it is very white), but it doesn’t look like a stained, half-gone mess anymore.

Voigtländer Vito CLR light meter control window repair

Voigtländer Vito CLR light meter control window repair

When I picked up the camera after first reattaching the window, it felt more solid, more complete. It was like the camera was itself again and knew it. Maybe I was going a bit loopy on acetone fumes but it was a rather satisfying moment. This camera wasn’t in a terrible condition when I bought it from the parts bin (if it had been, I probably wouldn’t have bought it), and these cameras aren’t especially rare or sought-after, but it is a capable little camera that can hold its own in terms of both functionality and image quality, and it needed some attention. I hope that it enjoys its second chance at life, now that it is hale and whole.

Voigtländer Vito CLR

Well, nearly whole. The loop of leatherette around the base of its lens barrel is still missing. But this is Australia. Dressing down is a national pastime.


3 responses to “Voigtlander Vito CLR – Parts Bin Restoration Part 2”

  1. Chris Avatar

    Thanks for this post. I see it is from a while ago, but isn’t that the wonder of the Internet and vintage cameras; eventually someone else will Be looking for exactly what has been posted.
    I just got a CLR, this week. It seems the rangefinder image is very faint, not really visible. I’m not familiar with rangefinders this is my first, but this one looks like it isn’t working. Do you happen to have , or do you fancy making a post about that mechanism and how to fix it?
    I’m tempted to lift the lid and at least clean everything I see. It’s a bit worrying but the camera was dead cheap, and the plan always was to play with it.
    Any photos and tips gratefully accepted.

    1. iain Avatar

      Thanks for the comment Chris. I haven’t had to fix any rangefinders before, so I don’t have a great deal of advice to give at this stage. My understanding of how they work leads me to think that you may need to replace the mirror and/or the viewfinder block (as re-silvering the mirror is likely to be uneconomical, and separating the viewfinder block may cause more problems than it fixes). However, the wonder of the Internet is indeed great – I see a few suggestions for reviving rangefinder patches by obstructing the viewfinder in various ways, such as a small piece of tape or other obstruction on the front of the viewfinder centred on the patch. The aim being to reduce the contrast between the dim rangefinder reflected image and the viewfinder image. Depending on how much you value the aesthetics of the camera, that might be sufficient for you, or it might be a good first step to make sure it’s only dim and not also misaligned or otherwise damaged before attempting any fixes. There’s a discussion on various techniques and their pros/cons on an old but still relevant post here:

      1. Chris Avatar

        Hi Iain,

        Aha! This is a good catch. A temporary save, but a save nevertheless.

        Tried it, and it is an improvement. I’m not keen on sticky tape fixes, but until I pick up the courage to dig deeper and replace anything, this will do.

        Thanks for the link. Much appreciated.


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