Voigtlander Vito CLR – Parts Bin Restoration Part 1

Judging by the bulk of my recent camera acquisitions, I have a thing for trying to restore and recover the unloved. This started a while ago, I believe, with my Dad’s old Voigtländer Vito CD. It is clearly broken, and its shutter is gummed up to the point it doesn’t open willingly. I have a theory (one I’m unable to confirm, though production dates for these cameras support it) that Dad dropped the Vito CD and tried unsuccessfully to repair it; he then replaced it with a Vitoret R but wasn’t happy with its lack of a light meter, and so bought the Canon FT QL that is now the heart and soul of my photographic adventures. About 8 years ago I managed to work the Vito CD’s shutter free, but not permanently. I also bought a Zenit E with a broken shutter about that time, which is still in a hundred pieces in a box, so it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the cameras I try to restore. But the Vito CD has stuck in my mind as something I have to finish one day.

With that in mind, I bought a Voigtländer Vito CLR from a parts bin at a camera fair. I asked what was wrong with it and the seller didn’t give a definite answer. The shutter speed ring was quite stiff, and the light meter window was loose, but the rangefinder appeared functional and the body was in fairly good condition. For $10 it would make a good parts camera, or a bargain of a baby rangefinder if I could get it working. As the top model of the Vito range, it has both a lightmeter like the Vito CD and a rangefinder like Dad’s old Vitoret R; it also has the Color-Skopar 50mm f/2.8 lens that is reputed to be a fair bit better than the Color-Lanthar lenses of the other two. It wasn’t a hard decision to buy it. And when it became evident that most of my other repair projects require (de)soldering work, I decided to take on the shutter speed ring repair, suspecting that there might be some misaligned or broken parts inside.

Voigtländer Vito CLR shutter

It’s relatively easy to get to the shutter mechanism of Vito C series cameras. At least, thus sayeth the internet. All possible sources I found, including the Voigtländer repair document from Mike Butkus and another I obtained on a forum, say the first step is to remove the three retaining screws on the focus ring. But I couldn’t find these three screws for days. I began to suspect, despite the silence of the repair documents on this step, that the focus ring’s distance gauge would have to be removed. I also suspected (based on a failed approach to the Vito CD’s shutter issues) that the distance gauge would be springy and send screws flying if I wasn’t careful, but it was relatively well behaved, and sure enough the three retaining screws were underneath.

Voigtländer Vito CLR shutter

Dear future self: do yourself a favour, and mark your lens elements properly before removing them. I don’t quite remember whether I didn’t mark the front element at all, or just marked it with lead pencil. Either way, by the time I was putting the front element back on the lens, I was flying blind. Set the lens to infinity before removing the distance gauge, don’t twist the focus ring when you’re taking it off, and mark both the casing of the lens element and a reference point below it so that you’ve got something to work with. Also, find the point at which the element comes free when unscrewing it, and make a mark (probably a slightly different mark to the first) on the casing in line with your reference point so that you know approximately where to find that point again. Save yourself a headache.

Anyhow, below the front lens element is the middle element, and this needs to be removed using a spanning wrench. The holes for the wrench are hard up against the inside edge of the screw thread for the front element, so the bulky tips of my regular lens wrench wouldn’t fit. My first attempted workaround was to use a pair of drafting compasses. I had bought two pair at a newsagency, the cheap kind you used to draw lines with at school, and swapped the arms so that one pair had two pointy ends. This didn’t work so well. It spanned just fine, but it didn’t wrench – it bent, and one of the points fell down onto the middle lens element. A fine lesson in the relationship between the quality of your tools and the likelihood of success. So instead I took a lateral approach to using the straight-tipped spanning wrench I had initially rejected, removing the end of one arm from the cross-piece so that the arm could be held at an angle to the other arm. Taking care to hold the wrench arms securely in place, this worked perfectly.

Voigtländer Vito CLR shutter

From this point on, disassembly generally followed the repair manual’s guidance. Once I’d removed the shutter’s front plate, I found that everything was basically in order – no obviously broken parts and everything seemed relatively clean. On further inspection, I found that the shutter speed ring was only stiff when it was linked to the brass ring around the outside of the helicoid in the photo below. This brass ring also has a link to the aperture ring, so I assume it is the actuator for the light meter match needle, as the match needle moves when you move either of the shutter speed ring or the aperture ring. I cleaned up this helicoid using isopropyl alcohol on cotton buds (not really sufficient, I know, but the best I could manage without a full tear-down and I wasn’t feeling confident enough to attempt that) and re-lubricated it with Helimax-XP. This allowed the shutter speed ring, when linked to the brass ring, to move freely enough that it could be adjusted with one hand – a satisfying improvement. While I was in there, I also dabbed some microdots of camera oil on the gear shafts for the self-timer and the shutter mechanism. The self-timer actually runs through its full operation now, which is some kind of miracle.

Voigtländer Vito CLR shutter

It was while putting everything back together that I realised the stupidity of using lead pencil to mark lens element alignments. Despite getting it all back together in a fairly convincing-looking way by tracing back my steps (with some fascinating side journeys, like observing how the actuator pin for the rangefinder works), I couldn’t be sure that the focus was accurate. I had read on the interwebs about using a ground glass across the film plane to test focus, and of using frosted scotch tape if you don’t have a spare ground glass. I also read about using a piece of CD case with tape stuck to it, as it’s more rigid and not prone to sagging. This is a great idea, but CD cases aren’t trivial to cut neatly, so I cut a piece of overhead transparency to the width of 35mm film and used that instead. It sits easily on the film rails and is quite rigid enough to avoid problems.

Voigtländer Vito CLR shutter

As I found when fixing the Tokina lens, it’s hard to find somewhere to focus to infinity when you live on the bottom floor of an apartment block. I headed out to the street and ended up propping the camera on the dashboard of my car to get a decent view of a mess of powerlines about 50 metres away. I set the shutter to B and held it open with one hand, and turned the front lens element using the other, then used a magnifying glass to view the image displayed on the pseudo-glass. When I had achieved as much resolution as possible between the power lines (which are quite small targets – the clarity of an image on frosted scotch tape is adequate but not stellar) I marked the casing of the lens element and a reference point with some fine scratches, then headed back inside to reattach the focus ring. With everything reassembled, the only thing left was to test it. The test film images below (shot on Lomography 400 colour film) show that focus is accurate. Lucky save! But also a pretty effective method.

Voigtlander Vito CLR test film

Voigtlander Vito CLR test film

Voigtlander Vito CLR test film

I quite enjoyed shooting this test roll. The Voigtländer Vito CLR feels quite familiar after shooting a Vito CD and a Vitoret R, but the combination of rangefinder and light meter in one package makes for a more complete camera. Looking at the test images, I’m also impressed by the clarity of the Color-Skopar lens when compared to the Color-Lanthars of the other two cameras, which can be softer if still quite pleasant (images from both can be found a fair way back on my Flickr photostream). The Vito CLR is, somehow, a more serious camera tucked into the same round, unassuming (even with all the chrome), silent-as-a-mouse little Vito C-series body. Ten dollars and a few hours’ work is a small price to pay to give a good camera a second chance at life.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II Astrophotography Part 2

I wrote earlier about my astrophotography attempts with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. Over the Christmas holidays, I had a couple of chances to use the SkyWatcher Star Adventurer. However, they were very short chances. It turns out that polar alignment in the southern hemisphere is rather difficult, even with a polar scope. It took me several nights before I found the right stars and achieved an acceptable alignment. And then, just as I could start taking well-aligned photos, the camera battery died. I usually have a backup battery charged — not this time. I had only managed one set of 10 and a few other test photos. But this is one of the tests:

Carina Nebula

This is a crop of an out-of-camera JPEG that shows the Carina Nebula taken from Canberra. It was a 50s exposure taken with a Nikkor-H 85mm f1.8 lens (vintage ftw). Click through to Flickr to see it properly – there’s no noticeable star trailing, and the increase in definition of the nebula compared to Deep Sky Stacker stacks of single-digit seconds exposures is quite satisfying. Obviously there are still several issues, particularly fringing and overal sharpness; I think my techniques in both cameracraft and photoshop are to blame there.

Unfortunately, it was fairly rainy for the rest of the holiday, so I didn’t get any more chances for astrophotography. C’est la vie.

Canon A-1 wheeze fix

There’s a well-known issue with Canon A series cameras where the mirror damper mechanism’s lubrication dries out and the mechanism becomes slow and noisy. The noise sounds to me like a wheeze, but other people call it a squawk or a squeal or a screech. The human ability to be flexible with onomatopoeic terminology is still an advantage that we have over the computers that will one day rule us, but it does make it a little bit more challenging to google.

I bought an A-1 recently, and apart from the wheeze it was in pretty good condition. I decided to fix the wheeze. There are quite a lot of methods going around the internet, but they fall into one of two categories based on how you re-lubricate the mirror damper:

– Through the bottom of the camera

– Through one of the lens mount screw holes

There’s also a lot of really bad advice out there about spraying WD-40 in towards the mechanism. This is like using a shotgun to nail a picture to the wall. It’s not the right kind of tool, in the first place; even though a shotgun and a hammer/nail combo would both end up putting a hole of some kind in the wall, the shotgun will make the wrong kind of hole. WD-40 is only partly a lubricant; when sprayed, it goes everywhere and gets sticky over time. See my previous posts for what I think about sticky substances around cameras. For this fix, you need a tiny drop of the right kind of lubricant in a very precise location. Other fixes online suggested dropping oil into the camera body from the bottom of the camera, and that’s bad because it’s not precise, and there are things (i.e. the focusing screen) that you really don’t want to get oil on.

The most precise fixes involved using a long needle to place a tiny drop of oil on the mirror damper mechanism. Using a long, straight needle from the bottom of the camera seems to be a fairly common way to do this; however, this seemed to require a fairly precise guess about where the end of the needle was. If you go in via the top-left (looking at the front of the camera) lens mount screw with a curved needle, as described in this video, you can get a bit more feedback.

Canon A-1 Wheeze Fix

I used a 25-gauge needle that I curved a little more than the needle in the video. With this curvature, I could find the axle that needed lubrication and feel that the end of the needle was in the right place by moving it back and forth across the curved top of the axle. With the needle on top of the axle, I could also move it side to side to make sure that the needle point was close to the gear. I practiced this a few times before applying the oil. I also practiced making a tiny bead of oil on the end of the needle so I knew how much pressure to apply to the syringe – really not much at all!

Canon A-1 Wheeze Fix

The first few shutter releases sounded about the same. I waited about a minute, tried again, and the noise was getting softer but was still there. After about 5 minutes, the noise was gone, and has stayed gone.

I would very much recommend the method of re-lubricating the mirror damper mechanism through the screw hole. A blunt-end syringe needle of the kind I used here can be gently curved with some careful pressure from round-nosed pliers, giving a tool that provides enough feedback to be sure of your accuracy.

Tokina SD 28-70mm lens focus ring repair

A little while ago, I wrote about fixing the zoom ring on the Tokina SD 28-70mm lens that I got with a parts camera. Fixing the focus ring took a little more effort, and it needed to be done during the day so I could test infinity focus with a distant object, but it followed roughly the same principles.

As with the zoom ring, the focus ring was held together by scotch tape as suggested in this MFlenses forum post. The scotch tape’s adhesive had degraded to the point it was a slimy mess. However, the focus ring’s function is a little different. Below the focus ring rubber is a join between two parts: the rearmost is a metal ring that bears the distance markers and the focus stops, and the foremost is a metal ring that forms part of the front lens group’s mounting (on this lens, the front group rotates when focusing). The ring with the markings can come away from the front ring and move a considerable way down the lens barrel, which lets the front group move freely. Calibration of focus depends on sticking the two rings together in just the right alignment, ideally aligning the infinity marking with the correct focus stop when the lens is perfectly focused at infinity.

Tokina SD 28-70mm lens focus ring repair

Because the ring with the markings can move a long way down the lens barrel, the scotch tape adhesive had a lot more scope to get into the wrong places. It soon became evident that I needed to remove the front element to clean it all up. And it’s just as well I did — it seems that someone had attempted this repair in the past, as there was a great big fingerprint on the rear lens element of the front group. I hadn’t noticed this when inspecting the lens optics, but I was grateful for the opportunity to clean it up.

Tokina SD 28-70mm lens focus ring repair

Once cleaned up, I reattached the front element (I don’t think I got the alignment correct, but as the front element rotates on this lens I don’t think it matters greatly), then put it on a camera and went outside. I focused the lens on an apartment block about 10km away by rotating the front element directly, using the camera’s split image to get a decent focus. Then, I aligned the markings ring with the infinity focus stop and used a small piece of scotch tape to fix it in place. Then I checked by focusing on closer things then back to the apartment block, and also by focusing at 28mm zoom instead of 70mm. I got it as close as I could, erring beyond infinity slightly if anything.

Tokina SD 28-70mm lens focus ring repair

I fixed the ring in place more securely with two more pieces of scotch tape, then put the focus ring rubber back on. This one hadn’t stretched like the zoom one had, so it didn’t need any padding.

Tokina SD 28-70mm lens focus ring repair

With both rings repaired, the lens is now basically back to normal. It’s not the most amazing of lenses, and it has a strange rotational feeling when taking a photo (possibly the aperture mechanism is a bit out of alignment), so it might need some further work. However, it’s much more usable than when I got it, so I count it as a win so far.

Astrophotography with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Compromise can be a good thing. A couple of years ago, I got interested in astrophotography through looking at NASA’s Astronomy Picture Of the Day, and then I took a photo of a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on a Canon PowerShot SX120IS digital point-and-shoot that happened to capture two Galilean moons.

Basic, but I was hooked. It wasn’t long before room was being made in the budget for a new digital camera. We decided on a compromise between astrophotographical aspirations and family use; I was pretty keen for a Canon DSLR of some kind, but the size and waterproofing and functions of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II won out. I’m glad, because it’s a fantastic camera. It’s easy to use, but it doesn’t dumb down operation in the way nearly everything is trying to do these days. It’s got a list of functions as long as your arm, but it’s small and light enough for my 3yo niece to hold and use it herself (with supervision). It’s weatherproofed. It takes many styling cues from the Olympus OM-1, which is just a gorgeous camera. And it’s mirrorless, so adapting old/manual focus lenses and maintaining infinity focus is cheap. The picture below has it attached to a Canon FL 200m f3.5 lens and 2x teleconverter, just for kicks.


I really enjoy shooting with it. It’s an enjoyable camera and it can handle just about anything you throw at it. But its Micro Four Thirds sensor isn’t quite optimal for for astrophotography – a bit on the small and noisy side. I’m still working on getting the settings right to reduce sensor noise for general wide field and deep field astro work, but below are some I’ve managed.

20161002 Milky Way 5
Milky Way from Canberra
Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8 at f2.2
ISO 8000
170 x 1s exposures, stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, processed in Lightroom (I think)


Orion nebula
Orion Nebula from Sydney
Canon FL 200mm f3.5 at f3.5
ISO 800
~250 x 1s exposures, stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, processed in Photoshop


Large Magellanic Cloud from Canberra
ISO 3200
~50 x 10s exposures, stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, processed in Lightroom and Photoshop

These are all taken on a fixed tripod, hence the low exposure times. However, I’ve recently got a SkyWatcher Star Adventurer tracking mount, so I’m pretty keen to see what I can do with that once I get the hang of using it. Hopefully I can also keep working on overcoming the camera’s noise issues with some magical alignment of the settings. Just need some clear nights…

Tokina SD 28-70mm lens zoom ring repair

I recently bought a camera as parts, and it came with a Tokina SD 28-70mm 1:3.5-4.5 lens. This lens was in a bit of a state, and I already have a Canon 35-70mm FD mount zoom, but I felt like I had to at least try to repair it on principle, you know? The optics of the lens seemed fine, but the focus and zoom rings were both out of action. The focus ring moves the focusing element, but can also slip backward, lose contact with whatever holds the focusing element, and spin freely. The zoom ring was relatively stiff, though the rubber was loose and would easily slide around the ring. I tackled the zoom ring first because it seemed easier.

Prompted by this MFlenses post, I removed the zoom ring rubber and confirmed that the scotch tape holding the rings together was indeed the culprit. I still can’t believe that the fairly critical worky bits of this lens are basically held together with stationery (but this does seem to answer the poster’s question about whether this is how these Tokina lenses came from the factory). The scotch tape’s adhesive had degraded to the point that it was a fairly slimy lubricant and was doing very little to hold things in place. I removed the tape, and then removed its disassociated adhesive with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol on a cotton bud.

Because the zoom ring rubber had also stretched, applying fresh scotch tape wouldn’t have fully fixed the problem. I had been impressed by the stickiness of the self-adhesive craft foam I used to repair the Ricoh 500G, and thought that it might make a decent substitute. Since it came in a multicoloured pack, I also decided to follow this guy’s lead and have some fun. The lens has a red ring around the business end, so I used some red foam cut into a strip of the appropriate width with a rotary cutter. The foam sheets weren’t quite long enough to reach around the circumference, so I cut an extra piece to match and made sure it was on the bottom of the lens barrel when attached. I tested rotation at this point – it stuck well and the ring was easier to move. I then replaced the zoom ring rubber, which fit quite snugly over the top of the foam. I think, despite the colour of the foam not quite matching the red at the end of the lens, it matches the lens’s aesthetic quite well. And it is definitely easier (read: actually possible) to use the zoom ring now.

Tokina SD 28-70mm 1:3.5-4.5 lens - zoom ring repair

I wasn’t able to do the focus ring at the same time because it was night. I need to be able to focus at infinity to line the focus ring up to the front element correctly, and that’s much easier in daylight. The focus ring rubber isn’t as stretched so I doubt it will need the same foam treatment. However, if padding was required, I think I would do it with black foam so that it wouldn’t look too busy.

Ricoh 500G light seal repair

During a trip to Canberra, I dropped in to the Canberra Photographic Market and picked up a Ricoh 500G from a parts bin for $10.

Ricoh 500G

The camera was reportedly in “probably fine” condition, but was half way through a light seal repair.

Ricoh 500G light seals 1

I finished cleaning it up (using lens cleaning fluid – not optimal, but got the job done with some cotton buds and elbow grease) then started to apply some new seals. I followed Phill Allen’s excellent instructions here for the most part. However, I didn’t purchase a kit of seals from the well-renowned Jon Goodman, but forged on with what I could find. The only self-adhesive foam I could readily find in Sydney was about 1.5mm thick, which is about 0.5mm thicker than the kit judging by Phill Allen’s photos, and this did present some difficulties.

Ricoh 500G light seals 2

Ricoh 500G light seals 3

You can see in the photo below that the action of closing the door has caused some issues with the foam at the latch end.

Ricoh 500G light seals 4

With the seals fully in place, the extra half millimetre made the door very difficult to close. The primary culprit was the top section (with the cut-out for the viewfinder) – with this in place, the camera door closure felt dangerously tenuous. Not even some judicious compression would resolve the issue to my satisfaction. So, I opted for another solution.

Ricoh 500G light seals 6

Yes, wool glued to metal with PVA looks rubbish. However, it works. The test roll I shot showed no light leaks at all. After some more use, the foam seals have compressed further and the door is easier to close. So, I think it may be worth replacing the wool seals with strips of foam at some point in the future, if not the full top seal, for neatness if nothing else.

I really like this camera. It is quite small and quiet and discrete, even if the lens is more bulky than an Olympus XA. Shutter priority auto-exposure isn’t my favourite but it’s a handy inclusion. And a 40mm lens feels quite at home after shooting Voigtländer Vito/Vitoret cameras for some years. It has definitely sold me on the idea of looking through parts bins for treasure.

Canon FT QL mirror damper replacement

I thought I’d make my first post about some work done on my favourite camera: my dad’s old Canon FT QL.

20181106 Canon FT mirror damper 3

This fully mechanical SLR was built from 1966-72. It has through-the-lens metering (the only electrical function) and a nifty Quick Load system for film insertion (honestly not sure why it’s not ubiquitous in later cameras – it’s foolproof). A camera like this was a great place to start learning how to use cameras properly, as you have to do everything. Doubly so, as the light meter is getting a little iffy. I just “sunny 16” it up when the light meter gets sketchy and it generally works a treat.

This camera has had some work done on it back in the 70s or 80s – badly. Dad kept the receipt. The workman’s notes can be paraphrased as “Couldn’t fix the issue, you’ll need parts to fix this :O also, I tried cleaning the insides and now your focusing screen’s light meter match circle is gone YOLO kthxbai.”

Somewhere along the line it also lost its mirror damper, though from disintegration or incompetence it’s hard to say. The mirror would whack up against the frame surrounding the focusing screen, which was quite noisy. I think, over the years, it also made the mirror mount slightly loose, as the mirror would sometimes travel outward, as it were, and get stuck against the mirror damper’s baffle plate and not return, causing the viewfinder to be black after a shot. How the mirror never broke I am not sure.

For my first attempt at replacing the mirror damper, I used some 2mm black craft foam bought from a local art store. I cut it to size (about 2.5-3mm wide) with a craft knife (not very well – turns out a rotary cutter is a far better tool for this). I attached it with as small an amount possible of PVA glue. While not a great glue for metal, it adhered the foam to the camera well enough.

20181105 Canon FT mirror damper 1

However, after reattaching the baffle plate and testing, I wasn’t sure this foam was thick enough. It didn’t quite seem to stop contact between the mirror frame and the camera body. I had since found some 1.5mm black craft foam with a self-adhesive backing, so I cut some to size and attached on top of the first strip of foam. This photo makes it look less aligned than it is, and I might well re-do this at some point with two strips of the self-adhesive foam instead.

Canon FT QL mirror damper repair 4

However, it is just thick enough to effectively stop the mirror hitting the camera body both in manual and automatic actuation, but not thick enough to obstruct the light path.

Canon FT QL mirror damper repair 5

It seems to be working well in shooting so far. It is quieter – the Canon FT QL could never be described as a quiet camera, but the shutter sounds less clunky and more deliberate now.

There are still a few things I could do on this camera. As it’s got fairly high sentimental value, I’ve just bought a copy that’s in a bit of a state that I can use to practice tearing it down, and I might salvage its focusing screen to get the match circle back.

Hello world!

This blog is going to detail my adventures with cameras.

I have a few interests in photography:

  • Film photography: I have a bunch of old film cameras, and I enjoy keeping the analogue skills alive. Sometimes I develop my own black and white film, though this is on hiatus until I can move into a house/apartment with a laundry/darkroom.
  • Astrophotography: I love space, and taking photos of space is cool. I’m not great at it but it’s fun.
  • Camera repair: Part of keeping the analogue skills alive is keeping the analogue cameras alive. I’m learning (mostly by trial, error, and Google) how to repair these old and beautiful machines.
  • Photography in general: I’m not great but I love it. It’s a different way to look at and think about the world.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hartacus/

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

Thanks for reading!