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Project 11, Rejuvenating a rotting Rolleiflex.
Tatty Rolleiflex

18th November 2020.

This Rolleiflex dates from 1935 and was acquired for £35 GBP in October 2020 and we probably paid way too much for it. Generally they are referred to as "Old Standard", this being a unofficial retrospective name applied after the introduction of the revised front panel in 1939. Available from 1932 the old standard model represents the beginning of the Rolleiflex legend as we know it, although it was not the first TLR from Franke & Heidecke.

This example is a wreck. It has been heavily used, probably as a professional camera, modified, broken, then fallen into amateur hands, bodged, then hand painted badly and finally allowed to rot. Nothing works. Aperture leaves aren't moving, shutter won't cock or release, front standard is flopping about and half hanging off and there are a host of missing screws. Ordinarily, the abraded nickel plate is a sign of a glorious and busy past, sadly this is obscured by the thick hand brushed paint and skid marks left from screwdrivers slipping out of various places whilst someone has attempted to get it apart. You'd pass right? Of course you would, and you'd be right to, but this is a camera donkey sanctuary and rescue it we will. Much of the leather has been cut to get it off at some point, then stuck back on with rubber contact adhesive. Ugh. Since the camera will need repainting and new leather, the worn nickel plate will look very out of place, accordingly it looks like the Old Rollei is going to get a major rebuild to near new condition.

As this is likely to take some time, this page will be an ongoing project, let the games begin!

Ruined mirror

I decided that the thing needed to come apart completely, even down to de-riveting certain assemblies. But the first task was to identify why all the various functions were broken and what would be needed to repair them. Removing the viewing hood revealed an intact but filthy focus screen, attached to it by rust was the bubble level. This was all taken off to reveal the rapidly de silvering mirror. This was not mounted as a surface reflector, but reflecting through the glass. As yet I don't know if this is a mistake or not, I would expect Rollei to use a surface reflector, and there was no backing paint on this mirror suggesting it should be mounted silvered side up. I suspect it was mounted backwards at some point. New mirrors are available but this one will be repaired to maintain originality - at double the cost of a straight replacement. It's a crime of passion.

Viewing Optics

The barrel holding the viewing optics was removed and dismantled. The objective element is a rather battered and was filthy, but it is seen here after cleaning. The hand applied paint will be removed and the part refinished, however a tiny bit of brassing will be left so the camera doesn't look too false when finished.

The taking optics were in poor shape with a vibrant fungus infection in all groups and elements. These were hastily removed, cleaned in strong acetic acid then thoroughly washed afterwards. Luckily there was no etching, the objective is not that great but will be kept to preserve originality. The serial numbers are appropriate for the camera, dating it to 1935, which seems right for the body serial and finish used, as there were subtle changes during the six years this camera model was made, 1932 to 1938.

Fungus infected lens

Nasty fungus infection on taking lens. This is the rear face of the Rollei's Tessar objective element. A more vibrant garden would be hard to find outside of Kew. Fungus is living organism and one of it's by products is a mild acid, left in contact with the glass for long enough it will etch the glass permanently. It also releases microscopic spores that float in the air and infect anything they land on. You really shouldn't be storing infected cameras. Cleaning often involves using white vinegar to kill off the infection. This lens had a full strength acetic acid bath. Every part of this camera is getting a full clean, so it will be safe to put it with the others once finished, but there's no way this camera would be allowed to sit in a cabinet with others in the state it arrived.

Both the Tessar and the Heidoscop lenses are in pretty rough condition, the camera will usable but will give rather less contrast than when new.

Compur Cover Removed Taken before the optics were removed, as the investigation into the mechanical issues began. The front panel that hides the Compur is retained by two nickel plated rings driven by a special peg spanner or the pointed end of a lens wrench with a bit of care. Sadly, previous efforts used no such niceties, instead resorting to a screwdriver that skidded all over the show, taking chunks of the rings, nickel plate and cover with it. That's going to need a fair bit of work to resolve. The geared levers serve to control what is a standard 44mm diameter rim set Compur Rapid hidden under a cover. The Compur shutter carries none of the maker's markings as it is unseen, and the usual levers are slightly truncated as they only need to engage with these geared levers, rather than the user's fingers. The reason for the non functioning aperture was readily apparent, whoever last had it apart hadn't aligned the lever with its slot. But the leaves were very stiff when I attempted to move them. A similar arrangement controls shutter speeds. The lowest lever cocks the shutter by moving it upwards and releases by moving down. Completely solid, at this stage it's not determined why. The gears transfer the drive to the indicator wheels to display the aperture and shutter speed selected in a small window above the viewing lens. The whole set up is caked in dried grease and dirt.
Compur shutter blades

44mm diameter Compur Rapid, rear side view. I whipped the Compur out to see what awaited me. It's in a terrible state, with most parts coated in surface rust. I just wanted to see if it would potentially work again, so rather than overhaul it properly I just gave it a rough going over. The lever that engages the cocking was stiff, a quick clean had it engaging again. Then the release would fire, but the shutter leaves wouldn't. That was the shutter pawl not engaging as the tail of the spring was missing. Holding it in place got the leaves moving, but they wouldn't return... The return spring was seized. Off that came, a rough de gunk had that working. The timed speeds, completely seized, but a clean had them showing signs of life. One leaf had a bent tip, that snagged as it fired. Out came the main body to smooth the leaf tip. They are well scratched from thousands of releases. That's enough for now, I proved that it can be made to work.

At some point the camera was modified professionally to have a flash fitted. This was done very neatly, and entailed cutting three slots into the Compur's shell and routing a thin flat wire to engage with part of the shutter mechanism when it reached the fully open position. It also meant adding a socket to the front panel and leather covering. Done many years ago, the wire's insulation had broken down and the core was shorting against the shell. This would have been very annoying, for as soon as you plugged in the flash it would go off, and being pre electronic flash - would have expended one of your big photoflood bulbs. Given that the camera was very elderly by this time, this is likely what ended this camera's professional life before being disposed of. This flash modification will be reversed.

Rolleiflex focus racks

With the front standard removed, it became obvious why the camera was falling to bits, a couple of the focus screw drives were in backwards, so the drives simply fell out. Easily resolved. All the gears are in good shape protected by the original but now stiff grease. The original crackle paint finish on the zinc shell is long gone and repainted in gooey black paint. That will be more of a challenge as this crackle paint isn't available in this pattern. Fortunately it's used on relatively small areas so a reasonable approximation of the pattern will be used, by pre texturing and then over painting. A modern wrinkle paint can be found, but is more suitable for 1960s technical instruments, as the pattern is more raised and tighter.

A similar situation exists on the viewing hood, which is crackle painted internally. On pre 1935 models this was also the case on the hood sides externally, luckily for us, Rollei appear to have switched to smooth paint externally between 1934 and 1935.

The nameplate was originally gloss smooth black with white in fill. Someone has decided to polish all this out. Worryingly this has thinned the metal down and the engraving is significantly shallower than when new.

Also seen to one side is the focus scale, it seems that before 1934 these were painted black with white in fill below the nickel plated knurled rim, but switched to overall nickel with black in fill thereafter.

Who's ready to give up on this one?

Crank

Apart from all that nasty hand daubed paint, it doesn't look that bad. Who am I kidding? The leather has shrunk and there is Evo Stik oozing out in places it has no right to be. The worn nickel is normally a badge of honour, but in this case it has to go.

The side panel cannot be removed unless the hinge pin is removed from the crank handle.

Film counter

The recessed side panel this side is pressed from soft aluminium, it distorts easily and corrodes. There's a surprising amount of muck underneath, all this mechanism needs to come out, but it looks like cleaning is all that's required. The main zinc casting is fairly inert so doesn't decay appreciably. Two screws had corroded into their holes and needed drilling to remove. I'll worry about tapping new threads later.

Kit Rolleiflex

As of 20th November 2020 the Old Standard Rolleiflex is a kit of parts, divided into sub assemblies and separate tasks to be completed. First off the shells will be stripped and cleaned then a painting plan devised. There are several paint finishes to contend with and they need to be made in order. The matt black anti reflection coating is a heat cured paint and very tough, this has survived well enough to touch up and keep. Next the crackle finish texture will be applied to the zinc shell and brass sides of the viewing hood. Then the matt black paint to the inside of the viewing hood will be applied thinly over the existing crackle finish to freshen it up. Matt black undercoat to the zinc shell. When fully dry the gloss coat will go over the top of the crackle undercoat and over spray onto the nameplate for a glassy finish in that area. This will need to cure for several days before the in fill can be attempted. Modern solvents behave differently as health and safety regulations have intervened. While the air brush is loaded with gloss black it will be used to do the viewing hood front and external sides. Well that's the plan as it stands.

Paint stripping

Next stop for these bits is a tank of Nitro Mors paint stripper. Nasty stuff, but it will eat through all that gooey Evo Stik and thick tar that's masquerading as paint.

Plating Pile

With various deep scratches polished out and the slots in the lock rings tidied up, this pile of bits is on the way to the plater's, they will be electro stripped, acid cleaned and then tank electro nickel plated in Brighton, currently the Rolleiflex is spread all over the UK.

That's where we are as of 22nd November 2020.

Scraped-standard

November 29th, 2020.

Some 32 hours went into the Rolleiflex this week, which of course makes it a total economic write off and many further problems have been discovered. It's the first time I have found a metal fatigue crack in a camera, so you'll get the general idea.

The main shell had several sessions in the paint booth and is now being allowed to harden. The Rolleiflex logo is so heavily polished that there's barely any sign of it now, so that will present a challenge later.

The viewing hood has also been in and out of the paint booth and currently awaits re-assembly.

Most of the sub assemblies have been cleaned de-greased, but the hatch is yet to be started as it's soaking in penetrant, due to being seized with aluminium corrosion.

Here you see the front standard almost stripped clean. This is a die cast zinc component. It's an excellent process, but for one factor, the parts tend to be quite brittle. There is a long and old crack running halfway around the lower lens surround. This was probably done by someone gripping it very tightly whilst they scraped off all the paint in the past, there are deep scrape marks all over it attesting to this.

Rollei Compur cover

The cover for the Compur shutter was similarly hand painted black previously and had to be stripped bare, re spraying it would mean the etchings would need to be cleaned afterwards.

Re-etching

After painting with a matt black finish with a very fine pigment, the fiddly task of cleaning out the engraved markings starts. Originally these were put in with a rotary engraving tool, scaled down from a master using a system similar to those used for making coin blanks. The engraving would be done post-paint, then electro plated. We have to excavate the original engraving from under the paint using a brass tipped scraper. The brass won't scratch the metal, but will take the paint off. A cocktail stick also works, but they don't last long. I use a matt paint as it carves away nicely, it is gloss varnished afterwards.

repaired standard

The first sub assembly to be completed, well, nearly. The crack in the casting was glued up with cyanoacrylate as there was quite a lot of glue area, little space and that part of the casting is working in tension or compression that suits that glue well.

The hole made for the flash socket was filled with JB Weld, scratches filled, sprayed with two coats matt black overall, then two further coats of gloss black to the surround and finally two coats of lacquer. The new leather panel made up using the original as a pattern but adjusting for shrinkage and ignoring the flash contact hole added later in its life. The Compur cover is just resting there to see how it looks after varnishing.

There remains the white in fill for the speed and aperture windows, but this will to wait until the black paint has hardened completely for ten days.

Rollei shutter speed indicator

Lots of tiny details have been attended to, here is the newly painted shutter speed indicator. The black is original as it was in reasonable shape, but the numbers needed repainting as the red row was faded badly and the white row crumbling out. The aperture indicator received similar treatment.

Rollei Tessar surround

Whilst doing text in fills I did the objective element holder for the Tessar's objective lens. The original inner black paint has been saved. The outside was roughly hand painted, so was cleaned off and has already been sprayed black now. The lens element itself was originally crimped and cemented to this ring, but fell out many moons ago and was being held in place by a roughly filed aluminium washer that didn't allow the element to seat properly, which would have done little to help it's optical characteristics. In due course the element will be cemented back where it belongs.

Right now the viewing hood is coming back together, also a bit of a fiddle.

freshly painted Rolleiflex shell

December 4th 2020.

The first half of the week was spent painting the different finishes onto the main die cast zinc shell and viewing hood. After the shell was finished and the paint hardened for three days the Rolleiflex logo was put back in before the entire casting given a coat of clear lacquer, this will be allowed to harden for a week before any handling is allowed. Here you see the shell just after lacquer and being allowed to harden off. The visible over spray on the casting is from the original paint finish applied by Franke & Heidecke, this was masked off to preserve it.

The viewing hood has been reassembled, a bit of a fiddle to get it all working nicely as it was very battered and distorted and needed a fair bit of straightening out before it would pop open and close nicely. I managed to keep all the original springs and hinge pins, albeit the front one shortened a tad during the removal process.

Rolleiflex casting serial

The zinc cast shell appears to have a casting number stamped into it, normally partly obscured by the film plane roller tray, I'd be curious to know if anyone else has uncovered one, and what it is.

Exploded Compur shutter

While the paint job hardens off there are a host of other tasks to attend to. First up, can the Compur be made to work nicely? If it looks like it's rusty in this picture, that's because it is, totally corroded and pitted. It was way past saving, but I had a decent 44mm Compur in the spares bin. That came from a Voigtlander and wasn't compatible, but donated enough parts to get the Rolleiflex specific one working, well mostly. The T setting refuses to engage, but the timed speeds are working nicely so I'll quit there and close it up. The Rolleiflex specific cocking lever couldn't be saved, so the standard Compur one was modified to fit, it only requires truncating the activation lever. I also used the shutter and aperture leaves from the donor, as they weren't scratched at all.

Seen here is a neat trick for transplanting aperture leaves, close up to f22, then unscrew the activating ring, invert on the end of your finger and out they come in a neat flower. Reverse the procedure to pop in the donor's leaves.

Rebuilt Compur shutter

By weight, a lot of the Rollei's shutter made it back, sadly only about 15% of the guts are original, but it saved a perfectly good example from rotting away in the spares bin indefinitely. Here is the finished unmarked Compur ready to go back into the front standard. This turned out to be a real party too. The mounting plate had been hammered into a dish for some reason, this stopped the gravity weight from returning the cocking lever to the bottom and I was determined that should be as standard. The dishing was removed, which solved the problem, but revealed why it had been done - now the shutter speed selection was too stiff to move. Fitting a paper gasket, appropriately made from 120 roll film backing paper, moved the mounting plate backwards a fraction to solve both issues.

New Rollei skins

With that done it was time to tackle some other awkward tasks. The missing strap rivet from the left side was created using a modified nickle plated rivet removed from an old strap and fitted. The exposure guide plate holder from the back was repaired. Really beyond saving as it had crumbled into three pieces, it was glued to brown paper to stabilise the pieces, sanded, repaired and repainted ready to be refitted later. Then the task of making paper patterns for the new leather covering was started. Here the skin for the rear hatch is being finished off, with the tired and shrunken original on the left. All the panels have been made now and are ready to go on.

Final assembly should go ahead next week, assuming I get the nickel plated parts back from the plater's as promised, and the mirror is hopefully on schedule too.

Rollei speed ident - tatty Rollei speed ident - lovely again

11th December 2020

Another 17 hours went into the Rolleiflex this week, plus a bit of unrecorded fettling. The mirror came back on time and was installed straight away, then a pad of tissue was placed over the top to save it from any accidents. The ground glass screen was installed along with the spirit level and no longer rusty mounting wire. Then the viewing hood went back on top and the lettering finished off for the speed and aperture read outs.

Seen here are the before and after views.

Rollei adavnce pinion

Next up was to return all the film counter and film advance gubbins to their rightful places. Upon closer inspection, there was a great deal of wear in these parts, this camera has seen a huge number of films pass through it. The advance pinion teeth were heavily worn, hooked and burred so were judiciously cleaned with a file but you can see here that the resulting tooth profile is far from symmetrical. Similar treatment needed to be given to much of the drive chain, as the burrs were attempting to saw through the soft aluminium cover. It also made the film advance a far from silky experience.

At this point I ran into some trouble as the film reset spring decided to play silly games and it played all sorts of tricks that required disassembling the entire mechanism several times before I eventually got the thing behaving. It so very nearly went out the window after several hours...

Rollei adavance mechanism

Finally going back together. Looking a little happier than it did several images up the page, eh? By now I was on the home stretch and not really documenting as I went. The plated parts arrived from re plating, requiring a bit of a polish to take them from semi matt to shiny, but otherwise all good.

Then the focus drives were re installed. At some point the front had been removed and the parts not returned in the correct places, in fact two of the drive screws were in backwards and the whole front standard off axis. It had been wound in and out in this condition, this had distorted the panel and stretched the focus helix. Historically a previous professional service had put on scratch indications, these enabled me to match the correct drive with it's original location, but the start points no longer made sense. In the end I laid the camera on its back with the front standard resting in the drives, by backing out the focus with the stop removed I watched as each corner fell off its helix. I then adjusted each drive until they all dropped together. This gave me the start points and I fixed them in that position. None of the original indicator marks aligned anymore but the drive is parallel in both axis again. Then it was a case of running it home until focussed at infinity, fitting the side cover, the focus stop and focus knob set to infinity. The tissue protecting the mirror was removed and the viewing lens screwed back in. There's a lot of adjustment in the viewing lens, so once the taking lens is set up, just screw the viewing lens in or out as required as viewed on the screen. On went the new leather covering and that's it, we're there!

Rebuilt Rolleiflex

The Old Standard Rolleiflex, reborn.

I deliberately gave it a few chips and rubs to prevent it looking too new, it should look its age I feel. There is brassing around the lens surrounds and strap guides and I suspect it will pick up a few marks during use. Not that I expect to use it much, it's going to be a cabinet queen mostly.

Was it worth it? Monetarily, no. I could easily have bought one in this condition for about the same as I spent, but I'd have learned nothing. Taking it to pieces gave me a vivid insight to the manufacturing and engineering that went into it. The material choice, compromises and evidence of the history it endured, for it has suffered much - all of it recorded in wear, none of this could have been learned from a book. So it was worth it, just in ways I cannot adequately explain.

The Rolleiflex is a historically significant camera that influenced many other TLRs that followed and this one will take its place alongside our later New Standard model. Below are a selection of before and after images

 

Wrecked Rollei image 1

Reapaired Rollei 1

It's always nice to have a record of how a camera appeared before it went through the process. Looking at the desperate state it was in, I'm quite happy with it. One piece of original leather made it back, the small circular bit in the film spool holder. Here you can see the damaged lens panel hanging out, far from perpendicular to the film plane, now fixed, the missing neck strap lug and the non standard flash socket, now deleted.
Wrecked Rollei image 1

Reapaired Rollei 1

The re plated parts are a shade more blue than the yellowish originals, but a bit of buffing with a brass wire brush gives them an appropriate look.
Wrecked Rollei image 1

Reapaired Rollei 1

One of the trickier aspects was the viewing hood. Franke & Heidecke never intended it to be taken apart again. An additional hole was drilled into the front panel to enable the hinge pin to be driven out, being careful not to lose the two springs that drive it and the inner panel out. The rear panel was removed too, and the depth of field scale extracted and cleaned. Once it was all straightened out, repainted and cured, getting it back together was a fair bit of fun too. It does have a few scars from this treatment, but it's better off than it was.
Wrecked Rollei image 1

Reapaired Rollei 1

Some Rolleiflex Old Standards have two red windows in the back panel. The back is removable and these were professional cameras, it's likely that the backs became swapped between cameras, so I am not sure if this is the original back it was supplied with. This camera has a single red window for aligning the 6 x 9cm number 1 frame, others had a 6x6cm format window in the back as well, to align with that number 1. Originally 120 roll film was only marked for 6 x 9cm format, so presumably the single red window is an earlier back than the two window back.

This Rolleiflex has now joined the collection properly and has its own page.

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