Vintage and Classic Cameras
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Camera restoration in the Living Image workshop

Essentially there are three levels of restoration. Repair, which involves returning functionality, mending or replacing broken parts. Restoration, which is the process of returning the physical appearance to something approaching new condition and finally conservation which entails accepting the current condition and slowing further deterioration. The overall policy of the Living Image Camera Collection is to have all the cameras in working condition, so far as is possible. This means that every camera is cleaned on arrival and periodically afterwards. Some cameras are subjected to a 'deep clean', this involves stripping the camera down completely but limited to components that are screwed down, thoroughly cleaning the parts and then reassembling. The majority of cameras in the collection receive a deep clean on arrival, it's a time consuming task, but one that gives a further interesting element to the collecting of old cameras.

A lot of the exhibits are rescued items that serious collectors would turn away from. Some arrive in a rather dilapidated state and have to be restored. Whilst this does in fact devalue some cameras but this is our policy - as getting the camera functioning comes before monetary worth. Some of the cameras in the collection would have undoubtedly found their way onto a tip, had they not been rescued. Having said that, a camera that just exhibits a healthy patina will be kept as is. In practice then, the living Image Cameras receive a pragmatic balance of repair, restoration and conservation.

1899 Reko This 1899 Reko was restored in 1984, it had been stored in a wet garden shed for 30 years and alternately baked in the summer and soaked each winter. This photograph shows the empty carcass with the remains of the old leatherette just about hanging on. The old leather covering was removed and all traces of the original glue sanded away. Ferrous screws had rusted and swelled in their holes, destroying the surrounding wood. These had to be removed carefully and then repaired. Tapered wooden plugs were inserted at the carrying handle mounts. For lighter applications like door hinges, the filler route is easier and quicker. Finally, a new skiver was obtained, matching the original colouration and pattern and applied. In this case a note was made of the original joins, so that the new covering mimics the original. Any decoration is ruled in with a hot edge. Post restoration entry.
Compur Shutter

Shutters are the usual problem areas. A camera that has sat unused in a drawer for three or four decades has every right to be grumpy! A lot of cameras have these ring set shutters, this one is a Compur but there are others of a similar pattern. There are various slots and channels cut into the cases of such shutters, which allow the dust in. Ultimately this leads to sticky shutters, inoperative slows speeds and (as in this case) a seized delayed release mechanism. The cure is, nearly always, cleaning. F. Deckel, who made the Compur, knew what they were doing and all the Compur's I have, still work. Dismantling should be kept to the absolute minimum required, if it ain't broke - don't fix it! I generally give the problem area of the mechanism a gentle wash in IPA (Isopropylalchohol - not India Pale Ale!), exercising that part whilst the IPA evaporates. This usually does the trick. For more recalcitrant shutters a stream of IPA blasted in through a retouching airbrush allows extremely strong and accurate cleaning power to be brought to bear. Not to be attempted in a closed environment as the IPA evaporates almost instantly and the atmosphere will become unbreathable very quickly. Never, ever be even slightly tempted to put an oil can near such mechanisms, if in doubt - leave it alone!

The drag caused by any oil or grease that migrates onto the shutter leaves will very effectively jam all makes of this type of shutter.

Camera Restoration Projects

Specific projects will be covered as they clear the workshop, these will be very generalized to give a flavour.

Kodak retina II Camera

1 Camera Restoration Project 1, Kodak Retina II Leather embossing

This camera was rescued as a wreck, but this page specifically deals with the new leather covering and in particular adding the Retina logo. This page is retained for historical purposes, but we have changed method to that documented in Project 7.

 Nagel Librette Camera

2 Camera Restoration Project 2, Nagel Librette

This camera arrived as a challenge, when removing it from the bag in came in - it was preceded by a pile of white powder and rust...

 Nagel Fornidar Camera

3 Camera Restoration Project 3, Nagel Fornidar

After two years in the spares bin, this Nagel was finally returned to working order.

Graflex 1a

4 Camera Restoration Project 4, Kodak, Folmer & Schwing Division, Graflex 1A

50th birthday present for me, from me!

Reflex Korelle Camera

5 Camera Restoration Project 5, Kochmann, Reflex Korelle B

80th birthday present for an unloved Reflex Korelle B

Thorton Pickard Reflex Special Camera

6 Camera Restoration Project 6, Thornton Pickard, Junior Special Ruby Reflex

Making new shutter curtain material for early roller blind shutters

tiny parvola

7 Camera Restoration Project 7, Ihagee Parvola leather embossing

This page documents our revised process for making leather impression stamps for complex logos.

tiny robot

8 Camera Restoration Project 8, deep cleaning the Berning Robot II

Rescuing a Robot II from terminal filth.

tiny Agiflex

9 Camera Restoration Project 9, repairing the Agilux Agiflex I

Rescuing a dead Agiflex I. Is it a copy of a Reflex Korelle? You decide...

tiny graph

10 Camera Restoration Project 10, setting focal plane shutters speeds

An unorthodox method to set up the shutter speeds on cameras with focal plane shutters.

tiny Rolleiflex

11 Camera Restoration Project 11, Restoring a rotten Rolleiflex

A more repugnant rotting Rolleiflex "Old Standard" would be hard to find, but we'll try to rescue it anyway.

tiny Pilot

12 Camera Restoration Project 12, Pampering a pulverized Pilot

A modified KW Pilot Super is rescued, and then restored, retaining the modifications.

tiny Finetta

13 Camera Restoration Project 13, fettling a finickity Fenetta

A basic little Fenetta with a sticky shutter is returned to working order.

tiny Hunter

14 Camera Restoration Project 14, humble Hunter hurdles

A humble Hunter 35 with broken frame counter, lens haze and missing film spool gets sorted.

tiny Hunter

15 Camera Restoration Project 15, Kodak rot, the tale of a humble Folding Pocket Kodak.

Kodak made thousands of them. It's time to show a little appreciation.

tiny Hunter

16 Camera Restoration Project 16, rescue a ratty Rietzschel, deep cleaning the Kosmo Clack.

A lovely little Rietzschel survives to 110 years old to work again.

Irrespective of whether or not a camera is restored it is given a condition grading.

The system I have adopted is that originated by James M. McKeown, of the utterly indispensable 'McKeowns Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras', and reproduced here with his permission. This grading system is also used by Christie's South Kensington and by the PCCGB, (Photographic Collectors Club of Great Britain). The system takes the form of two characters, firstly a numeral denoting cosmetic condition and secondly, a letter denoting functionality. Thus a camera in average condition might have the grading 5F. See tables below.


Cosmetic Condition


Cosmetic Condition


New merchandise, never sold. In original box, with warranties


Complete but showing signs of normal use or age.


As new. Never used. Same as new, but no manufacturer's warranty. With box or original packaging.


Complete, but showing signs of heavy use. Well used.


No signs of wear. If it had a box you wouldn't be able to tell it from new.


Restorable. Some refinishing necessary. Minor parts may be broken or missing.


Very minimal signs of wear.


Restorable, Refinishing required. May be missing some parts,


Signs of light use, but not misuse. No other cosmetic damage.


For parts only, or major restoration if a rare camera.


Functional Condition


Functional Condition


As new. Everything functioning perfectly, with factory and/or dealer warranty.


Not recently cleaned, lubricated or overhauled. Fully functioning but accuracy of shutter or meter not guaranteed.


As new. Everything functioning perfectly, but not warranted by factory. Seller fully guaranties functioning.


Fully functioning. Shutter speeds and/or meter probably not accurate. Needs adjusting or cleaning only.


Everything functioning. Recently professionally cleaned, lubricated, overhauled and fully guaranteed.


Usable but not fully. Shutter may stick on slow speeds, Meter may not work.


Everything functioning. Recently professionally cleaned or overhauled but no longer under warranty.


Not usable without repair or cleaning. Shutter, meter, film advance may be stuck, jammed or broken.


Everything functioning. Major functions have recently been professionally tested.


Probably not repairable.
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