400TX

Unsolicited editorials on cameras, lenses, film, developer, and black and white photography in general.

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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Recovering a Vintage Camera

I like using the high quality post-WWII cameras. Rolleiflex, Nikon, Contax, and Leica made some very durable professional cameras that have proven their excellent build quality by continuing to be excellent shooters today. And there are still some expert repairmen (and repairwomen) who can keep them running like they were made yesterday. But cameras are not built only of brass, aluminum, and steel. Other more perishable materials were used in making these instruments. And the synthetic materials of that era are no match for today’s polymers.

A few years ago, I bought a very well-cared-for Leica M4-2. Not a scratch, dent, or bright mark anywhere on the body. Last December, I pulled it out with the intention of testing some film and developer when I felt the crunch of old vulcanite, Leica’s hard rubber covering of their 35mm cameras during the mid-20th century. The brittle black rubber was on the camera’s back plate, under my thumb. The back plate is the only flexible part of an M4-2 body, and the miniscule flexing was enough to separate the rubber from the metal below it. What to do?

Cameraleather.com is web-based operation that offers durable leather and leatherette coverings for an amazing variety of cameras. The coverings are cut to fit the camera exactly. They have an adhesive backing that adheres to the metal after you remove the previous covering material. Colors and styles vary from the utilitarian black pebble look to the swanky reptile skin look. I wanted a color that would bridge the gap between black and chrome so that chrome lenses could be used on the M4-2 without looking goofy. I went with walnut brown in kid leather. Be advised that the kid leather doesn’t feel like soft glove leather. It is firm and
polished.

Although Morgan Sparks, the owner of Cameraleather, gives instructions on how to prepare the camera and apply the leather kits, working with adhesive sheets has never been my strong suit. I don’t like wallpapering or applying contact paper. I have difficulty wrapping up a package without long wrinkles in the tape. For an additional charge, you can have them strip off the old leather/vulcanite and apply the covering for you. That was fine with me; I didn’t need the grief of screwing it up.

The results were, in my opinion, very nice. The leather fits the camera body perfectly, with the holes perfectly lined up with the tiny screws on the body. Now I am impatiently waiting for vulcanite to fall off of my Leica IIIf or Leica M3 so I can give them a face lift as well. But my next project will probably be to have Morgan recover a Rolleiflex TLR whose leather is curling a bit at the edges. I think I’ll go with BR Green or Sequoia Green embossed leather.

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