Those of you camera lovers/geeks that follow the blog may remember my vintage bellows camera that I rediscovered last year. For those who have no idea what I’m on about, you can read the previous installments here and here. Unfortunately, on taking pictures at good friend Carl de Souza’s wedding, I discovered that the lovely light leak that had added interest to the pictures was now simply adding light. It seems the shoddy workmanship resulted in the leather bellows only surviving 73 years before letting in light. Try as I could, I couldn’t find the receipt in my late Grandfather’s possessions so I accepted the challenge of finding someone to get it up and running again.

After putting out a distress call on Twitter, I received a number of tips including Mr. Cad in South London. Seeing that the store specialises in vintage gear, I sent it to them for an estimate. Two days later, I received a rather disheartening call. Apparently, the engineer there couldn’t remove the bellows as it was glued into place. In removing it, he’d destroy the bellows making it impossible to create a new one. In his words, the camera was not economically viable to repair and was now simply a nice looking paperweight. When I pointed out to him that money wasn’t really an issue as it had real sentimental value to me, he repeated that it would be too expensive and not possible to work on.

Being confident/stubborn, I continued my search, eventually stumbling across the blog of US photographer Mike Connealy. On his site, he devotes a number of pages to his beloved Super Sport so I dropped him a line. Being a gent, he got back in touch to let me know that he’d since passed his Dolly on to a vintage photographer specialist back in the UK. I was sensing a light at the end of the tunnel and, this time, it was wanted.

Sandeha Lynch is a photographer and vintage camera craftsman in Wales who specialises in restoring and manufacturing bellows. After dropping him an email asking for a quote on repairing the bellows, I sent it over to him and within a couple of days he got back in touch. His quote included removing, hand-making & fitting new bellows, checking the rangefinder & shutter, removing all of the original leather (at the rate of 5cm a day to ensure that it wasn’t damaged ahead of refitting it) and removing any corrosion from the chassis of the camera. After four micro-seconds of deep thought, I told him to go for it!

Ten days later, the Dolly was back in my hands and looking absolutely incredible. Not only had Sandeha done an astounding job but his final bill was less than he’d originally quoted which was already staggeringly cheap. He had managed to get the camera to optimal quality without losing any of the feel of the years of use that it’s had. It’s such a fine balance to strip and clean something so thoroughly while managing to respect the natural age of an item. This man deserves a knighthood (or at the very least, your custom if you need any restoration work doing…)

So, enough back-story. Here are a few of my shots on the re-incarnated Dolly. Here’s to another 73 years…


23 Responses to “Like a Dolly from the ashes”

  1. YAY! Not often I make your blog *feels honoured*. I love the Dolly images, there is a lovely depth of field to them.

    Posted by Kirsten
  2. What a beautiful object!

    Posted by petra
  3. lovely to see the inside workings of that beautiful machine, and also the beautiful shots too!

    Posted by Carmel
  4. Brilliant Leon! Love the photos, they made me feel very inspired! Great story and top marks for your persistence, all worth while!

    Posted by Michael
  5. Yay, indeed. You’ve certainly got the measure of her. Great results – and that menu shot has all the right elements.

    Posted by Sandeha Lynch
  6. Really nice blog leon great photos nice to see the old girl doing what she was made for

    Posted by Andrew
  7. Great pics of the Mrs. How fantastic, like taking snaps with an old and dear friend and what great stories she tells.
    *Dolly that is*

    Posted by Rochelle
  8. @Kirsten – Happy to include you! You’re responsible for most of the final colour tweaks on most of the pics anyway so you’re always a part of it! :)

    @Petra – That’s my Mrs you’re talking about…

    @Carmel – Yeah, it’s a belter. I’m so proud to have an heirloom that’s relevant.

    @Michael – I couldn’t let it become a paperweight. Top marks to Sandeha for saving the day. Speaking of which…

    @Sandeha – The man himself! I can’t wait to take some decent frames on her now I know she works well. It’s going to be a great adventure learning her little secrets. Onwards and upwards!

    @Andrew – See my reply to Petra above… 😉 Cheers!

    @Rochelle – Yup, Max dones’t know it but in thirty years or so, he’s going to be paying £300 for the last rolls of 120 to keep the Dolly alive!

    Posted by tabascokid
  9. Like the pic from inside the Chamber mate :)

    Posted by Prawn
  10. Cheers Shaun. It’s not quite as easy to do covert sneaky pics when it takes you 45 minutes to get a decent light reading!

    Posted by tabascokid
  11. What lovely photos that camera takes, and what a great story! Love the pic of the boys in the woods of course.

    Posted by Katherine
  12. Great to see the old girl in such good form.

    Posted by MikeC
  13. Beautiful images and good for you, think it’s great you put the effort into getting this old beauty back in working order. I have always been fascinated by the feel of the images from old cameras such as this. Lovely!

    Posted by jacqui mcsweeney
  14. A thing of beauty, congratulions on getting the old girl fired up. You’ve now made me think about my two lonely bellows camera’s sat on the shelf. I might follow your lead if that’s ok.

    Posted by Lloyd Ellington
  15. You’re doing great work with your Dolly!

    Posted by Jim
  16. @Katherine – Tch! It’s all the camera… 😉 Cheers, m’dears!

    @MikeC – Thanks Mike and cheers again for the advice on where to get the repairs made.

    @Jacqui McSweeney – Shooting so many frames, it’s been such a pleasure to have to really consider each frame. 12 shots to a film, and then facing a hefty dev cost certainly teaches you to shoot sparingly!

    @Lloyd – Get on it, Lloyd! Make sure you share the results! :)

    @Jim – Many thanks, Jim. I just need to find a leather specialist to make a new strap for the top now and I’ll be sorted.

    Posted by tabascokid
  17. A very sweet set of images. Somehow I’d missed this blog but I remember reading you’d run a roll of film through it and discovered a light leak. There’s something very heart warming about old school film. The colours and quality can’t be equaled I don’t think.. I’ve got a role of Fuji 200 in one of my old OM4’s at the moment just to see if it still works, I still remember how to use it and also if 10 years of digital have improved my skill with a lens (probably not).. I can see this Dolly becoming a Neal heirloom to be passed down to succeeding generations….

    Posted by Tim
  18. Cheers Tim. Yeah I agree about film cameras. Take the second to last image for example. While the top of the menu sign and the handbag right at the foreground are in focus, the lower section of the menu sign isn’t. It’s like that particular frame had a strip across the middle that was out of focus, like a reverse tilt/shift lens. I love the “organic” feel it gives.

    As for being an eventual heirloom, it already is! It was my Grandad’s 18th birthday present in 1938 before being used by my father at art college. After my restoration, someday my boy will hopefully get his mitts on it (and care about photography!)

    Posted by tabascokid
  19. I can see what you mean in that image Leon. It’s a magical quality and no photoshop involved. These visual treats are what I like and why I leave a fast prime on my camera most of the time. I’ll have to look into tilt and shift lenses more closely..

    Posted by Tim
  20. Hmm, you know I think the apparent focus anomaly in the menu shot is down to physics … did you notice that the right hand strut has a weaker spring than the left and needs a slight push to get straight? If it was slightly out that would account for the tiltshift effect. You could probably test the theory … :)

    Posted by Sandeha Lynch
  21. @Sandeha – I was a little confused as it just seems to be a strip down the middle, almost as though the film wasn’t pulled tight enough, creating a different plane for the centre of the frame.

    Posted by tabascokid
  22. Leon, you’re right that a lack of film flatness could have the same effect, but then you might expect to see that on adjacent frames as well. Selective defocus is something I thrive on, but I like it under control. :)

    Posted by Sandeha Lynch
  23. No, it seems to be gliding very smoothly. The lens looks to be nicely aligned. It was the only frame that had this and I like it so I’m quite happy with it! :)

    Posted by tabascokid

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