Dolly restoration

Like a Dolly from the ashes

Random oddity

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…


June 7th, 2012

Dolly does Denmark

Dolly does Denmark

Random oddity

Following on from my recent blog on the discovery of Dolly, I thought I’d share a few more frames from recent days.  Joining Kirsten for a portrait shoot in Denmark, I braved the x-ray machine at Gatwick airport and left the big toys at home.

Like my earlier post, these shots haven’t been edited at all so are showing the film’s grain, colour and grubbiness.  As you can see from this next frame, the tiny splits in the leather of the bellows are getting larger, letting in more light leakage.  While this adds to some of the pictures, it killed five or six of the 24 frames that I shot outright.

I discussed the dirt and scratches with Kirsten last night and she didn’t seem that keen on the blobs and fibres on the image but I really like them.  I’m guessing it’s a combination of random dust and frayed scraps of the decaying bellows on the lens element.  She cannae take it, Cap’n.  She’s gonna blow any day!

With the bizarre system of having to focus through one viewfinder before composing the shot through a second larger screen, it’s certainly not the camera to use for spontaneous action but I think I’m starting to get the hang of the framing and camera response.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to get the bellows sorted before I put anything else through it though as it’s too expensive to risk paying to develop and print whole rolls of dead film.

Before heading out to Denmark, I took the camera on a few news jobs.  Unsurprisingly, it’s not going to win many awards for Live News at the PPY but it was  fun to sneak the odd bit of analogue into a very digital workflow.  Here’s master of the lens and the drum kit Kieron Doherty on one of the pursuit launches during the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race.

To end, I thought I’d demonstrate just how bad my memory can be with this whole “winding on” thing; a wonderful bit of eyeline from British supermodel Lily Cole at the Empire Awards in London, slightly impaired by the wing of the plane that took me to Denmark.  I’m calling it the birth of my abstract “Runways and Catwalks” phase.  *cough*

April 14th, 2011

Certo Dolly Super-sport

Hello Dolly!

Random oddity

When I visited my parents’ home for Christmas this year, I came away with something more than a bag of gifts and an extra stone of bodyweight.  After looking through a few old photo albums, I asked if the negatives were still around anywhere and was handed a carrier bag full of unmarked envelopes and negative sleeves.  After a few weeks of head-scratching on how to actually get hold of a scanner, all round good-egg and light-tamer extraordinaire Jack Hill stepped up with the loan of his Nikon Super Coolscan 5000ED.  With the hardware and the purchase of Vuescan scanning software sorted, I could begin exploring the random strips in the search for things I’d never seen before.  Aside from a stack of frames of the infant version of myself looking incredibly cute with shoulder-length blonde hair (shut it, you), I came across a single negative that looked very interesting.  As it was cut off from the strip, the scanner couldn’t take it in, so I had to head up to SnappySnaps to use their flatbed scanner.  When I loaded up the disc, I was over the moon.

The picture shows my Dad, aged about 20, taking pictures with his Certo Dolly Super-Sport camera.  Not only is it cool to see a frame of one of my parents doing something that is now such an important part of my life, it was the fact that they still have the camera sat on a shelf.  It immediately took me back to my childhood when they used to let me play with it and carry it around the house as a toy.  I had no idea what it was and just enjoy the fact that a) it folded up into itself like a rather unusual Optimus Prime and b) if you turned a ring on the front in a certain direction and pulled the lever on the side, it did a buzzing timer noise for a few seconds before clicking.  Knowing how badly I treated some of my toys, I was fascinated to see how well it had survived so when I went to Sheffield to cover the Speed Skating a few weeks ago, I delved into a dark corner of one of their shelves and found it out.

Miraculously, not only is it still in one piece but the bellows seem to be in pretty good nick too.  There’s a professional part of me that wants to get it cleaned up and working smoothly while there’s the romantic part of me that likes it just the way it is, a soldier of a camera that survived both my parents’ experiments and TabascoToddler’s creative use of it as a space station for his Action Force figures.  Given as a 21st birthday gift to my grandfather by his parents in 1938, it’s great to know that I’ve actually got a family heirloom that both has a personal history to it and is relevant to my life.

The camera features an f2.9 75mm lens that, as far as I can tell, is not interchangeable although I have seen the lenses sold separately.  If anyone reading this knows differently, please do let me know more in the comments section below.  The cameras themselves don’t seem that rare so it’s been interesting to see what variations there are available on ebay. While there is also a viewfinder version, the model that I’ve now got my mitts on is the rangefinder.

Taking both 4.5cmx6cm and 6cmx6cm film, I have read that there should be a film transport in the back for loading the varying film sizes.  As mine doesn’t include it, I’m going to have to do some more research to find out how to proceed.  My experiments with a 35mm Nikon F3 a few months ago cost me enough money so I dread to imagine what this will set me back!

If I manage to expose anything correctly and the bellows don’t let in too much light, I’ll stick a few frames up here as soon as I’ve had chance to have a play.  If you’re reading this in 2012 and the blog post ends here, you’re officially allowed to track me down and berate me for being both a coward and an easily distracted fool.  Fingers crossed!


In a thoroughly uncharacteristic move, I actually got off my arse and did it!  Having grabbed a spare 120 film from Kirsten’s desk, I shot the odd random sight that I came across in between jobs and have just picked up the prints from the lomography store in central London.  While not exactly the best pics I’ve ever taken, there was at least something on the film!

Considering this is from a camera from the 1930s AND was being shot by a total heathen when it comes to film, I think it’s worked okay.  There is very clearly some severe light leakage from the bellows leaving the overexposed streak from the lower centre to the mid right of some frames but, combined with the film grain and the score marks, it adds to it.  It should hopefully be clear that I’ve not done anything to these images and they are straight off the disc from the shop.

Anyway, here are my first efforts.  I’m quite tempted to take it down to tomorrows boat race now.  :)

March 20th, 2011