Caring for Antique
and Vintage Cameras
by Bob Brooke
photographic film cameras, whether they’re antique or vintage, can be an
fascinating and affordable pastime. But keeping them in tip-top shape
can be a challenge because of the materials used in their construction.
Older cameras require more care than contemporary ones. Moisture is the
chief danger to older cameras. Keeping them dry should be the first
concern. Place moisture-absorbing packets in camera storage containers.
Remove and replace them every six weeks. Store particularly delicate
cameras in special sealed storage boxes.
not only damages the outsides of cameras but also the inside—the shutter
Begin by making sure the lens is stored upright, so that if the
lubricant in the shutter at the base of the lens dries out, it doesn’t
drop in flaky black spots on the inside of it. Remove all lens filters
and use both the back and front lens caps to keep out dust. When
cleaning the lens, take care to avoid getting any cleaning liquid
seeping inside. And every three or four months, turn the focusing and
aperture rings to work the apertures and keep them lubricated.
It’s important to keep the cameras in the collection working. Turn the
knobs, click the shutter as if to take a photo to lubricate it. And to
prevent the spring inside from losing its flexibility, never store a
camera with the shutter cocked.
Another thing that many collectors forget is to remove the batteries in
all newer electronic cameras and equipment, such as light meters. This
will help avoid damage if the batteries expire and leak. Do hold on to
them so you know the right replacements.
Cleaning Older Cameras
Believe it or not, Windex applied with a cotton swab is the simplest way
to clean the exteriors of older cameras. NEVER allow any lens cleaner or
glass cleaner containing ammonia to come into contact with the lens.
This especially applies to lens coatings made prior to the mid 1970s.
The coatings back then were soft and not fused to the glass and the
ammonia could eat into the lens coating.
cameras that have a leather exterior and strap, a mild soapy water
solution applied with a soft-bristled toothbrush, followed by saddle
soap, followed by a silicone-based leather protectant, followed by shoe
polish will keep them clean. Don't let the leather get too wet and soak
through or the glue or shellac that attaches it to the camera may let
go. If little bits of leather are sticking up, glue the snags back down
with a 50/50 solution of bookbinder's glue and water, sparingly applied
with a toothpick.
For cameras with a leatherette exterior,
a soft toothbrush and Windex, followed by shoe polish, followed by a
shine sponge will do nicely. After cleaning, apply a leather protectant
but do not use Armorall, as it makes the camera’s surface slippery.
Many older cameras that folded up for storage had bellows. These can
develop tiny pinholes. Replacement, the only permanent solution, is
Cleaning Metal Camera Surfaces
To clean aluminum or brass finishes, the best polish to use is
Never-Dull. A chemical polish like Tarn-X can be used for especially
stubborn stains on brass. Keep all chemical polishes away from the
glass. For light cleaning, use a cotton swab dampened with distilled
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