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Caring for Antique and Vintage Cameras
by Bob Brooke


Collecting 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.

Moisture not only damages the outsides of cameras but also the inside—the shutter mechanism.

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.

For 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.

Camera Bellows
Many older cameras that folded up for storage had bellows. These can develop tiny pinholes. Replacement, the only permanent solution, is best.

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 water.

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