• Many camera maintenance steps are pretty obvious and within the abilities of any careful person. For more about maintenance skills and materials and for those sections marked Advanced, for other than simple cameras, the reader may want to refer to the section:
  • Dust is the great enemy of the photographer. It accumulates in film paths and may find its way onto film surfaces, blocking the light and causing specks on images. It accumulates on lens surfaces diffusing and reducing the light that the lens can pass. It accumulates in shutters and reduces their smooth and accurate operation. It accumulates on camera surfaces, mixes with skin oil, perspiration and airborne chemicals, making your camera look dull and grungy. You can't help what your camera did in its sordid early life, but you can clean it up now and force it into the habit of clean living.


  • Cleaning body work, in part depends on the materials used to make the body. You can clean much of the dust and dirt with Q-tips dipped in water. Wipe and dry a small area, then move on the another. Dirt that won't surrender to water may be attacked with the same technique, using naphtha (lighter fluid). Naphtha is very volatile and leaves no residue. If you have not completely removed dirt, you will see that you have only rearranged it. Keep cleaning until all dirt is removed. While there are exceptions, it is a good general rule to avoid anything other than water and naphtha as cleaning solutions and use those sparingly. Do not let either seep into mechanisms.



Naphtha is cigarette lighter fluid--the kind that is used in Zippo's that the Marlboro man lit up with. It is very volatile and flammable. Use it in a well-ventilated room and away from all ignition sources.      

VIEWFINDER (Advanced for enclosed viewfinders)

  • Simple popup and direct vision viewfinders should first be cleaned to remove accumulated dust from non-optical surfaces. Optical surfaces should then be cleaned with lens cleaner and tissue. Older and simpler cameras may have shrouds enclosing the viewfinder that can be safely removed to allow access to inner optical surfaces. Often this involves removing some film advance components like winding knobs. 35mm cameras have advance systems that depend on geared mechanisms that control the frame display mechanism. These are more complicated than early rollfilm cameras where film advance was monitored through a ruby window and the beginner can quickly get into trouble trying to reassemble film index systems.


  • Rangefinders are delicate optical systems that use mirrors and prisms to create slightly differing images that help determine distance. Rangefinder systems include adjustable components that should not be changed either by overenergetic cleaning or consciously, unless you understand the adjustment principles. Generally, the mirror placed in the path of the viewing window is a two way mirror, while the mirror that it reflects to is a one way mirror. You should clean two way mirrors on both sides. Clean the external and internal surfaces of the rangefinder windows on the housing. Follow the procedure given for cleaning lenses.

SHUTTER (Advanced)

  • Proper cleaning of the shutter requires disassembly, ultrasonic cleaning of parts, reassembly and careful lubrication--obviously a job for someone with training. While there is considerable and vocal disagreement about flood-cleaning shutters, this can be considered a reasonable substitute for disassembly, which may be cost-prohibitive for collectors.


  • Use standard gentle cleaning methods to first brush off dust and grit, then clean the exposed surfaces of lenses with optical cleaner and lens tissue. To clean internal lens surfaces see the section on lens maintenance.


  • It is likely that your old camera will have a considerable amount of dust, sometimes mixed with lubricant, around the winding mechanism. Old roll film cameras have simple knob winding. The winding know will be attached with a slotted screw. You can remove this, then pull off the winding knob to clean under it with naphtha. 35mm winding mechanisms are more complex, involving geared components enclosed by the top shroud. Unless you have experience with camera mechanics, cleaning this mechanism is better left to a professional.


  • Leather quality in Kodak cases seemed to become increasingly 'artificial' as years progressed. Most postwar cases are principally of composite leather. This material wears well, though the stitching often comes loose. If you restitch, use a strong thread, preferably linen, of the same size and color of the original. The leather in older cases is more likely to be cowhide, which can be restored using a high-quality leather dressing.

11/09/2002 4:44