This page is primarily a guide for Internet auction sellers who don't specialize in cameras, but come across the occasional item in their general buying. If you have limited knowledge of cameras, it can help you work in a more informed way with potential buyers . Requests for refunds and potential negative feedback are minimized if the buyer and seller have a common understanding of condition. Although the examples shown are Kodak folding cameras, much of the information is relevant to other types of Kodaks and Graflex/Graphic and other press and view cameras of this vintage. This page is written for sellers that know very little about cameras; here is a similar page for experienced photographers.  


How to read a lens
Kodak and Graflex (Graphic) frequently offered cameras with several different lens and shutter combinations. Many Graphics had Kodak lenses and shutters. These variations are often of critical interest to the collectors, if to no one else. Most Kodak lenses are identified on the printed ring that surrounds the front lens element. Many buyers will be interested in:

  • The lens name, here Anaston
  • The maximum aperture, here f /4.5
  • The focal length, here 105mm
  • Whether the lens is coated, here indicated by the symbol
  • The name of the shutter, here Flash Kodamatic
  • Some Kodak lenses have a serial number, EO8529, on the lens shown below

How to Evaluate Lens and Shutter Condition

Sellers, carefully clean your lens before looking for problems and photographing it for your auction. You can't accurately evaluate the condition of a dirty lens and shots of dirty lenses make a bad impression on potential buyers and at a minimum invite unnecessary questions. Most buyers are also interested in the condition of lenses and shutter. Potential problems include:

  • Scratches, typically on the external surfaces of the front and back lens elements. Examination of these surfaces, after cleaning, with some magnification (even strong reading glasses), under a bright light viewing the lens at different angles is the best way to see scratches. Very fine scratches may have been caused by repeated and inappropriate cleaning these are usually referred to as "cleaning marks". Pits or chips usually have been caused by something striking the lens.
  • Other lens problems are better seen by looking into an illuminated lens using a light source shown to the right. Put the light source in front of the lens or behind it, depending on what you are looking for. You should open the shutter and set the lens to full aperture. Open the aperture with the small lever that points to numbers like 4.5, 5.6, 8, 11, 16. The aperture is open when set on the numerically smallest number, as in the photo above. Set the shutter on T or B to open it. On B, you must hold the shutter release down.
  • Old lenses sometimes are attacked by fungus. This will tend to appear as a cloudiness or a frost-like pattern on glass surfaces. This can be on the exposed surfaces--front or back of lens--on on the inner surfaces. This is often a fatal problem if it has spread too far and etched the coating and/or glass.
  • Lenses are usually made from multiple pieces of glass, with some pieces cemented together. When the adhesive fails, separation occurs. In some lenses this will appear as cloudiness, generally around the outside of the glass where the adhesive has failed. In modern, multicoated lenses, this will generally appear as a reflective area in an otherwise transparent element. The best way to see this is to move a lens under a fixed light source; the problem will be very apparent at certain angles; be sure to look through the lense from both front and back. You should look for this as you look through the opened lens. The fix for separation is to dissolve the original cement and recement the elements. Recementing lense elements takes skill and specialized equipment. Cost for one lens group runs about $125.
  • Scratches, fungus damage and separation affect value to collectors and photographers, pretty much in proportion to the seriousness of the flaws.

Lens with a fungal infection

A multicoated lens with serious separation problems

  • Many old Kodaks have lenses that are focused with a rotating front lens element, with a protruding pin that limits rotation. This rotation is normal and isn't a fault. Graphics do not have front cell focusing and have a fixed front lens element, though they have similar kinds of lenses and shutters.
  • Shutters may be dirty or broken. Most shutters on old Kodaks and Graphics have to be manually 'cocked' before they will open. Most shutters have a lever on the top in location , which, when moved in the direction shown, will cock the shutter. The shutter release is the lever in location and should be pressed in the direction shown to trip and open the shutter. These levers may look different or be in slightly different places, but they generally operate in the same way. Some cameras will have a body release, usually a button on the top of the camera, that is linked to the shutter release lever. It is possible that the shutter itself may work, even if the body release does not.
  • While you cannot check the accuracy of a shutter without special equipment, you can see if all of the speeds work. By looking into the lens while you are tripping the shutter, you will see the shutter blades open and close. As you operate the shutter over its range, you should be able to notice that as the shutter speed numbers get increasingly smaller, the shutter stays open increasingly longer. Example: At 25 (1/25th sec) the shutter should stay open longer than at 50 (1/50th sec). If you can see a pattern of increasingly longer durations as you use the lower numbers, this indicates that the shutter is probably operating correctly, though not necessarily that each speed is accurate. The shutter to the left has speeds from 1 sec to 1/400th sec.
  • Oil from the shutter mechanism may have found its way onto the shutter blades and must be removed or it may foul the lens. Leave this for the auction winner or a technician, but it should be mentioned to the bidders.

Cleaning a Lens

Most old cameras will have accumulated dust and maybe grime. Unless you have experience with cameras, you may do more harm than good in cleaning other than a light dusting. A vacuum cleaner with a clean dusting attachment is good. To evaluate the lens, however, you will need to clean the two external surfaces and you can do this safely with things you probably have handy.

  • With a soft clean brush, remove as much loose dust as possible. (An unused cosmetics brush works well)
  • Moisten a small piece of tissue (white, unscented toilet tissue or facial tissue) with Windex and swab the lens surface. Remove excess moisture with a dry corner of the tissue. Repeat this operation with new tissue/Windex until you see no traces of oily film on the lens surface. With folding cameras cleaning the rear lens element is easy with the front closed and the back open.
  • Never try to clean a lens with dry tissue.
  • After you have shaken out any dust, brush away any tissue lint with the soft brush or blow it away with the kind of shringe used to clean out babies ears.
  • Unless you have experience with camera maintenance, it's best not to disassemble a lens for further cleaning.

Additional Links

  • Focal plane (rear) shutter on a Speed Graphic
  • Intro to medium and large format cameras

  Further information about identification, evaluation and operation of Graphics and Graflexes can be found at:


12/02/2006 20:20