Shooting Junk, with Junk

Three weeks ago, I purchased off of eBay a “junk” Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2 lens.  I had read so many good things about this particular lens in Minolta’s history that I really wanted to get one for my ever-growing collection.  A fully-functioning, good condition one will run anywhere between $450-$700.  The listing for the one that I bid on stated, “For parts”.  Reading the description a little further revealed that the glass had a lot of fungus, the aperture assembly was tanked and the focusing helicoid was seized.  Call me a fool, but I bid and won it for $142 on the chance that I might be able to repair it.

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I’ve spent the past three weeks working on it.  By the end of the first day working on it, I had the optics torn apart and cleaned to near perfection and the aperture restored to like-new order.  The real trouble was the focusing helicoid.  Bear with me now as I go into a little bit of detail on this.  I promise I’ll get back on track in a minute.

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Comprised of a male and female barrel, each part of the focusing helicoid has a complex arrangement of threads that, unlike a simple screw, are actually multiple sets of threads that run one on top of the other.  Think of it as one pipe threaded on the inside with another pipe threaded on the outside with the one screwing into the other.  When you turn the focusing ring on a lens, this engages the inner barrel to run forward or backward through the outer barrel at a higher ratio than a typical screw – thus the half-turn yields more movement.  When I bid on this lens, I expected it was just an issue of dried out lubrication and gunk.  Not so!  This would hardly budge and it felt mechanically seized.  After managing to separate the two barrels, I discovered some lightly knackered threads along with some odd wear marks.  First, I tried some toothpaste as a light grinding/polishing compound.  No success.  Then I tried a narrow soft brass wire wheel.  No joy.  Then I tried getting more aggressive and wet sanding them and polishing them.  Nada.  Then I put each half on a drill and used a more aggressive sanding to lower the thread depth.  It got a little better after that but still unusable.  By that point I was two weeks into it and felt like giving up.  I called a few repair shops asking them what they would do and all of them said that I had already done what they would do.  The other night, as I was dozing off to sleep, I had a thought.  It occurred to me that as round as everything appeared, perhaps my eye wasn’t telling the whole story.  The next day, I went to town and bought a cheap machinist’s caliper.  Low and behold, that little tool told the whole story.  Both helicoid parts were out of round by fractions of a millimeter as was the lens barrel in which the helicoid is held in place.  Seems this lens has in its history an incident of an elephant sitting on it.  Using the caliper and a pencil, I measured and marked the apex of the widest part of each barrel.  I then went after them with a c-clamp, pressing and remeasuring.  This took most of the day to get it right but I am happy to say that the lens is now fully assembled and the focus is like butter!

The focusing helicoid all cleaned up and ready for install.
The focusing helicoid all cleaned up and ready for install.

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From junk to gem, I was excited to put my product of blood, sweat and tears to use.  About an hour from the house is a junk yard full of old trucks and cars.  I’ve wanted to shoot it for some time now but haven’t had the motivation.  This morning, I thought it appropriate to go shoot this old junk with my old junk.  Let’s see if all the labour was worth it.

When I arrived at the Junk Yard, everything was closed up.  I called the owner and asked if I could go inside the fenced area to shoot photos but he had to decline due to insurance reasons.  Not one to give up quickly, I asked if it would be ok if I walked around the outside of the fenced perimeter.  That was ok.  Fortunately, most of the cars were parked within a few feet of the fence.  I spent the next hour shooting these photos.

All of the following shots with this lens were shot wide open at f/1.2.  Come on now, I didn’t get an f/1.2 lens to stop it down!

Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f/1.2
Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2

 

Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f/1.2
Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2

 

Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f/1.2
Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2

 

Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f/1.2
Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2

 

How this car looks, is how I felt at the end of my lens repair work. 🙂

Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f/1.2
Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2

 

Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f/1.2
Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2

 

Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f/1.2
Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2

 

Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f/1.2
Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2

 

Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG f/1.2
Sony A7RII w/Minolta MC Rokkor-PG 58mm f/1.2

 

Recently, I picked up an old Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5 lens.  Tiny, light, and only $75, I cleaned this one up as well and brought it with me.  The following images I shot with this lens.

 

Beautiful color and not the tiniest bit of chromatic aberration!

Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5
Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5

 

Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5
Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5

 

Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5
Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5

 

Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5
Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5

 

Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5
Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5

 

Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5
Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5

 

Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5
Sony A7RII w/Leica Hektor 135mm f/4.5

I have to say, I’m extremely pleased with the results from both lenses but I can’t help but show a little favoritism toward the Junk Minolta after all we’ve been through.  That old “parts lens” now has a second lease on life.  I love how well the lens pulls the subject out of the background, swaddling it in softness.  Not many lenses I own can pull that off and certainly not as well as this.  I see now, the reviews I read were not telling stories.  It is definitely a keeper!  Regarding the Leica lens, I am super impressed with how sharp it is and how no amount of highlight can get it to show any chromatic aberration (purple fringes).  Inspecting my RAW files at 400% reveals nothing, nada, zilch.  It’s small size and weight puts it high on my list for the travel kit.

I hope you enjoyed the photos and maybe even cheered a little bit with me on the rescue of the Minolta.

 

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17 thoughts on “Shooting Junk, with Junk

  1. What an awesome story, Tom- I mean- really… c’mon- how many people could pull off what you did? You even outdid the camera repair people! My hat’s off to ye’, Tom!! And, then of course- there are the pictures… Oh, my goodness- the pictures!!
    This week, we took a day trip up to Moosehead Lake, about 2 hours NW of here…. and on the way, there was a tractor junkyard that so reminded me of you- and the fun you’d have had shooting up there!! I mean- these were really worn out, old Maine farm tractors!! You’d have had a ball!!

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  2. That was such hard work. But, your hard work was worth it! Look at those shots! I love rust, age, and dirt on a car. It ads so much character. My favorites are #1, 10, 11, and especially 13!!! 🙂

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  3. Nice post. Years past I owned Minolta set up AE-1 and several lenses. I loved that camera and all the great photos it provided. I also have owned several Leica lenses and have kept only a few. The images that you have made with the Hektor have prompted me to round one up. Perhaps a Leica screw mount version. I’m rummaging eBay as I speak..well type 😉

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  4. As nice as the old Hektor is, I would recommend another lens over it: The Minolta MD 135mm f/3.5. This is a very small, light, and dirt cheap lens that has such a wonderful look to it. It is sharp wide-open and it has a closer minimum focus distance which I find is practical for getting in close on smaller objects. I have a number of posts featuring this lens: Here and here

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  5. Yea.. I can see from your shots with the Minolta lenses how much character they have. And having used them in the past I can see your love of them. I really need to slow down though and think before I acquire any more lenses. I started using Nikon in the 80’s and have accumulated many nikkor lenses..from the humble 50mm non AI to the 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED .. many many mf AI’s ..up to 300mm f/2.8 AIS. So theres that and a D700 you look like a photo journalist when you want to take some casual photos of a party or a night out.
    SO I started with the Fuji X-E1 and now use X-E2 X-PRO1 the whole small footprint thing is great for shooting around folks so you don’t look like you just got off a Pacific tourist cruise ship. Trying to conceal yourself from being a camera nerd is hard when you is one.
    I became enamored by the OM Zuiko lenses..so small and well made. I just started buying them on eBay and am awaiting there arrival. several zooms and a few primes. The only drawback with them is the size of the adapter..pretty large.. kinda defeats the purpose of the small lenses, althought the Nikon and canon and Minolta adapters are the same size. So that has led me to the Zuiko pen lenses small and the adapter id thin. I am currently bidding on a few of these on fleabay. Of course the 42mm f/1.2 is high dollar..but I want one!
    Again I am on a nuclear night shift covering a down power.. I sit in front of a computer in the planning dept so I will have plenty of free time to browse OUTFOR30 and scour the internet for Zuiko pen lenses..cheers
    Steve

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  6. Steve, you’re right about my favoring the old Rokkors. They certainly do have a quality and special look about the way they render an image. It’s not a hard decision to use them when many of them may be had for so little money. Regarding the adapters for the Olympus OM lenses, it does kind of stink that the adapter adds so much extra size to these wonderfully tiny lenses. I justify it to myself by traveling with lenses of only one mount-type. That means I take up little space in storing the actual lenses which can all be used on that one mount adapter. The only way to go smaller is with the skinny little M-mount adapter and Leica lenses. While I do appreciate the lovely build quality of the Leica’s I’ve not found them to be as amazing as everyone claims, especially considering their luxury cost. There does reach a point of diminishing return… the price difference of the Zuiko and Rokkor lenses vs Leica and their performance which is comparable – even better in some cases – I’ve slowly drifted away from them. I’ve been through this with the Zeiss lenses too, both modern and classic. I just don’t see the advantage for the money. I compared the Zeiss Loxia 35mm to some of my classic 35mm lenses and found the difference to be negligible – shoot stuff, not charts. I do like the Loxia for its size and build quality but not so much that I’m willing to pay $1000-1100 above what I paid for my other 35mms. Check out the Hexanon AR 35mm f/2.8 or Rokkor 35mm f/2.8 or even the Vivitar 35mm f/1.9. They’re bursting with excellence at less than $100.

    All that said to agree with you on the Zuiko and Rokkor lenses. They’re excellent in any comparison and well worth the money.

    Tom

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  7. How difficult was it to actually take apart and reassemble the lens? I have 2 Minolta 35mm F/2.8 I am hoping to cannibalize into a new lens.

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  8. Hi there,

    The 35mm Rokkor lens is actually pretty easy to disassemble and put back together, provided you have the lens spanner and a few basic hand tools. You definitely will want to make sure you have a set of JIS screwdrivers. They look like Philips/crosstip but the pitch is different. Trying to remove a JIS screw with a Philips will result in stripped out heads. If you need a resource for ordering a JIS screwdriver set, let me know and I’ll be happy to offer a recommendation.

    As far as tearing down your two lenses, my best advice is to work slow, take photos with your smartphone and pay close attention when you remove the aperture ring so as not to launch the tiny steel ball that engages the aperture stop notches. That ball is backed by a small spring which tends to flick the ball across the room when the ring is removed. If you’re unsure how to tell where the ball is on your ring, I recommend putting the lens inside a plastic bag and pull the ring off in there. At least that way you’ll know where the ball is when it takes flight.

    All the best!

    Tom

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  9. Hi Tom, thanks for the informative article… I have a 58/1.2 I paid to have the aperture repaired, but I also have some 58/1.4’s; 2 were damaged so I decided to learn on them first how to disassemble them and cleanup oily apertures and a loose aperture mechanism.

    Now I’m on the 3rd one which has issues with the helicoid; I’ve got it apart but I noticed that even at infinity focus, the brass part of the helicoid wasn’t screwed all the way into the base.
    This makes me think I may have issues re-assembling it to get infinity focus correct.
    Did you have any issues with that?

    Thanks!
    Barry

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  10. Hi Barry,

    So good to hear you’ve taken to repair these great, old lenses. The issue you’re having with the one, it sounds like the helicoid is out of line. When you reassemble the two parts, they can be screwed back together across multiple starting points on the threads. If they’re not threaded together at the original point, parts inside won’t line up correctly and this will prevent it from threading all the way in (affecting infinity). Try unscrewing them and trying different starting points for putting them back together. I learned this one the hard way back when I reworked a 58mm f/1.2.

    I hope that helps you. Feel free to write back if you could use more assistance. My apologies for the delay in responding, I’ve been on vacation with my family.

    All the best,

    Tom Leonard

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