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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23 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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  11. Hello Tom, My inquiry comes from New Zealand. I have a 150mm f5.6 EL Nikkor enlarger lens which is infected with fungus on the inside of the back element. I’m having difficulty extracting the inner element from its seating. I tried gently levering the edge of the element with a needle to try and break the seal, but to no avail. It crossed my mind that a suction cap may work(???), but I’m conscious that this may damage the element coating. My question is; Would you know of any practical method to extract the element from the tight tolerance fitting?
    (I suspect the lens is shot, however I would like to proceed with the clean before repairing other lenses)
    I thank you for your articles, they are very informative and greatly appreciated.
    Regards Tony G.

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  12. Hi Tony,

    I believe you’re the first acknowledged kiwi I’ve had the pleasure of hearing from on OutFor30. Thanks for your inquiry and I’m glad to hear you’ve enjoyed the content on this blog. If you have an opportunity to send me a well lit close-up photo of the rear element I might be able to offer some ideas more specific to the particular lens you’re working on. Generally speaking, if you have removed the retaining ring and the element is not easily coming out it is likely that the light absorbing black coating painted around the perimeter of the glass has become partially stuck/bonded with the metal around it. Depending on the design of your lens, if there is an area where you can gently tap along the sides of the metal the glass it is set in you might be able to sort of jostle it loose. If not, I would certainly consider a suction cup. I would avoid prying with a metal needle as this optical glass tends to be quite brittle and easily chipped. If you go the route of the suction cup, I suggest first cleaning the lens and suction cup of every speck of dust before putting them together. This should help prevent leaving any marks on the coating (assuming that face of the element is coated) as you work the lens. As long as there is no dust/debris between the glass and soft rubber, you should be fine. Perhaps the combination of the pull of the suction cup with the gentle tapping of the metal around the glass will convince it to release. I have a small jeweler’s screwdriver that has a dense plastic handle that I’ve used for lightly knocking bits around, leaving no marks or damage after it.
    Do please keep me informed of your progress with this and if you do get time to grab a photo, I’ll be happy to help out with some more suggestions. A link to my email can be found on the “About this blog” page, at the very bottom. All the best to you in your efforts!

    Cheers,
    Tom Leonard

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  13. Hello Tom, I just wrote out a reply to you, but somehow it has disappeared when I went looking for “About this Blog”. You may have it, but if not I’ll try and remember the contents.
    I wasn’t anticipating a quick response from you so I gave it another attempt. This time I used a sharp needle which I placed inside a modellers small drill chuck. This gave a little more control and I was able to break the resistance by carefully applying lateral pressure (instead of picking at the edge), moving in small increments around the element, bearing in mind the fragile aspect of the glass ( as you mention). After cleaning to your specifications I now have a sparkling lens. One addition is I dipped the glass in Kodak Lens Cleaner solution to remove the calcium residue in our tap water (we have good bones, but prevalent with kidney stones).
    Continuing on with the front lens extraction, I’m having difficulty with the tightness of the front retaining ring, so much so, I have damaged the pin ends of the lens spanner. I recall a similar problem I had with removing the dome port of an underwater strobe, where I had to apply a downward pressure to the dome to release the resistance off the retaining ring thread. Again, any ideas? I’m conscious of bludging for advice, I apologize.
    As for a suction cap, I found the right size on the fish tank pump, but came up against the mild wrath of my better half, as well as the fish.
    My screen doesn’t show “About this Blog” at the page bottom, I must be missing a link.
    Once again, my sincerest thanks.
    Regards,Tony
    ps: I do like your photography

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  14. Hi Tony,

    I’m glad to hear you were able to safely remove the rear element and successfully clear out those free-loading fungi. Regarding the front element retainer ring, I’ve come across this same bother you’ve run into and found it to be the case of the original assembler being generous with the application of thread-locking compound. You can soften that bond with an equally generous amount of isopropyl alcohol (91% or higher). The pharmacies in the US typically carry two isopropyl products: 1) Rubbing Alcohol which is 70% isopropyl and contains water and an oil for application on skin. 2) Isopropyl (91%-95%) is meant for rapid disinfecting and has no oils in it but dries out skin. When Rubbing alcohol evaporates it leaves behind traces of oil on your glass which is a pain to clean off. Thus, I only ever use the high octane stuff. I’d recommend that you thoroughly soak a cotton Q-tip (ear swab) with isopropyl and apply it all around the retainer ring and any exposed threads. Give it a minute to dry and then apply more and then immediately go after that ring with whatever remains of your calipers. In the worst cases of this stuck ring no longer having useable notches, I’ve used needle nose pliers that have one layer of electrical tape wrapped around the plier tips. This provides good grip while protecting the metal from getting knackered by the metal pliers. The thing to bear in mind is that the ring is thin metal which easily flexes which equates to, the harder you squeeze or press it with tools the more friction you’re putting between it and the threads you’re working to free it from; it becomes a balancing act between tool traction and ring action. It WILL come off, you just have to hold your mouth right 😉

    I’m glad to hear of your progress with the lens and I do hope you’ll keep me updated on your progress with the front end of it. The ‘About this blog’ page is found by clicking on the three lines icon in the top right of the home page. A drop down will appear which offers you a link to ‘About this blog’ and another to view posts by category. Alternatively, you can click on this link to get there directly: https://outfor30.com/about/

    Cheers,

    Tom

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  15. Good Evening Tom,
    Many thanks for your input, the ring did free up. The pressure applied was well beyond expectations for such finely machined fitting. One can only be impressed with tolerances in the manufacture of the lens. However extracting the front element has produced another obstacle. The inner (rear) element of the front lens group. Looking into the front barrel is clean, there is no break in the machining to indicate a inner thread. Looking at the back inner barrel past the aperture group mechanism there is a retainer ring with indents for the lens spanner. This would indicate the aperture mechanism would have to come off. Problem! I have tried the alcohol and used a large slip joint wretch (protected with duck tape) to hold the barrel as I try with a hand grip to unjam the top ring on the outside of the barrel (rear of the rotating aperture selection ring). Any more pressure I believe it will damage the barrel. Like that of your 58mm f1.2. Am I making sense? (By the way I tried to connect with your Email link, but no luck as my PC directed me to an Outlook setup. As a pensioner, for communication I’m still using two cans and a piece of string, I have a standard gmail.com account. Cheap eh!) I do however have some jpegs to send to you if I could figure it all out.
    Food for thought. What is needed to hold the outer barrel tight is a spring metal ring clamp similar to that used for changing the oil filter on a vehicle. The tighter the filter, the tighter the clamp. Another idea, to avoid squeezing the barrel with pliers or C clamps could a ring compressor used for installing pistons into a vehicle cylinder give a better circumference grip of the outer barrel?
    I’m impressed with the lens spanner but feel it is too flimsy for the pressures required to undo retainer rings, I feel the pin points need to be filed down/squared off a fraction, along with the back edge filed to fit the inner side of the barrel.
    I suppose you don’t broadcast Email addresses to avoid spam issues.
    Again many thanks.
    Regards Tony

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  16. Hello Tom, I emailed through jpegs of the EL lens a few days ago. Would you have received the message?
    Regards Tony

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