Sunday, July 1, 2012

Leica II restoration

[From the Archives, ca. 2005]
Leica II ca. '32 after restoration

As you can see below this camera was in a very sad state lacking the vulcanite cover when I acquired it. The shutter worked only because it was oozing with a WD40 type lubricant mixed with a lot of grime and dirt. Initially I was stumped by the lack of a film take up spindle and spool. Fortunately a short spindle from a Fed 2 bolts on in tandem with a Zorki film spool. 

before restoration

For details of the procedure on how to completely dismantle a Leica II or clone please go to Jay's site or this concise but EZ to follow technical illustration by Rick Oleson.

partial disassembly of a Leica II

Before disassembly the lens flange to film plane distance [28.8mm] was measured using a caliper just to make sure it has not been tampered. Once this is determined, take note of the location of the shims so that the register will be exactly at the same specification upon reassembly. The shims on a Leica are mostly metal with a small piece here and there of vellum like thin paper for fine tuning. I never encountered metal shims on an FSU clone, just paper.

I set the body aside and traced a paper pattern to use as a template for a new cover using Micro Tools #4040 leatherette. The body was cleaned with ultra fine sandpaper moistened with lighter fluid to insure proper adhesion.

Dirty winding gear set, ready for lighter fluid immersion and blasts of air, Fed short replacement spindle standing by for trial. A Zorki spindle is also a bolt on option.

I immersed all the gears in lighter fluid followed by generous bursts of compressed air. Once they were clean I sparingly greased the gear set with Castrol GTX to insure smooth winding.

The shutter curtains looked light tight and only needed cleaning. Making sure the curtain and ribbon attachments do not get contaiminated with oil, I carefully lubricated the rollers and curtain drum spindle using a syringe loaded with watchmaker's oil. After all these steps were accomplished I tensioned the curtains and installed it back to the top super structure.

shutter crate and top plate ready for reassembly

This is the most difficult step in the reassembly of the shutter in any Leica derived focal plane shutter system.

Mating the coupling pin [above - 1] to the curtain drum hole [2 - below] as well as shooting the roller pins [1 - below] to the corresponding holes [2- above] of the top superstructure.

Aside from that, the curtain drum gear needs to couple with the release gear [3] underneath in the wound position at the same time the laths need to be overlapped [4] approximately 180 degrees opposite the drum hole or else the shutter will not work properly. This picture approximates the proper orientation and the shutter worked. Of course it is assumed that the curtains were properly installed.

All of these have to be done in one shot and requires practice, time and a lot of patience!
Before inserting the shutter crate and top assembly to the body I did the TV shutter test to make sure that the speeds are pretty accurate. Usually if the 1/500 looks good all the other speeds will fall into place. I also use an M3 as sound and visual reference.

Although the RF patch was usable it was not bright enough under most lighting conditions so the beam splitter mirror was replaced and the RF and VF cleaned.

After complete reassembly the horizontal and vertical RF alignment was calibrated.

Please note that I do not endorse repainting or even retouching a black enamel Leica II. Brassing adds character and mystique to the camera which is a testament to the history of pictures it has taken. Even the finest repaint job will not achieve record breaking prices at Christie's.

Here are some details that show the Barnack heritage of FSU clones

under the RF cover
Fed 1d - soldered eyepiece tunnels

Zorki 1d - eyepiece tunnels removable secured in place by RF cover back screw

Leica II - eyepiece tunnels threaded or secured by screws

Leica II shutter crate is made out of sheet metal [early Feds are similar] more fragile and can easily bend when detached but once assembled it is a rigid structure

Zorki 1d die cast shutter crate

Zorki 1d shutter body

The Fed and Zorki are undoubtedly reverse engineered versions of the Leica II without the close tolerance precision of Teutonic engineering. It is amazing how the Soviets kept the same basic Barnack design in production with touches of their ingenuity sprinkled almost contemporaneously in the early 1930s until the early 1990s, 30 years after Leica stopped LTM production.

Leica II + Summar 50/2 lens test shots 
Agfa APX100 @ EI200 souped in Diafine


  1. Hi

    I may have missed how you recovered the camera. I'm not sure Asahi or camera leathers has one for the leica ii.

    1. I bought a sheet of Micro Tools #4040 leatherette and made a paper/cardboard template. When I did this restoration, Aki-Asahi did not carry a Leica II re-leather kit, don't know if they do now and was not aware of Camera Leather then.


  2. Hello,
    Last weekend I bought on a fair here in the Netherlands a FED 1d (NKVD, Nr. 164150). Unfortunately I didn’t notice that some pieces of the “leather” were lost. So I planned renewing the leather…..
    On the internet I saw some difficult instructions removing the vulcanite with a special agressive gel, that is supposed to remove/dissolve paint. RFF someone else suggested to use a chisel and perhaps some lighter fluid.
    What is your experience removing the vulcanite/ leather of the Leica II and replacing it by new leather(ette)? What kind of leatherette would you recommend? (The vulcanite of the FED is rather rough, not fine.) Dividing/partition line of the leatherette under the lens?
    Thanks for answering in advance.

    1. Congratulations on your Fed 1d, nice FSU!

      This particular Leica II didn't have leather covering when I acquired it. So I had no choice but make my own pattern, cut and recover it using the Micro-Tools #4040 leatherette as stated above.

      However sometime in the distant past I tried to 'personalize' a Fed 2 using Aki-Asahi leather kit from eBay. I used paint stripper to remove the original vulcanite. I think this is very similar to the 'gel' you described.

      Good light!