HOW BAD DOES IT HAVE TO GET?
This is yet another installment of the saga of the cameras from the estate of my my late chum Senggye; and this Linhof Super Technika is one of the worst among them.
It is (one might almost say " was") an ST III in 6x9cm "Baby" or "23" format. When I got it, the lacquered chrome was scabby and peeling; the leatherette was peeling off, exposing areas of light alloy with that dusty, grey look that is almost impossible to remove once the corrosion has set in; the rangefinder was jammed; the brass focusing rack was worn and skipping at the extremities of its travel (though if I pressed down on it, squeezing it onto the baseplate between finger and thumb, I could make it work); and the back locks were gummed in place with dried oil and dirt, as were the dark-slides on the two 6x9cm Rollex (not Super Rollex) backs. I managed to fix the slides and one of the Rollexes, but it's still pretty awful.
On the bright side, the ground glass was still whole; the bellows were astonishingly good; the three matched, cammed, Linhof-selected lenses (65/6.8 Angulon, 105/3.5 Xenar and 240/5.5 Tele-Xenar) were fungus-free and in working shutters; and there was a full set of viewfinder masks. And the automatic film counters in the Rollexes worked fine, even if I couldn't get the dark slides out. What to do?
The back is held on with four dovetailed sliders, all of which were stuck. You can just about make out the screws that hold them in place. Once I had undone these I could get the ground-glass off. In this shot, three are slid back and one (upper right in this picture) is slid forward.
My immediate reaction was that it was worth more as spares than as a camera. Remove the complete back, which can then be fitted onto almost anything, allowing the use of Linhof roll-film film holders and all standardized cut film holders; sell the viewfinder masks to anyone who has lost theirs; and flog off the lenses, preferably as a set with their three-sided cam, though 240mm is a much less common focal length for "baby" Linhofs than 180mm, and has its mask, so it's probably worth more than the other two put together. Also it's in a working No. 2 Compur shutter. These are hard to find.
You can see from this how the ground-glass portion of the back (which can be replaced with a Rollex or Super Rollex roll film holder) drops into the back of the camera and is grooved to accept the sliders.
Selling the outfit in or for parts is probably what will happen. But inevitably, I couldn't resist having a slight go at it; and indeed I had to if I was to get the back off. Fortunately, this was extremely easy, because the back was still rotating. I had only to turn it slightly and then unscrew four big screws, one on each dovetailed slider. Next, slide the sliders out; clean everything up; add a dab of clock oil; and reassemble it. Of course I was learning all the way, and could work much less less gingerly after removing the first slider: there's a little V-shaped spring that pushes the slider up into the dovetail, but it doesn't jump out, and is easy to compress when you replace the slider. Getting the screws back on was a slight problem until I realized that they are screwed into the ends of the struts that allow the back movements. You need to push the strut inwards, towards the back of the camera, and then wiggle both it and the screw until they engage. Again, a good reason for working on a tray.
Both Rollex and Super Rollex backs for "baby" Linhofs have a unique circular fitting which replaces the ground glass back as a unit. Conventional cut-film holders are slipped under the ground glass in the usual way. Six screws secure the face-plate of the back to the rest: two inside the ring, and four outside.
Once I had fixed the sliders, I realized that the four-slide system on the III, which was replaced by a much more complicated but far quicker rotary catch on the IV (1956), were nothing like as bad as I had always thought. It's just that the newest III is now around 60 years old, and even when I first encountered them they were a couple of decades old. As a result they were/are often fingernail-breakers. A big, sliding surface, open to dust, doesn't take all that long to clog up, but when freshly lubricated, they work fine. I'm generally a great believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" but when it comes the these sliders, at least, I now believe in periodical servicing.
The bit that holds the film comes out of the back for loading, but the counter mechanism is in the main body, driven by the knob (on the far side here). In order to remove the face-plate on the other, earlier back, I would need to remove the counter mechanism and strip the leather off: the plate is screwed in from the other side!
Well, once I had the screwdrivers out and a tray to work on (hint: always use a tray, so that bits can't easily fall off the table), and with a very modest success under my belt, I decided to have a crack at the rattier of the two Rollex backs. I have to say it was amazingly easy. Six fair-sized screws were all that secured the face-plate, the bit that engages with the back of the camera. With that off, I could just lift out the dark-slide. It was appallingly rusty and corroded, so it was a good few minutes' work with some steel wool to get it (reasonably) smooth again. The velvet looked to be in good order, so I cleaned it up with a bit of sticky tape and put it all back together.
Movements are limited. There is a drop front, mostly to accommodate wide-angle lenses but also allowing a fixed forward tilt; tilt on the front standard is backwards only; and (as you can see here) there is some rise. There's some information on our other site about using cameras upside-down to reverse the movements. Back swings and tilts are accomplished via the locking posts you can see on the back.
This is where the story stops for now. I still don't know what more to do. I'm inclined just to keep the 6x9 back that I got working, because my other Linhof backs (lever-wind Super Rollexes) are only 6x7cm, and there are times when 6x9cm is simply more useful. But what would have been a fair price to offer Aditi? Given its cosmetic condition, I would have been hesitant to pay even £40 (50€, $60) for it in full working order, and given that it already stands me in about an hour's work, I reckon I've pretty much earned it. Until I fixed it, it was scrap, or a source for parts: principally, the film-holder bit that fits inside the back itself.
The way the back swings and tilts work is clearer here. The round knobs on the camera body lock the posts; the rectangular squeeze-clips on the back clip it in place when no movements are needed, allowing use of the rangefinder.
And the body? As I say, I'm going to recommend that she sells the lenses and the masks, and probably the back too, though the last isn't worth much except to a dedicated build-it-yourself addict. In a strange way, the body drags down the value of everything else. Although someone sufficiently determined could (more or less) make the body work, it's a gumption trap: it looks so awful that my heart sinks just to look at it.
Also, I'm not going to live forever. When she inherits my cameras, Aditi going to have to go through everything again, though at least I'll be leaving her a inventory and a list of the contacts she can sell them through (whom she'll already have dealt with on this iteration, with her "other" or biological father). Better still, I could try to unload some of my cameras myself and enjoy myself with the money. I need to leave her less stuff, not more.
One further consideration is that any money Aditi makes from all that she sells, she will split with her four siblings: as I've explained elsewhere, she's not my biological daughter. She suggested that I come in as a sixth shareholder, in return for helping flog the stuff, so that would be a 6-way split. Now, with the Leicas and so forth, that's a sensible and generous offer, because I'm the only one who knows enough about the subject to spot the rare and valuable stuff: a 1930s AYOOC waist-level finder, for example, or the screw-mount 90/2 Summicron. When you start getting down to stuff like this Linhof, though, everything is completely different: I have both a moral and a financial conundrum.
The (moderately) valuable bit: the lenses, with the triple cam that allows each to be focused with the rangefinder. Each cam lobe is engraved with the serial number of the lens to which it is matched.
If I sold everything from the Linhof outfit separately on eBay, I might be able to get £300 (350€, $400) or so: the 240 would account for at least half of this, the 65 for maybe £50, the 105 for the same or less, the back at least £30 (about the price of a replacement ground glass), the Rollex with the rusted-in sheath £10 just for the working interior, and so forth. There are also six 6.5x9cm Linhof film/plate double darkslides, for which people ask $20-30 each; somewhat optimistically, in my view. There's more about using these towards the end of a page on our other site.
Let's imagine I sell it as an outfit, therefore, and that the dealer sells the bits separately. Then I'd be looking at maybe £150 (175€, $190). Without friends in the business, starting with me, she'd be lucky to find a dealer who'd offer her even half that. Split six ways, that's something between £12.50 each (14-15€, $16) at £75 and £25 each (30€, $55) at £150. Sure, if she were getting the lot, I'd happily do this for her, because I couldn't easily afford to give her that much money any other way; but for the tiny sums involved when it's all split up, I can find better things to do. So can she: she's a busy freelance translator.
Her siblings have the biggest incentive for me to sell it, because although it's not much money, they have to do absolutely nothing to get it. I, on the other hand, have roughly zero incentive, even with the one-sixth share: I'd be looking at several hours work for next to no money. I'd cheerfully buy my way out of any obligation to try to sell this thing (apart from writing this article, which was somewhat bittersweet) by giving her £50 for the lot, but quite honestly there's nothing there I want except perhaps the 6x9 Rollex that I restored to life.
She understands: it's just too much work for too little return. But if I did give her £50, I'd feel I'd ripped her off. I could give it back to her, but then, how's she going to get rid of it without my help? That way, I'd feel I'd let her down. As I say, it's both a moral and a financial conundrum. To be honest, I'm not sure I'd bother to try to sell it even if it were mine and I would get all the money. Probably I'd just do the same as Senggye and keep it. I'd mean to do something with it, and I'd never get around to it. Then Aditi would inherit it all over again...
I think I have all the leather, but if I haven't, it's available new. Some had fallen off completely: other bits, I had to remove to try to clean the camera up, or to try to make it work.
This is how camera gear disappears. Someone dies; it's too much hassle to sell; the person who inherited it doesn't even know anyone to whom they could give it. So it gets dumped, or "cleared" with the rest of the house contents, and the house clear probably dumps it or sells it at a car boot sale. This is why the ST III is currently sitting in a Ziploc bag, with some silica gel, and the lenses are in Ziplocs too, also with silica gel, and I'm looking for inspiration. Anyone sufficiently determined could however restore it and end up with a classic 1950s outfit which could be very usable indeed. Who has any bright ideas? What would you do? As before, there's an e-mail address for Aditi below.
Contact the owner: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2017