Any restoration project is a labor of love, (and frustration). In this article, one of our resident photographers, Rob Detoyato, documents his first-ever attempt in restoring a 48-year-old 4x5 field camera!
I have always wanted to do more large-format photography ever since I graduated from my Fine Art Photography class. Back then, I mostly shot with medium-format cameras, along with digital. I just couldn't justify getting a large-format camera back then. However, as the years went on and my photographic style evolved from shooting extensive series, roll after roll, to a more contemplative technique. I realized that a large-format camera would better suit my current style. So I acquired an old (48 years old, in fact) Wista 45D 4x5 field camera which has definitely seen better days but was within my price range. The camera was in functioning condition, but its bellows were falling apart, and the gears were stiff. I eventually decided to attempt to restore the camera as best as I could. Since this is my first time restoring a large-format camera, I decided to document the process, for future reference.
Taking the Camera Apart
The first phase is to dismantle the camera and strip it down to its different parts. At this point, I expected that I would need to strip it bare, but it turned out that the camera's main body was still in good condition, despite the scuffed off paint. Even the light seals were intact!
Upon closer inspection, I noticed that there was a bit of oxidation in some of the gears, there was also quite a lot of dust that accumulated over the years. I needed to clean this out using a dust-rocket and mini air compressor.
Replacing the Bellows
Probably the most essential part of restoring the camera was replacing the damaged bellows. This was not a complicated procedure, however, you could read more about it in detail in this article.
This procedure also took the longest since I needed to wait for the replacement bellows to arrive (due to COVD-19, everything was delayed) and learn how to best install them so that they would be light tight.
Re-lubricating Gears and Revolving Back
While waiting for the contact rubber cement of my newly replaced bellows to harden, I decided to work on loosening the gears and revolving back. I used an old photographer's secret in dealing with stiff gears..lighter fluid.
First, I poured a bit of lighter fluid onto a shallow dish. Using the tip of a precission screwdriver to apply the lighter fluid unto the problematic gears. I also resorted to using a thin brush in order to apply it in larger surfaces like the insides of the revolving back mechanism.
Conditioning Leatherette and Assembly
After all the gears have been lubricated and began to turn smoothly again, it was time to work on the external appearance of the camera. Using a damp cotton pad, I lightly wiped off any hardened dirt and dust from the camera's leatherette. I admit, it took me more than just one cotton pad. After letting it air dry, I then applied a thin amount of leatherette conditioner just to give the camera a little shine.
After all the parts have air-dried, I re-assembled the camera and attached a newly acquired 210mm lens.
Have you ever tried restoring a piece of photographic equipment? Let us know in the comments!