I Am Simme

Random musings by a programmer and film photography geek.

Minolta Autocord — Servicing the Focus Helicoid

Posted in Film Photography.

Last summer I got very lucky at an auction where I managed to acquire a Minolta Autocord and a bunch of other cameras for only 400SEK (that's about $60 USD). In the box was also a Nikon FE2, Polaroid Land Camera 101 as well as a Contaflex II. All in super nice condition. There was also a Canon FTb or something, but that one was i terrible shape. Furthermore there were tons of different accessories.

Anyway, enough bragging about how lucky I've been.

The Autocord is by far my favorite camera of the bunch. Might actually be the favorite out of all the cameras I own. I could spend a day just looking through the viewfinder. There's something magical about that matte glass.

It was not all sunshine though. The grease in the focusing system had clogged up and the focus lever was almost impossible to budge. Reading up on the Internet proved that this was a common problem with this camera. Apparantly it's also very easy to break the lever if you pull to hard.

I had to fix it. I wanted to continue using this camera!

I didn't really want to send it in for service — which is what any sane person with no prior camera repair experience should do. So I decided I wanted to try to fix it myself. The reasoning being

"I got it so cheap, it'll cost as much to buy a new one as it would to get it serviced".

So if I broke it, I'd buy a new one. And since it's a pretty expensive camera I thought I might take the chance and maybe save $400.

A few hours of research later I didn't have anything substanial that would really help me. Googling the problem mostly turned up forum threads about sending it in for service. So I gave up and put the camera on the shelf.

Some months later, after I recieved the nettar, I got the urge to shoot 120 again. So I sat down to do some more research. This time I was lucky! The 28th of December 2013 a post was published on This Old Camera. The post describes how to open up an Autocord and clean the focusing heliocoid.

On the day before new years eve I sat down and started to take it apart. I managed to get to the part where you're supposed to unscrew the shutter from inside the camera. I didn't have the tools necessary to do this. So I ordered a spanner wrench from eBay.

Four weeks later it appeared in my mailbox and I could resume the operation!

I now have a fully working Autocord again (except maybe for the 1sec shutter speed which I think might be off by a bit).

Lessons Learned

There are a few gotchas that the article don't mention which I thought I might bring up here in hope that other adventurous people will find this post and not make the same mistakes that I did.

  1. The two screws just to the right of the shutter button should not be unscrewed. This will unhook the shutter button mechanism and it's a bit of a hassle to get it back in place.
  2. Do not unhook the cables for the flash that's connected to the shutter. You won't be able to get it back on without also opening the shutter up so that you can hold the screw in place while you reattach the cables. It took me probably two hours before I realized I had to open the shutter.
  3. If you want to open the shutter have a look at this other post from the same blog about servicing the shutter. The shutter on my camera is a Optiper MVL which looks a bit different from the one in the post. But the principle is the same. You turn the small screw next to the ridged ring around the lens. Then you turn that small ridged ring to unhook the "lid" on the shutter.
  4. If you've managed to get it all back together and you can't get the shutter to fire you will have to open it up again. Make sure you really fastened the shutter holder to the heliocoid. And then make sure all the five rings line up neatly before putting the shutter back in. Then try again. It took me probably around ten times of removing the shutter and putting it back in before I got it right.
  5. Take pictures using your phone or similar before taking anything apart. This helps when you're putting it back together.
  6. Patience. You need alot of patience. And a real good reserve of curse words probably helps a bit too.

Besides the articles mentioned above I also found the original service manual, that was to some help.

Best of luck if you decide to try it out yourself! It's easier then it may seem at first. But it's also not easy. I believe anyone can do it. Just think before you act.

Feel free to contact me at hi@thisdomain if you have questions. I'm by no means an expert, I only did this one. But if I can be of any help I'd love to try!