Clearly, I have self-control issues. I had absolutely no need for yet another screwmount Leica body nor another lens, let alone another 50mm lens. In spite of this, I bought the kit. Why? It was cheap and broken. I can’t resist cheap and broken.
How bad was it? Bad. The body was missing half the vulcanite covering, had some dents and brassing, and was quite dirty in every possible way, inside and out. The lens showed even more brassing, mostly on the barrel, and the glass was filthy throughout. There was also internal paint loss and the front element looked like it was used for sandpaper testing. The kit was completely unusable in the state I received it, as I knew it would be, so this was always going to be a restoration project, and a fairly major one at that.
I started with the lens. Basic disassembly and cleaning was easy; the Summar is a straightforward double Gauss design (six elements in four groups), and as long as you don’t mess with the origami aperture, it’s pretty easy to work on. I polished the glass and repainted the sides of the cemented pairs – the paint flakes off of these, causing lots of internal flare (for which the Summar is known and unfairly maligned). Lubricating the helicoid and freeing up the aperture ring presented no problems.
The big job was the front element, which needed more than just cleaning and light polishing. The scratches covered the entire surface and rendered it almost opaque. Removing the dirt and haze did almost nothing, so it was time for the big guns. I ordered some fine cerium oxide powder – the standard media for glass polishing – and planned my approach. Ordinarily, I would have tried to take the bare element, create a mold of it, and spin it against the mold with the cerium oxide in between, in order to preserve the curvature. The Summar, however, has the front element locked in a metal carrier, so I made the decision to polish by hand. Not ideal, to be sure, but the polishing agent works slowly, especially with light, careful pressure, so as long as I kept the coverage even and didn’t inadvertently reshape the lens, I figured I’d be OK. If not, well, it’s not like the lens was usable as it was, so there really wasn’t anything to lose.
Polishing took many hours, probably eight or ten in the end. I periodically reassembled the lens and checked it on my X-E1 to make sure things weren’t going horribly awry. I stopped when I was satisfied with the results through the camera, even though the glass still shows some light marks, especially around the periphery. No point in trying to achieve meaningless perfection, particularly on a lens known for its imperfections.
On to the body. Stripping it down was not difficult. There are a lot more screws holding the body together on the earlier Leicas than the IIIc and later models, but none of them gave any trouble, which is pretty remarkable when you’re talking about a camera closing in rapidly on 80 years old and showing no signs of having been opened at any point in that time. I did not take the shutter crate apart – the curtains were light-tight and I generally do not like to get involved with the drum and rollers unless I have to; if a problem appears here after dealing with everything else, I can always pull it back apart easily. Lots of greasy dirt inside the mechanicals, but nothing broken, so everything was cleaned and lubricated, then reassembled. The rangefinder and viewfinder were pretty good, and the beamsplitter mirror was surprisingly clear, so again cleaning was all that was needed.
Recovering was next. This is one job I haven’t done before, at least not with pre-cut coverings, and I know that the adhesive used is very strong and not easily repositioned, so I was careful to get it right the first time. I lightly sanded the body shell, reassembled the camera (minus the three screws that go through the covering), and wiped it down with alcohol to ensure good adhesion. Applying the new cover (which I sourced from Hugo Studio) was relatively easy. It fits perfectly and does a really good job of mimicking the original vulcanite.
The finished product is entirely satisfactory. It’s still not conventionally pretty, with pretty heavy wear overall, dings and dents, and brassing (even along the film transport path along the back of the shutter crate), but rather it shows close to 80 years of honest wear. It’s a camera that’s been used – a lot – and now is ready to continue being used. I’ve already posted a photo from the combo here and a couple more in this set (violating my own rule about posting photos from gear I haven’t yet introduced – I was never very good with rules…).