Minolta X-700

Unless you’re getting on a bit, like me, you probably won’t associate the Minolta brand name with photography equipment, or even necessarily have heard of them. They were a major player, though, particularly in the 1970s to 1990s, with at least a couple of firsts: the first multi-mode autoexposure SLR, the XD7 (a.k.a. XD in Japan and XD11 in the U.S.A.) and the first body-centric AF SLR in the 7000 AF. In addition, the Minolta “Acute Matte” focus screen technology was provided to Hasselblad for their 501/503 (and contemporary) series of cameras which, I can state from experience, makes a huge difference in terms of preview image clarity, if not ease of focus. Unfortunately, despite their innovations, Minolta couldn’t compete with the market leaders later on, and they merged with Konica before the camera division was entirely bought-out by Sony in 2006.

Sony continued with A-mount DSLRs, using the same Minolta AF mount (which differed from the pre-AF MD/MC mount) but are now concentrating on their E-mount which is the basis of their mirrorless system and is entirely different. There’s little doubt, though, that Sony’s ability to continuously innovate their camera line has been, in part, thanks to the knowledge and resources gained through Minolta and Konica Minolta.

Going back to 1985, I briefly owned a used XD7, for about a week, but had to return it because it was faulty. I’d gone in for the X-300, the only one of the current models that I could afford, and the shop had offered the second-hand XD7 as an alternative. I really liked it but it wasn’t usable in the end, so I opted to go with the original choice and enjoyed the X-300 for the next couple of years. Of course, the one I really wanted at the time was the X-700 but that was out of the question. The X-300 was fine if not ultimately a little too restricted but, by the time I was able to upgrade, instead of the X-700 I switched to Nikon. One thing I do remember is how much I liked the Minolta 50mm f/1.7, in terms of clarity and colour rendition, and how I found Nikon’s kit-50mm a little lacklustre by comparison!

In recent years, with memories of that XD7 and the 50mm on the X-300, I have been battling with the desire to buy back into yet another SLR system. I’ve been good and I’ve been sensible – until now. Whilst on holiday I wandered into an antique shop and immediately spotted (my camera radar is always operational with practically zero downtime) a Minolta X-700 in a case, with a Tokina AT-X 28-85mm 1:3.5-4.5 attached. They wanted £28 for the lot.


Let’s get the lens out of the way first. The AT-X range from Tokina was their top-of-the-line “pro” series and they are, reputedly, excellent. The one attached to this X-700 is pristine (now that I have given it an external clean-up) with no fungus or marks, whatsoever. Clean, clear and mechanically perfect; this lens alone is worth more than £28.

I was trying to test the camera in the shop but the owner didn’t know much about it. He has a “camera guy” who checks and provides all of his antique cameras and this person suggests prices accordingly. I, therefore, assumed the camera was non-funcional as this is how it appeared to be, despite trying some new batteries which the shop owner happened to have. I went away to have a think. Some quick research later and I discovered that the main reason for failure of this model is one or both of two certain capacitors – one in the base and the other beneath the top cover – which are prone to failure. I am fairly adept with a soldering iron and so the replacement of one or two capacitors is a minor challenge which I accepted. A quick negotiation down to £25 later and the kit was mine.

I immediately ditched the case. I wouldn’t normally do this but it was literally falling apart in my hands, leaving a trail of dust and debris in its wake. This is what happens when manufacturers cut costs and produce cruddy fabric cases covered in plastic faux-leather which disintegrates horribly. This is in stark contrast to the Pentax kit case for the Spotmatic range: real leather,  strong and beautiful (so much so that I have two). Even the Pentax case for the later ME series, also fabric with a faux-leather covering which has invariably cracked by now, is usually sturdy and intact. What were you thinking, Minolta?

Anyway, back to the camera itself. Once back indoors I nicked a battery from another camera I had with me and cleaned the contacts of the X-700 thoroughly. Battery in, power on and finger on the touch-sensitive button… the meter sprang to life and the shutter fired! No soldering necessary. As far as I can tell without having had the chance to test with film yet, this camera is fully functional.

There’s work to do, though. I have removed the decayed mirror-buffer foam, which was not easy. The issue, with Minolta in particular, is that they tend to favour having a baffle between the lens mount and mirror box, which obscures the top front of the mirror box and, therefore, the mirror bumper. I recently worked on a Pentax S3 which had the same and it’s a pig to remove old debris and replace with new foam. I now need to replace the mirror bumper and clean out the decayed foam making up the light seals around the film door, and replace all of those. Then it’s time to film-test.


Pentax ME 

Not the ME Super, but perhaps the ME Better!

Pentax ME

I think I struck lucky with this one. Found, by chance, when searching for a Pentax-M 50mm lens, the description of this item detailed the lens only and was priced at about the same as the lens alone would go for. But all the pics showed the camera too, so I asked the seller to confirm what was included in the sale. The answer: everything! I snapped it up even though I wasn’t sure I’d need the lens (see previous post) because the camera looked so clean. No knowing whether or not it would work, though, so it was another cheap punt.

This is the camera that led to the later, and much more popular, ME Super. The latter has many refinements but, as I have discovered, also involved some cost and weight reduction by replacing some of the metals with plastics. One of the reasons I prefer the look of the plain ME is the metal top cover with the ASAHI stamp; the Super has a top cover which is mostly plastic but plated with a metallic outer and, as such, has a slightly different appearance. There are no buttons near the shutter dial on the ME because it’s not possible to set manual shutter speeds on this model; it’s aperture priority only apart from a purely mechanical speed of 1/100s (x-synch for flash) and B. The shutter dial itself is more robust on the ME, compared with the all-plastic affair of the Super, and I prefer it even though it results in a more fiddly process to remove the top cover. Most of the remaining differences between the ME and the Super are inside.

So, upon arrival, the lens seemed fine apart from the fact that it was very dusty inside. No fungus (unlike the one that had arrived just prior to this) and mechanics were fine. This was a simple, half-hour job to dis-assemble, separate the main groups either side of the aperture blades and blow out the vast majority of the dust that had settled onto the two surfaces there.

I noticed immediately that the camera’s wind-on lever was loose when near the end of its travel and it didn’t click closed. The shutter, though, seemed fine as did the electronics and meter display. I knew what this meant: the “click spring” had broken off inside. The purpose of this spring is to secure the wind-on lever close to the camera body to, firstly, switch off the meter and, secondly, prevent accidental partial wind-on. Easily overlooked but should not be; the broken-off bit of metal can travel down into the workings or even shutter and seriously jam or permanently break something. I decided to resist the temptation to check shutter speeds any further and see if I could fish out the broken spring. Luckily, after removing the camera base plate, a few short shakes resulted in the piece in this picture falling out.

Broken click spring
Broken-off click spring. Better out than in!

Safe now to carry on testing, I figured all seemed well apart from the usual need to replace the mirror buffer and light traps.

I ended up harvesting a click spring from a parts-only ME Super (the springs are identical) and installed it into the ME. The Super has a refinement, though, where a second, coiled spring is used to strengthen the main click spring and presumably make it less likely to break off. The coiled spring is held around a post and is sprung against a second post, neither of which are present in the ME. I discovered that both posts are direct replacements for plain screws in the ME and so I gave the ME the Super’s full click spring refinement job! Perfect.

With the top cover still off, all that was left was to remove and replace some crumbling old foam which was meant to cover the open area where the meter LEDs go, leading straight into the area between prism and top surface of the screen. This was a very fiddly job and resulted in more cruddy bits than I wanted to see when looking through the viewfinder, so when all was sealed again I removed the prism and cleaned the underside, the viewfinder side, the back of the viewfinder lens and the top surface of the screen. The prism itself is held in by two tiny screws – one on each side – and removal requires the electronic boards to be carefully lifted away from the top surfaces first of all. After loosening the two prism screws the entire prism will then lift out. It’s the same situation in the ME Super and it’s the only way to remove debris that has found its way into the space between prism and screen, since screens are not user-removable in these cameras. The eventual replacement for the ME Super – the Super A (Super Program in the U.S.A.) – does have user-changeable screens which, if nothing else, makes cleaning much easier.

I have renewed the mirror buffer now and will soon replace the light traps in and around the rear door so that I can run some film through. I love the mirror/shutter sound and feel of this camera; there’s something very reassuringly 1970s about it and that’s only meant in a good way. It’s ever so slightly less dampened in movement compared with the Super but it’s certainly no Spotmatic in terms of noise or vibration. And that’s not to say that the Spotmatics are bad, either – far from it.

Something worth mentioning is that I get the distinct impression that the ME suffers much less from the very common shutter and wind-on issues that many Supers will suffer from now, if not serviced. Perhaps because it’s slightly less refined internally, with fewer plastic parts. My Super had the wind-on issue (film winds but shutter won’t charge), which I appear to have fixed without the need for a full service, and my (much more shabby) parts body has the same issue which can’t be fixed in the same, relatively simple, way.

So, is the ME better than the ME Super? Purely in terms of functionality, not really, and yet I prefer it. If you’re on the lookout for a fully working ME Super and don’t care much about manual shutter speeds, give the ME a go.

Praktica MTL 3

I spotted an old friend looking back at me from a charity shop window the other day. Together with a case and lens, looking nice and clean, was a Praktica MTL 3 for a donation of just £20. This was a very popular and affordable system camera of its time; a fairly robust, all-manual camera with the common M42 lens mount. The MTL 3 was the second SLR that I had owned, after the Zenit EM, from around 1981.

The shutter seemed fine and the wind-on was sure and solid. Unfortunately, though, there was a huge blob of dark fungus showing through the viewfinder which I could see was not on the mirror nor underside of the focus screen. This would mean that the body would need to be dismantled in order to clean it inside. Also, the lens aperture was stuck wide open which would mean a complete dismantling of the lens. The challenge was accepted. 

Once back at home the lens was taken to pieces, helicoid and all, and optical groups separated. I carefully cleaned each aperture blade, a couple of which had grown an impressive coating of fungus, with cotton buds and propanol. Surprisingly, there was no fungus at all on the elements near to the aperture blades; unexpected because fungus normally loves to infest coated glass, seemingly in preference to anything else. The Pentacon 50mm 1:1.8 is a relatively easy lens to work on as it’s very simple in design; the job took about forty minutes and a working aperture was restored. 

Next was the more challenging task. I needed to get in between the base of the prism and the upper side of the focus screen, which would be tricky if the prism and screen were glued together as they are in the B series (the BC1 at least). I removed the top cover after first taking off the shutter speed, wind-on and rewind assemblies as well as the flash shoe. The prism was held in place by a single clamp and I was relieved to find that the prism lifted out easily, on its own, revealing the condenser lens which sits above the focus screen. The mould blob was on the top surface of the condenser lens, at around 5mm in diameter. I carefully cleaned it with cotton buds and propanol, being especially careful not to knock the meter needle, and it was removed entirely. A very satisfying job! 

Then I noticed (only with the aid of a bright light) that the eyepiece lens had some fungus threads growing. I managed to eliminate all traces of that, too, which required some more effort than expected but that’s the way it goes with that stuff; at least it did all come off and it hadn’t etched the glass as can sometimes happen. 

The optics are now all clean and clear, the shutter seems to be fine and the meter works, although I need to check it for accuracy. A nice trip down memory lane. 


How did this happen?

I blame it partly on my discovery of Vivian Maier a year or two ago but, if I’m to be honest, medium format has been in the back of my mind for many years. I’ve seen the odd Hasselblad when scouring various camera shops over time but admiration was really as far as it went. The desire to try a larger format than 35mm never went away and it seems the Maier effect must have accelerated the inevitable. Drawn more to 6×6 than any other (645 too much like 35mm, 6×7 too bulky) I purchased a TLR* quite cheaply, restored it and love the results on film. Square format it would be, then, so a Hassy was bound to happen eventually.

This is a 501CM which was made in 1997 and came as a boxed kit with A12 film back, 80mm Zeiss Planar T* “new-C” f/2.8 lens, Acute-Matte-D crosshair screen and waist-level finder. It was less expensive than expected, partly due to the lens and partly the external condition. The lens is essentially a CF with the F bit removed (to distinguish from the original C-type), introduced to cut costs at the expense of a feature that not many would apparently need. Both body and lens were coated in a layer of grime which, thankfully, I was able to remove thanks to my OCD-fuelled cleaning but, unfortunately, years of filth has caused some pitting in the chrome. There’s nothing much I can do about that but I’m satisfied that both body and lens are now clean (the lens looks almost new now).

Of course, no auction-site purchase would be complete without an issue or two (OK, perhaps I exaggerate) and the first of these was immediately apparent: the screen was distractingly grubby and no attempt at cleaning would make it good. After some research I discovered that the shockingly-expensive AM-D screens are made of two layers, and it became clear that the dirt was in between. “Don’t ever take the screens apart or you’ll ruin them” was the message I was reading over and over, so I took it apart and very gently but thoroughly cleaned both layers. Whatever it was has actually permanently etched the top glass layer, sadly, although I was able to drastically improve things. I can only imagine that the screen had become wet at some point and some glass-etching fungus had grown in-between, where it had stayed damp for some time. Anyway, re-assembly was much more difficult; it can be done as long as swearing is permitted.

Issue #2 was more tricky because I was still getting a feel for how the camera operated as a unit. I put the occasional wind-on jam and A12 winder looseness down to my inexperience but more research indicated that there could be problems with sticky old grease in the back’s mechanics. Off came the cover (with this latest A12 the dark slide holder needs to be removed first: four screws hold it on to the rear of the magazine casing) to reveal no sticky grease but one gear wheel with two missing teeth! Said teeth were floating around inside but hadn’t caused any mischief themselves; the problems were down to the gap in the gear, resulting in it sometimes catching and sometimes another cog free-wheeling inside the gap. No idea how two teeth were sheared off without causing damage to another cog as well, but that was the situation and I can understand why the seller had missed it. I actually managed to glue the teeth back on – talk about intricate – and everything worked perfectly, but it didn’t last, of course. And, because I’d taken the back apart to check and fix what was meant to be a common issue, I couldn’t return the kit even if I’d felt inclined to. I couldn’t find any A12 parts here and the alternative seemed to be to pay for a full service and repair.

Whilst away on holiday I managed to find a service manual, the cog part number and a nice chap in the U.S. who happened to have one new. The part was waiting for me when we returned home a few days ago. I used SPG to lubricate the teeth of the new wheel, because the description is similar to that of the grease specified in the service manual (and I already have SPG!) and spent an hour or so fitting it and making sure all the bits were working properly. Success!

I’ve fixed the light trap (temporarily: it needs a new foil part but don’t have that yet, so I trimmed a small breakage to stop it catching on the dark slide) and I’ve adjusted the film progress indicator because its rotation was slightly off. This indicator should be red when no film is in, white when it’s freshly loaded, and should gradually turn to red as the film is used up; mine was slightly off and fixing it was more difficult than it sounds. Not essential, but since it’s there I want it working properly.

One last thing has been done prior to the imminent film test. I bought an extra screen (pre- Acute-Matte as I’m not made of money!) with a split prism. This confirmed my suspicion, when using the AM-D screen, that infinity focus (and, therefore, everything else) was ever so slightly off. At the lens infinity stop a distant image was still not quite aligned. I’ve corrected for this with a tiny adjustment of the mirror stop (right side whilst facing front of body).  I’m aware of the factors which can contribute to focus alignment in Hasselblads and have confirmed that focus is correct across the whole screen, so I’m quite confident. Aside from impact damage (no sign of that) the mirror stop is the most likely factor following hundreds or thousands of shots and there are, thankfully, no foam pads to deteriorate under the gliding mirror of this model. Testing will confirm. If something such as body length needs adjustment, I’ll send it to a specialist. If it’s instead the lens, I’ll soon find out. Optimistically, though, I think this mechanical marvel is all good to go now.

*TLR = Twin Lens Reflex. Eg., Vivian’s Rolleiflex or, in my case, a Yashica Mat.

A return to M42

I started with 35mm SLRs when I was 11 years old. The first was a Zenith (or Zenit) EM, followed by a Praktica MTL3 for which I traded the Zenith (I wish I hadn’t but I had no choice). At the time I looked longingly at cameras I couldn’t possibly afford – the Fujicas, the Olympuses (Olympi?), the Pentaxes – but it wasn’t until a few years later, and well into the 1980s, that I moved to a Japanese brand. By then it was Minolta and their budget X300 model; a good camera but with fairly typical 1980s-style replacement of some metals with plastics.

For a while now I’ve been trying to find an excuse to return to those early cameras with their screw-thread M42 lenses, for no other reason than what is presumably the result of a mid-life crisis. For me, as a youngster, the arrival of the Zenith, which had followed some fairly dodgy instamatic-types, was a revelation and I remember the excitement, the heft of the thing and even the smell of the leather case. I could change lenses (the ones I had were terrible, apart from the Helios 58mm) and I could actually view through the lens that was going to take the picture! Changing lenses was a bit of a faff – they were prone to fall if the thread hadn’t taken on the first twist – and stop-down metering was awkward. I loved it. And now I wanted some of that back.

Zenith EMs don’t appear to have aged well, it seems, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy into a camera that I’d be unlikely to run a film though anyway. One day, maybe, if I see a mint one for a reasonable price, but in the meantime my attention turned to Pentax. I started initially looking just for a lens or two to use with digital, but found that many of the Takumars were attached to Spotmatic bodies. Those cameras looked really nice and so the decision was made: this would be my re-entry into the land of M42.

After some research, the Super Takumar 55mm f/1.8 was to be the lens of choice (to begin with!) and I managed to find a SMC version attached to a Spotmatic F for not much more than the lenses alone typically go for. The body looked dusty but was described as fully-functional; the lens was described as optically good but with an aperture ring that was somewhat stiff to move. At the asking price (the body was practically free!) I took a chance but then I saw another SP F which looked nice and was very cheap, and so I thought I’d have that as well, just in case the first one turned out to be bad. And then I saw a SP500 at a ridiculously cheap price. It would have been rude not to.

So, here are the latest arrivals in various sates of restoration. Some details are below but in summary: these are real beauties that are built to last. They are such fine pieces of precision engineering that they are a joy to use, with a reassuringly heavy heft and refined controls. With very few exceptions, cameras aren’t made like this any more; even the SP500 (1971-1973), the first budget SP model, feels every bit as solid and well-engineered as the SP F. I’m looking forward to running some film though these.

img_0153 (1)
L-R: SP F w. SMC Takumar 1:1.8/55; SP500; SP F

Spotmatic F with SMC Takumar 1:1.8/55  (picture left)

Arrival state: dusty and grubby camera body. Lens cosmetically better but the aperture ring was very difficult to move, then jammed completely.

Work done on body: cleaned the outside of the camera body only for now. Meter tested and all correct. Shutter tested and fires without any problems. Needs a total clean plus all light seals and mirror bumper changed, which I shall do myself.

Work done on lens: dis-assembled after the aperture ring totally jammed. I expected to find a broken/bent lever or something inside, but upon inspection it became clear that the lens had been dropped and the impact had bent the aperture ring ever so slightly in a 1 cm portion, as well as affecting internal aperture mechanics. I milled the aperture ring so that it was no longer grating hard against the lens body underneath. An internal ring which is driven by the external aperture ring was also grating badly on the inside, so was bent a tiny amount using a vernier calliper as a guide. Ultimately, I cannot get the lower part of the body totally back into as-new shape, which would be ideal since smooth operation requires tiny tolerances. img_0152 (1)I made it the best I could and re-greased the inner and outer components. Re-assembled (checking to make sure I had infinity focus set correctly before the final steps) and now have a lens which is quite usable. It’s still not ideal – the aperture ring needs more force than usual to rotate, especially at the extreme values – but it does now rotate all the way from 1.8 to 16. Unlike many Nikon lenses, some of which I’ve fixed before, these have to be taken apart from the front. Here it is with name ring, filter ring and focus ring removed. I got some tips from this article which was good enough, even though mine is the newer SMC version.

Spotmatic SP500 (picture middle)

Arrival state: sorry.

Work done: I thought this was a goner. Outside it was superficially nice except for the base plate, which had clearly been the victim of a leaked battery in the past, although to be fair the worst of the damage had been cleared up. Meter tested and found to be working in reverse! The needle went up (+) for under-exposure and down (-) for over. This was easy: the battery had been installed the wrong way around by the previous owner/seller, so I reversed it. Outer body cleaned up nicely. Moving inside, the mirror was absolutely filthy and the focus screen had crud on it, so both were cleaned (the mirror using sensor swabs and sensor cleaning fluid with next to no pressure applied; the focus screen using a dry sensor swab). Someone had done a bad job of replacing the mirror bumper foam which contributed to some of the crud inside; I have cleaned it all up, including an unidentified deposit on one side of the mirror box – no idea what it was and it was a pig of a job to remove. The meter then stopped responding altogether, so I removed the base plate and cleaned the contacts underneath the battery chamber. All OK now.

This one needs a bit more work, to remove the old door seals and replace.  Also (maybe) to fix the aperture actuator at the bottom inside the mount which doesn’t spring back as it should. That’s not a major problem, though. What I thought would end up as spare parts is now a clean and functional camera.

Spotmatic F (picture right)

Arrival state: nice! Needs new seals but apart from that, cosmetically the best of the lot.

Work done: Nothing much so far. This one very occasionally sticks with the mirror up but I can only reproduce that at 1/60th. Winding-on and taking another frame cures it until the next time. The wind-on feels slightly rougher than on the other two bodies, so it could do with a full CLA (clean, lubricate, adjust) service, I think. Meter checks out fine. This one will probably be sent off for the proper treatment.


Konica M-Hexanon 90mm f/2.8 – part one

Some time ago I part-exchanged my Summarit 90 f/2.5 and have regretted it since, especially as one of my favourite images was the result of a lucky moment when I happened to have that lens attached. Since then, Leica prices have gone super-silly and even the revered Elmarit-M 90mm has increased in value on the used market by a third again compared with what they were just a few years ago. That puts them almost at the new Summarit price – especially when factoring in a trip to Wetzlar to be coded and adjusted (that would almost certainly be a necessity). To get a 90mm back in Leica mount I could have gone for an ancient tele-Elmarit or Elmar f/4, or looked to a non-Leica brand. The only current, viable option there seemed to be a Zeiss 85mm f/4 but that would mean very inaccurate framelines in the viewfinder (85 cf. 90mm). Browsing around one evening I happened across a mention of the Konica Hexanon in M mount, which was made for the Konica Hexar RF back in the 1990s. They are no longer made and are relatively rare – but it was interesting to note that some people compared the 90 quite favourably with the Leica Elmarit-M. If I could find one it should be roughly a third of the price of the Elmarit but apparently be close, both optically and mechanically. It would need to be adjusted, again almost certainly, but I started to look around to see if it would be possible to do that myself (something I would not do with a Leica for obvious reasons). I decided that it would be worth a punt. Fast forward to the arrival of a fairly good condition Hexanon which was described as having “a couple of dust spots” inside. I would call them massive balls of fluff, myself, but that’s eBay for you. I wasn’t banking on having to take apart the optical cell as well but, as I’ve done that before with a couple of Nikons, I decided to go ahead and clean it out. It was reasonably straightforward to remove the rear element group (with care!) and get rid of the crud inside. Needless to say, the lens would rear-focus slightly when using the rangefinder of my M; this is also referred to as back-focus and it’s when the sharpest point of focus is behind the intended subject. At the infinity stop of the lens the rangefinder patch still hadn’t quite reached co-incidence even though the lens will actually focus sharply to infinity (and a tiny bit beyond – without wishing to go into the concept of any object being beyond infinity right now!). This means that the lens is collimated OK but the cam needs to be lengthened by a tiny amount so that, at any given point, it pushes the roller inside the camera by a tiny amount more so that rangefinder patch and sharp focus are aligned. In other words, ideally, the cam of the lens – the brass ring which makes contact with the roller in the camera – needed to be shimmed. But by how much? I tested with a piece of 3M Magic Tape which I stuck to the cam and roughly cut around. This tape I measured to be approx. 0.06mm in thickness. That’s 60 microns. It was a little too much (I was kind of expecting that) so I needed to order some copper foil tape at around 0.03 – 0.04mm in thickness and use that to add to the shim(s) already under the cam. Problem no. 1: I couldn’t loosen the collar around the cam which holds it in place (this can be seen in the picture below – it has two small holes in, one either side) because I didn’t have the right tool. I tried to fashion one but the collar wasn’t going to budge and I risked damage, so I went with option 2. That is, to apply the tape directly to the contact surface of the cam, to build up the part which makes contact with the roller by 40 microns. The result is this: IMG_0085 Not the most elegant solution in appearance, but it works. The focus is now spot-on. Problem no. 2: …hasn’t happened – yet.* It might be that the foil comes away, but actually the adhesive seems to be pretty strong and so I’d expect it to stay unless I accidentally hit the cam and shear off the foil (unlikely!). The good thing is that it can be replaced, if necessary, and the adjustment is easily reversible. I may yet have another go at shimming the cam from underneath but, for now at least, this lens is clean, perfectly adjusted and a very worthy alternative to a Leica. In terms of performance I’d say that it’s pretty much up there with the Summarit I used to own; certainly every bit as sharp, even wide open.


* Well, Problem no. 2 did happen (see part two).

Ortofon 2M Bronze

I’ve had a 2M Blue on my Creek Wyndsor for a couple of years now (since new) and, though the stylus is nowhere near worn yet, I figured it was time to step up from what is essentially a fantastic value you-don’t-want-anything-less-than-this cartridge for the RB300 arm which is fitted to the Wyndsor.

I like the 2M sound and I’m sticking with MMs (rather than fiddling with MCs and extra step-up phono stages) so I pretty much figured it was either the 2M Bronze or the 2M Black. There’s a big price difference between them; the only physical difference being the stylus (they share the same body which is a step up from the body shared between the Red and Blue).

It’s really difficult to find reviews of the Bronze, probably due to its placement in the 2M family; reviews tend to concentrate on the Red and Black at either end of the price range. There’s little doubt that the Black is an astounding cartridge but at £180 less, I got the impression that the Bronze was close enough, if not a bit on the analytical side according to some comments. OK, I like analytical, so I bought it pretty much blind, using my satisfaction with the Blue as a guide.

I’m now listening to it whilst it’s running-in. People tend to say that the 2M family needs around 20 to 50 hours of playing time to fully run-in and, going by my experience with the Blue, I’d tend to agree.

As soon as the stylus hit the grooves I knew this was something special. The Blue is a damned fine cartridge but this is something on another level. Quite literally, I had no idea vinyl could sound this good. The soundstage has opened right up and there is astounding detail that I’ve never heard before, not to mention the tracking, which is impeccable; for the first time the inner grooves sound every bit as detailed and dynamic as the start of a record.

Bearing in mind that the vast majority of my records are second hand (but cleaned well – see earlier post) I’m finding that the Bronze makes them sound more detailed, less worn and less noisy. OK, there will always be a few crackles and pops with any record, and I’m convinced they sound fewer in number now, but background noise seems, otherwise, to have all but gone. I suspect the reason for this is twofold: improved tracking and the actual shape of the stylus (fine line cf. elliptical) resulting in it digging detail from vinyl seldom touched before. Combine that with the improved body/engine and you have a very worthwhile upgrade indeed.

This is the running-in period; the time where the cartridge sounds its worst and I’m sitting here still wowing at how it’s producing blissfully detailed, musical sound. The treble is sweet and the bass is taught and controlled to a degree beyond the Blue’s capability. And the best bit: it’s going to get even better!

Hocus Pocus with vinyl records

Every so often I’m treated to a stack of vinyl which I hope will contain all those taped records I never actually owned back in the ’80s and early ’90s, as well as other interesting nuggets from the ’70s and beyond. Yesterday was one of those days, when I discovered that the nearest decent town does, in fact, have an independent record shop, tucked away in behind an antique shop in a part of the town I don’t normally see.

The problem with used vinyl is, of course, grime and scratches. Nothing much can be done about scratches and dents; visual inspection before buying is a necessity but even that won’t always show up problems within the grooves and so, to a certain extent, it’s a gamble. Dust and grime, though, needs to be carefully removed for obvious reasons but also to minimise further wear. There are expensive solutions to record cleaning with purpose-built machines costing hundreds (there are one or two “cheaper” ones but I’m not convinced of their effectiveness) but I thought I’d come up with my own method, which works very well. Records where the grime in between the grooves would not move with any amount of carbon-fibre brushing and careful wiping are now as good as new.

What I use: two microfibre cloths (it’s important that these are soft microfibre – I use Vileda ones), washing-up liquid, Ilford photographic wetting agent (I have loads of this as I process film), 99.8% (or better) isopropanol and soft cotton pads (which I steal from my wife’s stash).

The record first has a wash in warm water containing a squirt of the detergent and a splash of wetting agent. It’s not immersed but held carefully whilst gently wiped around with plenty of fluid washing over it, using one of the microfibre cloths. After rinsing with clean water it’s dried on both sides with the 2nd microfibre cloth. Finally, in order to get rid of any remaining stubborn marks and water mineral residues from the water rinse, careful wiping with a cotton pad generously moistened with the isopropanol completes the clean.

The result is no more grime, minimal dust, little surface noise and, unless the record had been previously damaged by bad handling or a worn stylus, fantastic sound! It’s taken me a few goes to get the process right but I’m very happy with the results.

I’m currently listening to 90125 by Yes, one of the four I bought yesterday. It was the worst of the lot as far as dust and dirt go – a real state – but, as far as I could tell in the shop, no real physical damage. I’m surprised at how well it cleaned up and at how it sounds now. Pretty much as good as new. I’m back in the 6th Form common room with this blaring away, although it obviously sounds much better now 🙂

Another was Greatest Hits of Focus. I’d been looking for a decent copy of Moving Waves only really because I wanted the track Hocus Pocus; a song I’d heard when I was about 18 but had forgotten about until an advert on TV recently used a snip from it. Yesterday I found a copy of Moving Waves but it was clearly damaged and they wanted £4 for it. Next to it was a Greatest Hits in excellent condition for £3.50 and so, whereas I normally avoid hits albums, I took it because the frankly brilliant Hocus Pocus was there. The album actually contains a number of tracks that take me back to the 1970s and I didn’t even realise they were Focus, including House of the King which I’d thought was Jethro Tull!

The other two? Cyclone by Tangerine Dream and Eliminator by ZZ Top. Spin those guitars!

Creek Wyndsor

Windows 7 “XP Mode” finally useful

I’m partly writing this for my own benefit, as I know I’ll forget this at some point and need to re-set it…

OK, so Windows 7 is what Vista should have been, blah blah… I actually quite liked Vista Ultimate x64 but I’ve gained some speed and UI niceties by changing to W7 Ultimate x64. In both, I’ve been using a modified driver for my Nikon CoolScan 5000 which Nikon does not support because the company refuses to release a 64-bit driver for their film scanners. They have effectively given up on film scanning now (the 9000 is the only one currently available but it’s too expensive and probably won’t be around for much longer either) which is a pain because their scanners are good and there’s not a lot else to choose from these days. 32-bit Windows: no problem. 64-bit: forget it? Not quite.

So I figured out how to use a driver on x64 which would drive the 5000 (I love the internet) and it does work. Usually it works well but I’m finding it occasionally crashes, especially if I’m using the post-processing options such as GEM.

One big selling point of Win7 Ultimate (and Business/Enterprise) is their “XP Mode”. This is basically a registered copy of XP SP3 running as a virtual machine under Win7. It allows the connection of USB devices and, even though the VM is running on Win7 x64 in my case, the XP within is 32-bit. Great – I can run the supported scanner driver under XP 32-bit under Win7 64-bit! Damn – the VM is limited to 16-bit colour and, therefore, looks crap.

So I gave up on XP Mode and put up with the occasional crashes until a few days ago, when I came across this:


I knew I could increase the colour depth if I disabled the integration facilities but that would mean no connection of USB devices to the VM, which would be pretty pointless. This link shows how to get around the 16-bit colour limitation to give 24-bit colour whilst retaining integration. It turns out that XP Mode uses the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and this is limited by default to 16-bit colour – presumably in the interests of connection performance. But I’m not connecting to another physical machine here. This link shows that a simple Group Policy edit (GPEdit.msc) to Terminal Services to set the maximum colour depth to 24-bit should do the trick and it certainly does. Suddenly, XP Mode is useful and I can scan within it now with everything looking as it should.

DAK Novo pt. 3

There are optional tweaks mentioned for the Novo and I decided to try a couple of them out. The first, fitting optional twin capacitors, fell at the first hurdle (buying the capacitors – only one in stock!) and so it was time to thermally couple some transistors (oh yes).

I shan’t pretend I really understand why, but it’s theoretically beneficial to have a consistent temperature across each of two pairs of closely facing transistors on the board. In each pair, though, one transistor is likely to get a bit warmer than the other. Having them as closely facing as they are is probably enough but my obsessive nature meant that I was always wondering whether I could/should tie them together somehow. It’s been mentioned that an elastic sleeve should do the trick but I decided to go further: heat-transfer grease and heat-shrink tubing.

With a cocktail stick I applied the special grease to the facing surfaces of the transistors (quite a bit of prodding was necessary as they were close together) until I was satisfied that there was enough between them. This grease is the same stuff as is used between CPUs / GPUs and their heatsinks so the idea is that the warmer transistor transfers heat more efficiently to the cooler transistor in much the same way that a CPU dissipates heat through its heatsink.

I cut some heat-shrink tubing to give two sleeves which were placed over and around each facing pair. The hard part was moving the tip of a hot soldering iron around the sleeve several times, so that it shrank, but without touching anything. Not a job to do with a hangover! I then put a little more grease on top, around the join.

That’s it. It’s questionable whether this will make an audible difference – it’s supposed to but I guess it’s clouded by the fact that my Novo is still burning-in, having been powered for a little over two weeks.

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