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Thread: Putting my New Vintage Century No. 2 in shape for shooting

  1. #1
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    Dec 2007
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    Putting my New Vintage Century No. 2 in shape for shooting

    I recently decided that I wanted to get my feet wet in the 8 x 10 world. Of course I did not want to sink a lot of money into to find out if I was going to like it or not. I started by exploring the possiblity of purchasing and changing the Rear Standard on my Cambo SC2 to an 8 x 10 and changing it to an 8 x 10 bellows. I thought if I did that it might end up more economical than buying another complete camera and I could always put on a 4 x 5 reducing back so the camera would do double duty. After researching, listening to lots of advice from more experienced photographers, pricing and attempting to source the parts, I decided that was not the way to go. So I started watching E bay for a used 8 x 10. I did not need the camera to be new and beautiful, I just needed it to be functional. As everyone here knows, you always take a chance buying any used camera.

    As I watched E Bay, Craig's list, Keh, and other sources, I noticed that most of the 8 x 10's that I saw were out of my price range, were not in great shape, or needed quite a bit of work. I also had to decide whether I wanted to just shoot in a studio type situation or if I was going to desire to shoot in the field as well. I decided that I wanted and 8 x 10 I could take in the Field and shoot as well as in the studio. This of course made weight and portability a consideration in my decision.

    I read a thread where Jack suggested to find an Arca Swiss to someone else but I did not notice many of them for sale and the ones I found were again out of my price range.

    I took a chance and ended up with a Century No 2 wooden camera for under $300. The E Bay auction had a money back refund return policy so I said what the heck and took a chance. The camera arrived Monday via Priority Mail. I opened the box to inspect it and everything looked pretty good for a camera sold between 1907 and 1915. The Century No 2 camera with the front extension rail bed attached and also the rear rail bed that attached by a round headed thumb type screw. The camera back did have a piece of glass in it. The wood was pretty solid and is a combination of both Cherry and Mahogany. There were some scratches on the wood but I expected that from the pictures I saw in the auction. The Hardware on the camera is brass and was very dirty and tarnished looking.

    On the tripod, everything seemed pretty solid and all the Hardware functioned. I extended the Bellows and it I did not noticed any visible tears, rips, tape or patching. I believe its the original Bellows that camera with the camera but who knows. Of course the seller claimed the bellows was light tight but made no guarantee in that area but being inexperienced I was hopeful. So as far as appearance was concened, I felt pretty good about my purchase. Since it was the middle of the day I decided to wait until night time to inspect the light tightness of the 32 inch Bellows.

    I did not get a lens board with it but I knew this on the front end and that was not a big deal to me. I planned on setting it up like my Cambo SC2 with an adapter board so I could just pop in my Zone VI lens boards with the lens already mounted.

    When night camera, I took a high intensity flashlight and put it inside the Bellows to check for light leaks. Unfortunately like any older vintage Bellows the inspection showed numerous pin holes. At this point, I was not as enthusiastic as I was when the camera first arrived but I was not completely disappointed. Ok the camera is over 100+ years old but if the repairs were not too expensive or hard to do, I would be in business. So the next day I packed up the camera and took it to a friend of mine that used to run the University of Illinois Camera Store in Champaign. He is very experienced and has been looking over my shoulder(so to speak) and guiding me along. His advice has been spot on so far so I value it and the help he has given me.

    I set up my Century at his business and he looked it over and told me he felt for the age of the camera, my purpose, and the price I paid, I got a bargin. He told me that someone had put regular window glass in for the ground glass but that was no big deal and he had a ground glass he would give me for free and to come back in a couple of days. He also told me that the Bellows appeared to be in pretty good condition and to repair it I should go buy some automotive Black Silicone RTV, Stretch the Bellows out as far as it would go and spread it in all the cracks with my fingers. He gave me some through away surgical type gloves to keep it the RTV off my hands. He said Silicone RTV will stay flexible so the Bellows would fold up properly. It would also need to sit extended for a few days to make sure the RTV dried properly and set. Then he told me for shooting in the studio this type of repair would be fine but if I intended to shoot the Camera outside I should consider replacing the Bellows and gave me a name of a company to contact and told me they were a good company to deal with and their Bellows were reasonable. After thinking about what I was told and considering the amount of work it was going to be to spread RTV throughout a 32 inch bellows, I was seriously considering replacing it.

    Luckly, last year, we had a wood working store and shop open up in the Champaign IL area. So it was my next stop. This store sells exotic woods as well as supplies and wood working tools. They even teach classes for people that want to learn and actually have a couple of guys that will do repairs and make new items. When I got to the store, I talked to one of the fellows that worked in the shop and we decided to stay with Mahagony for my adapter board so it would match the wood on the upper part of the camera. He agreed to make the wooden part of the adapter board for $30 and the price of the wood. So my total for the adapter board was around $50. On this camera the lens board locks in between two Brass bars. The top has a spring and you insert the board and it puts pressure to keep it under the Brass bar at the bottom so the board stays between the two bars.

    I stopped by the shop on Tuesday and brought with me my Century No. 2, my adapter board from the Cambo SC2, and my Zone VI camera with a lens board. I did this so the wood worker could make a drawing and a pattern. I also have a good understanding of how everything went together. What was interesting is that other people in the shop ended up gathering around and commenting on how interesting it was to see these types of camera's and started asking questions.

    On Wednesdayafternoon I called a couple of Bellows companies and got a quote for $325. I have to send them the camera with the Bellows installed. They will remove it, replace the Bellows, and ship the camera back to me. I have to pay the freight to them.

    I also stopped by the shop because the woodworker thought he had the adapter board finished. Of course I took both the Century No. 2 with me as well as a Zone VI lens board. As I suspected there needed to be some adjustments made to the opening of the adapter board as well as the recess it sits in. During the time I had been waiting for the shop to call me, I noticed a couple of seams on the ground glass holder that needed to be reglued as well as a thin piece of wood that had a crack and was breaking above the light trap in it so I took the ground glass holder appart and brought that in for the shop to repair as well. After I took the ground glass film holder appart, I also noticed the Velvet/Felt light trap material had deteriorated and needed to be replaced. That was something I could do myself so I left the parts at the shop and told the worker to call me when he was ready for me to pick things up.

    On Thursday I stopped by my friends business and picked up the piece of ground glass. It has pretty rough clipped corners on it but it was free and usable so I took but later that night I found and ordered a new ground glass off ebay for $24.95 and shipping from a fellow named Stephen Shuart. If you google him, you will find he is well known in the Large Format community and has been selling glass and other Large Format Items for over 40 years.

    I got a call Friday from the shop and I was told everything was ready. So I put the Century Camera in the car and a lens board and headed to the shop. The worker and I spend another hour together where he sanded, scraped, and adjusted the adapter board so my lens board would fit properly and be at the right height in the recess in the opening. So finally we got that done and the wood that needed to be glued was completed and tonight I was able to take the adapter board, the pattern to make another if necessary, and the ground glass holder home. On the way home I went to the hardware store to source some different hardware to make sure I lock in the lens board to the adapter board because the last thing I want is one of my lenses hitting the floor.

    I spent $16 on a piece of Brass bar stock, and bought round headed Brass thumb screws as well as some Brass Screws, Brass threaded wood inserts, and plastic washers. Saturday I will start making the locking mechanism for the lens board and hopeful I will be able to put a lens in the camera and focus it. What will be left for me to do is to stain the adapter board, paint the back of the board flat back, polish the brass, replace the light trap felt, and decide if I want to consider refinishing part or all of the Camera, or just attempting to fix the scratched areas. I really did not get this camera to do a restoration on it but it seems I am going in that direction.

    I kinda want everything done and I want to inspect my Bellows again before I finalize my decision to send it off for the replacement and installation of the new Bellows.

    So far if you look at what I have spent, I think its very reasonable. I still have to buy a couple of film holders and a box a film, but there is no point in my doing either of those things until the camera is ready to go.

    I will update this in a few days after I make some more progress.


  2. #2
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    May 2009
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    Re: Putting my New Vintage Century No. 2 in shape for shooting

    The big formats are great fun. A camera like the Century No. 2 helps by being so quick and easy to set up, use and take down.

    I expect you'll find that the cost of a replacement bellows is at least $250-300. If you're satisfied that the camera is structurally sound, and if you can reasonably afford it, I'd strongly recommend going ahead with that upgrade. It's a drag working with a bellows with lots of spot patches, and always worrying about whether you've missed any or whether the bellows has sprung some more since the last time you took the camera out in bright daylight.

    Good luck and enjoy!

  3. #3
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    Re: Putting my New Vintage Century No. 2 in shape for shooting

    Thanks Oren,

    Today I set up the Camera and popped in a few different lenses to the adapter just to see how well the Camera would be to operate and focus. I also wanted to see how bright and sharp and image would be on an 8 x 10 ground glass.

    You are absolutely correct that the Century sets up very quick. It also seems to operate and focus very easily. I know I am not going to have some of the movements because of its age and design but I do not know if I am really going to need them. I do have tilt and swing in the back standard.

    I tried all my lenses on the 8 x 10 but I am going to have to check out the image circles to see which ones are actually going to work for me. The 32 inch bellows certainly gives me quite a few choices if I can match it up with the right lenses. I think the Nikon M 300mm F9 is going to end up being one of my favorites because its so light, small, sharp, and easy to use.

    I think the experience I will gain with this camera will certainly let me know if I want to invest in a more expensive 8 x 10 at a later time, but it very well may be all that I want.

    I really like the fact that the Century seems so light weight. I did not get to finishing the hold downs for the lens board adapter but I hope to in the next few days.

    Last edited by ComicDom1; 25th September 2010 at 20:25. Reason: To add more text

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