Thursday, March 3, 2011

Horst: my camera repair technician

I have been taking quality photos for many years and never really embraced the digital age until the recent past. I considered digital as used mostly for snapshots with my professional film cameras for large prints. My standard size is 16x20 and I discovered many years ago that size does matter when it comes to film. I have mainly used MF (Medium Format cameras) or larger. I have a few 4x5 sheet film cameras and I love how it slows you down and makes you think about things before pushing the shutter cable. It would not be unusual to take half an hour setting up your LF camera, taking numerous light readings, composing on the ground glass and not bother taking a photo. It used to cost $6. per exposure 10 years ago and now it costs more. I have a few camera systems and to keep them in top shape you have to be friends with your camera technician. I dislike taking them to a specialist camera shop and have them "send your camera out" for maintenance. I deal directly with the source, the person who actually works on your camera.

I met Horst many years ago when he ran his own camera repair business. He has since sold his business and retired, well . . . not actually retired, he is busier than ever with all his former customers bringing their cameras to him for `service` directly to his home.


This is his workbench, the place where it happens. He has his tools scattered about his work area. When I mean service, I do not mean your cameras are broken, rather lot of professionals would bring in their equipment for cleaning and adjustment, called CLA in the industry. CLA = Clean Lube and Adjust. Lenses are cleaned of dust and disassembled and the focusing mechanisms within are lubricated and checked for focus accuracy. Most photographers would have a certain Kit, a set of focal lengths and a body. The body would be checked for flange to film plane accuracy and lens would be culminated back to factory tolerances. Some Pros would do this yearly during the slow Christmas season, and some every two years depending upon usage or their usuage conditions.


Here is Horst in action. He is authorized to work on most of the premier brands such as; Leica, Hasselblad, Nikon, Canon and most anything. I have decided to dust off a couple of cameras and shoot some film again. I have always been interested in Panoramic Cameras and I have a few . One camera that I wanted serviced was my Noblex 6/150F rotating lens 6x12 format. It shoots 6 shots on a roll of 120 film. I noticed that the rotating lens was not parking as it should. It turns out that this camera has an achilles heel and needed the wheel replaced. Easier said than done as the Noblex factory closed down years ago and Horst purchased all the parts that were in the Factory at that time. I paid a huge amount of money for this camera over 15 years ago and I wanted it working to spec. Horst is probably only one of two people in North America trained in the Noblex factory and he has the parts on hand make it work like new.


Here is what the achilles heel looks like. It is a simple wheel where an electric motor spins the large diameter circle and the lower one rotates the drum. Shutter speeds are achieved by the speed of the rotating drum. Faster for 250/sec and slower for 1/15 /sec. I have other rotating lens panoramic cameras; Horizon 202 and Russian FT-2 but these are spun by a mechanical spring drive which could create a banding problem due to stuttering of the drum during rotation.


These wheels have a rubber compound around its circumference which have dried out necessitating wheels with new rubber to be installed.


Here is the master at work and explaining what had to be done to my camera


This is the base of another Noblex in for repair showing the control module and rheostat which controls the shutter speed. Aperatures are controlled by an aperature ring on the lens. There is no actual shutter on these cameras. The rotating lens has a slit from which the lens points out and scans the image onto the curved film plane. The slit is normally parked behind the baffles and spins half a revolution before it enters the light and `makes` an exposure. After it has scanned the scene 140 degrees it then hides behind the baffle on the other side.


Another view of the base with wheel installed. Horst has also cleaned the interior of the camera and all the pivot points and did a quick structural fix to the shaft on the rheostat as this part is often broken as it had no support from the factory.


With a thinner wallet, my Noblex 6/150F has a new outlook on life.

If you want more information on Noblex cameras here is a link to Noblex Canada and you can speak to my friend Siggi whom I have known for many years


Before I picked up my camera I asked Horst if he would also check out my 4x5 system so I brought my Toyo 45A 4x5 field camera kit. He has all the testing equipment in his home shop but I was interested in checking the shutter speeds on my LF lenses. He showed me how his shutter tester worked. There is a light source and you use your lens to block the light and hit the shutter. There is an LED digital timer which displays the actual shutter speed and a chart on the workbench which shows factory tolerances. My lenses were within spec. On 4x5 lenses you actually focus yourself on the ground glass so you don`t have to worry about culmination but if you had a regular lens he has a culminating machine to adjust your lens if necessary. I don`t know many other places you could go and have your equipment checked, while you wait.


  1. Great post, Bob. There's something special about watching highly skilled people at work.

  2. Bob:
    The photos of Horst and his workplace are simply wonderful - exactly the sort of place a camera repairer or clockmaker should be legally required to have.

    On a note of levity, I presume the gnomes which scuttle around his bench doing the intricate work went into hiding when you showed up!

  3. That workbench is wonderful. The place of an artist or craftsman. It's an intimate space made by and especially for the one who works there. Each tool is precious. Sorry, guess I'm sentimental about such things. I love the series of images here.

    Isn't it inspiring to see a master at work!

  4. Does Horst happen to have a clone in Maryland? Very good post!

  5. The urologist? Or do you drop off your equipment there for pick up later?

  6. Was his shop on Burrard before he retired by any chance? He looks familiar.

  7. Jealous that you have Horst! I need to find a Horst.

    Glad your cameras are serviced and effective. Looking forward to seeing the products!

    -Steel Cupcake

  8. It was nice to meet your friend Horst. He reminds me of a nice gentlemen I know who still does clock/watch repair in a small shop out of his home. These talented "repair technicians" are a dying breed it seems, as everything is getting so disposable these days.

    Looking forward to seeing some great pics from your "good as new" camera.

  9. Bob

    Is that wheel really called the "achilles heel? I think that it should be renamed the "horst continued employment merry go round".

    Best wishes from over here, N

  10. Stacy: It is important to have camera technicians. I used to be a camera collector and had a network of people I could turn to.

    Geoff: Horst is probably the most competant repair person in the country. I am glad to have known him all these years, probably over 3 decades.

    BlueKat: His workshop is full of testing equipment. He had lots of shutters torn apart for rebuilding. There were organized pieces everywhere of repairs "in progress"

    Toadmama/Kathy: He repairs cameras received from all over the world. He could work on yours too

    Mr Conchscooter: simple stuff like checking shutter speeds or checking lenses for focus accuracy can be done while you wait if there is no one else there as it becomes a place for social gathering. I leave my equipment and he phones me a week later to come and pick it up

    Wayne: I already sent you an eMail. Enjoy your trip and see you when you get back to town

    BeemerGirl: There are tolerances built into every camera and lenses, sometimes making your images slight soft. He can culminate the body to Zero and lenses to match, this is particular important if you use two bodies. The Flange to film plane distance could be different on each camera.

  11. Lady R: I also started to collect watches, for a time until they got too expensive and I met a German Watchmaker who repaired timepieces for other watch collectors, so I got service done for reasonable prices. He specialized in high end watches such as Omega, Rolex etc., anything mechanical self wind.

    Nikos: He has figured out a way to manufacture these wheels and is probably the only person in the world who can repair these Noblex cameras.