25. april 2016

Making a new mirror for Rolleiflex Automat f3.5

Here's a walk-trough on how I made myself a new mirror for my old Rolleiflex Automat f3.5 MX-EVS.

My old Rolleiflex Automat f3.5 MX-EVS
Check out the patina! :D
Found an excellent article about the camera here: http://www.djcphoto.com/index.php/1956-rolleiflex-automat-mx-evs-tessar/

These old cameras tend to age quite well, however, the mirror in them gets pretty bad after so many years, causing the viewfinder to be dimmer and dimmer.

I wanted to collect my experiences in making a new mirror from scratch, as I had to pull information from many different sources before the change was complete.


- Electronic screwdriver-set (or equivalent small screwdriver-set)
- A new mirror
- Glass-cutting knife
- Gloves to break glass with
- Plastic cloves to use with chemicals
- Chemical that can dissolve mirror-backing (acetone or other)
- Cotton-balls
- Cling-film

Procedure, in short

- Find a replacement mirror
- Remove waist level finder.
- Inspect and remove original mirror.
- Cut the new mirror
- If you have a second surface mirror, make it into a first surface one.
- Install
- Adjust focus on your camera, if necessary

Procedure explained

I searched high and low for mirrors and found one at the local "nick-nack" store (Clas Ohlson). Here, they had some of those metal wallets and some of them also had integrated mirrors.
Metal wallet, with mirror.
I removed that mirror using a hair-dryer and a butter-knife. It was fastened with two strips of double-sided tape.

The size and thickness of those mirrors also seemed more or less perfect! Great! Happy days.

Well almost, the new mirror is actually pretty damn close, but a little thicker (0.25mm), so I had to re-adjust the focus a little after installment.

Mirror thickness, original Rolleiflex

Mirror thickness, new mirror.

Thickness problem tackled, for now.

To change out your mirror, you need to take off the waist level finder-top.

This involves removing 4 screws, located beside the viewfinder, on top of the camera:

Stolen example from the web, which shows the screws on a rolleicord, but the procedure is the same for the Automat.

Then you simply pull the whole thing upwards.
The mirror should be visible now.

Just loosen the screws holding the mirror in place, they can be a little fiddly to get back in, since the screws themselves aren't magnetic.

Once you get the mirror out, you can clean the viewing lens from the inside, I am sure there is some dust there, i used canned air and blew away some dust and grime and then cleaned that lens.

My mirror looked like this:

Pretty crappy mirror if you ask me. Looks pretty home-made too. No wonder the camera was hard to focus with!
This is also after cleaning O_o

Time for cutting the new mirror.

Use a regular class-cutting knife (you need to use some oil on the knife when you cut).

Use the original mirror as a template and mark the new mirror with a CD-pen or similar (I found that it was ok to make the markings a little bit larger than the original mirror).

Use gloves to break off the pieces, I placed my mirror on a cutting-board with the edge to break off just outside the edge, it made for a cleaner line.
- Use sand-paper to sand down sharp edges and uneven edges on your finished mirror.

Borrowed image that shows your average mirror cutting.
Now cut!

- You will probably cock this procedure up if you have never cut glass before, so buy 2-3 of those wallets before you start. :)

Cutting complete, I broke two mirrors before I finally made it.
However....right before installment, I found that the new mirror in that wallet was a so called second surface mirror, the Rollei's use first surface mirrors.

Problem! :-(

What this means, is that on normal mirrors, you have a protective layer of glass between you and the "silver", the first surface mirrors do not.

Does it matter?

Yep.... The glass causes ghosting (double-image) and also refraction (loss of sharpness) and also move the actual reflective surface back, compared to a first/front surface mirror.

So what now? Stuck with a wallet I don't need? All that cutting for nothing???

Internet to the rescue!
-Yes, you can get mirrors on eBay, but the shipping to my country is more expensive than the mirror itself.


I found, from a laser-geek community of all places, that it seems that you can actually wash away the protective layer on the back of most mirrors, exposing the "silver" on that side. \o/

All you need are some nasty chemicals and cotton, and gloves, I used acetone.

Washing -very- carefully in acetone.
(Make sure to ventilate well!)
The washing of the mirror, consisted of laying the mirror in a acetone bath for 15 minutes, then I rubbed away the layer with a cotton-ball, very carefully!

The exposed side of the mirror is extremely delicate, so do not use more force than the weight of the soaked cotton-ball itself.  Change the cotton-balls as you go, the left-over paint can actually scratch the surface.

It will take some time, but the paint/protective layer will eventually start to come off.
Make sure you get it all off before rinsing the mirror in water, let it air dry, do not touch.

Here are some comparisons between the old and the new mirrors:

Example shows a buggered mirror i made (note the chipping on the narrow part), but see how much better the definition it has, a real improvement indeed.

Ok, almost finished now, all you have to do, is to install the thing.

First, you now need to protect the new mirror.
I installed my first mirror without anything protecting it, it got finger-marks all over it and I decided to clean it with some paper and some lens cleaning-agent.

That made the nice surface into this:

Cleaning-marks. How fun seeing this, realizing you will have to start over again with a new wallet! \o/

To avoid this, use cling-film.
It is kind of similar to the protection that comes with the commercial mirrors and it will indeed help you avoid marks while fighting to install the mirror in your Rolleiflex.

Place the clean(!) mirror, first-surface-side down on the cling-film, cut it so you have around 0.5 cm extra on all sides, fold the extra around the mirror:

Now, fold around 1 cm of the cling-film back from the narrowest part of your mirror, like so:

Now you are ready to install the new mirror.

Inside the Rolleiflex Automat, there is a spring-mechanism that needs to be held in place as you insert the mirror with the narrow end first.

This is fiddly (I have no photos of that, sorry), but the spring is supposed to put some pressure on the mirror from the back, so that it is possible to install it, but keeps it still after installment.

When you insert the mirror, use a flat knife to hold the spring in place, then "replace the knife" with the mirror. Push the mirror all the way into the notch in the camera and observe that the spring is just visible on each side of the mirror, and that it seems to be straight.

It's not overly complicated, just fiddly, you'll get it when you see it. It helps to keep the camera at an angle, almost on it's "back", that way, the spring will not fall away too easily.

After you have slid the mirror in, lean it back between the screws. Attach the shims and tighten the screws, making sure the shims keep the new mirror in place.

Before you tighten the screws completely, remove the rest of the cling-film with a pair of tweezers and you will be left with a brand spanking new mirror with no marks.

*** New focusing screen ***

I had also bought a new matte-screen from Rick Oleson  it has made focusing both brighter and much easier. His prices were quite reasonable and shipping + handling was very nicely done.

This is how the viewfinder on my old Rolleiflex Automat looks now, with the new mirror and the new screen:

Not bad for a 60 year old camera, finally the 2.8 viewing lens can shine!

This is how focusing looks, click the photo for the original size (this is also after I adjusted the focus to the new mirror).

(click the photo) Out of focus objects have "jaggies" and in-focus stuff have not, very easy to determine focus.
Poor shots done with my phone but gets the point across.

So there you go.

I feel I can mess around with this camera, as I got it for cheap. The mirror installment can be done on most Rolleiflexes with little risk or trouble, but the focusing adjustment requires you to dismantle the front (and remove leatherette). For my F2.8 Rolleiflex, the expensive one, I would probably buy a mirror of the proper thickness to avoid the adjustment issue.

Done, now all this information is located in one place, easily found via google and what have you :)

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