I’ve started seeing more photos of vintage cameras with their leather covers replaced, and to me they often look great. Other than a few useful flickr posts and some short videos, there aren’t many articles that cover the how and the why, and fewer still that discuss the troubles and the costs of doing this yourself. It’s perfectly achievable with no prior experience, and MUCH harder than I expected. I’m not sure I will do it again in a hurry. Hopefully this tale of re-covering my Minolta SRT Super will help you make up your own mind about whether or not it is worth it.
The first Minolta SRT I ever touched was loaned to me by my father-in-law. It was heavy and fully manual and I left it unused in my cupboard for months until the day I accidentally ran out of batteries for my Canon EOS 300 (a very basic camera but my first SLR and one that I know well and enjoy shooting). I was slightly anxious about whether I could use the Minolta effectively but stuck for other options, so it came out with me and from the first frame of the cheapest Fujifilm Superia I had in the fridge, it just worked. I deployed the Sunny 16 rule to moderately good effect and had a great deal of fun. The sounds! The feel! The comments from people! I loved it.
The experience of shooting those first 36 frames sold me on the benefits of a fully mechanical SLR that could withstand 30 years of disuse and work perfectly when required. That is amazing. Plus, when I looked online, the Minolta SRTs were cheap compared to every other camera of the same era, and they have great Rokkor glass. They’re not a fancy prestigious brand, but I now own six SRTs – some to use, some to keep, some to lend out or give to my kids when they’re older. My father-in-law’s is safely back in the cupboard (for now), but for the SRTs I’ve purchased they were sufficiently cheap that I’ve not felt too worried about taking the bottom off and having a look inside, as well as replacing the light seals myself. Those two activities have been really fun.
Minolta SRT Resources Online
Searching around online I’ve found a few excellent sites about Minolta SRT cameras – the Rokkor files site, how to take apart the lenses, the SRT service manual. The videos on taking apart Rokkor lenses are amazing and have inspired me to try – a future project. In the meantime, however, my Minolta SRT Super has become my favourite camera to shoot with. I’ve cleaned it up (following Japan Camera Hunter Bellamy’s excellent guide) and fixed the light meter – what else could I do to respect and reinvigorate this great camera?
Why Do This?
There are good reasons to replace camera covers. For me, I purchased this lovely camera very cheaply from someone who hadn’t used it in decades. I thought that updating the leatherette covers would make me want to take it out more, make it more desirable and appealing to the people I was shooting (mostly my kids, but also family and strangers), help protect the body and increase the grip for easier handling. I also just thought it would look cool and be fun. The idea was as simple as that.
What I Used
- A small flat-bladed screwdriver or similar
- Some bamboo skewers
- Some cotton-tips
- 99% isopropyl alcohol
- Non-acetone nail polish remover
- Alcohol-based Sanitising hand rub (e.g: Aquim, Purell)
- A small paintbrush
- Cotton wipes
Step 1: Remove the leatherette
I used the screwdriver to pull up one edge of the leatherette, and gently worked at it until I could grab an edge to pull. On the back, mine was much more firmly adhered than I expected and it took several hours to get the whole thing off without severely scratching up the back. It requires a combination of a gentle touch and very firm pulling. I used the isopropyl alcohol to try to dissolve the glue – this did not work well but might be worth attempting if you try.
Almost immediately after starting, and for the next 3 hours over three sittings, I very strongly regretted starting this project. My camera’s leatherette was not only in good condition, it was strong and would have lasted another 30 years if I hadn’t mucked around with it. Large patches were so firmly adhered to the back that I had to chip away at it, millimetre by millimetre, with the screwdriver and bamboo. There were periods of time when I felt panicked. I really thought that I might never, ever get it clean. Once started, however, you’re committed. Thank goodness the front side of the camera was much easier.
Step 2: Remove the glue and gunk
There are surprisingly few suggestions on how to do this online – the assumption is that you will do whatever it takes, and there are no perfect solutions. More assertive ideas range from paint thinner to sandpaper (!), both of which can obviously damage a camera badly. Reading between the lines of most posts I had assumed the leatherette would come off quite cleanly. How very, very, wrong I was.
It took me another 2 hours to clean off all the glue. I found that acetone-free nail polish remover, applied to a cotton wipe and rubbed on the glue gently but persistently for 5 minutes would get a 1cm area clean. The first minute of rubbing nothing happens, and then it starts to clear. Later I went back and used the screwdriver and bamboo to pick at the very tough bits. At least I was starting to get somewhere now, but hours later and regret about the whole project was still prominent. I kept thinking to myself that for the sake of a cosmetic improvement and some fun I had run the risk of totally messing up my favourite camera – potentially ruining it.
Step 3: REALLY clean it all up
It took another hour to get all the cracks and corners absolutely free of glue residue. This again took a delicate combination of screwdriver, fingernails and bamboo. This was the first time I started to enjoy myself a bit, because I could see that I was going to make it. The camera would be clean and would not be ruined.
Step 4: Apply the new cover
I purchased my covers from Hugo Studio. They had a great range and I was very happy with the service and shipping. They also matched my camera perfectly, as expected.I put some sanitising alcohol hand rub on the back of the covers before applying them. This is recommended, and I found it an ESSENTIAL step. One of the guides I read online (not the one from Hugo Studio) recommended just putting hand sanitiser around the holes, but when I tried this the first time I had to pull the whole cover off the camera immediately as the main part of the cover stuck, in the wrong place. Another heart-sink moment after all the hours I’d put in. Having said that, putting the covers on was pretty easy – definitely the easiest part of the whole thing. I used the bamboo sticks to push the corners in and stretch it slightly, applied pressure, and it stuck! I left the whole thing to dry over night and … done. Finally!
Post Adventure Thoughts and Regrets
I actually don’t regret doing this, but I do still feel shaken up by the experience. My biggest mistake was starting the project with so little appreciation of how difficult it was going to be and the risks to the camera. My lack of preparation is completely my fault – nothing online promised otherwise but I had assumed it would be fun and easy. I would use Hugo Studio again for covers – they did their part perfectly. The camera now looks amazing and feels great. I will definitely shoot it more and have fun doing it. It’s made me feel even more fond of the camera, like we’ve both survived something tricky. I will do it again. With the benefit of experience, however, I won’t do it again in a hurry. It is a serious undertaking. I’m sure you knew that already – and now I do too.
Good luck out there : )
Christopher James/ Insta: @filmplusdigital / Web: 35mm.photo.blog