Chinon 55mm f/1.4 front element
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DIY Repairs to Not-So-Precious Lenses – Chinon 55mm f/1.4 M42

April 26, 2021

I recently undertook the repair of a Chinon 55mm f/1.4 M42 lens – the iris was jammed open meaning the I wasn’t able to set the aperture in manual mode and it didn’t function at all in auto. The repair was largely successful, albeit whilst also causing a small amount of superficial damage. The process gave me the satisfaction of a fixing a lens, but also gave me the opportunity to reflect on the risk I’d taken, and indeed the damage I’d caused.

Repairing lenses in many ways is not for the faint hearted. You certainly wouldn’t catch me opening up one of my Zeiss lenses and poking around inside them willy nilly… or any other higher end lenses for that matter. I just don’t enjoy is the fear of it all going horribly wrong. I’m actually not sure I ever want to get to the stage that I’d be comfortable opening up a particularly valuable lens. Maybe I’ll get there, maybe I won’t. But I’m certainly not pursuing a goal of being confident and able to repair such things.

As such, anything that has any real value gets sent to a repair person – and that remains my advice to anyone reading this. If you’re in anyway nervous about your potential loss, seek a professional repair service.

Risk vs. Reward

What this article is about is a time when the potential reward and the fun of giving something a go outweighed the risk. This might not be for everyone, but personally, given the right circumstances, I enjoy is a bit of low risk tinkering. I enjoy the satisfaction of discovering how lenses fit together, and indeed the sense of success I get if I can clean or repair one.

To my mind, when I find a lens that’s damaged or in need of a bit of a clean I can balance the risk if I can fit into one or a couple of a few categories. Those categories include lenses that:

  • Cost very little
  • Have a value too low to easily justify the expense of professional repair
  • I have little or no emotional attachment to
  • Are commonly found / not rare or worth “preserving”
  • Are still worth attempting a DIY repair

Really, no.2 on the list is the crux of the issue. Chris Andreyo who I would trust with my valuable lenses charges well over £100 to clean and service a lens. That’s what you should expect to pay a decent repair person too. In reality, this means any lens sent to him would need to be worth a lot more than his minimum charge, or at very least be a thing of personal sentimental value to be worth repairing.

In reality of course, there are stacks of lenses worth considerably less than that sort of cash, and a lot of them need a clean or service. Which, in my opinion is where a little bit of DIY fun can come into play. In the case of the Chinon 55mm f/1.4, I felt that all of the above applied – especially given what I paid for it.

Chinon 55mm f/1.4 m42 repair

Finding the Chinon 55mm f/1.4 lens

I recently started exploring Chinon gear – initially my interest was in PK mount lenses to add to my growing collection of Pentax equipment. I the found an M42 mount CM-3 and the 55mm lens via an ebay auction for £43. These lenses often go for more than this alone, but this particular auction had all the hallmarks of me ending up with a paperweight. It was titled poorly, and the description lacked detail and used the word “untested”, which we all know means broken, right?

As it turned out, the camera was mostly working. It was a bit gross, but after a wipe down, it was at least a mostly usable camera. On the other hand, the lens was not working very well at all. It’s an automatic aperture lens with a manual switch, but it didn’t matter what I did with it, the iris wouldn’t move. It was stuck wide open – probably, I assumed, gummed up with oil on the blades.

Repairing the Chinon 55mm f/1.4 lens

Anyone who has ever taken apart a lens will tell you they are far from made equally. Some are a lot more complicated to get into than others, and short of any easy to find guide or broader background experience in this sort of thing, sometimes you just have to get stuck in and take some bits off.

I actually attempted the repair twice. The first time I tried it, I accessed the iris from the rear of the lens. I managed to remove the rear element group and got as for as being able to access the mechanisms inside that that connect the aperture control dial to the iris. Sure enough, with a bit of tweaking I managed to free it. It very slowly stopped down revealing very oily blades. I managed to clean them up and get it moving freely just by wiping it gently with a cotton wool bud dipped in isopropyl. After doing this a number of times, the lens worked perfectly again.

Unfortunately, after a couple of days sat on the shelf, it gummed up again. It was still half-working. The iris opened and closed when I changed the aperture settings in manual mode, but it was very slow and seemed a lot more hesitant if I opened it to its maximum aperture. It was certainly too slow to use the lens successfully in auto-aperture mode.

As such, I decided to be a little more heavy handed. The lens fits into every single one of my above categories, so bugger it, I thought, if I balls it up I’m going to call it a “learning experience”… and learn I did too.

The thing I learned was that lens spanners are not the best thing for removing vanity rings. Of course, I knew this already, I’ve scratched them before doing this exact thing. The problem with this particular lens – unbeknownst to me when I started – was that the lens has obviously seen a beach, or at very least some grit in someone’s bag or pocket. The focus is smooth, but when I started unscrewing the vanity ring, the thread kept on grinding and eventually a load of grains of sand revealed themselves. The result of this was a lot more force needed to unscrew it and therefore a lot more scratches to the ring. I’ve since bought some rubber lens tools so as to avoid this in future.

It should also be noted, lens spanners and force near glass are a bad combination. If you decide to do what I did, you really need to be very careful so as not to scratch the front element!

Chinon 55mm f/1.4 m42 vanity ring

Once the vanity ring was removed, I was presented with another retaining ring. This time it was one with two notches in… you know, the type that lens spanners are actually designed for…

Once I’d unscrewed this, I was very pleased to find that the entire optical assembly just dropped out the front of the lens.

Chinon 55mm f/1.4 m42 optical block repoved

I already knew the rear group would unscrew from the iris, so I tired unscrewing the front too, and low and behold, it came out with ease leaving me with just an iris in its housing.

Chinon 55mm f/1.4 Iris

Rear group removed – you can see the oil on the blades here

Optics removed

Both groups removed

I did think about opening it up and cleaning the blades individually, but quickly thought better of that and started the process of cleaning with a cotton wool bud again. This soon got boring and proved mostly ineffective. For some reason when the iris was opened fully, it would stick open. This was even the case when the blades appeared to be completely clear of grease. Still reluctant to open the iris housing, I decided to take the plunge. Literally.

I found an old bowl, poured a few big glugs of isopropyl into it, and then dipped the housing into it and swished it around a load of times until I felt certain the stuff had gotten right into the mechanism.

Isopropyl soaked

I then removed it, and blew on it whilst opening and closing the iris to help the isopropyl evaporate. Once it was dry, the iris moved freely and didn’t get stuck wide open.

Chinon 55mm f/1.4 m42 clean iris

It even went back together with relative ease. Because the optical blocks and iris have their own assembly that just slots inside the focusing helicoid, there’s no worry about it going out of whack and not focusing properly. There’s only one way it can go in, and only one place it can locate with it functioning. If you do this yourself, just look for the little pin inside the lens and line it up with the notch on the iris control. You can see the notch in the opening in the image above.

Once in place, I screwed in the retaining ring and vanity ring – without the sand, it screwed in quite nicely.

Chinon 55mm f/1.4 m42

The Chinon 55mm is now back together, albeit a little less pretty than it used to be, but it all works exactly as it should. I might have caused a little bit of damage, but I’m still really satisfied at having managed to repair it.

It was fun too, and it gave me the kick I needed to buy some rubber lens tools, not to mention the fact that the experience has grown my confidence in doing this sort of thing. Will I cause more damage in the future? Probably, but the way I see it, as long as I’m not breaking expensive, rare, or hard to find kit, it doesn’t matter that much… right…?

Of course, I’m now faced with a Chinon 55mm lens that I don’t expect will get too much use and has been devalued somewhat by my crack-handed approach to dismantling it. I’ll shoot a roll with it, and probably then sell it to someone at a low price. It didn’t cost me much in the first place, so I shouldn’t lose out too much I don’t think. And someone else will get a good lens for a lower price just for the sake of a bit of cosmetic damage.

Next job is another Chinon, this time it’s a 50mm f/1.7 I bought cheap that has a bit of fungus. I think I’ll wait for the rubber lens tools to turn up for that one though…

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    April 26, 2021 at 10:12 am

    Good article.
    One way of cleaning up the vanity ring would be to take it off and sand out the surface scratches – you might end up with very shallow engravings (or none at all), but it might look better painted in matt black than as it is at present.
    Could also drill a couple of holes to take some dividers to make it easier to get on and off in future (in fact would drilling holes in the vanity ring have made it easier to get off in the first place?)

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 27, 2021 at 8:20 am

      Yes, I was thinking that. My dremel would make light work – I just couldn’t think of how to clamp it to do the work

      • Reply
        Kevin Ortner
        April 27, 2021 at 5:22 pm

        I’m not sure if this vanity ring is similar to friction rings used on some lenses, but a trick I have used is to find a cylindrical object that is stiff and slightly smaller than ring to be removed. I then used hockey tape (common in a Canadian’s household but I’m sure other tapes could work) around the bottom edge of this object until it is the perfect size. It can work well as a friction tool in a pinch if you don’t get the rubber ones.

        That being said, I remember taking one of these vanity rings off a similar lens and it was plastic. If these get cross threaded, pressing down on them will likely ruin the threading on the ring.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          April 29, 2021 at 3:10 pm

          I bought the rubber things in the end, but actually, I have had no luck with them so far. I might attach some tape to them…..
          Cheers!

  • Reply
    Jordi Fradera
    April 26, 2021 at 10:48 am

    Very good for your work, I have made several articles with similar repairs and I love it (sometimes I am not successful but I do not explain it …. ssshh).
    It would be interesting to see a photo taken with the camera and the lens repaired.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 27, 2021 at 8:19 am

      Yes, I find your articles encouraging, Jordi

  • Reply
    Terry B
    April 26, 2021 at 12:25 pm

    If it’s cheap and you don’t mind chucking it in the bin, getting stuck in with both hands and feet is the only way to learn. I suspect many of us have contemplated a “repair” at some time or other, and it can be very rewarding when we succeed. Well done.
    Many years ago I dabbled but without long-term success in that I’d get a camera working, only for the fault to reappear not long after.
    My one and only true success, of which I’m very pleased, was to a Leica R3 which I came across on ebay being offered up as in mint condition but with faults. Having owned one in the mid-1980’s I was very familar with the model, so I took a gamble and bid on it. And in mint condition it certainly was.
    To say what I did could hardly be labelled a repair, as it only required a judicious amount of Singer sewing machine oil on a metal rod easily accessible through the lens throat. I could see that this moved a different amount depending upon whether the mirror flipped and the shutter fired, or it didn’t. I surmised a lack of use could be the culprit as the ERC was also mint. So I took another gamble applied a drop of the oil and let it work its way down the connecting rod and tried again with the camera some hours later. Lo and behold, it worked, so I played with it for at least an hour, and it still works to this day. But the less said about my other repair attempts the better!

  • Reply
    Wim van Heugten
    April 26, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    Hi,

    Easy to find great instruction videos on Youtbe: https://youtu.be/TuJ_Me4SLeo. Never ever remove a name ring with a spanner. By not disassembling the aperture mechanism to clean it, there will be oil left that will let it stick again. Next time better follow the Youtube intructions! I love to bring vintage lenses back to life again, especially Pentax (Takumar) lenses.

  • Reply
    Tobias Eriksson
    April 26, 2021 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks for an inspiriational read, I might try it myself! I myself wrote about Chinon SLRs recently on my blog http://tobbetecknare.blogspot.com/2020/02/no-stutter-shutter-in-praise-of-chinon.html which is a sort of introduction.

  • Reply
    Mike
    April 26, 2021 at 5:59 pm

    This article perfectly mirrors my own experience of CLA’ing a Yashica D for my first camera repair (The shutter assembly was gummed up and needed a thorough clean). I was so chuffed when I successfully finished the repair and ended up with a fully functioning, perfectly adjusted camera.

    That spurred me on to more repair projects and I have since destroyed a Zenit 11, a Minolta SRT101 and a 135mm f3.5 Minolta MC lens.

    I Feel too guilty to throw them in the bin so there’s a kind of camera mass grave developing in the corner of my room.

    I hope you have better luck (and more dexterity) than me

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 27, 2021 at 8:18 am

      When it gets big enough, you could always put it all in a box and send it to a repair guy… or maybe make some sort of weird sculpture 🤣

  • Reply
    Ralph Turner
    April 26, 2021 at 11:11 pm

    Well done, that man. See you mention fungus in regard to your next problem. I little while back I purchased an old Adox Sport 6×9 folder cheap from the ’Bay. Sadly, it had quite a bad dose of growth not only on the lens, but on shutter and iris blades and also spots of it on the pressure plate (probably other places, too). I cleaned all accessible surfaces with potassium hydroxide on a soft cloth non-optical surfaces and tissue applied very gently to the outer lens surfaces following that up with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol on the lens. After this I exposed the camera from every angle possible in my “chamber of doom” to UVC light (a plastic box lined with white paper and a slot in the lid to shine a germicidal lamp through) in order to neutralise anything left growing. The last stage was removing the rear lens element to clean it’s inner surface in similar fashion and also to gain access to clean the rear surface of the centre element with tissue on a pair of tweezers, also exposing the rear of the shutter/aperture blades to UV. Luckily the lens surfaces between the front and centre elements seems to be fungus free so I didn’t need to remove the front element. I was lucky in that the fungus hadn’t etched the lens coatings, merely altered their “colour” slightly, so the glass is still clear.
    All seems to have been fairly successful. I’d be very interested to hear other opinions with regard to fungus removal and also if there are any definitive references on the subject. Sorry this turned into a ramble, Hamish, but it seems to be a habit of mine once I get going lol. I look forward to your next endeavour. Btw this was the first time I’ve ever had a go at anything like this 🙂

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 29, 2021 at 3:13 pm

      Ha, rambles welcome!
      I have cleaned a couple of lenses of their fungus issues, my pentax 50mm 1.7 was one. It was just behind the rear element which was very easy to access. Fortunately the fungus just rubbed of with a lens wipe. I then spent ages trying not trap any dist in there… a fruitless exercise 😂

  • Reply
    Steve Curzon
    April 27, 2021 at 7:38 am

    Good article, and sensible approach. A lot more sensible than trying to de-fungus a Zuiko 50mm F1.4 as a first attempt at lens repair! 😩

  • Reply
    Lee
    April 27, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    I really liked reading your article detailing the cleaning of this Chinon lens. I’m curious to know whether you bought the CM-3 for the camera itself or for the lens attached? Last year I started shooting some M42 lenses adapted to mirrorless digital, then I decided to get an M42 mount 35mm SLR to mount the lenses on. I didn’t want to spend a lot and I learned about Chinon cameras too. I ended up with a CM-1 body for about $20 USD. I chose the CM-1 because it is a fully mechanical camera, with battery operated stop-down metering, a metal shutter instead of cloth. Also the CM-1 is a bit smaller and lighter than some older CS or CX models or similar, and more expensive, Pentax Spotmatic variants. I have been very happy with my Chinon CM-1. I do not have any Chinon lenses however, though I gather they generally perform well for a 3rd party lens. My M42 lenses include Super Takumar 35mm f/3.5, CZJ 50mm f/2.8 Tessar, Helios 44-2, and Vivitar Auto 135mm f/2.8. There’s also a 90mm f/2.5 SP Macro Tamron Adaptall-2 lens, for which I have an M42 attachment that I can use as well.

    Very nice write-up.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      April 29, 2021 at 3:09 pm

      Thanks Lee, I bought it for the fact that together they were cheap… But mostly for the lens. I have though since bought a CE4 which is great! So far, it is definitely my favourite AE Pentax mount camera

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