|The SL66E in happier times.|
When I started this blog just over three years ago, I promised that I'd treat the twin impostors of triumph and disaster just the same and write about my cock-ups as well as any successes. There used to be a wee spiel to that effect in the left hand column. Well, here's a rather large cock-up that has spiked my plans to start using the Rollei SL66E on a more regular basis. In a nutshell, I've buggered it up.
I've always felt the view through the 45 degree prism finder I have for it is dimmer than it should be so, with a view to making it as user friendly as possible, I decided to check the reflex mirror to see if it was dirty. A quick look revealed that it was a little hazy-looking and could definitely be improved.
In the past I've had good success cleaning these mirrors. An overnight soak in distilled water with a tiny amount of wetting agent added, a light brushing with a sable artist's brush the following morning with the mirror still in the solution, a final brief soak in fresh distilled water with an even smaller amount of wetting agent in it and then prop it up to dry in an almost vertical position. This has worked well even on the delicate mirror coating of a 1932 Standard Rolleiflex.
So I wasn't too worried about cleaning the SL66E mirror. The glass was held in position at the top by a 5x3mm piece of thin metal screwed over it. It was easy to remove the screw and then, not having tweezers to hand, I reached in to pick up the metal piece with a damp fingertip. That was a big and potentially expensive mistake.
The metal piece fell from my finger down a crack I didn't even know was there and disappeared out of sight behind the shutter curtain. I couldn't remove the film back because the camera wasn't wound on so I gently moved the wind on lever only for it to jam, presumably on the metal piece that I now imagine is trapped between two cogs somewhere deep in the bowels of what may well be the most complex mechanical camera ever made.
And that's where I am now. Sitting here with an SL66E that needs to go off to a repairer to have this metal piece fished out. On the face of it, something like this shouldn't be too expensive to put right as the camera doesn't need to be repaired or serviced (it was serviced before I bought it three-and-a-half years ago) but I'm concerned about how difficult it might be for a camera mechanic to remove the back should that be required with the camera not fully wound on. I've emailed a couple of camera repairers for quotes and have my fingers crossed that they won't be too painful.
In the process of breaking my camera, I've figured out that the focusing screen is probably what's making the viewfinder dimmer than it should be. It has quite a few marks and cleaning swirls on it and I reckon a replacement would be a good idea. However, I'm not even going to consider those, in my opinion, vastly-overpriced third-party focusing screens. The SL66E's viewfinder is still usable as it is and I'd rather make do with it than shell out £170 for a replacement, even supposing they're available for this camera.
A while back I cut down a Mamiya RB67 screen for use in my Rolleiflex 2.8F and it works very well. The view through the TLR is now quite a bit brighter than it was with the old screen. Hopefully there will be a similar fix available for the SL66E.