OVERHAUL OR DO-IT-MYSELF?
Does your camera really need an
overhaul? Or can I just do it myself? It depends on what you will do with it.
If you buying a camera just to place in on a shelf for display, then no, it
does not need an overhaul, just a good external cleaning. If you are buying
or planning on using a Bolex camera for filming, then it really needs:
1) ...to be in good operating
2) ...it has recently been
3) ...it is going to be
serviced or overhauled
8MM BOLEX QUESTIONS
Q: I want to buy a Bolex 8mm to collect.
Where can I find one?
A: eBay is your best
choice. Plenty of 8mm Bolexs at all prices.
Q: I found a camera and
it has been stored and needs work. Can I just disassemble it and oil it
myself before shooting?
A: Maybe, probably not
Bolex recommends that the
camera have a service know as a "CLA" (Clean-lubricate-adjust) on a
yearly basis. Nearly all of the cameras on eBay are from storage or yard
sales. They typically have not been used for up to 50+ years. You may be
lucky and it may only require a CLA.
More likely, the camera will
not have been serviced and the oil and grease will have dried up. The camera
will wind "crunchy" and may run erratic, if at all. If this is so,
and you want to film with this camera, you'll need an extended service
(ExCLA) or a full overhaul.
Can you do it yourself? Got
tools? Got parts? Got experience? Without training and/or experience you will
probably loose some small screws and break a part of two. If you oil the
wrong places or use too much, you can cause problems down the road. A shot of
WD-40 in the outside winding assembly to 'loosen up" the winding
assembly? Kiss the leather coverings goodbye. They are glued on. The glue
does NOT go well with WD-40 or any oil. Oh, and the winding assembly
will probably still wind "crunchy".
Knowledge is king here. Got
knowledge? Look up Bolex on the internet. Lots of incorrect answers when it
comes to Bolex maintenance. Some videos on YouTube on "how I did
it". Usually wrong, BTW. I'm not saying you can't do it. What I am
saying is you will probably do an inferior job. Knowledge is king - not a can
Recently I saw a video online on how to CLA a
Bolex 8mm. It said, "I put a little silicone oil on the speed regulator
pad." This mistake will cost you a lot. The leather pad, which controls
the speed of the regulator via friction, is now damaged beyond fixing.
Replacement is the only option and it isn't easy. To top it off, you CANNOT
just change the friction pad as it is matched with the regulator. Don't
forget to recalibrate the FPS speed control.
Q: The seller says it is
"great shape - like new!" Stored with no apparent damage. Is this
A: Not really if you are
going to use this camera for filming. Long stored cameras will most likely
have not been serviced and are therefore not in a condition to
shoot film. Consider this camera as a "Shelf Queen" and bid
appropriately (much lower).
Also, you can email the seller
and ask if the camera has been recently used to shoot film or if it has been
serviced. If it has been serviced or has been used to shoot film, this is a
good sign. Bid accordingly. Ask if it has a warranty or guarantee policy.
You don't want to spend
$50-200.00+ and then have to spend another $100-$299.00 (or more) to have if
fixed so you can shoot film. Remember that the sellers of these cameras
usually state that "they know nothing about the camera" or
"are not a camera expert" or words to that effect.
This all-purpose "weasel
clause" coupled with some fancy text and gorgeous pictures may
convince you that this camera is "ready to go". In fact, it
probably is not ready to go. Be forewarned. Ask some direct
questions. Know what you are getting. Pay accordingly.
Q: Where do all those old
Bolex cameras come from?
A: Starting about 1942,
with the L8 (early model), 8mm Bolex cameras became popular with
photographers and travelers to document their home lifestyles and while
traveling. The cameras were not cheap, but film was relatively inexpensive as
was processing. The cameras improved over time and became very popular in
both the USA and Europe. They are easy to operate and are very dependable.
Bolexs have lasted due to 1)
excellent engineering and, 2) Swiss manufacturing. Whereas some camera
manufacturers used cartridges to hold the film, Bolex cameras have always
used spools. The film used, 8mm (B&W and color), is actually 16mm wide,
sprocket hole punched for 8mm, and is cut out of 35mm film stock which is
still widely used today. This one simple fact has allowed the continued
manufacture of 8mm film and kept the Bolex camera from ending up on a shelf
as a display item rather than the useful film camera that it is.
The greater majority of 8mm
Bolexs are 50-60 years old and were originally bought from the period of the
late 1940's to about 1963. They were in popular use until the advent of the
camcorder, and then were relegated to the closet to await their fate. A great
number of the cameras selling today on eBay are said to be from 'estate
sales'. And this is logical as the lot of the original owners are now at the
end of life or have died and their relatives are selling off "Grandpa’s
Bolex cameras have always been
a great value. Film and processing and digital transfer services make the
Bolex 8mm series a great way to discover filmmaking with real film camera and
at affordable costs.
Q: What is a good price
for a Bolex D8L, used, in unknown condition?
A: A fair price is about
$30.00 to about $150.00+ for a camera in typical condition. The value depends
upon the model, number of lenses and condition, the overall condition of the
camera, the included accessories and if anything is damaged or missing. The less
service it needs, generally speaking, the more it's worth. If it has Switar
lens' - it's worth more. Broken or missing parts are worth even less.
Remember, most buyers (or
bidders) don't know the correct value because they don't know the full
condition of the camera before purchase. I've seen cameras that I estimate
are worth $75-$150.00 and they sell for much more. And those cameras most
likely need a service before shooting film.
Q: What are the most
popular Bolex models to buy?
A: The most popular models
are the D8L, D8LA, and the P-1. The B8L is next followed by the C8L, C8 and
older B8 and L8 series. The "L" after the model number indicates
that the camera has a light meter. The "A" after the model
indicates it is a "variant" (upgrade) of the preceding model. If
you buy an L8 camera, be SURE the camera includes the L8 D-Mount lens
adapter. Bolex Part number: "LUGOM." It has "L8" stamped
on the side. You MUST use this adapter when using D-Mount lenses. If not -
all your film will be horribly out-of-focus.
The D8LA is an upgraded D8L and
has a backwind key (for dissolves)and a modified lightmeter assembly, as well
as some other minor differences. The P-1 series has a French made "Som
Berthoit 8-40mm" (5X power) manual zoom lens, a battery powered light
meter with the light meter in the direct path (Reflex) of the lens at all
times. A clever arrangement of a small sliding mirror within the shutter
assembly allows the meter to function full-time while filming.
The P1 was followed by a
similar model, the P2. The main difference from the two was that the P2 had a
different lens (smaller zoom range) and was marketed as a "simpler
camera to operate". The P3 had a battery powered motor lens zoom motor
(with manual zoom) and the same zoom range as the P1. Unfortunately, the P3
batteries tended to be left in the camera stored too long and the zoom motor
and it's circuitry were subsequently damaged by leaking mercury cells. Watch
yourself when buying the P3 model. Is the battery compartment clean? Does the
motor work? Parts are rare for the P3. Especially for the electric zoom.
Q: What should I look for
in buying a 8mm Bolex?
A: Look for guarantees
or warranties if you are going to use it to shoot film. If not for shooting
film, look for its cosmetic condition. Make sure all the accessories are
there, including: lens(s), lens caps, filters, hoods, carrying case, film
reels, strap, Declic handle, etc. This adds value and some cost, but the cost
is less than if you buy the accessories "a la cart". Ask about the
carrying case leather covering and the condition of the camera's Moroccan
leather covers. The case's straps are most likely rotten as leather is
organic and for leather to retain its strength, it needs to be treated
yearly. Use the case for storage.
If you are collecting, the more
accessories you have, and the better condition they are in, will ultimately
affect the camera's value. Be sure the lens(s) are good as well as usable
(Bolex original brands- YVAR, Pizar and SWITAR) and that the camera has not
been dropped. If not sure - ask. A dropped camera will have dents, scratches
or gouges in the aluminum case edges, or perhaps a broken meter housing, bent
lens casings or damaged lens filter threads, etc. Ask if anything's missing.
Declic handle sometime have the trigger button missing. If the seller doesn't
know, ask what they will do if the are parts missing, or is the camera
"as-is"? Refund? Bid accordingly.
Bolex advertises that their
cameras "cannot be overwound". "Oh, yes, I say, they most
definitely can be overwound". It takes some doing but it can be done.
Overwinding generally means the camera's spring motor is junk. Not sure? Ask
the seller. They don't know? Offer less.
Q: What are the common
problems with Bolex cameras?
A: If it has a light
meter battery (P1-2-3). Look for corrosion in the battery compartment. If you
cannot remove the battery compartment screw-in cover, the battery has leaked.
This means the contacts and wiring are most likely damages. $100-200+ in
repairs here. The batteries originally used were mercury cells. The are no
longer sold as they were dangerous (toxic). The leaking cell will corrode
after time (years of storage) and the wiring in the light meter will be
damaged. On all models, check to make sure the lightmeter actually works.
Does the Motor work?
With all models, check (or ask)
that the spring motor is not overwound or if has been left stored for a long
time with the motor fully wound. A motor fully wound and stored can cause the
spring to take a permanent shape causing uneven running. Ask how the camera
winds. If it winds smooth, chances are it will run smooth.
Check or ask about the lens or
lens(s) included. A small amount of dust (a few particles) will typically not
show when filming. Large black spots or wispy "spider like webs"
indicate fungus in the lens. Reflex lenses DO have what appears to be a large
black dot in the center of the lens. It BELONGS there.
Fungus may or may not show on the film. It
depends where it is located within the lens case. The "P" series
reflexes seems to have the most problems with fungus. The
"split-focus" system used by Bolex appears as a diagonal
"cracked" line when view through the eyepiece. This is a split
viewing system. The two "split" view areas align when the lens is
The non-reflex series cameras
use "prime" lenses. They may have stuck focus and/or iris rings.
The damping agent used to allow the lens to rotate smoothly is wax based. It
can dry out from storage. Some lens become stuck permanently; others can be "worked
loose". Ask. If the iris or focus rings(s) are stuck, consider the lens
usable ONLY for display purposes. Thinking about repairing the lens? Don't
bother. It will cost a lot less just to replace the lens.
Look for (or ask about)
scratches on all lenses. Scratches WILL show when filming. Very fine and near
edges, not so much. Consider a scratched lens usable only for display
purposes (more or less worthless). Look for front lens coating to be damaged.
A vigorous cleaning can damage/scratch/remove the coating.
Replacement lenses for Bolexs are for sale on
eBay. Beware of high prices. $10-25+ is a good ballpark price for a used YVAR
and Pizar lens. Switars lenses cost more. Lens are made specific to Bolex.
They are "D" mount. If you buy lenses other than YVAR, Pizar or
Switar, make sure the lens is usable with your camera, i.e., D-mount. Bell
& Howell 8mm lens and Yashica lenses will not fit Bolex cameras.
Bolex camera lenses "breath." This means they "suck in"
dust. A little dust will NOT affect the film quality as the grain in 8mm film
tends to obscure slight amounts of dust.
Q: I see people on eBay
advertising Bolex cameras as in "fantastic condition", "Like
new", "Little use", MINTY !!! etc. But they don't mention
whether or not the camera actually works correctly and can shoot film. The
text just says, "it winds and runs". How do you know if it has been
overhauled or even serviced recently? What should you do?
A: Email the seller and
ask when the camera was last serviced. If they do not know the answer, you must
assume the camera has most likely been stored and will require maintenance.
Bid less as it's value as a usable film camera is now in question. Again, if
it's going to sit on a shelf, you can expect to pay less.
Q: Why is service and
maintenance so important?
A: Bolex cameras have
spring wound motors. Most of the parts inside the camera are either oiled or
greased. After 10-50+ years of storage, the grease and oil will have dried
up. The motor wind rough or may not wind at all (overwound), or the camera
may have been taken apart with the motor fully wound. This action
WILL, literally, destroy the motor. Instantly.
If the camera was stored with
the motor fully wound, the motor's spring (inside the motor casing) may have
taken on a permanent "bend" which means that it has lost some or
all of its "springiness". With less torque from the damaged spring,
the motor runs slower, erratically or not at all. This is common. The fix is
to replace the spring motor.
If the speed regulator is
dirty, it can't do its job, so the camera will probably run rough or the
filming speed will vary. If the camera does run, the film speed may vary such
that the finished film will appear to speed up and slow down at random while
playing on a projector.
Q: I think I can do the
CLA maintenance myself. What do you think?
A: We repair a lot of
cameras that have been ruined by just such thinking. People think they can do
anything with can of WD-40 and a screwdriver. They can't. Ask yourself if you
can do the following:
Can you disassemble and
reassemble the camera correctly? And it must be perfect - 100%. Are you good
with tools? Small parts? Can you diagnose damage to the camera? And repair
it? Do you have repair parts? Remember, Bolex no longer sells any 8mm repair
Q: What tools do I need
in order to do my own work?
A: At a minimum: A full
set of Wiha Precision Slotted Screwdriver Set (#26099 - $27.90 + S&H),
miscellaneous hand tools, cleaning supplies, calipers, small pliers, files,
paint, other specialty hand tools, etc. Custom jigs, Bolex 8mm specific
measuring and calibrating tools and jigs, measuring equipment for speed
reference setting, etc. Things most people never heard of.
And of course, the correct
grease and camera oil, diagrams, printed parts lists, and spare parts. Oh,
yes and don't forget the knowledge of how to do all this.
And yes, you will probably
misplace some of the very small screws or parts. Or put them back in the
wrong places! Most important you need to know how to disassemble and
reassemble the parts within the camera's main case, top plate, and front
shutter assembly in the correct order. There's several dozen small parts in
the front shutter assembly, alone. Do it wrong and you may cause more damage.
Do you know how to adjust the
speed regulator correctly? Clean the shutter assembly? Calibrate the
lightmeter? What to oil? What oil to use? What not to oil?
Replace damaged parts? For spare parts, you can buy another camera to act as
a donor. When you have damaged and/or can't re-assemble the camera, send it
to me. I can fix it. Normal overhaul rates apply.
Q: I tried to do an
overhaul myself and now the shutter control doesn't work. What did I do
A: You probably bent the
shutter control's index pin (variable shutter control) when installing the
shutter assembly into the main case. The pin is very small and fragile and is
easy to bend. It's also a little tricky to get it aligned correctly when
reinstalling the shutter assembly. You will need to replace anything damaged.
Be sure to re-align the index pin and the shutter dial correctly. Be careful
NOT to break the very fragile, plastic shutter dial.
Q: The motor runs now at
one continuous speed or varies wildly. Before that, the speed could be
adjusted and ran at a constant speed. What's wrong?
A: Speed varying?
Probably grease or oil on the regulator pad. Or the pad fell off and you
didn't notice. Or the speed adjustment slide has moved. You didn't unloosen
any screws there, right? Clean or replace the pad, calibrate the speed. 1-3%
deviation is ok. You do know how measure the speed, right?
Q: I can't wind the
motor. The winding key will turn only a fraction of an inch and then it
stops. The motor will not run. What's wrong?
A: The motor is
overwound. I know, Bolex says "it is impossible to overwind". But
there it is - overwound. The motor will, most likely, need to be replaced.
Q: I stripped the intermediate
gear (motor-to-shutter drive gear) upon disassembly. What do I do now?
A: Get the same model
for a donor camera and use it for the necessary parts. Be more careful next
time :) You do know what you did wrong that caused the gear to be stripped?
You do know how to disassemble and reassemble the camera? It isn't as simple
as one might think. But, easy enough once you know how.
Q: The camera works fine
except it stops filming after about 2 or 3 seconds. I reset the film in the
film gate and the same thing happens. I ruined a new roll - 25' of film.
A: Either the motor is
overwound or the lower spindle "over-riding take-up clutch" is
frozen from lack of lubrication or intermittent slipping. You didn't notice
it because you don't know how to test, repair or calibrate it. About half of
the cameras I work on have a stuck, or over-riding take-up clutch. It was
greased from the factory and after 50+ years the grease is like glue.
Q: Is there a book or
video that I can buy to show me how to overhaul an 8mm Bolex camera?
A: Unfortunately, no
books. But there are a few videos on YouTube. And they tend to be overly
Q: Can I just use the 8mm
Service Manual Bolex manual to show me how to do the work?
A: Unfortunately, no. The
Bolex service manual basically shows all the parts, their respective part
numbers and where they are located in relation to each other. There are no
written guides or step-by-step instructions to follow for repair. No
diagnosis, etc. Bolex repairmen are trained by the factory and/or by other
Bolex repairmen. If this is you first camera, expect to damage it while
You will need to discover what
to disassemble (and the correct order), what to replace and why, and/or
repair typically, without any external help. What will help you is to take
digital pictures of the entire disassembly process. Make notes and/or
sketches on what you do to disassemble the camera. What goes where, etc. Try
practicing first on a donor camera first.
Then use the reverse order to
reassemble the camera. It's not as simple as it seems, though. Wait until you
get to the internal shutter area. Little, teeny wire springs everywhere,
parts that go in both ways and only one way will work. Things that slip out
of place before you can close the shutter assembly. Then you test it and it
doesn't work. So you do it over again. And again... :(
Q: Can I take my camera
to a local camera shop and have it serviced?
A: Maybe. Call a local
camera repair shop ask them. If they say, "Yes!" Ask them the
following: When did you last do a CLA / service /repair /overhaul on a Bolex
______ (fill in your model here). How much for CLA? Can your repair any
damage? Can you adjust speed? Answer should be: about $100-$150, yes, yes.
Ask if they have spare or
replacement parts in stock. Ask what the approximate cost will be. Will they
give you an estimate for free? They may have to disassemble part of the
camera to make an accurate estimate. Expect to pay for this service. If they
then do the repairs, will the estimate charge be applied towards the total
cost? Should be.
If they can't repair it, ask
them if they know who can. They should at least say, BolexRepair.com... If
Q: What if they need
parts and they don't have them?
A: Send me an email or
have the repair person contact me. I will most likely have the necessary
parts. However, I cannot guide them through the repair process :(
Compare repair and overhaul
rates to the prices you find here. Our rates are very competitive. We ONLY
repair Bolex 8mm models and only certain Bolex 8mm models. Make sure the
repair person knows what they are doing. Ask them what will happen if the
your camera is accidentally damage when they attempt to repair it?
Will they pay for the needed
repairs? Do they offer a written warranty for the repair and service work to
be done? They better. Always get a written estimate before repairs and a
written warranty for finished repairs. Know what you are going to spend
beforehand. No surprises.
Be sure your repaired camera
runs properly before leaving the repair shop. Check all camera functions with
a used or date expired roll of film before leaving. If you follow the guide
here, you will pay a fair price for your Bolex camera and for repairs or