FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

1.  Can you fix my shutter?

2.  Do you service all types of shutters?

3.  Do you engrave aperture scales or mount lenses into shutters?

4.  Can you fix a missing or damaged aperture blade?

5.  What is your turnaround time for services?

6.  My shutter is slow/sticky/frozen. Can’t I just squirt some lighter fluid in it to get it working again?

7.  What is so great about Alphax and Betax shutters?

8.  What kind of cable release do I need to fire my Alphax or Betax shutter?

1.  Can you fix my shutter?

It depends on what the trouble is.  The most common issues are difficulty changing speeds, malfunctioning Bulb and Time settings, shutter blades hanging up at slow speeds, and long reset times between shots.  In general, these problems can be fixed with a Cleaning, Lubrication, and Adjustment (CLA). If parts are damaged, missing, or excessively worn, a repair may be possible.  In any service I provide, the goal is to restore the shutter to reliable, repeatable functionality, not to perfection!

Betax shutters were introduced nearly 100 years ago in 1921, while the last Alphax shutter left the Wollensak factory nearly 50 years ago in 1972.  Since they were made, some shutters have been hardly used, while others have been used hard.  In cases where it is not practical or possible to effect a repair on your shutter, I occasionally have already-serviced replacement shutters available.

2.  Do you service all types of shutters?

No, at present I only service Wollensak’s Alphax and Betax shutters.  I do this because I want to restrict myself to the shutters I know best, for which I have the most extensive reference materials and spare parts, and for which I can provide the best overall service.  For all other shutter repair needs, I highly recommend Carol Miller at Flutot’s Camera Repair.

3.  Do you engrave aperture scales or mount lenses into shutters?

No, but S.K. Grimes sure does.  They provide excellent quality service for all your custom photographic machining needs.

4.  Can you fix a missing or damaged aperture blade?

Unfortunately, due to the delicate way Wollensak both peened and flared the aperture leaves (also called iris blades) into place in the iris assembly, I am unable to repair or replace individual blades.  The only remedy I can offer is to transplant an entirely new iris assembly from a parts shutter into yours.  This is effective, but involves total disassembly of the shutter with corresponding part and labor costs.

5.  What is your turnaround time for services?

Typical turnaround time is one week from the date I receive your shutter. Exceptions occur if replacement parts are not readily available, if I am out of town, backlogged, etc.  When we correspond in advance of you shipping a shutter, I will let you know the present turn around estimate.

6.  My shutter is slow/sticky/frozen. Can’t I just squirt some lighter fluid in it to get it working again?

Please don’t do that.  Apart from the fact that solvents will eat away at the shutter and aperture blades of some shutter types, consider what the lighter fluid is doing inside the shutter.  It is not removing old gummed-up lubricants, it is just moving them.  When a solvent dissolves old grease, the grease is briefly suspended in a free-flowing solution.  The solvent quickly evaporates, but the dissolved grease does not; the old grease merely re-deposits wherever it happens to be when the solvent disappears. 

This redistribution of lubricants moves them from their proper places onto random, undesirable locations such as shutter blades, gear teeth, iris leaves, etc.  Squirting lighter fluid into your shutter is like pulling a slot machine lever: maybe you’ll get lucky in the short term and all the old grease will redeposit in harmless places, but probably you’ll create bigger long-term problems which take a repair technician more time and cost you more money to fix.

7.  What is so great about Alphax and Betax shutters?

Wollensak’s flagship Alphax and Betax shutters exemplify the high quality, superior design, and reliability of the 20th century American optical industry centered in Rochester, New York.  Like many of their contemporary products, Alphax and Betax shutters were mass-produced, but made by skilled craftsmen to exacting performance standards.  In 1953, the Wollensak Optical Company estimated that labor comprised 85% of the cost of their finished products and noted that many Wollensak employees were second- or third-generation highly skilled workers in their field.  Rudolf Kingslake, legendary lens expert and head of optical design at Kodak for over three decades, praised Wollensak as “one of Rochester’s finest companies. . . their lenses, shutters, and other products were considered to be excellent.” 

Countless classic lenses were manufactured to fit in Alphax and Betax shutters, including not only Wollensak’s own Veritos, Velostigmats, Raptars, etc., but also some of the best lenses from Cooke, Goerz, Gundlach, and others.  These lenses offer a rich palette of distinct imaging characteristics to serve the vision of the present-day analog photographer. 

Using a period-appropriate shutter with your classic lens is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it also contributes appreciably to image quality.  Compare a Copal 3 shutter’s seven aperture blades to the fifteen in an Alphax/Betax 3, 4, or 5 shutter.  The additional blades are the difference between the Copal’s polygonal opening shape and the near-circular opening offered by Alphax and Betax shutters at any aperture setting. The rounder aperture of the Wollensak shutters creates a smoother, more subtle, and more pleasing out-of-focus image rendering; the elusive quality of “bokeh.” 

Put simply, the performance of classic lenses and shutters go hand in glove.

8.  What kind of cable release do I need to fire my Alphax or Betax shutter?

All Alphax and Betax shutters are self-set or “automatic” type shutters and require sufficient cable release thrust to drive the main lever, compress the main lever spring, and trip the shutter.  Most commonly available cable releases have sufficient thrust to trip 0-3 size shutters, but 4 and 5 size shutters require a more robust cable release with longer thrust.

For these larger size shutters, I believe the very finest cable releases available today are made by Gebrüder Schreck Feinmechanik of Germany. The Professional version with Disc Lock (model FSS-PRKB-100) fires all Alphax and Betax (and Ilex) 4 and 5 sizes confidently, and is made to last a lifetime. 

You can buy directly from Gebrüder Schreck.

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