Thought I had the camera aqusition syndrome out of my system but picked this up on the Bay over the weekend. It's a Perfex Fifty-Five, made somewhere between 1940 and the 1950s--another American-made beauty. It obviously needs some TLC but I can either re-glue the covering or put on new leather. The Perfex allegedly provided some of the inspiration for the Clarus design. Notice the Leica-type knobs on top.
The Perfex came out in 1940, and was assessed by the British Committee that looked into wartime camera production, that led to the Reid and Sigrist Leica clone contract, very much the same idea as the US made Kardon camera, made for military service use.
A couple of Perfex were sent from the States, and were taken apart and drawings made.....Dennis, (a friend), was the Army Officer who did the acquisition work by the UK, requisitioning all Leicas and Contax, and getting UK makers to duplicate the equipment, looked at the Perfex and wondered if it should be used as an example of how not to make a rangefinder with a focal plane shutter.
He has two ex Leica technicians working with him and he showed the Perfex to them, and said he had never realised Germans could laugh so much. They found fault with everything, but as Dennis said, it worked!
The problem was not really the basic design, it was just the factory girls and even the plant foreman had little or no experience making cameras, they did not know what the parts did, or how the whole camera worked. The self same issue came up with the Clarus.
Argus were a bit different, the designs were simple, and nothing was too difficult to assemble first time and get working. Leica's secret was not just accurate parts, it was using experienced machinists and careful assembly, using selected parts that mated with each other. Zeiss chose a different approach, they built to tight tolerance, and expected all parts to fit all cameras.
Perfex chose the Zeiss approach, but added massive engineering tolerances to the parts, to get everything to fit and work, in theory this should work, but it failed with the shutter parts, far to much slack, and things could bind up. They did improve as production went on, and repairers corrected the loose bearings when they were serviced, if they knew what to do.
Speaking of tolerances: Working on Soviet era cameras and Japanese and German cameras is totally different. FSU camera come apart and go together fairly easily. But the tolerances in say a Canon and Leotax and Leica are much smaller. My experiences has been that these closer tolerances really come into play when reassembling cameras. Much easier to put a Zorki back together than the German and Japanese cameras.
It is the way each company worked, the tightest engineering fits are on Leica, because of the way they made parts, which were made to normal engineering tolerances, but then marked up with the exact size, stored and then selected to fit the camera being assembled.
Typical was the focus screw parts, when the British assessment team looked at the Wetzlar factory at the end of the war, they expected to find precision lathes like Lorch or Schuablin Swiss used the make the helical multistart screws to very tight tolerances, tested on plug gauges, and finished individually to get the tight fit.
This tight fit had caught out Reid and Sigrist, and Kardon copies, it was fiendishly difficult to make them to the accuracy that Leica seemed to achieve with ease.
The British Army officers, including Dennis, asked the Leica managers to show them the equipment that was used to make the screws, and were shown a pair of relatively old standard capstan lathes, with Leica made tooling, that turned out the parts.
The senior officers simply did not believe the lathes were able to work to the precision required, and asked for a demonstration, and the Leica manager got one of the woman machinists to run the lathes, turning. out a batch of the focus screws, one part on one lathe and the matching part on the other lathe.
The Assessment team took several samples and tried them together and the fit was slack or they jammed, so they were on the point of disbelieving Leica, and about to accuse then of not showing them the real equipment and hiding it away from the assessors.
But then one of the ladies explained that after production, all the weeks parts were laid out on a table and carefully measured, marked with the size over, or under, and then paired up with the proper size from the other batch.
Over about a year the production evened up and they usually got no rejects, all were paired to work. Leica had always done this from the days before making cameras, when they were microscope makers.
It does leave the headache that spares are going to be difficult to fit to a Leica, the parts being made in the exact custom match means stock spares are just not going to be an exact fit. This is why a skilled Leica trained repairman is needed with Leica, with parts being made to fit the chassis involved etc.
The other way to do all of this was super precision machining, and this was done by Zeiss, who were proud of using a system that made standard tolerance parts to such close tolerances, all parts fitted all cameras. Even Zeiss had trouble with focus screws, they got around it by making the screws split and having closure collars to take up any slack on each lens. for general 35mm they considered the Contax focusing in the body superior, as only one precision unit was required per camera.
The other maker where documented evidence exists, was Wirgin, who adopted the Leica way, but using far looser tolerances and a lot of hand adjusting of parts, especially metal pressings, by bending or filing to fit. This leaves Wirgin Reflexes unserviceable, or very difficult to repair, unless you understand the large adjustments required on some parts.
The Russians were naturally good engineers, we forget how many things they pioneered, but the State control regimented the factories, and standards were low once in production. The Kiev was a case in point, they had the Zeiss tooling, but tried to make the Contax to slacker standards, and they instantly got into trouble. The answer to the Soviets was a redesign, which they did, not to cheapen the camera, just to get a product they could assemble and get to work!
The Zorki and Fed were far down the engineering scale, they were made to fairly wide tolerances, but by chance good examples came to be assembled like the Leica, if everything was tighter by chance, it worked better, but equally a slack set of parts will just give permanent troubles.
According to the boss at the camera repair shop I worked for, the best approach with the Russian Cameras was to buy about 10 of a particular model, and simply take apart and pick and match the best parts, finishing the worst by the Wirgin way of fixing the remaining bad parts!!
The only cameras that had few issues in any way were the Reid and Sigrist, and the Kardon, both engineered to very tight specification, and in the case of the Reid, changes to Leicas design, like adding ball races and fully ground shafts. Both makes hand assembled, in the case of Reid by just one technician on one camera at a time. Kardon chose the Zeiss approach, all parts fitted all cameras, to ease assembly with production staff in wartime production conditions.
The Japanese took a different approach after the war, they made products with "biased" tight tolerances, expecting to be able to assemble like Zeiss, but if the parts were on the extreme of tolerances they keep them, and used as spares or modified the parts. To UK and US engineers, Japanese engineering standards, even on cheaper cameras were tight, but slacker than Zeiss. They took a pride in the initial tooling being able to make the parts within a narrow band of tolerances. Nikon and Canon relied on this way, and it worked fine for them.
A maker who had a very good reputation for engineering consistency was Miranda, the shutter was particularly well made.
I think part of the trouble with the US makes was that all of the major ones came from the US Radio Manufacturing trade, where frankly precision was not required on the assembly line, a good basic design worked. It was different with cameras, each camera needed an assembler who could check each stage of assembly as it went along, they needed to know how the whole camera worked. This did not happen with the Perfex or the Clarus, both failing due to slack engineering or bad assembly of the poor parts. They did get it sorted in the end, but it was too late, the design was outdated by the time it worked, and they had made no money making them.
Last Edit: Dec 11, 2012 13:02:02 GMT -5 by Stephen
Fascinating history, I found it particularly interesting as I worked as Quality Control Foreman for AMF Venner for a while back in the early 1970's when they were making mechanical time switches and everyone's favorite - the parking meter. Both using mass produced precision small parts and gears. Components such as the pillars that separated the two plates of a clock mechanism were being spat out of automatic lathes at the rate of one a second, it was pretty much impossible for the inspector to keep up when he had maybe 20 lathes running. So they just made the posts, sent them for assembly and the girl on the line would just try each one and if it didn't fit it went into a big bin. And there was a lot of operations where that happened, it was actually quicker and cheaper to sort the out of tolerance parts at assembly. But a lot got through, the undersize parts ! Back then volume precision, price and quality were vastly different things which often didn't happen together, as Stephan points out.