Saturday, July 16, 2011


Does your camera really need an overhaul? 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) be in good operating order, or

2) has recently been serviced, or

3) is going to be serviced or overhauled

Click here for prices and written descriptions of what is included in a CLA, ExCLA and overhaul.


 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: 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 10-50 years. You may be lucky and it may only require a CLA. More likely, you'll need an extended service (ExCLA) or a full overhaul.

 Q:  The seller says it is "great shape - like new!" Stored with no apparent damage. Is this good thing?

 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 noting 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 <u>not</u> 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 tourists to document their home lifestyles and while on vacation. 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) outstanding Swiss engineering and, 2) Swiss manufacturing. Whereas some camera manufacturers used cartridges to hold their film, Bolex has always used spools. The film used, 8mm (B&W and color), is actually 16mm wide and is cut out of 35mm film which is still widely used today. This one simple fact has allowed the continued manufacture of 8mm film and kept the Bolex cameras from ending up on a shelf as display items rather than the useful film cameras that they are.

The greater majority of 8mm Bolexs are 50-60 years old and were originally bought from the period starting in the late 1940's to about 1963. They were in popular use until the advent of the camcorder, and then slowly were relegated into the closet. A great number of the cameras selling today on eBay are said to be from estate sales. This is logical as a lot of the original owners are now at their end of life or have died and their relatives are selling off  "Grandpa's old stuff".

Bolex cameras have always been a great value. To make and sell a camera like a Bolex D8L today, I estimate that it would cost about $3,500+. The market would be small and the cost to manufacture high. Film and processing are still available and the Bolex 8mm series is a great way to discover filmmaking with real film camera and at an affordable cost.
 Q: What is a good price for a Bolex D8L, used, in unknown condition?

 A: A fair price is about $30.00 to about $200.00+ 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.

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-$100.00 sell for upwards of $450.00+. And those camera most likely need a service before shooting film. Just a good looking camera, but $450.00? 

Beware of bidders on eBay "going nuts" and sending the price too high. The cameras worth is NOT set by bidders, only the demand. That same camera that sold for $500 today, will (if it could) sell for $200.00 next week. Know what the camera is worth BEFORE you bid. If not, you may bid too much. 

 Q: What are the most popular Bolex models to buy?

 A: The most popular models are the D8L, D8LA, the P1 and the P2. 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" of the preceding model. The L series are the cheapest. Nobody fixes them. Too complicated.

The D8LA is an upgraded D8L and has a back wind key (dissolves)and a modified light meter 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 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?

 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', 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.

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 brand lenses are - YVAR, Pizar and SWITAR). Check 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.

Bolex advertises that their cameras "cannot be overwound". The spring motor has a set of 2 gears that cannot be turned past a "certain point". This is supposed to guarantee "no overwinding" The truth is the gears can forced to "jump over" one another if enough pressure is applied. Its a LOT of pressure on the winding key, but it CAN be done.

"Oh, yes 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. The batteries originally used were mercury cells. The are no longer sold as they are 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.

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 lense(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. Fungus may or may not show on the film. It depends where it is located within the lens case. The P series seems to have the most problems with fungus.

The non-P series cameras use "prime" lenses. They may have stuck focus 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.

Look for (or ask about) scratches on all lenses. Scratches WILL show when filming. Consider a scratched lens usable only for display purposes (more or less worthless). Replacement lenses for Bolexs are for sale on eBay. Beware of high prices. $10-25+ is a good ballpark price for an YVAR and Pizar lens. Switars lenses are more costly. 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. Bell & Howell 8mm lens and Yashica lenses will not fit Bolex cameras.

 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 10-40 years of storage, the grease and oil will have dried up. The motor wind rough or may not wind at all (overwound).

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 "springy-ness". 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: I repair a lot of cameras that have been ruined by just such thinking. People think they can do anything with can of WD40 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 parts.

 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.  There's over 50 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 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 wrong?

 A: You probably bent the shutter control index pin 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 the damaged shutter control. Be sure to re-align the index pin and the dial correctly. Don't break the plastic shutter dial, either.

 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: 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, 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 needs 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 :)  Do you know what you did wrong that caused the gear to be stripped? I do. Do you know how to disassemble and reassemble the camera? I do. 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). What's up?

 A: The lower spindle "over-riding clutch" is most likely frozen or sticky. You didn't notice because you don't know how to test, repair or calibrate it. About half of the cameras I work on have a stuck over-riding clutch.

 Q:  Is there a book or video that I can buy to show me how to overhaul an 8mm Bolex camera?

 A: No book or video. Nobody has done this. Not even Bolex. We do however, include a copy of Bolex's 8mm Service Manual for all of our serviced cameras. The manual(s) are available separately, too. See this accessories link at the top of this page.

 Q:  Can I just use the 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. Bolex repairmen are trained by the factory and/or other Bolex repairmen. If this is you first camera, expect to damage it while teaching yourself.

You will need to discover what to disassemble (and when), what to replace and why, and/or repair 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.

Then use the reverse order to reassemble the camera. It's not as simple as it seems, though. Wait until you get to the shutter area. Little, teeny wire springs everywhere, parts that go in both ways and only one way works. 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 :(  
 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 can't, ask if they know who can. Then ask those people 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: $100, 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.

 Q:  What if they need parts and they don't have them?

 A: Send me an email. I will most likely have the parts.

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.

Be sure your repaired camera runs properly before leaving the repair shop. Check all camera functions with a used roll of film before leaving. If you follow the guide here, you will pay a fair price for your Bolex and for repairs or servicing.

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