Leica Shutter Curtain Burn and Repair

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After returning from Brazil it was difficult to get back in to photography.

And, not being a huge fan of flare/burns spots in every image, burning a hole in the M7’s shutter curtain made that a whole lot harder…

Leica Shutter Curtain Burn Example

It is unclear exactly how the burn happened, but at a guess this was the result of  the early morning sun streaming in to the kitchen while the camera sat on the bar.

The Leica uses rubberised cloth shutter curtains, which are both reasonably quiet and mechanically robust. Unfortunately, black rubber is even more combustible than paper. If the camera is aimed at the sun for a short time with the lens wide open, this is the result:

Leica shutter curtain with burn hole.

The burn is quite small – a few mm. To make it more obvious, these photographs were taken with a bright light shining from behind.

Leica shutter curtain burn hold

Probably the correct thing to have done would have been to send the camera off to Germany to have the curtain replaced. But this would be both time consuming and expensive. So, after reviewing the collected wisdom of the internet, I decided to try to patch the hole. After all, if it failed I could still send the camera off to Germany…

Apparently it is possible to apply thin fabric patches over large areas of shutter curtain damage, not unlike fixing a punctured bicycle tyre. But in this case the hole was small enough to just paint over with liquid PVC – usually intended for waterproofing marine electrical connections:

Not suitable for painting cameras...

This stuff is terrifying. It looks suspiciously like a precursor to the tar creature that killed Tasha Yar. It is not the sort of thing you really want to paint all over the delicate moving parts inside an expensive camera. At least not if you want it to work again.

It is quite tricky to apply the paint, partly because the target is very small and partly because the liquid was quite thick (thanks to near zero temperatures at the moment). I practised initially with some paper – which also helped convince me that the PVC would actually work. Remarkably, it dries to a thin flexible and robust skin, durable enough to allow the paper to be creased without problem. It is also completely opaque.

The result, seen from the front of the shutter curtain:

The patched Leica shutter curtain burn hole, seen from the front.

I have run two films through the M7 since the repair, and so far the camera seems to be working perfectly.

There is no obviously light-leakage, and the exposure timing appears unaffected:

From the first film, after repairing the Leica shutter curtain burn.

However, it is remarkable that a camera that is still sold new for nearly four thousand euros can be so fragile.

Leica is currently celebrating 60 years since the Leica M was first released. It is a shame that their camera body engineering and design skills have advanced so little that a camera at this level can not use more resilient modern materials.

8 Comments »

  1. I think the hole-in-the-shutter experience is one shared by all Leica owners at one time or another; just be aware of the issue and keep the lens protected from the sun when you’re not shooting with it.

    • It is disconcerting how easy it is. I was aware of the risk, and keep the lens stopped down unless shooting – but it seems that is not enough if the camera is in an unfortunate position.

      Still, the camera seems to be working perfectly following the repair…

      • Agreed. The same thing happened to me once when I simply sat on a park bench, leaned back with the camera on my chest, and rested for about five minutes. When I stood up the damage was done, though I didn’t realize it until much later.

        I didn’t know of the patch trick back then, so it was an expensive repair.

        • In full sun, the C-Sonnar (50mm f1.5) wide open seems able to burn dark paper in a couple of seconds, so I expect that even walking around with the low Mediterranean sun at this time of year is risky.

          I am trying to keep the lens fitted with an ND filter, and also stopping down when not actively taking pictures. I am not sure which is the greater evil – constantly juggling lens caps or risking an accidental burn.