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Bright Chrome Leica screw cameras


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I have read a few scattered descriptions of the early “bright chrome” Leica 11 and 111 cameras in different topics, which led me to take an interest in them. Last week one became available and I bought it. A model 11 which I prefer and is probably my favourite screw Leica model.

I have just the right lens to go with it, an 11 o’clock pin push un-numbered Elmar, which should be nickel but had been chromed at some point, and it looks bright chrome.

More discussion about bright chrome welcome. It will have a film in it soon.

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This is as close to capturing the bright chrome finish as I have managed. My one looks like it came out of the factory yesterday instead of in 1933. I don't believe that we ever got an answer as to why Leica dropped such a hard wearing finish for one that was less durable. Perhaps it had something to do with cost.

 

William

 

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Hello William,

It might be because Leitz was a microscope maker before they began making 35mm format lenses & cameras for the lenses. With a lot of medical & scientific equipment brushed chrome surfaces are often the surfaces that are safe to handle. Polished chrome surfaces are often interfaces or other areas that are precisely machined & are not supposed to be handled or contaminated. Like lens & body interface surfaces.

Altho sometimes polished chrome is also used as a contrasting finish for emphasis for clarity. Like around the base of a lens adjacent to the interface surface.

Best Regards,

Michael

 

Edited by Michael Geschlecht
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Leitz, coming from their original microscope and scientific instrument background, the first Leica cameras were black paint with nickel furniture (advance knob, rewind knob and shutter speed dial). Lenses were also nickel plated. Of course the fixed 50 on the original Leica I, and then the first screwmount interchangeable lenses. The original Leica II was also in black paint and nickel. In 1933, Leitz began to transition to bright chrome cameras and lenses. Bright chrome, or as we would call it Satin Chrome was seen as a luxury finish, and did not show wear as readily as the black paint cameras which would brass over time. Eventually all cameras and lenses were only available in bright chrome finish.

BTW, nickel plating is an intermediate step in the bright chrome finish process. Prior to the chrome plating being applied, the metal parts being plated are nickel plated. Years ago, in the 1970's and 80's when I traveled to Wetzlar for Leica School and factory tours in Wetzlar, the plating shop was one of the stops on the factory tour. I can personally testify that the vapors in that room did not seem very healthy, and were certainly not environmentally friendly!

Having had many, many bright chrome screw mount cameras pass through my hands, the quality of the plating in the pre-war years was top notch. Unfortunately, chrome plating is also a strategic resource for weapons. Pretty much all weapons and hydraulic tubes, bearing races, rifle and artillery barrels, etc require chrome plated surfaces, so chrome was fully diverted to the war effort. This was the reason why Leitz switched over to gray paint for the IIIcK and IIIc cameras. Post war, the materials for chrome plating were still in short supply and/or of poor quality. Many post war IIIc cameras had defective chrome plating which would blister and sometimes peal. This is especially true of the "sharkskin" cameras. The sharkskin is great, sometimes holding up better than the original vulcanite, but the chrome looks diseased on many of them.

Edited by derleicaman
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11 hours ago, derleicaman said:

Eventually all cameras and lenses were only available in bright chrome finish.

Satin chrome was what was used in almost all cases, Bill. The bright chrome on my camera above is quite different and was only used for a few months in 1933. I am sure that you must have come across an example. The numbers of such cameras are extremely limited. It is hard to capture in a photograph, but 'in the flesh' the difference is startling. This was soon dropped and replace by the common 'satin chrome' or whatever you want to call it.

You are right about chrome being regarded as the luxury finish and initially chrome cameras were more expensive than black paint items, whereas the opposite is the case today. As for the sharkskin models I have about 7 or 8 of them (including two with horizontal ribs in place of the more common vertical ones) as they are from around the time I was born, one I have was delivered 3 days before I was. The state of the chrome varies from perfect to very pitted. It may be that some of them were re-chromed. I always regard the pitted ones as somehow carrying a 'badge of honour'. The pitting does not affect the mechanical working but quite a few cameras from that post war period have weak rangefinders probably caused by issues with the chrome on internal mirrors.

I agree with you about chroming departments being dangerous places. I still have the visit to the chroming department in Fords of Cork (where dear old Henry's family came from) planted in my brain from 60 years ago when I was schoolboy.

William 

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25 minutes ago, willeica said:

Satin chrome was what was used in almost all cases, Bill. The bright chrome on my camera above is quite different and was only used for a few months in 1933. I am sure that you must have come across an example. The numbers of such cameras are extremely limited. It is hard to capture in a photograph, but 'in the flesh' the difference is startling. This was soon dropped and replace by the common 'satin chrome' or whatever you want to call it.

You are right about chrome being regarded as the luxury finish and initially chrome cameras were more expensive than black paint items, whereas the opposite is the case today. As for the sharkskin models I have about 7 or 8 of them (including two with horizontal ribs in place of the more common vertical ones) as they are from around the time I was born, one I have was delivered 3 days before I was. The state of the chrome varies from perfect to very pitted. It may be that some of them were re-chromed. I always regard the pitted ones as somehow carrying a 'badge of honour'. The pitting does not affect the mechanical working but quite a few cameras from that post war period have weak rangefinders probably caused by issues with the chrome on internal mirrors.

I agree with you about chroming departments being dangerous places. I still have the visit to the chroming department in Fords of Cork (where dear old Henry's family came from) planted in my brain from 60 years ago when I was schoolboy.

William 

My guess would be that there was a slight change in the materials being used at the time, or some other small change in the process. I don't know enough about the process to be able to say what would cause the "bright" chrome difference over the "normal" chrome.

Years ago, I had my track bike frame chrome plated. I took it ta a plater in the Chicago area, huge vats of acids and chemicals bubbling away. I think they were set up to do car bumbers and other larger pieces. Once you smelled the fumes, you will never forget them. The plating dept at Leitz was a much scaled down version.

BTW, growing up in Chicago and being aware of the Mob elements here, it was rumored that one way to dispose of the bodies was to put them in the acid bath at a plater. They were closed for the weekend, and by Monday the body would have disappeared bones and all!

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7 minutes ago, derleicaman said:

My guess would be that there was a slight change in the materials being used at the time, or some other small change in the process. I don't know enough about the process to be able to say what would cause the "bright" chrome difference over the "normal" chrome.

Years ago, I had my track bike frame chrome plated. I took it ta a plater in the Chicago area, huge vats of acids and chemicals bubbling away. I think they were set up to do car bumbers and other larger pieces. Once you smelled the fumes, you will never forget them. The plating dept at Leitz was a much scaled down version.

BTW, growing up in Chicago and being aware of the Mob elements here, it was rumored that one way to dispose of the bodies was to put them in the acid bath at a plater. They were closed for the weekend, and by Monday the body would have disappeared bones and all!

If the change in process was slight the actual difference in the cameras was quite significant. You need to have examples of both types of chrome together side by side to see this. Jim Lager may have come across something about this on his various visits to Wetzlar to indicate what changes were made. 

Your last paragraph above reminds me of ‘Spats’ and the ‘Friends of Italian Opera’.

William 

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From what I can remember, based on the processes used for chrome plating custom brass hardware for some of my architectural projects, the difference between bright and satin chrome is not in fact due to the chrome plating itself but the nickel plating type underneath. “Bright” nickel (shiny whiteish) underplating results in bright chrome and “Satin” nickel (dull greyish) in satin chrome. I think I have a book somewhere....🤔

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On 4/23/2021 at 6:25 PM, Pyrogallol said:

...Last week one became available and I bought it...

Congratulations and I'm delighted to see it found a Very Good Home! I was seriously tempted by the camera myself but, realistically (and sadly in equal measure), as the chances of me putting many rolls through it were rather slim Reason won out.

I trust you will have many good times together!

Philip.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I put a roll of Pan F through the bright chrome Leica 11, all working correctly.

These are scans from darkroom prints made yesterday. The seascape taken at  1/500th with the early chromed Elmar, so the fastest speed is working OK. The boat picture, Wherry Albion, was taken with a 35mm Summaron. The tight crop was the "picture" I saw when I took it. Got a scratch on the full wherry negative and a small nick in the emulsion in the sky, Pan F emulsion is rather thin, I could have cloned them out in photoshop in the scan.

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  • 2 months later...

vor 35 Minuten schrieb Pyrogallol:

This looks interesting. Looks like a bright chrome 11 upgraded to a 111 but with the slow speed hole in the body covered with a blanking piece. 

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/124826688543?hash=item1d10401c1f:g:RfMAAOSwqXtg~wZP

 

 

 

It's a II from 1933 with Hektor from same year, Hektor is also in chrome like mine with serial number close to that and body looks indeed like bright chrome. After the war the camera was on serivce and the body shell was swaped for a new one, than with slow-speed-hole covered like a IIc or IIf of that time but not flash-syncronized.

Edited by romanus53
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4 hours ago, romanus53 said:

It's a II from 1933 with Hektor from same year, Hektor is also in chrome like mine with serial number close to that and body looks indeed like bright chrome. After the war the camera was on serivce and the body shell was swaped for a new one, than with slow-speed-hole covered like a IIc or IIf of that time but not flash-syncronized.

Definitely bright chrome. The plate where a slow speed dial would have been on a III would not have been there on a 1933 camera and that must have come with the new body shell mentioned above. The barrel of the Hektor looks nickel, but the mount looks more like chrome. Photographs can be misleading and the difference would be obvious when the lens  is viewed 'in the flesh'. The price is high compared to what I paid for my almost mint bright chrome III shown above, but this one is coming with a Hektor, whereas I think mine came with a Summar.

William 

Edited by willeica
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14 hours ago, kangaroo2012 said:

I remember being told somewhere that the satin chrome finish was achieved by a process like sand  blasting 

A fine bead in a soft material was used.

 Michael's reasoning about bright chrome on machined surfaces makes perfect sense as it  is common on other camera brands.

Cheers

Philip

Yes, that process is referred to as Bead Blasting, and it is very similar to Sand Blasting, but using a finer “media”.

I am not sure if Leitz ever used this process, as it would be very time consuming. I remember having several Kolsch fueled conversations with Tom Abrahamsson on the possibility of offering a service to Leica users for restoring the finish of their satin chrome cameras using bead blasting. We even discussed the minutia of what media to use, and thought baking soda might be the most forgiving and appropriate.

Alas, nothing ever came of this, although our other favorite topic of discussion, did happen with the rebirth of black paint cameras at Leica with LHSA Black Paint M6 TTL in 2000!

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On 8/1/2021 at 10:09 PM, kangaroo2012 said:

I remember being told somewhere that the satin chrome finish was achieved by a process like sand  blasting 

A fine bead in a soft material was used.

 Michael's reasoning about bright chrome on machined surfaces makes perfect sense as it  is common on other camera brands.

Cheers

Philip

Yes, the chrome finish is mostly determined by the preparation. The probability is that the change from bright chrome to satin chrome was done because it was cheaper, a satin top plate only needs abrasive blasting and this evens out the surface finish after the brass has been pressed, it also re-hardens the brass as the brass will probably have been annealed at some point. On the other hand a bright finish needs the brass polishing, a highly labour intensive and skilled process, imagine all the nooks and crannies you'd need to get into on a top plate and get an even finish, compared with a machined dial, lens barrel, etc. that can be buffed to a fine finish on a mop.

Edited by 250swb
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6 minutes ago, 250swb said:

Yes, the chrome finish is mostly determined by the preparation. The probability is that the change from bright chrome to satin chrome was done because it was cheaper, a satin top plate only needs abrasive blasting and this evens out the surface finish after the brass has been pressed, it also re-hardens the brass as the brass will probably have been annealed at some point. On the other hand a bright finish needs the brass polishing, a highly labour intensive and skilled process, imagine all the nooks and crannies you'd need to get into on a top plate and get an even finish, compared with a machined dial, lens barrel, etc. that can be buffed to a fine finish on a mop.

That makes sense as. My bright chrome camera (see above) from 1933 looks like it was made yesterday, whereas none of the many satin chrome examples which I have look nearly as good.

William

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  • 3 months later...

The postman just brought me another Bright Chrome Leica 11. The serial number is only 18 away from the first one I bought. Probably sitting on the same workbench together when they were being assembled.

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