Fixing the focus on a Lubitel 166B

May 22, 2009

Riding through Napa a few months ago, I was crestfallen. Just after loading a fresh roll of Fuji Pro 400, the focus ring on my Lubitel 166B came off.  I pressed it back on, but in the process, realized that… before pressing it back on I’d turned the viewfinder focus ring. This meant the viewfinder focus was no longer locked to the film (objective?) focus – they were out of synch and I didn’t have any way of knowing how much. That means no expensive-retro-Ukrainian picture I’d take would ever be in focus. Ever. I put the camera aside for 6 months.

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Last night I started cranking through the film I’d loaded, planning to put it in the hands of someone qualified to tune the focus back in. But after getting the unexposed film out, I thought I’d try a little experiment I’d considered: Place a piece of ground glass in the place where the film would be, and see if I could dial in the focus:

Ground-glass screen at film plane

Ground-glass screen at film plane

I taped it in place with some vinyl tape and opened the shutter. Sure enough, an upside-down image showed up on the ground glass.

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The aperture was small, so no amount of focusing and unfocusing could make much of a difference. So I opened the aperture all the way to f2.3 (the largest), and sure enough, the image got blurry (and much brighter).

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Now it was a matter of lining up the focus of the viewfinder with the focus of the exposure lens. And while we’re at it, might as well check that the distance numbers printed on the focus ring line up with those as well. 1.4m (55.1″) was a convenient distance for my room, so I dialed that in, measured that distance from the target, and adjusted the exposure lens focus until the image was clear. Voila.
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Now with the focus adjusted, I just slip the focus ring/gear on the exposure lens and mesh its teeth with the viewfinder lens gear. Wow! No need for that “qualified expert” after all!

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It sure looks cool without the focus ring. Reattaching it is a matter of tightening the set-screws in the focus ring, just like the globe on a hanging light fixture.

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3 Responses to “Fixing the focus on a Lubitel 166B”

  1. gadlen said

    Very cool. And nice photos 🙂

    But egad!… a cinderblock set directly on that beautiful floor?

  2. chrishedstrom said

    The same thing just happened to me, and I came across your site. Great idea! I thought of the measurements but the ground glass is perfect. About to give it a go with a piece of vellum or whatever I can find.

  3. it’s been two years and I still haven’t done it! just googled it again and came across your site, and then saw the comment I left. I’d better get to it tonight I guess.

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