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Manual lens rebuilding
  • Since this is a forum that is more about technical issues and I think the members are more interested in the inner workings of things, I wanted to share some information about lens rebuilding/cleaning.

    Rebuilding/cleaning lenses is not a simple thing to do. The work is physically easy but any small slip up can render the lens unusable. Also, in most lenses if you take the helicals apart and then attempt to put them back together later, the helicals will line up a hundred different ways but only one way will be right. IF you take the helicals apart, be VERY sure that you have marked them somehow or you'll be in for a hard time.

    I have been building up a set of manual nikon lenses, primarily AI series lenses. I've been buying cheap lenses that usually have stuck focuses since this is really an easy way to get lenses for less than premium price, as long as you can work on them. This isn't without potential issues as a lot of sellers will tell you the obvious problems but either won't know all of the details or they just won't tell you all the details. Some lenses have even been taken apart previously and put together wrong.. In short, there might be more problems with these lenses than you know about, so be prepared.

    Anyway, I can't go into detail about how to rebuild a lens since each lens is different and might need different work done but I can share some of the issues I had.

    One of the issues was re-greasing the lens helicals. Tons of websites and forums claim to have the magic formulas for helical grease or they'll tell you that some strange brand works the best. Some sell you tiny little amounts of grease for lots of money while others mention greases that haven't been available for decades.

    I've tried a lot of different greases and here's what I found:

    Forget any organic grease.

    Anything marked NLGI 2 is going to be too thick. This includes pretty much any of the "bicycle" or automobile greases that are touted on a lot of lens websites. They make the lenses feel solid but focusing takes considerable force which may cause the lens to "bob" back and forth while focusing(also known as lens breathing) and/or shift in the mounts. Both of which ruin shots.

    NLGI 1 is better but some of the greases are sticky while some are more jelly-like and offer very little metal-to-metal protection. Most of these are made to grease plastic gears or O-rings. A lot of these greases are PAO based oils with thickeners to make them more grease-like.

    PAOs are the base chemicals for synthetic oils like Mobil 1 automobile oils. They tend to stick to metals pretty well and they never separate under heat and pressure like organic oils.

    Many of the websites I read said nothing about using oils and the few that did said never to use oils. They never specified what kind or even if they had tried it. I found that synthetic motor oil felt the best and offered the most metal-to-metal protection in the helicals. I even performed a test where I heated the lens helicals up to see if the oil would run out. It did not, generally because synthetic oils actually thicken up slightly when heated.

    I wanted a PAO based oil with a sticky property that had PTFE(teflon). I found Super Lube 51004. It's a high viscosity PAO based oil with PTFE. a few small dabs of oil on the helicals and the lenses move smoothly and easily with no "whispering" that you get with metal/metal contact. Just don't use too much, a small amount is all that is needed.

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  • @inqb8tr If it were me, I would either replace the ring or use the felt. You may find that the grease wants to spread to areas you don't want it to...just seems like a potentially messy approach to me. Perhaps even just a sliver of electrical tape would provide a better solution than grease.

  • @Ryzon thanks for the info, it is very valuable to me since I know nothing about greases, I dampened my lenses apertures by small pieces of felt, and thought to give grease a try.

  • @inqb8tr I cannot really speak to the use of grease for the aperture ring. I don't think any grease is a substitute for not having physical clicks to the aperture. That being said, I would probably not use anything less than NLGI 2 if you are intending to get some dampening to the aperture. One thing to think about when we talk about dampening, is that the more surface contact there is the more dampening is experienced. So, in the case of helicoids, where there can be a lot of contact due to the fine threads and tight tolerances, the dampening effect is magnified moreso than parts such as aperture rings that would have relatively minor surface contact. One might even want a thicker grease than NLGI 2 in your case, but again, I cannot speak to the use of grease as a way to manage deckicked aperture rings.

  • @inqb8tr

    Just use nearest auto parts shop, will be much cheaper.

  • @Ryzon @Vitaliy_Kiselev

    Thanks, I just found it on ebay by searching for greases for the purpose of damping a bit the aperture ring after being declicked, there seem to be several of these Ukrainian resellers.

    @Ryzon Do you think that NLGI2 is too stiff for aperture ring?

  • You can translate from Wikipedia -

    By idea it is not expensive.

  • @inqb8tr Your link is pointing to an item that appears to be a repackaging of grease, not directly from the manufacturer. Assuming it is what it claims to be (Ciatim-201), then it should be NLGI 2, which is a bit on the stiffer side ( However, the fact it does not appear to come directly from the manufacturer would be a concern to me.

  • Does anyone know anything about these greases

    They have different standards, and this one is marked as GOST 6267-74. How does that compare to NLGI standard?

  • I've used brake grease - a tear pack from the auto parts store is all it took not sure how it will perform long-term, but the lens turns very smooth with it

  • A couple other points worth mentioning. The helicoid greases I mentioned are in fact available via Amazon as of this posting. I noticed a prior poster mentioned it's not a good idea to use oil, and I completely agree. Grease serves a couple purposes, obviously to lubricate, but also to provide dampening and to not flow beyond where you intend, which is hugely important in lens rebuilding. The same poster mentioned the use of a cotton tipped applicator for spreading the grease. I would disagree with the use of cotton, as the fibers can transfer to the grease and helicoid. I would instead recommend either a plastic bristle brush or a foam applicator....something that will not leave any contaminants behind. One should also apply grease sparingly....a little goes a long way, and adding too much will tend to gum things up and cause flow into areas you probably do not want.

  • I have 2 copies of the Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II - both have fungus on inner elements. Now I have opened older manual lenses with the twin pliers earlier. This one has a plastic beauty ring. I tried to use the rubber cups for suction pulling but they did not work. Has anyone tried to remove the front element on this lens ? I would assume lots of folks have these..

    EDIT:- Turns out the newer lenses have stuck-on beauty rings. Use a flat screwdriver to pry them loose...

  • Wanted to add a few things here, as I have done some pretty extensive reasearch on various types of grease for working on my Nikon lenses. Avoid anything that breaks down, outgases, or flows too much. Greases come in many varieties of thickness, and can be classified in general categories as defined by the NLGI standard. Greases around NLGI 1 or NLGI 0 tend to be about the correct thickness, but each lens is different. Sometimes NLGI 2 can be used, but should be applied very sparingly to avoid making the focusing too stiff. Super Lube is an NLGI 2 grease. MicroLubrol makes a grease specifically for helicoids, known as Helimax-XP, which is NLGI 1, and I find to be perfect for most of my applications. Japan Hobby Tool makes an NLGI 0 grease, also made for helicoids, that is a bit thinner, which they refer to as #30. This may also be a good grease if you want a bit less dampening. They also make a #10, which just barely falls into the NLGI 00 rating, so is even thinner, and is also made for helicoids. This may not produce enough damping for some lenses, so be careful if deciding to use that. I understand Tri-Flow is used by some people, but it seems to be made in grades NLGI 0, 1, and 2, and it hasn't been clear to me if they mark the products accordingly, so I am hesitant to use it, not knowing the level of thickness I'll receive. All of these have PTFE, which I have seen many rebuilders indicate should be used for helicoids, and I believe all are lithium based, which again is something I have seen rebuilders state should be used. Hope this helps!

  • Great topic by the way, think i ll probably try to clean some old lenses after watching that vid.

  • @Tesselator , are you in Machida? I know that bird very well.

  • Thanks Balazer ... previous attempts to find 51004 in Australia failed me (1,000,000 cheap auto oils)... 51010 came up instantly. I will have both now

  • I think you're better off with a modern synthetic hydrocarbon than any kind of grease. Greases eventually separate.

    Synco's Super Lube High Viscosity Synthetic Oil With PTFE was mentioned previously. I've used a similar discontinued Synco product on focus helicoids and zoom mechanisms with great success. It is lighter than most greases, and I like very much the way focusing behaves with it.

    Here's the current Synco product:

    I've also tried mixing synthetic oil and synthetic grease to achieve viscosity somewhere in between, and it seems to work without separating. But the synthetic oil alone is great on focus helicoids, so I never put the mixture into a lens.

    BTW, there's tons of lens and camera repair info at this web site:

  • Not sure if this is useful, it might be, can anybody comment?

    HELIMAX-XP Camera Telescope Optical Instrument Focusing Helicoid Grease w/ PTFE

  • @svart Thank you for this page! Super Lube 51004 is what we used in film school to lube the lens mounts of the Arri-S camera. I've used it over the years to lube similar lens mounts on the Eyemo and Eclair CA-1 35mm cameras. I should dig them out of to inspect how it's faired ca. 20 years on. Do you still recommend it? That Nikon Grease is now $1000 on ebay (and not an option).

  • I needed an Apollo 25mm F0.85 lens servicing and was quoted £189+VAT at Sendean cameras, and opted for a second quote. R G Lewis in Holborn did this for a flat £90. Hope this is the right place for this post.

  • I've rebuilt many of my lenses. It's important to work in a dust free environment. One tool I find handy is an ultrasonic cleaner, for say removing oil from aperture blades.

  • Was looking for some info on how to serive my set of Nikon Ais lenses. This thread is amazing.... thank you all for the information!

    I read today on CML (Cinematographer's Mailing List) that NYE Fluorocarbon Gel 868VH is great for the aparture after declicking it. I haven't tried it yet, but from the manufacture's description, it should also work great for dampening the focus. You can get it here:

    What do you guys use to remove the old grease or oil?

  • Cool advice. I've done similar with chisels yeeeears ago now that I recall.

    Thanks for the image compliment too! It was the lens that allowed it tho. If you ever have a chance to shoot manually with any of the Canon 300mm lenses that are based on the same basic construction as either of the nFD 300L lenses - either the 4.0L or the 2.8L. They're just totally fun to use! So well made and smooth!

  • Thanks. Yeah oil quenching produces a little softer material than using water. Which do you think would make a better tip for a tool like this? I was thinking that if it's not kept at the cherry red for too long then water would be better. If it's cherry for longer than 5sec. or so or if it approaches bright yellow or white then then oil would be better.

    Is this wrong?
  • Nice video. Love the clean lens.

    My recently acquired Hexanon AR 40.8 didn't need any special tool, but it seems no brainer to get the tool for future use as I will load up more old lenses.

    I got the FC-4 grease from ebay. Price jumped from 8.99 to 9.99. It's tiny bit but enough for a few dozen uses. I applied on the Hexanon and it's great. It feels just like Nikkor 50mm 1.4 Ai-s focus ring. Smooth rotation and good damping. Me happy. It took me a while to remove excess... but it's all learning experience.

    Highly recommend the grease.
  • Nice!

    Looks like me - almost every day. :-/