Agfa Ambi Silette shutter repair

A little while ago I managed to acquire an Agfa Ambi Silette 35mm rangefinder camera which, I discovered on receipt, had a few problems. My last post dealt with the frame advance system which i needed to clean up and lubricate; this post deals with the next problem area and explains how I went about the Ambi Silette shutter repair.

When I first tried to cock and fire the shutter, I found that the shutter blades would move slightly as the shutter was cocked, but then only move back when the release was pushed. I assumed at first this was because the blades were stuck together with old oil, but when I tried touching the blades with a cotton bud loaded with lighter fuel they didn’t spring apart so I knew it was more serious. So I decided I would need to try to get the shutter out of the camera and fix it.

Ambi Silette Shutter repair – images

Removing the shutter

On the Ambi Silette the shutter is held in the front section of the camera which is attached to the body by three long bolts in the film compartment. They are sealed under black caps which I removed by piercing with a pair of sharp tweezers and pulling them off.

Agfa Ambi Silette shutter repair - film chamber with bolts revealed
Agfa Ambi Silette shutter repair – film chamber with bolts revealed

Once the bolts were revealed I could undo them which releases the front of the camera which contains the shutter assembly.

With the shutter free of the body I could see how the winding mechanism, which I’d earlier worked on, is used to cock and fire the shutter. The long bar along the back of the camera body turns a shaft which mates with the shutter cocking pin and therefore cocks the shutter. The shutter release pushes down on a lever which is mounted in the shutter assembly and this transfers the energy into a mechanism which fires the shutter. There is also a small pin which protrudes out of the lens mount which takes the position of the focus ring and applies it to a large C shaped bar which then transfers the position to the rangefinder assembly.

Ambi Silette shutter repair – diagnosis

With the shutter unit out of the camera I found I still couldn’t see much of the actual shutter, so I removed some more screws until I could lift the actual shutter mechanism out of the camera front piece.

With the shutter out (and the flash sync socket unsoldered) I could see a bit more of the problem. First I had to remove the speed setting plate and the shutter cocking ring so I could see the actual shutter mechanism and try to identify the parts.

I spent about an hour just trying to work out which parts were which, and during that time I worked out at least part of the problem. At some point in the past someone (probably the seller while testing the camera) had engaged the self-timer and the accumulation of years of dirt and old grease had completely gummed it up. This was obviously stopping the shutter from opening and closing because in normal operation that happens after the self timer has run down and the timer wasn’t moving. What I wasn’t sure of was any damage which would have been caused by re-cocking the shutter with the self-timer set.

I tried to do some Internet research on the shutter and came up with some valuable information:

  • The shutter fitted is a synchro compur 1110-030 model
  • The self timer module can be removed as a unit and cleaned up
  • The timing module can also be removed as a unit and cleaned

Once I had this information, I decided the best approach was to remove the self timer and see it I could get it working by itself.

Cleaning and repairing

The self timer was held in with just one screw and was pretty easy to remove from the shutter assembly with a pair of fine nosed tweezers. Once it was out I got an old film canister and placed the whole module in and poured a quantity of IPA (isopropyl alcohol) over it and gently swirled the canister around to get the dirt and gunk out. I then left the module sitting in the bath for a couple of hours.

Agfa Ambi Silette shutter repair - self timer unit removed
Agfa Ambi Silette shutter repair – self timer unit removed

After a couple of hours, I pulled the unit out and tried turning some of the cogs to see if there was any movement. I could get a couple to move, so I dunked the module back in the pot and swirled around again and repeated the process (this time for only 5 minutes or so) until the self timer could be set and would run down by itself. Once it could run, I pulled the setting bar and ran it in the bath a few times to clear some more gunk out.

Once the module was running as normal, and I’d dried it I added a tiny amount of light watch oil on the ends of the pillars which the cogs are mounted on just so there is some lubrication and then put it to one side to refit in the shutter.

While the self timer was out of the shutter I tried to see if I could cock it and fire it as normal, to assess if there was any other damage or problem. Unfortunately the shutter was still stubbornly refusing to work. However, while I was messing about I found a lever (around the self-timer and shutter release position) that I could move which would get the shutter to open and close!

After a bit more research, I found that the way the self timer works is it holds a lever in place which allows the shutter to work. When the self timer is run down, this is the normal position; if the self timer is set it releases the lever which stops the shutter working until  the timer runs down and then re-holds the lever in the correct position. That’s the cool thing about fixing things – you learn how they work! So in order to get the shutter working the self timer needed to be back in the shutter.

Next I turned my attention to the state of the rest of the shutter.

I guessed that the escapement mechanism and the blades were probably just as dirty as the self-timer unit was, so I decided to try bathing the whole shutter unit in some IPA. Although that sounds a bit radical, I found a Japanese site which had pictures of the shutter being washed in a bath of lighter fuel (I couldn’t understand the language on the site and google translate wasn’t much help, but I could see a shutter in fluid and then a load of sediment left after evaporation so I worked out what was happening).

So I got a bigger plastic box, placed the shutter in and poured IPA over the whole unit. Obviously, I couldn’t operate the shutter because it wasn’t working, but I gave it a good soak and then lifted it and allowed the fluid to fully run through all the parts. I did this several times over the course of an hour or so and then I took the shutter out of the bath and placed it on a paper towel to dry off. I then used a cotton bud soaked in IPA to remove any bits of grease and dirt I could find on any of the components.

When the shutter was dry, I refitted the self timer unit to the shutter, added the cocking ring and speed selection plate and locked them in place with the locking ring and tried once again to cock and fire the shutter. And …… it worked!! The blades snapped open and closed as if the whole unit had been made only yesterday.

Ambi Silette shutter repair – reassembly

So with the shutter working I just had to refit it back into the camera. This was basically the reverse of the process I used to take it apart but there were a few points of note.

  • I lubricated the ends of the spindles for the escapement in the same way I had the self timer
  • I made sure the speed selection plate and the front speed selection control were both set to 1/500 before I placed the shutter in the front plate.
  • Feeding the focus pin through the hole in the shutter was a little bit tricky
  • I added a touch of grease to the shutter release mechanism in the front plate
  • Once the front was on and done up I tried the film advance mechanism and found it wouldn’t cock the shutter. I had to take it apart again and use a pair of tweezers to turn the cog in the body of the camera as far as it would go and then make sure the long actuation arm was as far over to the left as possible. This gives it enough reach to cock the shutter.

With all the work done the camera body is now working like new although not surprisingly the rangefinder now needs to be reset because it is showing the focus out at infinity. So my next job with this camera is to calibrate the rangefinder.

12 Replies to “Agfa Ambi Silette shutter repair”

  1. You’re a brave man Simon. My heart sank when I got to the end and read that the shutter didn’t fire, so it was a big relief to learn you finally fixed it

  2. Did you ever recalibrate the range finder? I have one and the rangefinder is off, and I’m curious if you know how to adjust the images.

    1. Hi JV – Actually I never did. Just after I wrote this article I acquired another Ambi Silette in pretty good condition and I never got round to it. It would make a good article however so perhaps I’ll dig the camera out and have a go.

  3. HELP! I am at reassemble stage. Not sure what the “cog” on the camera body is that you refer to. Cannot get the shutter to trip on camera. Do you have to remove RF to get at it? Picture of cog and actuation arm would help.

    1. Hi – the cog is the one which transfers the winding action of the film advance to the rotary action of cocking the shutter. It’s shown in the last picture of the gallery on the page. Yes you would need to remove the rangefinder to access it. I found I had to push the cog teeth forward before I engaged the shaft with moves it in order to make sure the shutter cocked.

  4. Thank you for getting back to me. The problem wasn’t in the cog or the film advance but in the shutter. Somehow it was firing by itself, but the key wasn’t far enough to the right (vertical) to allow the cog to cock it when on the camera. When I finally got it all working, I discovered that the RF pin was too deep and jamming the lens helicoid. So I had to fine-tune its depth. Everything is fine except the sync wire gave up completely and I didn’t feel like soldering in a new one. So no flash for now, but I almost never use flash, so not a loss. Didn’t take enough pictures but wrote up a detailed description for future reference.
    Thank you again. I do like the Ambi Silette. I just wish they would have offered an f2 Solagon normal. If anyone needs details, I would be happy to share my experience.

  5. Thank you for this Simon – I have just bought a Silette – the non-rangefinder f3.5 version with the Compur shutter that runs from 60 seconds. Your article was what spurred me into realising that even if it is non-working, I will have a reasonable chance of getting it into action again.

    My parents were given this camera in the 1950’s, just before setting off to join the UN teams rebuilding Korea after the civil war. With a 45mm F3.5 film and colour transparency film they collected masses of wonderful images that now form part of the national archives of the country – recording a rural landscape and peoples that had been unchanged in centuries – and which was to disappear in just a few decades.

    At the time, near all photography was in black and white. The key reason was that colour slide film was very expensive, hard to get, and was 12asa. Exposures were long; coupled with a need to secure a good depth of field from a non-rangefinder system with a triplet lens design meant that the optimal lens quality was at about f8-f11. This explains why the shutter speed range goes so low, and why most photographers never worried about bokeh unless they were professional portrait photographers who were using 6×6 or cut film 5×4 cameras. A tripod and self-timer or cable release was all but essential outside very sunny days.

    In 1954 this camera costs £25 (the Leica was £125). Now £25 then is about £500 today, allowing for inflation, so you can see this was a treasured item that survived for decades recording a family life that mirrored the development of Kodachrome, from 12 to 25asa, then 64 and finally 200asa! Sadly, it was stolen on a holiday in Greece in the 1980s using the fishing rod through the window approach and my father bought a plastic AF Minolta – which never had the same mechanical tactile and audio appeal (Silette’s have a great shutter sound that is imprinted on my childhood memory!).

    So, let’s hope that the one I bid for yesterday works well and that any I servicing of the camera goes as well as yours. Then, I wonder what my very elderly mother will say when I present it to her !!!


    So, Simon – please keep reviews like this coming! I haven’t bought a new camera for years and reviews of old, and indeed very-old, cameras are a key part of this.

    Entry to photography with “new” equipment is now getting very expensive for young people – with eye watering costs for the latest 2022 Olympus, Nikon, Panasonic and Canon models and their lenses. Yet by looking at equipment of more than 10 years age, it has never been more affordable. I built a 3 camera, multiple prime lens Pentax K system over the last 4 years for 95% of most photographers capabilities. They been mainly in faster AF speeds, CMOS chips to enable video and mirrorless viewfinders, and sensitivity above 800asa for shooting in the dark without tripods.

    A decade seems to be the tipping point for “obsolescence” with electronics. I use M4/3 cameras – and the 12MP generation Lumix of 10-12 years ago are now selling for £45 on UK eBay, and with lenses for about £80. In addition, there are so many good free photo-processing software programmes, that the cost of buying Photoshop or Lightroom is no longer a factor in your budget. So I predict will be another opportunity for affordable photography coming up — and with it a need to review “obsolete” equipment for a “second-hand” generation from the photographer of today’s perspective.

    Best wishes and thanks for all the work! – Paul C

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