How to Repair Bellows on a Camera (5 Steps)
By Gary MacFadden
Camera bellows lead a hard life. They're continually racked back and forth during focusing, compressed into camera bodies or stretched to their limits. Over time, pinholes and cracks can appear, especially along the edges where the bellows fold. Even very small pinholes and tears will allow light into the interior or the camera, fogging the film and ruining photos. For emergency repairs in the field, black electrician's tape can work, but for more permanent repairs, photographers have found a variety of other solutions.
Find and Repair Pinholes and Cracks in Camera Bellows
Check your camera bellows for pinholes and cracks by placing a small battery-powered light inside the camera body. A bright LED bicycle light will work well. Remove the lens and cover the hole in the lens board with black cardboard and black electrician's tape. If you're working with a view camera, insert an empty film holder with a dark slide in place. In a darkened room such as a closet, look for light shining out of the pinholes or cracks.
Make a small batch of bellows blacking if you have only a few minor pinholes. The formula is 1 tsp. of Elmer's glue, two small drops of liquid dish detergent, and two small drops of lamp black. You can get the lamp black at artist supply stores, or online at Natural Pigments. Brush this blacking on with a small artist's brush on both the interior and exterior of the bellows. Three or four light applications work better than one thick application. Keep the bellows open until the mixture has dried.
Use a thicker paint for larger pinholes. Many photographers like Liquitex Mars Black Acrylic, which is available online from a number of suppliers. The paint is permanent, water resistant and flexible when dry. Another product for larger pinholes and small tears is Trident urethane cement, which you'll find in dive shops. It is used to repair wet suits, and remains flexible and waterproof when cured.
For serious pinholes, use a black silicone rubber product. Push a pin down through the pinhole and leave it in place. With the room lights on, put a small dab of silicone rubber on the end of the pin inside the bellows, and slowly pull the pin out, drawing the silicone into the pinhole. Then smear a small amount of the silicone on the outside of the bellows, sealing the pinhole from both sides. One product that works well is Dow Corning Silastic Gasket #732 RTV Black; find it at auto stores.
Get a bellows patch kit for larger rips in the bellows. Bostick & Sullivan, which specializes in older cameras, has a repair kit available for $15.00 plus shipping; see the Resource section. If your bellows are very worn, use a thin flexible black nylon material laminated with a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) backing. You'll find it in many fabric stores. Use contact cement to attach this fabric to the exterior of the bellows, using the original bellows as a framework for the new covering.
Based in central Oregon, Gary MacFadden started writing in 1972 as a "stringer" for several Montana newspapers. He has written six books about bicycle touring and has been published in "Outside," "Wilderness Camping," "Adventure Cyclist" and other publications. MacFadden holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Montana.