Giving the old Hektor some attention

Thursday, 15 September 2022 09:04

My 1955 Leica Hektor 13.5cm f/4.5 lens, a rather odd and rough looking thin silver tube, produces some pretty interesting and old school images. 

The Hektor, as I got it, had a pretty strong front focus. The focusing was stiff and a little crunchy at times. The aperture slightly oily, with an f/32 iris shaped haze imprint on the rear element. Not only that, it had about as much sharpness as a potato.

I decided to try my hand at cleaning the lens focus mechanism, and this is where I got stuck a few times. With no repair manual or disassembly guide, I was just using intuition, and I got stuck in a few places. Most notably the focus collar with the distance scale which is threaded into the knurled focus ring. This collar is made from brass and the focus ring is aluminium, so the dissimilar metals probably caused a tight fit over the last 60+ years. 

The condition of the Hektor is pretty rough. Cosmetically ugly but optically fairly clean given its age. It has had a service at some point, as the internals showed evidence of that, and I don’t think it was calibrated very well at that point. The internal focus helicoids were all aluminium except the threaded brass ring that moves to adjust the rangefinder focus lever. I was surprised to find so little brass in this lens.

I cleaned and degreased the helicoid, but ended up using a grease that was too stiff. I used the Helimax XP helicoid grease, and it’s too stiff. I don’t like using Japan Hobby #10 grease due to oil separation issues. Not cool. After I got it lubed up properly. I fixed the front focus and adjusted infinity focus and hard stop too. They were all a hair out.  This lens is fairly intuitive to take apart, but only if all the removable parts are willing.

During the disassembly of the aperture ring for cleaning, I accidentally bumped the lens and some of the aperture blades came out of their recessed guide holes in the lens barrel. The aperture blade cage sitting on top of the blades didn’t supply enough weight to keep them in place. At this point I just had to drop them out and put them in, and little did I know this was a start of a long battle… I degreased the aperture blades and got to work with a tweezer and a wooden toothpick. It has to be the most fidgety lens work I’ve ever done, and even harder to explain here just how tricky it is… there are 15 blades, but about 4 or 5 of these cannot be simply placed down with their pins into the cut out at the bottom fo the lens barrel. No, when I get to blade 9 or 10, I need to lift the end of the first blade and place the beginning of the next blade into the cut out underneath it. This becomes very difficult with blade 14 and 15. My success rate was about one in three attempts.

There were a few times where I had the aperture together but it just either wouldn’t open up all the way or close all the way when the aperture ring was installed. At this point I though I screwed it up. I also realised that the aperture cage wasn’t symmetric, so rotating it 180º helped a bit… it wasn’t until my third assembly that I realised the blades were not perfectly symmetrical, where one side at a more square edge that the other, and I had been mixing the orientations. Well, lesson learnt, after many hours or faffing, I got the aperture assembly successfully assembled. Many curse words were uttered.

Image quality is pretty terrible by modern standards. It’s not particularly sharp at the centre, although for some cases I think it’s adequate. Off-centre is where image quality tanks. Sharpness and definition drops off rapidly. Detail is rendered as if the subject is suspended in a liquid; Distorted with colour aberration. Colour aberration is present everywhere, and quite vivid. The lens is much better suited for B&W photography and with that the aberrations actually contribute to a fairly pleasing out of focus rendering. 

Below is a quick test shot at f/4.5. This off-centre rendering is present until f/11 and the lens’ peak performance is achieved at apertures of f/11 and f/16. The resolution of this lens is low, so the loss of resolution due to refraction only starts becoming evident at f/16 with the M11. Thats crazy. Usually, with modern lenses, this loss is already visible at apertures as low as f/5.6.

n general, the rendering is pleasant, but I would definitely recommend using this lens for B&W photography. The colour aberrations aren’t pleasant, but they contribute a nice feel when seen in monochrome and contribute to a softer out of focus rendering. 

For landscapes, the Hektor is a no go in my opinion. Unless an abstract landscape is called for. In that case, the lens can be used wide open or stopped down, the differences are negligible. It’s definitely a character lens for today’s standards. I believe the Leitz Tele-Elmar 135mm f/4 from the late 60’s is a very significantly improved lens.