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Shutter speed testing software


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#1
Marcus Rowland

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I sell quite a few old film camera bodies on eBay, and it's nice to be able to say what is (and isn't) working properly when I do so. Mostly it's easy - you can tell pretty quickly if the shutter isn't working at all, if flash synchronization isn't working, if it's full of fungus or the silvering of the prism is failing, if the self timer isn't working properly, and so forth. The hard part has always been checking shutter speed - I can tell roughly if it "feels" right by firing it and watching with the back open, but honesty compels me to say that accuracy there is probably pretty low. The old easy way of checking a little more accurately - fire the shutter while looking at a TV screen and watch the scan lines - has been useless since everyone went over to LCD screens.

 

So a while ago I started looking at buying or building a speed tester. My original idea, since I'm a retired educational lab technician, was to buy a physics gadget called a light gate and appropriate software. This is simply a gizmo with a light source and a detector which can time exactly how long the light is shining, with an interface to link it to a computer (or an oscilloscope if you want to do things old school). Unfortunately that gets to be expensive if you aren't an educational user - schools buy this stuff in bulk and can afford thirty or forty pounds for the light gate, a hundred for the interface (which might be used with lots of other sensors), a couple of hundred pounds for a site license for the software, etc. Private purchasers find the setup costs a little daunting.

 

But it turns out that there are some solutions around. The simple one (which unfortunately doesn't work above the flash speed for the camera) is to record the noise it makes into oscilloscope software such as the free Audacity program (via a computer's microphone) and spot the opening and closing of the shutter. And once you've thought of that it turns out to be relatively simple to come up with something that works like a light gate but connects to the computer as a microphone. Needless to say I didn't think of this for myself - several people have developed solutions.

 

A circuit for PCs is here: Raggett·photo·books

A circuit for iPhones is here:  Shutter-Speed-Tester for your iPhone! · Lomography

 

The iPhone app the second article references is pretty good for this purpose; it costs a couple of pounds (sorry, I have no idea of dollar prices) but it automates most of the calculations. You just have to identify the beginning and end of the shutter cycle. Most of the other solutions I've seen use sound recording programs that are a lot more complicated, such as Audacity (on PC and Mac) but free. Having tried both, I greatly prefer the app.

 

For both of these the sensor circuit is really as easy to build as it looks. I think the most expensive component was the plug to connect it to my iPhone. If you don't want to build your own or don't already own the tools, several ebay vendors sell them starting around £10, designed to connect to various computers. To get an accurate result with a focal plane shutter you need to have the sensor in a tube so that the light can only reach it from a narrow angle. I used the barrel of a black marker pen for this, ending in a flat plate to go up against the shutter plane. My light source was an LED bicycle light - nice and bright, and since it's battery powered you don't have to worry about AC waves messing up the signal.

 

One refinement that might be worth trying: Use an infra-red diode as light source and a suitable sensor, that ought to work and with luck there will be a lot less interference from other light sources.

 

The only problem I've found so far is that some late-model film SLRs won't fire the shutter with the back open, e.g. Pentax Z70, and of course this isn't much use for digital cameras. But for the older film SLRs I tend to see it's going to be very useful.



#2
Merco_61

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Putting a white paper with a radial line on a turntable at 33 1/3 RPM and taking a series of photos of it at all speeds has worked for decades. 



#3
Marcus Rowland

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Putting a white paper with a radial line on a turntable at 33 1/3 RPM and taking a series of photos of it at all speeds has worked for decades. 

 

Record player? What is this record player of which you speak? Haven't owned one, or any records, since the nineties.

 

More seriously - since I tend to sell the majority of bodies (e.g. old Zenits, Prakticas, etc.) for sums comparable to a couple of rolls of film, testing them with film is not an option. I make this clear in the listings when I sell them. I make my money on the lenses, there seem to be a lot of people who want a good f2 lens and don't mind it being in an obsolete fitting, anything I get for the bodies is a nice bonus, but not something I can sink much money into.



#4
Merco_61

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Kentmere 400 in bulk is 2£ 20 per 36 exposure roll. developing cost is about 1£ per roll. Scanning is free once you have either a slide copier for your macro lens on a digital body or a scanner. You will need to handle a lot of cheap old cameras to come under this cost per time check if you build a testing rig.



#5
Marcus Rowland

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Kentmere 400 in bulk is 2£ 20 per 36 exposure roll. developing cost is about 1£ per roll. Scanning is free once you have either a slide copier for your macro lens on a digital body or a scanner. You will need to handle a lot of cheap old cameras to come under this cost per time check if you build a testing rig.

 

My average starting price for these old bodies is £2.99 - my average final price is £4-5, a bit more for the rare ones. I can do the full check and have the results in front of me in about five minutes, rather than waiting for development. Additionally, I don't currently own a darkroom, I haven't used 35mm since 2006 or so. I'm pretty sure you can see why this is not an optional method for me.



#6
Marcus Rowland

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Relevant to this, one of the people who sells the sensors for computers and iPhones is now offering a complete package that has a lot of nice features. It does things like testing both shutters of a stereoscopic camera, testing on a camera where the film plane isn't readily accessible (e.g. Leica), and so forth, and has a dedicated timer and display module rather than doing things on an iPhone. Definitely isn't worth it for me, but someone doing this sort of thing for a living might find it useful:

 

The new shutter tester is more of an assistant than a device. It will tell you if the test you took is OK or not and give you advice on what is wrong for curtain tests. It can also test Leica cameras with a non removable back without having to remove the shutter from the camera, like the Leica IIIa.
 
Besides the entire shutter testing package you also receive a shutter tester for smart phones and tablets as a GIFT.
 
Contents (as seen in the product photo attached to this email):
- Main unit;
- Sensor Box;
- Cable tester (next to the sensor box);
- Light source (next to the cable sensor);
- Stereo sensor kit (marked with a red band);
- Stereo light source (next to the stereo sensor kit);
- Sensor holders (2 pieces, the round parts);
- Shutter tester for smart phones and tablets (blue band). This is a GIFT. It can’t be used with the main unit.
 
 
Specifications:
- Shutter tests up to 1/8000th of a second;
- Curtain tests up to 1/18000th of a second;
- Shutter tests for Leica cameras with non removable back up to 1/1000th of a second;
- Curtain tests for Leica cameras with non removable back up to 1/200 of a second;
- Stereo camera shutter test kit that allows for stereo cameras to be tested;
- Color display;
- SD card slot for SD or microSD cards (with adapter) to save all the tests and copy them on your computer. The card is not included;
- Dual power from power adapter or battery. Battery or power adapter not included;
- Extra accessories that allow you to easily mount and align the sensors and light source;
- Dedicated testing modes for specific equipment (like Hasselblad lenses);
 
 
The new tester improves the features that the old testers had and also comes with a lot of new features.
 
What has improved:
- Accuracy! Accuracy has improved a lot! The code has been completely rewritten and the hardware redesigned from scratch but the biggest step towards improved accuracy was the introduction of the assistant feature that tells you if a test is correct or not. All the testing modes and types have been updated. Some users mentioned that for leaf shutters they got tests that seemed a little slow. The tester assistant, new light source and code plus the mounting options improve accuracy and make test results more consistent.
- Ease of use and setting up. It’s much easier to align the sensors with the light source and mount them into place. The cable sensors and light source can be inserted in special holders and the sensor box can be attached without using rubber bands, if needed.
- Selecting options and navigating through the menu. Depending on the standalone tester you bought you either had to select jumpers or use a single button and use different button presses to navigate through the menu. The new tester has 3 buttons. “UP/+”, “Down/-” and “OK” and everything is much smoother.
- User manual. Some customers told me that it would have been nice if the user manual had more details and photos with setups. The manual for the new tester will go through every single option and feature. It will have photos, drawings and photos with drawings and details to explain things as best as possible. Also, some customers had problems receiving the manual. This will also be taken care of as the PDF manual will be emailed before shipping the tester and will require an email reply from you to confirm that the manual was received.
- User friendliness has also improved. Bigger fonts on the display so you can see the results better when you are working on a camera and different colors so you can identify results on the display easier.  Each button, connector or slot is now marked so you know what it does. The battery slot now has its own  screw-less lid so you don’t have to open the entire box to change the battery.
- Curtain tests used to require an extra light source that was not provided. Finding an alternative light source was an additional hassle for the customers and sometimes the light source created errors and was not suitable for tests. This inconvenience has been addressed and now you can take curtain tests with the light source from the kit.
- Digitally controlled light source. On some testers the light source was adjusted by rotating a knob connected to a potentiometer. Due to the parts friction and movement of the hand, it was a little difficult to select very precise light levels. Now the light level is adjusted by the processor and the user can increase or decrease it in very small increments by pushing the “+” and “-” buttons.
- Build quality. With every new generation of testers that I offered I tried to fix the previous weak points and improve build quality. This tester is no exception. It has a less “do it yourself project” feel to it and looks more like a product.
- Other small improvements have been made. This email is getting really long so they will be explained in detail in the user manual.
 
What is new: 
- Color display. The tester now has a color display and larger fonts. It also provides more info and details about the tests.
- SD card slot. The SD card slot allows you to save the test results onto an SD or microSD card (with SD adapter) and copy them into a spreadsheet on your computer, for example. Results are saved on a txt file on the card so you don’t need special software to open the file.
- Test assistant. This is by far the number one reason why you should upgrade your tester. Not the color display or the SD card slot. While those are very nice features to have, the test assistant helps you get accurate results and tells you when something is wrong. It’s a very complex algorithm that took about 10 months of testing in my spare time to implement. The software that makes the tester work has now surpassed the 2000 lines of code mark.
- Leica tester kit that allows you to test Leica cameras that have a non removable back. Some customers wanted this feature and I managed to implement it. Shutter speed tests go up to 1/1000th of a second. As far as I know that is the fastest speed for those cameras. Curtain speeds can be tested up to 1/200 of a second. 
- Stereo camera kit that allows you to simultaneously test both shutters of a stereo camera. 
- Hasselblad lens dedicated mode. Hasselblad lens mounted on a camera will be tested with the leaf shutter option. Hasselblad lens without a Hasselblad body will be tested with the dedicated mode. The Hasselblad shutters don’t work like a normal shutter. When they are cocked and ready to fire they are wide open, not closed as other shutters. The second shutter mounted on the camera body blocks light from reaching the film when the shutter is cocked. In absence of a camera body the shutter testing is done differently, thus the need for a dedicated mode. 
- Half curtain speeds have been introduced with the major overhaul of the software and hardware. Now you can see the total travel time of a curtain and the travel time measured for each half of the curtain. This feature is useful if the curtain hangs somewhere in the frame.
- Other small features have also been implemented (like the time displayed in milliseconds, not just seconds and camera format). This email is getting really long so they will be explained in detail in the user manual.
 
The attached photo shows the shutter tester package on the top and 6 screen shots on the bottom (menu, shutter tests, curtain test and stereo shutter tests). For some reason the photos of the menu and tests were very difficult to take and don’t reflect the display quality. In reality all the colors, letters and numbers are bright and crisp, the background is solid black and individual pixels are not visible. The haze is caused by reflections from the light source used to take the photos.
 
Price, shipping, payment and returns.
The tester is $99.99. Priority shipping with a tracking number is free anywhere in the world. 
 
The testers will be shipped between the 1th and 5th of May. Why? Because the tester now has so many features that need to be individually tested before shipping and that takes time. Also the manual is not ready yet. As I mentioned it will be very detailed. That takes time to make. And last but not least I can’t take time off from my real job to ship these until May. I could send this email on the 1th of May and start shipping right away but I need to have an idea on the number of orders so I know how to make my schedule. 
 
Payment will be made through PayPal. You can pay now or if you don’t have the funds, you can pay in May when I will ship them. Give me your Paypal email address and I will send an invoice.
 
Just like I try to improve my tester I try to improve my customer support. Warranty is 24 months. Returns are 90 days, money back no questions asked.  This is something that I offered before. For this new offer the difference is that if you decide to return it, I will pay return shipping and also give you an extra $10 for your inconvenience and time spent to ship it back. You will have to provide a receipt and there is a maximum return shipping fee refund limit of $20. If return shipping is $22 I will pay $20 (that’s the limit) and you will pay what’s over $20. That’s $2 for this example. 
 
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask.
 
shutter_tester.jpg
 
 
 
The contact email for this is shuttertester@gmail.com
 
I have to stress that I haven't tested this, I'm not involved in selling it and can't give any promises about it - I just got told about it because I asked about test gear.