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Abrahamsson Rapidwinder - notes

Introduction

As mentioned in another FAQ topic, Tom Abrahamsson's Rapidwinder is a trigger operated device which replaces the base plate of your M2, M4-2, M4-P, M6 and M7 and allows you to advance the film via a lateral pull on a trigger sticking out of the base, rather than the usual angular twist of the film advance lever on the top of the camera.

You can view photos of them as well as read testimonials on Tom's www site at <rapidwinder.com>, while Stephen Gandy also has a short blurb at <cameraquest.com/rapidw.htm>.

I have been using a Rapidwinder since October 2001 and despite there being a lot already written about it, in the spirit of the Compact M notes elsewhere, here is my particular take:

vs. 1950s Leicavit

As noted by others, the rapidwinder is Tom A's improvement over the original 1950s Leicavit MP. According to Tom, the main differences between the old Leicavit and new Rapidwinder are that the current RW:

To read Tom's exact remarks, see the following URLs: <LUG - v13/msg04352.html> and <LUG - v13/msg04312.html>

vs. 2003 Leicavit

To read Tom's exact remarks, see the following URL: <LUG - v24/msg04480.html>

How does it work?

You replace the standard base-plate of your M4-2, M4-P, M6 or M7 with the RW. Whenever you want to use it, you fold out the 45mm long stainless steel trigger in its base until it locks into position. Then, while looking through the viewfinder, you yank the trigger towards the left to advance the film and simultaneously cock the shutter. A spring in the RW will then return the trigger to the starting position, ready for the next shot. You can also advance the film by doing a number of short strokes rather than one long pull. Note, either way the trigger always disengages on the back stroke, so to advance the film you always have to pull it in the same direction - to the left.

Outer casing material

There is a bit of confusion about what material the outer casing of the RapidWinder is made of. Jonathan Eastland in his book, "Leica M Compendium" (ISBN 1-897802-05-6), at p.104 notes the shell is machined from solid blocks of titanium/aluminium alloy on a CNC machine. Others believe it is made out of the same kind of brass as that used for the standard M baseplate. It turns out that neither of these is strictly true, as Tom clarified in an email to me in Oct 2001 (from his HEPA-filtered isolation room at Vancouver General Hospital!):

The material in the shell (case) of the Rapidwinder is an aerospace alloy. It has an incredible tensile strength and is quite flexible. Not easy to machine though. I did make an early version of Rapidwinder with brass housing, but as it was in two parts it had to be soldered together with all the problems of warping. I have made a couple of "modern" Rapidwinder housings in brass. Nice looking, but they weigh 400 grams rather than 125 grams. Give you a nice extended neck if you put the 75/1.4 on the M6 too. The titanium is plated on via an electrode-less nickel plating process. Same alloy as the black and chrome Rapidwinder. Cost of machining in titanium would increase the price by a factor of ten!

So, what is this "aerospace alloy"? It is usually a 7000 series Aluminium where the Al is alloyed with Zinc and a small amount of Magnesium. To read more about these alloys, see the following URLs: <azom.com/details.asp?ArticleID=320> and <x-lite.com/materials.html#alloys>.

As this is the same kind of stuff used for fighter planes and satellites, it is much stronger and resilient to bumps and knocks and hammer blows than the standard zinc or brass casings used on the M. As a consequence, you will find the RW to be much stronger and robust and more likely to survive a long drop onto concrete than the Compact M Motor.

RW II - the new casing design

In May 2002 John Abela reported the following:

I emailed Tom to find out when he will have more RWs in stock and guess what? There is a new Matte black Rapidwinder II which fits the M4-2, M4-P, M6 & M7 to be delivered by June/July 2002. The price has been increased slightly to $US 450 from $US 425 as the top interior plates are now also CNC-machined rather than hand-soldered by Tom. The new RW design apparently not only looks better but speeds up assembly and delivery times considerably. […]

In May 2002, Tom A had the following to say about the price change:

The current price-increase is the first one since 1990 and was necessitated by the additional cost of CNC'ing the inside top-plate and the anodizing of it. I am always working on improving the design and the next step is to make the drive mechanism on the M6/M7 Rapidwinder in CNC'd stainless steel. This would enable me to run off 100's of these drives at a time and not have to turn them by myself. Ultimately I want the Rapidwinder to be all CNC'd and my job would be to assemble and check them. It is still a largely manual process to make and put them together and I would rather be using them than building them.

In Jan 2003, Tom A added the following info about this new design:

The Rapidwinder "II" is the same as a M6 Rapidwinder for the user. The difference is that I now have the inside cover-plate machined from the same alloy as the outside housing.
 
The older style Rapidwinder has an inside plate made from brass and required that I solder on the 'ridge' and also paint it black. However brass does not like being painted! Whatever paint you use will ultimately chip or flake with use (think of old M2's and M3's in black paint).
 
OTOH the alloy inside plate [of the newer design] allows me to have it anodized in a matte black finish as well as 'anchoring' it to the base with stainless steel screws. In its latest incarnation, the stainless steel 'stop' for the locking disc has been omitted and is now an integrated machined 'boss' that stops the disc in its correct position.
 
The beauty of CNC machining is that the machining center will produce 100's of identical pieces to a tolerance level that would be difficult to achieve by 'human touch'. Unfortunately running costs on CNC machines are high so the saving in assembly time is more or less absorbed by the higher cost of machining and material. Brass is cheap and high end aero-space alloy is expensive! The reason for the change in designation is so that I will know which type of winder it is, if I would have to supply a part for it.
 
It is still very much a user friendly product when it comes to servicing or fixing it. There is still a fair bit of labor involved in making a Rapidwinder and so far, no machine exists that can tell me what it feels like on a camera. Every winder is tested with film before it is shipped. […]

sans Plastic Rose

The Rapidwinder, as supplied by Tom, comes without the plastic rose used to push the film into the take-up spool. You have to remove the rose from you own base-plate and transplant it to your RW. Tom has written about the reasons for doing this (cost! Leica want $US 18 each), so refer to a long post he wrote on this topic a few years ago at the following URL: <LUG - v03/msg05665.html>.

I found in my case, after installing the plastic rose, that it wobbled a bit too much. So I thinned down a 3mm nylon washer and placed it between the rose and the brass rod it screws onto. No more wobbling and a nice snug fit.

M2 and M3 usage

What about the M2 and M3? Good news / bad news I'm afraid. Although Tom occassionally makes RWs for the M2 (eg. 100 units in Nov 2005), he is moving production to a RW for LTM Leicas (tentatively called the "BarnackWinder").

In May 2002, Tom A had the following to say about this:

The M2 Rapidwinder has now reached its end-run and I am putting the last batch of 40 together for patient customers (as well as a handful for myself and my eclectic collection of M1/M2 and Md's).
 
The BarnackWinder (too bad I cannot use that name on them - it is engraved Rapid Winder c-f-g on the bottom. A bit prosaic, but not too controversial) uses some of the parts from the M2 winder ( shafts and clutch) but in production form it will have a slightly different lever and also an alloy drawbar. The current return spring is the same as the M2 but I am trying out an ever softer spring for it as an alternative. Most LTM Leicas are used in a less streneous manner than the M's, so the "snappy" return is less important. It will require that the camera that it is mounted on is a well serviced and lubed one, as a lot of the stiffness in winderaction has nothing to do with winder, but is generated in the camera. Interesting effect on the LTM's is that you can actually cock the shutter by only advancing the film halfway, so I am going to have to reinforce on the user the necessity for advancing the film the full stroke ( either by multiples or a single stroke) or they will end up with overlapping exposures. I tried out the prototype on 6 different bodies this afternoon and it works well on all and now I have loaded a IIIf RD with Tri-X and will shoot the first rolls with it. Now, if we only could come up with a quick load for that damned camera!

For more of Tom's adventures with the "BarnackWinder" prototypes, see his detailed remarks at: <LUG - v22/msg11895.html>.

As for the M3, you cannot just buy a RW and bolt it onto the bottom without extensively modifying the camera body first. Tom has written about this in detail in the past, so see his remarks at this URL: <LUG - v10/msg05886.html>

Availability

You may have read that Tom was very ill and suspended manufacture of Rapidwinders for six months. Whilst this is broadly true (he actually made a few RWs during his illness - I know because I bought one!), with the success of a bone marrow transplant in Nov 2001, you can since Jan 2002 buy Rapidwinders as usual. N.B. the quickest way to buy them is still via his <rapidwinder.com> website.

Stealth

Rapidwinder fans overplay this and claim the winding action is "silent". Well it isn't - not by a long mark. Indeed it is significantly louder than just using the standard advance lever, mainly because of the movement of the reinforced drive-belt inside the RW housing.

However, the quick "zep" sound accompanied by the lateral pulling action is so unique that few will suspect you're readying the camera for the next shot. This makes the RW excellent for candid shooting. Try it!

Silky smooth

This is also a puzzle for new Rapidwinder owners, who keep reading about how smooth and easy the winding action is and yet their RW is anything but. Well don't worry, the roughness and lumpiness in all new RWs will go away after the RW wears in, usually after 50 rolls.

Camera body fit

After you have attached the RW to your camera, are you unhappy with the tightness of the fit? Tom has specifically designed the unit so you can adjust this, as is detailed here by Dr Joseph Yao

Take a look at the locking disc on the top plate of the winder, on the side of it there is a screw. Remove this screw and gently remove the locking disc. You will see a copper shim resting on the top plate. Simply remove this shim and reassemble the locking disc and screw. Please do not over-tighten the screw. You will notice the winder now fits a bit tighter than before. Any more questions, please e-mail me privately. I have adjusted more than 35 winders over the past six months so I hope I could be of some help here.

Lubrication

Tom recommends you put a drop of oil on the inside rail upon which the trigger mechanism travels to help cut down on friction and wear & tear. You need do this only every few hundred rolls of film and a drop means just that - one drop! Sewing machine oil works well enough but for the higher tech inclined, WD-40 first sprayed onto a Q-tip and then applied to the rail will make it run nice and smooth with little residue to collect dirt & fluff & cattle faeces. Please keep in mind that WD-40 is also a powerful solvent and degreaser, so go easy with it! Don't spray it into the RW, but only onto a Q-Tip which you then gently apply to the rail.

As fast as a motordrive?

You may have read that "after a bit of practice", you can use the Rapidwinder as a motordrive for short rapid sequences. Er, no - wishful thinking.

The problem is that every time you pull on the RW's trigger you also inadvertently yank the camera. So if you want to shoot a quick sequence of shots, although you'll get the shutter and film moving fast enough, your framing will be all over the place. Use the right tools for the job - if you need to shoot rapid consecutive sequences then get a proper motordrive.

Improvements

I like the Rapidwinder a lot and use it all the time, but here are a few things which I think would make it even better:

  1. it should come with its own plastic rose - if the Leica item is too expensive, then why not a PE or Teflon copy?
  2. at 130g it is 50g overweight. The casing is light enough, but I can't help thinking the interior brass workings could be replaced with something lighter
  3. a shorter trigger with a blunter tip would help make it less lethal
  4. it should be easier to open up the folded away trigger - currently you have to dig around and winkle it out with one of your fingernails
  5. it might be an idea to use some kind of wheel or bearing or teflon runners on the brass rail on which the trigger travels to save on scraping and the need for lubrication

After reading my remarks, in May 2002, Tom A had the following to say about my suggestions:

  1. For making the "Filmroller" (German designation of the plastic thingie), it is prohibitively expensive to make up the injection moulding dies for it. Cheapest quote I got was $ 18 000 for the die alone! I have been playing around with a machined version of it, but it is not a simple design to turn out and I am always trying to keep the costs down as any extra cost would increase the price of winder
  2. Interesting take on the weight in your write-up. I did switch from an alloy drawbar to brass a couple of years ago as I kept having trouble with the alloy not holding screws properly. This did increase the weight somewhat, but as the brass is easy to polish and holds the polish better than the alloy, I have stayed with it. However, I am investigating using some new alloys (2000 series) for the drawbar in the future as these seem to allow me the polishing that is required as well as giving me the 'grip" for screws that I need. It will only be a weight saving of about 14-18 grams, but it is a possibility
  3. The lever is a different story, as it needs to be made from stainless ( at least on the M Rapidwinders, due to the inherent higher torque required for these cameras). I tried a shorter version but was never satisfied with the feel of it
  4. There is a balance between how flush you can make the lever and the ease of folding it down. It is possible to expand the cut-out around the lever tip and allow more "nail-access", but it also makes the metal very thin above the cut-out

Online discussion & opinions

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