DrT’s Stereo Realist Page

Update:  In June of 2006 I started an email discussion list with yahoogroups (the name of the list is StereoRealist@yahoogroups.com).  You can join the list by going here: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/StereoRealist/ or you can just send an email to StereoRealist-subscribe@yahoogroups.com (no subject line or body is needed for this email).  Join us to talk about our favorite stereo camera!

I discovered stereo photography in 1988. At the time I was a graduate student at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, and developed an interest in stereo imaging through my work with the Scanning Electron Microscope. I had seen pictures of the Realist and one sunny day in June of 1988 I bought one in a garage sale for $85. Since then I have taken thousands of stereo pictures with Realist cameras and have argued (some would say passionately) the merits of these cameras.

I like my Realists because they are built to last. I shoot a lot of film and reliability is the number one feature in a camera for me. My Realists have survived abusive handling (I once ran one over with my car and it survived... the car I mean!) and have gone through hundreds of rolls of film, still clicking and giving me sharp and properly-exposed stereo images.

Through the years I have learned how to repair the Realist (they are relatively simple to take apart and fix) and have ventured into buying and reselling Realist cameras. I have also tried to find parts and supplies to make the Realist work even better. I

Even though I supplement my stereo photography with SLR cameras, and recently got an RBT S1 camera, my Realists are at the top of my equipment arsenal for around-the-clock stereo photography full of color and realism.

The following information is based on excerpts from my Stereo Realist book

If you like what you see here, you are going to love the book!

  • Short Realist History
  • Realist Camera Features
  • Different Realist Models
  • Realist 3.5 vs. 2.8
  • How to Tell how old your Realist is
  • Overcoming the Sharpness Anxiety
  • How to Load film in Your Realist
  • Picture-Taking Routine
  • The Basic Principle of Realist Repair
  • Film Advance or Frame Overlap Problems
  • How to Modify the Realist for Electronic Flash
  • How to Adjust the Rangefinder
  • How to Fix Light Leaks
  • Realist 7p Modification
  • Life After the Realist

    Short Realist History

    In 1943, Seton Rochwite, a young engineer, went to the David White Company in Milwaukee for a job interview. Seton brought with him a stereo viewer that he had built, and color stereo slides that he took with his prototype stereo camera, just to show some of the things he was capable of. The general manager of the company, Theodore Salzer, found the stereo slides interesting but he was not sure if the company (a manufacturer of precision surveying instruments) would be interested in making something like that. Seton did not have this in mind when he showed the slides, but he got inspired with the idea and prepared a report on the possibilities of the stereo camera.

    It took David White 9 months to decide, and, despite a rather negative market survey and no experience in the manufacture of photographic equipment, the company decided to go ahead with the production of a complete stereo system: camera, viewer and mounting hardware and services. That's how the Stereo Realist was born. Seton Rochwite was hired in the fall of 1943 and started working on the design of the system. He designed the camera, viewer (red button) and even the Realist logo. By 1947 the Realist was ready and Seton, feeling that his job was done (and being tired of the weather in Milwaukee) quit his job and moved ahead to face new challenges.

    The Stereo Realist was introduced in May of 1947 and it was an instant success! Part of this success was due to the fact that the bugs were worked out during the several years of research and development. The other part was the realism and impact of the 35mm color slides viewed in a good stereo viewer. (It is this same impact that draws people to stereo today and keeps them asking why this wonderful visual experience has been kept a secret!) H. C. McKay reflects this enthusiasm in the second edition of his book written in 1953. There is a definite change in spirit between the two editions (1949 & 1953) and it is worth reading both.

    We have first hand reports from people waiting in lines to trade their expensive Leica cameras for a Stereo Realist. The price of the Stereo Realist was $160 and $20 for the viewer. Corrected for inflation today this amount is well over $1000, which sounds expensive by today's standards. However, it was in line with other fine cameras of the time, but still out of reach for the average hard-working American.

    For the first years, the Stereo Realist was "the only game in town" and had a hard time keeping up with the demand. Sales from the Stereo Realist jumped from just 9% of the total company sales in 1947, to 67% in 1952! Other companies rushed to take advantage of this explosion, resulting in a dozen or so new stereo cameras. The introduction of the Kodak Stereo in 1955, for half the price of the Realist, marked "the beginning of the end" for the Realist.

    By the end of the '50s, stereo was going down and stereo operations were closing one after the other. Despite declining sales, the Stereo Realist continued with old and new products through the '60s. Finally, in 1972 the David White Company (which, for a short period of time had changed its name to Realist Inc.) closed its stereo camera division. Luckily, Ron Zakowski bought the remaining parts and equipment. The David White company is still in business doing what it did before the Realist came along and Ron Zakowski retired in June of 1997, after 46 years of service.

    Realist Camera Features


    Different Realist Models

    How many different Stereo Realist models exist? The David White Realist camera was based on the same design and was produced for many years with little or no changes. There are two basic models, the 3.5 (1041) and the 2.8 Realist (1042). Other than the lenses, they are essentially identical, except for the top shutter speed, which is marked 150 for the 3.5 and 200 for the 2.8. But even this different shutter speed is achieved with the same shutter. A good technician can adjust a 3.5 Realist to 1/200 top speed. [Update:  After testing hundreds of Stereo Realists, I am convinced that there is no difference in the top speed between 3.5 and 2.8 models.  You could tighten the spring to increase the top speed in either model, but this will also increase the slower speeds proportionally.] So the camera bodies are essentially the same.



    Model ID

    Maximum Aperture

    Maximum Shutter Speed


    Realist 3.5





    David White


    Realist 2.8





    David White


    Realist Custom




    Rare Earth 2.8


    The main difference between Realist models is in the lenses. The 3.5 models use a 3-element design lens, while the 2.8 models use a 4-element design. In addition, a couple of different lenses are used in each group. Early 3.5 Realists carry Ilex Paragon lenses, made in Rochester NY. Early 2.8 Realists carry Kodak Ektar lenses. Later 3.5's and 2.8's carry David White lenses, while there are a few rare 3.5 lenses and quite a few 2.8's marked "Germany". It is not clear if the "Germany" variations are different from the "David White". There is some speculation that all 2.8 lenses were made in Germany. A special hybrid 2.8 camera is known as the Olden 2.8.

    The Custom 2.8 Realist stands in a class of its own. The story and description of this camera has been recorded in fine detail by Mark Willke (with the help of Ron Zakowski) in an article in Stereo World, May/June 1992 issue. From this article we learn that the Custom was introduced in 1959. Even though the basic design of the camera body was not changed, an attempt was made to put the best parts on it and also include some interesting refinements like focusing knob detents (clicks as it is turned), custom nameplate, brushed satin chrome metal finish, large film rewind knob, coarse-grain genuine kangaroo leather and countdown exposure counter. The Custom 2.8 lenses were manufactured by Steinheil in Germany and, according to Realist advertisement literature, they are made of "rare earth" glass with a resolving power of 300 lines per millimeter, far superior to what was used in regular 2.8 cameras.

    Finally, there are two more cameras with the name Realist: The Realist 45 which was made in Germany and it is very similar to the Iloca and the Macro Stereo Realist which, even though it shares a similar body with the basic Realist, it has a totally different field of application.

    Realist 3.5 vs. 2.8

    In the world of Realist camera users there is an on-going debate of whether the 2.8 lenses are better than the 3.5 lenses, or how better they are, or if the 2.8 lenses justify the higher prices asked for them. How do these lenses differ? The 3.5 is a 3-element "Cooke Triplet" lens while the 2.8 is a 4-element "Tessar" lens (see Figure, Triplet is at left and Tessar at right, [from Kingslake's book]). The Tessar lens looks similar to the triplet, only the back lens is a cemented achromat, instead of a single lens so the design has 4 elements instead of 3. In principle, the more elements in a lens, the better the aberration correction and optical performance so the 2.8 lens should be sharper than a 3.5 lens. The difference between the two might be more noticeable in wide apertures. It is expected that the 2.8 lens is sharper around the edges at wide open apertures.

    This is the theory. In practice, it is rare that a lens is used at wide aperture (especially in stereo, wide apertures are avoided because of the shallow depth of field). So at mid- to small apertures it might be very difficult to see the differences in sharpness. It might even be possible that the 3.5 lens shows better contrast because there are fewer internal surfaces and internal reflections that reduce contrast. But there are two areas where the 2.8 lenses have an advantage. These are:

    Finally, it should be mentioned that here are more factors than the lenses. There is the film, the light, the subject, the photographer. Rudolf Kingslake [see here for a review] identifies the following factors that can result in poor image definition: Picture-taking process (how the camera is held, shutter released, etc.), camera, printing (projection, enlargement, viewing), film and film developing. Imagine, the lens is just one part of the camera. There are other issues in a camera, like how well the lens is aligned to the film plane, how flat the film is held in place, etc.

    How to Tell how old your Realist is

    The Realist camera body remained basically unchanged over 25 years of camera production. There were only a few minor changes. These changes can give a rough idea of when was the camera produced. The person who knows the full story behind the evolution of the Realist cameras with exact dates and production records is Ron Zakowski. Ron can tell the exact date of assembly of a specific camera based on the camera's SN and the production records he has in his possession. What follows here is my own attempt to sketch some of this information, compiled from a few published sources, notes I've kept from inspecting about 100 Realists and an informal poll that I took recently in the Internet photo-3d discussion group. Based on this information I classify Realist 3.5 cameras in 5 groups and Realist 2.8s in 3 groups as follows:

    3.5 Groups

    Distinguishing Features

    SN Range & Production Dates

    Very Early

    Ilex lenses, old advance, no DEP About 10,000 ~ 1947 to 1949


    DW 3.5 lenses, old advance, no DEP 10,000-45,000, ~ 1950 to 1951


    New advance, no DEP 45,000-80,000, ~ 1952 to 1953


    New advance, DEP, many have SN stamped on side (add 100K to this) 80,000-120,000 (SN 0019000 on side), ~1954-1956


    New advance, DEP, SN is at bottom without "A" (add 100K to this)
    Some marked "Germany"
    About 5,000 made (SN 020000 to 025000) ~ 1956 to 1971

    2.8 Groups

    Distinguishing Features

    SN Range & Production Dates


    Ektar 2.8 lenses, old advance in many, no DEP in most

    SNs from 20 to 60,000,
    ~1951 to 1954


    DW (some marked "Germany") 2.8 lenses, new advance, DEP

    SN 90,000 or higher, many stamped on side, ~ 1954 to 1956


    New advance, DEP and some with large knobs.  Also 2,500 Customs

    SN is at bottom without "A",
    ~ 1956 to 1971

    New: A note about the Realist Serial numbers:

    1 - The first 100,000 cameras were marked (stamped) at the bottom, starting with an A.  For example "A66875" is serial number 66,875

    2. - Around 100,000 they switched to the side with the number now punched (these are difficult to read many times).  They dropped the "1" and added leading zeros.  For example, "0007432" is 107,432.  According to Ron Zakowski (from private conversation) this change was made because the rate of production was so high that they did not have time to produce the body with the stamped serial number, so they started punching the numbers on the side.  This change must have happened around the 100,000 mark.

    3 - Toward the end of production, they switched again at the bottom of the camera (stamped),  without the A in the front but with a leading zero.  For example, 024329 is actually 124,329.  I just worked on this camera.  It is very late model. Inside the lens cover it is  marked 10/29/70.  I also worked on a model in the 022K range and it was marked 1967 inside.  This gives you an idea how how slow camera production was towards the end.

    Did David White reserve a block of serial numbers for 2.8s, Customs or Macro cameras?  I don't think so.  I believe that cameras were given a serial number as they were produced, no matter if the camera was a 3.5, 2.8, Macro, or Custom.  Most 2.8 cameras were made after 100,000 so they carry the SN on the side (#2).  One exception are the Ektar Realists which are early models and are marked on the bottom (#1).  The Customs (and Macro Realists) were all late models so they follow #3.

    They estimate that 125,000 Realists total were made.  This is the highest SN I have seen on a Realist (025K).  Now, what is the earliest serial number ever seen around?

    New: Earliest Realist in Existence?

    What is the earlier Stereo Realist in existence?  Around 2002 I saw what looked like an early Realist in ebay.  I asked the seller to tell me the serial number.  He said that there was no number at the bottom but he found the number A0029 inside the camera.  My lights went on!  I knew some people had cameras in the 100+ range but I had never heard of a Realist with a serial number under 100, and with this number inside the camera and not at the bottom.  I won the auction (for around $150 I believe).

    I kept the camera for a year or so, and then I sold it back in ebay for $500.  The new owner is Erick P. (now deceased)  I have put more information here www.3dRealist.com/EarliestRealist.htm :  Here are some interesting features:  It has of course Ilex lenses.  It is interesting that the shutter dial looks similar to an advertisement for the Stereo Realist from 1945 (2 years before the camera was introduced).

    If you know of an earlier Realist, I would like to hear from you!

    Overcoming the Sharpness Anxiety

    Sooner or later many Realist users develop this clinical condition known as "Sharpness Anxiety". They are overtaken by the desire to get the sharpest possible stereo camera. They spend many hours and lots of money trying different (non-Realist) stereo cameras or more exotic species of Realist cameras (Ektars, Customs, etc.), they correspond with other photographers, collect (contradictory) opinions, spread rumors, feeding the sharpness frenzy in the process.

    I have been through this. A number of Realist cameras and a much lower bank account later, I have concluded that most cameras (Realist and non-Realist) will deliver good results. The differences between cameras are too small to be important (the film used is a more important factor, in my opinion). So, rumors that one type of Realist lens is much better than another, can be safely ignored. The best deal in a stereo camera today is the $100 Realist 3.5.

    Of course, I have also tried non-Realist cameras: I have owned and used two Belplascas and an ISO Duplex. Also, a TDC Colorist II and a Kodak. The TDC was fine. I had problems with a couple of Kodaks. Neither of the two impressed me as being in any way better than a Realist. Some people recommend a Revere or a TDC Vivid. I have seen pictures from all different cameras through my participation in SSA (Stereoscopic Society of America) slide folios. Obviously, I have not seen anything to convince me to give up my Realists in favor of a different classic stereo camera, but I have to admit that in November of 1998 I got an RBT S1 and have been impressed by the performance of the 7-element Konica Hexar lens which, in my opinion, outperforms modern SLR lenses. Going from no stereo, to stereo with a $100 realist is a huge leap. Going from a $100 Realist to a $3000 RBT camera is just a small improvement.

    One last thing to keep in mind: They say that in the camera factories in the '50s some cameras were made on Mondays and some cameras were made on Fridays. Quality control was not as good as it is today. There is a variation in quality from camera to camera. Yes, that might be correct. But most cameras (properly adjusted) will deliver good results. There are a few "lemons" here and there but not as many as some people think. The bottom line for me is this: Better technique is much better than a better camera. My advice: Concentrate on how to get better pictures, not how to get a better camera.

    How to Load film in Your Realist

    Loading film in 9 steps: a) IMPORTANT: Switch to "R", b) unlock and c) open back, d) Lift rewind knob and insert film canister, e) VERY IMPORTANT: pass film under sprocket guard (arrow) f) all the way to pickup spool (make sure it is firmly engaged), g) close back, h) IMPORTANT: switch to "A", and advance until it clicks, i) advance two more times by momentarily pressing "film wind release" button and turning knob until it clicks (by advancing two frames you clear the exposed film.) When done, set exposure counter to "1" as shown in the last picture.

    Unloading: When you cannot advance any more (29 pairs in 36 exposure roll or 19 pairs in 24 exposure roll) then a) set the rewind disc to "R" and turn film rewind knob in direction of arrow (not pictured above) to collect exposed film back into the canister. Note advance knob also turns until the film clears the sprocket wheel. (You can save the leader of the film if you stop rewinding at this point) Then , b) unlock and c) open back, d) remove film.

    Picture-Taking Routine

    Picture-taking routine in 9 steps: a) Carefully open the lens cover, b) adjust aperture, c) adjust shutter speed, d) focus, e) hold the camera firmly and level without blocking rangefinder windows, f) cock the shutter, compose and g) press the shutter release button. Then: h) momentarily push the "film wind release" button, start advancing and release button and i) continue advancing film (in direction of arrow) until it clicks.

    The Basic Principle of Realist Repair

    The Realist has been called "a Repairman's Dream" and for a very good reason. Anyone could open up a Realist to do maintenance and basic trouble-shooting and repair work. There are no springs flying when you open the camera. No special tools are needed (for the most part). And once you take it apart, you can safely put it back together. The basic Principle of Realist Repair is this: "To repair a Realist all you need is a Realist that works well. Open both cameras in the area of the problem. Inspect the one that works well. Figure out why the other one does not work well. Fix the problem".

    How to fix the problem? Most of the time no parts are needed. Just a simple bending of a piece of metal or something of this nature. I am living proof that this principle works. I have managed to solve most of the problems my Realists developed, except for the most complicated. This does not mean that a repairman is not sometimes needed. Some people are simply unable to handle small tools or work with small parts. Some Realist cameras are just too valuable for inexperienced people to fiddle with. Some problems are just too complicated to deal with. Finally, parts might be needed.

    The following Table lists common Realist repair problems with brief comments. More information is found in my book.



    Lens cover is loose. Inspect for missing springs or broken tabs.  If OK, remove and reshape springs and reinstall.
    Rangefinder is off.

    view-finder or rangefinder or both.

    Either the windows/lenses are dirty or the mirrors weak.  It is easy to clean the windows but weak mirrors need to be replaced (not an easy job).
    Soft (fuzzy) image(s). Make sure that this is a camera problem and not a technique  problem.  Clean lenses.  Check focusing.
    Orange streak in one film chip. Sign of a light leak.  Fix the leak.
    Apertures are stiff. Lubricate lens barrel.
    Consistently over or under exposures. Check shutter speeds (timing might need cleaning or adjustment).
    Uneven exposures. Either apertures are not of equal size or shutter does  not fully open on one side.
    Slow speeds do not work. Need to clean slow speed timer.
    There is resistance going through the 1/25 speed. That’s normal, but see section 8.3.
    Film advances with great difficulty or not at all. Lubricate film advance.
    Partial frame overlap. A little bit of frame overlap is common but considerable overlap (one sprocket) is a sign of trouble.
    Frequent double exposures. Must be “operator error”.  Make sure you follow the appropriate shooting routine.
    One picture is always higher than the other. One lens is sitting higher than the other.  Ron Zakowski can align them.
    Flash does not (always) fire. Make sure that it makes the appropriate contact with the Realist hot shoe.  Clean contact inside camera.
    Red flag does not come up after exposure. Open top plate and inspect red flag mechanism.
    Counter does not advance properly. Open top plate and inspect counter.
    Double exposure feature does not work. Open top plate and inspect double exposure mechanism.

    New: Film Advance or Frame Overlap Problems

    A common complain/problem with the Stereo Realist is difficulty in advancing the film, or partial frame overlap.  Here are a few key points:

    1. A small amount of frame overlap (1mm or less) is normal and it is due to the various tolerances and it is masked by the mount (for slides).

    2. If you are getting an overlap of the order of one film sprocket, then the film is jumping out of the advance wheel.  See point #4 below.  If you are getting even more overlap than this and random, then you have not loaded the film properly and it is not engaged to the sprocket wheel.  Make sure you understand the proper film-loading procedure, especially picture (e) in the section on "How to Load Film" above.

    3.  If you feel excessive resistance as you advance the film, make sure that the film advance knob, gears and the rewind knob and shaft are clean.  I take the knobs out, clean old/dry lubricants with WD40, wash the knobs with water, soap, and an old toothbrush, and then apply a small amount of Vaseline only to the advance gears, nowhere else.   

    4.  In older Realist models (the ones where there is no clicking sound when you advance), some resistance on the advance side is normal since the advance mechanism works with friction.

    5. If these areas are clean and you are still getting overlap in the order of one sprocket hole, then the film is jumping out of the advance wheel.  Make sure the gap between the wheel and guard is small (see picture (e) under "How to Load the Film").  If the gap looks too wide, then I use the tip of a screwdriver to gently push the guard closer to the film plane, to reduce the gap.  If the guard is loose, you will need to tighten it up. To do this, you must take the top off and there are quite a few pieces that need to be removed.

    Bottom Line:  If the film advance/rewind knobs/gears and the sprocket wheel at the center all turn without difficulty, then you should not have any problems.  In the event that you find it hard to advance the film, especially towards the end of the film, here is a trick that makes things better:  Turn the rewind knob in the opposite direction to release the tension on the film as you advance.  This will make advancing easier.

    How to Modify the Realist for Electronic Flash

    (a) Original flash contact. (b) Start by removing the 3 screws at the top. Put the screws aside. Remove the shoe plate. (c) File down the contact. (d) With a pair of pliers, bend the "lips" of the shoe plate. (e) Install a "stopper" (piece of toothpick used here) to stop the flash from missing the contact. (f) As an alternative to filing the protrusion down, consider replacing it with a flat head 2-56 screw or bolt. Shown here is the original protrusion with the plastic insulators and various nuts (in correct order). The flash wire is attached to the bottom two nuts via a lug.

    Note: A lot of people hesitate (understandably) to modify their cameras.  Another approach is to modify the film or buy an adapter to use your existing electronic flash unit with the Realist.  I now sell a modified flash unit, as well as the adapter.  You can see these items in my stereo shop: www.drt3d.com.

    How to Adjust the Rangefinder

    To check rangefinder alignment, look through it at a far away object and turn the focusing dial to infinity. If the object is not aligned at infinity then the rangefinder needs to be adjusted. There are two ways to adjust the rangefinder: 1) "Quick and dirty shortcut", through the access hole, 2) "Long and thorough route" through the bottom.

    For the long route you need to first take the bottom plate off. This is held by 5 screws covered by the leather. Start by peeling off the leather from the ends. Use the tip of a small screwdriver to get started. If everything is OK, the leather should come out relatively easily. You don't need to pull the entire leather, just the areas under the screws. Four of them are at the ends while the 5th is close to the camera's serial number or the rangefinder window. Sometimes you can see bumps (raised areas in the leather) where the screws are located. Peeling the leather reveals a bluish/green deposit over each screw. This is the product of oxidation of the brass screws and can be cleaned at this point.

    Occasionally, it is very difficult to peel the leather without damaging it. This happens when the leather has been improperly glued in some past repair, probably using paper glue. DO NOT USE PAPER GLUE to put the leather back! Use contact cement instead.

    With the leather partially removed, carefully unscrew the 5 screws. Be extra careful because these screws are very soft and can be easily damaged! With the screws removed, pull the bottom plate off. The rangefinder mechanism is shown in the figure below. It consists of 4 front surface mirrors, one of which is held by a spring-loaded lever so that it can be adjusted via a screw. To access the screw you can go through the access hole (this is located inside the camera in the bottom right side of the film chamber). To adjust this screw, look through the rangefinder window while applying light pressure on the film plane. Proceed with trial and error. Use a screwdriver and trial and error (turn screw in one direction and check if this is the direction that makes things better or worse and proceed accordingly).

    When the rangefinder is aligned, it is important to put a drop of glue on the screw to keep it from moving in the future. Use mild glue for this purpose (a drop of shellac was used in the '50s) and apply it with a toothpick or with the tip of the screwdriver. When done, put the cover back, the 5 screws in place and use contact cement to glue the leather back. Don't forget to "close" the access door. You are done! The "quick and dirty shortcut" is going through the access hole without opening the bottom. One drawback of this is that you cannot (easily) apply glue when done with the adjustment.

    New Note:  What do you do when the rangefinder and the focusing wheel do not agree with each other?  In general, I recommend trusting the focusing wheel.  Chances are the the focusing wheel is accurate, while the rangefinder is off.  But I have seen situations where the opposite is actually true.  So before you adjust the RF, you should check the focusing.  I use a high power magnifier and a ground glass to check the focusing.  If the focusing is off, I adjust the focusing (not easy).  Then I adjust the RF (always adjust focus first and RF last).

    How to Fix Light Leaks

    The Realist light leak is such a common occurrence that some people have called it a "feature" instead of a defect! In a 1997 worldwide survey via photo-3d, 68 people reported data for a total of 139 Realist cameras. An astonishing 67 of them (48%) had a light leak.

    The leak manifests itself as an orange streak running vertically (concentrated at the bottom of the image) usually in the right film chip. The frequency and intensity of the problem varies widely, depending on the location and size of the opening that causes the leak and the amount of exposure to sunlight.

    The most common location of the leak is the edge where the back meets the body on the side by the focusing knob. While the top and bottom edges of the camera back are protected by a double light baffle, the sides have only one and this invites light leaks. This is a design flaw that went unnoticed in the '50s with Kodachrome's very slow speed. With today's faster films, more and more users are frustrated by this leak.

    As a result of the 1997 Internet discussions and based on an idea by Greg Wageman I came up with a system to check for light leaks, based on the light leaking out of the camera (see Figure). A small 2.5V light bulb is attached to a pair of AAA batteries via a switch. The batteries are placed inside the film canister cavity, the switch into one of the two film apertures and the light bulb by the pickup spool. A piece of white reflector is placed around the pickup spool to increase reflections and make the light more visible (the interior of the camera is black, so without this reflector the bulb filament would be the only source of light, making it difficult to see the leak). The room lights are then turned off for 5 minutes for the eyes to get adjusted to the dark. Then, with the room lights still off, the switch is turned on and the camera back is quickly closed. The dark-adapted eyes are very sensitive so any light coming out of the camera can be easily detected as a faint glow. This method will not only find the exact location of the leak but will also monitor the progress in eliminating it.

    To eliminate the light leak the following methods have been used:


    One of the last two methods, or a combination of them, will eliminate the light leak forever! But keep in mind that while perhaps 95% of the leaks originate from this location (right hand side) there are a few rare cases where the leak comes from other places. For example, if you omit any screws when you put the camera back together, then you will probably get a leak from the open hole. Also, a camera that does not have a leak might develop one in the future as the back gets loose with use or if the camera is dropped or deformed in some other way.

    New Note I used to check every camera for light leak and if I found one, then bend the catch and put a light gasket.  These days I do these steps in every camera I repair, without checking for light leaks (I assume the worse, and it does not hurt to do these two things.)  One thing is for sure (I've read this somewhere and I believe it is true):  With the camera back in place and locked, push the back and look at the edge of the camera (by the focusing knob).  If you see any movement of the back, then rest assured that the camera will have a light leak.

    New Note for Custom CamerasAn interesting light leak has been observed in Custom Realist cameras and also Realist cameras with oversize knobs.  My theory is that this leak is caused by the large ("oversize") knobs, especially the one on the left (rewind) and the corresponding huge opening of the top plate in this side.  Light goes through this opening, and to the other side, and from there it enters the camera body and fogs the film in a strange way and different than the usual Realist fogging.  To eliminate this you can try to plug this opening or the area where light leaks from the top on the right side to get inside the camera.

    Realist 7p Modification

    This is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting Realist developments in the past 30 years! (Possibly since the introduction of the Macro Realist).

    While the 5p format is good for most purposes, and has stood the test of time for over 50 years now, there are still those who are not satisfied with the "narrow" Realist format, especially in light of the universally established 36 mm width of full frame 35mm film images. With the relative scarcity of 7p stereo cameras (Belplasca, Busch Verascope, original Iloca) and questionable reliability of the current FED (that's what I hear, I don't have any personal experience) and the very high prices of custom-joined cameras (RBT), there is an interest in modifying a stereo camera for 7p. The Realist is the best candidate for a number of reasons: Availability, low cost, relatively simple construction.

    There are two documented Realist 5p to 7p conversions. One was done by View-Master in the early '70s when it was getting difficult to obtain 7p stereo cameras (the 7p format suits the View-Master size better than the 5p format and many scenic pictures were taken with Busch Verascopes). In 1973 the Engineering Department at View-Master was given the task of converting a standard f2.8 Realist to 7p. After spending more than 230 hours on this project, a prototype was developed. After that, a few cameras were produced and used for View-Master photography. But because of the expense of the project, View-Master realized that this cannot be done on a routine basis and, instead, switched to twin 35mm cameras (still used today).

    Twenty three years later (1996), John Slivon worked out a 7p Realist modification which he is now offering to the public. I was the first person to have my Realist modified to 7p by John. I received my 7p Realist 2.8 in January of 1997 and, a few hundred rolls later, the camera is still working flawlessly and to my complete satisfaction. John gives information on his modification in his web site: www.jrsdesign.net

    About the optical performance, I can testify that the pictures from my 7p Realist are every bit as good as the 5p images before it was modified. "More of a good thing" for me. For the market price of a Belplasca (about $1000) one can buy a Realist 2.8 and have it modified for 7p, I'd say that the 7p Realist is a better deal, especially if you take into account issues like reliability, availability of service, and accessories.

    New Note:  At least two more people now convert the Realist to 7p.  One is Jess Powell.  Jess does this conversion for less money than John Slivon but his modification is more crude.  He does not modify the advance.  The user must remember to advance in the sequence 1-3-1-3, etc.  To help him remember this, the counter is colored black and red (advance 1 in black, skip the red).

    "Boy and Pumpkin": One of my Realist 7p slides - has won awards in the Detroit Stereo Club.

    Life After the Realist

    Ha, ha, ha!!! Is there REALy such thing?

    The way I see things, the Realist can cover 95% of your stereo photography. The remaining 5% can be covered by single or twin SLR cameras. This includes hyperstereos, stereo macros on a slide bar and other neat things. See the information on slide bars and single/twin camera stereos elsewhere in my site.


    Updated: May 2010