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Interviews with Repairers: Richard Biggs of Action Optics (1 Viewer)


Staff member
Who am I?

I am Richard Biggs of Action Optics. Born in South London at the end of WWII.
I worked for Wallace Heaton in Bond Street for 15 months from mid 1963 on the Service Counter and dealt with varied photo and optical equipment and just as varied customers.

I joined the fledgling Russian Equipment importers (Technical & Optical Equipment (London) Ltd) in 1964 so there were 4 of us handling everything from flash guns, still and cine cameras, projectors and microscopes, as well as telescopes and binoculars. TOE gained a strong reputation in the market by rigorously inspecting all product before releasing it onto the market. After 11 years I was General Service Manager in north London with 108 staff in my department dealing with Quality Control and After Sales Service.

The 90 minute (at least) each way daily commute from near Croydon and wanting to start a family got me looking for a move. As a result I joined Hanimex as General Service Manager just as they were moving out of London to Swindon. We had a brand new workshop kitted out to my specification with 52 staff and we handled consumer electronics, photographic and optical equipment and even x-ray film processors. In our busiest year my staff and I completed over 217,000 repairs and batch inspected all products before sale.

My repair business.

After 11 years, in the early 1980’s, I left to set up my own workshop which I still own and run. Staff numbers have varied from 2 to 8 and currently stands at two. During the early years, the customers using my workshop’s services included AICO, Tasco, Mirador, Marchwood, Eschenbach, Lisenfeld, Dowling & Rowe, Monk Optics, Jessops and London Camera Exchange.

Our biggest single job was for the RSPB who were donated over 11,500 part- exchanged binoculars by Dixons. Any that were suitable were refurbished and sent abroad to help conservation projects in over 150 countries. It took a few years to get through that lot! Where were they stored? That’s a long story.

Whilst with Hanimex I procured the last of the binocular collimators made by Bass & Blyth of Leeds. I kept one in Swindon and sent the rest to the other Service Departments in the Group. I was also offered the prototype collimator for just £10 which I still use every day. It lives on my bench and allows me to see the effect of adjustments as I make them – vertical, horizontal and twisted. I also managed to buy an Enbeeco Collimator (Newbold & Bulford of Saxmundum) for considerably more money. It has a greater magnification and takes longer to set up but it allows me to achieve perfect alignment in all three axes.

Whilst it is possible to achieve reasonable alignment by eye, the collimators show / prove show that one’s brain can make corrections which may or do cause eyestrain or headaches.

Repairing binoculars and telescopes.

Because of the huge volume at Hanimex, I introduced a fixed price estimate for the majority of repairs. It worked so well that I still quote this way over the phone, or via email for many repairs, with the proviso that if a repair is likely to exceed that amount, I will stop and advise the owner before running up a big bill. Anyone can ask for an individual estimate which is free. I have quite a large stock of standard spares which used to cover many models but lately the parts have become more specific and difficult to obtain. I have always preferred to be a repairer rather than a parts fitter so even modern models where spares are not available, can often be repaired.

Owners often try to diagnose the fault. I prefer them to describe the problem and let me check the whole instrument. For example, a dropped binocular may be out of alignment but could also possibly have a loose hinge and wobbly eyecups. Similarly, if a Zeiss Notarem is received with dislodged prisms in one side, both sides have to be stripped as it likely that all the screws inside will be slightly loose.

When most models had porro prisms, but also the early roof models, the common faults were, and still are:
1. Dislodged prisms causing misalignment.
2. Dislodged or broken objective glass cones.
3. Broken focus arms.
4. Broken focus shafts.
5. Internal dust / fungus.

Newer roof prism models still suffer from
1. Dislodged prism assemblies.
2. Broken twist up eyecups.
3. Broken inner connections from the focus wheel to the focus lenses.
4. Internal dust/water/fungus except the latest waterproof models.

With porro binoculars there has always been a problem with getting the eyepieces to move up and down smoothly and synchronised with each other. In older models the grease gets stiff and the centre lock screw can become slack. Both are quite easy to remedy.

The design of newer roof prism focus mechanisms is good, but too often the assembling process leaves room for improvement. The mechanism has to turn the rotational movement of the focus wheel into a vertical movement through a right angle to the focus lenses, which needs all the components to be smooth, well greased but not overly greased, and strong. Problems are usually fixable, but time consuming, as is focus drag caused by stiff or too much grease or loose parts.

‘O’ rings should be at the top of the hole through which the shafts slide up and down to keep out water. In the early ‘water proof’ B&L Elite models, the ‘O’- ring was fixed into the shaft half way down, so water sat in the top half and caused corrosion!

There are more moving parts in a roof prism model but that does not mean they are more difficult to repair, although they will take a bit longer. Perhaps as much as 20% longer.

I do quite a business making and supplying replacement eyecups for Zeiss Jena models especially Notarems, which as far as I am aware is a unique service.

There is a rule that I always drummed into my staff and which I still follow.
If an owner takes the trouble to send or bring their binocular to the workshop thinking there is a problem, then there is a problem. Maybe the unit has a fault, maybe the owner is not using it correctly, or maybe he/she thinks it should do something which it can’t. For example, owners do not always realise that ‘viewing conditions’ such as heat shimmer, or high altitude air movement, destroy image quality. We have to find the answer and not embarrass the owner.

A big problem has always been, and probably always will be, obtaining spares.
Importers are covering the guarantee period by replacing faulty items but not bringing in spares to help after that period or they reserve the spares for themselves “to protect the brand image from rogue repairers”.

Old, collectable models often present a challenge, and do take a lot longer to dismantle without causing damage. Thereafter, cleaning and rebuilding is fairly straight forward although alignment is often more difficult.

I sometimes encounter fakes and some of the most interesting ones were French. Branded Zeiss Jena, but with model names that did not match the power and objective lens size of the genuine article. They were also poorly made and obviously fake. Towards the end Zeiss Jena commissioned a Japanese factory to produce Jenoptem 8x30 and 10x50 when they could no longer produce in Germany at the price contracted to the UK distributor (Mail Oder catalogues). They are quite good but prone to fungus internally.

Nowadays if you order a sufficient quantity from a manufacturer, they will fit rubber armour to your design and engrave/print whatever name you want on the product.

Richard’s Website: http://www.actionoptics.co.uk/

Action Optics
18 Butts Ash Gardens, Hythe
SO45 3BL

Phone: 02380 842801
Mobile: 079 77 88 1482

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