Soho Model B

My instinct is to call this a folding camera but it does not actually fold; rather, it collapses. This is an Art Deco camera dating from the 1930s. In fact, I think it could be called Streamline Moderne as it has plenty of curves and no angles. From my Interweb searches, it would seem that this camera dates from 1935.

This camera is almost entirely made from Bakelite which is a very early plastic invented in 1907 and used for all sorts of things in the first half of the 20th century. After WWII, other plastics displaced Bakelite although it would appear that it is still being made. The Bakelite here is coloured dark red with a tortoiseshell pattern – the red is so dark as to look brown to me and the tortoiseshell pattern is only discernible in good light. There is a pattern moulded into the Bakelite which simulates (poorly) a leather covering.

There is only one control on the camera body and that is the the film advance. This is a folding metal key which is chrome plated brass. The key is slightly twisted – at first I thought this was a defect on my camera but looking at pictures of other cameras of this model, it would seem to be a design feature. This key is on a ratchet – it will only turn in one direction. The key will also pull up slightly to release the film spool inside the camera.

The rest of the controls and features are on the lens board. With folding cameras, this lens board is hinged and pulls the shutter/lens assembly out to its operating position as it hinges open. This is not a folding camera – the lens board pulls out on four folding struts remaining essentially parallel to the body as it does so.

When the camera is fully collapsed ity is rather hard to start lifting the lens board. There are semi-circular cutaways at top the bottom of the lens board to help you get a hold of the lens board. Once it starts moving, it lifts easily and snaps into place on the four chrome struts. Collapsing the camera involves pushing the four struts slightly further out and pushing the lens board in. When the lens board is extended, the shutter and lens are attached to the camera body with a collapsable bellows which are made from Burgundy leatherette.

At the top of the lens board is a round hole behind which is the viewfinder. This is a hinged Brilliant finder. If you are using the camera in the landscape orientation, the finder swivels out from behind the hole and sits just outside the corner of the lens board. These Brilliant finders are hard to use – see the photo of the image.

The centre of the lens board has a moulded circle. Inside this is both the shutter and the lens. The lens is right in the centre but is not visible from the outside as it sits behind the shutter blades. The lens has no name and would appear to be a simple meniscus lens. The people at Art Deco Cameras have measured this lens and say that the focal length is 100 mm which is ‘normal‘ for a medium format camera. They also have worked out that the fixed aperture is ƒ/14 – this will give the necessary depth of field for such a simple lens.

Above the lens is the legend “MODEL B” and above this the two letters “I” and “T” – and above these two is a tab to select between them. “I” is instantaneous and is the setting for everyday use. Those nice people at Art Deco Cameras have measured the shutter speed to average 1/50 second which is about what I would expect. On the left of the lens is the shutter release lever. This has two positions – up and down. The shutter fires when this lever is moved from one position to the other – both moving up and moving down will fire the shutter.

“T” is time. With this setting, the shutter opens when you move the shutter release lever and stays open until you move the shutter release lever a second time. Underneath the lens is the maker’s name: “SOHO LTD LONDON”. The shutter is the everset type and there is no cocking lever.

Behind the bottom of the lens board are two swivelling legs – one long and one short. The long leg swivels through 90º and provides a support for the camera in the portrait orientation. This long leg is offset to one side and provides a very unstable support – unstable to the point of being next to useless. This is not helped by the camera having to rest on the chrome fitting for securing the back. The short leg swivels through 180º and provides support for the camera in the landscape orientation. This short leg provides very stable support.

To open the back of the camera there is a large sprung catch on the top of the camera. To open this, you slide it towards the film advance key and then lift it. The back of the camera comes away in one piece – the bottom of the back is held in place in a clip which doesn’t need opening.

The outside of the back is plain apart from the moulded ‘leather’ and the circular red window for reading the frame numbers off the film’s backing paper. The inside of the back has information on the type of film required (“any 2 1⁄4 x 4 1⁄4 or 6 x 9 cm film”) and the patent number (330403/29). Also on the inside are four metal studs near to the corners. It took me a while to work out why they are there. Turns out that they line up with the flanges of the two film spools – as the metal flanges turn they are prevented from wearing away the Bakelite.

The inside of the body is dominated by the film gate. This measures 82 by 55 mm which gives quite large margins around the negatives on 90 by 60 mm film. The outside edges of the film gate are nicely rounded to prevent the film from being scratched as it moves across the film gate.

Either side of the film gate there is a chamber for the film spools. At the bottom of these is a T-shaped steel spring to keep the film taut on the spools. The film spools sit loosely in the chambers apart from the inside of the film advance key locating in the end of the take-up spool.

Wirgin Supreme

This camera is a bog-standard folding camera from the Inter-war years (for our younger readers, “Inter-war” means from 1919 to 1939). This is a German camera made in Wiesbaden in Hesse. The only name on the camera is the model name “Supreme” embossed in the leather on the back. There is no maker’s name anywhere. I know it is German because there is a small leather carrying handle which is embossed “MADE IN GERMANY”.

  • lens: Trioplan
  • focal length: 10.5 cm
  • apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 6 feet (2 metres) to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Vario
  • speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T
  • flash: No
  • film size: 120

So how do I know which camera this is? I have several techniques that I use. I have a series of camera catalogues going back to the early 1920 and I look through them for a camera model called “Supreme” – they usually have illustrations so I can check that it is the same model. I also have copies of the British Journal of Photography Almanac going back to 1922. These have a section on new kit and again I search through these for cameras called “Supreme”. Both of these have failed me which leads me to think that this camera was made by a minor maker without a good dealer contract.

My third method is a search on the Interweb. This last is very unreliable as the Interweb is full of errors. However, needs must when the devil drives. So, a Google search (other search engines are available) for “Supreme camera” and select the images option. Well, there have been quite a few camera models called “Supreme” but this search did find quite a few images of my camera and they all called it “Wirgin Supreme”. A text search on Google confirmed that Wirgin did indeed make a folding camera called “Supreme and that it might have been made in 1938.

Wirgin are probably better known for their Edixa range of cameras made in the 1960s and 1970s. I already have articles on two of these: the Wirgin Edixa viewfinder camera and the Wirgin Edixa-Mat Reflex mod B SLR camera.

This is a fairly typical folding camera from the Interwar years. Some features are typical of the 1920s such as the shutter but these did continue well into the 1930s on cheaper cameras. The Interweb says it was made in 1938 but that was a single web page and perhaps not reliable.

The body seems to be made entirely from pressed steel. The body is covered with leather (not leatherette) with the edges of the camera bright chrome plated. These edges have significant rusty areas. The camera measures 155 by 83 by 40 mm when closed and 155 by 83 by 133 mm when open for use. It weighs 575 g.

The ‘top’ of the camera (it doesn’t really have a top as such) is featureless apart from the folding viewfinder. Lifting the top of this allows the bottom/rear part to spring up on its own. The viewfinder consists of a hole in each part – there are no lenses in either part. The holes is both frames must be lined up by the user’s eye to compose the picture.

The ‘bottom’ of the camera has more on it. On the right-hand side is a milled wheel which is the film advance. Once upon a time, this was covered by a disc of leather but on my camera this is long gone. Next to this wheel is a small nickel-plated button. Pressing this opens the lens door on the front of the camera. When new, this door would have sprung fully open under its own spring-loaded volition but on my 80+ year old camera, the lens door only opens most of the way and needs a bit of manual help to open fully.

Just to the left of centre on the bottom is a disc. This is 27 mm in diameter. In the middle of this disc is a threaded hole for a tripod. This is a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. It looks to me as though this is a 1/4 inch slug fitted into the original 3/8 inch Whitworth socket. It is the positioning of this tripod socket that was the clue to the identity of this camera when I did the Google image search.

The back of the camera is plain. The leather is embossed with straight lines and the word “Supreme” in italic script. Towards the top left corner of the back is a red window. For those who have not come across 120 size cameras before, the film has a backing paper which keeps light away from the film when handled. On this backing paper, there are three series of numbers with different spacings. These are for cameras that produce 6 by 9, 6 by 6 and 6 by 4.5 cm negatives. These numbers are read through the red window so this red window is positioned over the appropriate series of numbers. This camera produces 6 by 9 cm negatives.

The front of the camera is dominated by the lens door. This measures 97 by 780 mm. As with the rest of the camera, this is covered with black leather. In the centre of this door there is a raised portion. I think this is basically for stiffening but it also has a decorative function. In the middle of the lens door is the hinged foot. This is nickel-plated metal – I suspect brass as there is no rust apparent. The purpose of this hinged foot is to allow the camera to stand level and solidly on a level surface in lieu of a tripod. Also on the lens door is a second tripod thread. This is, again, 1/4 inch Whitworth and, again, looks to be a 1/4 inch slug in a 3/8 inch thread.

To open the lens door, you need to press the small plated button next to the film advance wheel. Originally, the spring will have snapped the lens door securely in place but on my 85-odd year old camera a little manual assistance is required. When open, the lens door is held in place by three metal struts on either side. Two of these are nickel plated and one is painted black. Incidentally, I can tell that it is nickel plated and not chrome plated by the colour. Nickel plating has a softer shine than chrome and has a subtle but definite blue tinge. Nickel plating also has a tendency to corrode with a blue/green colour.

When opened, the lens door is held solidly in place and the shutter/lens assembly is parallel to the film plane. The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the camera body by leatherette bellows.

The shutter is a Vario by Gauthier. Gauthier are better known for their Prontor shutters but they always had a series of simpler and cheaper shutters available. This Vario shutter offers 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 seconds plus B and T. Nearly all cameras, including modern digital cameras, have B available. This is where the shutter stays open while the shutter release is depressed. The letter ‘B’ is short for ‘Bulb” and refers to the pneumatic bulbs used in the 19th century as shutter releases.

‘T’ used to be very common on cameras – it is available on my 1973 Nikon F2 SLR. ‘T’ stands for Time. With ‘T’, the shutter opens when the shutter release is depressed and stays open until the shutter release is depressed a second time. This is for very long exposures and was useful in film days when ISO 3,200 was fantastically fast.

This shutter is an old-fashioned shutter in as much as the speed selector is a dial above the shutter housing rather than a ring around it – technically, a dial-set shutter. The change over from the two styles centred on 1930 but dial-set shutters lingered on well into the 1930s on cheaper cameras.

The dial has initials under the name Vario: DRP and DRGM. DRP stands for Deutsches Reichpatent and DRGM stands for Deutsches Reich Gebrauchsmuster and they indicate that the design is patented (and made before 1945).

Looking at the lens, to the left side of the shutter selector dial, is the shutter release lever. This is a thin piece of nickel plated metal. To the left of this lever, on the side of the shutter housing, is a threaded socket for a standard cable release. This shutter is an Everset type so there is no cocking lever. Underneath the speed selector is the legend “Original Gauthier”

Below the lens are two scales. The upper scale, in yellow, has 6, 7, 10, 15, 30, ∞ which are distances in feet – this is the focus scale. The lower scale, in white, has 4.5, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22 which are ƒ/numbers as this is the aperture scale. Below this lower scale is a moving pointer to adjust the lens diaphragm. On my camera, the diaphragm blades have come loose from their fittings and the aperture can no longer be adjusted.

In the centre of the shutter housing is the lens. This is a Trioplan made by Meyer Görlitz. This is a triplet lens (it has three pieces of glass) and it has a focal length of 10.5 cm (measuring focal lengths in mm started after 1945). This is a ‘normal‘ lens for a medium format camera. This is a focusing lens (not a given on cheap cameras) and is front cell focusing which means that only the front piece of glass moves to focus rather than all three pieces.

On the top right of the shutter housing is a small Brilliant viewfinder. These, at best, give a vague idea of the composition – I really don’t like them and much prefer the larger folding viewfinder. This Brilliant finder is on a swivel allowing the camera to be used in either portrait or landscape orientation.

Closing the lens door is simple if not immediately obvious. To unlock the holding struts, you press in at the top of the rear-most strut on either side. The lens should be focused on infinity and the Brilliant viewfinder in the portrait position or it will foul on the side of the camera body. when collapsing. It is then a simple matter of pushing the lens door into the closed position.

On the right hand end of the camera is a small leather handle. This is stamped “MADE IN GERMANY”indicating that this was an official export version (distances in feet suggest this as well). Beneath this handle is a small nickel plated lug. Sliding this down releases the catch on the back. The back opens on a hinge revealing the insides.

Inside the back itself is a 70 by 90 mm sprung pressure plate. This is to keep the film flat against the film gate. Inside the camera body is the film gate. This measures 57 by 87 mm. The film (size 120) measures 60 mm wide so there will be 1.5 mm margin around the exposed portion of the film. Either side of the film gate is a chrome roller to allow the film to move gently over the metal parts without scratching.

At either end of the body is a chamber for the film spools. These chambers have hinged lugs to hold the film in place. My camera has lost two of these but it is clear where they were. The new roll of film goes on the left and the take-up spool goes on the right. The take-up spool is the empty film spool from the previous roll of film.

When loading a new film into a size 120 film camera, you need to wind-on a considerable amount of backing paper before the film itself it revealed. You need to be looking into the red window while doing this – as the first frame approaches there is a series of dots or circles of diminishing size just before each frame number.. After the last shot – number 8 on this camera – you need to wind-on a further considerable amount of backing paper before opening the camera back to remove the film. The end on the backing paper has a self-adhesive tag to keep the end of the backing paper in place.

Given the price of 120 film and the costs of development, I will not be trying this camera with film.

Appraising Old Cameras and pricing.

This chapter deals with deciding on whether you want a particular camera or not. The first stage s to have a good look at the camera and deciding if it is a camera that you want in your collection – on line, the ‘good look’ means at the photographs. The second stage, once you have decided that you want the camera, is to decide how much you are willing to pay.

This section is entirely about how I go about curating my own collection but it should be mostly applicable to most collections. 

So, I come across a camera that fits my collecting paradigm. First, I ignore dirt. Dirt can be easily removed and tells me that no one has done ghastly things to the camera to make it clean. Actually, I do not ignore the dirt, I look past it. My first concern is the physical condition of the camera. Things that concern me

  • dents, which mean that the camera has been bashed at some time.
  • Cracks in the plastic, which also mean that the camera has been bashed and further suggests that the plastic is aging badly – more cracks are likely to occur in the future. The cracks might be letting water and dirt to get inside.
  • Water damage, which is likely to result in internal corrosion.
  • Oil, which will hold and move dirt and also get inside the camera.
  • Bits and pieces missing.

Things that do not really concern me but affect the price

  • covering/leatherette coming unglued
  • paint worn off with handling
  • chrome or nickel plating worn off with handling.

Dents – many of my cameras have dents. The presence of small dents will lower the price I am prepared to pay but will not inhibit me from buying. Larger dents matter more. If the camera model is a common one, I will wait for a good one to come along. On the other hand, my 1912 Icarette has quite a bit of damage, yet I bought it – I am unlikely to get another chance.

Where the dent is, matters. Viewfinders and pentaprism humps get bashed frequently. If the viewfinder still works fine, I will be happy to buy at a suitably lower price. The corners of the camera also get bashed a lot but, if the camera works fine, I will not care. As I am not looking for shelf queens, dents, in and of themselves, do not matter to me but dents that stop the camera working as it should matter a great deal.

Cracks – most cameras that I collect have very little or no plastic but it is far from unknown. Cracks are bad. If plastic is used on the outside, it is likely to be used inside as well. Metal can also crack. If the camera has suffered sufficient violence to crack the outside it might well have damage to the inside as well – which I will not be able to see. Also, cracks grow. A small crack can easily become a large crack. Plastic, as it ages, becomes brittle if old plastic has started to crack, the plastic is likely to old enough for all the plastic to be very brittle. I do not buy cameras with visible cracks.

Water damage – the camera having been significantly wetted is very bad. Water can get into small gaps – most cameras are designed to be splash resistant but they are most decidedly not water-proof. However, if the water damage is away from joins in the body, all is not lost. First, I want to know how much water and where. Then I want to check for corrosion. If visible parts are corroded then hidden parts are also suspect. I will look inside the back of the camera and, with a removable lens camera, inside the throat of the lens mount. Any visible corrosion and I will put the camera back. This is the big drawback of buying on-line as the water damage is unlikely to show up in the photographs and you cannot examine the camera.

If an on-line seller claims that the camera is in good cosmetic condition, that precludes both water damage and corrosion – but only if he is honest.

Oil damage is not so common. Usually, it signifies that the camera has been stored in a garage in a box with other things that are oily. Oil actually protects the camera so long as there is not enough oil to make the inside oily.

Bits missing are important to me. Some people delight in buying a couple of non-working cameras and making one good one. If this is you, then all power to your elbow. Me, I am mechanically inept and I have learnt the hard way to leave mechanisms be. If a camera has parts missing, still works and it is an uncommon model that I particularly want, then I might buy that camera but mostly I will pass it by.

All this is about the physical condition but there are other aspects that are important. Often, cameras are sold with accessories. A common one is a case – I always dispose of these. Other common accessories include filters and rangefinders. I do not have much interest in filters – I have a small collection but only because I do not like throwing things away. I also have a small collection of rangefinders – these are interesting but any more that I acquire I sell on.

Lenses are a more important addition. Many cameras have fixed lenses but for those cameras with removeable lenses, I want to have at least one lens included. Many sellers try to maximise their revenue by selling body and lens separately. Unfortunately, a camera body with no lens is useless. If you are interested in an interchangeable lens camera with no lens then you need to factor in the cost of buying a lens separately. If the camera has a common mount (M42, Pentax thread, or Leica M39 thread) many lenses are available and many are available at quite a low price. In extreme cases – where the camera has an unusual mount – it might not be possible to buy a lens at any price. If you are interested in a lensless camera, make sure a lens is going to be available first. 

A further problem with a camera with no lens is that you have no idea as to how long the camera body has been without a lens. If the camera has been indoors for a few days without the lens while the seller sells the lens, that is OK. If the camera has been lensless for several years in the garage, dust, moisture, grit, insects and god knows what else will have had free access to the mechanics of the camera. This cannot be a good thing.

As well as offering bodies with no lens, some sellers offer two (or more) lenses with one body – a good bonus. I find the lenses as interesting as the bodies – both the lens’ design and the range of makers.

Lens condition makes a big difference as does the make and model. Some cameras are offered with a cheap, after-market lens where I suspect that the seller has sold the OEM lens separately. If buying on-line, there should be a photograph of the lens showing the bezel with maker’s name and lens model. Most lens defects are rather obvious. Scratches clearly reduce the value as do excessive cleaning marks (but probably have little effect on the lens performance). Lenses that have a ‘daylight’ filter in place are good as the lens is unlikely to have any physical damage to the front piece of glass.

It is worth looking to see if a lens has been dismantled or even if an attempt at dismantling has been made. The pieces of glass are held in place by screw-in rings. If these are scuffed and scratched, someone has tried to (or succeeded in) removing them. This is frequently most visible from inside the camera. Inside, the surroundings of the lens should be matt-black. Any scuffing around the glass inside tells us that someone has made an a crude attempt at removing the lens. If they had succeeded in removing the rear piece of glass there is a very good chance that they have not replaced it exactly as it should be. The rings that hold the glass in place have threads with several starting points. If the ring is replaced using the wrong starting point then infinity focus will not be possible.

Another problem with old cameras, particularly those stored for years in an unheated garage, is the growth of fungus inside the lens. This is visible as a network of very fine lines. You will probably need to look at the glass with a magnifying glass or jeweller’s loupe. Personally, I do not buy lenses with known fungus and bin those I do buy which turn out to have fungus.A further welcome addition is the original manual. These are rarely offered and if they are, they do not alter the price that I am willing to spend (except, perhaps for a particularly rare camera). The same goes for the original sales invoice and any repair bills – nice to have but I am not going to pay for them. Sales invoices do have the advantage of enabling you to accurately determine the age of the camera.

Sources of Old Cameras.

So, you have decided you want to collect cameras and which themes that interest you. How do you actually get your hands on the cameras? There are a number of ways and the easiest is to let it be known amongst your social circle that you are collecting. An amazing number of people will find old cameras when having a clear-out and will happily give them to you. Other sources are car boot sales, charity shops, auction rooms, on-line auctions – I shall cover each of these in turn.

Car-boot sales

These are very hit-and-miss but great bargains can be found. The biggest problem here is the seller’s opinion of what they have to offer. Frequently, they are aware that Dad or Grand-dad paid a lot of money for a special camera and so it must be worth a lot second-hand. Unfortunately, there is only a small market for old cameras (just us collectors, actually) and the law of supply and demand means that values are much lower than these sellers realise. So, that camera on sale for £50.00, say, when clean and in working condition is probably worth £10.00 to £20.00 but is not clean and potentially will have many problems.

Frequently, old cameras will have spent twenty years or more in a box in an unheated garage. Internal corrosion is very likely, fungal growth on the shutter blinds and in the lens is a real possibility. That £50.00 should really be £5.00 rising to £15.00 once you have cleaned and checked the camera. It can be hard to convince the seller of this. On a positive note, you can actually see and handle the camera. Lens fungus is fairly easy to spot as is rust and other corrosion. You also get to check the general operation of the camera (assuming that the camera does not depend on a battery).

If you buy a lemon at a car boot sale, you don’t really have any redress, even if you find the seller at a later date (the technical term is caveat emptor). This needs to be reflected in the price paid.

Charity Shops.

These used to be a good source of old cameras. They frequently placed the price on the high side but you can offset that against the fact that you are doing good by shopping there.

This seems to have changed recently and I have not seen any cameras in charity shops for a long time. They seem to have realised that they can get a quicker sale and perhaps a higher price by selling on eBay.

The advantages of a charity shop are that you get to handle the camera. There is a disadvantage here in that the staff are likely to clean a dirty camera. Unfortunately, a good spray with aerosol polish is not actually very good for a camera. I prefer a dirty camera to still be dirty. This tells me a good deal about how the camera has been kept and the degree to which the storage conditions have damaged the camera.

Auction rooms.

Good collectable cameras can be found in an auction room. In this environment the cameras will be clean and well described in the catalogue. Again, you get to handle the camera on offer. This is probably more for the ‘serious’ collector – the price is likely to be high and you have to pay a buyer’s commission on the hammer price.

There can be a cheaper source of cameras in general sales in auction houses and this is the box of assorted stuff. These boxes generally come from house clearances and contain things the seller does not expect to be saleable individually but the boxful might be worth £5.00 or £10.00. You need to be prepared to look through many boxes to find a camera – and if you do, the camera is likely to be in a very sorry visual state. You need to be able to look past decades of grime to find the hidden gem.

On-line Auctions.

This is where I get most of my cameras. Ebay is the most famous of these sites but there are a number of others as well. There is a definite skill to successfully buying cameras here. Here are some pointers to avoiding dishonest sellers.

Photographs. All the on-line auction sites enable the seller to upload a number of photographs of the item for sale. I would expect at least three or four clear photographs showing all of the camera. In this age of smart-phones, everyone can manage this. BEWARE! If there is one, out of focus, photograph the seller is hiding something. Out of focus photographs are now quite hard to do – there must be a reason for the seller to go to the lengths of producing one. Of course, the seller could be genuine with a real inability to use a camera. Avoiding the single, out-of-focus photograph might mean that you do not get a bargain but the chances are that you are avoiding a lemon.

More sophisticated sellers of trash will provide a number of good photographs with one part of the camera missing in all the photographs – this is frequently accompanied by the statement that the photographs are part of the description implying that if the seller finds a defect after purchase that is because they did not look hard enough and back to Caveat Emptor. Why does the seller not want you to see this part? If it is a camera you particularly want, email the seller asking a direct question about the part you cannot see. Their response forms a part of the contract of sale and, if they are not honest, will give you grounds for asking for your money back. Ebay, for sure, will back the buyer over a dishonest seller.

Assuming that the photographs are clear and give a good impression of the camera (I always start by looking at the photographs), it is time to read the description. Now, this is harder to produce than photographs. If the seller is selling dad’s or granddad’s old camera, they might not know enough to properly describe the camera – which is why the photographs are so important.

As with the photographs, there are tell-tail signs of dishonesty. An ignorant seller can tell you if knobs turn and buttons press even if they do not know what they do. If the seller has a one-line description that tells you nothing, look at the photographs and email the seller with specific questions – phrase the questions so that the ignorant can still answer them.

Price matters. I have bought cameras with a poor photograph and one short line of description – but I have restricted my bid to £1.00. About half of those have been worthless rubbish but I have also ended up with several delightful cameras worth much more than £1.00 each.

When reading the description, it is worth noting what is NOT mentioned – this is like the series of photographs that all leave out one part. Why? Doesn’t mention the lens? Is the lens damaged? Is the lens missing (which is not uncommon, even with fixed-lens cameras)? It could be an inadvertent mistake but you need to email the seller to find out.

All old cameras have defects. I want those to be mentioned – if in doubt, assume faults. Shutter not mentioned? It does not work. Focus not mentioned? Lens will not turn. If the seller lists six faults, there are unlikely to be seven. If the seller lists no faults, it is anybody’s guess as to how many faults there are. Your job as buyer is to match the faults with the price you bid.

After looking at the photographs and description, look at the postage. Now, this does not really matter at all. You are going to have to pay to have the camera delivered but you do need to know how much.

The worst postage is ‘collection only’. This is fine if it is within a mile or so of where you live but very expensive if you live in Land’s End and the camera is in John O’Groats. If I read ‘collection only’, I move swiftly on.

Now, I said that the postage amount does not matter but it is important to know. That might sound a bit daft but here is why. Before you bid on a camera you want, you need to decide on how much you are willing to spend. With any auction, this is very important. It is easy to get carried away in a bidding war and spend much more than you intended. So, my technique – decide on the maximum amount and deduct postage costs. This smaller amount is my maximum bid – and I stick firmly to this. An example: you want a camera that is worth £25.00 to you. Postage is a sensible £3.50. £25.00 minus £3.00 gives £22.00 maximum bid. A second example: You want a camera that is worth £25.00 to you. Postage is an eye-watering £15.00  (why, for Odin’s sake?). £25.00 minus £15.00 gives a maximum bid of £10.00.

In both examples, the cost to you is £25.00 and in both examples the seller gets £25.00 which is why the postage does not matter to you.

What is important here is that you have a cast-iron price before you bid. Now bid your maximum bid immediately. Ebay will bid on your behalf starting at the next bid increment above the current bid. If no one has bid yet, you start at the starting price. If you do this and then ignore the auction you will avoid being sucked into a bidding war and will never pay more than you want to.

There are people who only bid in the last seconds of an auction. This is called sniping. The idea is that you have no time to respond to their bid and put a larger bid in. This is true, but we want to avoid a bidding war, so let the sniper have the sale. But stop. Not only do you not have time to respond to the sniped bid, if your maximum bid is above the sniped bid the sniper has no time to respond either. You can improve your chances with a sniper by clever bidding.

Above, I said how to calculate your maximum bid and that you should stick to it. What I actually do is calculate my maximum bid as I described and then add 51p to it. So, if my calculated maximum bid is £22.00 I will actually bid £22.51. This works as most people bid ‘sensible’ amounts which means whole pounds for most people. So, I bid £22.51 and the sniper bids £22.00, Ebay’s automatic bidding system means that I win. The reason for the odd penny is that some snipers are aware of this and will snipe with an amount ending in 10p or 50p. My bid with the extra penny is still larger so I win the auction. If I do not win I do not fret, I move on. There are plenty of other cameras for sale on Ebay.

Another bidding technique is ‘silly bidding’. I use this for cameras that I would like to buy but I cannot justify the usual price. This technique works because there are more cameras for sale than there are buyers. Example: a camera is listed that usually sells for around £50.00. In the last ten weeks, 100 of these cameras have been sold and all the people who want one at that price have just bought one. I bid £2.51. No one else bids at all so I get a £50.00 camera for £2.00 plus postage (because no one else bids, the 51p part does not come into play). Now, mostly, someone else will bid as well and I will not get the camera – but it costs me nothing to bid so I lose nothing. Sometimes – and more often than you might think – I get a very nice camera at a knock-down price.

Types of Collecting

If you are collecting cameras you are, of course, free to collect what you want in whatever way you want. Many people do this and end up with thoroughly eclectic collections – and all joy to them. Other people prefer to collect with a theme and purpose. Personally, I collect cameras that are particularly interesting in some way – mostly cameras that were innovative in some way. Other people want a copy of every variation in a small group of cameras and are very happy with minor variations between models. Some people only collect Nikons or Canon, some only SLR, others only rangefinder.

Having a theme gives more purpose and, to many of us, more pleasure than just buying every camera we come across.

I keep my cameras in a display case. This allows me to display the cameras nicely but has a secondary effect – it is now full. If I want to buy another camera, I need to dispose of one I already have. This limits my collection to about fifty cameras and keeps me focused as to which cameras are earning their keep. My collection: top shelf, various SLRs; second shelf, rangefinders; third shelf, viewfinders; fourth shelf, 35mm folders; fifth shelf, medium format folders; sixth shelf, Pentax SLRs (yes, a whole shelf for Pentax – they were very innovative at one time).

Another aspect of collecting is condition. Many people want their cameras to be in ‘as new’ condition. I like my cameras to be well-used – much wear is an added interest to me. For some people, the cameras only sit on a shelf and are never used – and frequently the collector does not care if a camera works or not so long as it looks grand. All my cameras work – that is very important to me – and most of them get used as often as I can  – both time and expense limit how much use they get.

History of Camera Development

All cameras share a basic design which has the same three components

  1. a light-tight box
  2. a means of forming the image
  3. a means of recording the image.

The ways in which those three are manifested range from crude to very sophisticated.

The earliest cameras were the crudest. In fact, they were simple wooden boxes with a slot at one end to take the glass plate and a hole at the other to take a lens. These developed into quite sophisticated cameras. Bellows were added to both enable focusing and to allow close-up photographs. As emulsion speed increased, mechanical shutters were added to time short exposures.

A variety of lenses could be fitted to give wide-angle and telephoto capability (note: I am using the word ‘telephoto’ incorrectly to mean a lens with a long focal length. See the Glossary for the correct meaning of ‘telephoto’). Both the front and back of the camera could be tilted in a number of directions and the lens raised up to help with photographing tall buildings and such.

These wooden box cameras came in a variety of sizes from cumbersome 10 x 8 inch (250 x 200 mm) plate size to cameras with plates 25 mm or so across.

The invention of roll film in 1850s had a massive effect on camera design. This was brought to commercial success by George Eastman and his Kodak camera. The early Kodaks were a simple box with a very simple shutter and a meniscus lens. These first Kodaks took 100 shots on one roll of film giving circular negatives that were 2.5 inches (65 mm) diameter. The entire camera had to be returned to Kodak for the film to be developed and the pictures printed. The camera was then loaded with new film and returned to the customer along with the photographs.

The next step in film development was the production of rolls of film that could be bought locally and fitted to the camera by the user. While the box camera design lasted into the 1950s, a plethora of camera designs appeared, many being small enough to be easily carried in a pocket. At this stage in the history of camera design, it was usual to have prints made directly from the negatives (contact prints) with no enlargement. This gave rise to some very large film formats.

The standard film camera design, which remained until 1950ish, was a steel or aluminium body with a lens which came forward on a bellows as the camera front was opened. Mostly, there was a hinged lens door with the lens/shutter on rails or with the lens/shutter fixed to the lens door – the self-erecting type.

Originally, the lens was focused by sliding the lens/shutter on the rails. With self-erecting cameras, the lens was fitted to a helical thread and focused by turning the lens. As enlarged photographs were rare, focus was not critical.

Early film cameras – into the 1930s – had very crude viewfinders. There were three basic types – a Brilliant finder on the shutter housing, a folding frame on the camera body or an Iconometer which was a large wire frame attached to the shutter housing with an eyepiece attached to the camera body. The cheaper cameras would only have the Brilliant finder. These were small and hard to use and so were not used on more expensive models. Mid-range cameras would have the folding viewfinderr on the camera body.  These ranged from a simple arrangement of two wire frames to two more solid frames with simple lenses inserted. These were much easier to use than brilliant finders but could be awkward for spectacle wearers.

The Iconometer type was the easiest to use. The viewfinder image was much larger than with the other two types, worked much better with moving objects (hence its other name of Sportsfinder) and naturally accommodated rising lenses on more expensive cameras.

In the 1930s, the folding type of viewfinder gave way to Gallilean finders which were effectively little telescopes attached to the camera body.  These are often referred to as ‘reverse Gallilean’ finders as they are a telescope mounted backwards – they make the image smaller than life. These had the advantage in that thy gave a clear image of the potential photograph – the folding frame finders relied on the user centring their eye properly and were accordingly rather vague as regards composition. But the Gallilean finders had two disadvantages in that the finder tended to be very small and they did not work well with spectacles. In time, they did become larger and in the 1960s were easy to use for all of us. In the latest development of viewfinders, bright lines were added to enable composition and giving allowances for parallax when the camera was used for close-up portraits.

With the mid-Victorian cameras, the glass plates used were so slow a shutter was not required. The user merely removed the lens cap, counted to an appropriate number and replaced the lens cap. As the sensitive emulsion got faster, the timing got shorter and verbally counting was no longer accurate enough. This gave rise to various types of mechanical shutter. The first of these were the leaf shutters. Cheaper cameras used a shutter with a single speed, controlled by a spring. Other controlling systems used a cylinder of compressed air, the shutter remaining open until the cylinder was empty. The last development of mechanical shutters used an escarpment very similar to the workings of an analogue watch. From the mid 1960s, electronic shutters were developed which allowed for more consistent and accurate shutter speeds.

Initially, the shutter release was a lever on the shutter housing. This made holding the camera firmly and tripping the shutter awkward to do and from the 1930s it became common to have a second shutter release on the camera body connected to the shutter release on the shutter housing. The more sophisticated shutters also needed to be cocked by hand for each shot. This meant that there would be two levers on the shutter housing – a cocking lever and a firing lever. By the mid 1950s, both of these functions were incorporated into the camera body, advancing the film automatically cocking the shutter and the release button being incorporated into the camera body. Both these developments relied on improvements to the design of the shutter. This was coupled to the advent of cameras that were rigidly connected to the lens – no need to open the camera for use and no bellows behind the lens/shutter.

In parallel to the development of escarpment shutters that sit within the lens, focal plane shutters were developed. The name ‘focal plane’ means that the shutter is very close to the film/plate. These shutters usually consist of two blinds that travel across the film/plate, the gap between the blinds allowing the light to reach the film in a controlled manner.

These focal plane shutters allow much faster exposures than the leaf shutters do. 1/1000 seconds was usual at the time that 1/200 seconds was the limit of a leaf shutter. Modern focal plane shutters can achieve 1/8000 seconds and faster. The reason for the higher speeds is that the shutter blinds do not have to move all that fast. On my Zenit E, the shutter blinds move 36 mm in 1/30 second which is a lot slower than the shutter blades in a leaf shutter move. The high speed of the exposure is achieved by using a very narrow gap between the blinds. With cloth blinds, the limit seems to be about 1/1000 seconds but with metal blinds 1/2000 was commonplace and 1/8000 is now usual.

In the early 1920s, a significant advance in camera design was the Leica made by the microscope company Ernst Leitz. This Leica used ciné film which is a lot cheaper to buy than film taped to backing paper and rolled onto spools. This design also meant that the negatives had to be enlarged. The Leica was not the first camera to use ciné film but it was the first sophisticated camera by a reputable maker. This Leica was followed by two very significant developments. The first was Zeiss Ikon’s competitor – the Contax. The Contax was significant for two reasons – the metal bladed, vertical travel focal plane shutter and the fact that it eventually gave rise to the standard SLR concept. The second significant development was the Retina camera made in Germany for Kodak – this used the new 135 type cassette holding 35 mm ciné film. The film was exactly the same as the film Leica had been using for ten years but was now available retail in a daylight loading cassette – the same as it still used today. Prior to the Retina, Leica and Contax users had to buy bulk film and manually load it into proprietary cassettes.

After World War II, Germany was divided into two countries. The eastern part – the German Democratic Republic or DDR colloquially known as East Germany – contained the Contax factory. The East German part of Zeiss Ikon developed the Contax rangefinder camera into the Contax S which was the first commercial 35 mm SLR camera. This Contax S design was used with little change by Praktica, Pentax, Nikon, Canon, Olympus and a host of other companies.

As well as the development of advanced cameras such as rangefinders and SLRs, there was also the development of even better simple point-and-shoot cameras. These are really a development of the early Kodak box cameras. In the days of folding cameras, they would be simple, with a non-focusing lens and a single speed shutter. After WWII, these developed into rigid versions that were much the same. In the early 1960s, Kodak took the film cassette concept further and produce 126 and 110 film cartridges which could be dropped into the camera with no need to thread the film or rewind it when finished. These became immensely popular. 126 cartridges used a version of 35 mm film – the perforations were different – and were capable of much the same quality as other 35 mm cameras.

110 cartridges used 16 mm film. The use of much smaller film meant that much more enlargement was required so image quality took a big hit. For holiday snaps, this did not matter too much and was compensated for by the much smaller camera but 110 film always had a limited appeal. Other film developments were worse. Disc cameras used film glued onto a circular disc. The cameras were necessarily larger than 110 cameras but with equally poor image quality.

APS (Advanced Photography System) cameras could have been a major advance but came along just before digital photography did. APS offered two advantages. The film stayed permanently in the cassette even after development, so was protected from damage. The other advantage comes from the APS cameras rather than the film and that was the possibility to choose from three image formats on a shot by shot basis. Unfortunately, this format choice depended on masking the film so two of the formats effectively reduced the film size and thus image quality.

At the same time as Kodak were working on new and better film formats, camera makers were working on better camera technology. Once automatic loading of film, automatic film advance and automatic rewind became cheap and usual, there was no advantage in the more expensive cartridges and discs. When coupled with good automatic exposure and automatic focus, point-and-shoot cameras rivalled expensive cameras for image quality coupled with great ease of use.

Then digital technology came along and interesting cameras were no longer made (of course they were and I have owned five. I just cannot see the joy in collecting them).

Introduction.

This book is about collecting old cameras. Cameras have been around since the early 1840s. Photographic cameras were invented separately by Daguerre in France and Fox Talbot in England. Initially, photographers had to make their own wooden cameras and repurpose lenses from elsewhere. Actually, cameras were in use before photography was invented. The word ‘camera’ is Italian for a room and the mediaeval camera obscura was a small room with either a small hole or simple lens in one wall which cast an inverted image on the opposite wall. Later, wooden boxes were made that worked on that principle that were used as an artist’s tool – the image being cast onto a piece of drawing paper.

The first lens to be designed as a photographic lens was designed and made by Voigtländer in 1839. This is the Petzval lens (named after its designer, Josef Maximilián Petzval). As far as collecting goes, these first camera lenses are still around although as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth. When these come onto the market, they sell for several thousand pounds each. Voigtländer also produced the world’s first commercial camera – a metal Daguerreotype camera in 1849 (I got these dates from Voigtländer’s own web page – other dates are to be found on the Interweb).

As far as collecting cameras is concerned, the further back in time you go, the more expensive cameras get. This is simply supply and demand. Before George Eastman and his Kodak camera, photography was the domain of fairly wealthy people. George Eastman’s Kodak made photography possible even for working people.

An example is the development of Houghtons into Ross Ensign:

  • George Houghton
  • (Houghton + Holmes + Jackson + Levi) > Houghton Ltd
  • Houghton + Butchers > Houghton Butcher manufacturing Co
  • Houghton Butcher > Ensign Ltd
  • (Ensign + Elliot) > Barnet Ensign
  • (Barnet Ensign + Ross) > Barnet Ensign Ross
  • Barnet Ensign Ross > Ross Ensign

Roll film and simple lenses made mass production possible and this reduced costs more so both more cameras around and more photographs being taken. This had the effect of encouraging designers and the advent of standard components. Some components became so standard that tripod screws in then 21st century are either 3/8 inch or ¼ inch thread while every other engineering screw is metric.

A similar thing happened in Germany where four makers merged under the Carl Zeiss Stiftung umbrella to form ICA in 1909. These were Hüttig, Kamerawerk Dr. Krügener, Wünsche and Carl Zeiss Palmos. In 1926, ICA, together with Ernemann, C.P. Goerz and Contessa-Nettal merged to form Zeiss Ikon, still under the Carl Zeiss Stiftung umbrella. There were, of course, many other merges but space does not permit me to detail them all.

  • Hüttig + Kamerawerk Dr Krügener + Wünsche + Carl Zeiss Palmos > ICA (International Camera Aktiengesellschaft)
  • Ernemann + C.P. Goerz + Contessa Nettal + ICA > Zeiss Ikon

Japan seems to have come to later photography and some of the early makers are still with us – Nikon, Canon, Olympus to name three.

In the aftermath of World War II, there were a number of changes to the photographic industry. The English makers had disappeared by the end of the 1960s. The German makers were split by the Iron Curtain. Some companies were divided into East and West versions – Zeiss Ikon, for instance, with parallel companies using the same name which resulted in much litigation. We actually had a period when East Zeiss Ikon and West Zeiss Ikon both made Contax II cameras, being sold into the same market with the same name (and the primary cause of the litigation).

Other makers (Ihagee and Balda, for instance) were based entirely within the new DDR and became state industries – the owners started up new companies in the FDR with the same name – so we have a few years where there were two Balda companies and two Ihagee companies. This situation stopped when the DDR (East Germany) subsumed all their camera makers into Pentacon VEB (Pentacon being, originally, a Zeiss Ikon trade name).

The second half of the 20th century saw the advent of the Japanese makers and the demise of most European makers. This was coupled with the development of the SLR concept and computers being used to design lenses. By the end of the 20th century, SLR design had matured to the point that all 21st century SLR cameras are visually and functionally indistinguishable from a 1990s SLR apart from the substitution of a digital sensor for the analogue film. Of course, camera design continues to develop, currently with the ‘mirrorless’ concept.

Miranda MS–3

A Cosina CT-( rebadged as a Miranda MS-3

While Miranda were never one of the top camera makers in Japan, they were a serious maker. In 1978, the company ceased trading and in the early 1980s the rights to the Miranda brand were brought by the Dixons group in the UK. This MS–3 dates to the Dixons period.

As I was perusing this camera after I bought it, I thought the top plate was very reminiscent of my Cosina CT–1. After a bit of research on the Interweb, it turns out this is one camera not based on the Cosina CT–1 – but it is a Cosina camera, and the CT range at that. It is a rebadged Cosina CT–9. Cosina is a major maker of cameras and lenses for other marques – they currently make many lenses under contract to Carl Zeiss of Germany.

The camera body measures 136 by 85 by 50 mm and weighs 425 g (body only, no lens). The main body is die-cast aluminium and the top and bottom plates are moulded plastic – an anti-slip finish is a part of the plastic finish so there is no need for a leatherette covering. This imparts a cheaper look and feel to the camera (although this type of finish soon became standard, even on top end cameras). After 40 years of use, the finish is much reduced.

As I usually do, I shall start by looking at the top plate. As I mentioned earlier, the top plate is moulded black plastic. On the far right is the window on to the frame counter. As is usual with Japanese SLR cameras, the frame counter is reset to ‘S’ by opening the back of the camera. ‘S’ is actually -2 (‘S’ stands for start) and is printed in red. All the even numbers are printed and the odd numbers are represented by dots. Numbers 12, 20, 24 and 36 are in red as these were the standard film lengths in the mid 1980s – all the other numbers are in white. The frame counter will count to 37 and then stop moving although you can still advance the film.

Right by the frame counter is the film advance lever. This lever is plated metal covered with black plastic. This lever moves through not quite 180º (165º according to the manual – 30º stand off plus 135º movement) to advance the film one frame. There is no ratchet here so the lever must be moved in one movement.

Hard by the film advance lever, at the front of the top plate, is the shutter release button. It was the design of this button together with the shape of the film advance lever that gave me the clue that this might be a Cosina camera. This shutter release button is a fairly broad and flat black plastic button with a central threaded hole for a standard cable release.

To the left of the shutter release button is a selector dial. This is where we would usually find the shutter speed selector – and that is one of the functions here. The outside of this selector dial is a three-way switch. In its central position, the camera is switched off and nothing works. Rotating this slightly anti-clockwise turns the camera to auto. In this position, the camera is turned on and the exposure system determines they exposure when the shutter release button is partially depressed. If the button is fully depressed, the shutter is fired – without power, the shutter can not be fired.

If this selector dial is rotated clockwise from the Off position, the camera is in manual exposure mode. Here, the exposure system still determines the ‘correct’ exposure and displays it in the viewfinder but does not control the actual shutter speed. Instead, the shutter speed is set by two buttons in the middle of the selector dial. The front button increases the shutter speed – if held down, the shutter speed continuously cycles through the range – the red LED in the viewfinder displays the changing shutter speed.

The rear button does the opposite –reducing the shutter speed – and, again, if held down cycles through the speed range but in the opposite direction. While you are using these manual controls, the exposure system displays its preferred shutter speed with a flashing red LED.

Next along the top plate is the pentaprism hump. On the front of this is the camera name – “MIRANDA” and the letter “M”. On the top of the hump is an ISO hot shoe. This is a plain vanilla hot shoe with no additional contacts.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is a standard Japanese folding crank and, as is usual with Japanese SLR cameras, the crank doubles as the catch for the back – pulling up on the crank unlocks the back. Around this crank, there is a ring to set the film speed. This is entirely in ASA/ISO (it is actually marked as both ASA and ISO as this camera was made a the point when ISO took over from ASA). The speed range is from ASA 25 to ASA 1600 which is pretty standard for the day. The film speed can be altered in 1/3 stop increments, the thirds being represented by dots.

As always with SLR cameras, the front is dominated by the lens mount. This is a plain vanilla Pentax K mount with a twist. When Pentax introduced the K mount, it was a purely mechanical bayonet mount with a mechanical linkage to pass the aperture setting to the light meter. In time, Pentax added electrical contacts and a screwdriver link which were set into the bayonet mount. We have, over the years, ended up with quite a few official variants on the basic K mount.

This particular K mount is Cosina’s own, unofficial, variant. The lens mount ring has no electrical contacts or screwdriver link but it does have three electrical contacts inside the mount at the top. These are for Cosina’s own autofocus lens. This was a large and cumbersome affair containing its own batteries and electric motor – much like Pentax’s ME-F autofocus lens introduced a few years previously. Unfortunately, I do not have this lens.

So, looking into the mouth of the mount, on the left at about 9 o’clock, is a small lever. This latches onto a lever on the lens. When the shutter release button is pressed, this lever rises allowing the sprung lever on the lens to move, closing the iris diaphragm to its set value.

All around the inside of the mount is a rotating ring with a lug at around 2 o’clock. This lug latches onto a recessed lug on the lens. Changing the aperture setting on the lens will slightly rotate this ring, communicating the set aperture to the camera’s light meter.

Just to the left of the lens mount, near the top of the body, is a rectangular red light. This is the self timer button. If you press this in, it flashes for eight seconds and then flashes faster for two seconds and finally fires the shutter. On the far left of the body is a small grip for the photographer’s right hand.

The only feature on the back of the camera is the viewfinder eyepiece. The lens for this measures 15 by 10 mm. Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. As this is a relatively cheap SLR the focus screen is plain ground glass rather than a Fresnel screen . It does, however, have focus aids. There is a ring of micro-prisms in the centre of the screen and in the centre of that is a split-image rangefinder.

On the left of the focus screen is the readout for the light meter. This consists of a list of shutter speeds with one second at the bottom and 1000 (for 1/1000 second) at the top. Above the shutter speeds are three more items. The first is the legend “OVER” and if the red LED next to this is lit the photograph will be overexposed. Above this is “M” and this will be lit when you have selected the mode to be manual. At the very top is the legend “AUTO” and this is lit when you have set the mode to automatic.

Below the shutter speeds are two more items. The first is “LT” which indicates that a shutter speed of between two and eight seconds has been chosen by the light meter (LT= long time?) or that the user has set two seconds manually. Below “LT” is “B” which is Bulb where the shutter stays open while the shutter release button is held down.

The base of the camera has four items on it. In line with the centre of the lens is a 1/4 inch UNC tripod socket. Just by the tripod socket is the battery chamber.

On my camera, this battery chamber is free from corrosion – far from a given on old cameras! Unfortunately, Cosina saw fit to use a soft plastic cap and the slot on this is now so damaged it is extremely hard to remove and replace.

At the other end of the base is the button to allow the film to be rewound. Pressing this in allows the sprocket shaft inside the camera to rotate backwards. Once pressed right in there is no need to hold it in. In front of this button is a small sticker with the word “RESET” on it. Beneath this sticker is a small hole. If the camera freezes up completely then you push a pin into this hole to reset the electronics and allow the camera to start working again.

Inside the camera is much as you might expect a Japanese 35mm SLR camera to be. In the middle of the door is a nice large pressure plate and to the right of that is a chrome spring to hold the film cassette snuggly.

The insides of the body are dominated by the film gate. The actual gate measures 36 by 24 mm which is standard for 35 mm photography. The surrounds are large enough to hold the film flat – the surrounds measure 65 by 35 mm. To the left of the film gate is the chamber for the film cassette. At this age there are no DX contacts. On the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. This measures the length of film required for one negative – eight holes passing over the sprocket shaft equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the film take-up spool. There are six slots for attaching the new film.

Around the opening of the camera is a groove. When the back is closed, the edges of the back fit into this groove. To ensure light tightness, there is a strip of black foam plastic in this groove. After nearly 40 years, this foam has disintegrated into a sticky goo and needs to cleaning out and replacing with new foam – an easy DIY job.

When new, this camera came with a Cosina 50mm, ƒ/1.2 lens. My camera has a Topcon AM Topcor lens with a focal length of 55mm and a maximum aperture of ƒ/1.7. The lens is multi-coated. This is a cheapish lens – the mount is entirely plastic as, it would appear, is the rest of the lens. A search on the Interweb tells me this is probably a lens made by Cima Kogaku who made lenses for many smaller camera makers. The same interweb source also suggest that this lens has six elements arranged in four groups. As this is Interweb information, I cannot guarantee that it is correct.

The aperture has six blades and runs from ƒ/1.7 to ƒ/16 which is quite fast for a cheap lens. The absence of ƒ/22 might be a problem in bright light but many of my cameras have a minimum aperture of ƒ/16 and that has never been a real problem for me. The aperture ring has click stops at every marked aperture and also at the half-stops.

The focus ring is marked in both feet and meters and focuses from 2 feet or 0.6 meters to infinity. The throw on the focus ring (the amount by which it turns) is about 180º which means that critical focus is easy but fast focus is not – this is the opposite of modern auto-focus lenses which focus quickly but are difficult to focus manualy.

Kershaw Eight-20 King Penguin.

This is a folding medium format camera of a style that that was state of the art through the first half of the 20th century. When this camera was made in the early 1950s, the design was rather passé. By the end of the 1950s, folding cameras had disappeared from mainstream photography.

The camera measures 170 by 80 by 40 mm and weighs 543 g. The outside is covered in black leatherette with the edges of the lens door painted gloss black. The viewfinder, tripod boss, leg and catch are bright chrome plated.

As is usual with folding cameras, there is little to see when the camera is folded. On the top, on the right, is the film advance knob. This is black plastic with a chrome metal insert in the top. The metal insert has an arrow cut into it to indicate the direction you turn the knob in – the knob will only turn in the one direction. The knob also pulls up to release the take-up spool inside the camera.

Beside the film advance knob is the folding viewfinder. The chrome part lifts from the back. As the chrome part is raised, the rear part rises under spring power. To use these 2-frame viewfinders, you line up the square holes in both frames. This is not an accurate system and works particularly badly if you wear glasses.

The back of the camera is plain black apart from the red window for viewing frame numbers on the film backing paper. As this camera produces 6 by 9 cm negatives, the red window is on the edge of the camera – for 6 by 6 cm negatives, this red window would be central.

The front of the camera has the lens door. This measures 95 by 72 mm. On the face of this is a 3/8 inch Whitworth tripod socket. This has a chrome slug screwed into it to provide a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. Also on the lens door is a folding leg. This allows the camera to be placed on a level surface in lieu of a tripod.

The lens door is opened by pressing on a chromed spring on the left hand edge of the lens door. On my camera, the lens door needs a helping hand to open, but it is sprung and probably opened itself when new 70 years ago.

When opened, the lens door is held in place by a fairly complex system of struts – there are far more struts here than on a Zeiss Ikon or Voigtländer folder. Once extended, the shutter/lens assembly is held rigidly in place. To close the lens door, it is necessary to press down on the two machined portions of the struts near the top and then lift the lens door to close it. The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the body by a collapsable leatherette bellows.

The shutter is a very simple everset type shutter with two speeds: I (Instantaneous) and B (Bulb). This is set by turning the black plastic notched ring around the shutter assembly. There are two indications as to which of I or B is set: on the front of the shutter housing, near the top, is a small window and on top of the shutter housing is a pointer which moves between I and B.

On the right of the shutter housing, as you are using the camera, is a chrome plunger – this is the shutter release. This is easier to use in portrait format but is still quite usable in landscape format.

On the left side of the shutter housing is a small lever right by the struts. This alters the aperture: only ƒ/11 and ƒ/16 are available. The lever changes the aperture by moving a metal plate so that one of two holes is in line with the lens. These are called Waterhouse stops. The reason that only two rather small apertures are available is that the lens is fixed focus and a small aperture is required to give sufficient depth of field in the photos.

At the base of the shutter housing is a strange protuberance. It took me quite a while to work out what this was for – it is the first time that I have ever seen one. It is an ASA terminal for a flash gun and serves the same purpose as the usual PC socket.

The lens is entirely anonymous but must consist of at least two glass elements as glass is visible in front of the shutter and also inside the camera behind the shutter. I cannot see any hint of a blue tint to the glass to indicate a coating on the lens and this might be one of the last camera lenses to be made without coating.

On the right hand edge of the camera is a leather carrying strap. Beneath this is a small chrome slide which releases the back of the camera. The back comes away from the camera – there is no hinge. On the inside of the back – which is painted matt black – is a yellow and red sticker exhorting the user to use either Ilford, Kodak or Ensign 120 film. What is missing here is a pressure plate to keep the film flat against the film gate. Only about half of my 120 folding cameras have such a plate.

Inside the body of the camera is dominated by the film gate. This measures 81 by 56 mm. The nominal size of a full framer 120 negative is 60 by 90 mm but some of the film must be sacrificed to keep the film flat against the film gate. Either end of the film gate is a black roller to prevent the film getting scratched whilst being advanced.

The new film goes in a chamber on the left of the film gate. In this chamber is a hinged cradle to take the spool of film. using this hinged cradle makes loading the new film very easy. When loading new film, after fitting the spool in the cradle, it is necessary to pull the backing paper leader across the film gate and fit it into the slot in the take-up spool. For people new to medium format photography, the take-up spool is the empty spool from the previous roll of film. The take-up spool does not fit into a cradle but in order to fit the spool into the chamber on the right of the film gate, it is necessary to first pull up on the film advance knob to retract the advance key. Once the take-up spool is in place, you need to push down on the film advance knob again, making sure that the advance key has located in the slot on the end of the spool.

I usually like to try out my cameras with film but the cost of 120 film together with the cost of processing the film –and only eight pictures on each roll of film – means that I am going to pass up on the opportunity to test the camera.

Sida – the camera.

This is a very simple camera from Sida in Germany.

This is a very small German camera dating from the late 1930s. The design is as simple as possible and still have a working camera. The overall shape of the camera was maintained for some years but the details seem to have changed on a regular basis. The shutter release lever moved from behind the shutter to in front of the shutter to the base of the camera – I do not know the actual sequence of the changes, it could be the other way around. The body was sometimes die-cast in gun metal and sometimes in Bakelite.

This camera is very small. It measures 70 by 55 by 40 mm. This is only just big enough to take a roll of film. Actually, although the Interweb says that this camera takes 35 mm film, it is slightly too small and the Sida film specifically made for this camera cannot have been wider than 33 mm – it cost one shilling for a ten image roll in 1937. The camera is painted matt black (or, rather, was in the case of my camera as most of the paint has come off over the last 80-odd years). The front and back of the camera have panels which are textured in the metal to resemble leatherette but the texturing is in the casting. I should say, perhaps, that I have the die-cast metal version, not the Bakelite version.

This camera was advertised in the 1937 edition of the British Journal of Photography Almanac where the price was five shillings (25p in modern money).

The top of the camera is very simple (a recurring theme with this camera). On the right is a round raised portion which is the end of the film chamber inside. On the left is a round knob which is the film advance knob. This knob is on a ratchet and will only turn in one direction, and has an embossed arrow on the top to make clear which direction this is. The knob makes a very distinct grating noise when turned.

In the middle of the top is a very small viewfinder. The viewfinder is towards the front of the top and is impossible to use while wearing glasses. It is also difficult to use without glasses! The viewfinder image is correspondingly small and only vaguely squarish.

The back of the camera has a central red window. Although this camera uses miniature film, it uses a non-perforated film with a paper backing much like a small version of 120 film. When winding on the film, you need to look at the frame numbers through this red window. Above the red window is the name of the camera: “SIDA”. Across the red window is the legend “PATENT ang DRWZ”. The DRWZ bit is short for “Deutches Reichswarenzeichen” and the whole legend tells us that either the design of this camera is protected by a federal trademark or the name SIDA is protected – I am not clear as to which it is.

The bottom of the camera has a round raised portion at either end. Again, these are the ends of the internal film chambers. Between these is a rather small – 3mm diameter – hole for a tripod. Clearly, this cannot be used with a standard 1/4 inch Whitworth or UNC tripod which is about 6mm. Actually, I cannot imagine anyone wanting to use such a simple camera on a tripod.

The front of the camera is the most complex part. Not very complex but more complex than the rest of the camera. There is a 38 by 45 mm raised portion which protrudes 11mm from the rest of the camera. In the centre of this is the lens. Around the lens it says “Sida-Optik” and “1:8 = 35mm”. For such a simple and cheap camera, this has got to be a meniscus lens – just one piece of thin glass. The colour of the glass tells us that this lens is not coated – not that any lens is likely to be coated in 1938. The 1:8 tells us that the lens has a fixed aperture of ƒ/8. This is rather slow and must be coupled to a slow shutter speed to achieve a decent exposure of 1930s films. This small aperture will be necessary to achieve a good depth of field with the simple, focus-free lens. The focal length is 35 mm. The negatives produced by the camera have a diagonal of 35 mm so this lens is a “normal” lens for this film format.

On the left of the lens, on the surface of the camera, is the shutter release lever. This is a simple mild steel lever attached to the camera withy a brass screw. This lever fires the shutter when pressed down and fires the shutter again when pushed up.

On the right hand edge of the raised portion, towards the bottom, is a small screw threaded with a nut. If this is pulled out, the shutter is converted from a brief exposure to B. With this pulled out, the shutter release lever opens the shutter which remains open until the shutter release lever is pressed in the opposite direction. In the metal beside the raised portion, there is a moulded legend: “T←M”. “T” is clearly time and I am guessing that “M” is the German for moment.

The back of the camera is opened by pulling back on a lug on the left hand edge of the camera. There is no catch of any sort nor any hinge – the back comes away in one piece. Inside the back – which is painted matt black – there is the number 1946 scratched in the paint. Is this the year of manufacture, the year of purchase or a serial number? Your guess is as good as mine.

Inside the body of the camera, there is a chamber on the right for the new roll of film. At the top and bottom of the chamber are two grooves to locate the ends of the film spool but the film spool is not fixed in any way. There is a steel leaf spring to keep the spool from moving and to keep the film taut.

On the left is the chamber for the take-up spool. This spool latches at the top into the inside of the film advance knob, the bottom of the spool sits loosely in a groove as both ends of the film spool do.

In-between the two spool chambers is the film gate. This is 25 mm square. Above and below the film gate is a rebate to guide the film. In total – film gate plus two rebates – this measures 33 mm which is the maximum width of the film. The Interweb says that this camera uses 35mm film but that is not the case – Sida produced their own size of roll film.

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