Ricoh Auto Shot

This is a fairly small point-and-shoot camera from Ricoh. Small – but surprisingly heavy. The camera is made form die-cast aluminium alloy. Introduced in 1964, the widespread use of plastics was still in the future. This camera measures 73.5 by 113 by 56.5 mm (dimensions provided by Ricoh) and weighs 480g.

I have three other Ricoh cameras in my collection. Two are 35mm SLRs, one called the Ricoh TLS 401 and another is the Ricoh SLX 55. The third is a fixed lens SLR similar to the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex called the Ricoh 35 Flex.

  • lens: Rikenon
  • focal length: 35 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 3 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Copal leaf
  • speeds: 1/30 or 1/125
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

Exposure is controlled by on-board electronics. There is a selenium light meter around the lens to measure the light. The electronics then alter the aperture to provide a good exposure. The shutter speed is fixed at 1/125 second. If there is insufficient light for a good exposure, there is a red flag at the top of the viewfinder image.

Selenium light meters do not require batteries of any sort which is a big plus. The downside is that they are very insensitive to low light levels. As this camera has a fixed shutter speed and cannot take pictures in low light, this restriction of selenium meters does not matter much.

Another putative defect of selenium meters which gets quoted rather a lot on the Interweb is that the selenium sensor loses sensitivity of time. My camera collection includes 70 to 80 selenium meters dating back to the mid 1950s. All work well enough to agree with my modern digital cameras. It is true that selenium sensors do deteriorate with time but this is when exposed to light. No one keeps cameras or light meters exposed to bright light all day every day so this deterioration is mostly theoretical.

If there is insufficient light for the automatic exposure system, you can switch to a quasi-manual system. This is intended for using flash but works without using flash. You switch from auto to one of eight apertures. This changes the shutter speed to 1/30 second and the aperture to the selected value. This is a very slow shutter speed for a hand-held camera but fine if using a tripod or steadying the camera against a solid structure.

The layout of the camera is very unusual. Most cameras have the controls either on a top plate or around the lens. This camera has just one control on the top but has two controls on the base. This is not unique to this camera or to Ricoh but is very unusual.

Now for a detailed description. As mentioned above, there is little on the top plate. On the far right is an ISO hot flash shoe. This conforms to the ISO standard with no additional proprietary contacts. On the left of the top plate is a selector dial for film speed. Rather unusually for a Japanese camera, this film speed selector has scales for both ASA and DIN. For my younger readers, ASA was an American speed system (American Standards Association) and DIN was a German speed system (Deutsches Institut für Normung). Both have been incorporated into the modern ISO system (ISO is not an acronym – the organisation is called the International Organisation for Standards which would be IOS in English but would vary between different languages so they decided on ISO for all countries. See http://ISO/about us). If you use a modern film in this camera that is rated 200/24 ISO, you need to set the film speed either as 200 ASA or 24 DIN.

There are red arrows for setting the film speed and white arrows for when you need to adjust the automatic exposure such as when using a lens filter. In-between the flash shoe and film speed selector is the name of the camera in capitals: “RICOH AUTO SHOT”.

Turning the camera over, on the base at the right is a large knob. Turning this knob anti-clockwise winds-up the clockwork mechanism that powers the film advance mechanism (this only works when there is a film in place in the camera). This knob only turns one way but in case you cannot work this out, there is an arrow on top of the knob to help you. It takes ten complete turns to fully wind the mechanism. This is good to advance the film fifteen frames.

In the centre of the winding knob is a small button. Pressing this does two things. First, it causes the clockwork mechanism to rapidly unwind. Second, it allows the film to be rewound.

At the other end of the base is the rewind crank. This is the usual folding crank, but smaller than many. Beside this is the window to the frame counter. This counter is reset by opening the camera back – the counter resets to S which is -3. The frame counter has every fifth frame as a number while the rest are represented by dots. These are in black except for frames 20 and 36 which are in red.

The front of the camera is dominated by the light meter/shutter/lens assembly. This assembly is 60mm diameter. The shutter part is 43 mm diameter. Between these two is the light meter sensor. This consists of a ring of knobbly glass. Beneath this is a ring selenium sensor. Right at the top of this ring is a fairly small rectangular window which is the front of the viewfinder. The viewfinder image is very small – 1/3 of life size. This is OK for snapshots which is what this camera is intended for. If there is insufficient light for a good exposure, there is a red flag at the top of the viewfinder image. The light meter sensitivity is from LV10 to LV17.

The shutter mechanism lies inside the light meter ring. The shutter was made by Copal and has two speeds. In normal use, the shutter speed is fixed at 1/125 second and the light meter chooses the aperture. There is also a manual mode, intended for flash use, where the user selects the aperture and the shutter speed is fixed at 1/30 second. The available apertures are from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22. Only four of these are presented on the scale with numbers, the in-between values being dots. There are click-stops at each value.

In the centre of of the assembly is the lens. This is a Rikenon lens. I don’t think the name has any significance regarding design as all Ricoh cameras seem to have Rikenon lenses. This lens has four elements (pieces of glass) in three groups which sounds like a Tessar copy. The lens focal length is 35mm which is slightly wide angle for 35mm film.

The closest focus is a bit less than three feet. The focus scale has three different scales: feet in black, metres in red and icons in black. There are four icons: head and shoulders at about three feet (one metre); sitting at about six feet (two metres); standing at about fifteen feet (five meters); landscape at infinity.

To the right of the shutter/lens assembly, on the front face of the camera, is the shutter release. This is a vertical slide rather than a button. I find using this a bit disconcerting because as soon as the shutter fires the rewind crank rapidly turns as the film advances automatically. Given the small size of the camera, your hand is very close to the rewind crank (in my case touching it).

On the left hand end of the camera is a tripod socket. This is a strange place to have a tripod socket – this is the usual 1/4 inch UNC thread. Given the position of the tripod socket, putting the camera into portrait orientation, this would only be used for flash portraits – or, actually, never used at all. Above the tripod socket is a PC socket for flash. This is in addition to the ISO hot shoe and allows for the use of off-camera flash.

On the other end of the camera is a wrist strap. Above the wrist strap is the sliding catch to open the back of the camera. If you slide this down, the back snaps open.

In the centre of the back is the pressure plate . This is not particularly big but is about the size you would expect in a compact. On the catch end of the back is a chromed metal spring to keep the film cassette snuggly in place. at the hinge end of the back there is a flange that renders the hinge light tight.

The most striking thing about the back is the foam light seal. Usually, the Japanese put the light seal in a groove that the edges of the back fit into when closed. Not here. The foam seal is quite wide and is placed around the edges of the back. On my camera, the foam has almost completely broken down and will need to be replaced before I use the camera. The position of the seal means this will be very easy to do.

Inside the body, everything is much as you would expect. The film cassette goes on the right and the take-up spool is on the left. The film is held on the take-up spool by threading the film leader under a chrome metal spring.

There is no sprocket shaft in this camera – this helps to keep the camera compact. The sprocket holes are counted by a toothed wheel below the film gate – eight holes equals one frame.

On the bottom edge of the the body, near the rewind crank, is a small protruding tang. When the back is opened, this tang pops out and resets the frame counter. When the back is closed, the tang is pushed in and the frame counter can start counting again.


Zeiss Ikon Cocarette 514/2

This Cocarette is a fairly standard folding camera from the early 20th century. The design was by Contessa Nettel in around 1920. When Contessa Nettel merged with other makers to form Zeiss Ikon in 1926, Zeiss Ikon continued to make Cocarette cameras until 1930 or 1931. My camera is the Zeiss Ikon version. Zeiss Ikon made an astonishing variety of the basic Cocarette design. Mine is the 514/2 version. The 514 thread used 120 film – or B11 as Zeiss Ikon called it – (other Cocarettes used other sizes of film) and the /2 part of the number in various Zeiss Ikon cameras produce eight 6 by 9 cm negatives so this camera produces eight 6 by 9 cm negatives on 120 film.

  • lens: Dominar
  • focal length: 105 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 1.5 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Telma
  • speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B , T
  • flash: No!
  • film size: 120

The main way that Cocarette cameras differ from the plethora of other folding cameras is the method of loading film. With Cocarette cameras, the back of the camera does not open. Instead, one side of the camera pulls away from the body together with an internal cassette for holding the roll of film. In the middle of the side of the camera that pulls away is a sliding catch.

This is a nickel plated button within an oval ring. This button has two positions: A and Z. A is Auf which means, in this context, open. Z is Zu and Zu means closed. Both Auf and Zu have other meanings in German but in the context of a catch it is open and close. On my camera, pulling this cassette out is much harder than opening a hinged back. Mind you, my camera is 98 years old and has every right to be a bit stiff!

Because the film slides in sideways, it is not possible to have a pressure plate to keep the film flat. Instead, the film slides between two steel strips on either side of the film gate which prevent any curling of the film.

The removable side of the camera is made from aluminium alloy. The film cassette part is made from steel which is painted black. Most of the cassette consists of the film gate (the hole the light travels through to reach the film). The gate measures 90 by 57 mm – the size of the resulting negative.The film gate is rectangular but in one corner there is a semi-circular cut-out. This allows the user to see the frame numbers on the film through the red window on the camera back. Without the cut-out, the frame numbers would be obliterated by the steel framework.

On either side of the film gate are the spool holders for the film and take-up spools. On the end of the cassette away from the camera side there is a hinged plate to make fitting the spools easy. One end – the take-up spool end – has a key that fits into the end of the spool to allow the film advance key to rotate the take-up spool.

The aluminium side of the film cassette has a sliding catch to secure the cassette in the camera body. All around the internal edge of the aluminium side is a velvet light seal – none of this Japanese malarky with foam that turns to goo.

Where the film cassette slides into the body, there is a box structure that the film cassette has to fit around. This box is open to the front of the camera and is where the bellows fit . On the visible part of this box (which is painted with black crinkle-finish paint) is the counter-point to the catch on the cassette. Also here is the button to release the lens board on the front of the camera. This button protrudes through a hole is the side of the cassette so it can be accessed when the camera is fully assembled.

This is also where thw camera body serial number is stamped. Zeiss Ikon continued to use the ICA serial number system which consisted of a letter and up to five digits. As a note, early Zeiss Ikon Cocarettes continued to use Contessa Nettel serial numbers, presumably because there was a stock of Cocarette bodies in store when the Zeiss Ikon mergers took place. The serial number on my Cocarette is R 1828 which dates the body to 1930 which will have been one of the last to be made.

The side of the camera which pulls away also has the film advance key. Around this is an arrow showing the direction of turning. The key will turn in both directions but turning it the wrong way is likely to cause problems. Next to the film advance key is the button to release the lens board. At the other end of the side is a tripod socket. This is the original 3/8 inch Whitworth thread.

The front of the camera has the lens door. This is made form pressed steel and has a second tripod socket – the same 3/8 inch thread as the other tripod socket. There is also a folding foot which can be used to stand the camera on a table or such for when using the self-timer.

The lens door is opened by pressing the button beside the film advance key. When pressing this button, the lens board snaps down quite energetically. However, this is not a “self-erecting” camera and the lens/shutter assembly stays retracted inside the camera body. To use the camera, you have to pull out the lens/shutter. There are two bright metal studs in front of the lens. Pulling these studs forward pulls the lens/shutter forward – there is a definite stop when the lens/shutter is in the right place when a spring on the lens board latches onto a recess under the lenss/shutter assembly. The lens/shutter assembly is attached to the camera body by a concertina bellows.

The shutter is a Telma shutter made by Gauthier. The Telma shutter offers three speeds – 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 plus B and T. This shutter seems to be the same as a Derval shutter with the addition of a self-delay timer. This is an older type dial-set shutter with the shutter speed dial sitting above the shutter housing. The shutter is an everset type leaf shutter which means that there is no need to cock the shutter.

The lens is a Dominar. This is a copy of a Carl Zeiss Tessar originally made by Huttig and subsequently by Ica. Ica was owned by Carl Zeiss who, presumably, made the lenses for Ica. Assuming this to be so, the lens serial number will date the lens to 1930. This tallies with the body serial number which also dates the camera to 1930. The lens focal length is 10.5 cm (measuring focal length in mm had to wait for the 1940s) which is normal for a medium format camera.

The available apertures range from ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22 which is a good range for the date of the camera. The iris diaphragm consists of ten blades giving a decagonal aperture. This should give near circular bokeh if such things matter to you. The focus range is from 1.5 m to infinity. The camera has helical focusing. Many folding cameras of this age and older have a focus slide which was not an accurate method. This helical focusing (where you turn the lens to focus) is capable of much greater accuracy.

The focus scale has a Happy Snapper facility. There is a red dot on the focus scale just above 8 m. There is a second red dot on the aperture scale between ƒ/11 and ƒ/16 (but quite close to ƒ/11). If you set both the focus scale and aperture scale to their respective red dots, you will have everything from 4 m to infinity in focus – this is the hyperfocal distance for this lens at ƒ/12 and useful for landscape photography.

When looking at the lens, there is a lever at around 10 o’clock which is the shutter release lever. Behind this is a threaded socket for a standard cable release. In fact, this standard cable release socket and conical thread was originally designed by Gauthier, the makers of this shutter.

At about 2 o’clock on the shutter housing is a red lever. This is the self-timer lever. turning this clockwise and then pushing down on the shutter release lever activates the timer. When new, this would have provided a delay of around 8 to 10 seconds – long enough for the photographer to join the the group being photographed. It could also be used to stand the camera on a table and have the shutter fire without the photographer touching the camera at the point the shutter fires – useful for slow 1/25 second exposures.

Ricoh TLS 401

So, yet another 1960s 35mm SLR camera. There were many of these, and most were much of a muchness. The 35mm SLR cameras that I add to my collection either have historical interest or an interesting quirk. This Ricoh has a definite idiosyncrasy and is also a descendant of the Nikkorex F. The Nikkorex F was designed and made for Nikon by Mamyia and Mamyia subsequently sold the design to Ricoh who called the design the Ricoh Singlex. This Ricoh Singlex was refined to the Singlex TLS and then to this TLS 401. The Nikon F mount is now an M42/Pentax/Universal mount but the ground breaking Copal Square shutter is retained.

This is not my only Ricoh camera. I also have the Ricoh 35 Flex and the Ricoh SLX 500.

The camera body is made from die-cast aluminium. The top and bottom plates seem to be made from pressed aluminium alloy – at least, the metal is white and softer than my steel penknife. The body and hinged back are covered with black leatherette. The top and bottom plates are bright metal.

I am going to use my usual technique of describing the camera – starting at the right hand end of the top plate. The layout of the top plate is mostly ‘standard’ for a 60s or 70s 35mm SLR camera. On the right is the film advance lever. This is angled cut metal with a plastic slab along one side. There is no ratchet so the film must be advanced with one motion. The lever moves through about 130/140º. When the camera is not in use, the lever sits over the edge of the top plate but in use there is a stand-off position which makes it easier on then user’s thumb when feeling for the lever.

In front of the film advance lever is a window on to the frame counter. This counter is reset b y opening the camera’s back. Reset is to a red S which is actually -3. The even frames are represented by numbers in white and the odd numbers by white dots. Frames 20 and 36 are in red – 20 exposures used to be the standard length of film when this camera was made (1970).

At the front of the top plate, to the left of the frame counter window, is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal – almost certainly brass – and is threaded for a standard cable release. There is a chrome plated collar around the shutter release but this has no functional purpose.

Next along is the pentaprism hump. This is one of the idiosyncrasies of this camera. In the main, this is a standard SLR pentaprism hump. Inside, though, is not a pentaprism (so I shouldn’t really call it a pentaprism hump, I suppose) but a pentamirror _ an arrangement of mirrors which has the same effect as a pentaprism. This usually has the effect of reducing the brightness of the image in the viewfinder – Canon use this system in their modern cheaper DSLRs – and this camera is no exception, the viewfinder image is noticeably dimmer than I would expect.

The focus screen is basically plain ground glass. In the centre is a disc of micro-prisms to aid focusing. With the dimness of the viewfinder image, I do not find these micro-prisms very useful. A split image rangefinder spot would have been much more useful but these require a minimum level of illumination to work and this focus screen might have been just too dim for the split image rangefinder to work. Around the micro-prisms is a barely visible ring – this is the area where the light meter measures the light when in spot meter mode (more later).

On the right hand side of the focus screen, near the bottom, is the light meter display. This consists of two angled lines and a moving needle. Exposure will be good when the needle is centred between the two lines.

On the left of the focus screen, again near the bottom, are the two letters ‘S’ and ‘A’ together with a green pointer. ‘S’ stands for spot and if the green pointer points at ‘S’, the meter measures the light within that central ring mentioned earlier. ‘A’ stands for average and if the green pointer points at ‘A’, the light meter measures the light over the whole image. Selecting between ‘S’ and ‘A’ is done by a slider on the rear of the camera.

On the rear of the ‘pentaprism’ hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This gives a slightly reduced view of the image. On the top of the ‘pentaprism’ hump, there is a standard Barnack accessory shoe – no contacts here so a cold shoe. In front of the Barnack shoe is the idiosyncrasy mentioned earlier. This is a ‘waist-level’ viewfinder. I put ‘waist-level’ in quotes because you cannot use it at waist level as the image is just too small and the amount of the image you can see reduces the further your eye is from the ‘waist-level’ finder. To use this finder, you need to bend over the camera with your eye right against the finder, looking down. The instruction manual has a photograph showing this. In addition to being awkward ti use, the image is seriously cropped compared to the other , eye-level, finder. The only (slight) advantage over other waist-level finders that I have (Exakta, Exa, Ikoflex) the image is entirely the right way around.

To select between the two viewfinders, there is a knob on the right hand side of the ‘pentaprism’ hump. This requirement to switch between the two finders is why Ricoh went for a pentamirror rather than the more usual solid pentaprism.

Left of the ‘pentaprism’ hump is the usual folding rewind crank. As was usual in the 1960s and 1970s, the rewind crank doubles as the catch for the camera back – pulling up the crank opens the back. Around the crank is a film type reminder. The options are colour, B & W, or Empty. That last is useful for those of us with many cameras that only get used occasionally – it is not unheard of for me to open a camera to load it with film only to discover a (now fogged) film in place.

The front of the camera is, as always, dominated by the lens mount. This is a M42 threaded mount (also known as the Pentax, Praktica, or Universal mount). Looking inside the mount, at the bottom, is a bar which comes forward when the shutter release is pressed. This bar presses on a pin on the lens and closes the iris diaphragm to its preset aperture value. Above this bar is the reflex mirror. This is coloured a reddish brown which I have never seen before. I assume that the light meter photocells are behind the glass of the mirror and impart this colour.

To the left of the lens mount (while looking at the front of the camera) are two items. Towards the bottom of the camera is a rotating lever. This is the self-timer lever. If you rotate this 180º anti-clockwise and then press the shutter release there is an eight second delay before the shutter fires. As well as using this for the intended function of allowing the photographer to include themselves in the picture, you c an also use this to lock-up the mirror eight seconds before the shutter fires to reduce camera vibration in critical applications.

Above the self-timer is the combined shutter speed/film speed selector dial. This is usually on the top plate with SLR cameras and this is the only time I have seen one here. The film speed is adjusted by lifting the dial and turning it until the required ASA value is visible in the window. This is in ASA only but there is a conversion chart in the instruction manual to convert ASA to DIN “if you are using German films”. Note: ISO had not been invented yet in 1970 but it is functionally the same as ASA and DIN. The available film speeds range from 10 ASA to 800 ASA which is pretty much the range of amateur film speeds around in 1970. Shutter speeds are selected by rotating the dial without lifting the dial. Shutter speeds are from one second to 1/1000 second plus B. Speeds from 1 s to 1/125 s are in red and speeds from 1/250 s to 1/1000 s are in white. B is in green.

The rear of the camera has the viewfinder eyepiece just left of centre. On the rear of the top plate to the right of the eyepiece is a selector slider. When slid to the left, the letters ‘Sp’ are exposed. This sets the light meter to spot metering. When the slider is slid to the right the letters ‘Av’ are exposed. this sets the light meter to average metering. This setting is repeated in the viewfinder. 

On the left hand end of the top plate are two PC sockets – one marked ‘X’ and one marked ‘M’. The X socket is for electronic flash or fast flash bulbs and the M socket is for all other flash bulbs. For electronic flash and most flash bulbs, the shutter speed must be between 1/30 and 1/125 seconds. For some flash bulbs, 1/30 to 1/60 seconds is required. this is academic now as the flash bulbs concerned are no longer made.

The base of the camera has a 1/4 inch Whitworth (or UNC, I am not sure of the date of the change over) tripod socket in line with the lens mount.There is also a battery compartment which takes an EPX 625 battery. This was a mercury cell which is now banned but an alkaline version, EPX625G, is available. The battery powers the light meter – the rest of the camera is entirely is entirely manual. Also on the base is the button to disengage the sprocket shaft to allow the film to be rewound. Once pressed, there is no need to hold the button pressed in.

On pulling up on the rewind crank, the back is released and opens on a right hand hinge – none of this back and base coming away in one piece malarky. On the inside of the back is the usual pressure plate to keep the film flat against the film gate. There is also a sprung steel strip to keep the film cassette snug in its chamber.

The inside of the body is dominated by the film gate. The surrounds are nice and large which helps to keep the film flat. The actual film gate – the hole the light comes through – measures 34 by 23 mm which is a bit smaller than the standard 36 by 24 mm. The surround measures 35 by 80 mm. Left of the film gate is the chamber for the film cassette. This is just a plain space – no DX electric contacts for another 13 years.

On the other side of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. This rotates as the film is advanced and counts the holes in the film – eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the take-up spool.

The camera came with Ricoh’s standard 50mm lens which they call the Auto Rikenon. The Auto part merely means that the camera closes the iris diaphragm just before the shutter opens. There is a slider near to the mount end of the lens whjich allows you to select between ‘A’ (Auto) and ‘M’ (Manual). If you select M, the iris diaphragm closes or opens as you adjust the aperture ring. Switching to M allows you to preview the depth of field that your aperture setting will produce. It will also allow the lens to be used with a camera without the auto bar in the lens mount (such as the Soviet Zenit E). Normally, you would keep the lens set to A as this gives you the brightest possible image in the viewfinder.

The lens is quite a fast lens which means it has a large maximum aperture (which is the smallest number) which is ƒ/1.7. The minimum aperture (largest number) is ƒ/16. The aperture ring has click stops so you cannot accidentally change aperture.

The focus ring has two distance scales – metres in green and feet in white. The lens will focus down to 0.5 m which is fairly close for a standard lens. To move from 0.5 m to infinity (or the other way) needs the focus ring to move through around 250º which means that fine control of focus is easy.

Collection Appareils suggests that the lens has six glass elements arranged in five groups. It would appear that all glass surfaces are coated.

Leitz Eldia

A simple film copying device from Ernst Leitz, the makers of the Leica camera.

I saw this device on Ebay with a very vague description – no real indication as to what the device might actually be. It was made by Leitz (the makers of the Leica camera) which suggests it would be both well designed and well made. So I put a bid in and got the device for £8.00 – a bargain! Fortunately for me, the device came with full instructions, making the use of the device clear (full instructions are three small pages of text plus a diagram).

The device itself has the maker’s name – Leitz Wetzlar, Germany – on it but no other writing. The box has the additional information of “Eldia 17900W” but no more and that is all the information that I had when I bought it.

The instructions (four small pages) have the additional information “Eldia printer” and “printing device for transparency film strips”. It seems that the device is intended for producing projectable positives on black and white film from black and white negatives. Searching on the Interweb suggests that this device was first introduced in about 1930 (dates on the Interweb vary a bit). Leitz Wetzlar was incorporated into a GmbH in 1930 and this name is printed on the instructions – “Leitz Wetzlar GmbH” so my device was made in or after 1930.

Early versions, according to the Interweb, had nickel plated knobs, later versions had chrome plated knobs and the last versions had plastic knobs. Mine has anodised aluminium knobs – so much for the Interweb! Both the device itself and the instructions say that it was made in Germany rather than West Germany which might suggest that it was made before 1945 but might also mean that it was of late enough manufacture that the distinction between West and East Germany was old hat and West Germany had returned to calling itself just Germany. On balance, I think mine is a later rather than earlier model.

The device itself is very simple – no lens, no shutter, no meter. It is fully manual and really simple. The device is basically a box with semicircular ends. It is made from brass which is painted black with a coarse crinkle finish. The is a hinged front – also brass painted black but with a finer crinkle finish.

The top has the only controls there are – a knurled knob at either end. These are different heights – the right hand one is taller and has an arrow embossed on top to indicate the direction of turn. The left hand knob is lower and has no arrow. Half way between these two knobs is a spring catch that holds the hinged front in place.

The rear of the device has a red glass window measuring 38 by 30 mm. It is far from clear why this window is there. In film photography it usually indicates illumination for blue sensitive emulsions but this red window is not involved in illuminating anything. if the red window was replaced by solid metal, the device would work just as well.

The front of the device has a hinged flap. This has a central clear window. On my device, this window measures 25 by 19 mm which is half a standard 35mm film frame. It can be replaced with a larger window measuring 25 by 37 mm. This hinged flap also contains the maker’s logo – “Leitz WETZLAR” and the country of origin: “GERMANY”. This flap is held in the closed position by the spring mentioned earlier.

When the flap is opened, the front of the device is exposed. There is a large aperture – 82 by 35 mm – with a glass window centrally. This time the glass is colourless but, as with the red window on the back, this glass window serves no discernible purpose. On the right side of the glass window is a sprocket shaft. When rotated, this shaft clicks once every time four sprockets pass the front – this equates to half a standard 35mm film frame. This allows you to measure one frame (two clicks) or one half-frame (one click) when winding the film in the dark. The inside of the flap has two guides to hold a strip of developed negatives.

If you open the flap, it is then possible to remove the top of the device – this top is just a push-fit lid with two holes. The two knobs that protrude through the holes are attached to spools to hold a length of 35mm film. The instructions say the spools will hold three metres of film which is about two 36 exposure cassettes worth.

In use, you load a length of unexposed copy film onto the spool with a small knob and pull the film across the glass window with the emulsion on the outside and on to the spool with a large knob. The strip of negatives that you want to copy fits between the guides on the flap, again with the emulsion on the outside. Note that the unexposed film you use must be copying film that can be used under a red safe-light. When the flap is closed, the emulsion side of the two films will be in close contact.

You expose the copy film through the glass window in the flap – through the negative you want to copy – by holding the front of the device 1.5 m from a 25 watt incandescent bulb. If you use black and white film and black and white negatives, you will end up with a black and white positive for projecting which is the original purpose of the device. If you use colour reversal film and colour slides, you will end up with a duplicate colour slide.

Mir or Мир

This is a Soviet camera made in the KMZ factory in Krasnogorsk near Moscow. KMZ stands for Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod (Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works in English) which is still operational (September 2022). KMZ is better known for their Zorki and Zenith cameras both of which were derived from Leitz’s Leica II camera. The name “Mir” can mean either peace or world. This camera shares its name with the Mir space station launched by the USSR in 1986.

This Mir is a cut-down version of the Zorki 4 and was produced only for the internal Soviet market. This camera was a ‘grey’ import to the UK. The outside of the camera looks just the same as my Zorki 4. However, I am going to describe the camera from scratch rather than just list the differences.

The camera is made from die-cast aluminium alloy with a satin chrome plated top and base plates. The camera, without lens, measures 142 by 90 by 35 mm and it weighs 595 g. Most of the body is covered with black leatherette.

As mentioned above, this camera is derived from the German Leica II camera of the 1930s. It is not a direct copy – the FED I was a simplified copy of the Leica and the Zorki 1 was a straight copy of the FED I. The Zorki 1 was developed and improved in stages to the Zorki 4 and this Mir is a cut-down version of the Zorki 4. This heritage is most noticeable in the design of the top plate which is stepped with controls at different levels.

At the far right of the top plate is the film advance knob. This camera was made in 1960 and most cameras had film advance levers by this date. Turning this to advance the film you can detect the difference between top German engineering and Soviet engineering. The mechanism works well even after 62 years but you can feel a slight but definite bearing grumble. I don’t have a Leica to compare it to but none of my Zeiss Ikon cameras of a similar age have any sort of bearing grumble.

In the centre of the film advance knob is the frame counter. This counts up from zero and needs to be reset by hand when you load a new film. This film advance knob is on a lower portion of the top plate and is close to the edge of the raised portion which makes it quite hard to get a grip on the knob.

Just up on the higher part of the top plate, towards the rear, is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal with a machined top. The button is threaded for a standard cable release. If you turn the shutter release button as you press it, it will lock down until you turn it the other way.

Around the release button is a knurled metal collar. This has two positions: П Д  – these are actually embossed in Cyrillic letters, the Latin equivalents are P and D. Normal operating position is Д – the actual position is denoted by a dot. Turning the collar clockwise to just past П (no dot this time) releases the sprocket shaft inside so that the film can be rewound.

Left of the shutter release button is the shutter speed selector. This is the standard Leica type – you lift and turn to select the speed and the whole thing turns as the shutter fires. Being a Leica type shutter, it is important to wind on the film before changing the shutter speed – failure to do so can fatally damage the shutter mechanism.

This is one of the areas where simplification occurred as KMZ made the camera cheaper to make. Speeds are from 1/30 to 1/500 seconds – the original Zorki 4 had a sequence of much slower speeds and one faster speed of 1/1000 second. If you are willing to set the shutter speed without numbers to guide you, there is a dot past the 1/500 setting which seems to be the 1/1000 speed but without acknowledgement. The slower speeds are not much of a loss as in 50 years of photography I have rarely even used less than 1/60 seconds.

Around the shutter speed selector is a second selector which is very unusual. The outer ring turns allowing you to select the flash synchronising delay. There are six selectable delays: 0, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 milliseconds. 0 is for electronic flash and the others are for various types of flash bulbs.makes a difference from just having X and M! The Zorki 4 which this camera is derived from has a similar ring but with far fewer options.

Next along from the shutter speed selector is the accessory shoe. This is a standard Barnack shoe with no electrical contacts – so a cold shoe. While these are usually referred to as flash shoes, on rangefinder cameras they are likely to be used with separate viewfinders for use with other focal length lenses. The built-in viewfinder only gives an accurate representation of the image with the 50mm lens supplied with the camera. If you fit either a wide-angle or a telephoto lens to the camera you need to use an appropriate wide-angle or telephoto viewfinder.

On the far left of the top plate the level of the top plate dips again. On this lower portion is the film rewind knob. This is knurled metal. This will turn in both directions and has an arrow stamped on to to indicate the correct direction. Like the film advance knob, this is much to close to the edge of the raised portion of the top plate for the user to get a grip. This time, the designers have thought this through and the rewind knob pulls up 10 mm so that it is above the rest of the top plate and getting a grip is easy.

Below the rewind knob there is a rotating lever. This lever has a short travel of just a few degrees. It moves a lens inside the viewfinder and adjusting this allows the photographer to use the viewfinder without wearing their glasses. This is actually important as the viewfinder eyepiece is metal and will scratch spectacle lenses. I speak from experience!

The rear of the top plate has some writing on it. As this camera was only available in the USSR, the writing is in Cyrillic. Prominent is “Made in USSR” – I cannot type this in Cyrillic, unfortunately. Below this is the KMZ logo of a prism with a ray of light passing through it. To the right, at the base of the top plate, is the camera serial number. KMZ is one of the Soviet makers that started the serial numbers with the year of manufacture. This serial number starts with ’60’ so the camera was made in 1960. Not all the other Soviet makers did this – particularly FERD – so even if the serial number appears to start with the year, it is just coincidence.

A the left end of the rear of the top plate is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is quite viscous as it is metal and will easily scratch modern spectacles. if you are a spectacle wearer, you need to use the dioptre adjuster mentioned above and keep your glasses in your pocket.

The viewfinder image is tinted mauve – this is to make the rangefinder easier to use. In the centre og the mauve image is a pale yellow spot. The two colours are to maximise the contrast between the general image and the smaller rangefinder image.

To use the rangefinder, you centre the pale yellow spot on your main subject. if the subject is out of focus, there will be two images within the spot – a mauve image and a yellow image. As you turn the lens focus ring, the yellow image will slowly move. keep turning the focus ring until the mauve and yellow images are in the superimposed.

The front of the top plate has more going on on it. On the right is the viewfinder window. This is nice and large, 19 by 12 mm. In the centre of the front of the top plate is the rangefinder window. This is much smaller at 5 by 4 mm. At the left of the front of the top plate is a PC socket for connecting a flash gun. Between the rangefinder window and the PC socket is the camera name in Cyrillic script – Mir – which looks like Mur to Western eyes but is, of course, in Cyrillic.

Below the top plate, in the middle of the front, is the lens mount. This is the standard M39 thread used by Leica. It is also known as the LTM (Leica Thread Mount). It will take any lens intended for a threaded Leica, Canon rangefinder, FED, Zorki and quite a few others.

Looking in the mount, you are looking right at the fabric focal plane shutter – no mirror in a rangefinder camera. Just inside the mount, at the top, is a lever on a swivel. This actuates the rangefinder. As the lens is focused nearer, the rear of the lens extends and pushes this lever inwards and, in turn, this moves the image in the yellow spot in the viewfinder.

To the left of the lens mount is the self-timer lever. To use this, you turn it through 90º clockwise. Above the lever is a small chrome button which activates the timer when pressed. This gives a 6 to 8 second delay before the shutter fires. On each corner of the front, just below the top plate, is a lug for attaching a strap.

To access the insides of the camera to load or remove a film, you have to remove the back and base in one piece. This is achieved by turning two semicircular folding keys, one at each end of the base. One turns clockwise and the other one turns anti-clockwise. Between these folding keys, in line with the lens, is a tripod socket. This is the older 3/8 inch Whitworth thread.

The inside of the back has a rather small pressure plate for keeping the film flat. On the left of the base (on the right when looking at the inside ) is inside of the key for opening the camera. This has a cutaway which locates on the base of FED-type refillable cassettes. When this key is turned to fix the back/base in place, this opens the cassette to allow the film to move both into and out of the cassette without scratching the film. Turning the key to release the back/base closes the cassette rendering it light tight.

Inside the camera body, in the middle, is the film gate. This is reasonably large – much larger than the pressure plate. The actual gate is 36 by 24 mm – the standard size for 35 mm film. Behind this is the focal plane shutter. This is black light-tight cloth which is in very good condition – others of my old Soviet cameras have wrinkled or translucent (and on one camera, both). The shutter speeds look to be very good at the higher speeds (I have no means of checking the speeds, I am going by a general impression) but on lower speeds (1/30 or B) the blinds move very slowly and erratically.

On the left of the film gate is the chamber for the film cassette. This can be either a Kodak style cassette or a FED type refillable cassette. On the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft for counting the sprocket holes in the film when advancing the film. Eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the drive for the take-up spool. This looks remarkably complex with teeth and a spring. This drive fits the supplied take-up spool. I have been told that you can fit a second, empty, cassette here to avoid having to rewind the film, but my FED cassettes will not fit here. The supplied take-up spool has a spring-steel grip to take the film leader.

The edges of the back fit into a groove on the body to provide a light seal. This camera is ultimately derived from the German Leica and no foam light seals were used and no foam light seals to go bad.

The lens that cvame with the camera is an Industar-50 lens. This is essentially a copy of the Carl Zeiss Tessar. Zeiss’s patents on the tyessar had expired a long time before the Soviets started copying the Tessar design. Tessars are my favourite lenses. They might not be as sharp corner to corner as some other lenses and distortion is not completely eradicated but the Tessar renders images very nicely with something of a 3D effect. Many people get carried away by the technical excellence or otherwise of their equipment and forget that they are producing pictures. Tessars help with the story telling so sod the technicalities.

The focus range is from one metre to infinity. To move the focus from one metre to infinity (or from infinity to one metre) you need to turn the focus ring through 180º. This is enough of a turn to allow for precise focusing (something missing on modern autofocus lenses which are a nightmare to focus manually). Apertures are from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/16. There are two aperture scales so as you focus, one of the two scales is always at the top of the lens barrel and easily visible.

Tessars – and this Industar – have four glass elements in three groups – there are air gaps between the groups. The lens is coated – there is a red П on the lens bezel. This П stands for покрытый (or pokrytiy in the Latin alphabet) which means ‘coated’. I would assume that this is multicoated and on each glass surface as was usual by 1960. but that is definitely an assumption on my part.

Rajar No 6

This is another Bakelite camera – my others are the Soho Model B and the VP Twin. The later Soho Model B design is clearly derived from this Rajar No 6 – they even use identical struts. This camera appears to have been designed in 1929 and is an Art Deco design. It was made by APeM – this company had a chequered history and part of it ended up as Soho Ltd, the makers of the Soho Model B mentioned above. The camera measures 167 by 90 by 38 mm when closed and 167 by 90 by 115 when open for use. It weighs 450 g.

  • lens: meniscus
  • focal length: 85 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/12
  • focus range: ?
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: simple
  • speeds: I & T
  • flash: no
  • film size: Rajar No 6

As mentioned earlier, this camera is made from Bakelite, one of our earliest plastics dating from 1907. The Bakelite is black (many other colours of bakelite were available) and the body is rectangular with only the ends being curved. There are a few parts not made from Bakelite. The struts holding the lens board in place, the metal wires holding the back in place and there is a metal chassis behind the Bakelite lens board and a few rivets.

All the controls apart from the film advance key are on the lens board – not that there are many controls: only one shutter speed, one aperture and a fixed focus lens. So, the camera body is an unadorned rectangular box with curved ends. The only ornamentation on the front are two rectangles, one above and one below the lens board. The back has eleven parallel grooves. These are broken at the top by a curved box bearing the legend “ONLY RAJAR NO 6 SPOOL WILL FIT THIS CAMERA”

Towards the other end of the back is the circular red window for viewing the frame numbers on the film backing paper. although this window would have been a very definite red when new it has faded over the last 90 years to a pale orange. At the other end of the body to the red window is the film advance key. This is made from nickel plated brass and has a slight twist to it to make it fit the hand better.

To use the camera, it is necessary to extend the lens board. this pulls out and is held on four folding struts. It is a little hard to start it moving but once it has moved a bit it is easy to pull out to its final position. The four struts hold the lens board securely in place and parallel to the film.

The lens board is essentially rectangular with a curved cutaway at the top for a finger grip when extending the camera. At the bottom of the lens board is a semi-circular extension which has no function – it is entirely decorative.

In the centre of the lens board is the lens and shutter. The lens is a meniscus lens – one piece of glass – and is not usually visible as it sits behind the shutter blades. I am told by Collection Appareils that the lens has a focal length of 85mm and a fixed aperture of /12. This is a rather small aperture but is needed to give the required depth of field to compensate for the non-focusing lens.

The shutter is a very simple everset shutter offering just one speed –I – and timed exposure – T. deferring again to Collections Appareils, I (for Instantaneous)gives a shutter speed of between 1/50 and 1/30 seconds. This is not a precise speed and nor does it need to be. this camera relies on the film’s exposure latitude to produce usable pictures.

The shutter release lever protrudes from behind the semi-circular extension – it is a flat serrated metal tab. This works in two directions – moving it left to fires the shutter and moving it right fires the shutter. The T setting – Time – causes the shutter to open when the shutter release is moved and the shutter then stays open until the shutter release is moved again. To use the T setting you need to be able to keep the camera steady on a table. There is no tripod socket but there is a folding leg hidden away behind the bottom of the lens board. This allows long exposures in the portrait orientation but not in the landsca[[e orientation.

Beneath the lens on the lens board is a triangular plaque bearing the legend “RAJAR No 6”. This looks as if it was originally silver and red but now is mostly murky brown.

At the top of the lens board is a 7 mm (actually 3/10 inch as this is a British camera) hole behind which sits the viewfinder. This is a Brilliant finder which I never really like. this one is marginally better than the run-of-the-mill Brilliant finders as the top piece of glass is ground glass rather than the usual plain glass which gives a clearer (but not clear) image. This Brilliant finder is on a swivel so you can move it through 90º for when you are taking landscape pictures.

The back is held in place by two sturdy wire clips. These are a very tight grip and require significant effort to remove. When they have both been unclipped and moved to the front of the camera the back comes away in one piece.

The inside of the back is completely plain – no advice as to film, no patent numbers, no nothing. The only feature is a cutaway near one corner to allow for fitting around the film advance key.

The inside of the body is dominated by the film gate. This measures 82 by 56 mm which is about what you would expect from 120 film but this camera uses Rajar’s own Rajar 6 film. My camera has an empty spool in it and I can measure the width of the backing paper which is 62 mm. It would seem like Rajar No 6 film is the same as 120 film although the Rajar spot is very different. The Rajar spool has an extension on one end with a square hole for the film advance key. Apparently, adapters were available to allow 120 film to be used.

Neither the film spool nor the take-up spool are fixed in any way. The only concession to the spools moving is a nickel-plated leaf spring in each spool chamber which will be mostly about keeping the film snug on the spools.

Dating Cameras.

You might not be interested in knowing the exact age of your cameras but most collectors are. Having a precise date is good but no always possible.

The dates that cameras were made between can be ascertained from promotional literature and catalogues. The British Journal of Photography Almanac has adverts for many camera models – these do not actually date the camera but if a camera is advertised in, say, 1954 then it musty have been available in that year. The Almanac also has a section called New Goods which does date the introduction of a particular model.

A London retailer – Wallace Heaton – published a catalogue from 1938 to 1972 called the Blue Book (because of its cover). Again, a camera model being advertised in this does not precisely date the camera but does show that the camera model was available in that year. Other retail catalogues can provide the same information. Manufacturers’ catalogues can provide more precise information as they will announce new models.

There are two tomes of use to collectors: McKeown’s and the Hove Blue Book. These give the dates that a camera was produced but with the caveat that both contain mistakes.

Serial numbers can be very useful for dating individual cameras. There are limits to this, however. Some makers, usually of cheaper camera, did not use serial numbers. Most makers did use serial numbers but which serial numbers were used when has never been made public. Some markers, Kodak and Hasselblad for instance, used code words to date their cameras. I have some useful tables of serial numbers available here.

Some, but not all, Soviet makers start their serial numbers with the year of manufacture. It is difficult to tell which serial numbers have the date and which just start with digits which could be the date but are not.

Some serial numbers have well established serial number date ranges – Carl Zeiss lenses and Schneider lenses for example. Some serial number date ranges have been meticulously assembled by camera enthusiasts – Zeiss Ikon, for example, and Nikon. Some makers, Zeiss Ikon and Voigtländer are examples, used the same serial number sequence for all their output while others, Nikon for example, have separate serial number ranges for each model.

When you have a camera with a body serial number, shutter serial number and lens serial number, you would hope that each would give the same date but this is frequently not the case. The main reason for this is batch manufacture. Firms like Zeiss Ikon would make a large batch of a particular body moulding and then use that batch of mouldings over many months. They would buy in batches of shutters and lenses and, again, use each batch over many months. This can result in bodies, shutters and lenses being assembled into a finished camera with the components dating from different years. When this happens, I assume that the date of manufacture is the most recent of the three.

There is another reason for a mismatch of serial number dates and that is repair/update. For repairs, either the lens or shutter might be replaced several years after the camera was originally made. Other than repair, the owner might upgrade either shutter or lens when finances allow. When this happens, one of the serial numbers will be significantly out of step with the others. This can happen today with a repairer having no source of new components having to cannibalise old cameras to get the parts for the repair. This might result in components being several decades out of sync.

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. For exchangeable lenses (for SLR cameras and rangefinders) there are several small screws around the lens – these should be in good condition. any chewing of the screw head, no matter how slight, indicates that an amateur has tried to dismantle the lens – not good. 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.

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