Enfield folding camera

This camera is a British Ensign camera – it was generously given to me by Harry Davies.  It is a folding camera of a very standard design. Visually, it is very similar to both a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/2  and an Agfa Billy Record. Dating it is problematic, not least because I am not sure of the model. The camera has a Gauthier Singlo shutter which was introduced in 1937 so the camera was made in either 1937, 38 or 39 – WWII got in the way of German imports so that rules out the 1940s.
Ensign, folded

It measures 160 mm by 75 mm by 32 mm. Actually, as this is an English camera, I ought to put the measurements into the old Imperial units: 6 1/4 inches by 3 inches by 1 1/2 inches. That is the metal body – the viewfinder, winder knob and catch protrude from that.

As far as I can see, the body is made from pressed steel painted black. The flat surfaces are covered in black leatherette. The name “Ensign” in handscript is embossed on the front near the catch for the back and “Ensign. Made in England” is embossed on the back. There is no model name embossed anywhere. There is the name “Singlo” on the shutter fascia and there are references on the Interweb to an “Ensign Singlo”. The shutter, made by Gauthier, is a Singlo shutter and the “Singlo” refers to the shutter (the same stamping in the metal appears on other camera makes) rather than to the camera model. Of course, that does not preclude Ensign from using the same name for the camera.
The top of the camera is plain black with just a folding viewfinder. This is a very basic double frame with no glass. The bottom of the camera has a chrome-plated film advance knob and a small button to release the catch on the lens door.
Ensign, open, side view

The back of the camera is also plain with a single red window for the film frame numbers. The front of the camera has the lens door. This has the usual folding leg so that the open camera can be stood on a flat surface. There is also a small (3/8 inch) screw. Undoing this leaves a 1/4 Whitworth threaded hole for a standard tripod screw.

When the door release is pressed the door opens about half-way on its springs. This camera has been stored somewhere damp and the door/lens struts have some areas of corrosion. When new, I suspect this door would have opened entirely on its own. When open, the lens/shutter housing is held very securely.
The shutter, as already mentioned a couple of times, is a Gauthier Singlo – this offers two speeds: 1/25 and 1/75 plus B and T. This shutter is an everset type – there is no cocking lever – but there is a cable release socket.
Ensign, open, front view

The lens is an Ensar – Ensign’s own make – which is 105 mm focal length. It focusses down to about four feet – the last marking on the scale is six feet but the lens moves significantly past this. The aperture ranges from f/7.7 to f/32. On the left side of the shutter housing is a Brilliant viewfinder. I always find these next to useless and always use the folding frame finders.

Inside is as you would expect. The film advance knob pulls out to allow the inserting and removing of the film spool. At the other end, to ease the inserting of the film the lower locating pin falls away – quite literally. I initially thought it was broken. This pin folds in automatically and is held in place securely when the back is closed.

In use.

This camera is quite easy to use.The only difficulty I had was with the positioning of the shutter release – in landscape mode, it is slightly beneath the camera and rather awkward to reach. In portrait mode it is fine. The folding viewfinder is large enough for me to use it while wearing my glasses – something that can not be said for much more expensive cameras of the period.

Test film

In its day, the pictures taken with this camera would have been printed as contact prints. That means they would be 9 cm by 6 cm which is about 1/3 of the size I have them here.  That means the defects would also have been 1/3 as big. In terms of sharpness and distortion, the lens is producing fine results. There is, however, a lot of vignetting – darkening in the corners of the picture – clearly visible in every shot.
The pictures were significantly underexposed. Partly, this is down to my setting on my (old) light meter. The film I used was Kodak Portra 160 which, surprisingly, has an ISO rating of 160. Problem is my light meter does not have a setting for 160 so there will have been a bit of error in my guessed setting. I think the shutter might have contributed as well. Usually with old shutters, they run rather slow causing over exposure but this Singlo shutter is a simple two-bladed device and if the first blade is a bit slow, the second blade will catch-up giving a too-short exposures. Without paying for an expensive electronic test of the shutter, I cannot know for sure.
These pictures are a bit ‘flat’ which I entirely put down to the awfully dull weather we have had in Lincoln recently.
Silver Street, Lincoln


Witham, Lincoln


Broadgate, Lincoln, with cathedral


pedestrian bridge over Broadgate, Lincoln


Stamp End, Lincoln


Marshall’s Yard, Gainsborough



Author: John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.

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