Crystar 15

This is a Japanese folding camera made for export – the distance scale is in feet. There is no country of manufacture anywhere on the camera which is rather unusual for an exported camera. The maker is Crystar Optl Co as marked on the shutter housing. It is very like a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517 or 518 from the early 1950s. My particular camera is not in very good condition. The bellows have collapsed and have pinprick holes in them, the catch for the back is almost detached from the camera body and the shutter has a sticking problem. I will deal with these in more detail in my general description.

P1050016lens: C-Master
focal length:  75 mm
apertures: f/3.5 to f/22
focus range: 3 feet to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: OKK leaf shutter
speeds: 1 second to 1/200 seconds
flash: PC socket
film size: 120

There are also some neat innovations. There is a permanently fixed mask inside the camera so that the user can choose between 6×6 or 6×4.5 negatives on 120 roll from. There are two, clearly marked, red windows on the back for whichever format is in use.

“There are no guidelines in the viewfinder to allow the user to distinguish between the 6×6 and 6×4.5 options.”

P1050019As is my wont, I will I will now give a description of the camera with photographs illustrating the main features.

“The lens is a C-Master (of which I have never heard before) of 75 mm focal length and maximum aperture of f/3.5.”

The top plate is made from satin-plated pressed brass with a strip of black leatherette. There is no corrosion of the plating metal so I assume that it is chromium rather than nickel. There is a raised portion in the centre housing the viewfinder. This is the typical 1950s small viewfinder with a circular eyepiece which is 5 mm in diameter. The front of the viewfinder is 10 mm square. There are no guidelines in the viewfinder to allow the user to distinguish between the 6×6 and 6×4.5 options. This viewfinder is very hard to use while wearing glasses and not particularly easy to use without glasses. On top of the viewfinder is the accessory shoe. This has no electrical contacts at this age. In front of the accessory shoe is the legend ‘Crystar’ in Italic script.

P1050018On the right of the top plate is a circular bright-plated disc. This is a part of the spool holder and has no practical function on the outside of the camera. Hard by this is the shutter release button. Again, this is bright plated. It is not threaded for a cable release – this function is supplied on the shutter housing.

On the left of the viewfinder is a second bright-plated disc. this one is the film advance knob. It turns clockwise (as indicated by a red arrow on its top) on a ratchet – it is not possible to turn it the wrong way. By the film advance knob is a second button. This one is the release for the lens door on the front of the camera.

P1050021While the camera is closed, the lens/shutter is behind a square door which protrudes from the front. As mentioned just above, this is opened by a button on the top left of the top plate. When pressing this button, the door is opened by a spring. On my camera, the door does not open all the way on its own – the last part requires manual help.

“The shutter is made by OKK and looks exactly like a Gauthier Prontor-S shutter.”

When opened, the lens door becomes a baseboard for the lens. This is held firmly in place by a chrome strut on either side. The lens/shutter is held firmly in place with the controls visible and accessible on the top of the housing.

P1050020The lens is a C-Master (of which I have never heard before) of 75 mm focal length and maximum aperture of f/3.5. There is a ‘c’ marked on the lens bezel to indicate that the lens is coated – also evidenced by the blue tint of the glass. The lens is front-cell focusing which means that the lens focusses by just the front piece of glass moving, the rest of the lens staying put. This is not as good as focusing with the whole lens moving but I doubt that any users would have noticed any difference.

“In any case, the standard advice is to not use these devices on old shutters as any defects here will wreck the shutter mechanism.”

P1050022The shutter is made by OKK and looks exactly like a Gauthier Prontor-S shutter. Shutter speeds are from 1 second to 1/200 seconds. Apertures are in the standard range from f/3.5 to f/22 – quite a good range for the date. There is a silver circle marked on the aperture range. This is used in conjunction with the distance scale where there is a faint vertical mark between 20 and 30 feet. Setting the aperture and distance to these marks gives a focus ranger from 15 feet to infinity and obviates the need to focus for landscapes.

On this type of shutter, it is necessary to manually cock the shutter before taking the picture. There is a lever with a round tip protruding from the top of the shutter housing. This needs to be pulled down to the right (that is right when holding the camera for use). On my camera, doing this partially opens the shutter – the shutter problem I mentioned above.  There are two ways of fixing this. The first is to take the shutter mechanism apart and clean it. Experience has taught me that this wrecks the shutter (I am not an engineer!). The other way is to sit quietly for an hour or so and repeatedly fire the shutter a few hundred times which is what I shall be doing shortly.

There is a red lever beneath the shutter housing. This is the self-timer which should delay the firing of the shutter by around eight to ten seconds. On my camera, this attempts to fire the shutter, but after thirty seconds or so it seems to run out of stream. In any case, the standard advice is to not use these devices on old shutters as any defects here will wreck the shutter mechanism. Also on the shutter housing – on the right hand side while using the camera – is a threaded socket for a standard cable release. On the other side is a PC socket for attaching a flash gun. There are no synch options for X or M flash.

To put the camera away again you press a tab (marked ‘COC’) on either side at the top of the struts and then lift the lens door.

Inside is much as you would expect from a roll film camera. The new film sits on the right and the take-unspool is on the left. The one unusual feature is a hinged mask allowing the user to choose between 6×6 or 6×4.5 negatives. This choice has to be made before the film is loaded into the camera. The mask consists of a hinged flap on either side of the film gate each of which masks 7.5 mm of the 6×6 frame. To use the camera as a 6×6 camera, the two flaps must be swung away from the film gate into the recesses for the film spools. To use the camera as a 6×4.5 camera, the two flaps must be swung out of the spool recesses and across the film gate. When using the camera as 6×6, you advance the film using the lower red window for the frame numbers and for 6×4.5 you use the upper red window. Both these red windows have a sliding shutter to keep errant light out of the camera when the red window is not in use.

Mask flaps in intermediate position

Because of the state of the bellows and the shutter blades, I shall not be trying this camera with film.


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