OPL FocaSport

This FocaSport (or Foca Sport) is a French camera made by OPL (Optiques et Précision de Levallois SA). As occasionally happens, the camera came with its original printed instruction manual – available as a download here.

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  • lens: Foca-Neoplar
  • focal length: 45mm
  • apertures: ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/16
  • focus range: 0.75 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Atos leaf shutter
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/300 s
  • flash: PC socket
  • film size: 35 mm

This is a simple camera – no light meter or rangefinder and, of course, manual focus. But it is not a cheap camera. It is well designed and well made. Looking at the Interweb, it would appear that this camera was made in either 1954, 55 or 56 – so over 60 years old. The size is basically normal for a 35 mm camera from the 1950s. It measures 130 mm wide, 64 mm deep (including the lens) and 75 mm tall. It weighs 500g. This is not a pocket camera but it does fit in the pockets of my overcoat. It follows the standard pattern of having the body covered with leatherette and the top and bottom plates bright plated metal. I suspect that this is nickel plating – partly from the colour of the metal (it has a blueish tinge) and partly because there is a slight trace of what appears to be blue/green corrosion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1954 is about the cusp of movement from knobs to levers. The film advance and film rewind are both knobs. The next iteration of the FocaSport had an advance lever. The film advance knob is on the right of the top plate. This is a combination knob. As it is, it is the film advance knob. If you pull the knob up to its first detent (12 mm), the adjusting ring for the frame counter is exposed. This counter counts down so it is necessary to initially set it to the film length. Frames 38 and 22 are represented by a red dot. The idea is that you set the counter to one of these dots when loading a new film – depending on film length – and then, once you have wound on two frames of the new film to get past the fogged film leader, the counter will be at the required number. Pulling the film advance up to its second detent (21 mm) releases the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound. The film advance knob rotates clockwise which means that the film is wound onto the take-up spool emulsion side outermost.

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To the left and forward of the film advance knob is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated, cylindrical and threaded for a standard cable release.

In the middle of the top plate is a raised portion to house the viewfinder. The viewfinder is a reverse Galilean finder (which means it produces a smaller than life size image like a telescope used backwards does). The eye-piece would have been normal in its day but it is very small and hard to use  by today’s standards. I cannot use it while wearing my glasses.

The eye-piece lens is 5 mm in diameter in a circular metal surround. The front viewfinder window measures 10 by 7 mm in a window of 15 by 10 mm.  On top of this raised portion of the top plate is the accessory shoe. In 1954, this is a cold shoe and probably used for a rangefinder rather than a flash gun. On this accessory shoe is the legend “FRANCE” indicating a camera exported from France (unless OPL inscribed all their cameras “FRANCE” whether they were exported or not) and the camera serial number – 026.369.S.

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On the left of the top plate is the film rewind knob. This knob has no other functions but does have a film type memo on top. The options here are ASA from 6 to 100 or DIN 10 to 22, colour – sorry, couleur – daylight or tungsten.

The front of the camera is dominated by the shutter/lens housing. Two shutters were used on FocaSport cameras – Atos or Crouzet – the shutter on my camera is the Atos. I can tell this by looking at the shutter speed scale. On my camera B is on the right and 1/300 is on the left. The Crouzet shutter has these the other way around.

The shutter housing is bright chrome plated and is very reminiscent of a Prontor shutter from Germany. There are three rotatable rings on the housing. The ring nearest to the camera body is the aperture setting ring. This has value ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/16. ƒ/3.5, ƒ/4 and ƒ/5.6 are in black and ƒ/8, ƒ/11 and ƒ/16 are in red. The manual for this camera encourages the user to use the red values when possible. There are no detents here but the ring is firm enough not to move by accident.

The next ring is the shutter speed setting ring. This has values from 1 second to 1/300 seconds plus B. In 1954, this range of shutter speeds was usual and entirely adequate with cameras with leaf shutters. 1/25 seconds is in red as this is the synch speed for flash bulbs. Electronic flash can be used at any shutter speed. The reason for the distinction between bulb and electronic flash is the time taken for the flash to produce its maximum brightness. Electronic flash guns produce their maximum brightness almost instantly the electrical contact is made. This electrical contact is made as the shutter blades complete their opening movement, so the electronic flash will flash while the shutter blades are still open regardless of the shutter speed. Flash bulbs, on the other hand, need about 25 milliseconds to burn to their maximum brightness so the shutter blades need to remain fully open for at least this time. This restricts available shutter speeds to 1/25 seconds or slower.

The third rotatable ring is the focus ring. The focus scale runs from 0.75 m to infinity but will turn significantly below 0.75 m and my guess is that it will focus down to closer than 0.5 m. The focus scale has three Happy Snapper settings. Infinity is in blue and is underlined in blue. If the aperture is set to ƒ/8, and the focus is set to infinity then the depth of field (i.e. the range of distances in focus) is 5 m to infinity. 4m is in red and with the aperture set to ƒ/8 this will give a depth of field of 2.27 m to 18.15 m  (I am getting these numbers from the printed manual). 1.5 m is in green and is underlined in green. With focus set to this value and the aperture to ƒ/8, the depth of field is 1.17 m to 2.09 m. These Happy Snapper settings are designed for Landscapes (infinity), groups (4 m) and portraits (1.5 m).

The lens is a Foca-Neoplar. Given the name of the camera maker, I would think that this is their own design and manufacture. The focal length is 45 mm which is normal for 35 mm photography (but described on the lens bezel as 4.5 cm which was how focal lengths were expressed prior to WWII but rather old fashioned by 1954. The maximum aperture is ƒ/3.5. This lens is a triplet (made from three glass elements) and is front cell focusing (which means that the front glass element moves to focus the lens, the other two glass elements staying still). Next to the shutter/lens housing is a single PC socket for attaching a flash gun.

To get inside the camera, the back and base come away in one piece. There is a slide on the base marked O (for Ouvert) and F (for Fermé). Sliding this to cover F and reveal O causes the back/base to drop away – it will literally drop off the camera if you are not careful.

Inside is mostly what you would expect from a 35 mm camera. The film cassette goes on the left, the film gate is in the centre followed by the sprocket shaft (tambour denté) and then the take-up spool. This take-up spool is very thin and will put a decided curl on the film if left in the camera for a long time. What is not expected (and I have never seen before) is a security bar (Barrette de sécurité in the French manual) to keep the film sprocket holes securely located on the sprockets on the sprocket shaft.

The makers have followed the German fashion by having large flanges on the back fitting into deep grooves on the camera body to keep the joint between the back and body light tight – no foam seals to go gooey or to be replaced!

Test Film

I have finally finished my test film and got the scans back from Snappy Snaps in Lincoln. The shutter was almost silent in operation – to the point where I was never sure it had fired – but works well and the timings are at least usably close to declared values.

The lens is a disappointment. It is very prone to flare, even if there is only a small amount of bright highlight in the frame. Most of the 24 frames of my test film had some flare. The lens is clearly coated as both the front and rear of the lens have a blue tint – but it cannot be working very well.

Foca -sport-5Foca -sport-24Foca -sport-14Foca -sport-11Foca -sport-7

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