Ensign Selfix 420

I have a number of full-frame 120 folding cameras and they are all very similar. This camera is no exception. It dates from 1946 – a time when photography was moving away from from medium format towards miniature cameras (aka 35 mm). This camera is very similar to my German Icarette and Nettar cameras. The camera is entirely manual – as just about all cameras were in 1946

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  • lens: Ensar
  • focal length: 105 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 4 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Epsilon leaf
  • speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/150, B, T
  • flash: No!
  • film size: 120

When closed, the camera is a rectangular box with rounded ends. It measures 164 mm (6.5 inches) by 83 mm (3.25 inches) by 34 mm (1.4 inches) – I have added the Imperial measurements as the camera was made in England using Imperial units. The end of the box its extended by the catch and a small leather handle.

_1010552The top of the camera, on the right, has a small knurled knob. This pulls out to facilitate loading a new roll of film. At the other end is a larger knurled knob which is the film advance knob. Between the two is the viewfinder. This is just two hinged frames with no glass. The larger is chrome plated and the smaller is painted black. These are sprung so when you lift the chrome frame, the two snap into position. Between these two is a third frame which is not sprung. This is a mask with a square hole for use when taking square pictures – more later. The last thing on the top is a bright plated shutter release button. This is right by the film advance knob and is operated by the left hand.

_1010551The back of the camera is plain apart from the red window – and there are two of these. each of these red windows has a shutter to prevent light from entering and fogging the film. These shutters are far from essential – many medium format cameras have no shutters – but they are a nice touch.

One red window is right in the centre of the back and is used when using the internal mask to take 6 x 6 cm pictures. The shutter on this window is marked ’12’ as that is how many 6 x 6 negatives you get on a roll of film. The other red window is on the lower right and is for when taking full-frame 6 x 9 cm pictures. The shutter on this red window is marked ‘8’ as that is how many 6 x 9 negatives you get on a roll of film.

The base of the camera has two items on it. In the middle is a tripod socket which has the standard 1/4 inch Whitworth thread (not UNC at this age). Also on the base is a small button to release the lens door. According to the manual, the shutter/lens assembly should snap forward to the shooting position under spring [power. My camera needs a helping hand but it is over 70 years old – I am a few years younger than this camera and I no longer do much springing.

The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the camera body with leatherette bellows which appear to be in good condition – I can detect no light leaks but my test film might well tell me different. There are two chrome struts holding the shutter/lens assembly in place which will have been rigid when new but now have some play in the joints. I do not know what the design life of this camera was in 1946 but I expect that it was rather less than 70 years so I cannot complain about a bit of play.

_1010550The shutter issue an Epsilon leaf shutter which was made in England and I suspect was made by Ensign (or, rather, Houghton Butcher – the makers of Ensign cameras). This Ensign Selfix 420 was offered with a choice of two versions of the shutter. My camera has the cheaper option with only four speeds plus B and T. The speeds are the usual (for the time) 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 11/150 seconds. The first three are one stop apart but the last, 1/150, is only half a stop faster than 1/100. I assume that the basic design did not allow for 1/200 seconds.

‘B’ is for Bulb (or Brief, according to the manual) and with this setting the shutter will remain open while the shutter release button is depressed. ‘T’ is for Time and this setting opens the shutter which will remain open until the shutter release button is pressed a second time. This is useful for long exposures. On many cameras, there is no need to cock the shutter for B and T but here the shutter must be cocked first. The cocking lever is on top of the shutter housing, at the front, and must be pulled as far as it will go towards the cable release socket. There are two shutter speed scales, one on the front and one on the top of the housing. Speeds are selected by rotating the milled ring at the front of the shutter housing.

There is aa useful range of apertures available. These range from ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22. There is a serious weakness in the design here as the positions of the index marker for ƒ/16 and ƒ/22 are hidden beneath the brilliant viewfinder. There are two sliders available to adjust the aperture. The one on the top is the easiest to use between ƒ/4.5 and ƒ/11 but for ƒ/16 and ƒ/22 it is almost impossible to use. The second slider is underneath the housing and is hard to find by feel – it is just a flat tab – but is necessary for ƒ/16 nd ƒ/22.

The lens is an Ensart which was probably made by Ross. research on the Interweb tells ne very little about this lens. I got the feeling the Ensign used the same name for a number of lens designs. My assumption is that it is a triplet – going by the number of reflections in the lens from a point source of light – four in the front of the shutter and two behind – six reflections = six surfaces = three pieces of glass. This is not a foolproof method of determining the number of lens elements b ut does usually work. There is a slight blue tint to the glass so I think that the lens is coated at least on the front surface but, again, this is not a foolproof method  – it is the best I have available.

The focal length of the lens is 105 mm which is ‘normal‘ for 6 x 9 negatives and a bit long for 6 x 6 negatives. The focal scale runs from five feet to infinity but the closest focus is nearer to four feet.

On the top of the shutter housing is the brilliant viewfinder mentioned earlier. I really do not like these and I find it hard to understand why they added one when they already had the easy-to-use folding frame finder. This brilliant finder is on a swivel so its can be used in either portrait or landscape orientation.

The front of the lens door has the standard folding foot to enable the camera to be used on a firm surface together with a cable release for long exposures. For any indoor photography in 1946 this would be essential as typical film speeds were around 50 ASA (aka ISO). Also on the lens door is a second 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. This socket has a chromed screw-in cap.

The back of the camera is secured by a sliding catch at one end under the small leather handle. Inside, there are two spool chambers, one each side of the film gate. When loading the camera, the new film goes on the right and the spool is located on two pegs – the top peg can be retracted to facilitate insertion by lifting the small knurled knob on the top of the camera. The empty spool from the previous film must be moved to the chamber on the left. Again, there are two pegs and the top one can be retracted by pulling up the film advance knob. This top peg is a key which locates in the slot on the end of the spool.

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Before loading the film you need to decide whether you are wanting to take 6 x 6 or 6 x 9 negatives. If you wand 6 x 6 negatives, you need to fold out the two masking flaps that are stored inside the the top spool chambers. If you want 6 x 9 negatives you need to make sure that the masking flaps are tucked neatly out of the way in the two spool chambers. Once you have loaded the film, it is no longer possible to change your mind.

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