OrionWerk plate camera – Rio 8C?

A folding plate camera from Hannover, Germany.

Orion Werk were a small camera maker from Hannover (German spelling) that folded in 1933. They produced quite a large range of cameras – both plate and roll film – in their short life, 1921 to 1933. For some reason, they did not put any sort of model name on their cameras so identifying the model is problematical. In fact, I got my tentative model name (Rio 8C) by looking through illustrated catalogues from Orion until I found one that looked the same as mine and had the same specification.

My starting point is that the camera takes 9 x 12 cm plates – this rules out everything except the ‘C’ models. Next, there is no vertical shift screw on the lens standard which rules out most of the ‘C’ models. Next is the detail of the U frame (i.e. lens standard) that holds the shutter assembly. This took me to the Rio 8C. The shutter (Vario) and lens (Corygon) confirm the ID of Rio 8C but, as always, I am happy to be corrected.

The body of the camera is made from wood which gives it a very square profile – none of the curves at the ends that you get with a metal roll-film camera. Not much of the wood is visible but from what I can see it would appear to be a species of pine. The wood is covered with black leatherette which is embossed with a rectangular pattern. Normally, the leatherette has the maker’s name, logo, model name embossed in the leatherette but not here.

The back of the wooden box has a steel plate holder (holder of glass photographic plates, that is) attached to it. The box measures 157 by 110 by 38 mm. The film gate (should that be plate gate?) in the plate holder measures 115 by 82 mm. The actual glass plates would be held in a light tight frame measuring about 135 by 112 mm and the glass plates would seem to have been 9 by 12 cm. Above and below the fillm gate are velvet light traps – red at the top and black at the bottom. At the top of the plate holder is a small, swivelling, catch to keep the plates in place.

On one long side and on one short side of the camera is a tripod socket. These are 3/8 inch Whitworth threads. On the other long side is a leather carrying strap and on the other short end is a small button beneath the leatherette. Pressing this releases the lens door which folds down to give portrait format. This lens door is held at right angles to the body by a chromed metal strut on either side.

On the top surface of the lens door are two bright metal rails. These are to position the shutter/lens assembly when it is brought forward for use. Between these rails is the only admission as to who made this camera. Here, stamped into the metal of the lens door and picked out in white, is the legend “ORIONWERK Akt. Ges. HANNOVER”. Being German, they have spelt ‘Hannover’ in the correct German way rather than the British ‘Hanover’. On the left of the rails (as when using the camera) is a sprung focus scale. When the lens standard is pulled forward there is a plate that moves over, and pushed down, this focus plate. There is a stop on the focus plate which stops the lens standard moving any further forward – this is the infinity focus position. To focus closer, it is necessary to push the focus scale down and pull the lens standard further forward. The focus scale runs from 2 to infinity. The units here are missing but are going to be metres.

The lens standard is a U shaped bracket made from aalaauminium alloy painted black. This lens standard has two knurled knobs for the user to hold while pulling the lens standard forward. There is a groove on the inside of the lens standard which holds a steel plate. In turn, this steel plate holds the shutter/lens assembly. This plate can slide up and down in this groove, giving a crude rising front to the camera. Usually, on small cameras with a rising front, this sliding is achieved by way of a screw on the right-hand arm of the lens standard – not here though. The sliding plate has a home position which is located by a sprung indent. To rise the lens, it is just a matter of pulling up on the shutter/lens assembly. The effect of the rising front will be judged by looking at the ground glass focus screen. I assume that the rather cheap lens produced a large enough image circle to make the rising front useful.

The shutter is a Vario from Gauthier. The Vario shutter is a simple shutter offering three speeds – 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 as well as B and T. It is an everset shutter which means that a there is no need to cock the shutter before use. This is a dial-set shutter which means that a the shutter speed is set by a dial above the shutter housing. Around 1930, these dial-set shutters were superseded by rim-set shutters which had a setting ring around the shutter rather than a dial.

The shutter release lever is on the top right of the shutter housing. Just beneath this is a socket for a standard cable release. At the bottom of the shutter housing is the aperture scale and setting lever. This uses the older aperture scale of 6.3, 9, 12.5, 18, 25 and 36. This works the same as the modern scale in as much as each step halves (or doubles) the area of the aperture. The iris diaphragm has nine blades giving a fairly circular aperture. Above the shutter speed dial is the viewfinder. This is a brilliant finder and is reasonably large and clear – I still do not like brilliant finders but this is one of the better ones I have comes across. The finder is on a swivel so that it can be used in both portrait and landscape orientations. There is also the option to compose the image using the ground glass screen before inserting the photographic plate.

The lens is a Corygon triplet made by C. Friedrich of Munich. It has a focal length of 13.5 cm (cm were more usual than mm before about 1940). The downside here, particularly if I wanted to use this camera, is that someone has clearly removed the lens at some point. The retaining rings were only hand tight and, on the inside of the camera, the ring retaining the rear element has scuffing to the black paint.

The shutter/lens assembly is attached to the body by leatherette bellows. These are in very good condition and still light tight.

This is all I can say about the camera – apart from noting that the camera is missing the ground glass focus screen – but this camera also came with a strange attachment.

Many plate camera makers offered a roll-film attachment which allowed the user to save money and have an easier life by using cheap roll-film instead of glass plates at the cost of lower image quality. I have never seen a price for one of these attachments but I do not suppose that they were particularly cheap. A previous owner of this camera has got around this by making his own roll-film attachment .

What this owner has done is take an existing 120 format roll-film camera, remove the shutter/lens and the bellows and replace them with a glass plate holder. This attached plate holder slides into the grooves on the back of the plate camera. In some ways, this has been nicely done but the details of the work are crude. The two parts of the partial camera and the plate holder are held together by bent steel plates which have been soldered in place. These steel plates were then covered with black adhesive tape.

This adaptation works as intended on a mechanical level but has one large defect. The position of the roll-film in this adapter is 35mm further away from the lens than a glass plate would have been. This extra distance will have meant that a infinity focus will be impossible. I can only assume that they relied on depth of field/ small apertures and contact prints rather than enlargements. Or, perhaps, they did not understand the optics involved and found that their roll-film adapter was useless once they tried it out. We will never know.

As to the roll-film camera sacrificed to make this adapter, there is no indication of make or model apart from a crown logo on the back.


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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