Butcher’s Reflex Carbine

Antique (1925) reflex camera from England.

At first glance, this looks like a box camera from the first half of the 20th century. It is a black box with a lens in the middle of one face. At 2nd glance, there are too many controls and a raised portion. This raised portion gives the lie to the box camera idea. On the raised portion is embossed “Butcher’s Reflex Carbine”. I have no idea as to what the “carbine” bit means – to me, a carbine is a short barrelled rifle – but the reflex part means we have a mirror and focus screen and we are viewing through the ens.

  • lens: Rikenon
  • focal length: 35 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 3 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Copal leaf
  • speeds: 1/30 or 1/125
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

At the back of this raised portion is a metal catch. This holds the lid in place. Raising the lid reveals a folded, heavy cloth “chimney”. Unfolding this chimney produces the reflex viewfinder. This gives on to a ground glass focus screen. When new, this chimney viewfinder would support itself when unfolded but 100 years have not been kind to the fabric and it is now too soft to support itself. When you look down the chimney (holding it raised and open), you are looking at an image formed by a ƒ/7.7 lens – the image is not particularly bright, even after cleaning both the lens and screen. The focus screen has no focus aids but has a compositional aid in the form of painted cross lines.

In front of the viewfinder is a black metal focus knob. There is no focus scale – infinity is marked beside the knob but there is no visible index mark on the knob to align with the infinity mark. Focus is purely visual – but with a maximum aperture of ƒ/7.7, the depth of field is sufficient to hide a lot of focus error.

The focus knob is on a black metal plate which bears the legend “Patent No. 210531 1922” which effectively effectively dates the camera to the 1920s and not before 1922. Both my McKeown’s and Hove Blue Book state that this camera came to market in 1925 and was renamed the Ensign Roll Film Reflex in 1926 so that would give a clear date of 1925 for this camera.

To the right of the focus knob is the film advance key. This will only turn anti-clockwise. Between the film advance key and the viewfinder is a black lever hinged at one end. Raising this lever lowers the reflex mirror for use and resets the shutter.

The front of the camera has the lens in the centre. This is an Aldis Uno anastigmat which would seem to be a triplet (according to the Interweb, not my own observations). It has a focal length of 4.25 inches which equates to 106 mm or thereby. It has a maximum aperture of ƒ/7.7 and a minimum aperture of ƒ/32. The aperture is adjusted by using two studs on the front of the lens. The aperture adjustment has no click stops.

On the right of the lens are two chrome buttons. The top one is marked B and pressing this one keeps the shutter open while the button is depressed (or would if my camera was working properly). The lower button is unmarked (or the embossed mark has disappeared) but it is for “Instantaneous” exposure which will be somewhere between 1/25 and 1/60 seconds (at a guess).

The back of the camera is unadorned apart from a red window in the top left-hand corner. For younger readers, this red window is used to read the frame numbers on the film backing paper when advancing the film. After a century, this red window has faded to a pale orange.

The base of the camera has a central tripod socket which is a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. It looks like this has been inserted into a 3/8 Whitworth thread.

The two sides of the camera have a circular catch at the front and a loop for a neck strap at the rear. The right-hand side also has a diagonal leather hand strap which is embossed with the word “Carbine”. The left-hand side sports a second tripod socket which is again a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. Using this second tripod socket would be problematical as the viewfinder chimney will be sticking out sideways.

If you turn the two circular catches on the sides (and adjust the lens to infinity or else it catches on the lip of the outside), the outsides of the camera will pull away form the top and insides. The outside is made from wood covered in black leather on the outside (one Interweb source says it is fish-skin) and painted matt black on the inside. The edges of the outside box have a lip which will fit into a groove on the top to provide light tightness. The bottom of the outside box has the serial number stamped into it – B45621. The front has a round hole – 1.5 inches in diameter, or 40 mm – for the lens to poke through. Beside the lens hole is a spring steel bar which is pressed by the two chrome buttons mentioned earlier. The back of this box part has the red window as already mentioned.

Once you have removed the wooden outside the part you are left with is mostly made from steel. The top part is wood to match the rest of the outside. The top part sports a repeat of the camera serial number. Starting at the front, there is the lens which is held on a steel bracket. This bracket moves to and fro when the focus knob is turned. The back of the lens is attached to the shutter with a leather bellows. While looking at the lens, on the left of the lens, are the two shutter release ‘actuators’ that are pressed by the chrome buttons on the outside front of the camera. Either side of the lens is a wooden baffle which will fit into grooves on the outside portion of the camera to prevent light coming in around the lens from fogging the film.

Outside these baffles are the holders for the roll of film and the take-up spool. The base of these holders is made from sprung steel to make inserting the spools easy. My camera comes with a very old take-up spool. The way 120 film works is the empty spool from a roll of film becomes the take-up spool for the next roll of film – to the take-up spool is continually replaced with a new one. When Kodak introduced 120 film in 1901, the spools were made from wood with metal ends. These were replaced with all metal spools which, in turn, were replaced with plastic spools. The take-up spool in my camera is a wooden spool. It would seem that during WWII when there was a metal shortage, wooden spools were used again – this from the Interweb, I cannot vouch for it accuracy.

The rear of this inner ‘box’ has a thin wooden flap which is hinged at the bottom with a passé-partout tape. This flap is covered on both sides with thin matt black paper. Centrally on the outside of this flap is a paper label with the camera name ‘Reflex Carbine’, the exhortation to use C20 Carbine film (which is actually 120 film) and the maker’s name ‘Butcher’s British Cameras’. On the top left of this flap is a hole which lines up with the red window of the outside box.

If you open the hinged flap, you can see the angled light baffle which sits behind the reflex mirror. This baffle consists of two parts of this steel which slide one over the other as the baffle/mirror move out of the way before the shutter opens. On either side of this baffle is a long curved metal spring.

The details of the shutter are hidden internally so I can make no comment on it. This camera is old – very nearly 100 years old – and was not a top-notch camera when new. Some parts work well – the focus, aperture, winding key – and the rest not really. The viewfinder chimney is too old to stand by itself, making it useless. The mirror will not rise under its own steam when the pressing the shutter release button nor will the shutter fire. I very much doubt that the designers nor the makers would have expected a century of use out of this camera and the original owner has obviously had good use from it when new, judging by the wear and tear on the outside.


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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