Agfa Isolette III

A folding, medium format camera from Germany from the 1950s.

This Agfa Isolette III was made by the German firm of Agfa in the early 1950s. Agfa is an old company and has a chequered history. Agfa was formed in 1867 to produce the new aniline dyes. Agfa is an acronym for Akliengesellschaft für Aniline which translates into English as Corporation for Aniline Production. The dye company branched out into making photographic film in 1898 and later into making cameras.

After the First World War, the German economy was in dire straits and many companies merged to survive. The most famous of these, photographically, was the mergers that formed Zeiss Ikon in 1926. The same conditions applied to the chemical industries and in December 1925, Agfa, Bayer, BASF, Hoechst and a couple of others merged to form the infamous IG Farben. Within the IG Farben conglomerate, Agfa was merged with Bayer.

After WWII, IG Farben was demerged back to its constituent businesses (IG Farben still exists as a company but does not produce anything. It is now a part of the University of Frankfurt). Agfa was a wholly owned subsidiary of Bayer at this point. In 1964, Agfa merged with Gevaert to form Agfa-Gevaert, with Bayer owning 50% of the new company – in 1981, Bayer bought out Gevaert and became the sole owner of Agfa-Gevaert, which continued until 1999 when Agfa -Gevaert became a public company.

So, this Agfa camera. It was made in the early to mid 1950s. I cannot date it precisely but this model was revised a couple of times and my camera is the original version. The Isolette range is a beginner’s range, really, and the specification is close to basic. that is not to say that the camera is not well made – it is – nor that it is not capable of producing good photographs – again, it is. The model III – this one – is distinguished by having a built-in rangefinder. This is an un-coupled rangefinder – the measured distance must be transferred to the focus ring by hand but it is still very useable.

The body seems to be made from aluminium, apart from the lens door which is steel. The metal is painted with matt black paint with most of the outside being covered with a very plasticky black leatherette with a pronounced ribbed pattern. The top plate is pressed brass which is satin plated – the metal has a blueish tint so I think the plating might be nickel but I cannot be sure it is not chrome.

lens: Apotar
focal length: 85 mm
apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/32
focus range: 3.5 feet (1 metre)
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Prontor SV
speeds: 1 to 1/300 s
flash: PC socket
film size: 120
 

Starting with the top plate: on the right is the film advance. This is a fairly flat milled wheel with a curved arrow on top to indicate the correct direction to turn the advance wheel (anti-clockwise) although it is not actually possible to turn the wheel the other way. This advance wheel pulls up to release the take-up spool inside – see later. At the front of the top plate by the advance wheel is a small hole in the top plate. When the shutter release button is pressed, this hole shows a red flag which turns white when the advance wheel is turned.

Close to the film advance wheel is the shutter release button. This connects to the actual shutter by a hinged linkage which articulates when the lens door is either opened or closed. This button is plated metal and is threaded for a standard Gauthier cable release. This button is connected to the film advance wheel. Once the button has been pressed, it cannot be pressed again until the film advance wheel has been turned. This is to prevent accidental double exposures.

To the left of the shutter release button the top plate is raised. This is to accommodate both the viewfinder and the rangefinder. At the back of the raised portion of the top plate, on the right, is a vertical, toothed, wheel – this is the rangefinder adjuster. The way that this works is when looking through the viewfinder there is a central bright spot. The viewfinder image is distinctly pink and this central spot is slightly yellow/green – this gives good contrast between the viewfinder and rangefinder images. You move the camera until this bright spot is over your subject. In the bright spot, you should see a double image of your subject. You turn the toothed rangefinder wheel until the two parts of the double image are exactly superimposed. In front of the toothed wheel is a distance scale. When the double image is reduced to a single image, you read the distance off this scale and set the lens focus scale to the same distance.

In the centre of the top plate is a standard Barnack accessory shoe. there are no electrical contacts here so this is a “cold” shoe.

On the back of the top plate, just left of the accessory shoe, is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is small and circular with a diameter of 5 mm. This was a common size of viewfinder eyepiece in the mid 1950s. This camera is not an SLR so there is no focus screen – you are looking straight through the viewfinder which acts as a small telescope. Technically, this is a reverse Galilean telescope – the ‘reverse’ bit means the image is smaller than life-size like looking through a telescope backwards.

On the left of the raised portion of the top plate is a button that looks very much like the shutter release button. Pressing this button releases the lens door on the front of the camera – the lens door snaps downwards nicely and locks itself in position.

On the far left of the tyop plate is a second milled wheel – this top plate is nearly symmetrical. This second milled wheel is a depth of field calculator. In the centre of the wheel is a static focus scale from three feet to infinity (For our non-British or American readers, three feet is essentially one meter). Around this is a turnable aperture scale. To use this, you set your chosen lens aperture against the appropriate distance of the focus scale. Either side of each aperture is a delimiting line – these lines indicate the nearest and furthest distances that will be in focus for those settings. This does not alter the working of the camera, it is just for information.

On the front of the top plate are two square windows. These are both 8 mm square. The one on the right, while looking at the front of the camera, is the viewfinder window and the one on the left is the rangefinder window.

Below the top plate, on the front of the camera, is the lens door. This measures 72 mm wide by 65 mm high. On the front of this is embossed the Agfa logo, the legend “AGFA ISOLETTE III” and the legend “MADE IN GERMANY” indicating that this is an export item. As already mentioned, this door is opened by pressing the left-hand button on the top plate. This door is spring loaded and snaps to with no help from the user, pulling the shutter/lens assembly to its working position. This lens door is held in position by two chrome straps. To close this lens door, you press down on the hinge in the middle of each strap and fold up the door. The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the camera body by black leatherette bellows.

The shutter is a Prontor SV by Gauthier. There is a variety of different Prontor SV shutters – this one has the legend Ah4 on it which I assume denotes the type of Prontor SV shutter. The Prontor SV offers eight shutter speeds plus B. This is the ‘old’ range of speeds which are not entirely rational. In a rational system, moving from one speed to the next will either double or half the speed. Not so here. The first two speeds are rational – 1 second and 1/2 second – then we go from 1/2 to 1/5 seconds, then halving from 1/5 to 1/10 seconds, irrational again from 1/10 to 1/25. halving again from 1/25 to 1/50 to 1/100 and finally irrationally from 1/100 to 1/300 second. The shutter speed is set by turning a milled ring around the front of the shutter housing.

At the back of the shutter housing is the aperture scale. This is adjusted by a sliding pointer. The scale runs from ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/32. ƒ/4.5 is not very fast but was quite good for an ordinary camera in 1952. ƒ/32 would be quite useful in the summer given the slowish top shutter speed of 1/300 second. On the right hand end of the aperture scale is a second cable release socket – again with the Gauthier standard conical thread. This socket will allow you to fire the shutter even if the film has not been wound on.

On the left hand end of the aperture scale is a PC flash socket. This is in the original form of a pillar rather than the more modern recessed socket. Next to this is a synchronising selector. This has two positions – X and M. X is for electronic flash and fires the flash as soon as the shutter is fully open. M is for Magnesium flash bulbs and fires the flash a few milliseconds early to allow the flash bulb to burn to maximum brightness before the shutter opens. These are colour coded – X is red and M is yellow. These are used in conjunction with the delay action lever at the base of the shutter housing. For X sync, the sync selector must be on X and the delay timer lever can either be left alone for immediate action or moved across to give a delay before the flash and shutter fire. For M sync, the sync selector must be on M and the delay timer lever moved to the yellow dot. There will be no delay before the shutter is fired, the delay mechanism is only providing the timing for the flash synchronising.

The delay timer lever can, of course, be used without flash – the flash sync selector must be set to X – when, on my camera, you get a delay of eleven seconds between pressing the shutter release and the shutter firing. I ought to mention the standard advice to never use the delay lever on an old camera as the delay mechanism is the weakest part of the shutter mechanism and if it fails the shutter will be wrecked.

The lens is an Agfa Apotar lens. This is a triplet (made from three pieces of glass) and should perform quite well if the aperture is closed down to ƒ/8. The lens focal length is 85mm and the surfaces are coated. The focus scale runs from three feet to infinity – this is an export camera so the scale is in feet rather than metres, three feet is as good as one metre. On the focus scale, two distances are in red – ten feet (three metres) and 30 feet (ten metres). These are Happy Snapper settings and are used in conjunction with a red dot on the aperture scale. This red dot is at about ƒ/10 – actually just short of ƒ/11. To use the Happy Snapper settings, set the aperture to the red dot and the focus scale to either ten feet or thirty feet. The ten foot Happy Snapper setting is intended for group portraits. With this setting, everything between eight and thirty feet will be in focus. The thirty foot Happy Snapper setting is for landscapes and everything between fifteen feet and infinity will be in focus. – this is the hyperfocal distance for this lens at ƒ/10.

The back of the camera is plain. In the centre is a chrome slide. Sliding this down reveals a red window through which the user can read the frame numbers on the film’s backing paper. There is no automatic control for frame spacing so the user winds on the film until the next frame number is centred in the red window. The metal slide is there to prevent any light entering through the red window and fogging the film between shots.

The back is opened by a sliding catch on the left hand edge of the camera body. In the centre of the inside of the back is a sizeable sprung pressure plate. This keeps the film flat against the film gate. In the middle of the pressure plate is an oblong hole which lines up with the red window. Around the edges of the back are sizeable flanges which fit into a groove around the edges of the body. This provides light tightness – as this is a German camera, there are no foam light seals to go bad.

The inside of the body is as you might expect from a medium format folding camera. In the centre is the film gate – this is 56 mm square (the nominal size is 60 mm square but some of the film must be sacrificed to sit against the metal of the film gate). The surround of the film gate is pressed brass, painted black.

Either side of the film gate are the chambers for the film spools. The new spool of film goes on the left. To aid fitting the film, there is a hinged cradle which moves out of the chamber to take the spool of film – this is nickel plated. As well as the cradle hinging out of the chamber, the top of the cradle is also hinged. Halfway along the cradle is a spring to stop the film from loosening on the spool.

The take-up spool goes on the right – the take-up spool is the empty spool from the previous roll of film. To either insert or remove this take-up spool, it is necessary to pull up the film advance wheel on the top plate. There is no hinged cradle on this side – the empty spool locates onto a stud at the bottom and when the film advance wheel is pushed in again there is a key which fits into a slot on the end of the spool.

On either side of the film gate, beside each of the spool chambers, is a chrome roller to allow the film to change direction as it is advanced without becoming scratched.

Canon AL-1

Canon’s AL-1 focus assist film SLR camera from 1982.

At first glance, this is a normal 1960s SLR camera from Japan and there is little to distinguish it from most of the other SLR cameras in my collection. Once the basic functionality and ergonomics of a SLR camera were worked out there was not much point in changing things. Electronics in the late 1980s did change things quite a bit, of course, but this camera was right at the start of the electronics revolution.

Canon’s AL-1 dates from 1982 and is a part of Canon’s A series of cameras: A-1, AE-1, AE-1 program, AT-1, AV-1, AL-1. I have another A series Canon — the AT-1. Later T series cameras formed a half-way house between 1960s style and the modern style which Canon introduced in 1986 with their EOS cameras.

This is an A series camera – A standing for Automatic. The camera provides fully automatic exposure (aperture priority only) with manual override if required.

The biggest breakthrough with this camera is the focus system. Gone are the usual helpmeets such as micro prisms and split-image rangefinder. The focus screen is plain ground glass with a circle in the centre containing two square brackets which indicate the area that the exposure system works on (the circle) and the smaller area that the focus system works on (the square brackets). This is still a manual focus camera but with focus confirmation to aid those with poor focusing skills. I learnt my photography using a Zenit E which also had no focus aids so I don’t think this system will be of much use to me – but we shall see.

Time for my description. This camera body measures 142 by 87 by 48 mm and weighs 490g. The camera chassis is made from die-cast aluminium alloy. The camera appears to have chromed metal top and base plates but these are painted polycarbonate plastic which looks much like chrome plated brass. The main part of the body is covered with black leatherette. The battery compartment is black plastic and doubles as a small grip for the user’s right hand. Eyelets on the front corners allow a neck strap to be attached.

The top plate is ‘standard’. The film advance lever is on the right. When the camera is not in use, the lever sits flush with the top plate. In use, the lever sits proud at an angle of 30˚. The lever moves through 120º to advance the film one frame. This lever is on a ratchet so a number of short movements will work as well as one long movement. The lever is made from one piece of flat metal with a soft plastic thumb guard at the tip.

Just in front of this lever is the window to the frame counter. This counts up to 38 but 36 is the highest number displayed – 37 and 38 are just dots. Numbers 1, 12, 20, 24, and 36 are in orange as these were the standard film lengths back in the day. Even numbers are numbers, odd numbers are dots. The counter is reset to ‘S’ by opening the camera back. ‘S’ is actually minus 2.

Left of the film advance lever and at the front of the top plate is the shutter release button. This is black  metal and is threaded for a standard Gauthier cable release. Around this button is a three position switch. ‘L’ locks the shutter release button to prevent accidental firing of the shutter but the shutter can still be fired using a cable release. ‘A’ is the usual working position and ‘S’ is the delay action setting. If you use the ‘S’ setting, you get a ten second delay between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter firing — and a flashing red LED which is visible from both infant and above the camera. The last two seconds, the LED flashes much faster. This LED is just to the left of the shutter release button.

Next along the top plate is the shutter speed selector dial. This offers 1/15 to 1/1000 seconds plus B. The shutter is electronically controlled and will not work without good batteries. There is also an ‘A’ setting which is for automatic exposure. The speed selector dial moves freely between speeds including ‘A’ but to move out of ‘A’ necessitates pressing a button in the centre of the dial. This camera is intended to be used in ‘A’ where many more shutter speeds are available: from 2 seconds to 1/1000 second. 1/60 second is graced with a lightning flash as this is the flash synchronised speed. If using the camera in ‘A’ with a Canon flash, the shutter speed is automatically set to 1/60. The manually set speeds are exactly the set speed, but when in ‘A’ the camera can select the exact speed required, not just the marked speeds.

In the middle of the top plate, as usual, is the pentaprism hump. On the back of this is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 10 by 16 mm. Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. As already mentioned, this screen is plain ground glass. As it is intended for the user to use the focus confirmation system, the established focus aids such as micro-prisms and split-image rangefinder are missing. In their place in the centre of the screen is a pair of square brackets to indicate the area that the focus confirmation system works on. As you manual focus the lens and approach good focus, one of the two red arrow LEDs at the bottom of the screen will light up. The arrows tell you which way to turn the lens in order to achieve good focus. Once good focus has been achieved, a circular green LED will light. This system works well but I, personally, would prefer either the micro-prisms or a split-image rangefinder.

On the right of the focus screen is a list of shutter speeds — 2 s at the bottom and 1/1000 s at the top. With the shutter speed dial set to ‘A’, a needle will point to the automatically selected speed – you need to press the shutter release button half-way to activate this. If you have the shutter speed dial set to anything but ‘A’, the needle will point to the camera’s preferred speed but you are free to ignore this if you want to. Along the left hand edge of the speed list is a red line from 2 s to 1/30 s which is there to alert you to the fact that camera shake is likely and you should consider using a tripod. This red line also double as a battery check scale. Pressing the battery check button, the needle should rise to a position above this line.

On top of the pentaprism hump is the accessory shoe. This is an ISO hotshot with a central electrical contact. There is also a single Canon-specific contact for when using Canon’s own flash guns.

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. This also doubles as the catch for the camera back — pulling up on the crank releases the back. Around the rewind crank is a selector wheel for setting the film speed. This is in ASA only (ASA is essentially ISO) and ranges from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA. 25 ASA might seem a bit slow in this Digital age but Kodachrome was always a slow film and was made at 25 ASA. In order to move this selector wheel you first need to press a small chrome button by the wheel at the rear of the top plate. Also by this wheel/crank is a small black button at the front of the top plate. This is the battery test button mention a bit earlier. When you press this, the pointer for the shutter speeds in the viewfinder should point to above 1/60 s if the batteries are good.

Moving to the front of the camera. As always with an SLR camera, this is dominated by the lens mount. This is Canon’s FD mount which is a breech-lock bayonet mount. There are three bayonet lugs which are on the outside of the mount with a locating notch on the top lug. The breech-lock part refers to a locking ring on the lens which is turned to lock the lens in place rather than turning the whole lens. This lens mount is partially compatible with Canon’s earlier R and FL mounts.

Inside the mount are the usual three components that connect to the lens. On the right hand side is a lever that communicates the set aperture value to the exposure metering system. At the bottom of the mount is a lever that moves sideways when the shutter release button is pressed — this closes the iris diaphragm to its set value. In the bottom right hand corner (at about 5 o’clock) is a sprung pin. This pin transmits the maximum aperture of the lens to the metering system so that full aperture metering can work.

Also on the mount, at about 8 o’clock, is a small hole. This is to accommodate a pin on the lens which protrudes when the lens aperture ring is moved to either ‘o’ or ‘A’ (those two are the same – some lenses have ‘o’ and some ‘A’). This is the automatic aperture setting which is not supported on this AL-1 camera but the pin needs to be accommodated in case someone sets the lens aperture to ‘o’ or ‘A’. The camera’s manual warns you against trying to use the camera with the aperture set to either ‘o’ or ‘A’. My test film will show me why, perhaps.

Of more interest with this camera is the reflex mirror. At a quick glance, it looks as though the silvering on the mirror has become damaged. There is a network of fine lines all over the mirror. The lines are actually a closely calculated design — the lines are only partially silvered and allow a part of the light striking the mirror to pass through the mirror to a sensor beneath. This sensor is the focus sensor. This uses phase detection technology ( or so I am told) — if you want to know more about this, Google is your friend.

This focus assist system works well so long as there is sufficient detail contrast in the centre of the image. If the image under the two square brackets has low contrast, the focus assist system does not work at all. While the image is very unfocussed the focus assist system also does not work. As you turn the focus ring on the lens and approach good focus, one of the two red arrow LEDs at the bottom of the viewfinder will light — the arrow points in the direction that the focus ring needs to be turned to improve focus. When accurate focus is achieved the red LEDs go out and a central circular green LED lights. For me, the biggest drawback of this system is that you need to partially depress the shutter release button — and keep it partially depressed — while focusing. This isn’t really difficult, I just find it annoying and my finger on the shutter release button keeps relaxing and stopping the focus assist system from working.

On the top left of the lens mount (left as in when using the camera) is a chrome button on a black plastic base. This button is an exposure compensation button — Canon call it back light compensation. Pressing this increases the exposure by, it would appear, 1.5 stops. This adjusts for very bright backgrounds which will usually confuse the metering system and cause under exposure. On the front, near this button, is a small plaque with the letters ‘qF’ —quick focus.

On the other side of the lens mount is the battery compartment. This takes two AAA batteries which are both readily available and cheap. This battery compartment protrudes slightly from the front of the camera ( by about 10 mm) providing a grip for the photographer’s right hand.

The base of the camera has connections for a power winder. These consist of two electrical contacts at one end and a mechanical connector to the film advance system at the other end. There is also a small locating hole at this end. The underneath of the battery compartment has the door which is poorly designed. The catch on my camera does not work at all and the door needs to be held shut with sticky tape. Looking at the Interweb, this would seem to be the usual case. Also on the base is a tripod socket — at this age it will be an ISO socket: 1/4 inch UNC thread. This is behind the lens mount — central on the base rather than in line with the centre of the lens. There is also a button in line with the internal sprocket shaft. This needs to be depressed to allow the film to be rewound into the film cassette. There is a white dot on this button which visibly moves so you can see the film being rewound — this is useful as you can stop rewinding as soon as the film leader has become detached from the take-up spool, leaving the leader outside the cassette. The downside to this is you need to keep your finger on the button while rewinding which makes seeing the dot difficult.

Opening the camera back is done by pulling up on the rewind crank. Inside, there are no surprises. The cassette chamber is on the left. There are no DX contacts here as Kodak did not introduce the DX system until the year after this AL-1 was introduced. The film gate is nice and large, helping to keep the film flat. Next along is the sprocket shaft which counts the sprocket holes in the film as the film is being advanced — eight holes equals one frame. At the right hand end is the take-up spool. This last has six slots for the film leader. The back has a good sized pressure plate to keep the film flat against the film gate. There is also a chrome roller to keep the film snug on the sprocket shaft.

Where the back fits the body, the join needs to be light tight. As this is a Japanese camera, the light tightness is achieved by having a flange on the back which fits into a groove on the body, with a black foam light seal in the groove. With time, these foam light seals degrade to a sticky goo. This has happened to my camera — these seals need to be replaced before I can use the camera. This is a fairly simple job to do and the foam can be bought cheaply on the Interweb. Also in this groove, at the top and between the sprocket shaft and take-up spool, is a very small button. When the back is closed, a small prong on the top flange of the back presses on this button and allow the frame counter to work. When the back is opened, this button is released and the frame counter resets to ‘S’.

The Lens

This camera came to me with a lens attached (not something that usually happens nowadays). It is not the kit lens that Canon supplied the camera with. It is a cheaper after-market lens from Sunagor. The focal length of the lens is 135 mm which is significantly longer than is usual for a walk-0about lens. I rather think that the person who sold me this camera sold the kit lens separately — a 50 mm ƒ/1.4 lens so would attract a good price — and attached a virtually worthless lens to sell the camera.

This lens looks to be well made — it is entirely made from aluminium alloy. When focusing, the entire lens more — no front cell focusing or internal focusing. The lens barrel does not turn when focusing so if you are using a graduated ND filter or a polarising filter, the filter does not need adjusting as you change focus —something many lenses fail at. I am aware that I just said that this is a worthless lens and then said how good the mechanics are. Unfortunately, the value of old lenses is mostly down to perceptions and Sunagor is not a well known or well respected maker of lenses – I could find nothing about their camera lenses on the Interweb — so they will not attract much attention from potential buyers. Actually, Sunagor do still exist and sell fairly cheap binoculars

Minimum focus is 1.5 m (or five feet) which is not too bad for a 135 mm lens and is close enough for nearly all amateur photography. The throw of the focus ring (the distance between 1.5 m and infinity) is around 220º which makes critical focus easy to achieve. This is why manually focusing a modern auto-focus lens is so hard — the focus throw on these modern lenses is about 30º making fine adjustments difficult.

Maximum aperture is ƒ/2.8 which is not extremely fast but certainly useable. I rarely go faster than ƒ/5.6 regardless of the maximum aperture available so a maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8 is not going to limit me at all. Minimum aperture is ƒ/16 which is more limiting but not very much so. If using the usual film speeds around in 1982 then the range of apertures and shutter speeds is fine for general use. There is an aperture setting on the aperture ring of ‘o’ which is for automatic exposure cameras which allows the camera to set the aperture. This ‘o’ setting will not work on this AL-1 camera and the manual warns you not to try to use it.

As camera lenses did at the time, there is a depth of field scale on the lens. As the camera has no depth of field preview facility, these scales are very useful. A nice feature is a built-in lens hood which can be pulled forward about 10 mm if required. Another feature that I have never noticed before is the angle of view of this lens is printed on the lens bezel: 18º diagonal field of view.

VP Twin

A neat Bakelite camera from 1930s Britain.

This is a camera of superlatives. It is very small, very simple, very basic and, when new, very cheap. The first part of this article comes from my “research’ on the Interweb so I cannot vouch for its veracity.

The camera was made by E. Elliott Co in Birmingham. The maker’s name is not anywhere on the camera but their logo of a yacht with a capital ‘L’ superimposed on it is in the inside of the moulding. This camera was sold by Woolworth’s (a very common and cheap shop – every high street in Britain had a branch). It was the proud boast of Woolworths that nothing they sold cost more than 6d (six old pence) which equates to 2.5p in modern money. To get around this price limit, Woolworth sold expensive items in parts – this camera was sold in three parts as 6d each, giving a price for the whole camera of 1‘6 (one shilling and six pence or 7 1⁄2p in modern money).

This camera was introduced in 1935. In 1952, it was re-issued with an updated finish. The lens is a meniscus lens – a single piece of glass, concave on one face and convex on the other. The focal length is reported to be 35mm. The single, fixed, aperture is ƒ/12 which will give good depth of field with the non-focusing lens. I have no idea as to the shutter speed – but on similar cameras shutter speed is around 1⁄30 second.

The rest of this article comes from my own observation of the actual camera that I have just bought myself and so is completely reliable.

The camera is small – too small for me to use comfortably. It measures 85 by 70 by 50 mm and weighs an astounding 115 g. The camera is made from Bakelite – an early hard plastic. The colour is brown and it has a textured surface to imitate leatherette. The two exceptions to the plastic are the shutter and the viewfinder, both of which are metal.

Controls are basic – there are only two: the shutter release and the film advance. On the top of the camera, on the left, is the film advance knob (which is broken on my camera). This connects to the take-up spool inside. That is all there is on the top.

The back of the camera is more involved. There are two red windows which are there to allow the user to read the frame numbers off the film backing paper. There are two windows because this is a half-frame camera – the camera takes two images on each normal sized frame of film. Each frame number on the film is used twice, once in each red window. Between the two red windows there is a moulded rectangle bearing the legends “VP Twin” and “Made in England”.

On the left edge of the back is the viewfinder. Actually, the word “viewfinder” is not really appropriate. It is more a view-hint. It consists of one bendy metal frame which hinges at one end. When opened, it does not locate to any particular position which means that the precise limits of the view are academic.

The lens/shutter assembly is on the front, as is usual. Both are very simple. The lens is a simple meniscus lens with no focusing facility. The shutter is a very simple leaf shutter. It is actuated by a lever on the right hand side of the shutter assembly. Pushing this lever down fires the shutter and pushing it up again fires the shutter again. There is no double exposure prevention here – you can take as many exposures on each frame as you wish.

To open the camera, there is a moulded groove on the left hand edge. You need to put a small coin in this groove and twist. The back comes away in one piece – no pesky hinges to bother with. Inside the back there are two plated steel springs, one on the outside of each red window. These springs hold the film snug on the spools. There is no pressure plate to keep the film flat over the film gate. In fact, the film gate consists of four thin bars of Bakelite.

Inside the body are three chambers. In the middle is the film gate. This gives onto a circular steel plate with a fairly small hole in the centre which allows the light from the lens into the camera. On the left of the film gate is the space for the film take-up spool. The end of the spool links to the inside portion of the film advance knob. On the right of the film gate is the space for the roll of film. The roll of film is not fixed in this space but is inhibited from moving by the spring in the camera back.

I have no intention of using this camera. I can almost certainly source some 127 film to fit, but it will be expensive and the results are bound to be very poor. Yet this camera is a keeper as it is interesting in its crudity – it is the most basic camera that I have yet to purchase.

Canon FX

Canon FX film SLR camera from Japan.

For the last 18 months, I have been concentrating my collecting on Nikon and Canon SLR cameras. My latest acquisition is this Canon FX. It is not a professional camera but it is well designed and well made. It dates from 1964.

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Canon FL mount
  • shutter: Cloth focal plane
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/1000 second
  • flash: 1 x PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

The body is made from cast aluminium alloy with pressed brass top and base plates – these are satin chrome plated on my camera but a few were made with black enamelled top and base plates. The body is covered with black textured leatherette. This camera has been stored in very damp conditions – I suspect a garage – and the aluminium body has significant corrosion and there is quite a bit of mildew on the shutter curtains. Some collectors would reject this camera based solely on condition, but I like my cameras to be in used condition and this is all a part of the camera’s story.

The size of the camera is pretty normal for a 35mm SLR. It measures 142 by 91 by 86 mm and the body with no lens attached weighs 670g. While 670g is not light – it is heavier than any of my Japanese rangefinders – it is not as heavy as many SLR cameras: Nikon F2, 840g; Nikkormat FT, 754g; Canon FTb, 750g; Ricoh 500, 800g.

So, now for a description of the camera starting with the top plate. The right hand side of the top plate is pretty much standard. Far right is the film advance lever. This is cut metal and plated (or anodised) to match the top plate. This has two rest positions – flush with the edge of the top plate or sticking out about 10 mm. The lever moves through 160º to advance one frame. The lever is on a ratchet so the film can be advanced with several short motions if required.

In front of the film advance lever is the window for the frame counter. This is reset by opening the camera back – it resets to S which is -2. Zero is in orange. Even numbered frames have numbers and odd numbered frames are just dots. Frames 20 and 36 are also in orange as these were the standard film lengths in 1964.

To the left of this frame counter window and still at the front of the top plate is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard Gauthier cable release. Around the shutter release button is a rotating collar. This will rotate to one of two positions marked ‘A’ and ‘L’. ‘A’ is the working position and in this position the shutter can be fired. ‘L’ is the lock position and in this position the shutter release button cannot be depressed to fire the shutter but the shutter can still be fired by using a cable release. As well as functioning as a safety device to prevent accidental exposures, the ‘L’ position can be used with the B shutter speed setting to lock the shutter open for long exposures.

Left again is the combined shutter speed and film speed selector dial. Film speeds are selected by slightly lifting the selector dial and turning. There are two windows in the top of the dial to show the selected film speed – one for DIN and one for ASA. The film speeds available to be set range from 11 DIN/10 ASA to 30 DIN/800 ASA. The film speed numbers are in one stop increments but there are 1/3 stop increments available denoted by dots between the numbers. The numbers were originally painted in orange but the conditions that the camera has been stored in means that nearly all the orange paint has corroded away, making the setting hard to impossible to read.

Shutter speeds are selected by just turning the selector dial. Shutter speeds range from one second to 1/1000 second plus B and X. The index mark for the shutter speeds is to the left of the dial. The dial moves freely between speeds but not directly between B and X. B is ‘bulb’ and with this setting the shutter will remain open while the shutter release button is depressed. X is the electronic flash sync setting. The manual tells me that this is 1/60 seconds and I am not entirely sure why the user cannot just set the shutter speed to 1/60 as on all the other cameras I have seen but the manual is clear that the X setting should be used. It might be because the 1/60 sync speed is nominal and is actually slightly slower. 1/30 and slower can be used with electronic flash as well as X.

Towards the rear of the top plate, behind the shutter speed dial, is an engraved circle with a line through it. The line represents the position of the film plane inside the camera. This is intended for when the user is relying on measuring the focus distance rather than focusing by eye on the focus screen.

In the middle of the top plate is the pentaprism hump. Inside the hump is the focus screen. This is mostly a Fresnel screen with a central circle of ground glass for focusing. In the middle of this central circle is a split-image rangefinder. As there is no TTL meter, there is no information provided on the screen. My camera has been stored for a long time in damp conditions and this has had a deleterious effect on the silvering on the pentaprism. This silvering has peeled away from the edges. This makes the image on the focus screen less clear but will make no difference to the photographic image.

On the top of the pentaprism hump is the accessory shoe. This is a standard Barnack shoe – no electrical contacts so this is a cold shoe. The front of the pentaprism hump has the Canon logo engraved on it.

Left of the pentaprism hump, towards the front of the top plate, is the camera serial number. Behind this, by the back of the top plate, is the light meter readout. This works in a way that I have never seen before. First, you set your required shutter speed. As you rotate the shutter speed dial, the aperture scale in the readout moves – in fact, there are two aperture scales, both of which move. One scale is orange (for use in low light) and one scale is white (for use in bright light). Second, you set the meter sensitivity by a lever around the rewind crank. This lever has two settings: ‘L’ for low sensitivity (or bright light) and ‘H’ for high sensitivity (or low light). The meter needle should now point to the aperture value which you set on the lens aperture ring. this is an entirely manual camera even though it has a light meter and you can ignore the light meter altogether if you wish to.

On the left hand end of the top plate is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. Unusually, the crank has no other function – it does not unlock the camera back. Around the rewind crank is the meter sensitivity switch already mentioned.

On the rear of the top plate, behind the meter readout, is a dial to switch the light meter on or to check the battery condition. On the front of the top plate, in front of the rewind crank, ids a circular meter sensor. The remaining component of the meter is the battery chamber. This is on the left hand end of the camera. It is intended to take a type 625 mercury 1.3 volt battery which is no longer available. However, you can get 1.5 volt alkaline 625 batteries which will work but not accurately. On my camera, the meter does not work at all.

So, moving to the front of the camera. In line with the pentaprism hump is a raised portion containing the lens mount. This is a three pronged bayonet mount. Canon’s SLR cameras (before the modern EF mount) used three different bayonet mounts. The first was the R mount. Canon upgraded this to the FL mount – R mount lenses would fit. Later, the FL mount was upgraded to the FD mount – again, both R mount and FL mount lenses would fit. The reverse is also true – FD lenses will fit R mount and FL mount cameras and FL lenses will fit R mount cameras. These three, R, Fl and FD mounts were all breech lock mounts where there is a locking ring to fix the lens in place rather than having to turn the whole lens to lock them.

This camera uses the FL mount and this FX model was the first model to use the FL mount. The FL mount offers little apart from attaching the lens. There is a lever to close the aperture on the lens just prior to the shutter firing and that is it.

To the right of the lens mount, towards the top of the body, is a small rotating lever. Turning this anticlockwise 1/4 turn will raise the mirror. This is for use in critical photography as it removes the vibration caused when the mirror flips out of the way.

Below this is a PC connector for attaching a flash gun. On the left of the lens mount is another rotating lever. This one is the self-timer mechanism. Turning this a half turn anticlockwise gives a delay of ten seconds between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter firing. I timed this with my phone’s stop watch and it was just about exactly ten seconds as close as I could time it – not bad for a 57 year old mechanism. Turning this lever just over a quarter turn will give a delay of six seconds – this is as short as I could make it work.

Moving to the base of the camera, this is fairly sparse. There are no facilities for connecting a power winder and no battery compartment. Towards the front of the base plate, in line with the centre of the lens, is a tripod socket. This is a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. Also on the base plate is the rewind button. This does not need to be held in once you start rewinding the film which makes life easier. There is a small dot on the rewind button. As you rewind the film, the rewind button rotates and this dot makes it easier to see the rotations. Once the rewind button stops rotating, you know that the film leader is clear of the take-up spool and you can stop rewinding. Stopping at this point means that the film leader is still protruding from the cassette. Not only does this make it easier to extract the film for developing, it also means that the film is blocking the felt light trap on the lips of the cassette, reducing the risk of light entering and fogging the film.

At the other end of the base plate is a folding recessed key. Lifting this and rotating it 1/4 turn anti-clockwise releases the camera back. Opening the back, there is a relatively small pressure plate. To the left of this is a chrome bar across the height of the back. This keeps the film snug against the sprocket shaft. On the right-hand end of the back is a slightly sprung plate which keeps the film cassette snug in its chamber.

The edges of the back form a flange that fits into a groove on the camera body. this flange is not big enough to fully render the joint between the back and body light tight so the groove on the body contains a foam light seal that the flange presses against. This camera is 57 years old and the foam light seal has degraded to a granular mess. I shall have to replace it before I can use this camera which is a simple enough job.

The inside of the body has the chamber for the film cassette on the left. Protruding into this is the fork for the rewind crank.This can be raised out of the way by raising the rewind crank. The film gate is central and gives on to the shutter curtains. This shutter has two horizontally travelling cloth curtains. With these focal plane shutters, the shutter always travels at the same speed – shutter speed is changed by altering the width of the gap between the two curtains. The narrower the gap, the fast the effective shutter speed. As mentioned earlier, my camera has been stored in very damp conditions and there is significant mildew on the shutter cloth.

To the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. This has teeth that engage in the holes on the edges of the film. When advancing the film, this sprocket shaft will stop once eight holes have moved passed the shaft – eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the take-up spool. This has a single slot for attaching the film leader. The take-up spool turns clockwise. This means that is stores the film emulsion side outermost – doing this reduces the amount of curl in the film once it has been developed and aids the film lying flat when being printed from (or when being scanned in our digital world).

Nikon Nikkorex

Nikon’s first SLR camera was the professional Nikon F which introduced the F mount which is still (in modified form) in use today. In order to tap into the large enthusiast market, Nikon introduced the Nikkorex range. There were three models in the Nikkorex range. The first two models seem to have been modelled on the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex – fixed lens and complex leaf shutter in the lens. This third model in the range, the Nikkorex F, is a standard SLR with a removable lens and a focal plane shutter – this camera uses the same lens mount as the Nikon F and so also the same range of lenses. It dates from 1962. In fact, the Nikkorex F was supplied with the same lens as the Nikon F. (Initially, Nikon was the name of a range of SLR cameras, not the name of the company which was originally Nippon Kogaku.) This Nikkorex model was designed by and made by Mamiya for Nikon. After Nikon dispensed with this model (at the introduction of the Nikkormat range), Mamiya sold the design to Ricoh. I assume that the reason for Nikon choosing the same name – F – as their flagship Nikon F was to instil visions of quality into the customer’s mind.

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: Copal Square focal plane
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/1000 second
  • flash: 2 x PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

I shall use my usual method of describing this camera, starting with the top plate. The top plate is made from pressed brass which has been satin chrome plated. On the far right is the film advance lever. This is pressed metal and also satin chrome plated apart from the tip which is bright plated. When not in use, this lever sits over the top plate out of the way. In use, it sits just proud of the top plate making it easier for the user’s thumb to move it.

In front of the film advance lever is the frame counter. This is reset to S (or -3) by opening the camera back. Left of this window is the shutter release button. This is metal and is threaded for a standard Prontor type cable release. Left of this, centrally on the top plate, is the shutter speed dial. This is pretty much as you might expect. The speed range is from one second to 1/1000 second plus B. The dial turns freely between speeds but not between B and 1/1000. As you move the dial to a faster speed you can hear the mechanism wind up. To move from 1/125 to 1/250 and faster requires significantly more effort than between the slower speeds. The speeds from 1 to 1/125 are printed in orange – these are the flash sync speeds. 1/250, 1/500 and 1/1000 are printed in green Between B and 1/1000, there is a small metal stud. This is used to connect the optional light meter – more later.

Just left of centre on the top plate is the pentaprism hump. My camera has a large dint on the top which seems to have no adverse effect on its function. The front of the pentaprism hump is an engraved capital ‘F’ which is the model name. The rear of the hump has the viewfinder eyepiece. This is circular and has a screw-in ring which can hold vision correction lenses for people who wear glasses.

Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. Mostly this is a Fresnel lens which gives even illumination over the screen. In the centre of the screen is a disc of plain ground glass to ease focusing (the Fresnel lens part is hard to focus on). Inside this is a smaller circular split-image rangefinder spot. As this camera has no meter, there is no additional information in the viewfinder. Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the very usual small folding crank. This only has the one function of rewinding the film – it doesn’t open the back as with many cranks.

The front of the camera is mostly as you would expect with one surprise – more later. In line with the pentaprism hump is a raised portion. At the top of this is the model name – Nikkorex – in capital letters. On the right of this raised portion (as when looking at the front), there is a small stud on the side in line with the model name. Again, more later. Further down this raised portion is the lens mount. This is Nikon’s F mount as introduced in 1959 – no electrical contacts and no AIS ring around the mount. On the left of the mount, on the side of the raised portion, is a chrome button. Pushing this down closes the lens aperture so you can gauge the depth of field of the image. On the front of the camera to the left of the raised portion is the self-timer lever. This winds about 90º anticlockwise and is activated by pressing the shutter release button.

L shaped bracket for flash

Above the self-timer lever, on the front of the top plate, is the surprise I mentioned previously. This is a vertically mounted but otherwise standard Barnack accessory shoe. Being vertical, it is entirely useless for connecting a normal flash gun. However, that is not its intended function. It is there to attach the optional Nikon light meter. This light meter has three attachment points: 1) the vertical accessory shoe, 2) the stud on the shutter speed dial, 3) the pin on the side of the raised portion mentioned earlier. I do not have this optional flash gun so I can say no more about it. If you do want to connect a normal flash gun, Nikon provided an L shaped bracket which fits into the vertical accessory shoe to provide a horizontal accessory shoe.

The rear of the top plate has, on the right, the legend “Made in Japan” and the serial number – 356786 in the case of my camera. On the left of the rear of the top plate is the maker’s name – “Nippon Kogaku Tokyo” – this is the original name of the company that now calls itself Nikon (this ignores the fact that this camera was made by Mamiya for Nikon).

In the middle of the back is a circular memo. This allows the user to set the speed of the film in use – ASA only – and the length of the film. The options here are either 20 or 36 exposures and in either red or black (i.e. colour or monochrome).

The base plate of the camera is also made of brass which is satin chrome plated. In the middle of the base plate, in line with the centre of the lens, is the tripod socket. This has the 1/4 inch Whitworth thread – the international standard later changed to UNC threads but not in 1962. Also on the base is the rewind button.

On the left hand edge of the top plate are two PC connectors for flash. The front connector is marked with a green M and is for use with flash bulbs. The rear connector is marked with a red X and is for use with electronic flash. Below these two PC connectors is the sliding catch for the back.

Inside, the camera is just as you would expect. In the middle of the back is a nice large pressure plate which keeps the film flat against the film gate. Inside the body, there is a chamber on the left for the film cassette. – no DX contacts at this age. In the middle is the film gate which has a large surround to match the pressure plate.

To the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. For those readers new to film, this sprocket shaft counts the holes on the edges of the film and stops the film advance after eight holes have passed over the shaft – eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the take-up spool. This has one slot to take the film leader – the slot is outlined in yellow to make it easier to find.

The camera came with a Nikkor-S lens. This has a maximum aperture of ƒ/2 and a minimum aperture of ƒ/16. Its focal length is 5cm – an old-fashioned designation for the 1960s, I would expect it to be 50mm which is the same size but consistent with industry standards. The lens bezel has the maker as Nippon Kogaku – the same as the camera. The focus range is from just short of two feet (about 500mm) to infinity. The “S” in the designation “Nikkor-S” stands for Septum which is Latin for seven. This indicates that the lens is made from seven glass elements. This is the same lens as was provided with Nikon’s flagship model Nikon F so this lens is no slouch.

As with all Nikkor lenses from before 1977 (that is, F mount lenses; the rangefinder S mount lenses were also called Nikkor), the lens has a pair of ‘rabbit ears’ protruding from the aperture ring at ƒ/5.6. These link to the light meter system to tell the electronics which aperture has been set. As this camera has no light meter, the rabbit ears do nothing. If you fit the optional light meter mentioned earlier, that meter has a prong which will engage with these rabbit ears.

At some point, the shutter on this camera has failed. It is clear from the state of the screws holding the base plate on, and the screws under the base plate, that someone has been inside the camera, presumably to repair the shutter. As the shutter is 60 years old, I doubt that it was ever going to be repairable. I am not going to be able to use this camera so I cannot comment on how well it works.

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: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: Copal Square focal plane
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/1000 second
  • flash: 2 x 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.

Petri Flex 7

Petri were a prolific maker of cameras in the 1950s, 60s and 70s — for themselves and for own-label resellers. I already have a Petri 7s rangefinder camera and a 2MTL made for Wirgin and sold as an Edixa 2MTL. It is possible that I have other Petri camera that I am not aware of.

lens: Petri anastigmatic
focal length: 55mm
apertures: ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/16
focus range: 0.6 m to infinity
lens fitting: Petri breech-lock bayonet
shutter: cloth focal plane
speeds: 1s to 1/1000s plus B
flash: PC connector
film size: 35 mm 

This Petri Flex 7 was introduced in 1964 and superficially looks like a Zeiss Ikon Contarex in its first incarnation. It is a sturdily made camera and quite heavy. It measures 151 by 98 by 91 mm and weighs 970 g which is heavier than most of my SLR cameras. Visually, the outstanding feature is the round exposure meter window above the lens — it is this feature that creates the similarity with the Zeiss Ikon Contarex.

In many ways, this is a ‘standard’ SLR camera. The layout of the top plate is much as you would expect with the film advance lever on the right. This is metal — anodised aluminium — and fairly straight. It has two rest positions, one flush with the edge of the top plate and the other standing proud about 5 mm which makes it easier to use.

In front of the film advance lever and slightly to the left is the window onto the frame counter. This is reset to ‘S’ when the back of the camera is opened — ‘S’ equates to ‘-3’. Next along is the shutter speed dial. This runs from one second to 1/100 seconds plus B. Speeds of 1 s to 1/60 s are marked by a red arc and the letter X. These are the shutter speeds suitable for electronic flash — this indicates that at these speeds the shutter is completely open as the flash fires. Faster shutter speeds can be used with flash bulbs as these give their maximum brightness for long enough for the shutter slit to move across the film gate.

Centrally on the top of plate is the pentaprism hump. This is bigger than you might expect as it holds the light meter as well as the pentaprism and focus screen. On top of the pentaprism hump is a Barnack accessory shoe. This has no electrical contacts so is a ‘cold shoe’.

On the rear of the pentaprism hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is large enough to be comfortable to use while wearing glasses. Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. Most of this is a Fresnel lens which gives even illumination over the field of view. In the centre of the field of view is a circle of ground glass which the manual says is there to allow you to see the depth of field when the lens is stopped down. Fresnel lenses give nice even illumination but at the cost of fine detail. Mostly this does not matter but for critical focus (an judging depth of field) they are no good. Inside this circle is a rectangle of micro-prisms to aid accurate focus.

On the lower right of the focus screen is the light meter readout. This consists of a black rectangle with a gap on the left hand edge. To achieve a good exposure, you centre the needle in this gap by altering the lens aperture and shutter speed. It is intended to be used as a shutter priority system.

On the front of the pentaprism hump is the light meter sensor window. This is a CdS sensor and so requires a battery to work. The sensor window is circular and slightly recessed. Around the meter sensor window is a collar which rotates to set the film speed. This is in both DIN (red) and ASA (black). It is unusual for Japanese cameras to have film speeds in DIN but perhaps Petri were hoping for significant sales in Europe. Film speeds are from 11 DIN to 30 DIN or 10 ASA to 800 ASA. With modern digital photography, this range can seem a bit strange but, in 1964, films as slow as 10 ASA were available and films faster than 800 ASA were rare and niche. Just below the light meter sensor, to one side, is the camera serial number.

Left of the pentaprism is a signal to indicate whether the meter is switched on or not. When the flag is red, the meter is off — the meter is switched on by advancing the film so to conserve the battery you need to advance the film only when you are ready for the next shot. On the far left of the top plate is the rewind crank — this is the usual folding crank. Less usual, this crank only rewinds the film; it does not double up as a catch for the back and there is no memo function or any of the other functions that frequently appear here.

Now the front of the camera. At this point I usually mention that the front is dominated by the lens — and there is certainly a nice large lens sticking out of the front — but the eye is definitely drawn to the light meter sensor. It might not be as large as the lens but it is visually dominant.

The lens mount is Petri’s own three flange bayonet mount. This works much like any lens bayonet mount but instead of turning the lens to lock it you turn a locking ring — the lens itself remains stationary. This mount has an auto-indexing facility. The most prominent SLR camera at the time that this camera was produced was the Nikon F which had a curious requirement — on fitting a lens you had to turn the aperture ring from maximum to minimum to tell the light meter the aperture range of the lens. Petri have obviated the need for this by having a nodger which connects to a socket on a ring around the lens mount which is very similar to the AIS system introduced by Nikon in 1976. There is a small window at the top right of the lens mount which shows the set aperture. At first glance, this seems pointless as the aperture scale is clearly printed on the aperture ring of the lens. Unfortunately, the presence of the large bull’s eye light meter sensor means that you cannot read the set aperture off the aperture ring — hence this aperture window. If you remove the lens and move this indexing ring on on its own, it is apparent that this camera can only manage lenses with an aperture range of ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/16.

Inside the lens mount, my camera has a disaster. Just inside the mount there is a black steel plate with a negative sized rectangular hole. Someone has attacked this plate and bent and twisted it quite severely.This is obviously an attempt to repair the camera — the camera is quite jammed: the shutter will not fire and the advance lever will not move. The worry is what other damage has this person done in the futile attempts to repair this camera?

The locking ring for the breech lock is attached to the camera. In Canon’s FD mount, which is also a breech lock mount, the locking ring is attached to each lens. I find Petri’s version easier to use.

The lens is Petri’s own design and make (as far as I can ascertain). I am told that it is a seven element lens.It has a focal length of 55 mm and a maximum aperture of ƒ/1.8 which is quite wide for an amateur lens in 1964. Minimum aperture is ƒ/16 which is not as impressive.Focus is from 0.6 m (2 feet) to infinity. ƒ/11 is marked in red – with many cameras, this represents a Happy Snapper setting in conjunction with a red mark on the distance scale, but not here. I do not know the reason for ƒ/11 being in red. There is a switch on the lens for automatic diaphragm of manual diaphragm. If set to Auto, the diaphragm closes just before the shutter fires. If set to manual, the diaphragm is always closed to the set aperture. This aids in seeing the depth of field but gives a darker image which makes focusing harder.

Right of the lens mount, at the top right of the body, is the battery holder. This is intended to hold a PX625 cell which is a mercury cell and banned everywhere. However, I easily managed to find an alkaline alternative with the slight drawback that it gives 1.5 v instead of the 1.3 v intended.

Right of the lens mount, at the bottom of the body, is a PC connector for attaching a flash gun. The flash gun can be fitted to the accessory shoe for casual photography or mounted away from the camera for studio work.

On the left of the lens mount is the angled shutter release button. This was quite common on Praktica cameras from Germany and a similar system was used by Voigtländer and Zeiss Ikon in the 1960s but I have never been comfortable with it. The shutter release button, which is chromed metal, is not threaded for a shutter release cable. If you want to use a cable release, you need to unscrew a metal collar from around the button and screw a non-standard cable release onto those threads. A number of cameras have used a similar system but I fail to see the advantage of not using the more usual Gauthier tapered thread system.

Below the shutter release button is the self timer lever. To set this, you turn the lever anti-clockwise to wind the clockwork mechanism and then press a small chrome button that is revealed by moving the lever. Winding the lever through 180º gives a delay of eight seconds. Winding the lever through 90º gives a delay of two seconds — and between those two, a pro rata delay. Wind the lever less than 90º and the shutter will not be fired.

The base plate of the camera has little on it. In line with the lens is a standard tripod socket. This is the usual 1/4 inch socket and probably a Whitworth thread but the camera is recent enough that petri could have been early adopters of the modern UNC thread. Also on the base plate is the button to enable the film to be rewound.

The back of the camera is opened by a sliding catch on the left hand edge of the body. The inside of the back has a reasonably large pressure plate but none of the springs or rollers that are frequently found on the inside of 35 mm camera backs. However, there is a very small stud near to the catch which is intended to hold the film cassette steady.

On the left side of the inside is the film chamber which holds the 35 mm film cassette. The film gate surround is quite large which will help to keep the film flat over the film gate. To the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft – this is there to count the number of sprocket holes that pass this point: eight holes equals one frame. Right of the sprocket shaft is the take-up spool. This has a single slot for the attaching the film leader.

The shutter is a cloth, horizontally moving, focal plane shutter. Shutter speeds are from one second to 1/1000 seconds plus the ubiquitous B. The flash synch speed for electronic flash is up to 1/60 seconds (which is the fastest shutter speed when the shutter is completely open) and the synch speed for flash bulbs is any shutter speed at all.

My camera does not work. Neither the film advance lever nor the shutter release button will mov e at all. As mentioned earlier, someone has viciously attacked the insides of the lens mount to the extent of seriously bending a steel baffle just inside the mount. What other repair attempts have they made? If someone has made such a crass attempt at a repair, I don’t think it worth my while attempting anything myself.

Iloca Quick

So, Iloca cameras. These are not the best known brand of cameras but Iloca were quite prolific for some years. The Iloca cameras are clearly designed to a price but are quite well made given the price restriction. The 1954 British journal Photographic Almanac has this camera advertised as costing £15-3-6 plus £4-18-8 purchase tax giving a retail price of £20-2-2 – not a cheap camera.

  • lens: Ilitar
  • focal length: 45 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 3 ft to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Prontor-S
  • speeds: 1 sec to 1/300 sec
  • flash: PC connector
  • film size: 35 mm

This is my second Iloca. My other Iloca is also an Iloca Quick but, in that case, the Iloca Quick B with a built-in rangefinder. There were other Quick models – the Quick A springs to mind. This camera is entirely made from metal – the only plastic that I can find is the take-up spool.

The camera measures 123 by 76 by 63 mm and weighs 455 g. The body is made from an aluminium ally and is covered with a plasticky ‘leatherette’. The front is further decorated with five strips of aluminium – four at the top and one at the bottom.

The top plate is made from burnished aluminium. On the right of the top plate is the film advance knob. This camera was made at the point that advance knobs were being replaced with advance levers but not yet at the bottom end of the market. The top of this film advance knob has the frame counter. This counts up from zero to 39 and needs to be set to zero by hand when loading a new film. The counter on my camera does not work without film in the camera.

The centre portion of the top plate is raised in two steps. The first step houses a Barnack type accessory shoe – no flash contacts at this date. In front of the accessory shoe is the shutter release button. This is made from plated brass and is threaded for a standard cable release. Left of the accessory shoe, on the higher raised portion of the top plate, is the legend “Jloca QUICK” stamped in the metal. The “J” in the name is really a German capital “I” rather than an English “J”. Inside this higher raised portion of the top plate is the viewfinder. This is small as was usual in the first half of the 1950s. The eyepiece measures 5 mm diameter and the window on the front is 11 by 7 mm. This size is usable but not easy to use, particularly if you wear glasses. This is a reverse Galilean finder which means that the image in the viewfinder is smaller than direct vision. As this is essentially a miniature telescope, there is no focus screen and there is no information in the viewfinder.

Left of the viewfinder, the top plate is again lower. This lower portion has the rewind knob. Again, at this age, it is just a knob and not the ubiquitous folding crank that came in during the late 1950s. In the centre of the rewind knob is a memo for the type of film in use. There are three options here: colour positive, colour negative or film speed. Film speeds are predominantly in the German DIN system with American ASA speeds as an addition in smaller type. Speeds are from 14/10º DIN to 24/10º DIN or 25 ASA to 200 ASA. In the early 1950s, 24 DIN/200 ASA was an unusually fast film – Ilford’s FP4 at 125 ASA was marketed as a fast film (for our younger readers, ASA is functionally the same as ISO speeds).

The only thing on the front of the camera is the shutter/lens assembly. This is a Gauthier Prontor S shutter – the S signifying that the shutter is synchronised for flash. Given the date of the camera and the price point, I would assume that this shutter is synchronised for flash bulbs rather than electronic flash – but see later. Shutter speeds are the older sequence of 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/300 seconds. Moving from one speed to the next sometimes gives a full stop change in exposure and sometimes doesn’t. There is also the B setting. Gauthier made several versions of the Prontor S. This version is cocked internally by the film advance mechanism (some Prontor S shutters needed manual cocking). What is different to any other Prontor S shutters that I have seen is that when the shutter is cocked, a red flag is raised at the top of the shutter housing. This is actually quite useful if you only use the camera occasionally.

Shutter speeds are set by a serrated ring at the front of the shutter housing. There is an aperture setting behind the shutter speed ring. Available apertures are from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/22 which is a good, useable range for a non-hobbyist photographer. These are set by a sliding pointer on the top of the shutter housing. Also on the top of the shutter housing is a PC connector for flash. The “-S” in the name Prontor-S indicates that the shutter is synchronised for flash. No indication is given on the camera as to whether this is for bulbs or electronic flash. It could be for both, flash bulbs requiring a slow shutter speed to allow the bulb to burn to maximum brightness while the shutter is still open, electronic flash being useable at all shutter speeds (this is the big advantage of leaf shutters over focal plane shutters).

At the bottom of the shutter housing there is a red lever. Even though this is a Prontor-S shutter and not a Prontor-SV, there is a self-timer function (V = vorlaufwerk which is German for self-timer). The standard advice is to never use these self-timers as they are the weakest part of the mechanism and when they fail, the shutter will be rendered useless. With this camera, the self-timer is close to non-functional and needed to be helped on its way with my finger.

The lens is marked as being an Iloca Ilitar. The font used uses the long form capital “I” which looks for all the world like a capital “J”. I have been unable to find out anything about this lens. I would assume that Iloca bought in a lens from one of the many German lens makers and gave it their own name – this was quite usual in the camera industry. At this price point, I am certain that it will be a triplet. The lens bezel has a red V to denote that the lens is coated. In the early 1950s on a cheap ens, this is probably just coated on the one exterior surface. The lens is front cell focusing – the rear element of the lens clearly does not move with the focus ring. The focus range is from about 2.5 feet to infinity (this is an export camera and uses the British Imperial unit of distance). The closest marked distance on the focus scale is three feet but the lens moves significantly beyond this. The focal length of the lens is 45 mm which is “normal” for 35mm photography.

The base has two items on it. Towards the right hand end is a tripod boss. This is well off-centre which is not ideal but I doubt many users of this camera ever used a tripod. At this age, this will be a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread – the modern ISO tripod thread of 1/4 inch UNC was still 20 years in the future. Between the tripod boss and the end of the camera is a large (15 mm diameter) chrome button. This is the release to allow the film to be rewound – it needs to be pressed in the entire time that the film is being rewound.

The back of the camera is plain apart from the remains of a transfer indicating that the camera was originally sold by Wallace Heaton of London. The two ends of the camera are similarly unadorned. This poses the question of how to get inside the camera. There is no visible catch on either end not the base. The Japanese trick of pulling up the rewind knob does nothing. In the absence of the printed manual, this is a real conundrum. However, I have a technique for solving problems with old cameras and that is to continuously fiddle with every part of the camera until it finally does what I want.

It turns out that the rewind knob has three positions – normal, rewind and open. This does not work in the same way as Japanese cameras by merely pulling up on the rewind knob but when the knob is pulled up to its fullest extent, a slight clockwise turn against a fairly strong spring will cause the left hand edge of the back to spring open. The right hand edge is also held in place by a sprung edge and just needs to be pulled out. The back comes away in one piece – no hinge – and is small enough to fit into a pocket while manipulating the film. The top left corner of the back has a small red dot which matches a red dot on the camera body to indicate the correct orientation.of the back when refitting it. Refitting the back is easy. Loosely put the back in position, with the two red dots together, and press firmly. Both ends of the back will snap into the sprung ends of the camera body.

The removable back is made from die cast aluminium alloy with significant flanges around the sides to keep the joins light-tight – no cheap, messy, Japanese foam light seals here. In the middle of the back is a respectably sized pressure plate to keep the film flat over the film gate.

Inside the camera is much like many other German viewfinder cameras. There is a chamber on the left for the film cassette – no electrical contacts here as DX coding is still over 20 years in the future. The film gate is central with just enough metal around the gate to support the film. Above the film gate is a sprocket wheel – it takes the place of the more usual sprocket shaft and counts the number of sprocket holes in the film that pass as the film is advanced – eight sprocket holes equals one frame of film.

Below the film gate is a sprung pin. It took me a while to work out what this pin does. It has no function as far as using the camera is concerned. What it in fact does is push the back out when the left hand end is released. Next to this pin is the camera’s serial number. On the right is the take-up spool. This is nice and large which means that it will not impart much curl to the film. The take-up spool has one solitary slot to take the film leader. This is a very tight fit and I found it difficult to get the film leader into the slot. On the far right, the end is sprung the same as the left hand end.

I have eventually finished my test film – Agfa Vista plus 200 ISO – and had the film developed (by Ag Photography in Birmingham). The results are not brilliant but with care useable. The lens is susceptible to flare and none of the images are particularly sharp.

The first image is the sharpest but not spectacularly so. This is probably the best image from my test film.

This image of Lincoln cathedral chapter house shows what happens if the sky is too bright. With this camera, it really is necessary to obey my father’s dictum to always keep the sun behind you.

No sun in this next picture so no flare. Again, none of the picture is particularly sharp but for a holiday snapshot probably acceptable.

A bright image but with the sun well to one side so no flare. The lens is producing good contrast but still not very sharp.

Voigtländer Vitoret DR

This is a late 1960s rangefinder camera from the German firm of Voigtländer – who were owned by the Carl Zeiss Stiftung. This camera very much resembles my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE although it has fewer features.

The camera itself has the name Voigtländer on it in a couple of places but the instruction sheet (a large, single piece of folded paper and in no way a booklet) is clearly titled Zeiss Ikon Voigtländer. Although the Carl Zeiss Stiftung had a controlling interest in Voigtländer since the 1950s, it was only in the late 1960s that Carl Zeiss amalgamated Zeiss Ikon and Voigtländer into one manufacturer.

  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 3 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Prontor 300
  • speeds: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/300
  • flash: PC socket, X synch
  • film size: 35 mm

The name of this camera – Vitoret – indicates that it is a derivative of the folding Vito camera of the late 1940s. The Vito range developed over 20 years or so into a range of quite sophisticated cameras – Vito B, and Vitomatic in the 1950s, Vito C, CLR and Vito Automatic in the 1960s. The D part of the name indicates a light meter – I do not know what the D stands for as the German for a light meter is Belichtungsmesser or Lichtmeter. The R indicates a built-in rangefinder.

The body is made from die-cat aluminium alloy and the top and bottom plates appear to be made from aluminium sheet. The body is covered with black leatherette and the edge of the camera are painted gloss black. The opening back is made from pressed steel and is also covered with black leatherette. The camera measures 125 by 88 by 70 mm. It weighs 538 g. This is the late model Vitoret DR with square corners – there was an earlier model with a more rounded look. The Vitoret range was introduced in about 1963 with the Vitoret D. The version with square corners was introduced in 1966 and seems to have been continued up until Zeiss Ikon ceased production in 1972. The general appearance is very similar to the Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE.

The top plate is sparse – at least compared to most SLR cameras. On the far right is a knob for controlling the light meter. This is not a coupled meter and you need to manually transfer the setting to the shutter and aperture. This meter is a selenium meter so it has no need of a battery – there is a disadvantage to selenium meters in old cameras as the selenium sensor can deteriorate over time if left exposed to light but if the camera is stored in its case or a dark cupboard that is unlikely to be a problem. On my camera, the meter is completely dead, which is likely to be a problem with the electronics rather than the selenium sensor.

To use the meter, you first need to set the film speed using the inner perspex disc. This can be set between 12 DIN/12 ASA and 36 DIN/3200 ASA. Having set the film speed, you now turn the outer ring to move the red pointer in the light meter window until it is superimposed on the meter’s white needle. You then read off the aperture (black numbers) and shutter speed (white numbers) combination that suits you. The meter was made for Voigtländer by Bewi who made meters for a number of German camera makers as well as for theirselves.

Central on the top plate is a Barnack accessory shoe – no electrical contacts so a cold shoe. Just to the right of this accessory shoe, near the rear of the top plate, is a small (3mm diameter) chromed button. This is the release button to allow the film to be rewound. It is necessary to keep this button depressed the whole time that you are rewinding the film.

Left of the accessory shoe is the maker’s and model name embossed in the metal. On the far left of the top plate is the rewind crank – this is the ubiquitous small folding crank. As well as rewinding the film, this crank lifts up to facilitate inserting and removing the film cassettes.

On the back of the top plate, towards the left, is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 20 by 14 mm and incorporates the rangefinder eyepiece. There are bright lines, 14 by 9 mm, bounding the image area. As this is not an SLR, there is no focus screen. The image is tinted pink. In the centre of the image is a pale green diamond – this is the rangefinder spot. The pink image and green spot makes the rangefinder easy to use. Just below the the top plate, on the right, is the film advance lever. This moves through 225º to advance the film by one frame but this can also be achieved with several short movements.

On the front of the top plate is a rectangular chrome bezel which measures 83 by 20 mm. On the right of this bezel is the viewfinder window. This measures 25 by 15 mm. Centrally, there is a black rectangle with a clear diamond. This is the rangefinder window. The centre of this diamond window is 30 mm from the centre of the viewfinder window. The larger this distance, the more sensitive the rangefinder will be. 30 mm is quite respectable. On the far left of the chrome bezel is the knobbly light meter sensor window.

Below the top plate on the front is the shutter/lens assembly. The shutter is a Prontor 300. This has a restricted range of shutter speeds: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/300 plus B. This range, restricted as it is, will be fine for the photographers attracted to this camera. Apertures are from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22 which is a very usable range. There are five blades in the iris diaphragm giving a pentagonal aperture – the effect of this on the bokeh will be seen with the test film.

The lens is a Color-Lanthar which appears to be a triplet. Its focal length is 50 mm which is usual for this type of 35mm camera. The ‘Color’ part indicates that the lens is designed for colour photography. This might be taken for granted today but the vast majority of photography in the 1960s and earlier was black and white. The ‘Lanthar’ part indicates that the lens uses glasses containing Lanthanum – a rare earth metal that gives the glass a high refractive index allowing for ‘stronger’ elements to the lens. Lanthanum glass also has low dispersion which means that the different colours of light behave the same as they pass through the lens resulting in less chromatic aberration. The use of Lanthanum improves the quality of the lens but this lens is a triplet – only three glass elements – which reduces the quality of the lens. Other triplet lenses I have used have been quite good when stopped down to ƒ/8 and I expect this lens to be the same. The test film will show for sure.

Focal range is from just short of 3.5 feet (I suspect that it is actually one metre but this is an export camera and the scale is in feet) to infinity. There are distances marked by a red dot (close to 4.5 feet), a red triangle (between 9 and 12 feet) and a red circle (short of 60 feet. These are Happy Snapper settings for portraits, groups and landscapes respectively. These are intended to be used with an aperture of ƒ/8. I can tell this aperture by setting the red circle to the focus index and looking at which aperture is against infinity on the depth of field scale – it is ƒ/8.

This depth of field scale sits between the shutter speed scale and the focus scale. It consists of two aperture scales, one either side of the focus index, with the widest aperture nearest to the index. To establish the depth of filed for your settings, you look at the focus distance against each of the aperture values that you have set. An example: you have set your aperture to ƒ/11 and you are focused at 8 feet. The two distances against ƒ/11 are 6 feet and twelve feet so everything between six and twelve feet will be in focus.

To the left of the lens is the shutter release. This is a vertical slider rather than a button. These became common in the 1960s but I have never liked them as they require a different grip on the camera. In order to attach a standard cable release there is a threaded hole on the bottom of the slider. Below the shutter release slider is a chrome PC socket for flash connection.

The base of the camera has a standard tripod socket – 1/4 inch Whitworth I would think at this age. This socket is in line with the centre of the lens. Just in front of the tripod socket is the camera serial number – 843072. All my other Voigtländer cameras lack a serial number, their place being taken by the lens serial number. This camera’s serial number is shorter than Voigtländer’s lens serial number.

Also on the base plate is the frame counter. Unlike earlier Voigtländer cameras, this frame counter counts up. Every third frame has a number, the intermediate frames being dots. The counter counts up to 36. The counter is automatically reset to -2 by opening the back.

To get inside the camera, there is a catch on the left-hand edge of the camera. To open the back, you must squeeze the top and bottom of the catch and the back will pop open. The back itself has a rather small pressure plate and a small chrome roller to keep the film against the sprocket shaft.

The film cassette goes on the left – the rewind crank holds the cassette in place and needs to be lifted to either insert or remove the cassette. The film gate is no larger than necessary and smaller than in most 35mm cameras. To the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. The rôle of this is to count the sprocket holes in the film as it passes the film gate to ensure that exactly one frame is advanced each time – eight holes to one frame. The take-up spool is nice and wide – this means that the film is not curled too tightly on the take-up spool. With some cameras, a thin take-up spool means that the film will not lie flat for printing or scanning. There are four slots on take-up spool which are nice and wide and make it easy to fit a new film.

I have eventually finished my test film – Agfa Vista plus, 200 ISO – and have had the film developed by AG Photography in Birmingham. The results are quite good for a 50+ year old camera – everything is working as it should. The shutter is clearly within spec as the negatives are nicely exposed – I cannot show this on the Interweb as the scanning process compensates for poorly exposed negative but I can examine the actual negatives and they have the image density I would like them to have. The same goes for the aperture.

My first two images are test of the rangefinder. In the first image, I have focused using the rangefinder on the nearest silver knob with the aperture wide open. That is in focus and the rest of the image is not. The silver knob was close to the closest focus distance for this lens (3.5 feet).

This next picture is using the rangefinder to focus on something a bit further away. Again, the subject is in focus and the rest is not, which is good.

This next image is the Strait in Lincoln a dull day. Image contrast is good as is focus.

The chapter house at Lincoln cathedral, covered in scaffolding for repairs. This is looking west and has caused a small amount of flare. Otherwise, I am pleased with this image.

While enjoying a cup of coffee with Bestbeloved in Caffè Nero in Lincoln, I tried this camera hand-held indoors. To get a good exposure, I used a fairly long shutter speed. I was able to hold then camera steady enough for there to be no visible camera shake, but I doubt I could enlarge the picture much above what it is here.

The last image is of Bestbeloved looking at gulls through her binoculars (which is what she can usually be found to be doing). This is in Scarborough and was taken in light rain. The lens has good micro-contrast and good colour rendition in quite poor light.

Overall, I am impressed with this camera. The lens is a triplet but performs well enough. It was made by one of the foremost camera makers of the 20th century so it should be good but its was towards the end of German hegemony in this industry and the Germans were finding out that they could not compete with the Japanese. Zeiss Ikon and Voigtländer started making down to a price rather than up to a standard. The Japanese, of course, managed to build down to a price whilst also building up to a standard.

Rollei prego 125

Rollei is a venerable name in photography. It was Rollei who invented the TLR concept with their Rolleiflex in 1929 (actually, Franke and Heidecke – Rollei was the brand name, not the maker). In the fullness of time, the original company ceased trading and the name ‘Rollei’ and the associated intellectual property rights got sold repeatedly. By 1995, the name ‘Rollei’ belonged to Samsung and it was the Samsung iteration of the company that made this camera. The legend ‘Rollei Germany’ appears twice on this camera – once on the base and once around the lens. This gives the impression that the camera was made in Germany but I understand that there was a ‘made in China’ sticker on the base when new.

  • lens: Vario-Apogon
  • focal length: 38-125 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/4.6 to ƒ/11.1
  • focus range: 0.7 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: leaf shutter
  • speeds: 1/3 s to 1/400 s
  • flash: built in
  • film size: 35 mm

This Rollei prego 125 is a compact, automatic 35mm camera. It is not intended for the hobby photographer but for someone who wants a decent camera for holidays and family events. To this end, both exposure and focus are entirely automatic with virtually no scope for manual intervention.

The camera is made from a mixture of grey and black plastic. This is good quality, sturdy plastic which is still in excellent condition after 25 years. It measures 118 by 87 by 44 mm when switched off and opens to 118 by 87 by 80 mm when switched on. This has the lens at its widest focal length as the default when switched on (38 mm) and the lens protrudes further to 110 mm when the telephoto function is used (125 mm). The camera weighs 235 g without battery or film so not heavy but with a respectable heft.

Starting at the right, there is a largish green shutter release button. This has a diameter of 10 mm. Behind this is a semi-circular (just slightly more than semi-circular, to be accurate) green button marked ‘on/off’ – this is the on/off button (!) Left of the shutter release button is a black arc of a button. This is marked ‘tele’ at the front and ‘wide’ at the rear and is the zoom adjuster. This adjusts the focal length of the lens between 38 mm (the default) and 125 mm.

Dominating the top is a LCD screen. This measures 26 by 10 mm. It can display a wealth of information but when the camera is off the screen displays the number of frames of the film that have been used plus an indication that a film is loaded. When the camera is on, there is also the focal length of the lens on the left and the current flash mode. There is a fault on my screen on the left which is visible in the photographs.

Camera off

Behind the LCD screen are four buttons. The right hand button selects the flash mode – available are auto, red-eye auto, off, fill-in, night time fill-in. The next button selects the self-timer which allows a standard delay, use of a remote control or sets up an intervalometer.

The third button has three modes – normal, spot focus or snap. Spot focus only uses the very centre of the image to focus. Snap sets the lens to 38 mm and the focus is set to the mid-ground – this is intended for snapshots.

Camera on

The left hand most button sets the date print function. There are three date formats to choose from – repeated pressing of the button will cycle through them – and there are also seven brief messages that you can print on the negatives instead of the date.

Moving to the front of the camera, there are a number of sensors and windows. Looking at the front of the camera, at the top is a black plastic rectangular fascia. This contains, from the right, the built-in flash (25 by 15 mm) then a red LED for the autofocus system, the viewfinder window (10 by 6 mm), a rectangular window (13 by 5 mm) which I assume is a part of the auto-focus system but might not be. Just to the left of the black fascia are two small round windows. The lower of these is the remote control sensor and the upper one is the exposure sensor.

In the centre of the front is the lens. This is a Vario-Apogon. The Apogon is a name that Rollei has used for a variety of lens designs after they lost the right to use either Schneider or Zeiss names for lenses that Rollei made under licence from those two lens makers. The fact that this is an Apogon lens actually tells us nothing other than it was made by Rollei – the ‘vario’ part tells us that it is a zoom lens. Searching on the Interweb, I have been unable to find out anything about this lens. The ‘HFT’ in red means High Fidelity Transfer and refers to the lens coating system used. I have only seen this before on Schneider lenses.

Other details on the front: to the right of the lens, just below the flash gun, is a small round LED. This flashes when the self timer is used, the rate of flashing increasing just before the shutter fires. Level with the lens, on the right, is a 6mm dimeter button marked with ‘∞’. Pressing and holding this button forces the lens to infinity focus. This is intended to be used when some picture elements closer to the camera might entice the camera to focus too closely but is also useful when the scene has no textured elements of the autofocus system to focus on

On the left edge of the front is the battery compartment. This takes one CR123A lithium battery which is still available. The battery that I am using is just marked ‘123’.

As is usual, the back of the camera has little on it. At the top, towards the left, is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 8 by 7 mm – not over large but large enough. To the left of the viewfinder eyepiece is a small wheel to adjust the eyepiece focus so that you can use the viewfinder without your glasses. Just to the right of the eyepiece are two small LEDs which are visible when your eye is at the eyepiece. Then top LED is green and indicates correct focus. When the lens is focused the LED is steadily lit. If the lens cannot focus, this LED flashes and the shutter is locked. The lower LED is red and indicates that the flash gun is ready to fire.

Inside the viewfinder, there are no bright lines – I assume that all you see will be in the picture. Towards the top of the viewfinder image are two short black lines. These indicate the limits of the viewfinder due to parallax when taking close-ups. In the centre, there is an area which delimitates the area which the autofocus system uses.

Further to the right of the viewfinder eyepiece is a small lever. Turning this enables the camera to take panoramas. All that happens is that two horizontal masks mask the top and bottom of the film gate. When this lever is vertical, the masks are retracted. When the lever is swung to the left, the masks move into place.

Most of the back is the door giving access for loading and removing film cassettes. This door is unlatched by a small latch on the right hand side of the back. Next to this latch is a small window to allow the user to see the film cassette as a memo.

Inside, there is a chamber on the right to take the film cassette. There are four electrical contacts to read the DX information from the film cassette. This tells the exposure system which speed film is in use.

Most of the inside is taken up by the film gate and on the left is the take-up spool. Loading a film is easy. You put the film on the right, pull the film leader across until it just reaches the left edge of the take-up spool and close the back. The film is then wound onto the take-up spool and the ‘1ex’ appears on the screen on the top of the camera.

The base of the camera has two items on it. Just to the right of the lens is an ISO standard tripod socket – 1/4 inch UNC thread. On the left of the base is a small hole. Pressing a pin into this hole forces the camera to rewind the film – usually, the film is rewound automatically when the end of the film is reached but you might need to take the film out before the end is reached.

In use.

I have a cassette of Agfa Vista plus colour film in the camera at the moment, trying out the various facilities offered by the camera. My first thoughts are that there is no indication that the shutter has fired – it is totally silent. The only noise is the advance system moving the film on for the next shot. I am finding this quite unnerving. But that is my only niggle so far.

There were two versions of this camera made and only one had the date-stamp facility. There is no indication as to which version I have but the date-stamp system gives every indication of working. When I get the test film back from the lab, I will know for sure which version I have – either the date stamps will be there or they will not.

At long last, I have had the rest film developed – by AG Photography in Birmingham. It has only taken me 11 months to get the film developed – I need to work on my procrastination!

The results are quite impressive for a cheapish plastic camera that is over 30 years old. I doubt that the designers expected it to last this long. Images are in focus, well exposed (I am judging this by looking at the negatives as scans usually look fairly good – image density is what I would want it to be), there is no flare, frames are evenly spaced on the film. What more could I want?

This camera has the option to print messages on each image so I have tried this out. I suspect that the novelty would quickly wear out. As I mentioned above, there is an optional ability to print the date on each negative and there is no indication as to whether my camera had this option operational so I tried it and it does work. This will be more useful than the messages but only marginally so. I will show examples of each.

This first image is looking down Steep Hill in Lincoln towards The Strait. Focus is good, exposure is good, there is no flare and I have no responsibility for the leaning lamppost, it was like that when I got there, honest. On the bottom right side you can see the message “MERRY XMAS” in orange (several other messages were available as well). OK, the system works but I cannot imagine wanting to use it.

Looking north this time, same general location, showing the central tower of our cathedral. Again, well exposed, well focused and, this time, no pointless message at the bottom because I turned it off.

Photography is a thirsty business so I stopped at Coffee by the Arch in Lincoln for a well deserved pot of tea. This is about as close as the camera wants to focus.

The next two images are a pair to demonstrate the panorama option. First I took the top picture (with a silly message included!) and then, without altering anything, set the panorama option. The lens has moved to its widest angle and the two baffles have moved into place. As is clear from the uncropped image, this is just a wide angle shot with the top and bottom missing (and the message moved up to be included in the image).

This last image is here to demonstrate that the date stamping is working and that I took this picture on the 7th July 2021. This was also taken while I was enjoying my cup tea at Coffee at the Arch in Lincoln.

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