These are descriptions of my growing collection of old film cameras together with my experience of using them. The descriptions are entirely based on a particular camera that I have before me rather than just on Interweb research.
This is another Bakelite camera – my others are the Soho Model B and the VP Twin. The later Soho Model B design is clearly derived from this Rajar No 6 – they even use identical struts. This camera appears to have been designed in 1929 and is an Art Deco design. It was made by APeM – this company had a chequered history and part of it ended up as Soho Ltd, the makers of the Soho Model B mentioned above. The camera measures 167 by 90 by 38 mm when closed and 167 by 90 by 115 when open for use. It weighs 450 g.
focal length: 85 mm
focus range: ?
lens fitting: fixed
speeds: I & T
film size: Rajar No 6
As mentioned earlier, this camera is made from Bakelite, one of our earliest plastics dating from 1907. The Bakelite is black (many other colours of bakelite were available) and the body is rectangular with only the ends being curved. There are a few parts not made from Bakelite. The struts holding the lens board in place, the metal wires holding the back in place and there is a metal chassis behind the Bakelite lens board and a few rivets.
All the controls apart from the film advance key are on the lens board – not that there are many controls: only one shutter speed, one aperture and a fixed focus lens. So, the camera body is an unadorned rectangular box with curved ends. The only ornamentation on the front are two rectangles, one above and one below the lens board. The back has eleven parallel grooves. These are broken at the top by a curved box bearing the legend “ONLY RAJAR NO 6 SPOOL WILL FIT THIS CAMERA”
Towards the other end of the back is the circular red window for viewing the frame numbers on the film backing paper. although this window would have been a very definite red when new it has faded over the last 90 years to a pale orange. At the other end of the body to the red window is the film advance key. This is made from nickel plated brass and has a slight twist to it to make it fit the hand better.
To use the camera, it is necessary to extend the lens board. this pulls out and is held on four folding struts. It is a little hard to start it moving but once it has moved a bit it is easy to pull out to its final position. The four struts hold the lens board securely in place and parallel to the film.
The lens board is essentially rectangular with a curved cutaway at the top for a finger grip when extending the camera. At the bottom of the lens board is a semi-circular extension which has no function – it is entirely decorative.
In the centre of the lens board is the lens and shutter. The lens is a meniscus lens – one piece of glass – and is not usually visible as it sits behind the shutter blades. I am told by Collection Appareils that the lens has a focal length of 85mm and a fixed aperture of /12. This is a rather small aperture but is needed to give the required depth of field to compensate for the non-focusing lens.
The shutter is a very simple everset shutter offering just one speed –I – and timed exposure – T. deferring again to Collections Appareils, I (for Instantaneous)gives a shutter speed of between 1/50 and 1/30 seconds. This is not a precise speed and nor does it need to be. this camera relies on the film’s exposure latitude to produce usable pictures.
The shutter release lever protrudes from behind the semi-circular extension – it is a flat serrated metal tab. This works in two directions – moving it left to fires the shutter and moving it right fires the shutter. The T setting – Time – causes the shutter to open when the shutter release is moved and the shutter then stays open until the shutter release is moved again. To use the T setting you need to be able to keep the camera steady on a table. There is no tripod socket but there is a folding leg hidden away behind the bottom of the lens board. This allows long exposures in the portrait orientation but not in the landsca[[e orientation.
Beneath the lens on the lens board is a triangular plaque bearing the legend “RAJAR No 6”. This looks as if it was originally silver and red but now is mostly murky brown.
At the top of the lens board is a 7 mm (actually 3/10 inch as this is a British camera) hole behind which sits the viewfinder. This is a Brilliant finder which I never really like. this one is marginally better than the run-of-the-mill Brilliant finders as the top piece of glass is ground glass rather than the usual plain glass which gives a clearer (but not clear) image. This Brilliant finder is on a swivel so you can move it through 90º for when you are taking landscape pictures.
The back is held in place by two sturdy wire clips. These are a very tight grip and require significant effort to remove. When they have both been unclipped and moved to the front of the camera the back comes away in one piece.
The inside of the back is completely plain – no advice as to film, no patent numbers, no nothing. The only feature is a cutaway near one corner to allow for fitting around the film advance key.
The inside of the body is dominated by the film gate. This measures 82 by 56 mm which is about what you would expect from 120 film but this camera uses Rajar’s own Rajar 6 film. My camera has an empty spool in it and I can measure the width of the backing paper which is 62 mm. It would seem like Rajar No 6 film is the same as 120 film although the Rajar spot is very different. The Rajar spool has an extension on one end with a square hole for the film advance key. Apparently, adapters were available to allow 120 film to be used.
Neither the film spool nor the take-up spool are fixed in any way. The only concession to the spools moving is a nickel-plated leaf spring in each spool chamber which will be mostly about keeping the film snug on the spools.
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My instinct is to call this a folding camera but it does not actually fold; rather, it collapses. This is an Art Deco camera dating from the 1930s. In fact, I think it could be called Streamline Moderne as it has plenty of curves and no angles. From my Interweb searches, it would seem that this camera dates from 1935.
This camera is almost entirely made from Bakelite which is a very early plastic invented in 1907 and used for all sorts of things in the first half of the 20th century. After WWII, other plastics displaced Bakelite although it would appear that it is still being made. The Bakelite here is coloured dark red with a tortoiseshell pattern – the red is so dark as to look brown to me and the tortoiseshell pattern is only discernible in good light. There is a pattern moulded into the Bakelite which simulates (poorly) a leather covering.
There is only one control on the camera body and that is the the film advance. This is a folding metal key which is chrome plated brass. The key is slightly twisted – at first I thought this was a defect on my camera but looking at pictures of other cameras of this model, it would seem to be a design feature. This key is on a ratchet – it will only turn in one direction. The key will also pull up slightly to release the film spool inside the camera.
The rest of the controls and features are on the lens board. With folding cameras, this lens board is hinged and pulls the shutter/lens assembly out to its operating position as it hinges open. This is not a folding camera – the lens board pulls out on four folding struts remaining essentially parallel to the body as it does so.
When the camera is fully collapsed ity is rather hard to start lifting the lens board. There are semi-circular cutaways at top the bottom of the lens board to help you get a hold of the lens board. Once it starts moving, it lifts easily and snaps into place on the four chrome struts. Collapsing the camera involves pushing the four struts slightly further out and pushing the lens board in. When the lens board is extended, the shutter and lens are attached to the camera body with a collapsable bellows which are made from Burgundy leatherette.
At the top of the lens board is a round hole behind which is the viewfinder. This is a hinged Brilliant finder. If you are using the camera in the landscape orientation, the finder swivels out from behind the hole and sits just outside the corner of the lens board. These Brilliant finders are hard to use – see the photo of the image.
The centre of the lens board has a moulded circle. Inside this is both the shutter and the lens. The lens is right in the centre but is not visible from the outside as it sits behind the shutter blades. The lens has no name and would appear to be a simple meniscus lens. The people at Art Deco Cameras have measured this lens and say that the focal length is 100 mm which is ‘normal‘ for a medium format camera. They also have worked out that the fixed aperture is ƒ/14 – this will give the necessary depth of field for such a simple lens.
Above the lens is the legend “MODEL B” and above this the two letters “I” and “T” – and above these two is a tab to select between them. “I” is instantaneous and is the setting for everyday use. Those nice people at Art Deco Cameras have measured the shutter speed to average 1/50 second which is about what I would expect. On the left of the lens is the shutter release lever. This has two positions – up and down. The shutter fires when this lever is moved from one position to the other – both moving up and moving down will fire the shutter.
“T” is time. With this setting, the shutter opens when you move the shutter release lever and stays open until you move the shutter release lever a second time. Underneath the lens is the maker’s name: “SOHO LTD LONDON”. The shutter is the everset type and there is no cocking lever.
Behind the bottom of the lens board are two swivelling legs – one long and one short. The long leg swivels through 90º and provides a support for the camera in the portrait orientation. This long leg is offset to one side and provides a very unstable support – unstable to the point of being next to useless. This is not helped by the camera having to rest on the chrome fitting for securing the back. The short leg swivels through 180º and provides support for the camera in the landscape orientation. This short leg provides very stable support.
To open the back of the camera there is a large sprung catch on the top of the camera. To open this, you slide it towards the film advance key and then lift it. The back of the camera comes away in one piece – the bottom of the back is held in place in a clip which doesn’t need opening.
The outside of the back is plain apart from the moulded ‘leather’ and the circular red window for reading the frame numbers off the film’s backing paper. The inside of the back has information on the type of film required (“any 2 1⁄4 x 4 1⁄4 or 6 x 9 cm film”) and the patent number (330403/29). Also on the inside are four metal studs near to the corners. It took me a while to work out why they are there. Turns out that they line up with the flanges of the two film spools – as the metal flanges turn they are prevented from wearing away the Bakelite.
The inside of the body is dominated by the film gate. This measures 82 by 55 mm which gives quite large margins around the negatives on 90 by 60 mm film. The outside edges of the film gate are nicely rounded to prevent the film from being scratched as it moves across the film gate.
Either side of the film gate there is a chamber for the film spools. At the bottom of these is a T-shaped steel spring to keep the film taut on the spools. The film spools sit loosely in the chambers apart from the inside of the film advance key locating in the end of the take-up spool.
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This camera is a bog-standard folding camera from the Inter-war years (for our younger readers, “Inter-war” means from 1919 to 1939). This is a German camera made in Wiesbaden in Hesse. The only name on the camera is the model name “Supreme” embossed in the leather on the back. There is no maker’s name anywhere. I know it is German because there is a small leather carrying handle which is embossed “MADE IN GERMANY”.
focal length: 10.5 cm
apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22
focus range: 6 feet (2 metres) to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T
film size: 120
So how do I know which camera this is? I have several techniques that I use. I have a series of camera catalogues going back to the early 1920 and I look through them for a camera model called “Supreme” – they usually have illustrations so I can check that it is the same model. I also have copies of the British Journal of Photography Almanac going back to 1922. These have a section on new kit and again I search through these for cameras called “Supreme”. Both of these have failed me which leads me to think that this camera was made by a minor maker without a good dealer contract.
My third method is a search on the Interweb. This last is very unreliable as the Interweb is full of errors. However, needs must when the devil drives. So, a Google search (other search engines are available) for “Supreme camera” and select the images option. Well, there have been quite a few camera models called “Supreme” but this search did find quite a few images of my camera and they all called it “Wirgin Supreme”. A text search on Google confirmed that Wirgin did indeed make a folding camera called “Supreme and that it might have been made in 1938.
Wirgin are probably better known for their Edixa range of cameras made in the 1960s and 1970s. I already have articles on two of these: the Wirgin Edixa viewfinder camera and the Wirgin Edixa-Mat Reflex mod B SLR camera.
This is a fairly typical folding camera from the Interwar years. Some features are typical of the 1920s such as the shutter but these did continue well into the 1930s on cheaper cameras. The Interweb says it was made in 1938 but that was a single web page and perhaps not reliable.
The body seems to be made entirely from pressed steel. The body is covered with leather (not leatherette) with the edges of the camera bright chrome plated. These edges have significant rusty areas. The camera measures 155 by 83 by 40 mm when closed and 155 by 83 by 133 mm when open for use. It weighs 575 g.
The ‘top’ of the camera (it doesn’t really have a top as such) is featureless apart from the folding viewfinder. Lifting the top of this allows the bottom/rear part to spring up on its own. The viewfinder consists of a hole in each part – there are no lenses in either part. The holes is both frames must be lined up by the user’s eye to compose the picture.
The ‘bottom’ of the camera has more on it. On the right-hand side is a milled wheel which is the film advance. Once upon a time, this was covered by a disc of leather but on my camera this is long gone. Next to this wheel is a small nickel-plated button. Pressing this opens the lens door on the front of the camera. When new, this door would have sprung fully open under its own spring-loaded volition but on my 80+ year old camera, the lens door only opens most of the way and needs a bit of manual help to open fully.
Just to the left of centre on the bottom is a disc. This is 27 mm in diameter. In the middle of this disc is a threaded hole for a tripod. This is a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. It looks to me as though this is a 1/4 inch slug fitted into the original 3/8 inch Whitworth socket. It is the positioning of this tripod socket that was the clue to the identity of this camera when I did the Google image search.
The back of the camera is plain. The leather is embossed with straight lines and the word “Supreme” in italic script. Towards the top left corner of the back is a red window. For those who have not come across 120 size cameras before, the film has a backing paper which keeps light away from the film when handled. On this backing paper, there are three series of numbers with different spacings. These are for cameras that produce 6 by 9, 6 by 6 and 6 by 4.5 cm negatives. These numbers are read through the red window so this red window is positioned over the appropriate series of numbers. This camera produces 6 by 9 cm negatives.
The front of the camera is dominated by the lens door. This measures 97 by 780 mm. As with the rest of the camera, this is covered with black leather. In the centre of this door there is a raised portion. I think this is basically for stiffening but it also has a decorative function. In the middle of the lens door is the hinged foot. This is nickel-plated metal – I suspect brass as there is no rust apparent. The purpose of this hinged foot is to allow the camera to stand level and solidly on a level surface in lieu of a tripod. Also on the lens door is a second tripod thread. This is, again, 1/4 inch Whitworth and, again, looks to be a 1/4 inch slug in a 3/8 inch thread.
To open the lens door, you need to press the small plated button next to the film advance wheel. Originally, the spring will have snapped the lens door securely in place but on my 85-odd year old camera a little manual assistance is required. When open, the lens door is held in place by three metal struts on either side. Two of these are nickel plated and one is painted black. Incidentally, I can tell that it is nickel plated and not chrome plated by the colour. Nickel plating has a softer shine than chrome and has a subtle but definite blue tinge. Nickel plating also has a tendency to corrode with a blue/green colour.
When opened, the lens door is held solidly in place and the shutter/lens assembly is parallel to the film plane. The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the camera body by leatherette bellows.
The shutter is a Vario by Gauthier. Gauthier are better known for their Prontor shutters but they always had a series of simpler and cheaper shutters available. This Vario shutter offers 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 seconds plus B and T. Nearly all cameras, including modern digital cameras, have B available. This is where the shutter stays open while the shutter release is depressed. The letter ‘B’ is short for ‘Bulb” and refers to the pneumatic bulbs used in the 19th century as shutter releases.
‘T’ used to be very common on cameras – it is available on my 1973 Nikon F2 SLR. ‘T’ stands for Time. With ‘T’, the shutter opens when the shutter release is depressed and stays open until the shutter release is depressed a second time. This is for very long exposures and was useful in film days when ISO 3,200 was fantastically fast.
This shutter is an old-fashioned shutter in as much as the speed selector is a dial above the shutter housing rather than a ring around it – technically, a dial-set shutter. The change over from the two styles centred on 1930 but dial-set shutters lingered on well into the 1930s on cheaper cameras.
The dial has initials under the name Vario: DRP and DRGM. DRP stands for Deutsches Reichpatent and DRGM stands for Deutsches Reich Gebrauchsmuster and they indicate that the design is patented (and made before 1945).
Looking at the lens, to the left side of the shutter selector dial, is the shutter release lever. This is a thin piece of nickel plated metal. To the left of this lever, on the side of the shutter housing, is a threaded socket for a standard cable release. This shutter is an Everset type so there is no cocking lever. Underneath the speed selector is the legend “Original Gauthier”
Below the lens are two scales. The upper scale, in yellow, has 6, 7, 10, 15, 30, ∞ which are distances in feet – this is the focus scale. The lower scale, in white, has 4.5, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22 which are ƒ/numbers as this is the aperture scale. Below this lower scale is a moving pointer to adjust the lens diaphragm. On my camera, the diaphragm blades have come loose from their fittings and the aperture can no longer be adjusted.
In the centre of the shutter housing is the lens. This is a Trioplan made by Meyer Görlitz. This is a triplet lens (it has three pieces of glass) and it has a focal length of 10.5 cm (measuring focal lengths in mm started after 1945). This is a ‘normal‘ lens for a medium format camera. This is a focusing lens (not a given on cheap cameras) and is front cell focusing which means that only the front piece of glass moves to focus rather than all three pieces.
On the top right of the shutter housing is a small Brilliant viewfinder. These, at best, give a vague idea of the composition – I really don’t like them and much prefer the larger folding viewfinder. This Brilliant finder is on a swivel allowing the camera to be used in either portrait or landscape orientation.
Closing the lens door is simple if not immediately obvious. To unlock the holding struts, you press in at the top of the rear-most strut on either side. The lens should be focused on infinity and the Brilliant viewfinder in the portrait position or it will foul on the side of the camera body. when collapsing. It is then a simple matter of pushing the lens door into the closed position.
On the right hand end of the camera is a small leather handle. This is stamped “MADE IN GERMANY”indicating that this was an official export version (distances in feet suggest this as well). Beneath this handle is a small nickel plated lug. Sliding this down releases the catch on the back. The back opens on a hinge revealing the insides.
Inside the back itself is a 70 by 90 mm sprung pressure plate. This is to keep the film flat against the film gate. Inside the camera body is the film gate. This measures 57 by 87 mm. The film (size 120) measures 60 mm wide so there will be 1.5 mm margin around the exposed portion of the film. Either side of the film gate is a chrome roller to allow the film to move gently over the metal parts without scratching.
At either end of the body is a chamber for the film spools. These chambers have hinged lugs to hold the film in place. My camera has lost two of these but it is clear where they were. The new roll of film goes on the left and the take-up spool goes on the right. The take-up spool is the empty film spool from the previous roll of film.
When loading a new film into a size 120 film camera, you need to wind-on a considerable amount of backing paper before the film itself it revealed. You need to be looking into the red window while doing this – as the first frame approaches there is a series of dots or circles of diminishing size just before each frame number.. After the last shot – number 8 on this camera – you need to wind-on a further considerable amount of backing paper before opening the camera back to remove the film. The end on the backing paper has a self-adhesive tag to keep the end of the backing paper in place.
Given the price of 120 film and the costs of development, I will not be trying this camera with film.
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This is a folding medium format camera of a style that that was state of the art through the first half of the 20th century. When this camera was made in the early 1950s, the design was rather passé. By the end of the 1950s, folding cameras had disappeared from mainstream photography.
The camera measures 170 by 80 by 40 mm and weighs 543 g. The outside is covered in black leatherette with the edges of the lens door painted gloss black. The viewfinder, tripod boss, leg and catch are bright chrome plated.
As is usual with folding cameras, there is little to see when the camera is folded. On the top, on the right, is the film advance knob. This is black plastic with a chrome metal insert in the top. The metal insert has an arrow cut into it to indicate the direction you turn the knob in – the knob will only turn in the one direction. The knob also pulls up to release the take-up spool inside the camera.
Beside the film advance knob is the folding viewfinder. The chrome part lifts from the back. As the chrome part is raised, the rear part rises under spring power. To use these 2-frame viewfinders, you line up the square holes in both frames. This is not an accurate system and works particularly badly if you wear glasses.
The back of the camera is plain black apart from the red window for viewing frame numbers on the film backing paper. As this camera produces 6 by 9 cm negatives, the red window is on the edge of the camera – for 6 by 6 cm negatives, this red window would be central.
The front of the camera has the lens door. This measures 95 by 72 mm. On the face of this is a 3/8 inch Whitworth tripod socket. This has a chrome slug screwed into it to provide a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. Also on the lens door is a folding leg. This allows the camera to be placed on a level surface in lieu of a tripod.
The lens door is opened by pressing on a chromed spring on the left hand edge of the lens door. On my camera, the lens door needs a helping hand to open, but it is sprung and probably opened itself when new 70 years ago.
When opened, the lens door is held in place by a fairly complex system of struts – there are far more struts here than on a Zeiss Ikon or Voigtländer folder. Once extended, the shutter/lens assembly is held rigidly in place. To close the lens door, it is necessary to press down on the two machined portions of the struts near the top and then lift the lens door to close it. The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the body by a collapsable leatherette bellows.
The shutter is a very simple everset type shutter with two speeds: I (Instantaneous) and B (Bulb). This is set by turning the black plastic notched ring around the shutter assembly. There are two indications as to which of I or B is set: on the front of the shutter housing, near the top, is a small window and on top of the shutter housing is a pointer which moves between I and B.
On the right of the shutter housing, as you are using the camera, is a chrome plunger – this is the shutter release. This is easier to use in portrait format but is still quite usable in landscape format.
On the left side of the shutter housing is a small lever right by the struts. This alters the aperture: only ƒ/11 and ƒ/16 are available. The lever changes the aperture by moving a metal plate so that one of two holes is in line with the lens. These are called Waterhouse stops. The reason that only two rather small apertures are available is that the lens is fixed focus and a small aperture is required to give sufficient depth of field in the photos.
At the base of the shutter housing is a strange protuberance. It took me quite a while to work out what this was for – it is the first time that I have ever seen one. It is an ASA terminal for a flash gun and serves the same purpose as the usual PC socket.
The lens is entirely anonymous but must consist of at least two glass elements as glass is visible in front of the shutter and also inside the camera behind the shutter. I cannot see any hint of a blue tint to the glass to indicate a coating on the lens and this might be one of the last camera lenses to be made without coating.
On the right hand edge of the camera is a leather carrying strap. Beneath this is a small chrome slide which releases the back of the camera. The back comes away from the camera – there is no hinge. On the inside of the back – which is painted matt black – is a yellow and red sticker exhorting the user to use either Ilford, Kodak or Ensign 120 film. What is missing here is a pressure plate to keep the film flat against the film gate. Only about half of my 120 folding cameras have such a plate.
Inside the body of the camera is dominated by the film gate. This measures 81 by 56 mm. The nominal size of a full framer 120 negative is 60 by 90 mm but some of the film must be sacrificed to keep the film flat against the film gate. Either end of the film gate is a black roller to prevent the film getting scratched whilst being advanced.
The new film goes in a chamber on the left of the film gate. In this chamber is a hinged cradle to take the spool of film. using this hinged cradle makes loading the new film very easy. When loading new film, after fitting the spool in the cradle, it is necessary to pull the backing paper leader across the film gate and fit it into the slot in the take-up spool. For people new to medium format photography, the take-up spool is the empty spool from the previous roll of film. The take-up spool does not fit into a cradle but in order to fit the spool into the chamber on the right of the film gate, it is necessary to first pull up on the film advance knob to retract the advance key. Once the take-up spool is in place, you need to push down on the film advance knob again, making sure that the advance key has located in the slot on the end of the spool.
I usually like to try out my cameras with film but the cost of 120 film together with the cost of processing the film –and only eight pictures on each roll of film – means that I am going to pass up on the opportunity to test the camera.
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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.
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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.
focal length: 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.
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Zeiss Ikon was formed in 1926 by the amalgamation of Ica, Contessa-Nettal, Ernemann and C.P. Goerz. Initially, Zeiss Ikon caried on making all the cameras previously made by the constituent companies but in 1929, Zeiss Ikon rationalised production. Most of the old cameras were abandoned and a few new models introduced. Intitially, the flagship was the new Ikonta – named after the company. This small range of cameras, one 127 camera, three 120 cameras and a 116 camera, was very successful.
lens: Carl Zeiss Tessar
focal length: 10.5 cm
apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/32
focus range: 5 feet to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Compur s
speeds: 1 s to 1/250 s
flash: no facility
film size: 120
In 1933, the Ikonta range was extended and improved by the introduction of the Super Ikonta range. The main change here was the addition of a very accurate coupled rangefinder. The first Super Ikonta was the model 530/2 which produced 6 by 9 cm negatives on 120 film. This is the camera that I have and the camera that this article is about.
This is a folding, medium format camera that, when folded, looks pretty much the same as any other folding camera but with the addition of the rangefinder on one long side. When closed, the camera measures 160 by 90 by 38 mm and when open, the lens door extends the camera to 130 mm. The camera weighs 796 g which is quite a weight to carry around. When new, this camera cost £17-0-0 which was a small fortune (taken from a Zeiss Ikon catalogue for 1934). Average income then was around £200 per year so this camera represented about a months average income which equates to about £2,500 in 2021 terms. Not a cheap camera!
The camera body is made from die-cast aluminium alloy with the lens door and film gate being made from pressed steel. The outside is covered with black leather (not leatherette) with the edges of the camera painted gloss black. There are a few “Zeiss bumps” under the leather. Zeiss Ikon cameras are famous for these (hence the name) but many folding cameras have the same. They are caused by corrosion between the aluminium body and rivets made from other metals.
The top of the camera is dominated by the rangefinder. This has one small eyepiece on the back and two windows on the front. The eyepiece measures 4 mm diameter which is quite small but it is still useable – it is what you would expect from 1933. The two windows on the front each measure 7 mm diameter. This rangefinder is coupled to the lens and uses a rotating wedge on an arm – more later.
On the top of the rangefinder is the folding viewfinder – these were usual on folding cameras and helped to kep the camera small enough for a large pocket. It is not possible to unfold the viewfinder without opening the camera for use – but why would you want to? To the right of the rangefinder and almost touching it is a small, bright plated, button. Pressing this releases the lens door and causes the folded viewfinder to pop up. The eyepiece part of the viewfinder is a metal plate measuring 30 mm square. This has a rectangular lens in it – the actual eyepiece – which measures 6 by 4 mm – again, rather small by modern standards but fine if you do not wear glasses. The other part of the viewfinder has a larger lens – 16 by 11 mm – and the two combined give a reduced size image – so a reverse Galilean finder.
The finder is designed for 6 by 9 cm photos. If you are using the film gate mask to take 4.5 by 6 cm photos, you also need a matching viewfinder mask. Fortunately, Zeiss Ikon provide one whichn is permanently fixed to the viewfinder on a hinge. Also on the top of the camera are two circular, bright plated, metal discs – one on either end. When the back of the camera is open, these are sprung and are connected to the studs that locate the film spools.
The bottom of the camera has two items on it. On the left is another circular disc. Inside the camera, this is connected to another stud for holding the film spool but not sprung this time. In the centre of this disc is a socket for a tripod. This is the 3/8 inch Whitworth standard which was the standard for large, heavy plate cameras. In this tripod socket is a slug threaded with the 1/4 inch Whitworth thread that was the (then) new standard for lighter roll film cameras. This threaded slug has a screwdriver slot to aid insertion and a very small grub screw to hold it securely in place.
On the other end of the base is the film advance key. This is bright plated metal and has a folding grip. Obviously, this also protrudes into the insides to fit into the take-up spool.
The back of the camera is hinged to give access to the inside to allow the film to be inserted and removed. On the right hand edge of the camera is a leather carrying handle. Beneath this is a nickel plated sliding catch – slide the button in the middle towards the top of the camera to open the back. On the left hand edge of then back is the hinge. Right by this hinge, embossed in the leather, is the camera’s model number – 530/2. The 530 refers to the Super Ikonta range (there were other, later, Super Ikontas with other model numbers). The /2 refers to the negative format which is 6 by 9 cm. There were also models 530 (no slash) which was 4.5 by 6 cm and 530/16 which was 6 by 6 cm.
At the top of the back are two red windows. If you are using the camera to take full frame, 6 by 9 cm, photographs you only use the left hand window to read the frame numbers off the backing paper and completely ignore the right hand window. If you have the 4.5 by 6 cm mask in place, you use each window in turn – “1” in the left hand window, “1” in the right hand window, “2” in the left hand window, “2” in the right hand window and so on until “8” has been in each window. By the right hand red window, the Zeiss Ikon logo is embossed in the leather.
Moving to the front of the camera, the body is dominated by the lens door. On the top right hand corner of the lens door is a second tripod socket. Again, this has the 3/8 inch Whitworth thread with a 1/4 inch Whitworth slug in it. On the left hand edge of the lens door is a nickel plated folding foot for when it is necessary to stand the camera on a table.
To the left of the lens door, the camera model name – Super Ikonta – is embossed in the leather. On the right of the lens door the legend “Made in Germany Industria Alemana” is embossed in then leather indicating that the camera is an export model. The focus scale is in feet not metres so this particular camera was not exported to Spain despite the legend in Spanish.
Pressing the button on the top of the camera causes the viewfinder to snap open and the lens door to release. The blurb for the Super Ikonta in my Zeiss Ikon catalogue suggests that the shutter/lens assembly will spring out to its proper position but not on my camera. There are two springs attached to the struts supporting the lens door but these do not open the camera fully – perhaps when new, this worked better. Pulling the lens door out caused the shutter/lens assembly to come forward on their leather bellows. Zeiss Ikon bellows were very well made and the bellows on this camera are in very good condition and seem to be still light tight – the test film will show for sure. The shutter/lens assembly is held firmly in place by two chrome struts and one painted strut on each side.
The shutter on my camera is a Compur (size 0, if you are interested) with a self timer – two other shutters were offered for this model – and the shutter serial number tells me that this shutter was made in 1930. This seems to be a bit early for a camera made made in 1933, but perhaps the table of Compur serial numbers is not as accurate as I might hope. The shutter is a rim-set shutter, as you would expect for 1933, and offers speeds from 1 second to 1/250 seconds plus B and T.
Before the shutter can be fired, it needs to be cocked. This is done by a lever on the top of the shutter housing and needs to be moved upwards (to the left when using the camera). For the slow speeds, you can hear the internal mechanism being wound up and this requires significant effort to move the lever. If using either B or T, it is neither necessary nor possible to cock the shutter. At the top of the travel of the cocking lever, there is a metal button. If you pull this back, the cocking lever will move a bit further. This sets the self-timer which, on my camera, is about 8 seconds. This works with all shutter speeds except 1/250 seconds (or B or T).
Firing the shutter is by a shutter release lever on the lower right of the shutter housing. This is awkward to do and Zeiss Ikon have added an extension to this lever which sits to the right of the shutter housing with a useable button near the top of the shutter housing.
At the bottom of the shutter housing is the aperture scale. This runs from ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/32. The maximum aperture of ƒ/4.5 might not seem to be very fast but in 1933 only very expensive professional lenses would be much faster. There is a red dot on the aperture scale between ƒ/11 and ƒ/16. This is a Happy Snapper setting which is used in conjunction with a red dot on the focus scale. This second, focus, dot is positioned between 24 and 48 feet and fairly close to 48 feet. Setting the aperture and focus to these two red dots gives the hyperfocal distance for this lens so everything between 15 feet and infinity will be in acceptable focus.
The aperture is set by moving a fairly small pointer by the aperture scale at the bottom of the shutter housing. This is rather awkward to do but was quite usual for the day.
The lens is a Carl Zeiss Tessar. The serial number of the lens suggests that the lens was made in mid-1931 – this is two years before the camera body which seems to be a bit early for a camera made in 1933. So, shutter 1930, lens 1931, camera body 1933 – strange but I don’t suppose impossible. The focal length of the lens is 10.5 cm – before 1945, focal lengths were usually expressed in cm rather than mm. 10.5 cm is a ‘normal‘ focal length lens for a 6 by 9 cm negative.
Focusing of the lens is by the built-in rangefinder. To use this, there is a lens on an arm that needs to be swung out to line up with one of the lenses on the rangefinder (see photos). While looking through the rangefinder eyepiece, you turn a milled wheel above the shutter housing. In the view through the rangefinder eyepiece is a central yellow disc. if you superimpose this disc on a vertical in the image, the vertical will be displaced, giving two images side by side. As you turn the milled wheel, one of the two images will move to one side. When the two images are precisely superimposed, the lens is in focus for your subject. My camera is 88 years old and the rangefinder calibration is spot on.
Most rangefinders use a rotating mirror inside the rangefinder to produce the moving part of the image. Zeiss Ikon needed to go one better than their competition and used glass wedges which act as prisms rather than use mirrors. The glass wedge in the swinging arm rotates as you rotate the milled wheel.
To open the back of the camera, you slide a button beneath the small leather carry handle. The back swings open through 180º. On then inside of the back is the pressure plate which keeps the film flat against the film gate. Embossed on the pressure plate is an exhortation to use Zeiss Ikon film. It says to use either BII8 film or BMII8 film. BII is the German equivalent of Kodak’s 120 film. I have no idea as to what BMII8 film might be. There is also a colour sticker advertising Pernox film which was Zeiss Ikon’s upmarket, professional film – they made ‘ordinary’ BII film as well.
Inside the camera, the roll of film goes on the left, being held in place by the sprung stud mentioned earlier. The take-up spool goes on the right, again held in place by the sprung stud and also located on the film advance key. The film travels over a chrome roller, across the film gate, over another chrome roller and on to the take-up spool. For people who have never used a roll film camera before, the printing on the backing paper must be on the outside.
The film gate itself is made from pressed steel with embossed ribs along the two long sides. These exist to allow airflow across the film gate when the lens bellows are extended. With folding cameras where the lens door opens on a spring (as this one did when new), the rapid opening of the bellows acts as a vacuum pump and pulls the film into the film gate stopping it from being kept flat. These airflow parts prevents that from happening, maintaining maximum image quality.
In addition to the built-in 56 by 84 mm (60 by 90 nominal size) film gate, there is a removable 43 by 54 mm film gate to allow 45 by 60 mm (nominal size) negatives which gives 16 images on a roll of film. This insert is made from sprung steel and snaps into place quite easily.
The next thing to do is to load a roll of film and try out this excellent camera. With only eight frames to a roll, that should not take long.
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Orion Werk were a small camera maker from Hannover (German spelling) that folded in 1933. They produced quite a large range of cameras – both plate and roll film – in their short life, 1921 to 1933. For some reason, they did not put any sort of model name on their cameras so identifying the model is problematical. In fact, I got my tentative model name (Rio 8C) by looking through illustrated catalogues from Orion until I found one that looked the same as mine and had the same specification.
My starting point is that the camera takes 9 x 12 cm plates – this rules out everything except the ‘C’ models. Next, there is no vertical shift screw on the lens standard which rules out most of the ‘C’ models. Next is the detail of the U frame (i.e. lens standard) that holds the shutter assembly. This took me to the Rio 8C. The shutter (Vario) and lens (Corygon) confirm the ID of Rio 8C but, as always, I am happy to be corrected.
The body of the camera is made from wood which gives it a very square profile – none of the curves at the ends that you get with a metal roll-film camera. Not much of the wood is visible but from what I can see it would appear to be a species of pine. The wood is covered with black leatherette which is embossed with a rectangular pattern. Normally, the leatherette has the maker’s name, logo, model name embossed in the leatherette but not here.
The back of the wooden box has a steel plate holder (holder of glass photographic plates, that is) attached to it. The box measures 157 by 110 by 38 mm. The film gate (should that be plate gate?) in the plate holder measures 115 by 82 mm. The actual glass plates would be held in a light tight frame measuring about 135 by 112 mm and the glass plates would seem to have been 9 by 12 cm. Above and below the fillm gate are velvet light traps – red at the top and black at the bottom. At the top of the plate holder is a small, swivelling, catch to keep the plates in place.
On one long side and on one short side of the camera is a tripod socket. These are 3/8 inch Whitworth threads. On the other long side is a leather carrying strap and on the other short end is a small button beneath the leatherette. Pressing this releases the lens door which folds down to give portrait format. This lens door is held at right angles to the body by a chromed metal strut on either side.
On the top surface of the lens door are two bright metal rails. These are to position the shutter/lens assembly when it is brought forward for use. Between these rails is the only admission as to who made this camera. Here, stamped into the metal of the lens door and picked out in white, is the legend “ORIONWERK Akt. Ges. HANNOVER”. Being German, they have spelt ‘Hannover’ in the correct German way rather than the British ‘Hanover’. On the left of the rails (as when using the camera) is a sprung focus scale. When the lens standard is pulled forward there is a plate that moves over, and pushed down, this focus plate. There is a stop on the focus plate which stops the lens standard moving any further forward – this is the infinity focus position. To focus closer, it is necessary to push the focus scale down and pull the lens standard further forward. The focus scale runs from 2 to infinity. The units here are missing but are going to be metres.
The lens standard is a U shaped bracket made from aalaauminium alloy painted black. This lens standard has two knurled knobs for the user to hold while pulling the lens standard forward. There is a groove on the inside of the lens standard which holds a steel plate. In turn, this steel plate holds the shutter/lens assembly. This plate can slide up and down in this groove, giving a crude rising front to the camera. Usually, on small cameras with a rising front, this sliding is achieved by way of a screw on the right-hand arm of the lens standard – not here though. The sliding plate has a home position which is located by a sprung indent. To rise the lens, it is just a matter of pulling up on the shutter/lens assembly. The effect of the rising front will be judged by looking at the ground glass focus screen. I assume that the rather cheap lens produced a large enough image circle to make the rising front useful.
The shutter is a Vario from Gauthier. The Vario shutter is a simple shutter offering three speeds – 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 as well as B and T. It is an everset shutter which means that a there is no need to cock the shutter before use. This is a dial-set shutter which means that a the shutter speed is set by a dial above the shutter housing. Around 1930, these dial-set shutters were superseded by rim-set shutters which had a setting ring around the shutter rather than a dial.
The shutter release lever is on the top right of the shutter housing. Just beneath this is a socket for a standard cable release. At the bottom of the shutter housing is the aperture scale and setting lever. This uses the older aperture scale of 6.3, 9, 12.5, 18, 25 and 36. This works the same as the modern scale in as much as each step halves (or doubles) the area of the aperture. The iris diaphragm has nine blades giving a fairly circular aperture. Above the shutter speed dial is the viewfinder. This is a brilliant finder and is reasonably large and clear – I still do not like brilliant finders but this is one of the better ones I have comes across. The finder is on a swivel so that it can be used in both portrait and landscape orientations. There is also the option to compose the image using the ground glass screen before inserting the photographic plate.
The lens is a Corygon triplet made by C. Friedrich of Munich. It has a focal length of 13.5 cm (cm were more usual than mm before about 1940). The downside here, particularly if I wanted to use this camera, is that someone has clearly removed the lens at some point. The retaining rings were only hand tight and, on the inside of the camera, the ring retaining the rear element has scuffing to the black paint.
The shutter/lens assembly is attached to the body by leatherette bellows. These are in very good condition and still light tight.
This is all I can say about the camera – apart from noting that the camera is missing the ground glass focus screen – but this camera also came with a strange attachment.
Many plate camera makers offered a roll-film attachment which allowed the user to save money and have an easier life by using cheap roll-film instead of glass plates at the cost of lower image quality. I have never seen a price for one of these attachments but I do not suppose that they were particularly cheap. A previous owner of this camera has got around this by making his own roll-film attachment .
What this owner has done is take an existing 120 format roll-film camera, remove the shutter/lens and the bellows and replace them with a glass plate holder. This attached plate holder slides into the grooves on the back of the plate camera. In some ways, this has been nicely done but the details of the work are crude. The two parts of the partial camera and the plate holder are held together by bent steel plates which have been soldered in place. These steel plates were then covered with black adhesive tape.
This adaptation works as intended on a mechanical level but has one large defect. The position of the roll-film in this adapter is 35mm further away from the lens than a glass plate would have been. This extra distance will have meant that a infinity focus will be impossible. I can only assume that they relied on depth of field/ small apertures and contact prints rather than enlargements. Or, perhaps, they did not understand the optics involved and found that their roll-film adapter was useless once they tried it out. We will never know.
As to the roll-film camera sacrificed to make this adapter, there is no indication of make or model apart from a crown logo on the back.
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This is a simple folding camera from Houghton-Butcher in London. It is certainly small enough to fit in a pocket but is fairly heavy at 500g. It was available in a number of colours but mine is the black version. The body is painted with a crinkle finish paint – no leatherette here. Beneath the paint is steel, rather rusty steel which made my hands and clothes rather dirty when I first unpacked the camera. While I cannot accurately date this camera, it was made around 1930 which was 70 years ago. I doubt that the paint job was intended to last quite that long.
focal length: not known
apertures: Waterhouse stops: small, medium and large
focus range: portrait or view
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Synchro A
speeds: I, B or T
film size: 120
The 1930 Ensign catalogue from Houghton-Butcher had this camera for sale at £1-17-6 (which is £1.87 in modern money). This camera was also available in three bright colours “for ladies in particular” for £2-0-0 which included a leather case to match. For comparison, a simple black box camera cost 8/6 and the Ensign folding No. 2 cost £2-2-0 and their most expensive camera cost £24-15-0. For context, the average factory wage in 1930 was around £2-0-0 per week and average income was £200 per year so in 2020 values this camera was around £250 – a meaningful price but available to most families if they were keen enough.
When folded, this camera measures 6.25 by 3 by 1.25 inches (I am using Imperial units because this is a British camera). When opened for use, the 1.25 inches extends to 5.1 inches. The camera weighs 1lb 1.5oz (500g). When closed, there is very little to see. On one of the long edges is a black painted brass knob. This is to advance the film. As this camera uses 120 medium format film, there is no need for a rewind knob. On the other long edge is a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. The front of the camera has the hinged lens door. This is held closed by a hinged, nickel plated catch. This door also has a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. In the middle of the door is an oval cartouche with the legend “ENSIGN” in orange. On the back of the camera is the usual red window so that you can see the frame numbers on the film when you are advancing the film.
When you uncatch the lens door it pulls down and latches in place at 90º to the body. The lens door is held in place by a chrome strut on either side. The nickel plated catch also doubles as a leg enabling the camera to be stood on a table. The inside of the lens door has two bright plated rails to allow the lens standard to be pulled forward to the operating position. These are made from quite soft brass and on my camera had been twisted at the end, preventing the lens standard from being puled forward. Thankfully, it was a simple task to untwist them with a pair of pliers. On the left of the lens door, near the front, is the focus scale. When the lens is pulled forward, a sprung plate fits into one of two slots on the focus scale. The first slot is marked ‘Views’ and the second slot is marked ‘Portraits’. There is no more to focusing than choosing the right slot.
The shutter/lens assembly needs to be pulled forward by hand. The makers have provided a nickel plated post for the user to hold while doing this. The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the camera body by leather bellows. The inside surface of the leather is coated with a linen fabric.
The shutter is Houghton-Butcher’s own “Synchro A” shutter. This is a very simple shutter with two sprung leaves. There is one shutter speed – instantaneous – plus B and T. It is an everset shutter which means that there is no need to cock the shutter before use. The shutter is fired by a lever on the right hand side of the shutter housing. Below this shutter release lever is a socket for a standard cable release. On the front of the shutter housing, at the top, is a plate with the maker’s name – “Made by HBM Co Ltd London” – beneath which is the legend “Synchro A shutter”. At the bottom of the front of the shutter housing is another plate. At one end of this lower plate are the shutter speeds: I, B and T. Next to these is a small nickel plated wheel with a pointer to select the shutter speeds. In the middle of this lower plate is the aperture scale. This consists of three values: small, medium and large. beneath the plate is a moving pointer to select the required aperture. internally, the aperture is selected by a rotating disc with three different Waterhouse stops – no iris diaphragm here.
On the left of the shutter housing is a wire frame viewfinder – basically an iconometer with the rather strange omission of any eye-piece. This means that the view in the viewfinder will change drastically with small changes in eye position. I suppose users would get used to this after a few wasted films. On the top left of the shutter housing is a brilliant finder . Unusually (at least in my experience) the top of the brilliant finder is ground glass rather than a second clear lens. This actiually works better than any other brilliant finder that I have come across. This brilliant finder if hinged so that it can be used in either portrait or landscape orientation.
The lens is a simple meniscus lens. There is no indiction as to focal length but it will be around 100 mm given the film format. I haven’t tried this camera with film but the use of a single element lens suggests that vignetting is likely to be a problem.
Below the shutter/lens assembly is a steel plate connecting the assembly to the rails on the lens door. On this steel plate is the model name of this camera: “All Distance Pocket Ensign Model No. 1 Made in England”.
The camera back is removed by a sliding catch at one end. The back comes away in one piece. The inside of the back has a stamped version of the legends on the front. There is also an orange coloured label encouraging the user to use “2 1/4 B Ensign Speedy film”. What is missing here is any pressure plate to keep the film flat across the film gate.
Inside, most of the space is taken up with the film gate. This measures 2 1/8 by 3 1/4 inches (54 by 82 mm). On either end of this is a chrome roller. At the ends are the spool chambers. These have Houghton-Butcher’s patented hinged pegs. These easer the fitting of the spools. At the take-up end, it is necessary to pull out the film advance knob to allow the take-up spool to be fitted (or removed). Not being a Japanese camera, there are no foam light seals between the back and the body, light tightness being achieved by significant flanges.
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English medium format folding camera from Houghton-Butcher.
focal length: 105 mm
apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22
focus range: 4 feet to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Epsilon leaf
speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/150, B, T
film size: 120
When closed, the camera is a rectangular box with rounded ends. It measures 164 mm (6.5 inches) by 83 mm (3.25 inches) by 34 mm (1.4 inches) and weighs 802 g (1 pound, 12.25 ounces) – I have added the Imperial measurements as the camera was made in England using Imperial units. The end of the box its extended by the catch and a small leather handle.
The top of the camera, on the right, has a small knurled knob. This pulls out to facilitate loading a new roll of film. At the other end is a larger knurled knob which is the film advance knob. Between the two is the viewfinder. This is just two hinged frames with no glass. The larger is chrome plated and the smaller is painted black. These are sprung so when you lift the chrome frame, the two snap into position. Between these two is a third frame which is not sprung. This is a mask with a square hole for use when taking square pictures – more later. The last thing on the top is a bright plated shutter release button. This is right by the film advance knob and is operated by the left hand.
The back of the camera is plain apart from the red window – and there are two of these. each of these red windows has a shutter to prevent light from entering and fogging the film. These shutters are far from essential – many medium format cameras have no shutters – but they are a nice touch.
One red window is right in the centre of the back and is used when using the internal mask to take 6 x 6 cm pictures. The shutter on this window is marked ’12’ as that is how many 6 x 6 negatives you get on a roll of film. The other red window is on the lower right and is for when taking full-frame 6 x 9 cm pictures. The shutter on this red window is marked ‘8’ as that is how many 6 x 9 negatives you get on a roll of film.
The base of the camera has two items on it. In the middle is a tripod socket which has the standard 1/4 inch Whitworth thread (not UNC at this age). Also on the base is a small button to release the lens door. According to the manual, the shutter/lens assembly should snap forward to the shooting position under spring [power. My camera needs a helping hand but it is over 70 years old – I am a few years younger than this camera and I no longer do much springing.
The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the camera body with leatherette bellows which appear to be in good condition – I can detect no light leaks but my test film might well tell me different. There are two chrome struts holding the shutter/lens assembly in place which will have been rigid when new but now have some play in the joints. I do not know what the design life of this camera was in 1946 but I expect that it was rather less than 70 years so I cannot complain about a bit of play.
The shutter issue an Epsilon leaf shutter which was made in England and I suspect was made by Ensign (or, rather, Houghton Butcher – the makers of Ensign cameras). This Ensign Selfix 420 was offered with a choice of two versions of the shutter. My camera has the cheaper option with only four speeds plus B and T. The speeds are the usual (for the time) 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 11/150 seconds. The first three are one stop apart but the last, 1/150, is only half a stop faster than 1/100. I assume that the basic design did not allow for 1/200 seconds.
‘B’ is for Bulb (or Brief, according to the manual) and with this setting the shutter will remain open while the shutter release button is depressed. ‘T’ is for Time and this setting opens the shutter which will remain open until the shutter release button is pressed a second time. This is useful for long exposures. On many cameras, there is no need to cock the shutter for B and T but here the shutter must be cocked first. The cocking lever is on top of the shutter housing, at the front, and must be pulled as far as it will go towards the cable release socket. There are two shutter speed scales, one on the front and one on the top of the housing. Speeds are selected by rotating the milled ring at the front of the shutter housing.
There is a useful range of apertures available. These range from ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22. There is a serious weakness in the design here as the positions of the index marker for ƒ/16 and ƒ/22 are hidden beneath the brilliant viewfinder. There are two sliders available to adjust the aperture. The one on the top is the easiest to use between ƒ/4.5 and ƒ/11 but for ƒ/16 and ƒ/22 it is almost impossible to use. The second slider is underneath the housing and is hard to find by feel – it is just a flat tab – but is necessary for ƒ/16 nd ƒ/22.
The lens is an Ensart which was probably made by Ross. research on the Interweb tells ne very little about this lens. I got the feeling the Ensign used the same name for a number of lens designs. My assumption is that it is a triplet – going by the number of reflections in the lens from a point source of light – four in the front of the shutter and two behind – six reflections = six surfaces = three pieces of glass. This is not a foolproof method of determining the number of lens elements b ut does usually work. There is a slight blue tint to the glass so I think that the lens is coated at least on the front surface but, again, this is not a foolproof method – it is the best I have available.
The focal length of the lens is 105 mm which is ‘normal‘ for 6 x 9 negatives and a bit long for 6 x 6 negatives. The focal scale runs from five feet to infinity but the closest focus is nearer to four feet.
On the top of the shutter housing is the brilliant viewfinder mentioned earlier. I really do not like these and I find it hard to understand why they added one when they already had the easy-to-use folding frame finder. This brilliant finder is on a swivel so its can be used in either portrait or landscape orientation.
The front of the lens door has the standard folding foot to enable the camera to be used on a firm surface together with a cable release for long exposures. For any indoor photography in 1946 this would be essential as typical film speeds were around 50 ASA (aka ISO). Also on the lens door is a second 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. This socket has a chromed screw-in cap.
The back of the camera is secured by a sliding catch at one end under the small leather handle. Inside, there are two spool chambers, one each side of the film gate. When loading the camera, the new film goes on the right and the spool is located on two pegs – the top peg can be retracted to facilitate insertion by lifting the small knurled knob on the top of the camera. The empty spool from the previous film must be moved to the chamber on the left. Again, there are two pegs and the top one can be retracted by pulling up the film advance knob. This top peg is a key which locates in the slot on the end of the spool.
Before loading the film you need to decide whether you are wanting to take 6 x 6 or 6 x 9 negatives. If you wand 6 x 6 negatives, you need to fold out the two masking flaps that are stored inside the the top spool chambers. If you want 6 x 9 negatives you need to make sure that the masking flaps are tucked neatly out of the way in the two spool chambers. Once you have loaded the film, it is no longer possible to change your mind.
I have finally developed the test film – Ilford FP4+, using the square format. Unfortunately, I had a mishap with my changing bag when loading this film onto the development spiral and managed to cut the fabric as well as the end of the film – this allowed a small amount of light in, sufficient to ruin most of the frames. But a few are not fogged and I will present them here.
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