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.

Puma Special

This is an innovative English camera – I nearly said British but it is clearly labelled ‘Made in England’. It has several features I have never seen before on another camera and do not expect to see again. The camera is called a Purma – there is no indication as to who made it. McKeown’s and the Hove Blue Book both say that this camera was made by R.F. Hunter in London but information on the Interweb suggests that Hunter’s only sold the camera. Camera-Wiki on the Interweb says that this camera was made by Purma Cameras Ltd. In 1939, R.H. Hunter were offering this Purma Special for 50/’ (that is 50 shillings in the old notation!).

Camera with lens cap.

The body of the camera, and the removable back, are made from Bakelite which was an early plastic. The insides are made from matt-black steel. The Bakelite is an amazing, sturdy, if brittle, plastic. In this case, the Bakelite is very nearly black (actually, very dark brown) even though my photographs show it looking decidedly blue. The Bakelite was dull and not very interesting when I got the camera but five minutes with a can of aerosol polish and this camera looks impressive and almost new.

Camera with lens extended.

The only beef that I have with the exterior is that a it was not designed by a photographer. While it all works, nothing is where a photographer would want it to be – I think engineering needs were more important.The only beef that I have with the exterior is that a it was not designed by a photographer. While it all works, nothing is where a photographer would want it to be – I think engineering needs were more important.

The cross-section is rhomboid with two very curved ends. Its maximum dimensions are 6.75 by 2.75 by 2.25 inches (it is an English camera so I am using English units; sorry,  metric people), not including the lens. The lens protrudes 3/8 inches when closed and one inch when open for use. The camera weighs 12 ounces. The camera uses type 127 film which is no longer made but it can still be found for sale on the Interweb. The resulting negatives are 1.25 inches square (31 mm).

Top of camera.

Such controls as there are (three of them) are on the top of the camera. All are made of Bakelite. On the right is the film advance knob. This has a milled edge and can easily be turned with your thumb. Near the middle, at the front, is the lever for cocking the shutter. This lever is pear-shaped. The lever needs to be pushed to the left to cock the shutter. On the top at the left is a pear-shaped recess. In the deepest part of the recess is the shutter release button. Ergonomically, this is not a good position. This button is also Bakelite.

On the front, beside the shutter cocking lever, is the viewfinder window. This is 1/4 inch square (approximately 6 mm). In 1936, this was a normal size for most cameras. It is certainly usable and more than adequate for snap shots of families and holidays which is the intended market for this camera. Below the viewfinder window is the legend “PURMA SPECIAL” In the centre of the front is the lens. There is no shutter housing as this camera has a focal plane shutter. When not in use, there is a screw-in lens cap. Not only does this protect the lens but it also pushes the lens into the body, making the camera more pocketable and also acts as a shutter lock to prevent unwanted photographs. When the screw-on cap is removed, the lens pops out for use.

The lens is made by Beck. They are no longer a well known name in consumer optics but are still in business as Beck Optronic Solutions Ltd. Beck were a major player in camera lenses back in the day. When I was a boy in the 1950s, my father’s microscope was a Beck. The lens has a focal length of 2.25 inches which is about 60 mm – it is a three element lens. A ‘normal‘ lens for this camera would be 42 mm so this lens is significantly long for the film format. The minimum aperture is ƒ/6.3. Actually, this is not the minimum aperture, it is the aperture as the aperture is not adjustable. The lens is also fixed focus, so I would imagine  that the lens is pre-focused at the hyperfocal distance. Usually, cameras with a fixed focus lens have a lens that has a shorter focal length than ‘normal’ focal length to give a larger depth of field, so using a longer focal length is a bit strange.

As this camera takes 127 film which is very hard to get hold of, I shall not be trying this camera out.

Zeiss Ikon Ikonette 504/12

This is a very small folding camera from 1929. The maker is the renown Zeiss Ikon. This is one of the first cameras to be designed by Zeiss Ikon rather than being inherited from the companies that merged to become Zeiss Ikon in 1926.


The camera is very much a pocket camera – or handbag camera, as according to Zeiss Ikon advertising this was aimed at ladies. Kodak used the name Vest Pocket to describe both their small cameras and the 127 size films used in them (this is the USA usage of ‘vest’, Kodak were not suggesting that you should carry your camera in your underwear). The camera when closed measures 122 by 65 by 25 mm and opens to 122 by 65 by 98 mm and it weighs 290 g.

To open the camera for use, you lift the nickel plated lever/leg in the middle o0f the lens door. The door can then be pulled open – there are no springs involved here. The shutter/lens assembly must then be pulled forward by hand. There is a stop which will leave the lens focused at infinity. The base of the shutter/lens assembly runs between two chrome rails and is pulled by two chrome studs.

P1010355The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the camera body with folding bellows. These are made from black leatherette and, after exactly 90 years, are still flexible and light tight. This is one of the advantages of Zeiss Ikon as Agfa bellows of this age are rarely light tight. The lens board/lens door is held in place by two chrome struts which click easily into place.

The shutter is anonymous, is an everset type and only offers one speed which is labelled I. I suspect this speed is somewhere between 1/25 and 1/60 seconds. As the negatives from this camera are unlikely to have been enlarged – contact printing being usual in 1929 – a small amount of camera shake will not have been important. The shutter also has a B setting where the shutter remains open while the shutter release lever is depressed. The selector for this is on the top of the shutter housing.

The shutter release lever is just below half-way down the right hand side of then shutter housing. About one quarter of the way down is a small, threaded, hole. This is for a standard cable release.


The aperture control is on the left hand side of the shutter housing. Three apertures are provided. These are ƒ/9, ƒ/16 and ƒ/32. As this is a cheap camera, the apertures are provided by Waterhouse Stops which are a series of holes which can be moved behind the lens. Where only three apertures are provided this is much better than can iris diaphragm. On the front of the shutter housing is the Zeiss Ikon logo above the lens and the camera name “Ikonette” below the lens.

The lens is in the centre of the shutter housing. The lens is a Goerz Frontar lens. Goerz was one of the camera makers that combined to form Zeiss Ikon in 1926. According to the Interweb, the Frontar is a cemented doublet – two pieces of curved glass glued together. The name “Frontar” appears on the lens bezel above the lens (no mention of Goerz!). Below the lens on the bezel is the information 1:9 and ƒ=8cm. The first is the maximum aperture – ƒ/9 – and the second is the focal length – 8 cm or 80 mm. Before WWII, it was usual to designate focal lengths in cm rather than mm (or inches in the British Empire and the USA).

The diagonal of the  negative is 75mm so an 80 mm lens is very slightly longer than ‘normal‘.

P1010359To open the camera for loading a film, you must slide a small chrome stud on the base and then pull the top and bottom apart. The base, back and both ends of the camera come away in one piece, leaving the body with the bellows and shutter/lens assembly. The body is made from pressed steel which is painted black. On the base of the camera body is the body serial number in the standard ICA/Zeiss Ikon format. It is R12311. The ‘R’ tells us that the body was made in 1929 (or very early 1930).

P1010361The film plus empty spool fit at either end of the body. There is a hinged flange at the base, with a hole to take the end of the 127 film spool. The film spool fits into a hole at the other end of the spool chamber where there is a chrome spring to stop the spool moving in use. The take-up spool (the empty spool from the last film) needs to rotate to wind the film on so one end locates in the film advance key. this key will only rotate in one direction.

The outside of the camera is covered with black leatherette with the edges of the camera painted black. there is a square pattern embossed in the leatherette. On the front of the camera, near the winding key, the legend “Ikonette” is embossed. On the other end is the catalogue number 504/12. The back of the camera has the Zeiss Ikon logo embossed on one end. The centre of the back has a red window to allow the user to read frame numbers when winding the film on. As this is a full-frame 127 camera, there will be a total of eight frames on each roll of film.

Ferrania Tanit 127 half-frame camera

A simple 127 roll film camera from Italy.

This is a small, half-frame, camera from Ferrania in Italy. Being Italian, it has style. It is very different to look at than the German or Japanese cameras of the period. The Germans used the principle of “Form Follows Function” and there is nothing wrong with that – but that is not the Italian way. So, this camera has style as well as function. Actually, having said that, this camera is fairly reminiscent  of the German Nixette. This is my second Ferrania camera, the other being the Ferrania Ibis – also a 127 format camera.


The camera is small and is made from aluminium alloy. The lens barrel, film gate and back are made from pressed steel. It measures 110 by 76 by 70 mm. The aluminium is still bright – the base is very shiny – but does not appear to be anodised. In keeping with standard photographic practice, most of the body is covered with black leatherette.

Tanit-3There are very few controls – in fact, just four. Just below the left of the top plate is the film advance wheel. this protrudes front and back and only rotates in one direction. This wheel is also made from aluminium.

On the top right of the lens barrel is the shutter release button. This is at an angle (at about 10 o’clock when looking at the lens)but parallel to the front of the camera body. This button falls nicely to the user’s index finger but its direction of travel is a bit awkward as your finger wants to press downwards but has to press inwards. This button is not threaded for a cable release.


The shutter is a simple everset shutter with one speed – Instantaneous – and B. This is selected by a lever on the bottom of the lens fascia with two positions – I and B.

The fourth control is focusing. The lens itself is coated – judging by the  blue cast of the glass. I suspect that this lens is a single element meniscus lens. With multi-element lenses you can usually see multiple reflections of light when looking at the front of the lens. I can only see the one reflection. The focus range is from five feet to infinity. The distance scale is in feet, telling me that this is an export camera – this is verified by the legend “MADE IN ITALY” moulded into the metal of the base. The focus ring turns easily and is fairly roughly milled to give the user’s fingers a grip.


At the top of the lens is the camera name – “TANIT” in an elegant font. The base of the camera is a part of the cast aluminium body and is heavily ribbed. There is a standard 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket but that seems to be a bit superfluous on such a simple camera.

The viewfinder is not good. In the 1950s and earlier, small viewfinders were usual but the eyepiece on this camera is a massive 2 mm square – don’t even think about wearing glasses when using this camera! The front viewfinder window measures 7.5 by 5 mm. As this camera uses 127 film and is a half-frame camera, the negative measures 40 by 30 mm. When the camera is held horizontally, the negative will be in portrait format which I suspect will have been the main use of this camera.

The back of the camera has two red windows. For my younger readers, these red windows are to allow the user to read the frame numbers printed on the back of the film so you know how far to advance the film. This is a half-frame camera – the full frame for 127 film is 40 by 60 mm but this camera produces negatives that are 40 by 30 mm – and so fits twice as many pictures on a roll of film as the standard format does. In use, you wind the film until the number one is readable in the right red window, take a shot, and wind the film until the number one is readable in the left red window. This is then repeated for the number two, the number three, etc up to number eight. After number eight, the film is finished. As this is a roll film camera, there is no need to rewind the film. Instead, you keep winding the film until all the film and backing paper are on the take-up spool on the left. Note: because the film winds right to left, the frame numbers will be upside down.


Between the two red numbers is a small grasp to ease the user removing the back. To remove the back, you slide both step lugs down – the back comes away in one piece. In common with all roll film cameras, the used film spool must be removed and replaced on the left to become the take-up spool. To make removing and replacing the spools, the base of the spool holder swings out by about 45º. The take-up spool must latch into the film advance mechanism which can make interring the take-up spool rather fiddly. The unused film spool is just held in a couple of holes and so insertion is much easier. In many cameras, there are rollers on either side of the film gate to help prevent scratches on the film but not here – this is definitely a cheap camera.

Empty film spool waiting to be moved to the left as a new take-up spool
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