Ricoh TLS 401

So, yet another 1960s 35mm SLR camera. There were many of these, and most were much of a muchness. The 35mm SLR cameras that I add to my collection either have historical interest or an interesting quirk. This Ricoh has a definite idiosyncrasy and is also a descendant of the Nikkorex F. The Nikkorex F was designed and made for Nikon by Mamyia and Mamyia subsequently sold the design to Ricoh who called the design the Ricoh Singlex. This Ricoh Singlex was refined to the Singlex TLS and then to this TLS 401. The Nikon F mount is now an M42/Pentax/Universal mount but the ground breaking Copal Square shutter is retained.

This is not my only Ricoh camera. I also have the Ricoh 35 Flex and the Ricoh SLX 500.

The camera body is made from die-cast aluminium. The top and bottom plates seem to be made from pressed aluminium alloy – at least, the metal is white and softer than my steel penknife. The body and hinged back are covered with black leatherette. The top and bottom plates are bright metal.

I am going to use my usual technique of describing the camera – starting at the right hand end of the top plate. The layout of the top plate is mostly ‘standard’ for a 60s or 70s 35mm SLR camera. On the right is the film advance lever. This is angled cut metal with a plastic slab along one side. There is no ratchet so the film must be advanced with one motion. The lever moves through about 130/140º. When the camera is not in use, the lever sits over the edge of the top plate but in use there is a stand-off position which makes it easier on then user’s thumb when feeling for the lever.

In front of the film advance lever is a window on to the frame counter. This counter is reset b y opening the camera’s back. Reset is to a red S which is actually -3. The even frames are represented by numbers in white and the odd numbers by white dots. Frames 20 and 36 are in red – 20 exposures used to be the standard length of film when this camera was made (1970).

At the front of the top plate, to the left of the frame counter window, is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal – almost certainly brass – and is threaded for a standard cable release. There is a chrome plated collar around the shutter release but this has no functional purpose.

Next along is the pentaprism hump. This is one of the idiosyncrasies of this camera. In the main, this is a standard SLR pentaprism hump. Inside, though, is not a pentaprism (so I shouldn’t really call it a pentaprism hump, I suppose) but a pentamirror _ an arrangement of mirrors which has the same effect as a pentaprism. This usually has the effect of reducing the brightness of the image in the viewfinder – Canon use this system in their modern cheaper DSLRs – and this camera is no exception, the viewfinder image is noticeably dimmer than I would expect.

The focus screen is basically plain ground glass. In the centre is a disc of micro-prisms to aid focusing. With the dimness of the viewfinder image, I do not find these micro-prisms very useful. A split image rangefinder spot would have been much more useful but these require a minimum level of illumination to work and this focus screen might have been just too dim for the split image rangefinder to work. Around the micro-prisms is a barely visible ring – this is the area where the light meter measures the light when in spot meter mode (more later).

On the right hand side of the focus screen, near the bottom, is the light meter display. This consists of two angled lines and a moving needle. Exposure will be good when the needle is centred between the two lines.

On the left of the focus screen, again near the bottom, are the two letters ‘S’ and ‘A’ together with a green pointer. ‘S’ stands for spot and if the green pointer points at ‘S’, the meter measures the light within that central ring mentioned earlier. ‘A’ stands for average and if the green pointer points at ‘A’, the light meter measures the light over the whole image. Selecting between ‘S’ and ‘A’ is done by a slider on the rear of the camera.

On the rear of the ‘pentaprism’ hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This gives a slightly reduced view of the image. On the top of the ‘pentaprism’ hump, there is a standard Barnack accessory shoe – no contacts here so a cold shoe. In front of the Barnack shoe is the idiosyncrasy mentioned earlier. This is a ‘waist-level’ viewfinder. I put ‘waist-level’ in quotes because you cannot use it at waist level as the image is just too small and the amount of the image you can see reduces the further your eye is from the ‘waist-level’ finder. To use this finder, you need to bend over the camera with your eye right against the finder, looking down. The instruction manual has a photograph showing this. In addition to being awkward ti use, the image is seriously cropped compared to the other , eye-level, finder. The only (slight) advantage over other waist-level finders that I have (Exakta, Exa, Ikoflex) the image is entirely the right way around.

To select between the two viewfinders, there is a knob on the right hand side of the ‘pentaprism’ hump. This requirement to switch between the two finders is why Ricoh went for a pentamirror rather than the more usual solid pentaprism.

Left of the ‘pentaprism’ hump is the usual folding rewind crank. As was usual in the 1960s and 1970s, the rewind crank doubles as the catch for the camera back – pulling up the crank opens the back. Around the crank is a film type reminder. The options are colour, B & W, or Empty. That last is useful for those of us with many cameras that only get used occasionally – it is not unheard of for me to open a camera to load it with film only to discover a (now fogged) film in place.

The front of the camera is, as always, dominated by the lens mount. This is a M42 threaded mount (also known as the Pentax, Praktica, or Universal mount). Looking inside the mount, at the bottom, is a bar which comes forward when the shutter release is pressed. This bar presses on a pin on the lens and closes the iris diaphragm to its preset aperture value. Above this bar is the reflex mirror. This is coloured a reddish brown which I have never seen before. I assume that the light meter photocells are behind the glass of the mirror and impart this colour.

To the left of the lens mount (while looking at the front of the camera) are two items. Towards the bottom of the camera is a rotating lever. This is the self-timer lever. If you rotate this 180º anti-clockwise and then press the shutter release there is an eight second delay before the shutter fires. As well as using this for the intended function of allowing the photographer to include themselves in the picture, you c an also use this to lock-up the mirror eight seconds before the shutter fires to reduce camera vibration in critical applications.

Above the self-timer is the combined shutter speed/film speed selector dial. This is usually on the top plate with SLR cameras and this is the only time I have seen one here. The film speed is adjusted by lifting the dial and turning it until the required ASA value is visible in the window. This is in ASA only but there is a conversion chart in the instruction manual to convert ASA to DIN “if you are using German films”. Note: ISO had not been invented yet in 1970 but it is functionally the same as ASA and DIN. The available film speeds range from 10 ASA to 800 ASA which is pretty much the range of amateur film speeds around in 1970. Shutter speeds are selected by rotating the dial without lifting the dial. Shutter speeds are from one second to 1/1000 second plus B. Speeds from 1 s to 1/125 s are in red and speeds from 1/250 s to 1/1000 s are in white. B is in green.

The rear of the camera has the viewfinder eyepiece just left of centre. On the rear of the top plate to the right of the eyepiece is a selector slider. When slid to the left, the letters ‘Sp’ are exposed. This sets the light meter to spot metering. When the slider is slid to the right the letters ‘Av’ are exposed. this sets the light meter to average metering. This setting is repeated in the viewfinder. 

On the left hand end of the top plate are two PC sockets – one marked ‘X’ and one marked ‘M’. The X socket is for electronic flash or fast flash bulbs and the M socket is for all other flash bulbs. For electronic flash and most flash bulbs, the shutter speed must be between 1/30 and 1/125 seconds. For some flash bulbs, 1/30 to 1/60 seconds is required. this is academic now as the flash bulbs concerned are no longer made.

The base of the camera has a 1/4 inch Whitworth (or UNC, I am not sure of the date of the change over) tripod socket in line with the lens mount.There is also a battery compartment which takes an EPX 625 battery. This was a mercury cell which is now banned but an alkaline version, EPX625G, is available. The battery powers the light meter – the rest of the camera is entirely is entirely manual. Also on the base is the button to disengage the sprocket shaft to allow the film to be rewound. Once pressed, there is no need to hold the button pressed in.

On pulling up on the rewind crank, the back is released and opens on a right hand hinge – none of this back and base coming away in one piece malarky. On the inside of the back is the usual pressure plate to keep the film flat against the film gate. There is also a sprung steel strip to keep the film cassette snug in its chamber.

The inside of the body is dominated by the film gate. The surrounds are nice and large which helps to keep the film flat. The actual film gate – the hole the light comes through – measures 34 by 23 mm which is a bit smaller than the standard 36 by 24 mm. The surround measures 35 by 80 mm. Left of the film gate is the chamber for the film cassette. This is just a plain space – no DX electric contacts for another 13 years.

On the other side of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. This rotates as the film is advanced and counts the holes in the film – eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the take-up spool.

The camera came with Ricoh’s standard 50mm lens which they call the Auto Rikenon. The Auto part merely means that the camera closes the iris diaphragm just before the shutter opens. There is a slider near to the mount end of the lens whjich allows you to select between ‘A’ (Auto) and ‘M’ (Manual). If you select M, the iris diaphragm closes or opens as you adjust the aperture ring. Switching to M allows you to preview the depth of field that your aperture setting will produce. It will also allow the lens to be used with a camera without the auto bar in the lens mount (such as the Soviet Zenit E). Normally, you would keep the lens set to A as this gives you the brightest possible image in the viewfinder.

The lens is quite a fast lens which means it has a large maximum aperture (which is the smallest number) which is ƒ/1.7. The minimum aperture (largest number) is ƒ/16. The aperture ring has click stops so you cannot accidentally change aperture.

The focus ring has two distance scales – metres in green and feet in white. The lens will focus down to 0.5 m which is fairly close for a standard lens. To move from 0.5 m to infinity (or the other way) needs the focus ring to move through around 250º which means that fine control of focus is easy.

Collection Appareils suggests that the lens has six glass elements arranged in five groups. It would appear that all glass surfaces are coated.

Leitz Eldia

A simple film copying device from Ernst Leitz, the makers of the Leica camera.

I saw this device on Ebay with a very vague description – no real indication as to what the device might actually be. It was made by Leitz (the makers of the Leica camera) which suggests it would be both well designed and well made. So I put a bid in and got the device for £8.00 – a bargain! Fortunately for me, the device came with full instructions, making the use of the device clear (full instructions are three small pages of text plus a diagram).

The device itself has the maker’s name – Leitz Wetzlar, Germany – on it but no other writing. The box has the additional information of “Eldia 17900W” but no more and that is all the information that I had when I bought it.

The instructions (four small pages) have the additional information “Eldia printer” and “printing device for transparency film strips”. It seems that the device is intended for producing projectable positives on black and white film from black and white negatives. Searching on the Interweb suggests that this device was first introduced in about 1930 (dates on the Interweb vary a bit). Leitz Wetzlar was incorporated into a GmbH in 1930 and this name is printed on the instructions – “Leitz Wetzlar GmbH” so my device was made in or after 1930.

Early versions, according to the Interweb, had nickel plated knobs, later versions had chrome plated knobs and the last versions had plastic knobs. Mine has anodised aluminium knobs – so much for the Interweb! Both the device itself and the instructions say that it was made in Germany rather than West Germany which might suggest that it was made before 1945 but might also mean that it was of late enough manufacture that the distinction between West and East Germany was old hat and West Germany had returned to calling itself just Germany. On balance, I think mine is a later rather than earlier model.

The device itself is very simple – no lens, no shutter, no meter. It is fully manual and really simple. The device is basically a box with semicircular ends. It is made from brass which is painted black with a coarse crinkle finish. The is a hinged front – also brass painted black but with a finer crinkle finish.

The top has the only controls there are – a knurled knob at either end. These are different heights – the right hand one is taller and has an arrow embossed on top to indicate the direction of turn. The left hand knob is lower and has no arrow. Half way between these two knobs is a spring catch that holds the hinged front in place.

The rear of the device has a red glass window measuring 38 by 30 mm. It is far from clear why this window is there. In film photography it usually indicates illumination for blue sensitive emulsions but this red window is not involved in illuminating anything. if the red window was replaced by solid metal, the device would work just as well.

The front of the device has a hinged flap. This has a central clear window. On my device, this window measures 25 by 19 mm which is half a standard 35mm film frame. It can be replaced with a larger window measuring 25 by 37 mm. This hinged flap also contains the maker’s logo – “Leitz WETZLAR” and the country of origin: “GERMANY”. This flap is held in the closed position by the spring mentioned earlier.

When the flap is opened, the front of the device is exposed. There is a large aperture – 82 by 35 mm – with a glass window centrally. This time the glass is colourless but, as with the red window on the back, this glass window serves no discernible purpose. On the right side of the glass window is a sprocket shaft. When rotated, this shaft clicks once every time four sprockets pass the front – this equates to half a standard 35mm film frame. This allows you to measure one frame (two clicks) or one half-frame (one click) when winding the film in the dark. The inside of the flap has two guides to hold a strip of developed negatives.

If you open the flap, it is then possible to remove the top of the device – this top is just a push-fit lid with two holes. The two knobs that protrude through the holes are attached to spools to hold a length of 35mm film. The instructions say the spools will hold three metres of film which is about two 36 exposure cassettes worth.

In use, you load a length of unexposed copy film onto the spool with a small knob and pull the film across the glass window with the emulsion on the outside and on to the spool with a large knob. The strip of negatives that you want to copy fits between the guides on the flap, again with the emulsion on the outside. Note that the unexposed film you use must be copying film that can be used under a red safe-light. When the flap is closed, the emulsion side of the two films will be in close contact.

You expose the copy film through the glass window in the flap – through the negative you want to copy – by holding the front of the device 1.5 m from a 25 watt incandescent bulb. If you use black and white film and black and white negatives, you will end up with a black and white positive for projecting which is the original purpose of the device. If you use colour reversal film and colour slides, you will end up with a duplicate colour slide.

Mir or Мир

This is a Soviet camera made in the KMZ factory in Krasnogorsk near Moscow. KMZ stands for Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod (Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works in English) which is still operational (September 2022). KMZ is better known for their Zorki and Zenith cameras both of which were derived from Leitz’s Leica II camera. The name “Mir” can mean either peace or world. This camera shares its name with the Mir space station launched by the USSR in 1986.

This Mir is a cut-down version of the Zorki 4 and was produced only for the internal Soviet market. This camera was a ‘grey’ import to the UK. The outside of the camera looks just the same as my Zorki 4. However, I am going to describe the camera from scratch rather than just list the differences.

The camera is made from die-cast aluminium alloy with a satin chrome plated top and base plates. The camera, without lens, measures 142 by 90 by 35 mm and it weighs 595 g. Most of the body is covered with black leatherette.

As mentioned above, this camera is derived from the German Leica II camera of the 1930s. It is not a direct copy – the FED I was a simplified copy of the Leica and the Zorki 1 was a straight copy of the FED I. The Zorki 1 was developed and improved in stages to the Zorki 4 and this Mir is a cut-down version of the Zorki 4. This heritage is most noticeable in the design of the top plate which is stepped with controls at different levels.

At the far right of the top plate is the film advance knob. This camera was made in 1960 and most cameras had film advance levers by this date. Turning this to advance the film you can detect the difference between top German engineering and Soviet engineering. The mechanism works well even after 62 years but you can feel a slight but definite bearing grumble. I don’t have a Leica to compare it to but none of my Zeiss Ikon cameras of a similar age have any sort of bearing grumble.

In the centre of the film advance knob is the frame counter. This counts up from zero and needs to be reset by hand when you load a new film. This film advance knob is on a lower portion of the top plate and is close to the edge of the raised portion which makes it quite hard to get a grip on the knob.

Just up on the higher part of the top plate, towards the rear, is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal with a machined top. The button is threaded for a standard cable release. If you turn the shutter release button as you press it, it will lock down until you turn it the other way.

Around the release button is a knurled metal collar. This has two positions: П Д  – these are actually embossed in Cyrillic letters, the Latin equivalents are P and D. Normal operating position is Д – the actual position is denoted by a dot. Turning the collar clockwise to just past П (no dot this time) releases the sprocket shaft inside so that the film can be rewound.

Left of the shutter release button is the shutter speed selector. This is the standard Leica type – you lift and turn to select the speed and the whole thing turns as the shutter fires. Being a Leica type shutter, it is important to wind on the film before changing the shutter speed – failure to do so can fatally damage the shutter mechanism.

This is one of the areas where simplification occurred as KMZ made the camera cheaper to make. Speeds are from 1/30 to 1/500 seconds – the original Zorki 4 had a sequence of much slower speeds and one faster speed of 1/1000 second. If you are willing to set the shutter speed without numbers to guide you, there is a dot past the 1/500 setting which seems to be the 1/1000 speed but without acknowledgement. The slower speeds are not much of a loss as in 50 years of photography I have rarely even used less than 1/60 seconds.

Around the shutter speed selector is a second selector which is very unusual. The outer ring turns allowing you to select the flash synchronising delay. There are six selectable delays: 0, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 milliseconds. 0 is for electronic flash and the others are for various types of flash bulbs.makes a difference from just having X and M! The Zorki 4 which this camera is derived from has a similar ring but with far fewer options.

Next along from the shutter speed selector is the accessory shoe. This is a standard Barnack shoe with no electrical contacts – so a cold shoe. While these are usually referred to as flash shoes, on rangefinder cameras they are likely to be used with separate viewfinders for use with other focal length lenses. The built-in viewfinder only gives an accurate representation of the image with the 50mm lens supplied with the camera. If you fit either a wide-angle or a telephoto lens to the camera you need to use an appropriate wide-angle or telephoto viewfinder.

On the far left of the top plate the level of the top plate dips again. On this lower portion is the film rewind knob. This is knurled metal. This will turn in both directions and has an arrow stamped on to to indicate the correct direction. Like the film advance knob, this is much to close to the edge of the raised portion of the top plate for the user to get a grip. This time, the designers have thought this through and the rewind knob pulls up 10 mm so that it is above the rest of the top plate and getting a grip is easy.

Below the rewind knob there is a rotating lever. This lever has a short travel of just a few degrees. It moves a lens inside the viewfinder and adjusting this allows the photographer to use the viewfinder without wearing their glasses. This is actually important as the viewfinder eyepiece is metal and will scratch spectacle lenses. I speak from experience!

The rear of the top plate has some writing on it. As this camera was only available in the USSR, the writing is in Cyrillic. Prominent is “Made in USSR” – I cannot type this in Cyrillic, unfortunately. Below this is the KMZ logo of a prism with a ray of light passing through it. To the right, at the base of the top plate, is the camera serial number. KMZ is one of the Soviet makers that started the serial numbers with the year of manufacture. This serial number starts with ’60’ so the camera was made in 1960. Not all the other Soviet makers did this – particularly FERD – so even if the serial number appears to start with the year, it is just coincidence.

A the left end of the rear of the top plate is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is quite viscous as it is metal and will easily scratch modern spectacles. if you are a spectacle wearer, you need to use the dioptre adjuster mentioned above and keep your glasses in your pocket.

The viewfinder image is tinted mauve – this is to make the rangefinder easier to use. In the centre og the mauve image is a pale yellow spot. The two colours are to maximise the contrast between the general image and the smaller rangefinder image.

To use the rangefinder, you centre the pale yellow spot on your main subject. if the subject is out of focus, there will be two images within the spot – a mauve image and a yellow image. As you turn the lens focus ring, the yellow image will slowly move. keep turning the focus ring until the mauve and yellow images are in the superimposed.

The front of the top plate has more going on on it. On the right is the viewfinder window. This is nice and large, 19 by 12 mm. In the centre of the front of the top plate is the rangefinder window. This is much smaller at 5 by 4 mm. At the left of the front of the top plate is a PC socket for connecting a flash gun. Between the rangefinder window and the PC socket is the camera name in Cyrillic script – Mir – which looks like Mur to Western eyes but is, of course, in Cyrillic.

Below the top plate, in the middle of the front, is the lens mount. This is the standard M39 thread used by Leica. It is also known as the LTM (Leica Thread Mount). It will take any lens intended for a threaded Leica, Canon rangefinder, FED, Zorki and quite a few others.

Looking in the mount, you are looking right at the fabric focal plane shutter – no mirror in a rangefinder camera. Just inside the mount, at the top, is a lever on a swivel. This actuates the rangefinder. As the lens is focused nearer, the rear of the lens extends and pushes this lever inwards and, in turn, this moves the image in the yellow spot in the viewfinder.

To the left of the lens mount is the self-timer lever. To use this, you turn it through 90º clockwise. Above the lever is a small chrome button which activates the timer when pressed. This gives a 6 to 8 second delay before the shutter fires. On each corner of the front, just below the top plate, is a lug for attaching a strap.

To access the insides of the camera to load or remove a film, you have to remove the back and base in one piece. This is achieved by turning two semicircular folding keys, one at each end of the base. One turns clockwise and the other one turns anti-clockwise. Between these folding keys, in line with the lens, is a tripod socket. This is the older 3/8 inch Whitworth thread.

The inside of the back has a rather small pressure plate for keeping the film flat. On the left of the base (on the right when looking at the inside ) is inside of the key for opening the camera. This has a cutaway which locates on the base of FED-type refillable cassettes. When this key is turned to fix the back/base in place, this opens the cassette to allow the film to move both into and out of the cassette without scratching the film. Turning the key to release the back/base closes the cassette rendering it light tight.

Inside the camera body, in the middle, is the film gate. This is reasonably large – much larger than the pressure plate. The actual gate is 36 by 24 mm – the standard size for 35 mm film. Behind this is the focal plane shutter. This is black light-tight cloth which is in very good condition – others of my old Soviet cameras have wrinkled or translucent (and on one camera, both). The shutter speeds look to be very good at the higher speeds (I have no means of checking the speeds, I am going by a general impression) but on lower speeds (1/30 or B) the blinds move very slowly and erratically.

On the left of the film gate is the chamber for the film cassette. This can be either a Kodak style cassette or a FED type refillable cassette. On the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft for counting the sprocket holes in the film when advancing the film. Eight holes equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the drive for the take-up spool. This looks remarkably complex with teeth and a spring. This drive fits the supplied take-up spool. I have been told that you can fit a second, empty, cassette here to avoid having to rewind the film, but my FED cassettes will not fit here. The supplied take-up spool has a spring-steel grip to take the film leader.

The edges of the back fit into a groove on the body to provide a light seal. This camera is ultimately derived from the German Leica and no foam light seals were used and no foam light seals to go bad.

The lens that cvame with the camera is an Industar-50 lens. This is essentially a copy of the Carl Zeiss Tessar. Zeiss’s patents on the tyessar had expired a long time before the Soviets started copying the Tessar design. Tessars are my favourite lenses. They might not be as sharp corner to corner as some other lenses and distortion is not completely eradicated but the Tessar renders images very nicely with something of a 3D effect. Many people get carried away by the technical excellence or otherwise of their equipment and forget that they are producing pictures. Tessars help with the story telling so sod the technicalities.

The focus range is from one metre to infinity. To move the focus from one metre to infinity (or from infinity to one metre) you need to turn the focus ring through 180º. This is enough of a turn to allow for precise focusing (something missing on modern autofocus lenses which are a nightmare to focus manually). Apertures are from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/16. There are two aperture scales so as you focus, one of the two scales is always at the top of the lens barrel and easily visible.

Tessars – and this Industar – have four glass elements in three groups – there are air gaps between the groups. The lens is coated – there is a red П on the lens bezel. This П stands for покрытый (or pokrytiy in the Latin alphabet) which means ‘coated’. I would assume that this is multicoated and on each glass surface as was usual by 1960. but that is definitely an assumption on my part.

Miranda MS–3

A Cosina CT-( rebadged as a Miranda MS-3

While Miranda were never one of the top camera makers in Japan, they were a serious maker. In 1978, the company ceased trading and in the early 1980s the rights to the Miranda brand were brought by the Dixons group in the UK. This MS–3 dates to the Dixons period.

As I was perusing this camera after I bought it, I thought the top plate was very reminiscent of my Cosina CT–1. After a bit of research on the Interweb, it turns out this is one camera not based on the Cosina CT–1 – but it is a Cosina camera, and the CT range at that. It is a rebadged Cosina CT–9. Cosina is a major maker of cameras and lenses for other marques – they currently make many lenses under contract to Carl Zeiss of Germany.

The camera body measures 136 by 85 by 50 mm and weighs 425 g (body only, no lens). The main body is die-cast aluminium and the top and bottom plates are moulded plastic – an anti-slip finish is a part of the plastic finish so there is no need for a leatherette covering. This imparts a cheaper look and feel to the camera (although this type of finish soon became standard, even on top end cameras). After 40 years of use, the finish is much reduced.

As I usually do, I shall start by looking at the top plate. As I mentioned earlier, the top plate is moulded black plastic. On the far right is the window on to the frame counter. As is usual with Japanese SLR cameras, the frame counter is reset to ‘S’ by opening the back of the camera. ‘S’ is actually -2 (‘S’ stands for start) and is printed in red. All the even numbers are printed and the odd numbers are represented by dots. Numbers 12, 20, 24 and 36 are in red as these were the standard film lengths in the mid 1980s – all the other numbers are in white. The frame counter will count to 37 and then stop moving although you can still advance the film.

Right by the frame counter is the film advance lever. This lever is plated metal covered with black plastic. This lever moves through not quite 180º (165º according to the manual – 30º stand off plus 135º movement) to advance the film one frame. There is no ratchet here so the lever must be moved in one movement.

Hard by the film advance lever, at the front of the top plate, is the shutter release button. It was the design of this button together with the shape of the film advance lever that gave me the clue that this might be a Cosina camera. This shutter release button is a fairly broad and flat black plastic button with a central threaded hole for a standard cable release.

To the left of the shutter release button is a selector dial. This is where we would usually find the shutter speed selector – and that is one of the functions here. The outside of this selector dial is a three-way switch. In its central position, the camera is switched off and nothing works. Rotating this slightly anti-clockwise turns the camera to auto. In this position, the camera is turned on and the exposure system determines they exposure when the shutter release button is partially depressed. If the button is fully depressed, the shutter is fired – without power, the shutter can not be fired.

If this selector dial is rotated clockwise from the Off position, the camera is in manual exposure mode. Here, the exposure system still determines the ‘correct’ exposure and displays it in the viewfinder but does not control the actual shutter speed. Instead, the shutter speed is set by two buttons in the middle of the selector dial. The front button increases the shutter speed – if held down, the shutter speed continuously cycles through the range – the red LED in the viewfinder displays the changing shutter speed.

The rear button does the opposite –reducing the shutter speed – and, again, if held down cycles through the speed range but in the opposite direction. While you are using these manual controls, the exposure system displays its preferred shutter speed with a flashing red LED.

Next along the top plate is the pentaprism hump. On the front of this is the camera name – “MIRANDA” and the letter “M”. On the top of the hump is an ISO hot shoe. This is a plain vanilla hot shoe with no additional contacts.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is a standard Japanese folding crank and, as is usual with Japanese SLR cameras, the crank doubles as the catch for the back – pulling up on the crank unlocks the back. Around this crank, there is a ring to set the film speed. This is entirely in ASA/ISO (it is actually marked as both ASA and ISO as this camera was made a the point when ISO took over from ASA). The speed range is from ASA 25 to ASA 1600 which is pretty standard for the day. The film speed can be altered in 1/3 stop increments, the thirds being represented by dots.

As always with SLR cameras, the front is dominated by the lens mount. This is a plain vanilla Pentax K mount with a twist. When Pentax introduced the K mount, it was a purely mechanical bayonet mount with a mechanical linkage to pass the aperture setting to the light meter. In time, Pentax added electrical contacts and a screwdriver link which were set into the bayonet mount. We have, over the years, ended up with quite a few official variants on the basic K mount.

This particular K mount is Cosina’s own, unofficial, variant. The lens mount ring has no electrical contacts or screwdriver link but it does have three electrical contacts inside the mount at the top. These are for Cosina’s own autofocus lens. This was a large and cumbersome affair containing its own batteries and electric motor – much like Pentax’s ME-F autofocus lens introduced a few years previously. Unfortunately, I do not have this lens.

So, looking into the mouth of the mount, on the left at about 9 o’clock, is a small lever. This latches onto a lever on the lens. When the shutter release button is pressed, this lever rises allowing the sprung lever on the lens to move, closing the iris diaphragm to its set value.

All around the inside of the mount is a rotating ring with a lug at around 2 o’clock. This lug latches onto a recessed lug on the lens. Changing the aperture setting on the lens will slightly rotate this ring, communicating the set aperture to the camera’s light meter.

Just to the left of the lens mount, near the top of the body, is a rectangular red light. This is the self timer button. If you press this in, it flashes for eight seconds and then flashes faster for two seconds and finally fires the shutter. On the far left of the body is a small grip for the photographer’s right hand.

The only feature on the back of the camera is the viewfinder eyepiece. The lens for this measures 15 by 10 mm. Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. As this is a relatively cheap SLR the focus screen is plain ground glass rather than a Fresnel screen . It does, however, have focus aids. There is a ring of micro-prisms in the centre of the screen and in the centre of that is a split-image rangefinder.

On the left of the focus screen is the readout for the light meter. This consists of a list of shutter speeds with one second at the bottom and 1000 (for 1/1000 second) at the top. Above the shutter speeds are three more items. The first is the legend “OVER” and if the red LED next to this is lit the photograph will be overexposed. Above this is “M” and this will be lit when you have selected the mode to be manual. At the very top is the legend “AUTO” and this is lit when you have set the mode to automatic.

Below the shutter speeds are two more items. The first is “LT” which indicates that a shutter speed of between two and eight seconds has been chosen by the light meter (LT= long time?) or that the user has set two seconds manually. Below “LT” is “B” which is Bulb where the shutter stays open while the shutter release button is held down.

The base of the camera has four items on it. In line with the centre of the lens is a 1/4 inch UNC tripod socket. Just by the tripod socket is the battery chamber.

On my camera, this battery chamber is free from corrosion – far from a given on old cameras! Unfortunately, Cosina saw fit to use a soft plastic cap and the slot on this is now so damaged it is extremely hard to remove and replace.

At the other end of the base is the button to allow the film to be rewound. Pressing this in allows the sprocket shaft inside the camera to rotate backwards. Once pressed right in there is no need to hold it in. In front of this button is a small sticker with the word “RESET” on it. Beneath this sticker is a small hole. If the camera freezes up completely then you push a pin into this hole to reset the electronics and allow the camera to start working again.

Inside the camera is much as you might expect a Japanese 35mm SLR camera to be. In the middle of the door is a nice large pressure plate and to the right of that is a chrome spring to hold the film cassette snuggly.

The insides of the body are dominated by the film gate. The actual gate measures 36 by 24 mm which is standard for 35 mm photography. The surrounds are large enough to hold the film flat – the surrounds measure 65 by 35 mm. To the left of the film gate is the chamber for the film cassette. At this age there are no DX contacts. On the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. This measures the length of film required for one negative – eight holes passing over the sprocket shaft equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the film take-up spool. There are six slots for attaching the new film.

Around the opening of the camera is a groove. When the back is closed, the edges of the back fit into this groove. To ensure light tightness, there is a strip of black foam plastic in this groove. After nearly 40 years, this foam has disintegrated into a sticky goo and needs to cleaning out and replacing with new foam – an easy DIY job.

When new, this camera came with a Cosina 50mm, ƒ/1.2 lens. My camera has a Topcon AM Topcor lens with a focal length of 55mm and a maximum aperture of ƒ/1.7. The lens is multi-coated. This is a cheapish lens – the mount is entirely plastic as, it would appear, is the rest of the lens. A search on the Interweb tells me this is probably a lens made by Cima Kogaku who made lenses for many smaller camera makers. The same interweb source also suggest that this lens has six elements arranged in four groups. As this is Interweb information, I cannot guarantee that it is correct.

The aperture has six blades and runs from ƒ/1.7 to ƒ/16 which is quite fast for a cheap lens. The absence of ƒ/22 might be a problem in bright light but many of my cameras have a minimum aperture of ƒ/16 and that has never been a real problem for me. The aperture ring has click stops at every marked aperture and also at the half-stops.

The focus ring is marked in both feet and meters and focuses from 2 feet or 0.6 meters to infinity. The throw on the focus ring (the amount by which it turns) is about 180º which means that critical focus is easy but fast focus is not – this is the opposite of modern auto-focus lenses which focus quickly but are difficult to focus manualy.

Sida – the camera.

This is a very simple camera from Sida in Germany.

This is a very small German camera dating from the late 1930s. The design is as simple as possible and still have a working camera. The overall shape of the camera was maintained for some years but the details seem to have changed on a regular basis. The shutter release lever moved from behind the shutter to in front of the shutter to the base of the camera – I do not know the actual sequence of the changes, it could be the other way around. The body was sometimes die-cast in gun metal and sometimes in Bakelite.

This camera is very small. It measures 70 by 55 by 40 mm. This is only just big enough to take a roll of film. Actually, although the Interweb says that this camera takes 35 mm film, it is slightly too small and the Sida film specifically made for this camera cannot have been wider than 33 mm – it cost one shilling for a ten image roll in 1937. The camera is painted matt black (or, rather, was in the case of my camera as most of the paint has come off over the last 80-odd years). The front and back of the camera have panels which are textured in the metal to resemble leatherette but the texturing is in the casting. I should say, perhaps, that I have the die-cast metal version, not the Bakelite version.

This camera was advertised in the 1937 edition of the British Journal of Photography Almanac where the price was five shillings (25p in modern money).

The top of the camera is very simple (a recurring theme with this camera). On the right is a round raised portion which is the end of the film chamber inside. On the left is a round knob which is the film advance knob. This knob is on a ratchet and will only turn in one direction, and has an embossed arrow on the top to make clear which direction this is. The knob makes a very distinct grating noise when turned.

In the middle of the top is a very small viewfinder. The viewfinder is towards the front of the top and is impossible to use while wearing glasses. It is also difficult to use without glasses! The viewfinder image is correspondingly small and only vaguely squarish.

The back of the camera has a central red window. Although this camera uses miniature film, it uses a non-perforated film with a paper backing much like a small version of 120 film. When winding on the film, you need to look at the frame numbers through this red window. Above the red window is the name of the camera: “SIDA”. Across the red window is the legend “PATENT ang DRWZ”. The DRWZ bit is short for “Deutches Reichswarenzeichen” and the whole legend tells us that either the design of this camera is protected by a federal trademark or the name SIDA is protected – I am not clear as to which it is.

The bottom of the camera has a round raised portion at either end. Again, these are the ends of the internal film chambers. Between these is a rather small – 3mm diameter – hole for a tripod. Clearly, this cannot be used with a standard 1/4 inch Whitworth or UNC tripod which is about 6mm. Actually, I cannot imagine anyone wanting to use such a simple camera on a tripod.

The front of the camera is the most complex part. Not very complex but more complex than the rest of the camera. There is a 38 by 45 mm raised portion which protrudes 11mm from the rest of the camera. In the centre of this is the lens. Around the lens it says “Sida-Optik” and “1:8 = 35mm”. For such a simple and cheap camera, this has got to be a meniscus lens – just one piece of thin glass. The colour of the glass tells us that this lens is not coated – not that any lens is likely to be coated in 1938. The 1:8 tells us that the lens has a fixed aperture of ƒ/8. This is rather slow and must be coupled to a slow shutter speed to achieve a decent exposure of 1930s films. This small aperture will be necessary to achieve a good depth of field with the simple, focus-free lens. The focal length is 35 mm. The negatives produced by the camera have a diagonal of 35 mm so this lens is a “normal” lens for this film format.

On the left of the lens, on the surface of the camera, is the shutter release lever. This is a simple mild steel lever attached to the camera withy a brass screw. This lever fires the shutter when pressed down and fires the shutter again when pushed up.

On the right hand edge of the raised portion, towards the bottom, is a small screw threaded with a nut. If this is pulled out, the shutter is converted from a brief exposure to B. With this pulled out, the shutter release lever opens the shutter which remains open until the shutter release lever is pressed in the opposite direction. In the metal beside the raised portion, there is a moulded legend: “T←M”. “T” is clearly time and I am guessing that “M” is the German for moment.

The back of the camera is opened by pulling back on a lug on the left hand edge of the camera. There is no catch of any sort nor any hinge – the back comes away in one piece. Inside the back – which is painted matt black – there is the number 1946 scratched in the paint. Is this the year of manufacture, the year of purchase or a serial number? Your guess is as good as mine.

Inside the body of the camera, there is a chamber on the right for the new roll of film. At the top and bottom of the chamber are two grooves to locate the ends of the film spool but the film spool is not fixed in any way. There is a steel leaf spring to keep the spool from moving and to keep the film taut.

On the left is the chamber for the take-up spool. This spool latches at the top into the inside of the film advance knob, the bottom of the spool sits loosely in a groove as both ends of the film spool do.

In-between the two spool chambers is the film gate. This is 25 mm square. Above and below the film gate is a rebate to guide the film. In total – film gate plus two rebates – this measures 33 mm which is the maximum width of the film. The Interweb says that this camera uses 35mm film but that is not the case – Sida produced their own size of roll film.

Canon AL-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lens

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

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

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

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

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

Canon FX

Canon FX film SLR camera from Japan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikon Nikkorex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L shaped bracket for flash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petri Flex 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iloca Quick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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