May Fair folding camera

This camera is a cheap offering from the early to mid 20th century. The camera was never offered for sale – it could only be obtained by saving coupons in packets of cigarettes. In order for the cigarette companies to do this without losing money, the camera had to be cheap, but not so cheap as to not attract customers.

P1010318 copyThe camera was made by the Houghton Butcher company in London – this information is stamped into the leatherette on the back. As far as I can see, this is not just a rebadged model from Houghton and Butcher’s catalogue but was made especially for the cigarette company  (Ardath Tobacco Co. Ltd.). It is, however, very similar to Houghton and Butcher’s No. 3 Carbine of the same date. The shutter is different as well as some minor details.

P1010322 copySo, a description. This is a standard folding camera of its time. Two design features lead me to think that this camera was made very close to 1930 (or else was made later to a very old-fashioned design). First, there is no shutter speed dial – the shutter has a rim-set speed selector. This feature was only introduced in 1928 by Compur so the camera must have been made after that. Second, the camera is not self-erecting. When opening the camera for use, the user must manually pull the shutter/lens assembly forward on rails. This type of design was decidedly passé by the mid-1930s. Of course, if the cigarette company wanted tp keep prices down, they might well have stuck with a very old design.

I like my blog to rely entirely on the camera in front of me. Yet, sometimes, there is information I would like which cannot be derived from the camera itself. An Interweb search gains me the information that the camera was offered to customers of the Ardath Tobacco Company. They traded from 1927 to 1933 so this camera was offered between these dates. In an Ardath Tobacco Company catalogue that a dates from 1930, this model May Fair was offered for 395 vouchers. (information from the Redbellows site).

P1010319 copyP1010320 copyThe camera is a full-frame camera using 120 film (called E20 on the sticker in the film chamber. I think that the ‘E’ refers to ‘Ensign’ which was a trade name of Houghton Butcher) giving a nominal 90 by 60 mm negatives.

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The camera measures 6 1/4 inches by 3 inches by 1 1/4 inches when closed and opens to 6 1/4 by 3 by 5 inches when open for use. It weighs 545 g without having a film loaded.

The camera is made from pressed mild steel which is covered with black leatherette. The leatherette is embossed with a linear box design On the back is the maker’s name: “Made in England by Houghton-Butcher MFG Co. Ltd. LONDON”. Apart from the embossing, the back has two items. There is a red window (now faded to orange) to allow the user to read frame numbers from the backing paper of the roll of film. This is a full-frame camera so the frame numbers will run from 1 to 8 – eight whole shots on each roll of film. Each frame will be 83 by 55 mm and would have been contacted printed rather than being enlarged.

P1010324 copyAlso on the back is the eyepiece for one of the two viewfinders. This viewfinder is an iconometer – basically a large wire frame to one side of the shutter/lens assembly. This eyepiece slides out of harm’s way when not in use and must be puled out for use. When slid out, there is a 3/4 inch metal strap with a 12.5 by 7 mm hole. (I am mixing my units here as the camera is English so will have been made using Imperial units but I am using SI units for film and image dimensions. I probably should not do this, but what the hell?).

The lens board is opened with a chrome lever which pulls out from the right. This lever doubles as a foot for when the camera is placed on a firm surface when using B or T. The lens board pulls down easily but requires a final firm push down to locate the struts securely. Once the lens board is down, the shutter/lens assembly must be pulled forward. A single central stud is provided for the user to hold. This is made more difficult than it needs to be by the presence of the iconometer frame which folds over the shutter/lens for storage. The iconometer can be hinged out of the way but doing so its still awkward. As you pull the shutter/lens forward, it should locate on the focus scale at the infinity position but the locating lever is missing on my camera. The two holes where this lever should be affixed are clearly visible.

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The shutter/lens assembly is attached to the camera body with the usual folding bellows. These are made from leatherette and appear to be in good, light proof condition.

The shutter/lens housing supports the two viewfinders. The first is the iconometer already mentioned. This consists of a wire frame that is hinged at the left side of the shutter/lens housing (as when using the camera). This iconometer frame measures 3 1/4 by 2 1/4 inches. In use, you pull out the eyepiece – already mentioned – from the slide on the back and fold out the wire frame at the front. I find this iconometer (I have them on several other cameras) very easy to use. Also on the top left of the shutter/lens housing is the second viewfinder – a brilliant finder. This brilliant finder requires you to look down on the viewfinder. The top measures 15 mm square. It is actually in the form of a cross where each arm of the cross measures 15 by 10 mm (in Imperial, 5/8 by 3/8 inches approximately). I find these brilliant finders very hard to use – they are best in bright light. This brilliant finder is on a swivel so that it can be used with the camera in either portrait or landscape orientation.

P1010326 copyThe shutter has no maker’s or model name on it and offers 1/100, 1/50 and 1/25 seconds plus B and T exposures. The shutter speeds are set by a lever which moves around the rim of the housing. this is a rim-set shutter – very state-of-the-art for 1930 – rather than having the older dial-set system. The B stands for Bulb and with this setting the shutter will remain open while the shutter release lever is depressed. The T stands for Time and the shutter will open when the shutter release lever is depressed and will remain open until the shutter release lever is pressed a second time.

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On the top right of the shutter/lens housing is the shutter release lever. This is nickel plated metal. Just above it is a lug with a threaded hole. This is for a standard cable release. At the bottom of the shutter/lens housing is the aperture selector. This has two positions – Ordinary and Very Bright. I have no idea at all as to what these apertures might be expressed in ƒ/numbers.

In the centre of the shutter/lens housing is the lens. This is labelled as a Novo-Ray Objective Lens. There is no indiction of focal length but a normal lens for full-frame 120 film would have 110 mm focal length so I would expect this lens to have a focal length of between 100 and 110 mm.

Below the shutter/lens assembly is a name plate with the legend “The May Fair REGD Camera”.

P1010327 copy 2

The back of the camera opens with a sliding, nickel plated, catch at one end. When opening this, the back comes away in one piece. There is a pencilled number at one end – K34 – which is repeated inside the back of the camera? Is this a serial number? At the other end of the back is an orange label stating “This camera uses the E.20. Ensign film obtainable everywhere”. What is clearly missing here is a pressure plate. There is no provision at all to keep the film flat against the film gate.

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P1010332 copy

Inside the back of the camera is dominated by the film gate. This measures 83 by 55 mm – the nominal size for a full-frame 120 image is 90 by 60 mm. At either end of the film gate i9s a chrome roller to allow the film to wind without scratching. One of these in my camera has a rusty surface and barely moves.

P1010333 copyAt either end of the the camera is a chamber for the film spools.  There is a spring in the chamber to prevent the film unrolling and becoming loose. The take-up spool goes on the left (the take-up spool is the empty spool from the last roll of film). At the bottom of this chamber is another hinged stud, butat the top is the winding key. This last must be pulled up to allow the empty take-up spool to be fitted. The take-up spool is wound by a knob on the outside which can only be turned clockwise. Not being Japanese, there are no foam light seals to worry about, light tightness being achieved by deep flanges.

Plaubel folder

This is a dual-format folder from Germany. There is no name on this camera apart from the name “Plaubel A.G. Frankfurt a. M.” on the lens bezel. Plaubel are better known for their range of folding large format cameras – the Plaubel M.

P1050330This camera is a run-of-the-mill medium format camera. The camera has a rim-set Compur shutter with a serial number of 275xxxx which gives a date of 1934 for the shutter. The camera will have been made that year or the next year. The entire serial number is not visible but I know the general date by the fact that it is a rim-set shutter – introduced in 1929 – which means a seven digit number so two million, seven hundred thousand and some.

Research on the Interweb tells me that Plaubel bought in their roll film cameras from Balda and that this particular camera is really a Balda Gloria. The Balda Gloria was made in 1934 which ties in with the shutter date.

Visually, it is very like my ICA and Zeiss Ikon Icarette cameras but the details show this to have been a cheaper model – but still not cheap. The body is made from pressed steel (rather than aluminium alloy) with the bulk of the camera covered with leather (and not leatherette as you might expect on a cheaper camera) and the edges nickel plated. The camera has clearly been kept somewhere damp as there is rust coming through the nickel plating and the nickel itself has significant green verdigris.

It was usual at this time to emboss maker and model names in the leather but, apart from some straight line ornamentation, there is no embossing here. Also missing is the legend “Made in Germany” indicating that this is unlikely to be an export model (it is slightly possible that it was embossed with “Made in Germany” and that the embossing has disappeared but you can usually see such embossing even if it is too faded to read).

When closed, the camera measures 156 by 78 by 39 mm and weighs 612 g. When open for use, the baseboard extends to 130 mm. The top of the camera is plain apart from the folding viewfinder. This is just two hinged frames with no glass. The eye-piece of the finder is a plain steel plate with a 10 by 6 mm hole in it. The other frame has a 30 by 20 mm hole with a 14.5 by 20 mm central portion. If you are using the 6 by 9 cm format, you view the scene through the outer hole and if you are using the optional half-frame insert (6 by 4.5 cm) you view the scene through the inner hole.

P1050332The ‘bottom’ of the camera contains more items. About 1/3 of the way along is a large – 28 mm diameter – disc with a 3/8 inch tripod socket in the centre. At the far end is the film advance knob – also 28 mm. The film advance knob pulls up to facilitate inserting and removing the take-up spool – more later. Just by the film advance knob is a small button which releases the hinged lens door.

P1050331The back of the camera has two red windows. These are for viewing the frame numbers on the film’s backing paper. If you are using the camera full frame (6 by 9 cm negative) then you use the red window near thew the left edge of the camera. If you have inserted the 6 by 4.5 cm mask, then you use both windows – number 1 on the outer window, then number 1 on the inner/right hand window followed by number 2 on the outer/ left hand window followed by number 2 on the inner/right hand window and so on until number 8 has been used on both windows, giving 16 negatives on one roll of 120 film. Both of these red windows have a swivelling brass cover to prevent light coming in through the window and fogging the film.

P1050333The front of the camera opens by the small button already mentioned. The front opens itself on a spring – it does not open all the way but I suspect that it did when new. This is a self-erecting camera – the shutter/lens assembly moves forward to the shooting position on its now – which was a new idea in the early 1093s.

The shutter is a Compur shutter which was the up-market alternative to the prontor shutter (both were owned by the Carl Zeiss Stiftung, by the way). This shutter offers speeds from 1 second to 1/250 seconds. There are also B and T options. B is where the shutter remains open while the release lever is depressed. T is where the shutter opens when you press the shutter release lever and stays open until you press the shutter release lever a second time.

P1050335This shutter needs to be cocked before it will work. The cocking lever is towards the top of the shutter housing by the shutter speed scale and must be turned clockwise towards the top of the housing. When the shutter is set to 1/250 seconds, the cocking lever requires significantly more effort to move. At the top of the cocking lever’s travel is a small flush button. moving this towards the camera body allows the cocking lever to move 5 mm further. This additional movement sets the delay timer. On my camera this is a delay of 23 seconds but when the camera was new would have been 8 – 10 seconds. This self-delay cannot be set with a shutter speed of 1/250 seconds, not can a shutter speed of 1/250 seconds be set if the self-delay timer has already been set on another shutter speed. When using B and T settings there is no need to cock the shutter as the timing mechanism is not required. If the shutter is already cocked, you cannot set B or T.

P1050334The shutter release is a lever on the lower right of the shutter housing. Above this, and just below the cocking lever, is a threaded hole to take a standard cable release. The serial number for the shutter is between the cocking and release levers. Unfortunately, this number is mostly obscured by the mounting struts but enough is visible (three digits) to date the shutter to 1934.

The apertures are set by a lever below the shutter housing. This offers apertures from ƒ/3.9 to ƒ/25. This is the older, European aperture scale which became obsolete during the first decades of the 20th century. It works in exactly the same way as modern aperture scale as moving to the next higher number halves the diameter of the aperture. The maths from which the scale is derived is also the same: the physical diameter of the aperture is divided into the focal length of the lens. So, ƒ/6 is the lens’ focal length (100 mm divided by the aperture diameter (16.7 mm) giving 100/16.7 = ƒ/6. The scale on this camera is continuous without click stops so intermediate apertures can be set.

The lens is a Plaubel Anticomar. Information on the Interweb leads me to think that this is a Tessar clone – four elements in three groups. The maximum aperture is ƒ/3.9 and the focal length is 10 cm (which, obviously, is 100 mm). The change from declaring focal lengths in cm to mm occurred slowly through the 1940s. Focusing is by way of a helical rather than the older system of sliding the lens. This is front cell focusing – only the front piece of glass moves, rather than the entire lens. The focus range of the lens is from 1.5 m to infinity. This lens has a serial number of 89043.

P1050336On the top of the shutter housing is a viewfinder which is a brilliant finder. This finder swivels to allow the camera to be used in either portrait or landscape orientation. There is also the folding finder mentioned earlier which is much easier to use and also includes framing for the half-frame option.

Then shutter/lens housing is connected to the camera body  by leatherette bellows. These bellows are always a weak point with folding cameras. All my Zeiss Ikon and Voigtländer folders from the 1920s and 1930s have bellows in good condition yet Agfa folding cameras are notorious for having bellows with small light leaks. The bellows on this camera have been repaired inside with black fabric tape so I must assume that each piece of tape represents a light leak.

On either side of the bellows are the metal struts that hold the camera lens door and the shutter/lens housing in place. When open, the shutter/lens housing is held rigidly in place with no p-lay – this is important as the lens needs to be exactly parallel to the film. There are three struts on either side, the front and rear struts are chrome plated and the middle strut is painted black.

To close the open camera, you need to press the tops of the struts towards the back of the camera and then lift the camera.

P1050337Inside the back of the camera are two spool carriers, one at either end. The reason for having spool carriers light baffle against any stray light coming in the hinge or the catch. German cameras never used foam light seals.

The spool carrier near the hinge takes the new, unexposed film. The spool carrier swings out on a hinge and, as it does so, one end springs out a few mm to ease the insertion or removal of the roll of film. At this end, the film spool is held o0n two short round pegs.

P1050338The take-up spool for the exposed film goes at the other end. The spool carrier at this end needs to be released before it can be swung out. Releasing the spool carrier is achieved by pulling the film advance knob away from the camera body. The take-up spool fits o0nto a short round peg on the lower end and then, once the spool carrier has been swung back into place, the film advance knob needs to be pushed back into position. The film advance knob locates in the take-up spool with a flattened key which sits in the slot at the end of the spool. The take-up spool is actually the film spool left over from the previous film and must be moved from one end of the camera to the other.

Incidentally, spools from various makers and from various times differ in detail. The empty spool that was in this camera when I bought it only has a slot at one end (it is a metal Kodak spool) and needs to be fitted the right way around. All the plastic spools I can recollect have the slot at both ends.

The film gate sits between the two spool carriers. This has four grooves, top and bottom, to allow for air movement. Oner of the weaknesses of folding cameras is that when you extend the bellows you generate a partial vacuum which can pull the film towards the lens resulting in a curved piece of film in front of the lens. This would cause the image in the centre of the frame to be soft. The grooves allow air to move into the bellows without the film moving.

At either end of the film gate is a chrome roller. These are to prevent film scratches as the film moves across the film gate.

With the front of the camera closed and the back open, you can inspect the rear of the lens. The rear lens element is clean, clear and fungus free. Unfortunately, I can also see the iris diaphragm. One blade of this is out of place and is obscuring the lower part of the aperture. It still moves as the aperture is adjusted but remains in the wrong place.

Kiev 35A (Киев 35A)

A Kiev 35A folding camera from Ukraine.

This Kiev 35A is an attractive, folding and compact 35mm camera from the Ukraine. This is my second Kiev, the other being the much larger Kiev 4 rangefinder camera. When closed, the camera fits nicely in the palm of my hand and is unobtrusive in my trouser pocket. These cameras have a very poor reputation and I am assured that it is next to impossible to find a working exemplar. Well, Odin must be smiling on me as my Kiev 35A works – the meter is responsive and the shutter fires; the test film will tell me about the light leaks that this camera is notorious for. Even better – I have the original box and printed instruction book. The instruction book is dated 1992 so I assume that the camera was made soon after this date. It was made in the Ukraine (in Kiev!) in the Arsenal factory. (I have scanned the instruction book and it is available for download from my Google Drive here [there are several other manuals available the same place]).

Kiev 35A
  • lens: Korsar
  • focal length: 35mm
  • apertures: f/2.8 to f/16
  • focus range: 1 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: leaf
  • speeds: auto
  • flash: hot shoe
  • film size: 35mm

When closed, the camera measures 100 by 64 by 33 mm. When open, the camera extends to 84mm. The camera weighs 190 g. The camera body is made from a textured grey plastic. Actually, the plastic is black, the textured grey being paint. The inside is black plastic with a chrome plated metal film gate. The camera feels very solid.

The camera uses aperture priority automatic exposure. The user sets the film speed and aperture and the camera selects the shutter speed which is steplessly varied between 4 seconds and 1/500 seconds. There is no manual option.

When the camera is closed, the lens is hidden, the electronics are switched off and the shutter release button is locked. In this closed state, the only controls available are the film advance lever and the rewind crank. the film advance lever (which is very stiff in my camera) moves through 90º and needs to be swung twice to advance the film one frame. This lever is on a ratchet so you can move the lever a smaller amount repeatedly. This lever is attached to a milled wheel and it is possible to ignore the lever and rotate the wheel instead. I am not sure what is going on there. 

The other accessible control is the rewind crank. This is 18mm diameter when closed and opens to 30mm. As is usual, it is necessary to press a button on the base to free the film advance mechanism but there is no need to hold the button in while rewinding. Also on the top is a red, square, plastic shutter release button. This is threaded for a standard cable release. This button is locked while the camera is closed. There is also a hot shoe accessory shoe with a black plastic cover. Also on the top is the frame counter. This has red numbers but only zero and then every fifth number – the rest are not even dots. The numbers go up to 36 (which is also there in red) and further film advancing will not move the numbers any further.

The camera is opened by pulling down the lens cover in the front – there is no catch of any sort. this cover clicks firmly in place and pulls the lens/shutter forward. The lens/shutter housing is rather small and sits between the struts that hold the cover in place. the lens/shutter housing is 30mm in diameter. There are two control rings – focus and aperture. The focus ring is on the outer edge of the lens/shutter housing and moves easily through just shy of 90º to move the focus from one metre to infinity. this is entirely scale focus – no rangefinder or other focus aid here. The aperture ring is more problematical as it sits right between the struts, close to the camera body. Moving this is rather awkward for my large fingers. The aperture range is from f/2.8 to f/16. 

The shutter is anonymous, presumably the Arsenal factory’s own design. It is a leaf shutter sitting between the lens elements. The manual (which, for once, came with the camera) states that the shutter speeds are from 4 seconds to 1/500 seconds. If the meter needle is in the lower shaded area in the viewfinder, the shutter speed will fire at a slow speed (slower that 1/30 seconds) and the camera will need support. The camera can be set on a firm level surface or on a tripod. In this case it would be sensible to use a cable release. If the viewfinder needle is in the upper shaded area, one of two things will happen: 1) the shutter will fire at 1/500 and the picture will be over exposed or 2) the shutter will not fire at all.

The lens is a Korsar lens. The manual tells me that this is a five element lens and is multicoated. It has a focal length of 35 mm which is distinctly wide for 35mm photography but using a short focal length lens allows the camera to be more compact which will have been the main selling point of this camera (shorter focal length means closer to the film/sensor). Part of the lens bezel is cut away to provide the window for the light meter.

Above the lens is the viewfinder window. The image within the viewfinder has bright lines to assist in framing the picture. There are no additional bright lines for close-up work. There is also, on the right of the viewfinder image, a readout of the selected shutter speed. This reads from 1/30 to 1/500 seconds. There are shaded areas at the top and bottom of this scale. See above for details of how this works for the slower, unmarked, shutter speeds.

Beside the viewfinder is the battery chamber. This takes four LR44 or equivalent batteries (which are still easily available).

The base of the camera contains several items. There is a lever to release the back. Swinging this lever reveals a red dot and allows the back and base to be removed in one piece.

Next to this is the film speed selector. This is a knurled button which moves between 15 DIN/25 ISO to 30 DIN/800 ISO. There are no Soviet GOST speeds here although the manual does refer to GOST speeds. For some reason, the DIN speeds are printed in green on the dark grey body – very hard to read. The ISO speeds are printed in white.

Next to the film speed selector is the tripod socket. This is 1/4 inch UNC thread (which is very close to the Whitworth thread used on older camera and tripods – the two are mutually compatible). On the far right of the base is the rewind button to disengage the film advance mechanism to allow the film tome backwards. The base on my camera is clearly marked “Made in Ukraine” although the box the camera came in says it was made in the USSR.

There are no strap lugs on the camera but for a camera this small and light a strap really is not required. The camera came with a rather nice leatherette pouch (which is stamped inside with “3-2-93” which I take too be the date of manufacture of the pouch. This ties in with the date on the back of the manual.

The hot shoe is synchronised for electronic flash – by the 1990s flash bulbs were passé. Attaching a hot shoe flash gun sets the shutter speed to 1/30 or 1/60 seconds (the manual gives no clue as to which or when each is selected). This is achieved by a concealed switch in the left side of the accessory shoe. The provided plastic cover for the hot shoe has a small cut-out on the left to prevent the cover from activating the switch.

Test film:

I have run a test film through this camera now and had it developed (by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln, as usual). Three main things to note: 1) there is an occasional light leak. This occurs at the bottom of the picture, indicating that the leak is where the top of the back meets the camera body. Most of the frames in my test film do not have a noticeable light leak. 2) the negatives are a bit thin – not too thin to be usable but thinner than is ideal. This tells me that the automatic exposure system is underexposing slightly. As there is no manual option with this camera, I can either live with it or adjust the Film’s ISO setting to compensate. 3) there are tram-line scratches on all frames. Might be the film gate, might be dirt in the cassette felt light trap. Who knows?

Butcher’s Watch Pocket Carbine

This is my oldest camera to date. Dating any old camera is problematical. There is a body serial number – C35133 – in the standard Ica (and then Zeiss Ikon) sequence. The trouble is that all Ica and Zeiss Ikon records were lost in the bombing of Dresden in WWII. A lot of work has been done by enthusiasts to correlate serial numbers and dates – this is done with lens serial numbers (which have survived, not having been held in Dresden), shutter serial numbers and ancillary information such as known production dates and sales invoices.


lens: Aldis Uno

focal length:  3 inches

apertures: f/7.7 to f/32

focus range: 3 ft to infinity

lens fitting: fixed

shutter: Lukos II

speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T

flash: No!

film size: 117

So, this camera. The model – an Ica Icarette model 1(type 495) – was made from 1912 to 1926 and then continued by Zeiss Ikon as their Icarette 493. Various revisions help to narrow the date somewhat (my camera clearly uses 117 film as 120 spools do not quite fit). More useful is the fact that Ica made this camera for Butcher’s in the UK. As a result of hostilities in WWI, Butchers were no longer allowed to trade with German companies. This gives a date for this camera of between 1912 (date of introduction) and July 1914 (the outbreak of World War I). Information from other camera collectors suggests that the “C” serial numbers date from 1913 – just a suggestion, mind, as “C” could have run from late 1912 to early 1914. Any road, I am going for a date of 1913 until such time as someone shows me different.

I have another Ica Icarette I which is mostly the same as this Butcher’s Carbine. The differences are minimal except for the viewfinder – this Butcher’s Carbine has no viewfinder and there are no indications that there ever was one. These cameras were supplied with one of two options (or both). The first option was a small Brilliant finder attached to the shutter housing. The attachment was a part of the metal moulding of the shutter housing and was not removable – there are no traces of anything being attached at this point.

The second option was an Iconometer which was basically a wire frame fixed to the top of the shutter housing with two screws and an eyepiece attached to the body of the camera. Again, there is no evidence of either the wire frame or the eyepiece ever having been attached. On the other hand, how would you use the camera with no viewfinder?

The name intrigues me. The full name of this camera is ‘Watch Pocket “Carbine”‘, with “Carbine” in quotation marks. The Watch Pocket part presumably indicates that the camera would fit into a small pocket. The camera is certainly very small – yet Butcher’s also sold 6x 9 cm cameras as Watch Pocket which were not very small. The “Carbine” part? The quotation marks tell us that it is not really a carbine. So, what is a carbine? It is a rifle with a rather short barrel – a smaller gun (or so Wikipedia tells me!). I think that Butcher’s used the name “Carbine” to indicate that their cameras were smaller than their competitors’ cameras.

The body is made from steel as far as I can see, covered with black leather. After 105 years, the leather has deteriorated somewhat and the steels exposed and a bit rusty. The lens door is aluminium painted gloss black. The insides of the camera is painted matt black. The camera measures 130 by 72 by 25 mm when closed and by 90 mm when open for use. It weighs 325 g.


To focus the lens closer than infinity, there is a radial lever on the front right of the baseboard

As was usual 100 years ago, the camera folds up when not in use. To open the camera, you press a small stud on the top. There are no springs involved so the user has to pull the baseboard down by hand. The baseboard is held in place by two chrome struts. The lens now needs to be pulled out to its working position. Usually, this is done by pulling two chrome studs under the lens.

Lugs with missing knobs

These are missing on my camera (there is a price too pay for being 105 years old!) but the lugs the studs fit in are still there. One of the lugs is spring loaded and presses in towards the centre to free the lens. A further problem with my camera is a missing stud on the baseboard behind the lens. This locates the lens when the camera is folded up. The problem here is that the shutter/lens assembly comes away from the guide rails when the camera is closed. So, when opening the camera, the shutter needs to be relocated onto the guide rails.

P1050123When pulling the lens out, it locates on a further stud, putting the lens in the infinity focus position. To focus the lens closer than infinity, there is a radial lever on the front right of the baseboard. When moved fully forward, the lens is focused at three feet. Precise focus is not possible but this was not important as the user would only have had 6 by 6 cm contact prints made which would not show up defects in focus.


P1050126The shutter is a Lukos II shutter which is only (as far as I know) found on Butcher’s cameras made by Ica. It would seem to be identical to the shutter on my Ica Icarette I but with a much cheaper dial. I suspect that this is either an Ica Automat A or an Ica Automat X. Both are dial-set shutters (as all leaf shutters were until the end of the 1920s). Speeds available are 1/25, 1/59, 1/100, B and T. For my modern readers, B keeps the shutter open while the release lever is held down and T will leave the shutter open until the release lever is pressed a second time. The dial is cruder on this carbine (just a serrated disc) compared to the Icarette’s dial but all other details are the same – shutter release lever details, cable release socket, size and position of fixing screws are exactly the same – see the photos. The shutter is a simple Everset variety – there is no need to cock the shutter first.

The lens is an Aldis Uno which is a triplet lens with the two front elements cemented together. In 1913, these were not coated so care would be needed to avoid light sources in the image. Aldis were a British company who are perhaps better know for their military Aldis Lamp which was used to signal at night in Morse Code. Aldis ended up being bought up by the Rank Organisation and became Rank Aldis and were known for their projector lenses.


This Uno lens has a decent reputation and in some versions, the front doublet could be removed and replaced by a long-focus alternative. I am not sure if that was the case here. The maximum aperture of this lens is f/7.7 which was fairly small for the day (the Ica Novar equivalent had f/6.8). The aperture scale is the modern one of f/11, f/16, f/22 and f/32 (the Ica version uses the older series of f/6.6, f/9, f/12.5, f/18, f/25, f/36). The f/7.7 does not form a part of any aperture series and is just the maximum aperture that the design produced. The iris diaphragm actually opens well beyond f/7.7 but at that point the aperture is defined by the fitting holding the rear lens element rather than by the iris diaphragm.

Radial focus lever

The iris diaphragm has nine blades each of which is curved giving an aperture that is very nearly circular – good news for aficionados of bokeh.

The focal length of the lens is three inches – British Empire was still very anti-metric in 1913 and this is a British lens. Three inches is 75 mm which is normal for 6 by 6 cm negatives (and the same focal length as on the Ica Icarette I version of this camera even though that one is expressed in cm).

P1050131The back opens by a small slide catch on the right hand edge off the camera. The whole back comes away in one piece. In the centre of the back is the red window for reading frame numbers off the film backing paper. This has a swivelling cover made from brass to prevent stray light from fogging the film.

P1050121Inside, there is a chamber on the right to hold the new film. This is not securely held in place. There is a curved spring steel spring to stop the spool from rattling about. The take-up spool goes on the left – again, the spool is not held securely in place – there is the same steel spring as on the other side. In order to move the film, there is a hinged key on the left hand top of the camera which locates in the slot on the top of the take-up spool. On my camera, the actual key part you hold onto is missing meaning that if I was to try to use this camera, I would have no way to advance the film between shots.

Missing film advance key

Foth Folder

My criterion for buying my old cameras is that they must interest me. I prefer them to be in working condition but it is not essential. In good cosmetic condition is nice but so is ‘well loved’. In this case, ‘Interesting’ is the maker – Foth. Previously, I knew of Foth from the Foth Derby camera which has a very high reputation (yet I do not own one!). This Foth folder dates from the very early 1930s as far as I can ascertain. In many ways it is the same as many folding cameras made by many makers around the world.My criterion for buying my old cameras is that they must interest me. I prefer them to be in working condition but it is not essential. In good cosmetic condition is nice but so is ‘well loved’. In this case, ‘Interesting’ is the maker – Foth. Previously, I knew of Foth from the Foth Derby camera which has a very high reputation (yet I do not own one!). This Foth folder dates from the very early 1930s as far as I can ascertain. In many ways it is the same as many folding cameras made by many makers around the world.

P1050094Dating is hard as there are no serial numbers anywhere. Many features – iconometer for viewfinder, presence of a Brilliant finder, dial-set shutter, slide focusing rather than helical focusing – point to pre-1930 (although pre-1930 can extend into the mid-1930s). Even with those features, the detail of the iconometer suggest earlier rather than later – the eye-piece is a pointer rather than a frame. Yet, the Interweb tells me that having two knobs to extend the bellows means post-1930 on Foth cameras and the presence of the iconometer means post 1931. So, if I am to believe the Interweb, Foth were selling a very old-fashioned camera in the 1930s. I have no evidence on the camera to be able to form my own opinion here.


lens: Foth Doppel

focal length:  105 mm

apertures: f/4.5 to f/36 (Stoize scale)

focus range: 1.5 m to infinity

lens fitting: fixed

shutter: Foth everset

speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T

flash: No!

film size: 120

The maximum aperture of f/4.5 also suggests a later date but the aperture scale – 4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.5, 18, 25, 36 – suggests an earlier date. I am not sure when the scale used here finally disappeared but my other cameras of this sort of date seem to have changed over to the modern scale around 1930 – the actual dates vary from maker to maker (Zeiss early 1900s, Voigtlander at the very end of the 1930s, Leitz in the early 1940s). All in all, I think I can safely say that this camera was made before 1940 and probably 1931 to 1935.

P1050100The name ‘Foth’ only appears once on the camera. It is embedded in the leatherette on the baseboard/lens door. There is no model name or reference number anywhere. I assume this means that Foth only made the one folding camera model. The rear of the camera has the initials ‘H.E.F.’ stencilled in white on a scroll background – this will be either the retailer or the owner. I tend to think it is the initials of the owner as retailers usually rely on stickers on the inside.

P1050086The camera measures 163 by 80 by 34 mm when closed and by 135 mm when open. It weighs 578 g. While the camera is closed, there are few controls apparent. On one long edge are the film advance key at one end, the viewfinder eyepiece/pointer in the middle and the baseboard/lens door release button near the other end. On the other long edge, at the end, is the tripod socket which is the 3/8 inch version. Near the middle is a sliding button to release the back for film loading. This part is very like a Braun Paxette – the back, the base and part of the front on both sides come away in one piece.

P1050087On the back is only the red window for advancing the film. On the front of the camera is the hinged baseboard/lens door. While closed, this has a folding foot to enable the camera to sit upright on a level surface. Near the hinge is a second tripod socket. Again, this is a 3/8 inch thread.

P1050085P1050084The whole camera os covered with a thick, cardboard based, leatherette. This has been very damp at some point and the cardboard backing has seriously buckled. The leatherette on the hinged baseboard has the legend ‘Foth’ embossed on it.


P1050092Pressing the stud on long side causes the baseboard to spring open. The spring is strong enough to open this all the way without any help. All that is required of the user is to click the baseboard down to finally locate the struts securely.  As an older design camera, the shutter/lens assembly does not move and needs to be pulled out by hand – two chromed studs are provided as a hand-hold. Pulling the shutter/lens out to the stop position will leave the lens focused at infinity. To focus nearer, there is a metal slide on the front right-hand side of the baseboard. This has an ivorine scale which extends from infinity to 1.5 metres. Fine focus is not possible but this will not have mattered as the user will only have had contact prints made and focus defects would not have been visible.

Logo is FCFC

The shutter is an everset shutter made by Foth. It bears the logo ‘FCFC’ for ‘F.C. Foth Company’. This offers speeds of 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 seconds plus B and T (B keeps the Sutter open for as long as you keep your finger on the shutter release. T opens the shutter which will stay open until you press the shutter release a second time). The lens is a Doppel which is German for double and indicates a two element lens. This will be better than the single meniscus lens used on very cheap cameras but nowhere as good as a triplet as used on cheaper decent cameras or an upmarket Tessar with its four elements. There is a socket for a standard cable release just below the shutter release lever. There is no delay action lever on this camera.


There are two viewfinders provided. The first is a small brilliant finder which will only work in good but not bright light. When the camera is folded up this brilliant finder collapses to fit into the tight space available for it in the camera body. I find these finders just about impossible to use. This one is in good condition – usually they are made from steel that has had chromium plated directly onto the steel which is usually too rusted after 50 to 100 years to be usable. The second finder is an iconometer (I think the name ‘Iconometer’ might have been a registered trademark of Zeiss Ikon but I am still going to use it). This consists of a large wire frame attached to the side of the shutter housing. In use, it hinges out to the left. This wire frame measures 60 mm by 90 mm which is the size of the negative. On the camera body is a folding pointer which the user has to centre in the frame. This is not going to be precise but will have been more than good enough for holiday landscapes and beach portraits.

To open the camera to fit film or remove a finished film, there is a sliding knob in the

‘Z” for closed is just visible in the bottom of the slot

centre of one long side. Sliding this as far as it will go, you can pull the two long edges apart, revealing the innards. There are the letters Z and A to indicate open and closed in German (Z = closed, A = open) but these are barely visible. The camera body and the camera back are made of aluminium which is a rather soft metal. Over the years there has been some distortion of both body and back which makes opening the camera fairly hard. I would think that when new, this would have been easy. The two spools (new film and the empty take-up


spool) are held

in place by a black painted brass strip. This does not hold the spools very securely and I find it necessary to keep a finger on each spool as I refit the back. Might get easier with practice.


Demaria-Lapierre Dehel folding camera.

This camera looks very like a 1930s Zeiss Ikon Nettar or Ikonta camera. Looking at the <a href=””>collection-appareils</a> site, there is a chronology of Dehel cameras. Looking at the specific features of my camera – f/3.5 Manar lens, Gauthier shutter, knob film advance, the English writing on the shutter fascia, design of the viewfinder – it would appear to be a 1948 version. 1948 is still fairly soon after the destruction of WWII so it is not surprising to find a French company modernising a 1930s design rather than designing a 1948 camera – Voigtlander and Zeiss Ikon were still producing 1930s designs at this point.This camera looks very like a 1930s Zeiss Ikon Nettar or Ikonta camera. Looking at the collection-appareils site, there is a chronology of Dehel cameras. Looking at the specific features of my camera – f/3.5 Manar lens, Gauthier shutter, knob film advance, the English writing on the shutter fascia, design of the viewfinder – it would appear to be a 1948 version. 1948 is still fairly soon after the destruction of WWII so it is not surprising to find a French company modernising a 1930s design rather than designing a 1948 camera – Voigtlander and Zeiss Ikon were still producing 1930s designs at this point.


A description: well, it’s a medium format folding camera taking 6 x 4.5 cm negatives. Superficially, it looks quite like a Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520 or Nettar 515 (or Bob 510). The top plate is sparse. Centrally, there is a folding, reverse Newtonian viewfinder. The viewfinder is one of the features with which to date the camera. Early Dehel cameras has a simple wire frame finder. This camera has a moulded, nickel-plated brass, front piece to the finder. The finder is in portrait orientation as the 6 x 4.5 negative is naturally in this mode. However, turning the camera on its side and using your left hand for the shutter release button is easy enough. Turning the other way is possible as well but your right hand fouls the viewfinder. The camera measures 118 mm by 78 mm by 40 mm when closed and by 84 m when open. It weighs 444 g.

P1050079On the front edge of the top plate to the right of the viewfinder is a small nickel-plated button. This releases the lens door for use. The lens door has a fairly hefty spring and puts itself into shooting position but needs an initial helping hand. I suspect that this is an age thing. On the other side of the viewfinder is the shutter release button. This operates through a couple of levers on the shutter release on the shutter housing – very de rigueur since the mid 1930s until internal coupling arrived in the early 1950s. This shutter release button is also nickel plated brass and has a nice large top surface.

The front of the camera is plain apart from the lens door. In the centre of the lens door is a folding foot of nickel plated brass. This foot is plain apart from an embossed edge. This is another dating feature as earlier Dehel cameras had the legend “DEHEL” stamped on the foot. When the lens door is opened – it hinges on the left – the shutter/lens assembly is held firmly in place by chromed struts. These struts are very reminiscent of Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520 struts. To close the lens door you need to press the outer most part of the strut, near the top, towards the body. This partially folds the struts and the door can be pushed up into place.

The lens is a Manar anastigmat with a focal length of 75 mm and a maximum aperture of f/3.5. Collection-appareils has the lens as being a triplet. Minimum aperture is f/23 which is a bit strange as f/22 is a standard aperture and the difference between f/22 and f/23 is too small to be worth worrying about. Focus range is from a bit closer than four feet to infinity. The focus scale is in feet, indication an export version.


The shutter is made by Gauthier – there is no model name indicated but there is the Gauthier logo on the shutter fascia. I think the shutter to be a modified Prontor II. The speed range is from 1  second to 1/250 seconds plus B (but no T). Perceived wisdom (ie the Interweb) says that Prontor II shutters only went to 1/200 in the flash synchronised version but I have seen a Certo Durata camera from the late 1940s with a Prontor II shutter that went to 1/250 seconds.

P1050078However, this shutter has been modified as it has Demaria-Lapierre’s Autocal feature. This is very neat. The system assumes that you are using 25 ASA film – very slow by today’s standards but common in the 1940s and earlier. This is really a mechanical version of the Sunny 16 rule. There are four windows in the shutter fascia marked ‘Bright sun’, ‘Hazy sun’, ‘Cloudy bright’ and ‘Cloudy dull’. Each of these displays a recommended aperture. As you change the shutter speed these recommended apertures change. Example: At 1/25 seconds shutter speed, the recommended apertures are 16, 11, 8 and 6.3. Changing the shutter speed to 1/100 seconds, the recommended apertures are 8, 6.3, 4.5 and 3.4. A further change in shutter speed too 1/250 seconds gives 6.3, 4.5, 3.5 and ‘NO’ – ‘NO’ indicating that you should not attempt to use 1/250 seconds in cloudy dull weather. As I said – very neat.

The shutter also sports a self-timer which barely works – as always, the standard advice is to not use the self-timer on old cameras as you run the risk of wrecking the shutter. The shutter is synchronised for flash with the provision of a PC connector – there is no indication as to whether this is X or M sync. There is no way to connect a cable release – neither on the shutter housing nor on the body release.

P1050076The bottom of the camera has, at one end, a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod boss. At the other end of the baseplate is the film advance knob. Again, this helps with dating as earlier models had a film advance key rather than a knob. The back of the camera is plain apart from the red window for reading the frame numbers while advancing the film. This has a metal swivel cover marked ‘MADE IN FRANCE’.

Inside, there is little to comment on. The film spools are held in place by springs. There are no spool cradle here nor any devices to locate the spool apart from the key that locates in the end of the take-up spool for turning the spool when advancing the film. The outside of the camera is covered with black leatherette with the metal edges of the body being painted gloss black.


Cocarette 220 or 514/15

I have titled this article ‘Cocarette 514/15’ but I am far from sure as to the camera’s identity. It is certainly a Zeiss Ikon camera as the Zeiss Ikon logo appears twice on the camera. It looks like a Contessa Nettel Cocarette – complete with the film cassette loading system – but there is no model number or name anywhere that I can see. Both model name and model number were usually embossed in the leatherette and it is quite possible that age has removed the embossing. The leather carrying handle is missing and it is possible that this carried the model name/number. The design of the chrome struts holding the lens door is also the same as the struts on other Contessa Nettel cameras and very different to the struts on either Icarette or Nettar cameras so I am going to call this a Cocarette 220 (or 514/15) until someone shows me different.

“This is a very large folding camera – it takes size 116 film which gives a negative size of 65 by 105 mm.”

front of camera – closed

lens: Frontar

focal length:  140 mm

apertures: f/9 to f/32

focus range: 2 m to infinity

lens fitting: fixed

shutter: Ernemann leaf shutter

speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T

flash: No provision

film size: 116

This is a very large folding camera – it takes size 116 film which gives a negative size of 65 by 105 mm. This is from the day when people usually had contact prints done and the negative size was the print size – large negative = large print.

Zeiss Ikon started manufacturing in 1926 and stopped making Cocarette cameras in 1930 so that gives us a time span for this camera. Normally, with Zeiss Ikon cameras, we can look at the serial number and use this to gain a close-ish date but this camera does not have a Zeiss Ikon serial number (letter + five numbers) but rather a Contessa Nettel one (six numbers). This is actually useful as Zeiss Ikon fairly quickly used their own serial numbers on all production and the continued use of a Contessa Nettel number system suggest the camera was made soon after the merger that created Zeiss Ikon – i.e. 1926 or 1927. Lens and shutter serial numbers are useful in pegging down the date but the cheaper lens and shutter used on this camera do not have serial numbers. Using information about other Contessa Nettel cameras on the Interweb, I can peg this camera’s serial number (436466) down to late 1925 or early 1926. This is pre-Zeiss Ikon but they used up existing supplies of body castings and such.

“The camera is in poor cosmetic condition – it is about 90 years old – and has clearly been stored somewhere damp as there is a lot of mildew on the insides of the bellows and a fair bit of corrosion of the metal parts.”

rear of camera

The camera is in poor cosmetic condition – it is about 90 years old – and has clearly been stored somewhere damp as there is a lot of mildew on the insides of the bellows and a fair bit of corrosion of the metal parts. The body is made from cast aluminium with some steel parts. The body measures 195 by 105 mm and  by 40 mm when closed. When open, the lens extends to 160 mm. It weighs 826 g. To open the camera for use you need to press a small brass button on one of the sides.

lens door open
lens pulled forward

The lens door/baseboard then springs open. With my camera, it  does not click into place as it opens but I suspect that it did when new. The lens then needs to be pulled forward by pulling on the chrome stud in front of the lens. There is only one central stud – every other folding camera that needs the lens pulling forward that I have seen have two studs. The lens will stop when it reaches the infinity focus position. The lens is connected to the camera body by leatherette bellows which are in poor condition on my camera.

lens and shutter detail – see “EW” logo

The lens is a Frontar lens which was made by C. P. Goerz (one of the partner companies in Zeiss Ikon) and is a doublet (two glass elements) which is a cheap option. It has a focal length of 14 mm. The maximum aperture is f/9. The aperture is set by an iris diaphragm which will open to well beyond f/9 but there is a Waterhouse stop behind the diaphragm to prevent a wider aperture being used. A rough and ready measurement of the entrance pupil using a ruler suggests a maximum aperture of f/7 or thereby (formula is focal length divided by entrance pupil equals f/no). I suspect that this is related to the low quality of the Frontar lens being used – f/9 being the widest aperture consistent with usable image quality.

The shutter is anonymous but it is marked EW in a monogram. It looks a bit like a Derval but that would be marked with the Gauthier logo rather than with EW. I suspect that the EW is for Ernemann-Werke. The 1928 Zeiss Ikon catalogue offers the Cocarette 220 with a  variety of lenses in ‘three speed shutter’ – is this an Ernemann shutter left over from before the Zeiss Ikon merger? Speeds are 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 plus B and T. The shutter is an everset design – there is no need to cock the shutter before taking the picture. There is provision for a threaded cable release.

focus scale

The viewfinder is a brilliant finder which I always find very difficult to use. Focus is by sliding the lens/shutter housing forward. There are variations on how this was done before the advent of helical focusing. On more expensive cameras, there was a lever on the lens board which moved radially. This allowed for easier, smoother action and the possibility to set the focus between marked positions. This camera has no lever and only a few preset distances are available: 2, 3, 5, 10 and infinity. I suspect that the distances are meters rather than feet. When opening the camera it defaults to infinity focus. For closer focus, there is a round tab beneath the shutter housing on the left (as when using the camera) which needs to be pressed inwards while the lens/shutter sis moved forwards to the appropriate position. As the negative was never going to be enlarged, critical focus was not an issue.

film cassette

Loading the film is by using the cassette. This is one of the reasons for me thinking that this is a Cocarette as this was a favoured method for Contessa Nettel. Rather than the back of the camera opening on a hinge, with this camera one side pulls off the camera bringing the film cassette with it. the roll of film is then loaded into the cassette and the cassette then reinserted into the camera. I cannot comment  on how this system works compared to the more usual opening back system as the film size (116) required for this camera is  no longer available. Because of this cassette system, there is (and cannot be) no pressure plate to keep the film flat in front of the film gate.

Using the cassette: the base of the cassette is the side of the camera which is made from cast aluminium. The main body of the cassette is pressed steel sheet painted black. The bulk of the pressed steel forms the film gate. Just inside the steel part of the film gate is a brass sheet insert which forms the actual opening against which the film sits. This opening measures 65 by 105 mm.

spool holder

The take-up spool fits into the holder that has a film advance key on the outside. To make fitting the empty spool easier the end of the spool holder hinges out of the way. There is a chrome spring to keep the film taut on the spool. The new film fits into the spool holder at the other end – again the end of the spool holder is hinged and there is a chrome spring to keep the film taut.

As the film is pulled across the film gate, it pass over a chrome roller. It then needs to slide between the pressed steel frame and the brass sheet insert. This keeps the film flat in the absence of a pressure plate.

camera body without the film cassette

Once the film is loaded into the cassette, the cassette needs to be put back into the camera. There are deliberate gaps in the cassette and holes in the camera body which will allow air flow when the camera is opened for use and the bellows extended. These are to prevent a partial vacuum forming which might pull the film into a bow.

cleaning access plus cover

The big drawback to not having the back of the camera opening is the difficulty of cleaning inside the camera. To allow for this, there is a removable disc on the back of the camera. This turns  about 45° anti-clockwise to remove. The red window for the frame numbers is by this removable disc. There are two tripod bosses – one on the lens door and one on the side of the camera. These are both 3/8 inch Whitworth threads.

Crystar 15

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">This is a Japanese folding camera made for export – the distance scale is in feet. There is no country of manufacture anywhere on the camera which is rather unusual for an exported camera. The maker is Crystar Optl Co as marked on the shutter housing. It is very like a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517 or 518 from the early 1950s. My particular camera is not in very good condition. The <a href="; target="_blank" rel="noopener">bellows</a> have collapsed and have pinprick holes in them, the catch for the back is almost detached from the camera body and the shutter has a sticking problem. I will deal with these in more detail in my general description.This is a Japanese folding camera made for export – the distance scale is in feet. There is no country of manufacture anywhere on the camera which is rather unusual for an exported camera. The maker is Crystar Optl Co as marked on the shutter housing. It is very like a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517 or 518 from the early 1950s. My particular camera is not in very good condition. The bellows have collapsed and have pinprick holes in them, the catch for the back is almost detached from the camera body and the shutter has a sticking problem. I will deal with these in more detail in my general description.

P1050016lens: C-Master
focal length:  75 mm
apertures: f/3.5 to f/22
focus range: 3 feet to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: OKK leaf shutter
speeds: 1 second to 1/200 seconds
flash: PC socket
film size: 120

There are also some neat innovations. There is a permanently fixed mask inside the camera so that the user can choose between 6×6 or 6×4.5 negatives on 120 roll from. There are two, clearly marked, red windows on the back for whichever format is in use.

“There are no guidelines in the viewfinder to allow the user to distinguish between the 6×6 and 6×4.5 options.”

P1050019As is my wont, I will I will now give a description of the camera with photographs illustrating the main features.

“The lens is a C-Master (of which I have never heard before) of 75 mm focal length and maximum aperture of f/3.5.”

The top plate is made from satin-plated pressed brass with a strip of black leatherette. There is no corrosion of the plating metal so I assume that it is chromium rather than nickel. There is a raised portion in the centre housing the viewfinder. This is the typical 1950s small viewfinder with a circular eyepiece which is 5 mm in diameter. The front of the viewfinder is 10 mm square. There are no guidelines in the viewfinder to allow the user to distinguish between the 6×6 and 6×4.5 options. This viewfinder is very hard to use while wearing glasses and not particularly easy to use without glasses. On top of the viewfinder is the accessory shoe. This has no electrical contacts at this age. In front of the accessory shoe is the legend ‘Crystar’ in Italic script.

P1050018On the right of the top plate is a circular bright-plated disc. This is a part of the spool holder and has no practical function on the outside of the camera. Hard by this is the shutter release button. Again, this is bright plated. It is not threaded for a cable release – this function is supplied on the shutter housing.

On the left of the viewfinder is a second bright-plated disc. this one is the film advance knob. It turns clockwise (as indicated by a red arrow on its top) on a ratchet – it is not possible to turn it the wrong way. By the film advance knob is a second button. This one is the release for the lens door on the front of the camera.

P1050021While the camera is closed, the lens/shutter is behind a square door which protrudes from the front. As mentioned just above, this is opened by a button on the top left of the top plate. When pressing this button, the door is opened by a spring. On my camera, the door does not open all the way on its own – the last part requires manual help.

“The shutter is made by OKK and looks exactly like a Gauthier Prontor-S shutter.”

When opened, the lens door becomes a baseboard for the lens. This is held firmly in place by a chrome strut on either side. The lens/shutter is held firmly in place with the controls visible and accessible on the top of the housing.

P1050020The lens is a C-Master (of which I have never heard before) of 75 mm focal length and maximum aperture of f/3.5. There is a ‘c’ marked on the lens bezel to indicate that the lens is coated – also evidenced by the blue tint of the glass. The lens is front-cell focusing which means that the lens focusses by just the front piece of glass moving, the rest of the lens staying put. This is not as good as focusing with the whole lens moving but I doubt that any users would have noticed any difference.

“In any case, the standard advice is to not use these devices on old shutters as any defects here will wreck the shutter mechanism.”

P1050022The shutter is made by OKK and looks exactly like a Gauthier Prontor-S shutter. Shutter speeds are from 1 second to 1/200 seconds. Apertures are in the standard range from f/3.5 to f/22 – quite a good range for the date. There is a silver circle marked on the aperture range. This is used in conjunction with the distance scale where there is a faint vertical mark between 20 and 30 feet. Setting the aperture and distance to these marks gives a focus ranger from 15 feet to infinity and obviates the need to focus for landscapes.

On this type of shutter, it is necessary to manually cock the shutter before taking the picture. There is a lever with a round tip protruding from the top of the shutter housing. This needs to be pulled down to the right (that is right when holding the camera for use). On my camera, doing this partially opens the shutter – the shutter problem I mentioned above.  There are two ways of fixing this. The first is to take the shutter mechanism apart and clean it. Experience has taught me that this wrecks the shutter (I am not an engineer!). The other way is to sit quietly for an hour or so and repeatedly fire the shutter a few hundred times which is what I shall be doing shortly.

There is a red lever beneath the shutter housing. This is the self-timer which should delay the firing of the shutter by around eight to ten seconds. On my camera, this attempts to fire the shutter, but after thirty seconds or so it seems to run out of stream. In any case, the standard advice is to not use these devices on old shutters as any defects here will wreck the shutter mechanism. Also on the shutter housing – on the right hand side while using the camera – is a threaded socket for a standard cable release. On the other side is a PC socket for attaching a flash gun. There are no synch options for X or M flash.

To put the camera away again you press a tab (marked ‘COC’) on either side at the top of the struts and then lift the lens door.

Inside is much as you would expect from a roll film camera. The new film sits on the right and the take-unspool is on the left. The one unusual feature is a hinged mask allowing the user to choose between 6×6 or 6×4.5 negatives. This choice has to be made before the film is loaded into the camera. The mask consists of a hinged flap on either side of the film gate each of which masks 7.5 mm of the 6×6 frame. To use the camera as a 6×6 camera, the two flaps must be swung away from the film gate into the recesses for the film spools. To use the camera as a 6×4.5 camera, the two flaps must be swung out of the spool recesses and across the film gate. When using the camera as 6×6, you advance the film using the lower red window for the frame numbers and for 6×4.5 you use the upper red window. Both these red windows have a sliding shutter to keep errant light out of the camera when the red window is not in use.

Mask flaps in intermediate position

Because of the state of the bellows and the shutter blades, I shall not be trying this camera with film.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

This is a very small “folding” camera from the German firm of Contessa Nettel. Contessa Nettel was formed in 1919 by the amalgamation of Contessa and Nettel camera companies who were two of the many small camera manufacturers in Germany at this time. In 1926, Contessa Nettel merged with Ernemann, C.P. Goerz and Ica to form Zeiss Ikon – who continued to produce this model camera for a few years.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

lens:  Acromat
focal length:  75 mm
apertures: f/11, f/18, f/22, f/32
focus range:  fixed
lens fitting: fixed
shutter:  Gauthier Acro
speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/75, B, T
flash:  no facility
film size:  127


Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

This bit of history gives me a date range for this camera. It was made after Contessa Nettel formed in 1919 (before then it would have been a Nettel Piccolette) but before Zeiss Ikon formed in 1926. So –  a date range of 1919 to 1926. In the absence of serial number information this is the best I can do (there is a serial number but I can find no data relating numbers to years). However, looking at other Contessa Nettel cameras of known date, it would seem that the serial number of my camera (294406) is nearer to 1919 than to 1926.

When closed, the camera measures 120 by 67 by 32 mm and weighs 247 g with  no film loaded. The camera opens for use by pulling the lens board forward – it is released by a small chrome button on the base. The lens board is supported on “lazy tongs” struts – see photos above – and so is not really a folding camera (hence my use of quotation marks in the opening sentence of this article). This reveals a weakness in this camera as the lens board is made from a piece of aluminium sheet which is prone to bending while pulling the lens forward. On the other hand, this camera is over 90 years old so it cannot be a profound defect.

The “lazy tong” struts are chrome plated and, with my camera, in very good condition. At first glance, these struts do not look very robust but they hold the lens board very firmly – even after 90+ years.

The lower part of the lens board curves in towards the camera body and acts as a foot so the camera can be stood on a flat surface. This would be more useful with the higher specification models with a self-timer which would allow the photographer to be included in the picture.

My particular Piccolette is the bottom of the range. It has a simple, everset, shutter from Gauthier – the Acro. this offers three speeds (1/25, 1/50, 1/75 seconds) and B and T. The lens is a simple meniscus lens behind the shutter. The position of the lens gave me the initial impression that the lens was missing as the iris diaphragm is exposed at the front – the first time I have seen this. Searching on the Interweb has shown many images of Piccolettes that are the same so not a fault.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

There are four apertures available, selected by a lever beneath the lens. These are the sequence of f/11, f/18, f/22 and f/32. This diaphragm has seven blades giving an almost circular aperture. Above the lens is the shutter speed dial. At this age, speed selectors are always dials above the shutter housing. These are known as dial-set shutters. This dial bears the shutter name “Acro” (which is Greek for ‘height’). The selected speed is the one at the bottom of the dial – there is a small index mark to show this. B

Beside the lens is the logo for the shutter maker – a circle with the letters AGC in a three-bladed shutter. AGC stands for Alfred Gauthier Calmbach. The shutter is an Acro shutter and it offers speeds of 11/25, 1/50 and 1/75 as well as B and T.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

Above the shutter housing on the right is one of two viewfinders. This is a brilliant finder which I always find very hard to use. The eyepiece measures 10 mm square and needs to be around 200 mm or so from your eye. This gives a rather small and faint image to look at. This finder (the bulk of which is behind the lens board) collapses when the camera closes. On the opposite side of the lens board at the top is the maker’s logo – Contessa Nettel and the letters CN all within two circles and a square.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

Below the shutter housing is the model name – Piccolette – in Italic script. Attached just behind the lens board on the right (or left when using the camera) is the second viewfinder. This consists of a wire frame that pulls out. The eyepiece for this second viewfinder slides out of a housing on the back of the camera. This eyepiece is missing on my camera – more later.

Also behind the lens board, on the right (or top) when using the camera is the shutter release lever. This is not as accessible as it could be and compromises a steady grip on the camera. Further around the shutter housing on the right is a socket threaded for a standard cable release.

Between the lens board and the camera body are the bellows. These are made of leatherette and appear to be in very good condition. I can tell they are leatherette and not leather by looking at the inside which is clearly fabric.

On the back of the camera is a removable disc. This has three functions. The first is that it contains a red window to allow the user to see the frame numbers printed on the back of the film. The second function is that it contains a slide. Sliding this out produces the eyepiece for the second viewfinder mentioned above and also exposes the red window mentioned earlier. When the camera is not in use and this slide is slid in, it covers the red window to prevent light entering and fogging the film. The third function of the disc is that it can be removed. This leaves a 30 mm hole in the back of the camera. This gives access to the lens for cleaning and repair and, if need be, for collimating the lens.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

To access the inside of the camera to load or remove the film, the top edge of the camera body is removed together with a cradle to hold the film and take-up spool. The catch for this is a round disc marked A and Z.  A (Auf) is open and Z (Zu) is closed. Turn the disc so A is against the mark and the edge pulls away – see photos.

The cradle has two spring-loaded spool holders. The take-up spool fits under the winding key and the new film fits at the opposite side, fitting into a leather pad rather than a metal fitting. Between the two spool holders is the film gate. This measures 65 by 40 mm and will give eight negatives on a roll of 127 film. On either side of the film gate is a chrome plated roller. On the frame beside the film gate the last three digits of the serial number are repeated.

When replacing the film cradle with the new film, the edge of the cradle and film have to fit into a fairly narrow slit between body the locking plate. This locking plate carries the full serial number  – 294406. The outside finish of the camera is black paint with a semi-mat crinkle finish. The camera was supplied with a leatherette case embossed with the name Piccolette. I have this case with my camera and it is in remarkably good condition.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

My camera has a round black and brass plaque on one end with the retailer’s name on it. It is “Anton Podworsky O.Y. A.B”. This retailer was based in Helsinki, Finland. “O.Y.” is the Finnish (strictly, Suomi) equivalent of the British “Ltd or USA’s “Inc”. It is literally “Osakeyhtio”. The “A.B.” is “Akiebolag” which is the Swedish for O.Y. (Ltd and Inc). The use of the Swedish A.B. does not imply any Swedish connection but is merely because Swedish is the second official language in Finland after Suomi. I think this plaque adds to  the collectability of the camera – I like anything that tells me about the actual camera I have rather than just generic facts.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

Voigtländer Bessa 46

A folding medium format camera from Voigtlander from 1939


This is a pre-war (pre-1939 – 45 war, that is) Bessa camera from Voigtlander. I can almost date the camera from the lens serial number – 2,518,575. When Voigtlander restarted production in 1945 they were using lens serial numbers starting with 2,7xx,xxx so this camera is well before 1945. It is also stamped with the word ‘Germany’ on the leatherette. That effectively puts a latest date of September 1939 on the camera as this is clearly an export camera. In 1937, Voigtlander serial numbers reached 2,XXX,XXX and this is 500,000 beyond that so this is most probably from the last production in 1939.

lens: Voigtar
focal length:  75 mm
apertures: f/3.5 to f/16
focus range: 3 feet to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Prontor II
speeds: 1 second to 1/175 seconds
flash: no
film size: 120

bessa 1The camera is in nearly new condition. There is a very small amount of black paint missing and some of the corners of the leatherette are lifting. This is almost certainly glued in place with shellac which has hardened over the last 78 years. I am not going to bother regluing it. The other outstanding thing about this camera is that the hinged yellow filter is in place and in good condition. Every other Bessa I have ever seen has this filter missing.

The description:

The camera measures 133 by 80 bob 35 mm when closed and by 97 mm when open for use. It weighs 480 g. Being a camera of its age, there are few controls. On the top three items 1) depth of field calculator 2) falling viewfinder 3) film advance key.

bessa 61) the depth of field calculator is simple to use. You rotate the outer ring until the distance to your subject is at the front by the black arrow. You then look down the centre to find your chosen aperture and follow the curved line both left and right to the outer ring. The numbers at this point give the nearest and farthest distances that will be in acceptable focus. Example: you’re focused on 15 feet and are using an aperture of f/11. When 15 is by the black arrow, the silver line for f/11 shows 9 feet (Actually an unnumbered mark between eight and 10) on the left and just short of 60 feet on the right. Acceptable focus will be from 9 feet to 40-ish feet. Also included are Voigtlander’s standard indications for portrait (a triangle) and the group (a circle).

If you want to know the hyperfocal distance for landscape work, set infinity against the chosen aperture on the right and read the required focus distance from the pointer at the front.

The viewfinder folds flat in order to allow the camera to be carried in a pocket. To open it, lift the back of the viewfinder and both parts will snap into place. Both parts contain glass lens and it is necessary to place the rear of then viewfinder very close to your eye. This is nowhere near as accurate as composing with an SLR camera, but is fine for all but the most critical use.

On the left is the film advance key. This also is hinged when not in use. This must be used in conjunction with the red window (more later). This key also acts as a release for the film take up spool by being lifted up while film is being removed and a new empty spool is put in place.

The front of the camera has a bowed hinged door cover the lens when just not in use. This has an ornate an ‘V’ in the centre. There was also a recessed lever which does nothing while the camera is closed. This door is opened by pressing a recessed button on the base of the camera. When pressed, the door opens most of the way. Zeiss Ikon and  Balda cameras snap fully open but Voigtlander is a gentler company and it is necessary to fully open the door by hand. All my Voigtlander folders are like this (five of them) so I think it must be intentional. As the door opens, the lens comes forward on bellows. When the door is fully open, the lens is rigidly held in place at the right distance and parallel to the film.

bessa 4The first thing to notice here is the yellow filter. Voigtlander supplied these fixed to the front of the lens with many of their cameras but they get broken off. This one is intact which together with the general finish of the camera suggests that it was never used very much. The filter is labelled ‘Voigtlander Moment’. For my younger readers, the purpose of the filter is the block some of the blue light in the sky making it darker and so making the clouds stand out more. This is only of any use with black-and-white film, of course. With colour film, the whole picture will come out yellow! As the filter is blocking some of the light, it is necessary to increase exposure slightly.

bessa 3The lens is Voigtlander’s Voigtar lens. This is a triplet lens (three pieces of glass) with a maximum aperture of f/3.5. Its focal length is 75 mm. The negative size with this camera is 45×60 mm and the diagonal of the lens is 75 mm – the lens is a ‘normal’ lens for this film format. The lens will focus from 3 feet to infinity. Incidentally, this is a front cell focusing camera – only the front piece of glass moves to focus the lens which is not ideal but is a lot cheaper to make.

The shutter is a Prontor II made by Gauthier. This shutter has speeds from one second to 1/175 seconds as well as B and T. B is short for Bulb and keeps the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is depressed. T is Time and the shutter release opens the shutter which stays open until the shutter release iOS pressed a second time. The aperture scale on the top of the shutter housing runs from f/3.5 to f/16. The lever actually goes quite a long way past f/16 and must be approaching f/22.

bessa 8The shutter needs to be cocked before use. There is a cocking lever towards the front of the shutter housing which needs to be moved downwards to cock the shutter. As was usual at this time, there is a shutter release lever on the side of the shutter housing. This cannot be accessed by the photographer as it is hidden behind the door’s supporting struts. Voigtlander have provided a shutter release lever on the lens door attached to the lever on the shutter housing by an articulated rod. Also on the shutter housing is a threaded socket for a standard cable release.

On the bottom of the shutter housing is a red lever. This is a delay action lever – pulling this to one side before firing the shutter delays it by about 10 seconds. The standard advice is never to use these on old cameras as if they go wrong they can wreck the shutter. On my camera, the delay action mechanism barely works at all.

bessa 5The back of the camera has the red window for reading frame numbers off the film backing paper. 120 film has three series of numbers on the back, one for ‘full frame’ which is 60 by 90 mm, one for square and one for ‘half frame’ which is 45 by 60 mm. This camera is a half frame camera and so uses the top row of numbers. The red window is fitted with a blind to stop light coming in and fogging the film. this blind has a clear ‘X’ printed on it. To remove the blind in order to read the frame numbers, there is a thumb screw beside the red window and rotating this exposes the frame numbers.

bessa 7The base of the camera has a couple of items. As already mentioned, there is the recessed button for opening the lens door. At the end of the base is a combination item. In the centre of this is a tripod socket. This is the older 3/8 inch Whitworth threaded socket but has an insert in it with the more usual 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. Around this is a lever which can be rotated through 90°. When rotated, it acts as a foot to enable the camera to be placed on a firm surface in lieu of a tripod. This can be used in conjunction with the delay action device to take self portraits.

When this lever is not being used as a foot, it blocks the catch for the back, making sure that it is not inadvertently opened while there is film in the camera. To open the back, this foot must be rotated out of the way and the top and bottom milled chrome parts of the end must both be pressed in and the back then pulled open.

bessa 9The new roll of film goes on the right in a carriage that is on a spring. When the new roll is in place, the backing paper can bet pulled across the film gate and the tapered end of the backing paper can be fed into the slot in the take-up spool. The take-up spool is then rotated using the film advance key on the top, pulling the backing paper until the paper is secure on the take-up spool. In any case, winding must stop if the word ‘START’ appears on the paper. At this point, close the back and open the red window. Continue winding the film until the number 1 appears in the window. This will be preceded by a series of circles or dots of diminishing sizes to warn you that the number is approaching.

In use:

I shall be trying this camera with a roll of Ilford FP4+ film. I usually use cheap colour film to test my cameras but no such is available in medium format and I have no 120 colour film to hand at the moment.


My test film is back from being developed and scanned by AG Photo and here are a few of the results. No light leaks visible. The negatives are slightly underexposed which is either the shutter (unlikely it will be running too fast) or my exposure meter. Either way, exposures are well within the latitude of the film. The photos:

Bessa 46-6-40
Lincoln Cathedral
Bessa 46-13-41
Flamborough lighthouse
Bessa 46-3-39
Witham in Lincoln
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