Agfa Isolette III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voigtländer Vitoret DR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta

Zeiss Ikon was formed in 1926 by the amalgamation of Ica, Contessa-Nettal, Ernemann and C.P. Goerz. Initially, Zeiss Ikon caried on making all the cameras previously made by the constituent companies but in 1929, Zeiss Ikon rationalised production. Most of the old cameras were abandoned and a few new models introduced. Intitially, the flagship was the new Ikonta – named after the company. This small range of cameras, one 127 camera, three 120 cameras and a 116 camera, was very successful.

  • lens: Carl Zeiss Tessar
  • focal length: 10.5 cm
  • apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/32
  • focus range: 5 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Compur s
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/250 s
  • flash: no facility
  • film size: 120

In 1933, the Ikonta range was extended and improved by the introduction of the Super Ikonta range. The main change here was the addition of a very accurate coupled rangefinder. The first Super Ikonta was the model 530/2 which produced 6 by 9 cm negatives on 120 film. This is the camera that I have and the camera that this article is about.

This is a folding, medium format camera that, when folded, looks pretty much the same as any other folding camera but with the addition of the rangefinder on one long side. When closed, the camera measures 160 by 90 by 38 mm and when open, the lens door extends the camera to 130 mm. The camera weighs 796 g which is quite a weight to carry around. When new, this camera cost £17-0-0 which was a small fortune (taken from a Zeiss Ikon catalogue for 1934). Average income then was around £200 per year so this camera represented about a months average income which equates to about £2,500 in 2021 terms. Not a cheap camera!

The camera body is made from die-cast aluminium alloy with the lens door and film gate being made from pressed steel. The outside is covered with black leather (not leatherette) with the edges of the camera painted gloss black. There are a few “Zeiss bumps” under the leather. Zeiss Ikon cameras are famous for these (hence the name) but many folding cameras have the same. They are caused by corrosion between the aluminium body and rivets made from other metals.

The top of the camera is dominated by the rangefinder. This has one small eyepiece on the back and two windows on the front. The eyepiece measures 4 mm diameter which is quite small but it is still useable – it is what you would expect from 1933. The two windows on the front each measure 7 mm diameter. This rangefinder is coupled to the lens and uses a rotating wedge on an arm – more later.

On the top of the rangefinder is the folding viewfinder – these were usual on folding cameras and helped to kep the camera small enough for a large pocket. It is not possible to unfold the viewfinder without opening the camera for use – but why would you want to? To the right of the rangefinder and almost touching it is a small, bright plated, button. Pressing this releases the lens door and causes the folded viewfinder to pop up. The eyepiece part of the viewfinder is a metal plate measuring 30 mm square. This has a rectangular lens in it – the actual eyepiece – which measures 6 by 4 mm – again, rather small by modern standards but fine if you do not wear glasses. The other part of the viewfinder has a larger lens – 16 by 11 mm – and the two combined give a reduced size image – so a reverse Galilean finder.

The finder is designed for 6 by 9 cm photos. If you are using the film gate mask to take 4.5 by 6 cm photos, you also need a matching viewfinder mask. Fortunately, Zeiss Ikon provide one whichn is permanently fixed to the viewfinder on a hinge. Also on the top of the camera are two circular, bright plated, metal discs – one on either end. When the back of the camera is open, these are sprung and are connected to the studs that locate the film spools.

The bottom of the camera has two items on it. On the left is another circular disc. Inside the camera, this is connected to another stud for holding the film spool but not sprung this time. In the centre of this disc is a socket for a tripod. This is the 3/8 inch Whitworth standard which was the standard for large, heavy plate cameras. In this tripod socket is a slug threaded with the 1/4 inch Whitworth thread that was the (then) new standard for lighter roll film cameras. This threaded slug has a screwdriver slot to aid insertion and a very small grub screw to hold it securely in place.

On the other end of the base is the film advance key. This is bright plated metal and has a folding grip. Obviously, this also protrudes into the insides to fit into the take-up spool.

The back of the camera is hinged to give access to the inside to allow the film to be inserted and removed. On the right hand edge of the camera is a leather carrying handle. Beneath this is a nickel plated sliding catch – slide the button in the middle towards the top of the camera to open the back. On the left hand edge of then back is the hinge. Right by this hinge, embossed in the leather, is the camera’s model number – 530/2. The 530 refers to the Super Ikonta range (there were other, later, Super Ikontas with other model numbers). The /2 refers to the negative format which is 6 by 9 cm. There were also models 530 (no slash) which was 4.5 by 6 cm and 530/16 which was 6 by 6 cm.

At the top of the back are two red windows. If you are using the camera to take full frame, 6 by 9 cm, photographs you only use the left hand window to read the frame numbers off the backing paper and completely ignore the right hand window. If you have the 4.5 by 6 cm mask in place, you use each window in turn – “1” in the left hand window, “1” in the right hand window, “2” in the left hand window, “2” in the right hand window and so on until “8” has been in each window. By the right hand red window, the Zeiss Ikon logo is embossed in the leather.

Moving to the front of the camera, the body is dominated by the lens door. On the top right hand corner of the lens door is a second tripod socket. Again, this has the 3/8 inch Whitworth thread with a 1/4 inch Whitworth slug in it. On the left hand edge of the lens door is a nickel plated folding foot for when it is necessary to stand the camera on a table.

To the left of the lens door, the camera model name – Super Ikonta – is embossed in the leather. On the right of the lens door the legend “Made in Germany Industria Alemana” is embossed in then leather indicating that the camera is an export model. The focus scale is in feet not metres so this particular camera was not exported to Spain despite the legend in Spanish.

Pressing the button on the top of the camera causes the viewfinder to snap open and the lens door to release. The blurb for the Super Ikonta in my Zeiss Ikon catalogue suggests that the shutter/lens assembly will spring out to its proper position but not on my camera. There are two springs attached to the struts supporting the lens door but these do not open the camera fully – perhaps when new, this worked better. Pulling the lens door out caused the shutter/lens assembly to come forward on their leather bellows. Zeiss Ikon bellows were very well made and the bellows on this camera are in very good condition and seem to be still light tight – the test film will show for sure. The shutter/lens assembly is held firmly in place by two chrome struts and one painted strut on each side.

The shutter on my camera is a Compur (size 0, if you are interested) with a self timer – two other shutters were offered for this model – and the shutter serial number tells me that this shutter was made in 1930. This seems to be a bit early for a camera made made in 1933, but perhaps the table of Compur serial numbers is not as accurate as I might hope. The shutter is a rim-set shutter, as you would expect for 1933, and offers speeds from 1 second to 1/250 seconds plus B and T.

Before the shutter can be fired, it needs to be cocked. This is done by a lever on the top of the shutter housing and needs to be moved upwards (to the left when using the camera). For the slow speeds, you can hear the internal mechanism being wound up and this requires significant effort to move the lever. If using either B or T, it is neither necessary nor possible to cock the shutter. At the top of the travel of the cocking lever, there is a metal button. If you pull this back, the cocking lever will move a bit further. This sets the self-timer which, on my camera, is about 8 seconds. This works with all shutter speeds except 1/250 seconds (or B or T).

Firing the shutter is by a shutter release lever on the lower right of the shutter housing. This is awkward to do and Zeiss Ikon have added an extension to this lever which sits to the right of the shutter housing with a useable button near the top of the shutter housing.

At the bottom of the shutter housing is the aperture scale. This runs from ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/32. The maximum aperture of ƒ/4.5 might not seem to be very fast but in 1933 only very expensive professional lenses would be much faster. There is a red dot on the aperture scale between ƒ/11 and ƒ/16. This is a Happy Snapper setting which is used in conjunction with a red dot on the focus scale. This second, focus, dot is positioned between 24 and 48 feet and fairly close to 48 feet. Setting the aperture and focus to these two red dots gives the hyperfocal distance for this lens so everything between 15 feet and infinity will be in acceptable focus.

The aperture is set by moving a fairly small pointer by the aperture scale at the bottom of the shutter housing. This is rather awkward to do but was quite usual for the day.

The lens is a Carl Zeiss Tessar. The serial number of the lens suggests that the lens was made in mid-1931 – this is two years before the camera body which seems to be a bit early for a camera made in 1933. So, shutter 1930, lens 1931, camera body 1933 – strange but I don’t suppose impossible. The focal length of the lens is 10.5 cm – before 1945, focal lengths were usually expressed in cm rather than mm. 10.5 cm is a ‘normal‘ focal length lens for a 6 by 9 cm negative.

Rangefinder arm parked

Focusing of the lens is by the built-in rangefinder. To use this, there is a lens on an arm that needs to be swung out to line up with one of the lenses on the rangefinder (see photos). While looking through the rangefinder eyepiece, you turn a milled wheel above the shutter housing. In the view through the rangefinder eyepiece is a central yellow disc. if you superimpose this disc on a vertical in the image, the vertical will be displaced, giving two images side by side. As you turn the milled wheel, one of the two images will move to one side. When the two images are precisely superimposed, the lens is in focus for your subject. My camera is 88 years old and the rangefinder calibration is spot on.

Rangefinder arm in use

Most rangefinders use a rotating mirror inside the rangefinder to produce the moving part of the image. Zeiss Ikon needed to go one better than their competition and used glass wedges which act as prisms rather than use mirrors. The glass wedge in the swinging arm rotates as you rotate the milled wheel.

To open the back of the camera, you slide a button beneath the small leather carry handle. The back swings open through 180º. On then inside of the back is the pressure plate which keeps the film flat against the film gate. Embossed on the pressure plate is an exhortation to use Zeiss Ikon film. It says to use either BII8 film or BMII8 film. BII is the German equivalent of Kodak’s 120 film. I have no idea as to what BMII8 film might be. There is also a colour sticker advertising Pernox film which was Zeiss Ikon’s upmarket, professional film – they made ‘ordinary’ BII film as well.

Inside the camera, the roll of film goes on the left, being held in place by the sprung stud mentioned earlier. The take-up spool goes on the right, again held in place by the sprung stud and also located on the film advance key. The film travels over a chrome roller, across the film gate, over another chrome roller and on to the take-up spool. For people who have never used a roll film camera before, the printing on the backing paper must be on the outside.

The film gate itself is made from pressed steel with embossed ribs along the two long sides. These exist to allow airflow across the film gate when the lens bellows are extended. With folding cameras where the lens door opens on a spring (as this one did when new), the rapid opening of the bellows acts as a vacuum pump and pulls the film into the film gate stopping it from being kept flat. These airflow parts prevents that from happening, maintaining maximum image quality.

In addition to the built-in 56 by 84 mm (60 by 90 nominal size) film gate, there is a removable 43 by 54 mm film gate to allow 45 by 60 mm (nominal size) negatives which gives 16 images on a roll of film. This insert is made from sprung steel and snaps into place quite easily.

4.5 by 6 removable film gate

The next thing to do is to load a roll of film and try out this excellent camera. With only eight frames to a roll, that should not take long.

Belmira

An excellent 35mm fixed lens rangefinder camera from East Germany.

This is a smallish fixed lens rangefinder camera from East Germany. Initially, the Belmira was designed and made by Belca (who used to be Balda) and latterly by Welta. German camera makers are rather complex as a result of many mergers through the 20th century and particularly after WWII in East Germany. Zeiss Ikon was split in two with the West German and East German parts operating independently. Other makers – such as Ihagee and Balda – were entirely in the new East Germany but the prewar owners started new companies in West Germany using the original name. So, there were East German Ihagee and West German Ihagee and West German Balda and East German Balda. To avoid the confusion generated, East German Balda changed its name to Belca and there were further name changes. The East German camera makers were merged into a series of VEBs (Volkseigener Betrieb or Publicly Owned Enterprise) ending with VEB Pentacon (the name ‘Pentacon originated as a trading name of East German Zeiss Ikon to avoid legal conflicts in Western Europe and North America). My camera was made in the middle of these mergers, in between April and August 1956, going by the lens serial number.

  • lens: Tessar
  • focal length: 50mm
  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/16
  • focus range: 2.5 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Vebur leaf shutter
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/250 seconds
  • flash: PC socket
  • film size: 35 mm
<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">The only indication of maker is the Ernemann Tower logo on the shutter fascia which indicates either East German Zeiss Ikon or VEB Pentacon (depending on date). The lens is marked 'Carl Zeiss Jena' so this is before the end of the legal wrangles between East and West Zeiss Ikon companies.The only indication of maker is the Ernemann Tower logo on the shutter fascia which indicates either East German Zeiss Ikon or VEB Pentacon (depending on date). The lens is marked ‘Carl Zeiss Jena’ so this is before the end of the legal wrangles between East and West Zeiss Ikon companies.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Also on the shutter fasciae is a 1 in a triangle. This indicates first quality and was reserved for export items.Also on the shutter fasciae is a 1 in a triangle. This indicates first quality and was reserved for export items.

There is another logo on the lens fascia which I suspect indicates first quality but I have never seen this particular logo before.

So, a description of this neat camera. The camera body is fairly plain. It measures 126 by 78 by 658 mm and it weighs 580 g. The top plate has a raised portion the right which houses the viewfinder. On the rear of the top plate is the viewfinder eye-piece which is circular and measures 7mm diameter. On the front is the viewfinder window. This measures 20 by 14 mm and is tinted quite a heavy green. I think that this is to provide contrast with the rangefinder spot which is uncoloured – at least, I can think of no other reason for the tint.

To the left of this raised portion is the frame counter. This consists of a knurled knob and a curved window. The knurled knob is to reset the counter to zero on loading a new film. The counter has every fifth number in white – the intervening numbers are represented by dots. The counter counts up to 35 and then continues from zero. The window is covered by a yellow plastic film. I am not sure if the colour is intentional or a result of ageing (or both, perhaps). Next is the accessory shoe, this is a standard Barnack shoe with no flash contacts.

On the left of the top plate is the rewind knob. This is a very sloppy fit on my camera which does not match the build quality of the rest of the camera. The centre of the rewind knob is a mnemonic for the type of film in use. The options are Schwarz-Weiß or Color and for each, Neg (negative) or Umk (Umk is short for Umkehrfilm which means reversal film or slide film in German). Each of these has a number of film speeds – these are in DIN only. Of course, these have no effect on the operation of the camera.

The back of the top plate, as well as the viewfinder, has the film advance lever. This is unique as far as I am aware. First, it does not rotate – it is a slide. It is also on the opposite end of the camera to the take-up spool and moves in what feels to be the wrong direction. Internally, this is the same (or at least very similar) to the Werra mat with this sliding lever rotating a sleeve around the shutter mechanism. On my camera, this grates quite a bit in use which I am putting down to ageing and dried-up grease. But it does still work.

The front of the top plates well as having the viewfinder window, has the rangefinder window. Mine has a rectangular rangefinder window but other Belmiras had a very thin window with a large diamond section – mine has this internally but the external window is plain rectangular. The shape change was around late 1958 to early 1959 – I am judging the timing by looking at images of Balmira cameras on Google Images and checking the serial numbers on the lenses for each type of rangefinder window. The range of lens serial numbers (Tessar lens only) for the rectangular window was 4467343 to 5208392 and the range of lens serial number for the thin/diamond window was 5180425 to 5309389 showing that the rectangular window was the original one. This also suggest that the rangefinder window change occurred part way through a batch of Tessar lenses or perhaps when Welta took over from Belca in making this model. Between the viewfinder and rangefinder windows is the camera name engraved in the metal in Italic script.

The body of the camera is covered by fine-grain black leatherette. As this is clearly an export camera, I would expect to see the country of origin (either Germany or DDR) embossed on the leatherette somewhere but I cannot find it. In the centre of the front is the shutter/lens assembly. The housing is anodised aluminium. The shutter is a Vebur which started off as an East German Zeiss Ikon shutter based on the West German Zeiss Ikon’s Compur or Prontor shutters. Seeing as they already made a Prestor shutter – the name clearly derived from Prontor – I suspect that the Vebur shutter was based on the Compur but apart from the name I have no reason for saying that.

Working outwards from the camera body, the base of the shutter housing has a depth of field scale with pointers to the focus scale. This focus scale is the first ring out from the camera body. The focus ring turns through about 120º in order to focus from about 2.5 feet to infinity. The lower part of this ring has coarse knurled cut-outs to provide a tactile grip for focusing with the camera at eye-level. This ring is coupled to the rangefinder so focusing is easy and accurate with the camera at eye-level. When focusing, the entire shutter/lens housing moves (so this is unit focusing, rather than front-cell focusing).

In front of the focus ring is the aperture ring. This runs from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/16 which is a very useable range. This rings turns easily and smoothly – no indents here so the user can set intermediate aperture values if they want to. The aperture index is a large red triangle infant of the aperture ring. The iris diaphragm has nine leaves giving a very smooth aperture which will bode well for those concerned with bokeh.

The shutter speed setting ring is on the front of the assembly, around the lens. This is not as easy to use as a ring around the shutter housing would be and I find I need both hands to turn the ring – not because it is too stiff (although it is rather stiff) but purely because of the ergonomics of the ring’s position. Shutter speeds are from one second to 1/250 seconds plus B.

The lens is a Carl Zeiss Tessar – a four element lens with the elements in three groups. People can be a bit snotty about East German Carl Zeiss for purely political reasons but their lenses were as good with as high manufacturing standards as they had before the partition of Germany. The lens will accept filters – either 32m push-on filters or 30.5mm screw-in filters.

Beside the shutter/lens on the right (as you are using the camera) is the shutter release button. This is fairly low down and angled – it is very much like the shutter release buttons on my Pentacon F or on Praktica cameras starting with the Nova. This button is threaded for a standard cable release. There is no delay action facility here, for some reason. On the left hand edge of the body is a PC socket for flash. There is no indication as to synchronisation speed but as this is a leaf shutter it will not be too important.

The base of the camera has a central tripod socket – 1/4 inch UNC – and next to this is a small sliding button. Sliding this away from the tripod socket releases the back/base of the camera. There is also a fairly large button to release the internal mechanisms to allow the film to be rewound. When the back/base is released, they come away from the camera body in one piece to allow for inserting new film.

The film cassette goes on the left and the film pulls across the film gate to the right. Here is a novelty I have not seen before. There is a cover over the sprocket shaft which must be lowered before the film can be loaded. The task-up spool is on the right. This spool is loose which might help some people to attach the new film but I just find this to be an added nuisance, particularly in the field where I am likely to lose the spool and have to resort to hands and knees to find it again. The back/base fit nicely and, being a German camera, there are no foam light seals to go bad

Beauty LightOmatic III

This LightOmatic III camera is an addition to my collection of 35mm rangefinder cameras. It is a fixed lens camera from Japan and is firmly from the same stable as the Yashicas (Minister III and Minister D), Petri 7s, Taron Auto EE, Mamiya EE, Minolta Uniomat. There is a consistent feel about these Japanese rangefinders which makes them distinct from, say, the German fixed lens rangefinders from the likes of Voigtländer.

Beauty started off as Taiyodo in Tokyo after WWII. Taiyodo became Beauty in 1957 and seems to have ceased trading around 1963. In that bare twenty years, they made around thirty five models of camera.

Beauty LightOmatic III
  • lens: Biokar-S
  • focal length: 45 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/1.9 to ƒ/16
  • focus range: 0.8 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Copal-SV
  • speeds: 1 sec to 1/500 sec
  • flash: PC connector, X or M sync
  • film size: 35 mm

This Beauty LightOmatic started as the LightOmatic in 1959 – it was also sold as the LM in some markets. In 1960, the LightOmatic II was introduced with some small improvements. My camera, the LightOmatic III, was introduced in 1961. The biggest change here is the light meter sensor is enlarged and moved to a ring around the lens together with a meter read-out in the viewfinder. This version was also sold as the Lightmatic III and the Lite III.

The camera measures 142 by 85 by 72 mm and weighs 693 g.

Top Plate

The top plate is fairly standard for a Japanese rangefinder. On the right is the film advance lever. This is cut from metal and appears to be aluminium, it moves through about 120º to advance the film one frame. This lever is not on a ratchet and must move in one throw. This film advance lever also doubles as a shutter lock. With the lever in its rest position, in line with the top plate, the shutter cannot be fired. To use the camera, you must first pull out the lever slightly. When you advance the film, the lever will return to the lock position which could become annoying.

Just to the right of the film advance lever, right on the edge of the top plate, is the window for the frame counter. The numbers are in yellow – only the even numbers are displayed – with 20 and 36 in red as these were the standard film lengths available in the 1960s. This counts up from 1 – the numbers are reset to S (or minus 2) by opening the back of the camera to fit a new film. To the left of the film advance lever is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release (50 threads per inch on a taper – this would seem to be the European standard and there is a straight threaded release in America).

The rest of the top plate is slightly raised – only by a couple of millimetres. Very nearly centrally is the light meter window. This is rectangular with a black mark on the left and a moving needle on the right. Setting the exposure is a matter of adjusting the aperture and shutter speed until the needle is against the black mark.

To the left of the meter window is the accessory shoe. This is a standard design first introduced by Oskar Barnack in 1913 for the first Leica prototype. The only change in over a hundred years is the addition of electrical contacts for flash – but not on this camera, this is the original Barnack cold shoe. In front of the accessory shoe is the camera name: LightOmatic III stamped in the metal and painted black. Also by the accessory shoe is the camera serial number: V38496. On the far left of the top plate, as is usual for 35mm cameras, is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. When the crank is not being used to rewind the film it locks in place. This has the effect that it does not rotate as the film is advanced. I always use the rotating of the rewind crank as an indicator that the film is advancing properly. Not on this camera.

Back View

The back of the top plate has the viewfinder eyepiece – it measures 8 by 5 mm which is larger than had been usual in the 1950s. This eyepiece also doubles as the rangefinder eyepiece. The rangefinder spot is square and orange – the orange colour is due to gold being used to ‘silver’ the internal mirror in the rangefinder. The contrast between the rangefinder spot and the rest of the image is good and very usable. Also in the viewfinder are bright lines for composition. These are parallax corrected – as you focus nearer, the bright lines move both down and to the right. Also in the viewfinder is a second light meter window. This sits at the top right just above the bright lines. When wearing glasses, it is a bit too high for comfort but is still quite usable.

The front of the top plate has a long window divided into three. On the right is the viewfinder window which measures 18 by 12 mm. On the left is the rangefinder window which measures 5 by 6 mm. It is 40 mm from the centre of the viewfinder window. This distance affects the accuracy of the rangefinder – the further apart the better. My Voigtländer CLR only has 28 mm, my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE has 25 mm, my Yashica Minister D has 35 mm and my Minolta Uniomat has 24 mm so the rangefinder on this Beauty is quite good (but not as good as my Soviet Fed 2 with 66 mm). In between these two is a grey translucent window. This provides the illumination for the bright lines.

The front of the camera has the shutter/lens assembly, as always. The shutter is a Copal-SV which is coupled to both the light meter and the rangefinder. Both the focus ring and the aperture ring have large plastic tabs on them to make adjusting them easy while the camera is at eye-level.

The focus range is from 0.8 m (2.7 feet) to infinity. The ring is quite stiff to turn. This is partly due to age but more because the whole lens moves to focus plus there is a linkage to the viewfinder to move the bright lines and a further linkage to the rangefinder.

The aperture ring is much easier to move – it has a lot less to do. Apertures are from ƒ/1.9 to ƒ/16. There are no indents here so intermediate values can be set. In front of the aperture ring, on the left, is a lever to select between X and M flash synchronising. At the bottom of the ring is a lever to set the self delay timer. This gives an eight second delay between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter firing, according to the manual. I am not going to try this as on old shutters the timer can wreck the shutter.

Next out is the shutter speed ring. This does have indents so can only be set to the specified speeds. The speeds are from 1 second to 1/500 seconds in the usual sequence plus B. By the 1/15 speed is a small window showing the set film speed. This is in ASA and runs from 10 ASA to 1600 ASA. 100 ASA is in red (why?), all the others are in green. The film speed is adjusted by a very thin ring in front of the shutter speed ring, with a serrated portion at the bottom for grip.

 In the front of the housing is the lens. this is a Biokor-S lens. This was made by Nitto. Nitto are not a well known company – at least not in the UK – but they are still an active optical company in Japan. According to Collections Appareils, the lens has six elements but with no mention of the arrangement of the elements. The focal length of the lens is 45 mm which is ‘normal‘ for 35 mm film cameras. The lens bezel states ‘F.C.’ which I am interpreting as ‘Fully Coated’.

In a ring around the lens is the selenium sensor for the light meter. As it is a selenium sensor, no battery is required. This sensor is inside the filter thread so if a filter is fitted, the light meter automatically compensates for the light loss through the filter. Not quite TTL metering but getting close.

On the base of the camera, in line with the lens, is a standard (1/4 inch UNC thread) tripod socket. Also on the base is the button enable film rewind. This is better than with most cameras as there is no need to hold the button in once it is depressed which makes rewinding film much easier.

Most of the body of the camera is covered with a coarse leatherette. Both the top and base plate are satin plated brass. On the front of the camera there is the legend ‘Beauty’ in gold near the top and beneath is a PC socket for flash. At the top of the body, just below the the top plate, on the corners are two strap lugs.

The back of the camera is opened by a sliding catch on the left hand end of the camera. The inside of the back has a central sprung pressure plate to keep the film flat over the film gate. Near the catch is a chromed leaf spring which keeps the film cassette secure. At the other end of the back is a chrome roller which helps to keep the film taut.

Taron Marquis

This is another fixed lens rangefinder from Japan. It is my second Taron – the first is a Taron Auto EE . To be honest, Japanese rangefinders became much of a muchness during the 1960s and this camera is no exception.

_1010632
  • lens: Taronar
  • focal length: 45
  • apertures: ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/16
  • focus range: 0.8 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Citizen-MVL
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/500 s
  • flash: PC socket
  • film size: 35 mm

This camera measures 137 by 87 by 71 mm and weighs 781 g. The top plate is sparse. The film advance lever is on the right. It has no ratchet so must be moved in one move. It moves through 135º so that is not too hard to do for most of us. The threaded shutter release button is in front of the film advance, the accessory shoe is just left of centre and the folding rewind crank is on the left.

_1010641The rear of the top plate has the viewfinder eyepiece at the left. This is 8 by 7 mm which is large enough for easy use even if not large by modern standards. On the right of the rear of the top plate is the battery compartment. This camera is designed to use a 1.3v mercury battery cell which is no longer available. Between the viewfinder eyepiece and the battery compartment are two screws. Removing these gives access to two adjusters for the rangefinder.

The front of the top plate is mostly taken up by a rectangular fascia. On the far left of this is the maker’s name TARON. Next along is the CdS cell for the light meter. This is followed by a light grey area. This has two functions. First, there is a hard-to-see window for the rangefinder. Secondly, the rest of the grey area provides illumination for the bright lines and the meter readout in the viewfinder. On the far right of the fascia is the viewfinder window.

_1010633As always, the front of the camera is dominated by the shutter/lens assembly. The shutter is a Citizen -MVL shutter. This provides shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/500 seconds. Unfortunately, this shutter does not work. As the shutter is linked to the light meter, the problem might be the meter, the connection or the shutter itself. I do not have any red-out from the meter in the viewfinder so it is possibly the meter.

The aperture ring has apertures from ƒ/1.8 to ƒ/16. The ring is milled to make it easier to turn. The shutter speed ring is smooth and painted back, making it hard to turn. The aperture and shutter speed rings are linked so turn ing one turns the other. I gather the idea is to set the shutter speed and then adjust the aperture until the meter readout is neither red nor yellow. On the underside of the shutter speed ring is the film speed setting. This is in ASA only and runs from 10 ASA to 800 ASA.

The Shutter is flash synchronised and offers either M or X synch. There is also a self-timer lever. This offers 1 13 second delay but I expect that when new the delay will have been between 8 and 10 seconds.

The lens is a Taronar of 45 mm focal length. I aim fairly sure that this is a triplet – going by the number of internal reflections of a specular light source. Its is coated.

_1010634The focus ring is coupled to the rangefinder. The rangefinder appears to be well adjusted. The focus scale for this lens is on the body rather than on the focus ring. The focus range is from 0.8 m to infinity (2.5 feet to infinity).

The base has a standard tripod socket – 1/4 inch UNC (perhaps Whitworth at this age). This socket is quite  a way from the centre of the base which does not bode well for levelness and stability when on a tripod. At the other end of the base is there rewind button. This is nice and large and easy to get at. This needs to be pressed in the entire time you are rewinding.

The back is opened by a sliding catch on the left. Inside is pretty standard. In the centre of the back is the pressure plate. By the catch is a leaf spring to keep the film cassette in place. On the hinge end of the back is a chrome rod to help keep the film flat over the film gate. The film gate has a nice large surround which helps to keep the film flat.

Vivitar 35EE

This is a sturdy, well-made camera from Vivitar. It was not made by Vivitar but is  a rebadged Cosina 35 and was available under several other camera marques as well – Cosina, GAF, Argus, Prinz, to name a few. It dates from the 1970s and some Interweb sites suggest 1976 – I cannot date it anymore accurately that that.

P1010382The camera measures 115 by 78 by 33 mm body with the lens included it is 115 by 78 by 53 mm. It weighs a hefty 410 g. The body is all black – mainly covered with black leatherette with the top and bottom plates painted black gloss. The main body is cast aluminium alloy, the top and bottom plates are brass and the back is steel.

On the far right of the top plate is the frame counter window. This resets to ‘S’ when the back is opened – effectively to -2. The numbers are in white – just the even numbers are displayed – with 12, 20, 24, and 36 displayed in red as these were the usual 35 mm film lengths. After frame 36, the counter no longer advances.

P1010393 copyJust to the left of this window is the film advance lever. This is metal with a plastic tip and is fixed on the top of the top plate. In use, this lever sits just proud of the top plate allowing the user’s thumb a good grip. When not in use, the lever will park out of the way over the top of the plate. The shutter release button is forward of and slightly to the left of the film advance lever. This button is chrome plated and threaded for a standard cable release. The film advance and shutter release are linked together so that film cannot be advanced without firing the shutter and the shutter cannot be fired without advancing the film.

To the left of these, the top plate is slightly raised to accommodate the rangefinder mechanism. On top of this raised part is the accessory shoe. This is X synchronised for electronic flash – signified by a red ‘X‘. On the left hand edge of the top plate is the film rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank and doubles as the catch for the back – it opens the back by being lifted.

P1010385The back of the top plate has the viewfinder window. This measures 10 by 6.7mm which is plenty for ease of use. Inside the viewfinder, the screen is larger than the image – the image is delineated by bright lines. In the top left of the viewfinder image are secondary bright lines to account for parallax with close-up photographs.

In the centre of the viewfinder image is a yellowish-green square. This is the rangefinder patch. Any part of the image within this patch that is not in focus will be split into two images. To focus the camera, you turn the focus ring on the lens until the part you want to be in focus consists of just one image. There will be more about this a bit later.

On the right hand side of the viewfinder image is the light meter readout. There are two vertical scales – the left hand one is the shutter speed and the right hand one is the aperture. There is a needle which swings up or down to the selected shutter speed/aperture pair. The slowest shutter speed is 1/30 seconds which is always coupled with ƒ/2.8 as is 1/60 seconds. 1/125 is at ƒ/4, 1/250 is between ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8 and 1/650 is always at ƒ/14. For a given light level, the user gets no say in either shutter speed nor aperture. The reason that the shutter speed and aperture are so firmly linked is that the shutter blades double as the aperture blades – opening the shutter further takes longer and gives a wider aperture.  The scales have a red portion at top and bottom to indicate that light levels are outwith the camera’s capabilities.

The front of the top plate has two windows. The larger, 13 by 10 mm, is the viewfinder window. The other window has two functions. Mostly, it is covered with a translucent grey material. this provides the illumination for both the bright lines and the light meter display. In the middle of the translucent material is a transparent square. This is the rangefinder window which provides the yellowish-green patch mentioned earlier. The colour of the patch is the result of using gold to make the interior mirrors rather than silver.

The accuracy of a rangefinder depends mostly on how far apart the centre of the rangefinder window is from the centre of the viewfinder window. On this camera, the spacing is 25 mm which is rather close (for reference, my Zorki 4 has 40 mm, my FED 2 has 68 mm, and my Yashica Minister-D has 35 mm). This closeness means that this rangefinder will not be very accurate – but will still be better than most people guessing distances.

P1010388In the centre of the front is the shutter/lens assembly. The diameter of the assembly is 51 mm. There is no indication as to who made the shutter (but I have a suspicion that it was Copal). There are two control rings on the assembly. The inner most ring has an auto setting and five flash guide numbers. In normal use, this has to be set to ‘auto’ for the exposure system to work – there can be no manual operation of this camera. The outer ring is the focus ring. Normally, you would use this while looking through the viewfinder and using the rangefinder but you can set the subject distance directly on the scale on the ring.

P1010396 copyThe bezel of the lens has two important items on it. Just above the lenses the window to the light meter sensor. This is a CdS sensor and so needs a power source to work. This is provided by a mercury battery giving 1.35 volts. Unfortunately (or fortunately as far as the environment is concerned) mercury batteries have been banned world-wide and the modern alternatives give 1.5 volts. This is going to cause the camera to get the exposure wrong. I always find that the ‘wrong’ exposure is within the exposure latitude of film and so I just use an alkaline battery. People who are fussier than I am can adjust the film speed to compensate. This light meter sensor is within the filter thread so if a coloured filter is used, the meter automatically compensates.

To get the light meter to work correctly, it is necessary to set the film speed. The film speed window is in the bezel below the lens and displays the film speed in DIN (red) and ASA (white). This can be set from 16 DIN/32 ASA to 27 DIN/400 ASA. To change the set film speed there is a knurled ring around the lens. Also on the lens bezel is the information that the camera uses 46 mm filters, the lens has a focal length of 38 mm (slightly wide of ‘normal‘) and has a max aperture of 1:2.8 (which is ƒ/8). On the b bottom of the shutter/lens assembly is a small chrome tab. This presses in to free the inner ring to allow the user to change from Auto to a flash guide number. There is a good orange index line for the auto position and an orange ‘lightening flash’ plus dot for the guide numbers.

To the left of the shutter/lens assembly is the delay action lever. To set this you turn it anticlockwise and to activate it you press the shutter release  button. This provides a delay of exactly ten seconds.

The base plate of the camera is brass painted black. In the middle is a standard 1/4 inch UNC tripod socket. Beside this is the battery compartment. This should contain a mercury cell as already mentioned but this camera came with a silver cell in place and I shall leave it there. Also on the base plate is the button to disengage the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound.

The leatherette on the back of the camera has a Guide Number chart. This just seems to be distances with no reference to actual guide numbers. Below this is the camera serial number – 048305795 – and the legend “Japan’ to indicate that the camera had been imported.

P1010394 copyOpening the camera (by pulling up on the rewind crank), the back hinges well away from the body. This is a Japanese camera so there are foam light seals to keep the back light tight. This camera is over 40 years old and these foam light seals are well on their way to turning into sticky goo. They will need replacing before this camera can be used in anger. There is a groove top and bottom of the body which contains the thin strips of foam – the top groove has a small button in it at the right which resets the frame counter as the back is opened. There is also a strip of foam by the hinge and a large, thick piece of foam by the catch. This last not only provided light tightness but also keeps the film cassette in place and stops it wobbling about as the camera is used.

The film cassette goes on the left. In order to insert a new cassette or remove a used one, it is necessary to pull up the rewind crank. The film gate is nicely finished and smooth. There is a sprocket shaft just to the right of the film gate. The sprockets allow the camera to move exactly the right amount of film for each new frame. Next along is the take-up spool. This is wide so it will not tightly curl the film. There are four fixing slots around the take-up spool. The only other thing I can see inside the back of the camera is a small screw above the film gate, right on the left. This is a blanking screw. Removing it reveals a small hole which gives onto another, smaller, screw. This smaller screw is used to adjust the rangefinder for infinity focus.

Test film.

I now have the camera loaded with Agfa Vista colour film to see how the camera works. I have not replaced the light seals even though they are clearly deteriorated. For the first 19 shots I forgot to set the ASA on the film speed selector and shot at 320 ASA. The photographs are all in Lincoln and the film was developed and scanned by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln.

So, looking at the test film results, the camera is overexposing when the meter is set to 200 ASA. I am using a 1.5 v battery instead of the 1.35 v battery that is intended for this camera. This is at least partially responsible for the over-exposure but there might be meter issues as well (and dirt on the sensor and sensor window). Fortuitously, setting the meter for 320 ASA seems to be about right – the pictures with this setting are well exposed with a good dynamic range.

The images here have had the exposure compensated for when scanning, and I am unable to actually show you the negatives over the Interweb. The first image is with the meter set to 200 ASA and the rest with the meter set to 320 ASA.

Looking at the images closely, the lens is not brilliant giving slightly soft images but at the size I am displaying them here that is not an issue. It is always worth remembering how they camera was intended to be used. This Vivitar is an amateur camera and the photographs will have never  (or rarely) been printed much above 6 by 4 inches (15 by 10 cm). More positively, there is no evidence of flare in any of the images, and surprisingly no evidence of light leaks – I have not bothered renewing the light seals.

Vivitar1Vivitar2Vivitar3Vivitar4Vivitar5

Iloca Quick B

Iloca were a German company producing cameras in the period after WWII. They were reasonably successful producing a variety of models over a number of years. They did not, of course, survive the advent of the Japanese camera makers.

This model is a fixed lens 35mm rangefinder camera. It has no light meter but this was usual in the 1950s (and beyond). The camera is solidly made from metal – I am unable to find any plastic anywhere in this camera. According to the Hove Blue Book and also to McKeown’s, this camera was made in 1954. Both only mention the one year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Iloca Quick B
  • lens: Ilitar
  • focal length: 50 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/2.9 to ƒ/22 (2.9 is not a typo!)
  • focus range: 3 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Prontor SVS
  • speeds: 1 to 1/300 and B
  • flash: PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

The camera measures 124 by 80 by 70 mm and weighs 585 g. The body is covered with black leatherette with the exposed metal painted matt black. The top plate is satin plated brass and there is a satin plated brass fascia on the front.

The top plate is pretty much standard for a 1950s 35 mm camera. On the far right is the film advance knob – no lever yet, although later Quick models did have a lever. This knob turns clockwise and incorporates the frame counter. This counter counts up from zero and needs to be reset to zero when loading new film. It will count up to 39. This film advance also cocks the shutter which was a fairly recent development in the early 1950s and still not universal in 1954. There is a double exposure prevention system.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Quick B top plate

Forward, and to the left, of the film advance knob is the shutter release button. This is a simple chrome plated cylinder. It is threaded for a standard cable release. Left of the shutter release button is a raised portion of the top  plate. This houses the viewfinder and has the camera model name engraved on its top. The eye-piece is 4 mm in diameter which is small by today’s standards but quite normal when this camera was designed. The eye-piece has a circular surround which is very likely to scratch modern plastic glasses. The front window of the viewfinder is 19 by 13 mm.

Next to the raised portion is the accessory shoe. As this camera has a built-in rangefinder, this accessory shoe will only have been used for a flash gun. It is a cold shoe – i.e. no electrical contacts. Left of the accessory shoe is the film rewind knob. This pulls up to facilitate the insertion and removal of the film cassettes. The rewind knob incorporates a film type mnemonic. This offers the options of: color negative, colour positive, 24 DIN (200 ASA), 21 DIN (100 ASA), 17 DIN (50 ASA, and 14 DIN (25 ASA). Being an unremittingly German maker, Iloca have given precedence to the German DIN system, the ASA figures being in a much smaller font.

On the front of the top plate are two rectangular windows. One is the viewfinder window already mentioned. The other is the rangefinder window. This is smaller than the viewfinder window as it is only producing the central spot in the viewfinder image. This central spot is rectangular and has a yellow tint. This tint is achieved by using gold instead of silver in ‘silvering’ the internal mirrors of the rangefinder and helps the central spot to stand out visually.  The rangefinder would seem to be, at least, adequately accurate. Between these two windows is the maker’s name in Italic script.

On the front of the camera is a plated brass fascia. This fascia is a regular trapezium with a narrow wing on either side at the top. On my camera there is a groove running all the way around the fascia about 1.5mm from the edge. The shutter/lens housing is in the middle of this fascia. The shutter is a Gauthier Prontor SVS. All the Interweb sources and Mckeown’s say the this camera has a Prontor SV shutter, but mine is definitely a Prontor SVS. This camera has unit focusing which means the the entire lens moves to and fro for focusing rather than just the front element. This means that the focus ring is next to the body. The focus index mark and the depth of field scale are on a fixed ring around the shutter housing. The movable focus ring is next. This has two large lugs to facilitate focusing (and to facilitate finding the focus ring with the camera at your eye). The focus ring rotates through about 75º to go from three feet to infinity. – the scale is in feet as this is an export model intended for the UK market.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Quick B shutter and lens

The next control, moving away from the camera body, is the aperture setting ring. This is plain apart from a single black index mark. This ring is moved by a lug on the underside. Available apertures are from ƒ/2.9 to ƒ/22. The actual aperture scale is on a fixed black ring which also has a PC connector for flash and a flash synch selector with the options of M (yellow), X (red) and V (green). M is for flash bulbs (M=magnesium), X is for electronic flash (X=Xenon) and V is for self timer (V=vorlaufwerk). In these blog articles, I always offer the standard advice that you should not attempt to use the V – delayed action – setting on old cameras as the mechanism is prone to failure and the shutter will then be unusable. I then proceed to describe how well the self timer works. In this case, the self-timer setting does not work and by trying it I have wrecked the shutter which no longer works at all although the shutter worked fine until I tried the self-timer. I should have heeded my own advice!

The lens is an Ilitar which I suspect Iloca bought in and put their own name on. It has a focal length of 50mm and a maximum aperture ƒ/2.9. The lens is coated – indicated by a red C on the lens bezel.

The bottom of the camera has a large button on the right – pressing this frees the film advance mechanism to allow the rewinding of the film. This button carries the legend “MADE IN GERMANY”. Next to this large button is the tripod socket with the standard 1/4 inch Whitworth thread.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOpening the back of the camera is far from obvious – unless you have the manual, I suppose. To do this, you have to pull up the rewind knob and turn it anti-clockwise about 1/4 of a turn – this is against a fairly strong spring. Doing this causes the side of the camera to pop out, releasing the back in the process. The back comes away completely – there is no hinge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Quick B film gate

The film cassette goes on the left; the rewind knob needs to be pushed down again to secure the cassette. The film gate is in the middle. There is not too much metal on either side of the film gate which might have implications for film flatness. Above the film gate is a toothed wheel which will be to count the sprocket holes to ensure the correct frame spacing. Below the film gate is the camera serial number. The take-up spool is metal with a single slot to take the film leader.

Replacing the camera back is simple. You line up a red dot in the top left corner on the back with a similar red dot on the top left corner of the camera. Pushing both edges of the back snaps it into place.

Voigtlander Vito Automatic R

Voigtlander Vito automatic R – a 35mm film camera based on the Voigtlander Vito C

The Vito range of cameras by Voigtlander morphed into a sizeable range – Vito, Vito II and III were folders to be replaced by the Vito B, BL, BR, Vitomatic I and II. Next came the Vito C range Vito C, CD, CR, CL, CLR, Vito Automatic I and II and this Vito Automatic R. As usual, I have no manual for this camera so I am having to work out how this works.

lens: Lanthar

focal length:  50 mm

apertures: f/2.8 to f/22

focus range: 3.5 feet to infinity

lens fitting: fixed

shutter: Prontor-Lux

speeds: 1/30 to 1/500

flash: PC socket

film size: 35 mm

Voigtlander did not use serial numbers for their cameras but did have serial numbers for their lenses. The lens on this camera was made in very late 1962. That does not mean that this camera was made in 1962 as it was normal in Germany to buy lenses (and shutters) in bulk and use them as required. So this camera could be made in 1963 but I would not have thought any later. In 1965, this camera cost £41-17-0 (in old British money, or £41.85 in new British money). Not a cheap camera.

It is an automatic camera with no deliberate manual option. The obvious way to use this camera is to set the camera to ‘AUTO’ and let the camera do its thing. It is also possible to set the aperture manually for use with flash but there is no way of setting the shutter speed. Obviously (!) the shutter has more than one speed – that is, I would expect the ‘AUTO’ setting to produce a usable aperture and shutter speed. When not on ‘AUTO’ the shutter mechanism could produce an appropriate shutter speed for the set aperture or (as this is intended for flash only) the shutter could just fire at the one predetermined shutter speed.

The available apertures for flash are f/2.8 to f/22 – a fairly normal and very usable range. The iris diaphragm has five blades giving a pentagonal aperture. At one end of the aperture scale is B – Bulb for indefinite exposures (the only shutter speed you can set by hand).

The shutter is a development of the Prontor shutter from the 1930s. This version is the Prontor-Lux. The -Lux epithet tells us that the shutter is designed to work with a light meter. Being an automatic camera, there is no meter readout – not in the viewfinder nor elsewhere.

On my camera, the light meter did not appear to work at first but does respond to, at least, extremes of light or dark. I have pointed the camera towards very different light sources and there is no notable change in shutter speed and the aperture remains at close to its maximum size (but not quite – I would guess it is at f/4). Also, in the viewfinder, there is a red spot to indicate low light. Of course, this is not necessarily the light meter – it could be the failure of any part of the automatic exposure system but the light meter probably the weakest link in the system and are notorious for failing in old cameras. As this is a selenium meter, there can be no battery issues.

The camera also has a built-in coupled rangefinder. This will be the reason for the ‘R’ designation in the camera’s name. This rangefinder has a very clear central rangefinder spot. This rangefinder is no longer coupled to the lens focus ring – again, not entirely unexpected on a 55+ year old camera.

But – someone has taken the top off the camera (and replaced one of the original slot-headed stainless steel screws with a JIS slotted black screw). The viewfinder is not seated correctly – it is crooked and slightly loose. I suspect that someone has opened up the camera to attempt a repair and made things worse. I shall have a look myself to see if I can make things better – there is probably no further harm I can do.

So, a brief description. this camera is essentially a Vito C camera. It measures 130 by 90 by 72 mm and weighs 734 g. The top plate is sparse – and made from pressed steel rather than the more usual brass. On the right is a flat translucent dome . This illuminates the red and green flags in the viewfinder. Centrally, there is an accessory shoe – no electrical contacts so a cold shoe. On the left is the rewind knob. This is flush with the top plate and to use it you must move a lever at the back of the topple slightly to the left. The rewind knob will then pop up for use. The knob will also pull up to a second position to allow for the insertion and removal of film cassettes. The top of the rewind knob has a film reminder set into it. The options are blue, yellow or white. Between the accessory shoe and the rewind knob is the camera model: “Voigtlander Vito automatic R”

The back of the top plate has three items. On the right is the film advance lever. This moves through about 225º to advance the film one frame. This is rather a long throw but quite easy to do. For people with restricted mobility in their thumbs, the lever is on a ratchet and the film can be advanced with a number of small movements. Unlike the Vito folders and Vito B range, the film advance lever also cocks the shutter directly – there is no need for film to be in the camera.

Towards the left is the viewfinder eyepiece which measures 18 by 12 mm. This doubles as the rangefinder eyepiece. There are bright lines for composing with secondary lines at the top to compensate for parallax with close-up shots. below the viewfinder eyepiece and slightly to the left is the rewind knob release lever mentioned earlier.

The front of the top plate has a chromed fascia that holds three items. First is the viewfinder window. This measures 26 by 15 mm. Centrally in the fascia is a black square, 15 by 15 mm, which contains a circular window for the rangefinder. The separation between the rangefinder and viewfinder windows is 28 mm – not so large and not comparable with the FED 2 or Kiev 4 – but accurate enough for the use this camera would have been put to (the larger the separation of the two windows the more accurate the rangefinder).

The third item is the light meter window. This is the usual knobbly glass and measures 28 by 20 mm.

Below the top plate. on the front, is the lens/shutter assembly. The shutter is a Prontor-Lux and measures 56 mm diameter externally. The prime setting for this shutter is ‘AUTO’ leaving nothing for the user to decide. It is possible to set the aperture manually – this is intended for use with flash only. The aperture range is f/2.8 to f/22 with a five-sided iris diaphragm.

The lens is a Voigtlander Lanthar lens – the name suggesting that at least one element of the lens uses lanthanum glass (in which case it would be mildly radioactive) with a focal length of 50 mm. This is front cell focusing and has a focus range from 3.5 feet to infinity. Being an export version of camera, the distance scale is only in feet. In good Voigtlander tradition, there are three Happy Snapper settings. I think that these are there as they are standard for the lens rather than being intended for use with this camera. In order to use Happy Snapper settings, it is necessary to set the aperture to the appropriate size which cannot be done on this camera.

There are two film speed scales on the shutter housing – one in ASA and one in DIN. These range from 15 DIN/25 ASA to 27 DIN/400 ASA. 27 DIN/400 ASA is not very fast by today’s standards but in 1963 you would have struggled to find film faster than 27 DIN/400 ASA.

At the bottom of the shutter housing is a small conical foot. This allows the camera to be placed on a level surface for longer exposures. With other cameras in the Vito C range there was a self timer to allow for selfies but not with this shutter.

Beside the lens/shutter housing is the shutter release. This is a vertical slide rather than a button – not my favourite system – which incorporates a hidden cable release socket. This socket is on the underside of the shutter release slide and it takes a standard cable release. Below this shutter release is a PC socket for attaching a flash gun.

The base of the camera has a tripod boss in line with the centre of the lens. This is the standard 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. My camera appears to have an insert suggesting that the camera was made with the older 3/8 inch boss.

Also on the base is a frame counter. In line with Voigtlander’s usual habits, this frame counter counts down to show how many shots are left. This means that when loading a new film it is necessary to set the film length on the frame counter. There is a circle at frame 22 – this is because 35 mm film used to come with a film length of 20 frames rather than the modern 24 (as well as 36 frames). 22 frames allows for the two initial frames that must be wasted when loading a new film. The frame counter is run by the sprocket shaft rather than the film advance system so does not work if there is no film in the camera.

Inside is pretty normal for a 35 mm camera – the cassette goes on the left, film gate is nearly central followed by the sprocket shaft and then the take-up spool. There take-up spool is nice and large – about 20 mm diameter – which means that the film will not be curled too much thus being easier to load onto a developing spiral.

I have now found a manual for another camera that uses the Prontor-Lux shutter. This manual gives details on how shutter speeds are managed. The speeds are linked to the film speed setting – each film speed setting uses only one shutter speed. As the manual I have found has a slightly different range of film speeds to this camera, I am going to assume that the range of shutter speeds are the same. Adjusting the manual’s film speed/shutter speed table, I have come up with the following: ASA 400:1/500, ASA 200:1/250, ASA 100:1/125, ASA 50:1.60 and ASA 25:1/30.

 

FED 35A (ФЭД 35A)

FED 35A or ФЭД 35A
a 35 mm rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union.

This FED 35A camera is a compact 35mm film rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union. With the FED name, I would assume that it was made in Kharkiv, Ukraine. This camera was made between 1987 to 1990 according to the Interweb – this means that the serial  number does not start with the year of manufacture (number is 849208). This is my fourth Fed camera – my others being the Fed 2, Fed 4 and Fed 5.

The camera seems to be intended for home consumption. All the writing on the camera is in Cyrillic. There is a logo on the rear of the camera – a pentagon with a four pointed star and the letter CCCP (USSR in Cyrillic). This logo indicates that the camera has been manufactured to international standards and should be as good as a camera made elsewhere in the world.

It could be that the camera was officially exported but the expected sales levels might not have supported an export version. The camera is entirely black with white writing. The body measures 112 by 78 by 32 mm. The lens protrudes a further 28 mm. The camera weighs 446g.

The body is metal – die-cast aluminium with a pressed aluminium top plate and brass base plate. Most of the body is covered with black leatherette and the rest is painted satin-black.

ФЭД 35A or FED 35A
35mm rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union.
Front view
www.oldcamera.blog
FED 35A rangefinder camera, front view

The top plate has the bare essentials. On the right hand end is the film advance lever. This is black painted cast aluminium and is held in place with a black painted brass disc. This lever is not on a ratchet and needs to be moved in one go. It moves through about 130º to advance the film one frame. At this date, the film advance lever also cocks the shutter.

In the right hand rear corner of the top plate is a small window (6mm diameter) giving on to the frame counter. This counter is reset by opening the camera back. It is necessary to advance the film three frames to get to frame 1 – this is to remove the length of film fogged while loading the film. Apart from frame 1, the odd-numbered frames are represented by dots, only the even-numbered frames having digits. Number 2 is missing entirely. Frame numbers go up to frame 36. If you wind beyond this, the frame number does not move anymore.

ФЭД 35A or FED 35A
A 35 mm rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union.
Top view 
www.oldcamera.blog

Next to the film advance lever, right at the front of the top plate, is the shutter release button. This appears to be made from stainless steel. It is a simple cylinder which is threaded for a standard cable release. The button falls easily to my fore finger while holding the camera for use, which is more than can be said for the FED 2,4 or 5.

Nearly centrally on the top plate, on a slightly raised portion, is the accessory shoe. This has one central electrical contact and so is a hot shoe – it can be used with most electronic flash guns made since the late 1960s. On the left of the top plate is the rewind crank. This is very small (14mm diameter) and folds out to 23mm. It makes the Japanese rewind cranks look very generous.

On the rear of the top plate is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 8 by 6 mm – it is not the smallest eyepiece I have come across but it is close. This eyepiece double as the rangefinder eyepiece.

ФЭД 35A or FED 35A
a 35mm rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union.
rear view.
www.oldcamera.blog

The front of the top plate (looking at the front of the camera) has, on the left, the camera name painted in white in Cyrillic characters. To the right of this, on a slightly raised portion, are the rangefinder and viewfinder windows. The rangefinder window is centrally over the lens. It measures 6mm square. Around this is the light source for the bright lines in the viewfinder. The viewfinder window measures 14 by 9 mm.

The rangefinder is coupled to the focus ring on the lens. To use the rangefinder, you look through the viewfinder and put the central yellow dot on a strong element in the image. The yellow dot will contain two images slightly displaced one from the other. As you move the focus ring, these two images move relative to each other. When you have moved the focus ring so as to superimpose the two images, the lens is in focus. 

The yellow dot is nice and bright and the two images easy to see. The down side here is that the rangefinder window is very close to the viewfinder window. This means that the two images do not move much as you turn the focus ring. The focus ring also does not rotate very far. These two together make critical focus other difficult. incidentally, the colour of the yellow dot is achieved by using gold on the internal mirrors rather than silver.

The viewfinder image has bright lines – large corners for landscapes and small corners to allow for parallax with close-ups.

The front of the camera has the shutter/lens assembly in the centre. The shutter is an anonymous Soviet leaf shutter offering speeds from 1/4 seconds to 1/60 seconds in manual mode. I am told by the Interweb that when in the automatic mode, the shutter will go to 1/300 seconds but as I do not have a manual for this camera I cannot confirm that. This manual range is very poor and I would struggle to get good exposures with these shutter speeds and the limited aperture range. The other Fed cameras the I have – FEDs 2,4 and 5 – all have cloth focal plane shutters. I assume that the designers went for a leaf shutter here to maintain compactness.

The lens is an Индустар (Industar in the Latin alphabet)  81  lens. I am assured by the Interweb that this is a four element lens with three groups – a Tessar copy. My experience of Soviet lenses is that they are excellent performers – it remains to be seen if this lens lives up to the Soviet’s reputation. The lens has a focal length of 38mm – this is slightly wide angle for 35mm photography (43mm is ‘normal’) but quite usual for compact cameras as the shorter the focal length of the lens, the shorter the lens barrel – and more compact the camera. The lens has apertures from f/2.8 to f/16. This is a usable range even if a bit short (but see my comments above about this aperture range and the rather slow shutter speeds in manual mode). The diaphragm is a disappointment – it consists of only two leaves each of which has a right-angle notch cut in it. As these two leaves swivel from the bottom, the hole varies from a flattened diamond at f/16 to an inverted and elongated kite at f/2.8 – not good for lovers of bokeh. When the shutter speed is set to either B or A (automatic) the aperture opens to f/2.8.

FED 35A or ФЭД 35A
35mm rangefinder camera from the Soviet Union.
Detail of the lens bezel.
www.oldcamera.blog

The lens bezel contains the light meter window. This is rather small and sits to the right of the lens. The meter is a CdS device and so requires batteries (see below). On the opposite side of the lens is a window showing the selected film speed. This is in gost – but is labelled гост in Cyrillic – which was the Soviet Union’s own film speed standard. This gost film speed is very close to ASA or ISO speeds but apparently not quite the same. This offers film speeds from 16 gost to 750 gost. When I try this camera, I shall just assume they are ISO speeds.

Altering the gost setting is entirely mechanical. It is achieved by rotating  knurled ring between the lens bezel and the lens itself. What changing the gost setting does is move a Waterhouse Stop over the meter sensor. As the film speed gets faster, the Waterhouse Stop gets larger. I don’t think anything electronic happens.

Opening the camera uses the now standard method of pulling up the rewind crank.As far as I can see, the back is rendered light tight by using felt light seals rather than the more common foam seals. This bodes well for light tightness in an elderly camera – my test film will show for sure.

The take-up spools a full length steel spring to hold the film leader. This take-up spool turns clockwise so the film is wound with the emulsion side outwards.

The base of the camera has a central tripod socket. This is the usual 1/4 inch UNC thread. Next to this is the battery chamber. I have no idea as to what size battery is intended but I am using two silver batteries which will give me a 3v supply. This seems to work so far as the automatic system is concerned but the test film will confirm whether this is correct regarding exposure or not.

On the there side of the tripod socket is the button to enable rewinding of the film. Push this in far enough and it is not necessary to hold it in while resining. The base is also where the serial number is stamped.

In use: 

I have run a test film through this camera and had the film developed (by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln, as usual). I am quite pleased with this camera. The automatic exposure does not work (well, it does on rare occasions, when it feels like it, but not usually). Using my trusty Leningrad light meter all the exposures are usable – negative density varies from good to slight overexposure with most shots having good negative density. It was easy and pleasant to use.

One down side with the test film – which has nothing to do with the camera – is that  as the film moves through the camera, both while taking pictures and when rewinding, the moving film generates a small amount of static electricity. This static attracts any dust inside the camera – and this camera seems to have had plenty of dust in it which has affected the images. The photographs below show this dust – I have removed some of the dust but not all.

There are no light leaks, the consistent exposures shows that the shutter is working as it should with timing being at least approximately right and consistent (and that my Leningrad light meter is still OK).

FED 35A
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FED 35A
www.oldcamera.blog
FED 35A 
www.oldcamera.blog
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