VP Twin

A neat Bakelite camera from 1930s Britain.

This is a camera of superlatives. It is very small, very simple, very basic and, when new, very cheap. The first part of this article comes from my “research’ on the Interweb so I cannot vouch for its veracity.

The camera was made by E. Elliott Co in Birmingham. The maker’s name is not anywhere on the camera but their logo of a yacht with a capital ‘L’ superimposed on it is in the inside of the moulding. This camera was sold by Woolworth’s (a very common and cheap shop – every high street in Britain had a branch). It was the proud boast of Woolworths that nothing they sold cost more than 6d (six old pence) which equates to 2.5p in modern money. To get around this price limit, Woolworth sold expensive items in parts – this camera was sold in three parts as 6d each, giving a price for the whole camera of 1‘6 (one shilling and six pence or 7 1⁄2p in modern money).

This camera was introduced in 1935. In 1952, it was re-issued with an updated finish. The lens is a meniscus lens – a single piece of glass, concave on one face and convex on the other. The focal length is reported to be 35mm. The single, fixed, aperture is ƒ/12 which will give good depth of field with the non-focusing lens. I have no idea as to the shutter speed – but on similar cameras shutter speed is around 1⁄30 second.

The rest of this article comes from my own observation of the actual camera that I have just bought myself and so is completely reliable.

The camera is small – too small for me to use comfortably. It measures 85 by 70 by 50 mm and weighs an astounding 115 g. The camera is made from Bakelite – an early hard plastic. The colour is brown and it has a textured surface to imitate leatherette. The two exceptions to the plastic are the shutter and the viewfinder, both of which are metal.

Controls are basic – there are only two: the shutter release and the film advance. On the top of the camera, on the left, is the film advance knob (which is broken on my camera). This connects to the take-up spool inside. That is all there is on the top.

The back of the camera is more involved. There are two red windows which are there to allow the user to read the frame numbers off the film backing paper. There are two windows because this is a half-frame camera – the camera takes two images on each normal sized frame of film. Each frame number on the film is used twice, once in each red window. Between the two red windows there is a moulded rectangle bearing the legends “VP Twin” and “Made in England”.

On the left edge of the back is the viewfinder. Actually, the word “viewfinder” is not really appropriate. It is more a view-hint. It consists of one bendy metal frame which hinges at one end. When opened, it does not locate to any particular position which means that the precise limits of the view are academic.

The lens/shutter assembly is on the front, as is usual. Both are very simple. The lens is a simple meniscus lens with no focusing facility. The shutter is a very simple leaf shutter. It is actuated by a lever on the right hand side of the shutter assembly. Pushing this lever down fires the shutter and pushing it up again fires the shutter again. There is no double exposure prevention here – you can take as many exposures on each frame as you wish.

To open the camera, there is a moulded groove on the left hand edge. You need to put a small coin in this groove and twist. The back comes away in one piece – no pesky hinges to bother with. Inside the back there are two plated steel springs, one on the outside of each red window. These springs hold the film snug on the spools. There is no pressure plate to keep the film flat over the film gate. In fact, the film gate consists of four thin bars of Bakelite.

Inside the body are three chambers. In the middle is the film gate. This gives onto a circular steel plate with a fairly small hole in the centre which allows the light from the lens into the camera. On the left of the film gate is the space for the film take-up spool. The end of the spool links to the inside portion of the film advance knob. On the right of the film gate is the space for the roll of film. The roll of film is not fixed in this space but is inhibited from moving by the spring in the camera back.

I have no intention of using this camera. I can almost certainly source some 127 film to fit, but it will be expensive and the results are bound to be very poor. Yet this camera is a keeper as it is interesting in its crudity – it is the most basic camera that I have yet to purchase.


Iloca Quick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Rollei prego 125

Rollei is a venerable name in photography. It was Rollei who invented the TLR concept with their Rolleiflex in 1929 (actually, Franke and Heidecke – Rollei was the brand name, not the maker). In the fullness of time, the original company ceased trading and the name ‘Rollei’ and the associated intellectual property rights got sold repeatedly. By 1995, the name ‘Rollei’ belonged to Samsung and it was the Samsung iteration of the company that made this camera. The legend ‘Rollei Germany’ appears twice on this camera – once on the base and once around the lens. This gives the impression that the camera was made in Germany but I understand that there was a ‘made in China’ sticker on the base when new.

  • lens: Vario-Apogon
  • focal length: 38-125 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/4.6 to ƒ/11.1
  • focus range: 0.7 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: leaf shutter
  • speeds: 1/3 s to 1/400 s
  • flash: built in
  • film size: 35 mm

This Rollei prego 125 is a compact, automatic 35mm camera. It is not intended for the hobby photographer but for someone who wants a decent camera for holidays and family events. To this end, both exposure and focus are entirely automatic with virtually no scope for manual intervention.

The camera is made from a mixture of grey and black plastic. This is good quality, sturdy plastic which is still in excellent condition after 25 years. It measures 118 by 87 by 44 mm when switched off and opens to 118 by 87 by 80 mm when switched on. This has the lens at its widest focal length as the default when switched on (38 mm) and the lens protrudes further to 110 mm when the telephoto function is used (125 mm). The camera weighs 235 g without battery or film so not heavy but with a respectable heft.

Starting at the right, there is a largish green shutter release button. This has a diameter of 10 mm. Behind this is a semi-circular (just slightly more than semi-circular, to be accurate) green button marked ‘on/off’ – this is the on/off button (!) Left of the shutter release button is a black arc of a button. This is marked ‘tele’ at the front and ‘wide’ at the rear and is the zoom adjuster. This adjusts the focal length of the lens between 38 mm (the default) and 125 mm.

Dominating the top is a LCD screen. This measures 26 by 10 mm. It can display a wealth of information but when the camera is off the screen displays the number of frames of the film that have been used plus an indication that a film is loaded. When the camera is on, there is also the focal length of the lens on the left and the current flash mode. There is a fault on my screen on the left which is visible in the photographs.

Camera off

Behind the LCD screen are four buttons. The right hand button selects the flash mode – available are auto, red-eye auto, off, fill-in, night time fill-in. The next button selects the self-timer which allows a standard delay, use of a remote control or sets up an intervalometer.

The third button has three modes – normal, spot focus or snap. Spot focus only uses the very centre of the image to focus. Snap sets the lens to 38 mm and the focus is set to the mid-ground – this is intended for snapshots.

Camera on

The left hand most button sets the date print function. There are three date formats to choose from – repeated pressing of the button will cycle through them – and there are also seven brief messages that you can print on the negatives instead of the date.

Moving to the front of the camera, there are a number of sensors and windows. Looking at the front of the camera, at the top is a black plastic rectangular fascia. This contains, from the right, the built-in flash (25 by 15 mm) then a red LED for the autofocus system, the viewfinder window (10 by 6 mm), a rectangular window (13 by 5 mm) which I assume is a part of the auto-focus system but might not be. Just to the left of the black fascia are two small round windows. The lower of these is the remote control sensor and the upper one is the exposure sensor.

In the centre of the front is the lens. This is a Vario-Apogon. The Apogon is a name that Rollei has used for a variety of lens designs after they lost the right to use either Schneider or Zeiss names for lenses that Rollei made under licence from those two lens makers. The fact that this is an Apogon lens actually tells us nothing other than it was made by Rollei – the ‘vario’ part tells us that it is a zoom lens. Searching on the Interweb, I have been unable to find out anything about this lens. The ‘HFT’ in red means High Fidelity Transfer and refers to the lens coating system used. I have only seen this before on Schneider lenses.

Other details on the front: to the right of the lens, just below the flash gun, is a small round LED. This flashes when the self timer is used, the rate of flashing increasing just before the shutter fires. Level with the lens, on the right, is a 6mm dimeter button marked with ‘∞’. Pressing and holding this button forces the lens to infinity focus. This is intended to be used when some picture elements closer to the camera might entice the camera to focus too closely but is also useful when the scene has no textured elements of the autofocus system to focus on

On the left edge of the front is the battery compartment. This takes one CR123A lithium battery which is still available. The battery that I am using is just marked ‘123’.

As is usual, the back of the camera has little on it. At the top, towards the left, is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 8 by 7 mm – not over large but large enough. To the left of the viewfinder eyepiece is a small wheel to adjust the eyepiece focus so that you can use the viewfinder without your glasses. Just to the right of the eyepiece are two small LEDs which are visible when your eye is at the eyepiece. Then top LED is green and indicates correct focus. When the lens is focused the LED is steadily lit. If the lens cannot focus, this LED flashes and the shutter is locked. The lower LED is red and indicates that the flash gun is ready to fire.

Inside the viewfinder, there are no bright lines – I assume that all you see will be in the picture. Towards the top of the viewfinder image are two short black lines. These indicate the limits of the viewfinder due to parallax when taking close-ups. In the centre, there is an area which delimitates the area which the autofocus system uses.

Further to the right of the viewfinder eyepiece is a small lever. Turning this enables the camera to take panoramas. All that happens is that two horizontal masks mask the top and bottom of the film gate. When this lever is vertical, the masks are retracted. When the lever is swung to the left, the masks move into place.

Most of the back is the door giving access for loading and removing film cassettes. This door is unlatched by a small latch on the right hand side of the back. Next to this latch is a small window to allow the user to see the film cassette as a memo.

Inside, there is a chamber on the right to take the film cassette. There are four electrical contacts to read the DX information from the film cassette. This tells the exposure system which speed film is in use.

Most of the inside is taken up by the film gate and on the left is the take-up spool. Loading a film is easy. You put the film on the right, pull the film leader across until it just reaches the left edge of the take-up spool and close the back. The film is then wound onto the take-up spool and the ‘1ex’ appears on the screen on the top of the camera.

The base of the camera has two items on it. Just to the right of the lens is an ISO standard tripod socket – 1/4 inch UNC thread. On the left of the base is a small hole. Pressing a pin into this hole forces the camera to rewind the film – usually, the film is rewound automatically when the end of the film is reached but you might need to take the film out before the end is reached.

In use.

I have a cassette of Agfa Vista plus colour film in the camera at the moment, trying out the various facilities offered by the camera. My first thoughts are that there is no indication that the shutter has fired – it is totally silent. The only noise is the advance system moving the film on for the next shot. I am finding this quite unnerving. But that is my only niggle so far.

There were two versions of this camera made and only one had the date-stamp facility. There is no indication as to which version I have but the date-stamp system gives every indication of working. When I get the test film back from the lab, I will know for sure which version I have – either the date stamps will be there or they will not.

At long last, I have had the rest film developed – by AG Photography in Birmingham. It has only taken me 11 months to get the film developed – I need to work on my procrastination!

The results are quite impressive for a cheapish plastic camera that is over 30 years old. I doubt that the designers expected it to last this long. Images are in focus, well exposed (I am judging this by looking at the negatives as scans usually look fairly good – image density is what I would want it to be), there is no flare, frames are evenly spaced on the film. What more could I want?

This camera has the option to print messages on each image so I have tried this out. I suspect that the novelty would quickly wear out. As I mentioned above, there is an optional ability to print the date on each negative and there is no indication as to whether my camera had this option operational so I tried it and it does work. This will be more useful than the messages but only marginally so. I will show examples of each.

This first image is looking down Steep Hill in Lincoln towards The Strait. Focus is good, exposure is good, there is no flare and I have no responsibility for the leaning lamppost, it was like that when I got there, honest. On the bottom right side you can see the message “MERRY XMAS” in orange (several other messages were available as well). OK, the system works but I cannot imagine wanting to use it.

Looking north this time, same general location, showing the central tower of our cathedral. Again, well exposed, well focused and, this time, no pointless message at the bottom because I turned it off.

Photography is a thirsty business so I stopped at Coffee by the Arch in Lincoln for a well deserved pot of tea. This is about as close as the camera wants to focus.

The next two images are a pair to demonstrate the panorama option. First I took the top picture (with a silly message included!) and then, without altering anything, set the panorama option. The lens has moved to its widest angle and the two baffles have moved into place. As is clear from the uncropped image, this is just a wide angle shot with the top and bottom missing (and the message moved up to be included in the image).

This last image is here to demonstrate that the date stamping is working and that I took this picture on the 7th July 2021. This was also taken while I was enjoying my cup tea at Coffee at the Arch in Lincoln.

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.

Hunter 35

A small, light, 35mm film camera made in Germany for a British company – RF Hunter.

This is a compact 35mm camera that literally fits in my hand. R.F. Hunter were a distributor rather than a maker and are better known (but far from famous) for the Purma Special camera but they also distributed Franka and Rolleiflex cameras and Schneider lenses in the UK. So, Hunter did not make this Hunter 35 camera which was made by Steiner-Optik of Bayreuth in Germany. It is, actually, a rebadged Steinette camera, made in 1957 or 1958.


  • lens: Steiner triplet
  • focal length: 45 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/16
  • focus range: 3 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: not specified
  • speeds: 1/25 to 1/200 seconds
  • flash: PC socket
  • film size: 35mm

As I mentioned above, this camera is small. It measures 105 by 75 by 70 mm and weighs 333g. The camera is made from Bakelite, an early plastic, with satin plated metal top and bottom plates and the shutter/lens mount.

As the camera has a leaf shutter, there are very few controls on the top plate. On the far right of the top plate is an arc-shaped window onto the frame counter. Every fourth number is displayed with intermediate frames being represented by a line. This needs to be reset when loading a new film by using something fine and stiff – I used a penknife – to rotate the counter anti-clockwise. Just beside this is the film advance knob. This is fairly small – 18 mm diameter – and has two pillars, one either side, to aid turning the knob. This arrangement works very well and it is possible to turn this knob with just the thumb of the right hand. The knob sports two arrows to indicate the direction of turn, not that it is possible to turn it the wrong way.

The centre portion of the top plate is slightly raised – by about a couple of millimetres. On the front right of this raised portion is the shutter release button. This is a simple metal pillar and it is threaded for a standard cable release.

In the centre of the raised portion of the top plate is the accessory shoe. This is a standard Barnack shoe and so has no electrical contacts – a cold shoe. Either side of the accessory shoe is a screw which presumably fix the top plate to the camera body. To the left of the raised portion is the rewind knob.

On the rear of the top plate is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is small – 5 mm diameter – as was usual in the 1950s. This is a reverse Galilean finder – the image is smaller than life size. There are no bright lines or other compositional aids here. On the right of the eyepiece is a small serrated lever. Moving this to the left and in will allow you to rewind the film. The front of the top plate is just the viewfinder window. This measures 11 by 7 mm.

The front of the camera has the shutter/lens housing right in the centre. There is a pressed metal hood which protrudes 22 mm from the body to hold the shutter/lens in the correct place. This has the legend “Hunter 35” stamped on the top in Italic script. The shutter is anonymous and I suspect Steiner’s own make. It is a simple everset shutter offering four speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/200 seconds plus B. The shutter release lever is visible on the right hand side of the shutter housing where it immediately dives into the metal hood mentioned earlier to connect with the shutter release button on the top plate. Also on the shutter housing is a PC-socket for flash. There is no indication of whether this is M or X sync but for a cheap camera in the 1950s, I doubt the user would be buying an electronic flash gun so my guess is it is M sync.

The available apertures on the lens are from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/16 which is a reasonable range for an amateur amera. The lens is a Steiner lens – it has no specific name – which is a triplet with a focal length of 45 mm – which is normal for 35mm photography. Steiner are a reputable maker of lenses and still have a good business making binoculars. The focus range for this lens is three feet to infinity. The minimum focus distance on the focus scale is 3.5 feet but the lens will move quite a bit beyond this. Beside the focus scale is a depth of field scale which is something I very much miss on modern autofocus lenses.

The back of this camera is unusual in as much as it does not open – film loading is through the base, much as an early Leica. What there is on the back is a printed exposure guide. This is basically variations on the Sunny 16 rule which generally works very well. Four options for film speed are given – in both ASA and DIN. These are: ASA 10-16 or DIN 11-13, ASA 32 or DIN 16 (both expected to be colour films which were much slower than monochrome films in the 1950s), ASA 50-80 or DIN 18-20 and ASA 100-200 or DIN 21-24 (both expected to be black and white films). There are also four weather options giving a grid of aperture options. This chart assumes a shutter speed of 1/50 seconds which is rather slow for hand holding the camera.

The access to the inside is by removing the base. The catch is in the centre of the base. This is a disc with two studs. While the studs are in line with the base, the base is locked. Rotating the disc through 90º anti-clockwise moves the studs across the base and one stud is now by the stamped “O” (for open). The base now lifts off. One end of the base has a standard 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket.

Inside the body of the camera are two chambers. One takes the film cassette and the other then take-up spool. The take-up spool is a removable plain black cylinder with a single longitudinal slot – inside this slot is a blue steel spring. Film is loaded by removing the take-up spool and pushing the film leader into the slit – this must be done outside the camera – and then putting the cassette and co-joined take-up spool into the camera making sure that the film slips in front of the sprung pressure plate. This pressure plate is not particularly obvious when looking into the camera.

What is missing from here is any sprocket shaft or sprocket wheel. This camera has no way of counting sprocket holes and so no way of measuring how much film has ben wound on. Each time you advance the film, the take-up spool turns one half a turn – the amount of film that is advanced is determined by the diameter of the take-up spool. For the first couple of frames this gives normal frame spacing but as more film is wound onto the take-up spool the effective diameter of the take-up spool increases and so more film is advanced, giving ever greater gaps between frames.

Test film

I have run a test film through this camera – Agfa Vista as usual – and now have the results. First, the positive: The camera works well for a cheap camera and the lens, although not brilliant, is quite good for family snapshots. Now the negative: there is a light leak on every frame. This is right on the right hand side of the image (so the left hand side of the negative) and could easily be cropped out if I wanted to use this camera.

To estimate the exposure, I used the table on the back of the camera which is basically the Sunny 16 rule. This has worked well. There is a dark bar at the top of each image which makes me thing that the film gate is slightly smaller than the standard 24 by 36 mm.

Here are are few images from the test film:

FED Zarya (ФЭД Заря)

Soviet Zarya camera based on the FED 2,

This is a Soviet camera that was made in Ukraine by FED. It is a FED 2 without the rangefinder and (as far as I can tell) only made for the home (Soviet) market. As the camera was made for the home market, all the writing on the camera is in Cyrillic, not that there is much writing. There is the maker’s name – ФЭД – the model name – Заря – the advance or rewind options – п and с – and the lens name – ИНДУСТАР-26м (Industar-26M) together with П which indicates that the lens is coated. The Zarya was made between 1958 and 1959 or between 1959 and 1961 – it depends on which bit of the Interweb you read! It would seem that 141,228 Zarya cameras were made and mine is #47,339 so about 1/3 of the way through the production run.

  • lens: Industar-26M
  • focal length: 5 cm
  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 1 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: M39
  • shutter: cloth focal plane
  • speeds: 1/30 s to 1/500 s
  • flash: PC socket
  • film size: 35 mm

This camera measures 140 by 80 by 32 mm. It weighs xg. The top plate is lower than on the parent FED 2 as it does not need to accommodate the rangefinder mechanism. Height apart, the controls are identical to the FED 2. This is because the internal mechanism is identical. On the far right is the film advance knob. This has a different machining to the FED 2 version (or, at least, than my FED 2 but not necessarily than all FED 2s). It turns clockwise.

On the top is a memo for the type of film in use. There are three options for film – B&W, Daylight and Artificial light. These can each be set to one of four film speeds – 22, 45, 90, and 180. These are in GOST, the Soviet standard for film speeds. The engraving on the memo is in Cyrillic and looks to say roct – it is actually гост or GOST. GOST film speeds are much the same as ASA and ISO but slightly lower. 22 GOST is 25 ASA/ISO, 45 GOST is 50 ASA/ISO, 90 GOST is 100 ASA/ISO and 180 GOST is 200 ASA/ISO. At some point in the late 20th century (well after the date of this camera) GOST film speeds were aligned with ISO. Also incorporated into the film advance knob is the frame counter. This counts up from zero and needs to be set to zero by hand when loading a new film.

Next to the film advance knob, and almost touching it, is the shutter release button. This positioning of the button is a relic of the Leica II camera that the FED 2 (and this Zarya) are copies of. It is an awkward position – while useable, it means the photographer’s index finger must curl over the top of the film advance knob. This shutter release button is threaded for a standard cable release. Around the button is a collar with a milled top. This collar is used to disengage the film advance mechanism to allow the film to be rewound. This is supposed to work by pressing the collar down and turning it clockwise in the direction of the Cyrillic п (or ‘p’ in the Latin alphabet). This locks into place and allows the sprocket shaft to turn in both directions. With my camera, the collar will press down but will not lock into place meaning that the collar must be manually held down while rewinding.

The third control on the right of the viewfinder is the shutter speed selector. This works by lifting and turning. Available speeds are spares but useable: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500 seconds plus B. It is well known that with early Leicas and their derivatives you must advance the film (and hence return the shutter blinds) before you change shutter speeds or risk damaging the mechanism. With the introduction of the FED 2, the film speeds selector was modified so this restriction no longer applies. As this Zarya is a modified FED 2, it does not apply with this camera either and it is safe to change shutter speeds either before or after advancing the film.

If you compare the shutter speed selector with other FED models or Zorki models you can see the difference. On my FED 4 and Zorki 4, the set shutter speed appears to alter after the shutter is fired. if I set my FED 4 shutter to 1/125 and fire the shutter, the shutter speed index will point to 1/15 and returns to 1/125 as I advance the film. With this Zarya (and my FED 2), if I set the shutter to 1/125 and fire the shutter, the speed index remains on 1/125.

Just left of centre is the viewfinder. This rises up above the top plate by 10 mm. the front viewfinder window is 15 by 11 mm which tells me it is an early Zarya – the later models had viewfinder windows measuring 15 by 9 mm. The viewfinder eyepiece is circular and measures 15 mm diameter. It is surrounded by a circular milled ring which is harsh on modern plastic spectacles. it is a reverse Galilean finder – what you see is slightly smaller than life size. There are no framing lines of any sort and as this is can entirely manual camera there is no exposure information in the viewfinder. On top of the viewfinder is a Barnack type accessory shoe – no electrical contacts. In front of the accessory shoe is the model name in Cyrillic script – Заря. It only has four letters but this transliterates to Zarya (or Zaria) in the Latin script.

Left of the viewfinder is the rewind knob. This is large – 22 mm in diameter – and has an arrow engraved on top to indicate the direction of turn.

The front of the top plate has a PC socket for connecting a flash gun. On the FED 2, this PC socket is on the front face of the body but on the Zarya it has been moved onto the top plate, presumably for ease of manufacture. The other thing on the front of the camera is the lens mount. This is the M39 thread mount – also known as LTM or Leica Thread Mount. This is the mount used by FED, Zorki, Canon and Cosina and other rangefinder cameras from the 1930s to the 21st century. There are a vast range of lenses that a will fit this Zarya camera. The M39 lenses have a focus cam connected to the focus ring to actuate the rangefinder in the camera. This Zarya has no rangefinder so it has no cam follower to read the focus position of the lens.

The base and back of the camera come away in one piece. I have never understood this as changing the film in the field is rendered awkward by needing to put the base/back down somewhere while fiddling with the film. To release the base/back, you need to first turn the keys at either end of the base. These turn through 180º.

The base has a tripod socket in line with the lens. This is the 3/8 inch Whitworth thread standard – the modern 1/4 inch UNC thread was still a long way in the future. Before 1945, this 3/8 Whitworth thread was almost ubiquitous and after 1945 became increasingly rare. FED were copying a 1930s German camera and had clearly not taken much notice of the then current international trends. This camera can still be used on a modern tripod by inserting a 3/8 inch to 1/4 inch conversion slug into the tripod socket. The inside of the back has a rather small sprung pressure plate.

The inside of the two catches in the base have lugs which locate over lugs on the camera body which firmly holds the base/back in place. Above the lugs on the base/back there is a cut-away portion facing the back. If you are using Kodak style cassettes (the common, commercial ones) and the removable take-up spool, this cut-away does nothing. However, FED produced their own reusable film cassettes modelled on the Leica film cassettes. If you use a FED cassette (filled with film from a bulk loader), this cut-away portion locates a pin on then FED cassette. As you lock the base/back, the light tight FED cassette opens to allow the film to move without scratching and when you unlock the base/back at the end of the film, the FED cassette closes again to be light tight.

The take-up spool is brass and is removable – this is so you can replace it with a second FED cassette which removes the need to rewind the film. Several camera marques offered this – the Exacta Varex IIb even has an inbuilt knife to cut the film – but I have never seen the advantage.

The film gate is, as always, in the middle between the film cassette and take-up spool. The shutter curtains move horizontally and are made from light-proof fabric. On my camera, the opaque rubbery coating of the fabric has degraded and I can actually see through the first shutter curtain. This camera does not warrant the cost of having new curtains fitted so I am going to try painting the fabric with black acrylic artist’s paint (courtesy of Bestbeloved) in the hope that it is both opaque enough and flexible enough. We shall see!

The supplied lens is an Industar-26M which is a clone of the Carl Zeiss Tessar lens (as this camera is ultimately a copy of a Leica, it is probably a copy of the Leica Elmar lens, but that was a rework of the Tessar). This Industar seems to have been the go-to lens for Soviet camera makers. The lens has four glass elements in three groups and has a focal length of 5 cm. The focal length stated on the lens is in cm which was a bit old-fashioned by the late 1950s. Generally, pre-1945 lenses are in cm and post-1945 lenses are in mm.

The maximum aperture is ƒ/2.8 and the minimum aperture is ƒ/22 – this is a good range of apertures. Tessar type lenses are never very fast and ƒ/2.8 is plenty wide enough for most situations. The lens is coated, as we would expect by the late 1950s and this fact is denoted by a red П on the lens bezel.The focus range is from one metre to infinity. The focus ring is right by the mounting thread – this is necessary as turning the focus ring moves the rangefinder cam in and out (even though this camera has no rangefinder, the lens was designed for cameras that did). The aperture ring is at the front of the lens. This has a smooth motion with no click-stops. So, intermediate apertures can be easily set but with the downside that the ring is easy to move accidentally.

The housing for the lens is made from an aluminium alloy which is left bright. The markings for the aperture, depth of field scale and focus distance are engraved (later versions had the marking screen printed and were prone to wear off). The focus ring has heavy knurling making it easy to find by touch. The aperture ring has finer milling.

Test Film

I have run a test film – Agfa Vista – through this camera and I am delighted with the results. As I mentioned above, the first shutter curtain was nearly transparent and I have given it a good coat of black acrylic artist’s paint on either surface. This has worked very well – surprisingly well. There are indications of light leaks on a couple of frames, but most frames were fine. Exposure of each frame is even indicating that the shutter curtains are moving smoothly, which is not a given seeing as I have both thickened and stiffened one of the curtains. Exposure times are close to the designed times as each frame on the negatives have the level of image density I would want and expect. The lens is fine, the aperture setting being about right and focus is good. The camera back is not leaking light – as a copy of a German camera, there are no foam light seals, light tightness being achieved with flanges.

Sowing some light leak
Another light leak

Zeiss Ikon Contina II

This is a folding camera from Zeiss Ikon. This camera is a direct descendent of the Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 35. The Ikonta 35 was introduced shortly after WWII and the design bifurcated into the Contessa and Contina lines. The Contessa was an Ikonta 35 with a coupled rangefinder and a coupled light meter – and it was expensive. The basic Ikonta 35 was renamed the Contina with no modifications – the model number of the Contina was the same as the model number of the Ikonta 35 (522/24). As well as developing the Contessa variant – eventually into a rigid bodied camera (I have the Contessa LKE), the Contina variant was also developed, again eventually into a rigid bodied form (I have both the Contina Ic and Contina IIa). The camera I am writing about here is the second variant of the Ikonta 35 – the Contina II – model number 524/24 – (which is very different to the Contina IIa above). As with the Contessa, this camera has a rangefinder but it is not coupled to the lens. There is no light meter.

Although the Contina II is very like its parent, the Ikonta 35, which I already have an article on, I am going to write this article as if it were a completely different camera.

This camera measures 115 by 78 by 40 mm when closed and 115 by 78 by 80 mm when the lens is opened for use. The camera weighs xg. This is very much a pocket camera – it fits nicely in both my trouser pocket and my jacket pocket. The camera comes with a natty quick-release leather case for when you want the camera around your neck.

The top plate is made from satin finish chrome plated brass (as is the base plate). Strangely, none of the controls that you might expect on a 35mm camera are present here. On the right of the top plate is a 22 mm diameter knob which adjusts the rangefinder. On the top of this knob are the digits 3, 4, 6, 15 and ∞ and the legend ‘feet’. This rangefinder is adjusted by turning the outer ring of the knob whilst looking through the circular rangefinder eyepiece. There is an index mark on the outer ring which points to the distance recorded.

On the left of the top plate is a memo knob for the film type in use – this has no effect on the use of the camera. This knob is divided into three – ASA (for monochrome films), daylight colour and artificial light colour. The mono section has seven film speeds in ASA (16 to 200 ASA) and the two colour sections have seven film speeds each but this time in DIN (4 to 25 DIN). Raising the outer ring of the knob and turning it moves an index mark to the required film type. In the middle of the top plate is a Barnack type accessory shoe, i.e. a cold shoe.

The back of the top plate has two eyepieces. The central, rectangular, one is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is very small – 5 by 3 mm – and very hard to use while wearing glasses. The viewfinder is a reverse Galilean finder. This means that it is like a telescope used backwards – it makes things seen smaller. This is a direct vision finder so there is no focus screen in the viewfinder and at this age there are no bright lines for framing – all you see will be in the image.

On the left of the top plate is a circular eyepiece. This is the rangefinder eyepiece. This makes using the camera a bit awkward. First, you use the left-hand eyepiece to focus and then you move to the right-hand eyepiece for composition. When looking through the rangefinder eyepiece, the image has a greenish hue with the yellow square in the centre. When out of focus, the yellow square will show the same image as the greenish area but displaced to one side. Turning the knob on the top plate will move the yellow square. When you move the yellow square so the the two images coincide, the index on the knob will show the distance to the subject. you then manually transfer this distance to the focus scale on the lens.

The front of the top[ plate has three windows. The central, larger, window is the viewfinder. The two smaller windows are the rangefinder. Below these windows is the door for the lens. At the bottom of this door is a tripod socket. This is 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. This is blanked by a small threaded metal disc for when a tripod is not being used. Central on the door is the camera name “CONTINA”. At the top of the door is a small metal stud for opening the lens door.

The lens door is not sprung and must be opened by hand. When open fully, it clicks into place. As the door opens, the shutter/lens assembly comes forward and locks securely into place. This shutter/lens assembly is on a fabric bellows but these are hidden from sight.

The shutter is a prontor SV – the S signifies that the shutter is synchronised for flash and the V (Vorlaufwerk) signifies that there is a self-timer. Shutter speeds are from 1 second two 1/300 seconds plus B. Shutter speeds are selected by turning a serrated ring at the front of the shutter housing. The scale of shutter speeds is on the top of the housing.

Flash connection is by way of a PC connector. There is a selector switch on the left side of the shutter housing for either M (flash bulbs) or X (electronic flash). To use the M setting, you have also move the red self timer lever below the housing to the yellow dot. As this is a leaf shutter, flash is available at all shutter speeds. In order to use the self-timer, you need two set the flash synch to X and move the red lever at the bottom of the housing clockwise to the yellow dot. This will start timing once the shutter release is pressed. It is recommended to never use self-timers on old cameras as if they fail, the shutter will be wrecked. On my camera (yes, I have tried it but you should not) the self-timer will not operate without manual assistance and then takes over 30 seconds to fire the shutter.

This shutter mechanism is (just) old enough to not be self-cocking. It is necessary to manually cock the shutter each time you take a photograph. To do this, there is a lever at the top of the shutter housing which you need to move anti-clockwise. Doing this raises a red flag which indicates that the shutter is cocked. To fire the shutter, there is a lever on the top right-hand side of the shutter housing with a large knob on top. Pressing this down fires the shutter. This mechanism is linked to the film advance and will not operate unless there is a film in the camera and it has been advanced since the last shot. Also, you cannot advance the film until the shutter has been fired.

There is a socket for a standard cable release – this is not integral to the shutter housing but is in a separate pillar by the top left of the shutter housing.

The apertures available on this camera are from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/22 so not a very fast lens but quite useable. Apertures are set by a ring at the back of the shutter housing which is serrated on the right hand side only. The scale for the apertures is also on the top of the shutter housing, behind the shutter speed scale.

The lens is a Novar lens. Zeiss Ikon almost always used Carl Zeiss lenses – the Carl Zeiss Stiftung being the majority owner of Zeiss Ikon – but on cheaper cameras they used Novar lenses. These Novar lenses are made to a design owned by Zeiss Ikon rather than Carl Zeiss but the lenses were made by companies such as Rodenstock and Steinheil. The actual maker of the lens is never indicated and these Novar lenses rarely have serial numbers. The Novar is a three element lens. It is an anastigmat but by 1950 just about all camera lenses were. Although only a triplet, Novars perform very well once stopped down to around ƒ/8. This lens will focus from three feet to infinity – this is an export camera so distances are in feet rather than metres. As was common at the time this camera was made, there is a Happy Snapper setting denoted by red dots. So, set the focus to the red dot between 15 and 30 feet and set the aperture to the red dot between ƒ8 and ƒ/11. Do this and everything between nine feet and infinity will be in focus. Often, there a second red dot for when taking head and shoulder shots but not on this camera. I would think that the user is expected to rely on the rangefinder having paid out for one. The Happy Snapper setting that is provided gives the hyperfocal distance for the most effective aperture and, with landscapes, will give the best stretch of focus.

When you are finished for the day, and want to close the camera, you need to press-in the two triangular plates at the hinge between the lens door and camera body. The lens door will then fold up.

The base of the camera has the items that you would usually expect to find on the top plate. At either end are two large knobs, one for rewind and one for film advance. The rewind knob has beside it an engraved arrow and the letter R to indicate that it is the rewind knob and the direction that it turns in. The film advance knob is similar but with an A rather than an R. There are, however, two differences. In the centre of the advance knob is a button. Pressing this releases the advance system to allow the film to be rewound. This button needs to be held in all the while the film is being rewound. There are also two holes that at first glance have no function. These come into play when the camera is in its leather case. As the film advance is on the bottom of the camera, it would be impossible to use the camera in a conventional case. To overcome this, the leather cases has an integral film advance knob of its own which has two prongs which fit into the holes in the camera’s film advance knobs the user can advance the film while the camera is in its case.

Between the two knobs is the film counter. This counts up from zero. When loading a new film, you set the counter to the diamond mark and wind-on the film until advance knob stops turning – this will removed the film fogged by loading and takes the counter to 1. The counter goes up to 38.

The back of the camera is covered in black leatherette. This has various items embossed in it. There is the Zeiss Ikon logo prominently in the centre and below this is “MADE IN GERMANY” and then “STUTTGART”. On the left hand edge of the back is the model number: 524/24. At the other end of the back is the serial number. This is in the standard Zeiss Ikon (originally used by Ica) format of a letter followed by up to five digits. In the case of my camera, it is B14511

The back is opened by a sliding catch on the left hand edge. Inside, the film cassette goes on the right, the film gate is in the centre and the take-up spool is on the left. There is no sprocket shaft which allows the camera to be significantly smaller than camera that do have a sprocket shaft. The rôle of the sprocket shaft is taken by two small toothed wheels below the film gate. These work exactly in the same way as a sprocket shaft by counting the perforations in the film – seven holes equals one frame. When these seven holes have passed the sprocket wheels, the film advance is locked and the shutter release lever is freed for action.

As this is a German camera, there are no foam light seals to degrade so I can use this camera straight away. I shall have to take a hand-held light meter with me as the camera does not have one. In summer months I would happily use the Sunny 16 rule but at this time of year (February) in northern England that does not work too well. My test film will be Agfa Vista 200 ISO colour film and I shall post the results here as soon as they are available.

Test Film

I have run a roll of Agfa Vista film through this camera and have the results back from the lab. For this test roll, I used my Samsung mobile phone as a light meter, All frames on the test film are well exposed with the image density I would expect. This shows that the camera shutter timings are close to the intended times – not bad for a 70 year old camera! There is some flare when shooting into the light but not much – generally this is a usable camera, so long as you remember to keep the light behind you (as my father repeatedly used to remind me when I was a youngster). I tested the rangefinder on a number of shots and the calibration is very usable. Overall, I am very happy with this camera.

Flare at the top of the image.

Canon FTb

With the advent of 35mm SLR design in the late 1940s, it did not take long for both the German and Japanese camera industries to come up with the ubiquitous SLR design popular in the 1960s and 70s. This fundamental design did not change much until the introduction of micro-processors and electric motors in the late 1980s.

  • lens: n/a
  • focal length: n/a
  • apertures: n/a
  • focus range: n/a
  • lens fitting: FD breach-lock
  • shutter: cloth focal plane
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/1000
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC socket
  • film size: 35 mm

So, this Japanese SLR camera from Canon in 1971 is very like an Asahi Pentax from 1961. For this reason, I will give a quick description of the top and as much detail of the rest as I can.

This camera measures 144 by 93 by 43 mm and weighs 750g. This is not a compact or light camera but is significantly lighter than a Nikon F2. In 1971, this camera cost £160 retail (recommended price was a bit more). This is the same price as the Nikkormat FTn which was Nikon’s equivalent camera, and slightly more than the Olympus FTL. I have no idea why three equivalent Japanese SLR cameras were all called FTx – I can only assume that FT has some meaning in Japanese that is not apparent in English. The layout is fairly ergonomic with my various fingers falling to the controls with no problems.

The film advance lever is cut metal with a machined grip at the tip. This marks the camera as being an early FTb as Canon started putting black plastic tips on the lever on later versions. This lever has two rest positions. It can sit flush with the top plate or proud of the top plate at an angle of 21º. This proud rest position is intended to make life easier for the user when using the camera but this annoys me and I prefer the lever to be flush. If you let the internal spring return the lever after advancing the film, the lever will end up flush with the body and if you let the lever return slowly, it will stop at the 21º stand-off position. To advance the film one frame, the lever moves through 174º and works through a ratchet, so the film can be advanced with several short strokes.

In front of the film advance lever is the window for the frame counter. In usual Japanese manner, this resets to S when the back is opened. Winding on three frames gets you to zero which is in red. Even frames have numbers, odd frames have dots. Numbers 20 and 36 are in red as these were the two sizes of 35mm film in 1971. The counter goes up to 39 – it is unlikely that you will fit more than 39 frames in a cassette.

Next to then frame counter window is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. This is surrounded by a switch with two positions. “L” is lock and prevents the shutter release button being pressed. This mechanically prevents the button form moving but the shutter can still age fired by a cable release if fitted. The second positions “S” and in this position the shutter release button can be pressed. I have no idea as to what “A” stands for.

Dominating the right hand side of the top plate is the shutter speed dial/film speed dial. Shutter speeds are from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds and are selected by turning the dial – the dial will not turn between 1/1000 and B. 1/60 seconds is in red as this is the flash synchronisation speed for electronic flash. Flash bulbs can be used at any shutter speed. Film speeds are set by raising and turning the dial. Film speeds are in ASA (which is functionally the same as ISO) and run from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA (Kodak made 25 ASA Kodachrome film unto 2002). Behind the shutter speed/fiom speed dial is an engraved circle with a line through it. The line represents the position of the film inside the the camera for when accurate measurement is required for ultra-close-ups.

The pentaprism hump is central. This sports an ISO hot shoe with two additional contacts specifically for Canon’s dedicated flash guns. On the rear of the pentaprism hump is the viewfinder eyepiece.This is rectangular with grooves to accept accessories.

Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. This is a Fresnel screen which helps to keep uniform brightness over the screen. In the middle of the focus screen is a smaller rectangle which denotes the area used by the metering system. Right in the centre is a disc of micro-prisms which act as a focusing aid.

On the right hand side of the focus screen is the light meter read-out. This is a match-needle type – the meter needle indicates the light level and the user adjusts the shutter speed and lens aperture until the moving disc is superimposed on the meter needle. If the set shutter speed is outside of the useable range of the meter, a red disc pops up at the bottom as a warning. This is dependent on the film speed set.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the usual folding type. Pulling this crank up releases the catch for the back of the camera. Around the crank is the switch for the light meter. This has three positions – on, off and “C”. On and off are self-explanatory. “C”is the battery check position. This last is surprisingly complicated. First, you need to set the film speed to 100 ASA. Then you need to set the shutter speed to 1/1000 seconds. Once these are set, move the switch to “C” (you will need to hold it there) and look in the viewfinder at the meter display – the battery is OK if the needle moves above the square index mark near the bottom of the display.

On the left edge of the top plate is the battery compartment. This is intended to take a PX625 mercury cell which are no longer available. These are 1.3 v cells – I Ama using a 1.5 v alkaline cell which is the same physical size but the wrong voltage. This will affect the meter reading.

The front of the camera has an FD breach-lock bayonet mount. This started off as the R mount (not to be confused with the EOS R mount), was updated to the FL mount and then the FD mount. Both R mount and FL mount lenses will fit this camera but with reduced functionality. The R mount was introduced in 1959 along with Canon’s first SLR camera – the Canonflex. R mount lenses used a different system to control the aperture to the later Fl and FD systems which means that using them is more awkward.

The FL mount was introduced in 1964. This system has no way of communicating the set aperture so TTL metering must be done with the aperture stopped down, making the image in the viewfinder very dark. If an FL mount lens is used on this FTb camera, it will work fine but it is necessary to use the DOF preview lever to close the aperture while using the meter.

The FD mount has three components which allow open-aperture metering. There is a static pin which communicates the maximum aperture to the camera. This presses on a sprung pin in the camera’s mount. There is a lever which moves to a position dependent on the set aperture to indicate this to the metering system and a second lever to close the lens aperture just before the shutter fires. There is also a pin “reserved for future use” according to the instruction book for this camera provided by Canon. I do not know if they ever used this pin in later iterations of the FD mount.

The FD mount is a breach-lock mount which is different to most bayonet mounts in as much as the lens, once located in the bayonet, is not rotated to lock it. Instead, there is a locking ring to turn. This locking ring has a couple of attributes which caused me some concern initially. First, this locking ring on the lens will not turn at all while the lens is off the camera. this is to ensure that it is always aligned in the right [position for fitting the lens. The second attribute is that the two levers mentioned above will do nothing while the lens is disconnected – the lever that stops the aperture down will move but do nothing and the lever that signals the set aperture is always in the maximum aperture position and will not move. Again, this is so that everything links together properly when fitting the lens. At the top of them FD mount there is a notch with a red dot above it. this notch locates a pin on the lens and ensures that the lens is properly aligned.

Looking at the mount, to its right, is a PC socket for flash (the Japanese manual for this camera calls this a German socket). This is for when the user wants to use off-camera flash and the hot shoe is of no use.

On the left of the FD mount is a complex switch. There are four functions (or five) here. Pushing the lever in towards the lens will close the lens aperture to allow the photographer to judge the depth of field. Doing this is also used for stop-down metering when using FL lenses or close-up bellows or such. Rotating the lever in the opposite direction winds up the clockwork self-timer. When this is wound up and the shutter release button is pressed, there is a ten second delay before the shutter is fired.

At the bottom of this is a rotating switch with three positions. The default position is the white dot and in this position the switch does nothing. Next position is a red L. in this position, the DOF lever is fixed in position for stop down metering and allows the user to concentrate on the meter and lens aperture ring. The third position of this switch is an orange M. In this position, the mirror is raised up out of the way. Doing this results in much lesss vibration when taking a photograph and is used in critical close-ups and other situations where vibration must be kept to a minimum. It also necessitates the use of a tripod as the viewfinder is blacked out when the mirror is raised.

The back of the camera is opened by lifting the rewind crank. mostly, the inside is as you might expect – cassette on the left, film gate in the centre, thens sprocket shaft and finally the take-up spool. What is different here is the implementation of Canon’s QL (Quick Load) system. When you first open the back, the sprocket shaft and take-up spool are covered by a metal plate. As you open the back further, this plate is lifted out of the way. This reveals the strange design of the take-up spool which has three sprung leaves with a small rubber pad on each. To load a new film, you place the cassette in the left chamber and pull out the film leader until it reaches the orange mark. As you close the back, the film leader is covered by this metal plate and held close to both the sprocket shaft and take-up spool. When the film is advanced (after the back is closed) the film is pushed into the take-up spool by the sprocket shaft and held in place by the sprung leaves. This works very well but I fail to see the advantage over a slot in the take-up spool which most cameras (including Canon’s) had.

Being a Japanese camera, there are foam light seals which keep the join between the body and back light-tight. After 50 years, the foam has degraded to a sticky mess and needs to be replaced. This is a fairly simple DIY job – the self-adhseive foam is available on the Interweb – and the foam buffer for the mirror also needs replacing.

The base plate of the camera is very sparse. There is a tripod socket – 1/4 inch thread which I suspect will be UNC by this date – which is in line with the lens and there is the button to free the film advance system to allow the film to be rewound. There is no facility to attached a noter drive to this camera.

I have already run a test film through this camera, without replacing the foam light seals. This is risky but sometimes OK. In any event, I can judge the shutter action and the light meter. I have the wrong battery in the camera, as mentioned above, as the intended 1.3 volt mercury cell is no longer available. Instead, I am using a 1.5 volt alkaline battery. The voltage difference will affect the exposure but usually within the exposure latitude of the film. most of the 24 shots from the film are exposed as the meter determined but I have done two test shots. For each, I took a photograph according to the meter then a photograph with one stop less exposure and then a photograph with one stop more exposure than the meter suggested.

Exposure and light leaks apart, this is a good camera to use. I have been using it in sub-zero conditions (that is in Celsius for any foreign readers) and the camera is quite useable while wearing thick gloves.

Test Film

I now have the test film back. There is no sign of light leaks although the foam light seals are definitely degraded. I mentioned above that I have the wrong battery in the camera. My test shots show that using the meter with the wrong battery gives a usable negative but one stop more exposure gives a better negative – there is not really anything desperately different between the two. One stop less exposure definitely gives a poor exposure. My final thought is that this is an excellent camera that is a joy to use and it will probably remain a user over the next few years.

Here are a selection of the photos:

Photavit Photina Reflex

The Photina range seems to have been modelled on the Voigtländer Brillant range. The first two Photina cameras were pseudo-TLRs – they look like a proper TLR camera but the upper lens is a static viewfinder (essentially a very large Brilliant finder). This Photina – the Reflex – is like the last Voigtländer Brillants in as much as it is a true focusing TLR.

This is a cheap camera and definitely not in the same league as a Rolleiflex or Ikoflex. The main body is made from cast aluminium and the back and the base are made from pressed steel. As a TLR, the camera is basically a box with two lenses on the front surface. The box measures 140 by 73 by 78 mm and the lenses protrude a further 28 mm. The camera weighs x g.

This camera uses a leaf shutter so most of the controls are on the shutter/lens barrel. On the right hand side of the camera are two knobs. The upper, larger, knob is the film advance knob. The lower, smaller, knob pulls out to allow the film roll to be fitted, as does the film advance knob. In front of the film advance knob is a small lug which is to attach a neck strap.

The front of the camera has the two lenses and the shutter. The top lens is the viewfinder lens and the bottom lens is the exposure lens. With this camera, both lenses are the same – with most TLR cameras, the viewfinder lens is of an inferior, cheaper, design as slight aberrations are not important. The lenses are Westar lenses made by ISCO-Göttingen. “ISCO” stands for “Iosef Schneider Co.” – Josef Schneider being the founder and owner of the older Schneider-Kreuznach who are still a major lens maker in Germany. I am not sure of the original relationship between the two lens makers but today (2020) ISCO is a subsidiary of Schneider-Kreuznach.

The Westar lens would seem to be a triplet – I would not expect a top design of lens on a cheap camera such as this one. Triplets usually perform very well for general photography once stopped down to ƒ/8 or so. The maximum aperture here is ƒ/3.5 – again, much as I would expect on a camera like this one. The focal length is 75 mm which is normal for 6×6 negatives.

On most TLR cameras, focus is achieved by moving the front plate of the camera to and fro. This requires significant manufacturing finesse and on these cheaper TLR cameras focus is achieved by turning the lenses on a helical screw. As both viewfinder lens and taking lens need to focus exactly the same, the two lenses are linked by toothed rings. You can focus by turning either lens – it makes no difference which – but I find it easier to turn the top, viewfinder, lens with my two forefingers. Because the lenses are directly connected by the toothed rings, they turn in opposite directions. To focus from infinity to close, the top lens turns clockwise and the taking lens anti-clockwise. The focus range is from 3.5 feet to infinity – there is no metre scale as this is an export camera intended for the British market.

The focus scale is on the top, viewfinder, lens (the only place that the photographer will be able to see it while photographing) and is adjacent to a depth of field scale in red.

The other controls are around the lower, taking, lens. The controls here are aperture, shutter speed, self-timer, cocking lever and shutter release. This camera has a leaf shutter with the shutter blades between the glass elements of the lens. The shutter is a Pronto by Gauthier of Calmbach, Germany. The pronto shutter was one of the two bottom-of-the-range shutters offered by Gauthier in the 1950s. It offers four speeds (1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/200) plus B. It also has a self-timer.

Shutter speed is set by a toothed ring around the shutter barrel. The speed scale is on the right of the shutter ring (as seen when using the camera). Immediately below this scale is the shutter cocking lever. This must be pulled down to cock the shutter. Below the cocking lever is another scale. This is the aperture scale and runs from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/16. The setting lever for the aperture is on the other side of the shutter housing.

On the left of the shutter housing are two levers. The longer lever is the aperture setting lever. The smaller lever here, with a red tip, is the self-timer lever. It is standard advice to never use these on old cameras as if they fail internally they will stop the shutter mechanism from ever working. On this camera, the self-timer produces a delay of 11 seconds. Gauthier shutters usually produce an 8 second delay – the difference I will put down to age.

Then other control on the shutter housing is the shutter release lever. This is intentionally bent down and locates in a saddle which is moved by a sliding button on the lower right of the front plate. This is nicely placed for the photographer’s right index finger to use. On the shutter housing, near the sliding shutter release button, is a socket for a standard cable release cable.

There is no interlocking with this camera. You can wind on as many frames as you want without taking a photograph and you can take as many photographs as you want without winding on the film.

The left side of the camera has two retractable knobs which hold the film spools in place. There is also a second lug for attaching the neck strap. In the top front corner of the left side is a PC connector for flash. The base of the camera is plain apart from a tripod socket. This is the small camera standard of 1/4 inch Whitworth thread (it is a bit early for the modern 1/4 inch UNC thread).

The back of the camera has the usual (for 120 format cameras) red window. This window is used to read the frame numbers printed on the film’s backing paper. This camera produces 60 by 60 mm negatives so will get twelve negatives from each roll of 120 film (which film is still readily available).

To load film – or remove exposed film – it is necessary to open the back of the camera. At the top of the back is an aluminium slide. To prevent this from moving unintentionally, there is a small metal button on the left of the slide. This must be pressed in before the slide can be slid to the left. The back and base they come away in one piece. The back/base is made from pressed steel.

new rolls of film fit into a chamber in the base.The two knobs on the outside on each side must be pulled out to allow the roll of film to be fitted. There is a blued steel spring to hold the film tight on the spool. The film then passes over a black roller on the corner between the base and the back. The film gate is 56 mm square so this is the actual size of the negative; a bit smaller than the nominal 60 mm. Above the film gate is the chamber for the take-up spool. Again, the knobs on either side must be retracted to fit the take-up spool. For those not au fait with 120 film formats, the empty spool from the previous roll of film is used as the take-up spool for the next roll of film. There is another blued steel spring here to keep the used film tight on the sp[ool.

The top of the camera opens up to form the viewfinder. To open this, there is an aluminium button on th rear right corner of the camera. Pressing this button causes the viewfinder hood to spring up. On my camera, the front and sides spring up but not the rear part. This is because the front part is rather warped and the locating pins for the rear part no longer locate. It is easy enough to lift by hand.

For composition, you look down into the viewfinder. This is made awkward by the fact that the image is reversed left to right – a property of all waist-lever finders, not just this one. As you move the camera to the right, the viewfinder image will move to the left. It takes a while to get used to this but it does eventually become second nature.

To make focusing easier, there is a fold-out magnifier hinged from the rear of the viewfinder hood. The viewing screen is just plain ground glass – no micro-prisms or split image such as we would expect with an SLR camera. There are three blue lines on the viewing screen marked ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘1+2’. I have no indication as to why these are here but I would guess that they relate to close-up lenses.

For photographing moving objects, the image reversal makes life very difficult. To make this easier, there is a second, direct vision, viewfinder. To use this, you press in the centre of the front of the viewfinder hood – it will latch at an age against the rear of the viewfinder hood. Viewing is then through a square hole in the rear of the viewfinder hood. Focusing is not possible using this direct vision finder. You must either have a sufficient distance that infinity focus is fine or use a small enough aperture that slisfght changes in focus will not matter. I suspect this was intended for sports and infinity focus will have been used.

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