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.

Ferrania Tanit 127 half-frame camera

A simple 127 roll film camera from Italy.

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

Tanit-6

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

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

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

Tanit-5

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

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

Tanit

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

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

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

Tanit-4

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

Tanit-2
Empty film spool waiting to be moved to the left as a new take-up spool
Taanit-1

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

P1040272
Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

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

P1040274
Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

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

P1040276

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

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

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

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

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

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

P1040286
Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

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

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

P1040283
Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

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

P1040285
Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

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

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

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

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

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Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

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

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

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

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Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

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

P1040273
Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

CMF Comet S

CMF Comet S
CMF Comet S
This is a cheap Italian camera which uses 127 film.  The makers is Bencini which is an Italian firm.  At the time this particular camera was made, the firm was called CMF Bencini.  They were made in Milan.
lens:
apertures:
focus range: 3 feet – infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: simple
speeds: 1/50
flash: PC connector, M synch
film size: 127
The camera is small and light.  it is made from an aluminium alloy which is nicely polished.  It is small, measuring 10.5 x 7 x  6.5 cm.  It is a very simple camera with only two controls.  You can focus the camera – the range is from 3 feet (circa one metre) to infinity – and you can set the shutter to 1/50 seconds or B.
It is a half frame camera using 127 film.  The negative size is 3 x 4 cm which is approximately twice the size of 35mm.  You get 16 negatives on a roll of 127 film.
CMF Comet S
Lens barrel detail
The speed selector is unusual in that it is a tab that is pulled out from the lens barrel; see photograph.  The speed selector is on the right of the picture – also visible is the PC connector for flash.  This is synchronised for bulbs only so not too much now.
The viewfinder is very small – the eye piece only measures three millimetres across.  It is the smallest viewfinder I have ever seen.  However, it is still usable once I take my spectacles off.
CMF Comet S
Comet S – rear view
As a roll film camera, it is necessary to look at the red window on the back when winding on to set the next number in the red window.  As this is a half-frame camera, each number is used twice – there are two red windows – first in the left hand window and then in the right hand one.  the picture shows the two red windows, one either side of the maker’s name.
Again as is always the case with roll film  (120 and 127 size) you do not need to rewind the film.  At the end of the roll, you wind the film on until all the backing paper is on the take-up spool and remove the film and spool together and stick the end of the film down with the sticky tab provided.  The spool the film came on is then used as the new take-up spool.
CMF Comet S
127 film spool
As 127 film is now quite expensive and not too easy to get hold off, I doubt I will ever use this camera.  So, no test pictures from this camera, I’m afraid, but samples can be seen here.

 

Kodak Brownie Vecta

Kodak Brownie Vecta
Kodak Brownie Vecta
Kodak had a long series of Brownie cameras.  These were the cheap and cheerful range and varied greatly over time.
This article is about the Brownie Vecta which was made in the UK and presumably only available here.  I was given one of these for a birthday present when I was was eleven or twelve years old when it was a strikingly modern looking camera.  It was designed for Kodak by the British industrial designer Kenneth Grange and its ‘natural’ format is portrait as that is what Kenneth Grange assumed it would mostly be used for. The price in 1965 was £1-9-1 in old British money or £1.46 in modern British money which equates to £47 in 2020 prices.
The Vecta was only in production for three years (from 1963 to 1966).  It is basically a grey plastic cuboid with a central lens and a viewfinder in one corner.  The shutter release is a white bar underneath the lens.  It takes 127 film which is hard to find nowadays but is still available (see Ag-photographic for supplies).
The lens is a simple meniscus lens with no focussing.  I have not been able to find out what the focal length of this lens is but it is significantly wide-angle for 127 film. It works by having a very small aperture – f14 – which gives a large depth of field. The big downside of this is that the camera has to have a slow shutter speed to compensate.  Kodak colour film produced at the time that this cameras was current had a speed of ASA 64 so we probably looking at a shutter speed of around 1/30 second.  My test film for this camera shows reasonable image quality at a print size of 4″ by 6″ (100mm by 150 mm) which is as large as they would have been printed in 1963.  In fact, the surviving pictures that I have from August 1968 were printed at 21/2 by 4 inches at which resolution the quality is fine.
Kodak also produced a ‘supplementary’ lens that fitted over the fixed lens that allowed close-ups to be taken.  I had one of these which had to be used with the printed instructions to get acceptable focussing distances.  This did not work too well as distances became critical and the viewfinder produced parallax errors so I never had a real idea of what I was actually photographing.  I gave up on using the close-up lens fairly quickly.

This camera was easy for a child to use – I certainly do not remember any problems in using it at age eleven or twelve.  There are indentations in the cube to facilitate holding the camera steady – and with a shutter speed of 1/30(ish) a steady hand is essential. I really enjoyed this camera as a child and still found it nice to use. The position of the shutter release and the fact that it is a bar rather than a button takes a bit of getting used to but nothing untoward. It was probably easier for me at age eleven as I had not then become used to using more sophisticated cameras and a bottom shutter release was all that I knew.

Test pictures from this camera:

Kodak Brownie Vecta
Baggholm Road, Lincoln
Kodak Brownie Vecta
Busker, High Street, Lincoln
 At this size they look OK but when enlarged (to beyond the size that was anticipated by the designers) the defects show up.  When putting the first roll of film through a “new” old camera, it is usual for the film to attract dirt from the recesses of the camera.  This shows up as black specs on the final print.  These pictures have instead white specs and very pronounced grain which suggests a film or processing fault.  I cannot tell which, but I am sure it is not the camera.
Kodak Brownie Vecta
Busker, High Street, Lincoln – enlarged to show marks
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