Ricoh TLS 401

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leitz Eldia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mir or Мир

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sida – the camera.

This is a very simple camera from Sida in Germany.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canon AL-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lens

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

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

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

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

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

Nikon Nikkorex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L shaped bracket for flash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Nikon EM

This is my sixth Nikon camera – I already have two ‘modern’ Nikons: the F301 and the even newer F601, two Nikkormats: the FTn and the later EL and the magnificent F2 Photomic. Historically, this Nikon EM sits between the Nikkormats and the F301 and F601.

This is a fairly small camera, reminiscent of the Pentax ME range. It is certainly a lot smaller and lighter than my F2 or either of my Nikkormats. It was intended for women’s use hence the small size and lack of manual controls. All the photographs of people using the camera in the manual are of a pretty blonde to underline this idea. Back when this camera was introduced, it was good marketing to assume that women are useless, apparently.

  • lens: Kiron sold as Vivitar
  • focal length: 70-150 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/3.8 – ƒ/22
  • focus range: 0.9 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: Nikon F mount
  • shutter: Seiko MFC-E metal focal plane
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/1000 s
  • flash: Hot shoe
  • film size: 35 mm

The camera was brought to market in 1979 and was made until 1982 (and offered for sale new until 1984). So, my camera is now (2021) forty years old, give or take a single year. Early camera electronics are notorious for not lasting for decades, not that they were intended to. The automatic exposure system is still working even if I have yet to ascertain how accurately. I can tell this by pointing the camera at different parts of the room and firing the shutter. Listening to the significant differences in the time the shutter takes to open and close indicates the varying shutter speeds.

There are a couple of things that do not work on my camera. One is the battery check system. I press the check button and the LED should light. I do know that the batteries are good because they are new and are controlling the shutter. The other failed system is the meter needle in the viewfinder which does not move regardless of the light, ASA setting or aperture setting. This clearly does not affect the metering system (I suspect that the meter needle has become mechanically jammed through extended unuse) but that does mean that the photographer has no idea as to the shutter speed being used.

A third fault is the AI ring on the lens mount which is supposed to return to its designated rest position when the lens is removed. If you set the lens aperture to ƒ/22, the AI ring moves accordingly. If you then set the lens aperture to ƒ/3.5, the AI ring stays at the ƒ/22 position. I am hoping that this is a spring becoming unattached which might be an easy fix. Or it might be a broken spring which will not be fixable – spare parts for this camera have not been available for decades.

The body is made from a die-cast aluminium alloy and so is quite heavy. The top and bottom plates are made from some sort of plastic and the back is made from pressed steel. The camera body measures 135 by 86 by 52 mm and weighs 460 g. Most of the body is covered in black leatherette and the rest is painted satin black. As an automatic exposure camera with no manual options, there are few controls. In fact, there are only two controls on the camera body. Starting on the top on the right: first is the window to the frame counter. Only even numbers are shown, odd frames being represented by dots. The highest number is 36 – the camera will keep advancing the film but the frame counter will not move beyond 36. The frame counter is reset by opening the back in time-honoured manner. The frame counter resets to S which is actually -3.

Next to the frame counter is the film advance lever. This has a design that I have never seen before – the lever has a hinge halfway along. I am not sure what this achieves that more usual lever designs do not. The lever moves through 144º to advance the film one frame. This is on a ratchet so a frame can be advanced with one stroke or several short ones. Around this lever is a rotating switch – this offers the options of Auto, M90 and B.

The camera is intended to be used on Auto but this relies on good batteries so M90 is provided as the sole mechanical speed which is 1/90 seconds. M90 is also used with flash as this is the sync speed for this shutter. There is a rumour on the Interweb that the shutter will fire at 1/1000 seconds if you remove the batteries and fire on Auto. I cannot verify this but when I tried it, the shutter speed appeared to be much faster than 1/90 seconds. I shall try this with my test film. B is the Bulb setting where the shutter remains open while the shutter release is pressed.

Inside the fulcrum of the advance lever is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. Partially pressing this switches on the camera electronics and starts the automatic exposure system working. On the left of the film advance lever is a soft blue button and a small red LED. This is the battery check – press the blue button and the red LED should light.

In the middle of the top is the pentaprism hump. On top of this is the accessory shoe which is an ISO standard hot shoe with two additional contacts for use with Nikon’s Speedlite flash guns. On the back of the hump is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 12 by 8 mm. The image is plenty bright enough. In the centre of the focus screen is a circle of micro-prisms as a focus aid and in the centre of these is a split-image focus aid. Both of these are clear and easy to use. Around the micro-prism circle is a second, larger, circle. At first glance, this has no function but it delineates the area that the centre-weighted exposure system uses.

On the left of the focus screen is a vertical list of shutter speeds – these range from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds. There is an indication at 1/90 seconds as this is both the only available mechanical sped and also the flash sync speed. My camera has a fault as the needle that should point to the shutter speed in use is stuck above 1/1000 seconds and will not move at all. However, it is clear that the exposure system is changing the shutter speed by listening to the length of the noise by the shutter.

The front of the pentaprism hump has the legends “EM” and “Nikon” on it in off-white.

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is the usual small folding crank. Pulling up on this crank unlatches the camera back. Around the crank is the film speed scale which is in ASA only (ASA is functionally the same as ISO film speeds). The film speed is set by lifting and turning the outer ring – there is a white index mark to indicate the selected film speed. Available film speeds are from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA. 25 ASA (or 25 ISO) seems ridiculously slow today but in 1980 25 ASA film was still commonly available.

As always, the front of the camera is dominated by the lens mount. This is the AI version of the F mount introduced in 1959 – AI means that the lenses do not need the “rabbit ears” indexing prong. Instead, there is an indexing tab on the lens’ aperture ring which pushes a spring loaded index ring around as the set aperture is changed. This is basically what the “rabbit ears” did but the real difference is what happens inside the camera – by changing the linkage, Nikon prevented people mixing and matching the new system and the old system and getting spurious results. This index ring is faulty on my camera, as mentioned earlier. The ring needs to be spring loaded to return to its rest position when the aperture is set to its maximum but either this spring has become detached or the spring is broken so now the lens is incapable of communicating the set aperture to the automatic exposure system. At this date, there is no “screwdriver” autofocus linkage nor any electrical contacts on the mount.

On the right side of the mount (right as when looking at the mount) near the top of the body, is a small blue button. Pressing this and holding it in gives +2 times exposure compensation which is the only user input into the exposure system.

On the left side of the lens mount is the self-timer. This works by being would up (it is clockwork) by turning the lever anti-clockwise through 90º. It is activated by pressing the shutter release button. The delay is eight seconds with my camera.

On either top corner of the front of the camera there is a strap lug for a neck strap.

The base of the camera is designed to take a motor drive. This consists of a locating hole, a metal clutch connected to the film advance mechanism and two electrical contacts. In addition to the motor drive elements, there are three more usual items, There is a battery compartment which holds two off LR44 batteries to power the exposure system and electronic shutter. In line with the lens there is a tripod socket. This will be an ISO socket – 1/4 inch UNC thread – which was established in 1977. The final item is the button to disengage the film advance system to allow the film to be rewound.

The back is unlatched by pulling up on the rewind crank. The back itself is plain inside with just a pressure plate to keep the film flat over the film gate. The edges of the back form a flange which fits into a groove on the camera body. This groove has a foam light seal in it which has degraded over the last 40 years and needs replacing. On the outside of the back is a black painted brass memo holder to take the end of the film carton as a reminder as to the type of film in use.

Inside the back of the camera, there is a chamber on the left for the film cassette. At this age (1980ish)there are no contacts for a DX system – it would be a few years until Kodak designed the DX system (introduced in 1983). The film gate is in the centre giving onto the vertical travel focal lane shutter. This was made by Seiko and is electronically controlled. This shutter is a Seiko MFC-E shutter – M=Metal, F=focal plane, C=compact and E=electronic – needed to help reduce both size and weight of the camera. This is the shutter that Pentax used on the slightly earlier Pentax ME camera and aan improved version on the Pentax ME super and Pentax Program A cameras. This shutter, being electronic, needs battery power to work, apart from the 1/90 second speed which is entirely mechanical.

Ricoh SLX 500

This is a no-frills camera from 1975 by a smaller Japanese camera maker. In the 1970s, Ricoh was not as well known as its compatriots Nikon, Canon, Pentax et al but they have been in business making cameras since 1937. They now own the Pentax and Hoya brands.This is a no-frills camera from 1975 by a smaller Japanese camera maker. In the 1970s, Ricoh was not as well known as its compatriots Nikon, Canon, Pentax et al but they have been in business making cameras since 1937. They now own the Pentax and Hoya brands.

This is my second Ricoh camera, my other one being the Ricoh 35 Flex. The camera is basic in its functionality but is very sturdily made. The body is die-cast aluminium with aluminium top and base plates. The top and base are painted with a very textured black paint the the body and back are covered with black leatherette. The shape is very angular with no curves at all. The camera measures 143 by 82 by 50 mm and weighs 800g with the kit lens attached.This is my second Ricoh camera, my other one being the Ricoh 35 Flex. The camera is basic in its functionality but is very sturdily made. The body is die-cast aluminium with aluminium top and base plates. The top and base are painted with a very textured black paint the the body and back are covered with black leatherette. The shape is very angular with no curves at all. The camera measures 143 by 82 by 50 mm and weighs 800g with the kit lens attached.

Top plate layout is standard for Japanese SLR. On the right is the film advance lever which is black painted aluminium with a plastic top. This moves through about 180º to advance the film one frame. This lever is not on a ratchet and so must be moved in one motion.Top plate layout is standard for Japanese SLR. On the right is the film advance lever which is black painted aluminium with a plastic top. This moves through about 180º to advance the film one frame. This lever is not on a ratchet and so must be moved in one motion.

In front of the film advance lever is the window for the frame counter. In standard Japanese fashion, this is reset to -3 – or S – when the back is opened. Only the even numbers are displayed, the odd numbers being represented by a dot (the exception is the number 1 at the start and the absence of 2). The frame counter counts up to 37 and then stops but it is possible to keep winding the film should there be more than 37 frames in the cassette. Frames 12, 20 and 36 are in red as these were the common film lengths at the time that this camera was made. The rest are in white.

 Beside the frame counter window is the shutter release button. This is chromed metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. Next along is the shutter speed dial. This has speeds from 1/30 to 1/500 seconds plus B. 1/60 is in red with a red X to signify that this is the flash synch speed. Changing shutter speeds is a simple matter of rotating the dial. This dial also sets the film speed for the light meter. This is set by pulling up on the dial and turning. Available speeds are from 25 to 800 ASA with 1/3 stop settings possible.

focus screen

In the centre of the top plate is the pentaprism hump. On top of this is a hot-shoe accessory shoe. This just has the large central contact so is not intended for any proprietary flash system. The viewfinder eyepiece is on the back of the pentaprism hump. The focus screen consists of a Fresnel lens screen with a plain ground glass disc in the centre – and in the middle of this is a micro-prism disc. There is no split-image focus aid although these were normal by 1975. On the right hand edge of the focus screen is the light meter readout. To set the exposure you centre the needle between the + and – by altering the shutter speed and the aperture.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the film rewind crank. This is the usual small, fold-out crank the Japanese made ubiquitous. On many SLR cameras, this crank double as the catch for the hinged back but not here – the back has its own catch on the left edge of the body.

As with all cameras, the front is dominated by the lens mount. This mount is the M42 screw mount introduced by East German Zeiss Ikon in 1949. M42 is also known as the Pentax, Praktica or Universal thread. The big advantage of the M42 mount is the vast number of lenses that have been made for this mount and most are still available today secondhand.

Inside the mount, at the bottom, is a bar that comes forward just before the shutter fires which closes the iris diaphragm in the lens. At the top of the mount, again just inside, is the focus screen. On the front edge of this screen is a strip of foam which acts as a soft buffer for when the reflex mirror snaps up. This foam buffer has now degenerated to a sticky mess and will need replacing before the camera is used.

The lens mount is fitted on a raised portion of the front. On the right hand edge of this raised part is a black lever. Pressing this towards the camera body does two things. Firstly, it moves that bar already mentioned to close the iris diaphragm to its set value and, secondly, it switches on the light meter. This is essentially a shutter priority system. To use it, you set your required shutter speed, hold this lever in and then adjust the aperture ring on the lens until the needle in the viewfinder is centred. This is exactly the same as Asahi introduced in 1964 with their Pentax Spotmatic.

.On the left edge of the body are two things to note. At the top of the edge is a PC socket for a flash connection. Using this instead of the hot-shoe allows off-camera flash to be used. At the bottom of the edge is a chrome catch that releases the back.

Opening the back reveals a bog-standard SLR. The film cassette goes on the left. There is a cut-away on the base to ease the insertion of the cassette. In the centre is the film gate. This is quite large – 65 mm – which helps to keep the film flat. In the film gate are the shutter curtains. These are cloth and run horizontally. As mentioned earlier, the maximum shutter speed is 1/500 seconds. On the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft which counts the sprocket holes in the film as the film moves and ensures that the correct amount of film is advanced. Next is the take-up spool which rotates clockwise and so winds the film emulsion side outermost.

On the inside of the hinged back is a large, 65 by 40 mm, pressure plate which keeps the film snug against the film gate. By this is a sticker advertising the retailer – Peter Hall of Ilkeston, Derbyshire. When closed, the back fits into a groove on the body. This groove is filled with a foam light seal which degenerated and needs replacing. Luckily, this is a straight forward job and replacement foam is readily available on that auction site.

The base has the usual three items.Most prominent is the battery compartment. When new, this used a mercury cell producing 1.3 volts. These are now banned internationally but 1.5 volt alkaline cells fit – there might be a bit of over-exposure as a result of using the alkaline cell. Next to the battery compartment is a 1/4 inch UNC tripod socket (I am assuming the UNC thread as this would conform to ISO 1222 which dates from 1973 and lays down the usage of the UNC thread). The third item on the base is the button to allow the film to be rewound. This only needs to be pressed in at the start of rewinding and then stays in until the film advance lever is moved. This is so much more convenient than having to have one hand holding the camera, one hand holding the button in and one hand winding the rewind crank which is the case with so many cameras.

For once, the camera came with its kit lens. This is Ricoh’s own make, an Auto Rikenon with 50mm focal length and a maximum aperture of ƒ/2. The ‘auto’ part of the name indicates that the lens aperture remains fully open until the camera’s shutter release button is pressed. There is a small pin by the screw mount which is pressed by the bar mentioned earlier. This auto system has got the advantage that the viewfinder image remains bright while you focus.

Apertures with this lens range from ƒ/2 to ƒ/16. Not an astounding range but very useful. Focusing is from 0.6m to infinity. There are two distance scales, metres in green and feet in white. Being an older lens, there is a depth of field scale by the focus scale – something I think all lenses should have. using this scale, I can determine that the hyperfocal distance at ƒ/16 is 5 metres giving a focus range from 2.5 metres to infinity.

The lens is sturdily made from aluminium with a rubber focusing grip. According to the Interweb, this lens has 6 elements in 5 groups. I could only find positive comments about the performance of this lens, but my test film might say otherwise.

Voigtlander Vito Automatic R

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

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

lens: Lanthar

focal length:  50 mm

apertures: f/2.8 to f/22

focus range: 3.5 feet to infinity

lens fitting: fixed

shutter: Prontor-Lux

speeds: 1/30 to 1/500

flash: PC socket

film size: 35 mm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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