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.

Rajar No 6

This is another Bakelite camera – my others are the Soho Model B and the VP Twin. The later Soho Model B design is clearly derived from this Rajar No 6 – they even use identical struts. This camera appears to have been designed in 1929 and is an Art Deco design. It was made by APeM – this company had a chequered history and part of it ended up as Soho Ltd, the makers of the Soho Model B mentioned above. The camera measures 167 by 90 by 38 mm when closed and 167 by 90 by 115 when open for use. It weighs 450 g.

  • lens: meniscus
  • focal length: 85 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/12
  • focus range: ?
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: simple
  • speeds: I & T
  • flash: no
  • film size: Rajar No 6

As mentioned earlier, this camera is made from Bakelite, one of our earliest plastics dating from 1907. The Bakelite is black (many other colours of bakelite were available) and the body is rectangular with only the ends being curved. There are a few parts not made from Bakelite. The struts holding the lens board in place, the metal wires holding the back in place and there is a metal chassis behind the Bakelite lens board and a few rivets.

All the controls apart from the film advance key are on the lens board – not that there are many controls: only one shutter speed, one aperture and a fixed focus lens. So, the camera body is an unadorned rectangular box with curved ends. The only ornamentation on the front are two rectangles, one above and one below the lens board. The back has eleven parallel grooves. These are broken at the top by a curved box bearing the legend “ONLY RAJAR NO 6 SPOOL WILL FIT THIS CAMERA”

Towards the other end of the back is the circular red window for viewing the frame numbers on the film backing paper. although this window would have been a very definite red when new it has faded over the last 90 years to a pale orange. At the other end of the body to the red window is the film advance key. This is made from nickel plated brass and has a slight twist to it to make it fit the hand better.

To use the camera, it is necessary to extend the lens board. this pulls out and is held on four folding struts. It is a little hard to start it moving but once it has moved a bit it is easy to pull out to its final position. The four struts hold the lens board securely in place and parallel to the film.

The lens board is essentially rectangular with a curved cutaway at the top for a finger grip when extending the camera. At the bottom of the lens board is a semi-circular extension which has no function – it is entirely decorative.

In the centre of the lens board is the lens and shutter. The lens is a meniscus lens – one piece of glass – and is not usually visible as it sits behind the shutter blades. I am told by Collection Appareils that the lens has a focal length of 85mm and a fixed aperture of /12. This is a rather small aperture but is needed to give the required depth of field to compensate for the non-focusing lens.

The shutter is a very simple everset shutter offering just one speed –I – and timed exposure – T. deferring again to Collections Appareils, I (for Instantaneous)gives a shutter speed of between 1/50 and 1/30 seconds. This is not a precise speed and nor does it need to be. this camera relies on the film’s exposure latitude to produce usable pictures.

The shutter release lever protrudes from behind the semi-circular extension – it is a flat serrated metal tab. This works in two directions – moving it left to fires the shutter and moving it right fires the shutter. The T setting – Time – causes the shutter to open when the shutter release is moved and the shutter then stays open until the shutter release is moved again. To use the T setting you need to be able to keep the camera steady on a table. There is no tripod socket but there is a folding leg hidden away behind the bottom of the lens board. This allows long exposures in the portrait orientation but not in the landsca[[e orientation.

Beneath the lens on the lens board is a triangular plaque bearing the legend “RAJAR No 6”. This looks as if it was originally silver and red but now is mostly murky brown.

At the top of the lens board is a 7 mm (actually 3/10 inch as this is a British camera) hole behind which sits the viewfinder. This is a Brilliant finder which I never really like. this one is marginally better than the run-of-the-mill Brilliant finders as the top piece of glass is ground glass rather than the usual plain glass which gives a clearer (but not clear) image. This Brilliant finder is on a swivel so you can move it through 90º for when you are taking landscape pictures.

The back is held in place by two sturdy wire clips. These are a very tight grip and require significant effort to remove. When they have both been unclipped and moved to the front of the camera the back comes away in one piece.

The inside of the back is completely plain – no advice as to film, no patent numbers, no nothing. The only feature is a cutaway near one corner to allow for fitting around the film advance key.

The inside of the body is dominated by the film gate. This measures 82 by 56 mm which is about what you would expect from 120 film but this camera uses Rajar’s own Rajar 6 film. My camera has an empty spool in it and I can measure the width of the backing paper which is 62 mm. It would seem like Rajar No 6 film is the same as 120 film although the Rajar spot is very different. The Rajar spool has an extension on one end with a square hole for the film advance key. Apparently, adapters were available to allow 120 film to be used.

Neither the film spool nor the take-up spool are fixed in any way. The only concession to the spools moving is a nickel-plated leaf spring in each spool chamber which will be mostly about keeping the film snug on the spools.

Soho Model B

My instinct is to call this a folding camera but it does not actually fold; rather, it collapses. This is an Art Deco camera dating from the 1930s. In fact, I think it could be called Streamline Moderne as it has plenty of curves and no angles. From my Interweb searches, it would seem that this camera dates from 1935.

This camera is almost entirely made from Bakelite which is a very early plastic invented in 1907 and used for all sorts of things in the first half of the 20th century. After WWII, other plastics displaced Bakelite although it would appear that it is still being made. The Bakelite here is coloured dark red with a tortoiseshell pattern – the red is so dark as to look brown to me and the tortoiseshell pattern is only discernible in good light. There is a pattern moulded into the Bakelite which simulates (poorly) a leather covering.

There is only one control on the camera body and that is the the film advance. This is a folding metal key which is chrome plated brass. The key is slightly twisted – at first I thought this was a defect on my camera but looking at pictures of other cameras of this model, it would seem to be a design feature. This key is on a ratchet – it will only turn in one direction. The key will also pull up slightly to release the film spool inside the camera.

The rest of the controls and features are on the lens board. With folding cameras, this lens board is hinged and pulls the shutter/lens assembly out to its operating position as it hinges open. This is not a folding camera – the lens board pulls out on four folding struts remaining essentially parallel to the body as it does so.

When the camera is fully collapsed ity is rather hard to start lifting the lens board. There are semi-circular cutaways at top the bottom of the lens board to help you get a hold of the lens board. Once it starts moving, it lifts easily and snaps into place on the four chrome struts. Collapsing the camera involves pushing the four struts slightly further out and pushing the lens board in. When the lens board is extended, the shutter and lens are attached to the camera body with a collapsable bellows which are made from Burgundy leatherette.

At the top of the lens board is a round hole behind which is the viewfinder. This is a hinged Brilliant finder. If you are using the camera in the landscape orientation, the finder swivels out from behind the hole and sits just outside the corner of the lens board. These Brilliant finders are hard to use – see the photo of the image.

The centre of the lens board has a moulded circle. Inside this is both the shutter and the lens. The lens is right in the centre but is not visible from the outside as it sits behind the shutter blades. The lens has no name and would appear to be a simple meniscus lens. The people at Art Deco Cameras have measured this lens and say that the focal length is 100 mm which is ‘normal‘ for a medium format camera. They also have worked out that the fixed aperture is ƒ/14 – this will give the necessary depth of field for such a simple lens.

Above the lens is the legend “MODEL B” and above this the two letters “I” and “T” – and above these two is a tab to select between them. “I” is instantaneous and is the setting for everyday use. Those nice people at Art Deco Cameras have measured the shutter speed to average 1/50 second which is about what I would expect. On the left of the lens is the shutter release lever. This has two positions – up and down. The shutter fires when this lever is moved from one position to the other – both moving up and moving down will fire the shutter.

“T” is time. With this setting, the shutter opens when you move the shutter release lever and stays open until you move the shutter release lever a second time. Underneath the lens is the maker’s name: “SOHO LTD LONDON”. The shutter is the everset type and there is no cocking lever.

Behind the bottom of the lens board are two swivelling legs – one long and one short. The long leg swivels through 90º and provides a support for the camera in the portrait orientation. This long leg is offset to one side and provides a very unstable support – unstable to the point of being next to useless. This is not helped by the camera having to rest on the chrome fitting for securing the back. The short leg swivels through 180º and provides support for the camera in the landscape orientation. This short leg provides very stable support.

To open the back of the camera there is a large sprung catch on the top of the camera. To open this, you slide it towards the film advance key and then lift it. The back of the camera comes away in one piece – the bottom of the back is held in place in a clip which doesn’t need opening.

The outside of the back is plain apart from the moulded ‘leather’ and the circular red window for reading the frame numbers off the film’s backing paper. The inside of the back has information on the type of film required (“any 2 1⁄4 x 4 1⁄4 or 6 x 9 cm film”) and the patent number (330403/29). Also on the inside are four metal studs near to the corners. It took me a while to work out why they are there. Turns out that they line up with the flanges of the two film spools – as the metal flanges turn they are prevented from wearing away the Bakelite.

The inside of the body is dominated by the film gate. This measures 82 by 55 mm which gives quite large margins around the negatives on 90 by 60 mm film. The outside edges of the film gate are nicely rounded to prevent the film from being scratched as it moves across the film gate.

Either side of the film gate there is a chamber for the film spools. At the bottom of these is a T-shaped steel spring to keep the film taut on the spools. The film spools sit loosely in the chambers apart from the inside of the film advance key locating in the end of the take-up spool.

Miranda MS–3

A Cosina CT-( rebadged as a Miranda MS-3

While Miranda were never one of the top camera makers in Japan, they were a serious maker. In 1978, the company ceased trading and in the early 1980s the rights to the Miranda brand were brought by the Dixons group in the UK. This MS–3 dates to the Dixons period.

As I was perusing this camera after I bought it, I thought the top plate was very reminiscent of my Cosina CT–1. After a bit of research on the Interweb, it turns out this is one camera not based on the Cosina CT–1 – but it is a Cosina camera, and the CT range at that. It is a rebadged Cosina CT–9. Cosina is a major maker of cameras and lenses for other marques – they currently make many lenses under contract to Carl Zeiss of Germany.

The camera body measures 136 by 85 by 50 mm and weighs 425 g (body only, no lens). The main body is die-cast aluminium and the top and bottom plates are moulded plastic – an anti-slip finish is a part of the plastic finish so there is no need for a leatherette covering. This imparts a cheaper look and feel to the camera (although this type of finish soon became standard, even on top end cameras). After 40 years of use, the finish is much reduced.

As I usually do, I shall start by looking at the top plate. As I mentioned earlier, the top plate is moulded black plastic. On the far right is the window on to the frame counter. As is usual with Japanese SLR cameras, the frame counter is reset to ‘S’ by opening the back of the camera. ‘S’ is actually -2 (‘S’ stands for start) and is printed in red. All the even numbers are printed and the odd numbers are represented by dots. Numbers 12, 20, 24 and 36 are in red as these were the standard film lengths in the mid 1980s – all the other numbers are in white. The frame counter will count to 37 and then stop moving although you can still advance the film.

Right by the frame counter is the film advance lever. This lever is plated metal covered with black plastic. This lever moves through not quite 180º (165º according to the manual – 30º stand off plus 135º movement) to advance the film one frame. There is no ratchet here so the lever must be moved in one movement.

Hard by the film advance lever, at the front of the top plate, is the shutter release button. It was the design of this button together with the shape of the film advance lever that gave me the clue that this might be a Cosina camera. This shutter release button is a fairly broad and flat black plastic button with a central threaded hole for a standard cable release.

To the left of the shutter release button is a selector dial. This is where we would usually find the shutter speed selector – and that is one of the functions here. The outside of this selector dial is a three-way switch. In its central position, the camera is switched off and nothing works. Rotating this slightly anti-clockwise turns the camera to auto. In this position, the camera is turned on and the exposure system determines they exposure when the shutter release button is partially depressed. If the button is fully depressed, the shutter is fired – without power, the shutter can not be fired.

If this selector dial is rotated clockwise from the Off position, the camera is in manual exposure mode. Here, the exposure system still determines the ‘correct’ exposure and displays it in the viewfinder but does not control the actual shutter speed. Instead, the shutter speed is set by two buttons in the middle of the selector dial. The front button increases the shutter speed – if held down, the shutter speed continuously cycles through the range – the red LED in the viewfinder displays the changing shutter speed.

The rear button does the opposite –reducing the shutter speed – and, again, if held down cycles through the speed range but in the opposite direction. While you are using these manual controls, the exposure system displays its preferred shutter speed with a flashing red LED.

Next along the top plate is the pentaprism hump. On the front of this is the camera name – “MIRANDA” and the letter “M”. On the top of the hump is an ISO hot shoe. This is a plain vanilla hot shoe with no additional contacts.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. This is a standard Japanese folding crank and, as is usual with Japanese SLR cameras, the crank doubles as the catch for the back – pulling up on the crank unlocks the back. Around this crank, there is a ring to set the film speed. This is entirely in ASA/ISO (it is actually marked as both ASA and ISO as this camera was made a the point when ISO took over from ASA). The speed range is from ASA 25 to ASA 1600 which is pretty standard for the day. The film speed can be altered in 1/3 stop increments, the thirds being represented by dots.

As always with SLR cameras, the front is dominated by the lens mount. This is a plain vanilla Pentax K mount with a twist. When Pentax introduced the K mount, it was a purely mechanical bayonet mount with a mechanical linkage to pass the aperture setting to the light meter. In time, Pentax added electrical contacts and a screwdriver link which were set into the bayonet mount. We have, over the years, ended up with quite a few official variants on the basic K mount.

This particular K mount is Cosina’s own, unofficial, variant. The lens mount ring has no electrical contacts or screwdriver link but it does have three electrical contacts inside the mount at the top. These are for Cosina’s own autofocus lens. This was a large and cumbersome affair containing its own batteries and electric motor – much like Pentax’s ME-F autofocus lens introduced a few years previously. Unfortunately, I do not have this lens.

So, looking into the mouth of the mount, on the left at about 9 o’clock, is a small lever. This latches onto a lever on the lens. When the shutter release button is pressed, this lever rises allowing the sprung lever on the lens to move, closing the iris diaphragm to its set value.

All around the inside of the mount is a rotating ring with a lug at around 2 o’clock. This lug latches onto a recessed lug on the lens. Changing the aperture setting on the lens will slightly rotate this ring, communicating the set aperture to the camera’s light meter.

Just to the left of the lens mount, near the top of the body, is a rectangular red light. This is the self timer button. If you press this in, it flashes for eight seconds and then flashes faster for two seconds and finally fires the shutter. On the far left of the body is a small grip for the photographer’s right hand.

The only feature on the back of the camera is the viewfinder eyepiece. The lens for this measures 15 by 10 mm. Inside the viewfinder is the focus screen. As this is a relatively cheap SLR the focus screen is plain ground glass rather than a Fresnel screen . It does, however, have focus aids. There is a ring of micro-prisms in the centre of the screen and in the centre of that is a split-image rangefinder.

On the left of the focus screen is the readout for the light meter. This consists of a list of shutter speeds with one second at the bottom and 1000 (for 1/1000 second) at the top. Above the shutter speeds are three more items. The first is the legend “OVER” and if the red LED next to this is lit the photograph will be overexposed. Above this is “M” and this will be lit when you have selected the mode to be manual. At the very top is the legend “AUTO” and this is lit when you have set the mode to automatic.

Below the shutter speeds are two more items. The first is “LT” which indicates that a shutter speed of between two and eight seconds has been chosen by the light meter (LT= long time?) or that the user has set two seconds manually. Below “LT” is “B” which is Bulb where the shutter stays open while the shutter release button is held down.

The base of the camera has four items on it. In line with the centre of the lens is a 1/4 inch UNC tripod socket. Just by the tripod socket is the battery chamber.

On my camera, this battery chamber is free from corrosion – far from a given on old cameras! Unfortunately, Cosina saw fit to use a soft plastic cap and the slot on this is now so damaged it is extremely hard to remove and replace.

At the other end of the base is the button to allow the film to be rewound. Pressing this in allows the sprocket shaft inside the camera to rotate backwards. Once pressed right in there is no need to hold it in. In front of this button is a small sticker with the word “RESET” on it. Beneath this sticker is a small hole. If the camera freezes up completely then you push a pin into this hole to reset the electronics and allow the camera to start working again.

Inside the camera is much as you might expect a Japanese 35mm SLR camera to be. In the middle of the door is a nice large pressure plate and to the right of that is a chrome spring to hold the film cassette snuggly.

The insides of the body are dominated by the film gate. The actual gate measures 36 by 24 mm which is standard for 35 mm photography. The surrounds are large enough to hold the film flat – the surrounds measure 65 by 35 mm. To the left of the film gate is the chamber for the film cassette. At this age there are no DX contacts. On the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. This measures the length of film required for one negative – eight holes passing over the sprocket shaft equals one frame. To the right of the sprocket shaft is the film take-up spool. There are six slots for attaching the new film.

Around the opening of the camera is a groove. When the back is closed, the edges of the back fit into this groove. To ensure light tightness, there is a strip of black foam plastic in this groove. After nearly 40 years, this foam has disintegrated into a sticky goo and needs to cleaning out and replacing with new foam – an easy DIY job.

When new, this camera came with a Cosina 50mm, ƒ/1.2 lens. My camera has a Topcon AM Topcor lens with a focal length of 55mm and a maximum aperture of ƒ/1.7. The lens is multi-coated. This is a cheapish lens – the mount is entirely plastic as, it would appear, is the rest of the lens. A search on the Interweb tells me this is probably a lens made by Cima Kogaku who made lenses for many smaller camera makers. The same interweb source also suggest that this lens has six elements arranged in four groups. As this is Interweb information, I cannot guarantee that it is correct.

The aperture has six blades and runs from ƒ/1.7 to ƒ/16 which is quite fast for a cheap lens. The absence of ƒ/22 might be a problem in bright light but many of my cameras have a minimum aperture of ƒ/16 and that has never been a real problem for me. The aperture ring has click stops at every marked aperture and also at the half-stops.

The focus ring is marked in both feet and meters and focuses from 2 feet or 0.6 meters to infinity. The throw on the focus ring (the amount by which it turns) is about 180º which means that critical focus is easy but fast focus is not – this is the opposite of modern auto-focus lenses which focus quickly but are difficult to focus manualy.

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.

Agfa Isolette III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

VP Twin

A neat Bakelite camera from 1930s Britain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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