Ricoh Auto Shot

This is a fairly small point-and-shoot camera from Ricoh. Small – but surprisingly heavy. The camera is made form die-cast aluminium alloy. Introduced in 1964, the widespread use of plastics was still in the future. This camera measures 73.5 by 113 by 56.5 mm (dimensions provided by Ricoh) and weighs 480g.

I have three other Ricoh cameras in my collection. Two are 35mm SLRs, one called the Ricoh TLS 401 and another is the Ricoh SLX 55. The third is a fixed lens SLR similar to the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex called the Ricoh 35 Flex.

  • lens: Rikenon
  • focal length: 35 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 3 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Copal leaf
  • speeds: 1/30 or 1/125
  • flash: hot shoe plus PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

Exposure is controlled by on-board electronics. There is a selenium light meter around the lens to measure the light. The electronics then alter the aperture to provide a good exposure. The shutter speed is fixed at 1/125 second. If there is insufficient light for a good exposure, there is a red flag at the top of the viewfinder image.

Selenium light meters do not require batteries of any sort which is a big plus. The downside is that they are very insensitive to low light levels. As this camera has a fixed shutter speed and cannot take pictures in low light, this restriction of selenium meters does not matter much.

Another putative defect of selenium meters which gets quoted rather a lot on the Interweb is that the selenium sensor loses sensitivity of time. My camera collection includes 70 to 80 selenium meters dating back to the mid 1950s. All work well enough to agree with my modern digital cameras. It is true that selenium sensors do deteriorate with time but this is when exposed to light. No one keeps cameras or light meters exposed to bright light all day every day so this deterioration is mostly theoretical.

If there is insufficient light for the automatic exposure system, you can switch to a quasi-manual system. This is intended for using flash but works without using flash. You switch from auto to one of eight apertures. This changes the shutter speed to 1/30 second and the aperture to the selected value. This is a very slow shutter speed for a hand-held camera but fine if using a tripod or steadying the camera against a solid structure.

The layout of the camera is very unusual. Most cameras have the controls either on a top plate or around the lens. This camera has just one control on the top but has two controls on the base. This is not unique to this camera or to Ricoh but is very unusual.

Now for a detailed description. As mentioned above, there is little on the top plate. On the far right is an ISO hot flash shoe. This conforms to the ISO standard with no additional proprietary contacts. On the left of the top plate is a selector dial for film speed. Rather unusually for a Japanese camera, this film speed selector has scales for both ASA and DIN. For my younger readers, ASA was an American speed system (American Standards Association) and DIN was a German speed system (Deutsches Institut für Normung). Both have been incorporated into the modern ISO system (ISO is not an acronym – the organisation is called the International Organisation for Standards which would be IOS in English but would vary between different languages so they decided on ISO for all countries. See http://ISO/about us). If you use a modern film in this camera that is rated 200/24 ISO, you need to set the film speed either as 200 ASA or 24 DIN.

There are red arrows for setting the film speed and white arrows for when you need to adjust the automatic exposure such as when using a lens filter. In-between the flash shoe and film speed selector is the name of the camera in capitals: “RICOH AUTO SHOT”.

Turning the camera over, on the base at the right is a large knob. Turning this knob anti-clockwise winds-up the clockwork mechanism that powers the film advance mechanism (this only works when there is a film in place in the camera). This knob only turns one way but in case you cannot work this out, there is an arrow on top of the knob to help you. It takes ten complete turns to fully wind the mechanism. This is good to advance the film fifteen frames.

In the centre of the winding knob is a small button. Pressing this does two things. First, it causes the clockwork mechanism to rapidly unwind. Second, it allows the film to be rewound.

At the other end of the base is the rewind crank. This is the usual folding crank, but smaller than many. Beside this is the window to the frame counter. This counter is reset by opening the camera back – the counter resets to S which is -3. The frame counter has every fifth frame as a number while the rest are represented by dots. These are in black except for frames 20 and 36 which are in red.

The front of the camera is dominated by the light meter/shutter/lens assembly. This assembly is 60mm diameter. The shutter part is 43 mm diameter. Between these two is the light meter sensor. This consists of a ring of knobbly glass. Beneath this is a ring selenium sensor. Right at the top of this ring is a fairly small rectangular window which is the front of the viewfinder. The viewfinder image is very small – 1/3 of life size. This is OK for snapshots which is what this camera is intended for. If there is insufficient light for a good exposure, there is a red flag at the top of the viewfinder image. The light meter sensitivity is from LV10 to LV17.

The shutter mechanism lies inside the light meter ring. The shutter was made by Copal and has two speeds. In normal use, the shutter speed is fixed at 1/125 second and the light meter chooses the aperture. There is also a manual mode, intended for flash use, where the user selects the aperture and the shutter speed is fixed at 1/30 second. The available apertures are from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22. Only four of these are presented on the scale with numbers, the in-between values being dots. There are click-stops at each value.

In the centre of of the assembly is the lens. This is a Rikenon lens. I don’t think the name has any significance regarding design as all Ricoh cameras seem to have Rikenon lenses. This lens has four elements (pieces of glass) in three groups which sounds like a Tessar copy. The lens focal length is 35mm which is slightly wide angle for 35mm film.

The closest focus is a bit less than three feet. The focus scale has three different scales: feet in black, metres in red and icons in black. There are four icons: head and shoulders at about three feet (one metre); sitting at about six feet (two metres); standing at about fifteen feet (five meters); landscape at infinity.

To the right of the shutter/lens assembly, on the front face of the camera, is the shutter release. This is a vertical slide rather than a button. I find using this a bit disconcerting because as soon as the shutter fires the rewind crank rapidly turns as the film advances automatically. Given the small size of the camera, your hand is very close to the rewind crank (in my case touching it).

On the left hand end of the camera is a tripod socket. This is a strange place to have a tripod socket – this is the usual 1/4 inch UNC thread. Given the position of the tripod socket, putting the camera into portrait orientation, this would only be used for flash portraits – or, actually, never used at all. Above the tripod socket is a PC socket for flash. This is in addition to the ISO hot shoe and allows for the use of off-camera flash.

On the other end of the camera is a wrist strap. Above the wrist strap is the sliding catch to open the back of the camera. If you slide this down, the back snaps open.

In the centre of the back is the pressure plate . This is not particularly big but is about the size you would expect in a compact. On the catch end of the back is a chromed metal spring to keep the film cassette snuggly in place. at the hinge end of the back there is a flange that renders the hinge light tight.

The most striking thing about the back is the foam light seal. Usually, the Japanese put the light seal in a groove that the edges of the back fit into when closed. Not here. The foam seal is quite wide and is placed around the edges of the back. On my camera, the foam has almost completely broken down and will need to be replaced before I use the camera. The position of the seal means this will be very easy to do.

Inside the body, everything is much as you would expect. The film cassette goes on the right and the take-up spool is on the left. The film is held on the take-up spool by threading the film leader under a chrome metal spring.

There is no sprocket shaft in this camera – this helps to keep the camera compact. The sprocket holes are counted by a toothed wheel below the film gate – eight holes equals one frame.

On the bottom edge of the the body, near the rewind crank, is a small protruding tang. When the back is opened, this tang pops out and resets the frame counter. When the back is closed, the tang is pushed in and the frame counter can start counting again.


Zeiss Ikon Cocarette 514/2

This Cocarette is a fairly standard folding camera from the early 20th century. The design was by Contessa Nettel in around 1920. When Contessa Nettel merged with other makers to form Zeiss Ikon in 1926, Zeiss Ikon continued to make Cocarette cameras until 1930 or 1931. My camera is the Zeiss Ikon version. Zeiss Ikon made an astonishing variety of the basic Cocarette design. Mine is the 514/2 version. The 514 thread used 120 film – or B11 as Zeiss Ikon called it – (other Cocarettes used other sizes of film) and the /2 part of the number in various Zeiss Ikon cameras produce eight 6 by 9 cm negatives so this camera produces eight 6 by 9 cm negatives on 120 film.

  • lens: Dominar
  • focal length: 105 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 1.5 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Telma
  • speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B , T
  • flash: No!
  • film size: 120

The main way that Cocarette cameras differ from the plethora of other folding cameras is the method of loading film. With Cocarette cameras, the back of the camera does not open. Instead, one side of the camera pulls away from the body together with an internal cassette for holding the roll of film. In the middle of the side of the camera that pulls away is a sliding catch.

This is a nickel plated button within an oval ring. This button has two positions: A and Z. A is Auf which means, in this context, open. Z is Zu and Zu means closed. Both Auf and Zu have other meanings in German but in the context of a catch it is open and close. On my camera, pulling this cassette out is much harder than opening a hinged back. Mind you, my camera is 98 years old and has every right to be a bit stiff!

Because the film slides in sideways, it is not possible to have a pressure plate to keep the film flat. Instead, the film slides between two steel strips on either side of the film gate which prevent any curling of the film.

The removable side of the camera is made from aluminium alloy. The film cassette part is made from steel which is painted black. Most of the cassette consists of the film gate (the hole the light travels through to reach the film). The gate measures 90 by 57 mm – the size of the resulting negative.The film gate is rectangular but in one corner there is a semi-circular cut-out. This allows the user to see the frame numbers on the film through the red window on the camera back. Without the cut-out, the frame numbers would be obliterated by the steel framework.

On either side of the film gate are the spool holders for the film and take-up spools. On the end of the cassette away from the camera side there is a hinged plate to make fitting the spools easy. One end – the take-up spool end – has a key that fits into the end of the spool to allow the film advance key to rotate the take-up spool.

The aluminium side of the film cassette has a sliding catch to secure the cassette in the camera body. All around the internal edge of the aluminium side is a velvet light seal – none of this Japanese malarky with foam that turns to goo.

Where the film cassette slides into the body, there is a box structure that the film cassette has to fit around. This box is open to the front of the camera and is where the bellows fit . On the visible part of this box (which is painted with black crinkle-finish paint) is the counter-point to the catch on the cassette. Also here is the button to release the lens board on the front of the camera. This button protrudes through a hole is the side of the cassette so it can be accessed when the camera is fully assembled.

This is also where thw camera body serial number is stamped. Zeiss Ikon continued to use the ICA serial number system which consisted of a letter and up to five digits. As a note, early Zeiss Ikon Cocarettes continued to use Contessa Nettel serial numbers, presumably because there was a stock of Cocarette bodies in store when the Zeiss Ikon mergers took place. The serial number on my Cocarette is R 1828 which dates the body to 1930 which will have been one of the last to be made.

The side of the camera which pulls away also has the film advance key. Around this is an arrow showing the direction of turning. The key will turn in both directions but turning it the wrong way is likely to cause problems. Next to the film advance key is the button to release the lens board. At the other end of the side is a tripod socket. This is the original 3/8 inch Whitworth thread.

The front of the camera has the lens door. This is made form pressed steel and has a second tripod socket – the same 3/8 inch thread as the other tripod socket. There is also a folding foot which can be used to stand the camera on a table or such for when using the self-timer.

The lens door is opened by pressing the button beside the film advance key. When pressing this button, the lens board snaps down quite energetically. However, this is not a “self-erecting” camera and the lens/shutter assembly stays retracted inside the camera body. To use the camera, you have to pull out the lens/shutter. There are two bright metal studs in front of the lens. Pulling these studs forward pulls the lens/shutter forward – there is a definite stop when the lens/shutter is in the right place when a spring on the lens board latches onto a recess under the lenss/shutter assembly. The lens/shutter assembly is attached to the camera body by a concertina bellows.

The shutter is a Telma shutter made by Gauthier. The Telma shutter offers three speeds – 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 plus B and T. This shutter seems to be the same as a Derval shutter with the addition of a self-delay timer. This is an older type dial-set shutter with the shutter speed dial sitting above the shutter housing. The shutter is an everset type leaf shutter which means that there is no need to cock the shutter.

The lens is a Dominar. This is a copy of a Carl Zeiss Tessar originally made by Huttig and subsequently by Ica. Ica was owned by Carl Zeiss who, presumably, made the lenses for Ica. Assuming this to be so, the lens serial number will date the lens to 1930. This tallies with the body serial number which also dates the camera to 1930. The lens focal length is 10.5 cm (measuring focal length in mm had to wait for the 1940s) which is normal for a medium format camera.

The available apertures range from ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22 which is a good range for the date of the camera. The iris diaphragm consists of ten blades giving a decagonal aperture. This should give near circular bokeh if such things matter to you. The focus range is from 1.5 m to infinity. The camera has helical focusing. Many folding cameras of this age and older have a focus slide which was not an accurate method. This helical focusing (where you turn the lens to focus) is capable of much greater accuracy.

The focus scale has a Happy Snapper facility. There is a red dot on the focus scale just above 8 m. There is a second red dot on the aperture scale between ƒ/11 and ƒ/16 (but quite close to ƒ/11). If you set both the focus scale and aperture scale to their respective red dots, you will have everything from 4 m to infinity in focus – this is the hyperfocal distance for this lens at ƒ/12 and useful for landscape photography.

When looking at the lens, there is a lever at around 10 o’clock which is the shutter release lever. Behind this is a threaded socket for a standard cable release. In fact, this standard cable release socket and conical thread was originally designed by Gauthier, the makers of this shutter.

At about 2 o’clock on the shutter housing is a red lever. This is the self-timer lever. turning this clockwise and then pushing down on the shutter release lever activates the timer. When new, this would have provided a delay of around 8 to 10 seconds – long enough for the photographer to join the the group being photographed. It could also be used to stand the camera on a table and have the shutter fire without the photographer touching the camera at the point the shutter fires – useful for slow 1/25 second exposures.

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.

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.

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