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.

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.

Wirgin Supreme

This camera is a bog-standard folding camera from the Inter-war years (for our younger readers, “Inter-war” means from 1919 to 1939). This is a German camera made in Wiesbaden in Hesse. The only name on the camera is the model name “Supreme” embossed in the leather on the back. There is no maker’s name anywhere. I know it is German because there is a small leather carrying handle which is embossed “MADE IN GERMANY”.

  • lens: Trioplan
  • focal length: 10.5 cm
  • apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 6 feet (2 metres) to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Vario
  • speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T
  • flash: No
  • film size: 120

So how do I know which camera this is? I have several techniques that I use. I have a series of camera catalogues going back to the early 1920 and I look through them for a camera model called “Supreme” – they usually have illustrations so I can check that it is the same model. I also have copies of the British Journal of Photography Almanac going back to 1922. These have a section on new kit and again I search through these for cameras called “Supreme”. Both of these have failed me which leads me to think that this camera was made by a minor maker without a good dealer contract.

My third method is a search on the Interweb. This last is very unreliable as the Interweb is full of errors. However, needs must when the devil drives. So, a Google search (other search engines are available) for “Supreme camera” and select the images option. Well, there have been quite a few camera models called “Supreme” but this search did find quite a few images of my camera and they all called it “Wirgin Supreme”. A text search on Google confirmed that Wirgin did indeed make a folding camera called “Supreme and that it might have been made in 1938.

Wirgin are probably better known for their Edixa range of cameras made in the 1960s and 1970s. I already have articles on two of these: the Wirgin Edixa viewfinder camera and the Wirgin Edixa-Mat Reflex mod B SLR camera.

This is a fairly typical folding camera from the Interwar years. Some features are typical of the 1920s such as the shutter but these did continue well into the 1930s on cheaper cameras. The Interweb says it was made in 1938 but that was a single web page and perhaps not reliable.

The body seems to be made entirely from pressed steel. The body is covered with leather (not leatherette) with the edges of the camera bright chrome plated. These edges have significant rusty areas. The camera measures 155 by 83 by 40 mm when closed and 155 by 83 by 133 mm when open for use. It weighs 575 g.

The ‘top’ of the camera (it doesn’t really have a top as such) is featureless apart from the folding viewfinder. Lifting the top of this allows the bottom/rear part to spring up on its own. The viewfinder consists of a hole in each part – there are no lenses in either part. The holes is both frames must be lined up by the user’s eye to compose the picture.

The ‘bottom’ of the camera has more on it. On the right-hand side is a milled wheel which is the film advance. Once upon a time, this was covered by a disc of leather but on my camera this is long gone. Next to this wheel is a small nickel-plated button. Pressing this opens the lens door on the front of the camera. When new, this door would have sprung fully open under its own spring-loaded volition but on my 80+ year old camera, the lens door only opens most of the way and needs a bit of manual help to open fully.

Just to the left of centre on the bottom is a disc. This is 27 mm in diameter. In the middle of this disc is a threaded hole for a tripod. This is a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. It looks to me as though this is a 1/4 inch slug fitted into the original 3/8 inch Whitworth socket. It is the positioning of this tripod socket that was the clue to the identity of this camera when I did the Google image search.

The back of the camera is plain. The leather is embossed with straight lines and the word “Supreme” in italic script. Towards the top left corner of the back is a red window. For those who have not come across 120 size cameras before, the film has a backing paper which keeps light away from the film when handled. On this backing paper, there are three series of numbers with different spacings. These are for cameras that produce 6 by 9, 6 by 6 and 6 by 4.5 cm negatives. These numbers are read through the red window so this red window is positioned over the appropriate series of numbers. This camera produces 6 by 9 cm negatives.

The front of the camera is dominated by the lens door. This measures 97 by 780 mm. As with the rest of the camera, this is covered with black leather. In the centre of this door there is a raised portion. I think this is basically for stiffening but it also has a decorative function. In the middle of the lens door is the hinged foot. This is nickel-plated metal – I suspect brass as there is no rust apparent. The purpose of this hinged foot is to allow the camera to stand level and solidly on a level surface in lieu of a tripod. Also on the lens door is a second tripod thread. This is, again, 1/4 inch Whitworth and, again, looks to be a 1/4 inch slug in a 3/8 inch thread.

To open the lens door, you need to press the small plated button next to the film advance wheel. Originally, the spring will have snapped the lens door securely in place but on my 85-odd year old camera a little manual assistance is required. When open, the lens door is held in place by three metal struts on either side. Two of these are nickel plated and one is painted black. Incidentally, I can tell that it is nickel plated and not chrome plated by the colour. Nickel plating has a softer shine than chrome and has a subtle but definite blue tinge. Nickel plating also has a tendency to corrode with a blue/green colour.

When opened, the lens door is held solidly in place and the shutter/lens assembly is parallel to the film plane. The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the camera body by leatherette bellows.

The shutter is a Vario by Gauthier. Gauthier are better known for their Prontor shutters but they always had a series of simpler and cheaper shutters available. This Vario shutter offers 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 seconds plus B and T. Nearly all cameras, including modern digital cameras, have B available. This is where the shutter stays open while the shutter release is depressed. The letter ‘B’ is short for ‘Bulb” and refers to the pneumatic bulbs used in the 19th century as shutter releases.

‘T’ used to be very common on cameras – it is available on my 1973 Nikon F2 SLR. ‘T’ stands for Time. With ‘T’, the shutter opens when the shutter release is depressed and stays open until the shutter release is depressed a second time. This is for very long exposures and was useful in film days when ISO 3,200 was fantastically fast.

This shutter is an old-fashioned shutter in as much as the speed selector is a dial above the shutter housing rather than a ring around it – technically, a dial-set shutter. The change over from the two styles centred on 1930 but dial-set shutters lingered on well into the 1930s on cheaper cameras.

The dial has initials under the name Vario: DRP and DRGM. DRP stands for Deutsches Reichpatent and DRGM stands for Deutsches Reich Gebrauchsmuster and they indicate that the design is patented (and made before 1945).

Looking at the lens, to the left side of the shutter selector dial, is the shutter release lever. This is a thin piece of nickel plated metal. To the left of this lever, on the side of the shutter housing, is a threaded socket for a standard cable release. This shutter is an Everset type so there is no cocking lever. Underneath the speed selector is the legend “Original Gauthier”

Below the lens are two scales. The upper scale, in yellow, has 6, 7, 10, 15, 30, ∞ which are distances in feet – this is the focus scale. The lower scale, in white, has 4.5, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22 which are ƒ/numbers as this is the aperture scale. Below this lower scale is a moving pointer to adjust the lens diaphragm. On my camera, the diaphragm blades have come loose from their fittings and the aperture can no longer be adjusted.

In the centre of the shutter housing is the lens. This is a Trioplan made by Meyer Görlitz. This is a triplet lens (it has three pieces of glass) and it has a focal length of 10.5 cm (measuring focal lengths in mm started after 1945). This is a ‘normal‘ lens for a medium format camera. This is a focusing lens (not a given on cheap cameras) and is front cell focusing which means that only the front piece of glass moves to focus rather than all three pieces.

On the top right of the shutter housing is a small Brilliant viewfinder. These, at best, give a vague idea of the composition – I really don’t like them and much prefer the larger folding viewfinder. This Brilliant finder is on a swivel allowing the camera to be used in either portrait or landscape orientation.

Closing the lens door is simple if not immediately obvious. To unlock the holding struts, you press in at the top of the rear-most strut on either side. The lens should be focused on infinity and the Brilliant viewfinder in the portrait position or it will foul on the side of the camera body. when collapsing. It is then a simple matter of pushing the lens door into the closed position.

On the right hand end of the camera is a small leather handle. This is stamped “MADE IN GERMANY”indicating that this was an official export version (distances in feet suggest this as well). Beneath this handle is a small nickel plated lug. Sliding this down releases the catch on the back. The back opens on a hinge revealing the insides.

Inside the back itself is a 70 by 90 mm sprung pressure plate. This is to keep the film flat against the film gate. Inside the camera body is the film gate. This measures 57 by 87 mm. The film (size 120) measures 60 mm wide so there will be 1.5 mm margin around the exposed portion of the film. Either side of the film gate is a chrome roller to allow the film to move gently over the metal parts without scratching.

At either end of the body is a chamber for the film spools. These chambers have hinged lugs to hold the film in place. My camera has lost two of these but it is clear where they were. The new roll of film goes on the left and the take-up spool goes on the right. The take-up spool is the empty film spool from the previous roll of film.

When loading a new film into a size 120 film camera, you need to wind-on a considerable amount of backing paper before the film itself it revealed. You need to be looking into the red window while doing this – as the first frame approaches there is a series of dots or circles of diminishing size just before each frame number.. After the last shot – number 8 on this camera – you need to wind-on a further considerable amount of backing paper before opening the camera back to remove the film. The end on the backing paper has a self-adhesive tag to keep the end of the backing paper in place.

Given the price of 120 film and the costs of development, I will not be trying this camera with film.

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.

Iloca Quick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voigtländer Vitoret DR

This is a late 1960s rangefinder camera from the German firm of Voigtländer – who were owned by the Carl Zeiss Stiftung. This camera very much resembles my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE although it has fewer features.

The camera itself has the name Voigtländer on it in a couple of places but the instruction sheet (a large, single piece of folded paper and in no way a booklet) is clearly titled Zeiss Ikon Voigtländer. Although the Carl Zeiss Stiftung had a controlling interest in Voigtländer since the 1950s, it was only in the late 1960s that Carl Zeiss amalgamated Zeiss Ikon and Voigtländer into one manufacturer.

  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 3 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Prontor 300
  • speeds: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/300
  • flash: PC socket, X synch
  • film size: 35 mm

The name of this camera – Vitoret – indicates that it is a derivative of the folding Vito camera of the late 1940s. The Vito range developed over 20 years or so into a range of quite sophisticated cameras – Vito B, and Vitomatic in the 1950s, Vito C, CLR and Vito Automatic in the 1960s. The D part of the name indicates a light meter – I do not know what the D stands for as the German for a light meter is Belichtungsmesser or Lichtmeter. The R indicates a built-in rangefinder.

The body is made from die-cat aluminium alloy and the top and bottom plates appear to be made from aluminium sheet. The body is covered with black leatherette and the edge of the camera are painted gloss black. The opening back is made from pressed steel and is also covered with black leatherette. The camera measures 125 by 88 by 70 mm. It weighs 538 g. This is the late model Vitoret DR with square corners – there was an earlier model with a more rounded look. The Vitoret range was introduced in about 1963 with the Vitoret D. The version with square corners was introduced in 1966 and seems to have been continued up until Zeiss Ikon ceased production in 1972. The general appearance is very similar to the Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE.

The top plate is sparse – at least compared to most SLR cameras. On the far right is a knob for controlling the light meter. This is not a coupled meter and you need to manually transfer the setting to the shutter and aperture. This meter is a selenium meter so it has no need of a battery – there is a disadvantage to selenium meters in old cameras as the selenium sensor can deteriorate over time if left exposed to light but if the camera is stored in its case or a dark cupboard that is unlikely to be a problem. On my camera, the meter is completely dead, which is likely to be a problem with the electronics rather than the selenium sensor.

To use the meter, you first need to set the film speed using the inner perspex disc. This can be set between 12 DIN/12 ASA and 36 DIN/3200 ASA. Having set the film speed, you now turn the outer ring to move the red pointer in the light meter window until it is superimposed on the meter’s white needle. You then read off the aperture (black numbers) and shutter speed (white numbers) combination that suits you. The meter was made for Voigtländer by Bewi who made meters for a number of German camera makers as well as for theirselves.

Central on the top plate is a Barnack accessory shoe – no electrical contacts so a cold shoe. Just to the right of this accessory shoe, near the rear of the top plate, is a small (3mm diameter) chromed button. This is the release button to allow the film to be rewound. It is necessary to keep this button depressed the whole time that you are rewinding the film.

Left of the accessory shoe is the maker’s and model name embossed in the metal. On the far left of the top plate is the rewind crank – this is the ubiquitous small folding crank. As well as rewinding the film, this crank lifts up to facilitate inserting and removing the film cassettes.

On the back of the top plate, towards the left, is the viewfinder eyepiece. This measures 20 by 14 mm and incorporates the rangefinder eyepiece. There are bright lines, 14 by 9 mm, bounding the image area. As this is not an SLR, there is no focus screen. The image is tinted pink. In the centre of the image is a pale green diamond – this is the rangefinder spot. The pink image and green spot makes the rangefinder easy to use. Just below the the top plate, on the right, is the film advance lever. This moves through 225º to advance the film by one frame but this can also be achieved with several short movements.

On the front of the top plate is a rectangular chrome bezel which measures 83 by 20 mm. On the right of this bezel is the viewfinder window. This measures 25 by 15 mm. Centrally, there is a black rectangle with a clear diamond. This is the rangefinder window. The centre of this diamond window is 30 mm from the centre of the viewfinder window. The larger this distance, the more sensitive the rangefinder will be. 30 mm is quite respectable. On the far left of the chrome bezel is the knobbly light meter sensor window.

Below the top plate on the front is the shutter/lens assembly. The shutter is a Prontor 300. This has a restricted range of shutter speeds: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/300 plus B. This range, restricted as it is, will be fine for the photographers attracted to this camera. Apertures are from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22 which is a very usable range. There are five blades in the iris diaphragm giving a pentagonal aperture – the effect of this on the bokeh will be seen with the test film.

The lens is a Color-Lanthar which appears to be a triplet. Its focal length is 50 mm which is usual for this type of 35mm camera. The ‘Color’ part indicates that the lens is designed for colour photography. This might be taken for granted today but the vast majority of photography in the 1960s and earlier was black and white. The ‘Lanthar’ part indicates that the lens uses glasses containing Lanthanum – a rare earth metal that gives the glass a high refractive index allowing for ‘stronger’ elements to the lens. Lanthanum glass also has low dispersion which means that the different colours of light behave the same as they pass through the lens resulting in less chromatic aberration. The use of Lanthanum improves the quality of the lens but this lens is a triplet – only three glass elements – which reduces the quality of the lens. Other triplet lenses I have used have been quite good when stopped down to ƒ/8 and I expect this lens to be the same. The test film will show for sure.

Focal range is from just short of 3.5 feet (I suspect that it is actually one metre but this is an export camera and the scale is in feet) to infinity. There are distances marked by a red dot (close to 4.5 feet), a red triangle (between 9 and 12 feet) and a red circle (short of 60 feet. These are Happy Snapper settings for portraits, groups and landscapes respectively. These are intended to be used with an aperture of ƒ/8. I can tell this aperture by setting the red circle to the focus index and looking at which aperture is against infinity on the depth of field scale – it is ƒ/8.

This depth of field scale sits between the shutter speed scale and the focus scale. It consists of two aperture scales, one either side of the focus index, with the widest aperture nearest to the index. To establish the depth of filed for your settings, you look at the focus distance against each of the aperture values that you have set. An example: you have set your aperture to ƒ/11 and you are focused at 8 feet. The two distances against ƒ/11 are 6 feet and twelve feet so everything between six and twelve feet will be in focus.

To the left of the lens is the shutter release. This is a vertical slider rather than a button. These became common in the 1960s but I have never liked them as they require a different grip on the camera. In order to attach a standard cable release there is a threaded hole on the bottom of the slider. Below the shutter release slider is a chrome PC socket for flash connection.

The base of the camera has a standard tripod socket – 1/4 inch Whitworth I would think at this age. This socket is in line with the centre of the lens. Just in front of the tripod socket is the camera serial number – 843072. All my other Voigtländer cameras lack a serial number, their place being taken by the lens serial number. This camera’s serial number is shorter than Voigtländer’s lens serial number.

Also on the base plate is the frame counter. Unlike earlier Voigtländer cameras, this frame counter counts up. Every third frame has a number, the intermediate frames being dots. The counter counts up to 36. The counter is automatically reset to -2 by opening the back.

To get inside the camera, there is a catch on the left-hand edge of the camera. To open the back, you must squeeze the top and bottom of the catch and the back will pop open. The back itself has a rather small pressure plate and a small chrome roller to keep the film against the sprocket shaft.

The film cassette goes on the left – the rewind crank holds the cassette in place and needs to be lifted to either insert or remove the cassette. The film gate is no larger than necessary and smaller than in most 35mm cameras. To the right of the film gate is the sprocket shaft. The rôle of this is to count the sprocket holes in the film as it passes the film gate to ensure that exactly one frame is advanced each time – eight holes to one frame. The take-up spool is nice and wide – this means that the film is not curled too tightly on the take-up spool. With some cameras, a thin take-up spool means that the film will not lie flat for printing or scanning. There are four slots on take-up spool which are nice and wide and make it easy to fit a new film.

I have eventually finished my test film – Agfa Vista plus, 200 ISO – and have had the film developed by AG Photography in Birmingham. The results are quite good for a 50+ year old camera – everything is working as it should. The shutter is clearly within spec as the negatives are nicely exposed – I cannot show this on the Interweb as the scanning process compensates for poorly exposed negative but I can examine the actual negatives and they have the image density I would like them to have. The same goes for the aperture.

My first two images are test of the rangefinder. In the first image, I have focused using the rangefinder on the nearest silver knob with the aperture wide open. That is in focus and the rest of the image is not. The silver knob was close to the closest focus distance for this lens (3.5 feet).

This next picture is using the rangefinder to focus on something a bit further away. Again, the subject is in focus and the rest is not, which is good.

This next image is the Strait in Lincoln a dull day. Image contrast is good as is focus.

The chapter house at Lincoln cathedral, covered in scaffolding for repairs. This is looking west and has caused a small amount of flare. Otherwise, I am pleased with this image.

While enjoying a cup of coffee with Bestbeloved in Caffè Nero in Lincoln, I tried this camera hand-held indoors. To get a good exposure, I used a fairly long shutter speed. I was able to hold then camera steady enough for there to be no visible camera shake, but I doubt I could enlarge the picture much above what it is here.

The last image is of Bestbeloved looking at gulls through her binoculars (which is what she can usually be found to be doing). This is in Scarborough and was taken in light rain. The lens has good micro-contrast and good colour rendition in quite poor light.

Overall, I am impressed with this camera. The lens is a triplet but performs well enough. It was made by one of the foremost camera makers of the 20th century so it should be good but its was towards the end of German hegemony in this industry and the Germans were finding out that they could not compete with the Japanese. Zeiss Ikon and Voigtländer started making down to a price rather than up to a standard. The Japanese, of course, managed to build down to a price whilst also building up to a standard.

Hunter 35

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Test film

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

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

Here are are few images from the test film:

OrionWerk plate camera – Rio 8C?

A folding plate camera from Hannover, Germany.

Orion Werk were a small camera maker from Hannover (German spelling) that folded in 1933. They produced quite a large range of cameras – both plate and roll film – in their short life, 1921 to 1933. For some reason, they did not put any sort of model name on their cameras so identifying the model is problematical. In fact, I got my tentative model name (Rio 8C) by looking through illustrated catalogues from Orion until I found one that looked the same as mine and had the same specification.

My starting point is that the camera takes 9 x 12 cm plates – this rules out everything except the ‘C’ models. Next, there is no vertical shift screw on the lens standard which rules out most of the ‘C’ models. Next is the detail of the U frame (i.e. lens standard) that holds the shutter assembly. This took me to the Rio 8C. The shutter (Vario) and lens (Corygon) confirm the ID of Rio 8C but, as always, I am happy to be corrected.

The body of the camera is made from wood which gives it a very square profile – none of the curves at the ends that you get with a metal roll-film camera. Not much of the wood is visible but from what I can see it would appear to be a species of pine. The wood is covered with black leatherette which is embossed with a rectangular pattern. Normally, the leatherette has the maker’s name, logo, model name embossed in the leatherette but not here.

The back of the wooden box has a steel plate holder (holder of glass photographic plates, that is) attached to it. The box measures 157 by 110 by 38 mm. The film gate (should that be plate gate?) in the plate holder measures 115 by 82 mm. The actual glass plates would be held in a light tight frame measuring about 135 by 112 mm and the glass plates would seem to have been 9 by 12 cm. Above and below the fillm gate are velvet light traps – red at the top and black at the bottom. At the top of the plate holder is a small, swivelling, catch to keep the plates in place.

On one long side and on one short side of the camera is a tripod socket. These are 3/8 inch Whitworth threads. On the other long side is a leather carrying strap and on the other short end is a small button beneath the leatherette. Pressing this releases the lens door which folds down to give portrait format. This lens door is held at right angles to the body by a chromed metal strut on either side.

On the top surface of the lens door are two bright metal rails. These are to position the shutter/lens assembly when it is brought forward for use. Between these rails is the only admission as to who made this camera. Here, stamped into the metal of the lens door and picked out in white, is the legend “ORIONWERK Akt. Ges. HANNOVER”. Being German, they have spelt ‘Hannover’ in the correct German way rather than the British ‘Hanover’. On the left of the rails (as when using the camera) is a sprung focus scale. When the lens standard is pulled forward there is a plate that moves over, and pushed down, this focus plate. There is a stop on the focus plate which stops the lens standard moving any further forward – this is the infinity focus position. To focus closer, it is necessary to push the focus scale down and pull the lens standard further forward. The focus scale runs from 2 to infinity. The units here are missing but are going to be metres.

The lens standard is a U shaped bracket made from aalaauminium alloy painted black. This lens standard has two knurled knobs for the user to hold while pulling the lens standard forward. There is a groove on the inside of the lens standard which holds a steel plate. In turn, this steel plate holds the shutter/lens assembly. This plate can slide up and down in this groove, giving a crude rising front to the camera. Usually, on small cameras with a rising front, this sliding is achieved by way of a screw on the right-hand arm of the lens standard – not here though. The sliding plate has a home position which is located by a sprung indent. To rise the lens, it is just a matter of pulling up on the shutter/lens assembly. The effect of the rising front will be judged by looking at the ground glass focus screen. I assume that the rather cheap lens produced a large enough image circle to make the rising front useful.

The shutter is a Vario from Gauthier. The Vario shutter is a simple shutter offering three speeds – 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 as well as B and T. It is an everset shutter which means that a there is no need to cock the shutter before use. This is a dial-set shutter which means that a the shutter speed is set by a dial above the shutter housing. Around 1930, these dial-set shutters were superseded by rim-set shutters which had a setting ring around the shutter rather than a dial.

The shutter release lever is on the top right of the shutter housing. Just beneath this is a socket for a standard cable release. At the bottom of the shutter housing is the aperture scale and setting lever. This uses the older aperture scale of 6.3, 9, 12.5, 18, 25 and 36. This works the same as the modern scale in as much as each step halves (or doubles) the area of the aperture. The iris diaphragm has nine blades giving a fairly circular aperture. Above the shutter speed dial is the viewfinder. This is a brilliant finder and is reasonably large and clear – I still do not like brilliant finders but this is one of the better ones I have comes across. The finder is on a swivel so that it can be used in both portrait and landscape orientations. There is also the option to compose the image using the ground glass screen before inserting the photographic plate.

The lens is a Corygon triplet made by C. Friedrich of Munich. It has a focal length of 13.5 cm (cm were more usual than mm before about 1940). The downside here, particularly if I wanted to use this camera, is that someone has clearly removed the lens at some point. The retaining rings were only hand tight and, on the inside of the camera, the ring retaining the rear element has scuffing to the black paint.

The shutter/lens assembly is attached to the body by leatherette bellows. These are in very good condition and still light tight.

This is all I can say about the camera – apart from noting that the camera is missing the ground glass focus screen – but this camera also came with a strange attachment.

Many plate camera makers offered a roll-film attachment which allowed the user to save money and have an easier life by using cheap roll-film instead of glass plates at the cost of lower image quality. I have never seen a price for one of these attachments but I do not suppose that they were particularly cheap. A previous owner of this camera has got around this by making his own roll-film attachment .

What this owner has done is take an existing 120 format roll-film camera, remove the shutter/lens and the bellows and replace them with a glass plate holder. This attached plate holder slides into the grooves on the back of the plate camera. In some ways, this has been nicely done but the details of the work are crude. The two parts of the partial camera and the plate holder are held together by bent steel plates which have been soldered in place. These steel plates were then covered with black adhesive tape.

This adaptation works as intended on a mechanical level but has one large defect. The position of the roll-film in this adapter is 35mm further away from the lens than a glass plate would have been. This extra distance will have meant that a infinity focus will be impossible. I can only assume that they relied on depth of field/ small apertures and contact prints rather than enlargements. Or, perhaps, they did not understand the optics involved and found that their roll-film adapter was useless once they tried it out. We will never know.

As to the roll-film camera sacrificed to make this adapter, there is no indication of make or model apart from a crown logo on the back.

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