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.

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.

Kershaw Eight-20 King Penguin.

This is a folding medium format camera of a style that that was state of the art through the first half of the 20th century. When this camera was made in the early 1950s, the design was rather passé. By the end of the 1950s, folding cameras had disappeared from mainstream photography.

The camera measures 170 by 80 by 40 mm and weighs 543 g. The outside is covered in black leatherette with the edges of the lens door painted gloss black. The viewfinder, tripod boss, leg and catch are bright chrome plated.

As is usual with folding cameras, there is little to see when the camera is folded. On the top, on the right, is the film advance knob. This is black plastic with a chrome metal insert in the top. The metal insert has an arrow cut into it to indicate the direction you turn the knob in – the knob will only turn in the one direction. The knob also pulls up to release the take-up spool inside the camera.

Beside the film advance knob is the folding viewfinder. The chrome part lifts from the back. As the chrome part is raised, the rear part rises under spring power. To use these 2-frame viewfinders, you line up the square holes in both frames. This is not an accurate system and works particularly badly if you wear glasses.

The back of the camera is plain black apart from the red window for viewing frame numbers on the film backing paper. As this camera produces 6 by 9 cm negatives, the red window is on the edge of the camera – for 6 by 6 cm negatives, this red window would be central.

The front of the camera has the lens door. This measures 95 by 72 mm. On the face of this is a 3/8 inch Whitworth tripod socket. This has a chrome slug screwed into it to provide a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. Also on the lens door is a folding leg. This allows the camera to be placed on a level surface in lieu of a tripod.

The lens door is opened by pressing on a chromed spring on the left hand edge of the lens door. On my camera, the lens door needs a helping hand to open, but it is sprung and probably opened itself when new 70 years ago.

When opened, the lens door is held in place by a fairly complex system of struts – there are far more struts here than on a Zeiss Ikon or Voigtländer folder. Once extended, the shutter/lens assembly is held rigidly in place. To close the lens door, it is necessary to press down on the two machined portions of the struts near the top and then lift the lens door to close it. The shutter/lens assembly is connected to the body by a collapsable leatherette bellows.

The shutter is a very simple everset type shutter with two speeds: I (Instantaneous) and B (Bulb). This is set by turning the black plastic notched ring around the shutter assembly. There are two indications as to which of I or B is set: on the front of the shutter housing, near the top, is a small window and on top of the shutter housing is a pointer which moves between I and B.

On the right of the shutter housing, as you are using the camera, is a chrome plunger – this is the shutter release. This is easier to use in portrait format but is still quite usable in landscape format.

On the left side of the shutter housing is a small lever right by the struts. This alters the aperture: only ƒ/11 and ƒ/16 are available. The lever changes the aperture by moving a metal plate so that one of two holes is in line with the lens. These are called Waterhouse stops. The reason that only two rather small apertures are available is that the lens is fixed focus and a small aperture is required to give sufficient depth of field in the photos.

At the base of the shutter housing is a strange protuberance. It took me quite a while to work out what this was for – it is the first time that I have ever seen one. It is an ASA terminal for a flash gun and serves the same purpose as the usual PC socket.

The lens is entirely anonymous but must consist of at least two glass elements as glass is visible in front of the shutter and also inside the camera behind the shutter. I cannot see any hint of a blue tint to the glass to indicate a coating on the lens and this might be one of the last camera lenses to be made without coating.

On the right hand edge of the camera is a leather carrying strap. Beneath this is a small chrome slide which releases the back of the camera. The back comes away from the camera – there is no hinge. On the inside of the back – which is painted matt black – is a yellow and red sticker exhorting the user to use either Ilford, Kodak or Ensign 120 film. What is missing here is a pressure plate to keep the film flat against the film gate. Only about half of my 120 folding cameras have such a plate.

Inside the body of the camera is dominated by the film gate. This measures 81 by 56 mm. The nominal size of a full framer 120 negative is 60 by 90 mm but some of the film must be sacrificed to keep the film flat against the film gate. Either end of the film gate is a black roller to prevent the film getting scratched whilst being advanced.

The new film goes in a chamber on the left of the film gate. In this chamber is a hinged cradle to take the spool of film. using this hinged cradle makes loading the new film very easy. When loading new film, after fitting the spool in the cradle, it is necessary to pull the backing paper leader across the film gate and fit it into the slot in the take-up spool. For people new to medium format photography, the take-up spool is the empty spool from the previous roll of film. The take-up spool does not fit into a cradle but in order to fit the spool into the chamber on the right of the film gate, it is necessary to first pull up on the film advance knob to retract the advance key. Once the take-up spool is in place, you need to push down on the film advance knob again, making sure that the advance key has located in the slot on the end of the spool.

I usually like to try out my cameras with film but the cost of 120 film together with the cost of processing the film –and only eight pictures on each roll of film – means that I am going to pass up on the opportunity to test the camera.

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.

VP Twin

A neat Bakelite camera from 1930s Britain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butcher’s Reflex Carbine

Antique (1925) reflex camera from England.

At first glance, this looks like a box camera from the first half of the 20th century. It is a black box with a lens in the middle of one face. At 2nd glance, there are too many controls and a raised portion. This raised portion gives the lie to the box camera idea. On the raised portion is embossed “Butcher’s Reflex Carbine”. I have no idea as to what the “carbine” bit means – to me, a carbine is a short barrelled rifle – but the reflex part means we have a mirror and focus screen and we are viewing through the ens.

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

At the back of this raised portion is a metal catch. This holds the lid in place. Raising the lid reveals a folded, heavy cloth “chimney”. Unfolding this chimney produces the reflex viewfinder. This gives on to a ground glass focus screen. When new, this chimney viewfinder would support itself when unfolded but 100 years have not been kind to the fabric and it is now too soft to support itself. When you look down the chimney (holding it raised and open), you are looking at an image formed by a ƒ/7.7 lens – the image is not particularly bright, even after cleaning both the lens and screen. The focus screen has no focus aids but has a compositional aid in the form of painted cross lines.

In front of the viewfinder is a black metal focus knob. There is no focus scale – infinity is marked beside the knob but there is no visible index mark on the knob to align with the infinity mark. Focus is purely visual – but with a maximum aperture of ƒ/7.7, the depth of field is sufficient to hide a lot of focus error.

The focus knob is on a black metal plate which bears the legend “Patent No. 210531 1922” which effectively effectively dates the camera to the 1920s and not before 1922. Both my McKeown’s and Hove Blue Book state that this camera came to market in 1925 and was renamed the Ensign Roll Film Reflex in 1926 so that would give a clear date of 1925 for this camera.

To the right of the focus knob is the film advance key. This will only turn anti-clockwise. Between the film advance key and the viewfinder is a black lever hinged at one end. Raising this lever lowers the reflex mirror for use and resets the shutter.

The front of the camera has the lens in the centre. This is an Aldis Uno anastigmat which would seem to be a triplet (according to the Interweb, not my own observations). It has a focal length of 4.25 inches which equates to 106 mm or thereby. It has a maximum aperture of ƒ/7.7 and a minimum aperture of ƒ/32. The aperture is adjusted by using two studs on the front of the lens. The aperture adjustment has no click stops.

On the right of the lens are two chrome buttons. The top one is marked B and pressing this one keeps the shutter open while the button is depressed (or would if my camera was working properly). The lower button is unmarked (or the embossed mark has disappeared) but it is for “Instantaneous” exposure which will be somewhere between 1/25 and 1/60 seconds (at a guess).

The back of the camera is unadorned apart from a red window in the top left-hand corner. For younger readers, this red window is used to read the frame numbers on the film backing paper when advancing the film. After a century, this red window has faded to a pale orange.

The base of the camera has a central tripod socket which is a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. It looks like this has been inserted into a 3/8 Whitworth thread.

The two sides of the camera have a circular catch at the front and a loop for a neck strap at the rear. The right-hand side also has a diagonal leather hand strap which is embossed with the word “Carbine”. The left-hand side sports a second tripod socket which is again a 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. Using this second tripod socket would be problematical as the viewfinder chimney will be sticking out sideways.

If you turn the two circular catches on the sides (and adjust the lens to infinity or else it catches on the lip of the outside), the outsides of the camera will pull away form the top and insides. The outside is made from wood covered in black leather on the outside (one Interweb source says it is fish-skin) and painted matt black on the inside. The edges of the outside box have a lip which will fit into a groove on the top to provide light tightness. The bottom of the outside box has the serial number stamped into it – B45621. The front has a round hole – 1.5 inches in diameter, or 40 mm – for the lens to poke through. Beside the lens hole is a spring steel bar which is pressed by the two chrome buttons mentioned earlier. The back of this box part has the red window as already mentioned.

Once you have removed the wooden outside the part you are left with is mostly made from steel. The top part is wood to match the rest of the outside. The top part sports a repeat of the camera serial number. Starting at the front, there is the lens which is held on a steel bracket. This bracket moves to and fro when the focus knob is turned. The back of the lens is attached to the shutter with a leather bellows. While looking at the lens, on the left of the lens, are the two shutter release ‘actuators’ that are pressed by the chrome buttons on the outside front of the camera. Either side of the lens is a wooden baffle which will fit into grooves on the outside portion of the camera to prevent light coming in around the lens from fogging the film.

Outside these baffles are the holders for the roll of film and the take-up spool. The base of these holders is made from sprung steel to make inserting the spools easy. My camera comes with a very old take-up spool. The way 120 film works is the empty spool from a roll of film becomes the take-up spool for the next roll of film – to the take-up spool is continually replaced with a new one. When Kodak introduced 120 film in 1901, the spools were made from wood with metal ends. These were replaced with all metal spools which, in turn, were replaced with plastic spools. The take-up spool in my camera is a wooden spool. It would seem that during WWII when there was a metal shortage, wooden spools were used again – this from the Interweb, I cannot vouch for it accuracy.

The rear of this inner ‘box’ has a thin wooden flap which is hinged at the bottom with a passé-partout tape. This flap is covered on both sides with thin matt black paper. Centrally on the outside of this flap is a paper label with the camera name ‘Reflex Carbine’, the exhortation to use C20 Carbine film (which is actually 120 film) and the maker’s name ‘Butcher’s British Cameras’. On the top left of this flap is a hole which lines up with the red window of the outside box.

If you open the hinged flap, you can see the angled light baffle which sits behind the reflex mirror. This baffle consists of two parts of this steel which slide one over the other as the baffle/mirror move out of the way before the shutter opens. On either side of this baffle is a long curved metal spring.

The details of the shutter are hidden internally so I can make no comment on it. This camera is old – very nearly 100 years old – and was not a top-notch camera when new. Some parts work well – the focus, aperture, winding key – and the rest not really. The viewfinder chimney is too old to stand by itself, making it useless. The mirror will not rise under its own steam when the pressing the shutter release button nor will the shutter fire. I very much doubt that the designers nor the makers would have expected a century of use out of this camera and the original owner has obviously had good use from it when new, judging by the wear and tear on the outside.

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.

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