Foth Folder

My criterion for buying my old cameras is that they must interest me. I prefer them to be in working condition but it is not essential. In good cosmetic condition is nice but so is ‘well loved’. In this case, ‘Interesting’ is the maker – Foth. Previously, I knew of Foth from the Foth Derby camera which has a very high reputation (yet I do not own one!). This Foth folder dates from the very early 1930s as far as I can ascertain. In many ways it is the same as many folding cameras made by many makers around the world.My criterion for buying my old cameras is that they must interest me. I prefer them to be in working condition but it is not essential. In good cosmetic condition is nice but so is ‘well loved’. In this case, ‘Interesting’ is the maker – Foth. Previously, I knew of Foth from the Foth Derby camera which has a very high reputation (yet I do not own one!). This Foth folder dates from the very early 1930s as far as I can ascertain. In many ways it is the same as many folding cameras made by many makers around the world.

P1050094Dating is hard as there are no serial numbers anywhere. Many features – iconometer for viewfinder, presence of a Brilliant finder, dial-set shutter, slide focusing rather than helical focusing – point to pre-1930 (although pre-1930 can extend into the mid-1930s). Even with those features, the detail of the iconometer suggest earlier rather than later – the eye-piece is a pointer rather than a frame. Yet, the Interweb tells me that having two knobs to extend the bellows means post-1930 on Foth cameras and the presence of the iconometer means post 1931. So, if I am to believe the Interweb, Foth were selling a very old-fashioned camera in the 1930s. I have no evidence on the camera to be able to form my own opinion here.


lens: Foth Doppel

focal length:  105 mm

apertures: f/4.5 to f/36 (Stoize scale)

focus range: 1.5 m to infinity

lens fitting: fixed

shutter: Foth everset

speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T

flash: No!

film size: 120

The maximum aperture of f/4.5 also suggests a later date but the aperture scale – 4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.5, 18, 25, 36 – suggests an earlier date. I am not sure when the scale used here finally disappeared but my other cameras of this sort of date seem to have changed over to the modern scale around 1930 – the actual dates vary from maker to maker (Zeiss early 1900s, Voigtlander at the very end of the 1930s, Leitz in the early 1940s). All in all, I think I can safely say that this camera was made before 1940 and probably 1931 to 1935.

P1050100The name ‘Foth’ only appears once on the camera. It is embedded in the leatherette on the baseboard/lens door. There is no model name or reference number anywhere. I assume this means that Foth only made the one folding camera model. The rear of the camera has the initials ‘H.E.F.’ stencilled in white on a scroll background – this will be either the retailer or the owner. I tend to think it is the initials of the owner as retailers usually rely on stickers on the inside.

P1050086The camera measures 163 by 80 by 34 mm when closed and by 135 mm when open. It weighs 578 g. While the camera is closed, there are few controls apparent. On one long edge are the film advance key at one end, the viewfinder eyepiece/pointer in the middle and the baseboard/lens door release button near the other end. On the other long edge, at the end, is the tripod socket which is the 3/8 inch version. Near the middle is a sliding button to release the back for film loading. This part is very like a Braun Paxette – the back, the base and part of the front on both sides come away in one piece.

P1050087On the back is only the red window for advancing the film. On the front of the camera is the hinged baseboard/lens door. While closed, this has a folding foot to enable the camera to sit upright on a level surface. Near the hinge is a second tripod socket. Again, this is a 3/8 inch thread.

P1050085P1050084The whole camera os covered with a thick, cardboard based, leatherette. This has been very damp at some point and the cardboard backing has seriously buckled. The leatherette on the hinged baseboard has the legend ‘Foth’ embossed on it.


P1050092Pressing the stud on long side causes the baseboard to spring open. The spring is strong enough to open this all the way without any help. All that is required of the user is to click the baseboard down to finally locate the struts securely.  As an older design camera, the shutter/lens assembly does not move and needs to be pulled out by hand – two chromed studs are provided as a hand-hold. Pulling the shutter/lens out to the stop position will leave the lens focused at infinity. To focus nearer, there is a metal slide on the front right-hand side of the baseboard. This has an ivorine scale which extends from infinity to 1.5 metres. Fine focus is not possible but this will not have mattered as the user will only have had contact prints made and focus defects would not have been visible.

Logo is FCFC

The shutter is an everset shutter made by Foth. It bears the logo ‘FCFC’ for ‘F.C. Foth Company’. This offers speeds of 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 seconds plus B and T (B keeps the Sutter open for as long as you keep your finger on the shutter release. T opens the shutter which will stay open until you press the shutter release a second time). The lens is a Doppel which is German for double and indicates a two element lens. This will be better than the single meniscus lens used on very cheap cameras but nowhere as good as a triplet as used on cheaper decent cameras or an upmarket Tessar with its four elements. There is a socket for a standard cable release just below the shutter release lever. There is no delay action lever on this camera.


There are two viewfinders provided. The first is a small brilliant finder which will only work in good but not bright light. When the camera is folded up this brilliant finder collapses to fit into the tight space available for it in the camera body. I find these finders just about impossible to use. This one is in good condition – usually they are made from steel that has had chromium plated directly onto the steel which is usually too rusted after 50 to 100 years to be usable. The second finder is an iconometer (I think the name ‘Iconometer’ might have been a registered trademark of Zeiss Ikon but I am still going to use it). This consists of a large wire frame attached to the side of the shutter housing. In use, it hinges out to the left. This wire frame measures 60 mm by 90 mm which is the size of the negative. On the camera body is a folding pointer which the user has to centre in the frame. This is not going to be precise but will have been more than good enough for holiday landscapes and beach portraits.

To open the camera to fit film or remove a finished film, there is a sliding knob in the

‘Z” for closed is just visible in the bottom of the slot

centre of one long side. Sliding this as far as it will go, you can pull the two long edges apart, revealing the innards. There are the letters Z and A to indicate open and closed in German (Z = closed, A = open) but these are barely visible. The camera body and the camera back are made of aluminium which is a rather soft metal. Over the years there has been some distortion of both body and back which makes opening the camera fairly hard. I would think that when new, this would have been easy. The two spools (new film and the empty take-up


spool) are held

in place by a black painted brass strip. This does not hold the spools very securely and I find it necessary to keep a finger on each spool as I refit the back. Might get easier with practice.


Demaria-Lapierre Dehel folding camera.

This camera looks very like a 1930s Zeiss Ikon Nettar or Ikonta camera. Looking at the <a href=””>collection-appareils</a> site, there is a chronology of Dehel cameras. Looking at the specific features of my camera – f/3.5 Manar lens, Gauthier shutter, knob film advance, the English writing on the shutter fascia, design of the viewfinder – it would appear to be a 1948 version. 1948 is still fairly soon after the destruction of WWII so it is not surprising to find a French company modernising a 1930s design rather than designing a 1948 camera – Voigtlander and Zeiss Ikon were still producing 1930s designs at this point.This camera looks very like a 1930s Zeiss Ikon Nettar or Ikonta camera. Looking at the collection-appareils site, there is a chronology of Dehel cameras. Looking at the specific features of my camera – f/3.5 Manar lens, Gauthier shutter, knob film advance, the English writing on the shutter fascia, design of the viewfinder – it would appear to be a 1948 version. 1948 is still fairly soon after the destruction of WWII so it is not surprising to find a French company modernising a 1930s design rather than designing a 1948 camera – Voigtlander and Zeiss Ikon were still producing 1930s designs at this point.


A description: well, it’s a medium format folding camera taking 6 x 4.5 cm negatives. Superficially, it looks quite like a Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520 or Nettar 515 (or Bob 510). The top plate is sparse. Centrally, there is a folding, reverse Newtonian viewfinder. The viewfinder is one of the features with which to date the camera. Early Dehel cameras has a simple wire frame finder. This camera has a moulded, nickel-plated brass, front piece to the finder. The finder is in portrait orientation as the 6 x 4.5 negative is naturally in this mode. However, turning the camera on its side and using your left hand for the shutter release button is easy enough. Turning the other way is possible as well but your right hand fouls the viewfinder. The camera measures 118 mm by 78 mm by 40 mm when closed and by 84 m when open. It weighs 444 g.

P1050079On the front edge of the top plate to the right of the viewfinder is a small nickel-plated button. This releases the lens door for use. The lens door has a fairly hefty spring and puts itself into shooting position but needs an initial helping hand. I suspect that this is an age thing. On the other side of the viewfinder is the shutter release button. This operates through a couple of levers on the shutter release on the shutter housing – very de rigueur since the mid 1930s until internal coupling arrived in the early 1950s. This shutter release button is also nickel plated brass and has a nice large top surface.

The front of the camera is plain apart from the lens door. In the centre of the lens door is a folding foot of nickel plated brass. This foot is plain apart from an embossed edge. This is another dating feature as earlier Dehel cameras had the legend “DEHEL” stamped on the foot. When the lens door is opened – it hinges on the left – the shutter/lens assembly is held firmly in place by chromed struts. These struts are very reminiscent of Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520 struts. To close the lens door you need to press the outer most part of the strut, near the top, towards the body. This partially folds the struts and the door can be pushed up into place.

The lens is a Manar anastigmat with a focal length of 75 mm and a maximum aperture of f/3.5. Collection-appareils has the lens as being a triplet. Minimum aperture is f/23 which is a bit strange as f/22 is a standard aperture and the difference between f/22 and f/23 is too small to be worth worrying about. Focus range is from a bit closer than four feet to infinity. The focus scale is in feet, indication an export version.


The shutter is made by Gauthier – there is no model name indicated but there is the Gauthier logo on the shutter fascia. I think the shutter to be a modified Prontor II. The speed range is from 1  second to 1/250 seconds plus B (but no T). Perceived wisdom (ie the Interweb) says that Prontor II shutters only went to 1/200 in the flash synchronised version but I have seen a Certo Durata camera from the late 1940s with a Prontor II shutter that went to 1/250 seconds.

P1050078However, this shutter has been modified as it has Demaria-Lapierre’s Autocal feature. This is very neat. The system assumes that you are using 25 ASA film – very slow by today’s standards but common in the 1940s and earlier. This is really a mechanical version of the Sunny 16 rule. There are four windows in the shutter fascia marked ‘Bright sun’, ‘Hazy sun’, ‘Cloudy bright’ and ‘Cloudy dull’. Each of these displays a recommended aperture. As you change the shutter speed these recommended apertures change. Example: At 1/25 seconds shutter speed, the recommended apertures are 16, 11, 8 and 6.3. Changing the shutter speed to 1/100 seconds, the recommended apertures are 8, 6.3, 4.5 and 3.4. A further change in shutter speed too 1/250 seconds gives 6.3, 4.5, 3.5 and ‘NO’ – ‘NO’ indicating that you should not attempt to use 1/250 seconds in cloudy dull weather. As I said – very neat.

The shutter also sports a self-timer which barely works – as always, the standard advice is to not use the self-timer on old cameras as you run the risk of wrecking the shutter. The shutter is synchronised for flash with the provision of a PC connector – there is no indication as to whether this is X or M sync. There is no way to connect a cable release – neither on the shutter housing nor on the body release.

P1050076The bottom of the camera has, at one end, a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod boss. At the other end of the baseplate is the film advance knob. Again, this helps with dating as earlier models had a film advance key rather than a knob. The back of the camera is plain apart from the red window for reading the frame numbers while advancing the film. This has a metal swivel cover marked ‘MADE IN FRANCE’.

Inside, there is little to comment on. The film spools are held in place by springs. There are no spool cradle here nor any devices to locate the spool apart from the key that locates in the end of the take-up spool for turning the spool when advancing the film. The outside of the camera is covered with black leatherette with the metal edges of the body being painted gloss black.


Cocarette 220 or 514/15

I have titled this article ‘Cocarette 514/15’ but I am far from sure as to the camera’s identity. It is certainly a Zeiss Ikon camera as the Zeiss Ikon logo appears twice on the camera. It looks like a Contessa Nettel Cocarette – complete with the film cassette loading system – but there is no model number or name anywhere that I can see. Both model name and model number were usually embossed in the leatherette and it is quite possible that age has removed the embossing. The leather carrying handle is missing and it is possible that this carried the model name/number. The design of the chrome struts holding the lens door is also the same as the struts on other Contessa Nettel cameras and very different to the struts on either Icarette or Nettar cameras so I am going to call this a Cocarette 220 (or 514/15) until someone shows me different.

“This is a very large folding camera – it takes size 116 film which gives a negative size of 65 by 105 mm.”

front of camera – closed

lens: Frontar

focal length:  140 mm

apertures: f/9 to f/32

focus range: 2 m to infinity

lens fitting: fixed

shutter: Ernemann leaf shutter

speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T

flash: No provision

film size: 116

This is a very large folding camera – it takes size 116 film which gives a negative size of 65 by 105 mm. This is from the day when people usually had contact prints done and the negative size was the print size – large negative = large print.

Zeiss Ikon started manufacturing in 1926 and stopped making Cocarette cameras in 1930 so that gives us a time span for this camera. Normally, with Zeiss Ikon cameras, we can look at the serial number and use this to gain a close-ish date but this camera does not have a Zeiss Ikon serial number (letter + five numbers) but rather a Contessa Nettel one (six numbers). This is actually useful as Zeiss Ikon fairly quickly used their own serial numbers on all production and the continued use of a Contessa Nettel number system suggest the camera was made soon after the merger that created Zeiss Ikon – i.e. 1926 or 1927. Lens and shutter serial numbers are useful in pegging down the date but the cheaper lens and shutter used on this camera do not have serial numbers. Using information about other Contessa Nettel cameras on the Interweb, I can peg this camera’s serial number (436466) down to late 1925 or early 1926. This is pre-Zeiss Ikon but they used up existing supplies of body castings and such.

“The camera is in poor cosmetic condition – it is about 90 years old – and has clearly been stored somewhere damp as there is a lot of mildew on the insides of the bellows and a fair bit of corrosion of the metal parts.”

rear of camera

The camera is in poor cosmetic condition – it is about 90 years old – and has clearly been stored somewhere damp as there is a lot of mildew on the insides of the bellows and a fair bit of corrosion of the metal parts. The body is made from cast aluminium with some steel parts. The body measures 195 by 105 mm and  by 40 mm when closed. When open, the lens extends to 160 mm. It weighs 826 g. To open the camera for use you need to press a small brass button on one of the sides.

lens door open
lens pulled forward

The lens door/baseboard then springs open. With my camera, it  does not click into place as it opens but I suspect that it did when new. The lens then needs to be pulled forward by pulling on the chrome stud in front of the lens. There is only one central stud – every other folding camera that needs the lens pulling forward that I have seen have two studs. The lens will stop when it reaches the infinity focus position. The lens is connected to the camera body by leatherette bellows which are in poor condition on my camera.

lens and shutter detail – see “EW” logo

The lens is a Frontar lens which was made by C. P. Goerz (one of the partner companies in Zeiss Ikon) and is a doublet (two glass elements) which is a cheap option. It has a focal length of 14 mm. The maximum aperture is f/9. The aperture is set by an iris diaphragm which will open to well beyond f/9 but there is a Waterhouse stop behind the diaphragm to prevent a wider aperture being used. A rough and ready measurement of the entrance pupil using a ruler suggests a maximum aperture of f/7 or thereby (formula is focal length divided by entrance pupil equals f/no). I suspect that this is related to the low quality of the Frontar lens being used – f/9 being the widest aperture consistent with usable image quality.

The shutter is anonymous but it is marked EW in a monogram. It looks a bit like a Derval but that would be marked with the Gauthier logo rather than with EW. I suspect that the EW is for Ernemann-Werke. The 1928 Zeiss Ikon catalogue offers the Cocarette 220 with a  variety of lenses in ‘three speed shutter’ – is this an Ernemann shutter left over from before the Zeiss Ikon merger? Speeds are 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 plus B and T. The shutter is an everset design – there is no need to cock the shutter before taking the picture. There is provision for a threaded cable release.

focus scale

The viewfinder is a brilliant finder which I always find very difficult to use. Focus is by sliding the lens/shutter housing forward. There are variations on how this was done before the advent of helical focusing. On more expensive cameras, there was a lever on the lens board which moved radially. This allowed for easier, smoother action and the possibility to set the focus between marked positions. This camera has no lever and only a few preset distances are available: 2, 3, 5, 10 and infinity. I suspect that the distances are meters rather than feet. When opening the camera it defaults to infinity focus. For closer focus, there is a round tab beneath the shutter housing on the left (as when using the camera) which needs to be pressed inwards while the lens/shutter sis moved forwards to the appropriate position. As the negative was never going to be enlarged, critical focus was not an issue.

film cassette

Loading the film is by using the cassette. This is one of the reasons for me thinking that this is a Cocarette as this was a favoured method for Contessa Nettel. Rather than the back of the camera opening on a hinge, with this camera one side pulls off the camera bringing the film cassette with it. the roll of film is then loaded into the cassette and the cassette then reinserted into the camera. I cannot comment  on how this system works compared to the more usual opening back system as the film size (116) required for this camera is  no longer available. Because of this cassette system, there is (and cannot be) no pressure plate to keep the film flat in front of the film gate.

Using the cassette: the base of the cassette is the side of the camera which is made from cast aluminium. The main body of the cassette is pressed steel sheet painted black. The bulk of the pressed steel forms the film gate. Just inside the steel part of the film gate is a brass sheet insert which forms the actual opening against which the film sits. This opening measures 65 by 105 mm.

spool holder

The take-up spool fits into the holder that has a film advance key on the outside. To make fitting the empty spool easier the end of the spool holder hinges out of the way. There is a chrome spring to keep the film taut on the spool. The new film fits into the spool holder at the other end – again the end of the spool holder is hinged and there is a chrome spring to keep the film taut.

As the film is pulled across the film gate, it pass over a chrome roller. It then needs to slide between the pressed steel frame and the brass sheet insert. This keeps the film flat in the absence of a pressure plate.

camera body without the film cassette

Once the film is loaded into the cassette, the cassette needs to be put back into the camera. There are deliberate gaps in the cassette and holes in the camera body which will allow air flow when the camera is opened for use and the bellows extended. These are to prevent a partial vacuum forming which might pull the film into a bow.

cleaning access plus cover

The big drawback to not having the back of the camera opening is the difficulty of cleaning inside the camera. To allow for this, there is a removable disc on the back of the camera. This turns  about 45° anti-clockwise to remove. The red window for the frame numbers is by this removable disc. There are two tripod bosses – one on the lens door and one on the side of the camera. These are both 3/8 inch Whitworth threads.

Crystar 15

<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">This is a Japanese folding camera made for export – the distance scale is in feet. There is no country of manufacture anywhere on the camera which is rather unusual for an exported camera. The maker is Crystar Optl Co as marked on the shutter housing. It is very like a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517 or 518 from the early 1950s. My particular camera is not in very good condition. The <a href="; target="_blank" rel="noopener">bellows</a> have collapsed and have pinprick holes in them, the catch for the back is almost detached from the camera body and the shutter has a sticking problem. I will deal with these in more detail in my general description.This is a Japanese folding camera made for export – the distance scale is in feet. There is no country of manufacture anywhere on the camera which is rather unusual for an exported camera. The maker is Crystar Optl Co as marked on the shutter housing. It is very like a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517 or 518 from the early 1950s. My particular camera is not in very good condition. The bellows have collapsed and have pinprick holes in them, the catch for the back is almost detached from the camera body and the shutter has a sticking problem. I will deal with these in more detail in my general description.

P1050016lens: C-Master
focal length:  75 mm
apertures: f/3.5 to f/22
focus range: 3 feet to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: OKK leaf shutter
speeds: 1 second to 1/200 seconds
flash: PC socket
film size: 120

There are also some neat innovations. There is a permanently fixed mask inside the camera so that the user can choose between 6×6 or 6×4.5 negatives on 120 roll from. There are two, clearly marked, red windows on the back for whichever format is in use.

“There are no guidelines in the viewfinder to allow the user to distinguish between the 6×6 and 6×4.5 options.”

P1050019As is my wont, I will I will now give a description of the camera with photographs illustrating the main features.

“The lens is a C-Master (of which I have never heard before) of 75 mm focal length and maximum aperture of f/3.5.”

The top plate is made from satin-plated pressed brass with a strip of black leatherette. There is no corrosion of the plating metal so I assume that it is chromium rather than nickel. There is a raised portion in the centre housing the viewfinder. This is the typical 1950s small viewfinder with a circular eyepiece which is 5 mm in diameter. The front of the viewfinder is 10 mm square. There are no guidelines in the viewfinder to allow the user to distinguish between the 6×6 and 6×4.5 options. This viewfinder is very hard to use while wearing glasses and not particularly easy to use without glasses. On top of the viewfinder is the accessory shoe. This has no electrical contacts at this age. In front of the accessory shoe is the legend ‘Crystar’ in Italic script.

P1050018On the right of the top plate is a circular bright-plated disc. This is a part of the spool holder and has no practical function on the outside of the camera. Hard by this is the shutter release button. Again, this is bright plated. It is not threaded for a cable release – this function is supplied on the shutter housing.

On the left of the viewfinder is a second bright-plated disc. this one is the film advance knob. It turns clockwise (as indicated by a red arrow on its top) on a ratchet – it is not possible to turn it the wrong way. By the film advance knob is a second button. This one is the release for the lens door on the front of the camera.

P1050021While the camera is closed, the lens/shutter is behind a square door which protrudes from the front. As mentioned just above, this is opened by a button on the top left of the top plate. When pressing this button, the door is opened by a spring. On my camera, the door does not open all the way on its own – the last part requires manual help.

“The shutter is made by OKK and looks exactly like a Gauthier Prontor-S shutter.”

When opened, the lens door becomes a baseboard for the lens. This is held firmly in place by a chrome strut on either side. The lens/shutter is held firmly in place with the controls visible and accessible on the top of the housing.

P1050020The lens is a C-Master (of which I have never heard before) of 75 mm focal length and maximum aperture of f/3.5. There is a ‘c’ marked on the lens bezel to indicate that the lens is coated – also evidenced by the blue tint of the glass. The lens is front-cell focusing which means that the lens focusses by just the front piece of glass moving, the rest of the lens staying put. This is not as good as focusing with the whole lens moving but I doubt that any users would have noticed any difference.

“In any case, the standard advice is to not use these devices on old shutters as any defects here will wreck the shutter mechanism.”

P1050022The shutter is made by OKK and looks exactly like a Gauthier Prontor-S shutter. Shutter speeds are from 1 second to 1/200 seconds. Apertures are in the standard range from f/3.5 to f/22 – quite a good range for the date. There is a silver circle marked on the aperture range. This is used in conjunction with the distance scale where there is a faint vertical mark between 20 and 30 feet. Setting the aperture and distance to these marks gives a focus ranger from 15 feet to infinity and obviates the need to focus for landscapes.

On this type of shutter, it is necessary to manually cock the shutter before taking the picture. There is a lever with a round tip protruding from the top of the shutter housing. This needs to be pulled down to the right (that is right when holding the camera for use). On my camera, doing this partially opens the shutter – the shutter problem I mentioned above.  There are two ways of fixing this. The first is to take the shutter mechanism apart and clean it. Experience has taught me that this wrecks the shutter (I am not an engineer!). The other way is to sit quietly for an hour or so and repeatedly fire the shutter a few hundred times which is what I shall be doing shortly.

There is a red lever beneath the shutter housing. This is the self-timer which should delay the firing of the shutter by around eight to ten seconds. On my camera, this attempts to fire the shutter, but after thirty seconds or so it seems to run out of stream. In any case, the standard advice is to not use these devices on old shutters as any defects here will wreck the shutter mechanism. Also on the shutter housing – on the right hand side while using the camera – is a threaded socket for a standard cable release. On the other side is a PC socket for attaching a flash gun. There are no synch options for X or M flash.

To put the camera away again you press a tab (marked ‘COC’) on either side at the top of the struts and then lift the lens door.

Inside is much as you would expect from a roll film camera. The new film sits on the right and the take-unspool is on the left. The one unusual feature is a hinged mask allowing the user to choose between 6×6 or 6×4.5 negatives. This choice has to be made before the film is loaded into the camera. The mask consists of a hinged flap on either side of the film gate each of which masks 7.5 mm of the 6×6 frame. To use the camera as a 6×6 camera, the two flaps must be swung away from the film gate into the recesses for the film spools. To use the camera as a 6×4.5 camera, the two flaps must be swung out of the spool recesses and across the film gate. When using the camera as 6×6, you advance the film using the lower red window for the frame numbers and for 6×4.5 you use the upper red window. Both these red windows have a sliding shutter to keep errant light out of the camera when the red window is not in use.

Mask flaps in intermediate position

Because of the state of the bellows and the shutter blades, I shall not be trying this camera with film.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

This is a very small “folding” camera from the German firm of Contessa Nettel. Contessa Nettel was formed in 1919 by the amalgamation of Contessa and Nettel camera companies who were two of the many small camera manufacturers in Germany at this time. In 1926, Contessa Nettel merged with Ernemann, C.P. Goerz and Ica to form Zeiss Ikon – who continued to produce this model camera for a few years.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

lens:  Acromat
focal length:  75 mm
apertures: f/11, f/18, f/22, f/32
focus range:  fixed
lens fitting: fixed
shutter:  Gauthier Acro
speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/75, B, T
flash:  no facility
film size:  127


Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

This bit of history gives me a date range for this camera. It was made after Contessa Nettel formed in 1919 (before then it would have been a Nettel Piccolette) but before Zeiss Ikon formed in 1926. So –  a date range of 1919 to 1926. In the absence of serial number information this is the best I can do (there is a serial number but I can find no data relating numbers to years). However, looking at other Contessa Nettel cameras of known date, it would seem that the serial number of my camera (294406) is nearer to 1919 than to 1926.

When closed, the camera measures 120 by 67 by 32 mm and weighs 247 g with  no film loaded. The camera opens for use by pulling the lens board forward – it is released by a small chrome button on the base. The lens board is supported on “lazy tongs” struts – see photos above – and so is not really a folding camera (hence my use of quotation marks in the opening sentence of this article). This reveals a weakness in this camera as the lens board is made from a piece of aluminium sheet which is prone to bending while pulling the lens forward. On the other hand, this camera is over 90 years old so it cannot be a profound defect.

The “lazy tong” struts are chrome plated and, with my camera, in very good condition. At first glance, these struts do not look very robust but they hold the lens board very firmly – even after 90+ years.

The lower part of the lens board curves in towards the camera body and acts as a foot so the camera can be stood on a flat surface. This would be more useful with the higher specification models with a self-timer which would allow the photographer to be included in the picture.

My particular Piccolette is the bottom of the range. It has a simple, everset, shutter from Gauthier – the Acro. this offers three speeds (1/25, 1/50, 1/75 seconds) and B and T. The lens is a simple meniscus lens behind the shutter. The position of the lens gave me the initial impression that the lens was missing as the iris diaphragm is exposed at the front – the first time I have seen this. Searching on the Interweb has shown many images of Piccolettes that are the same so not a fault.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

There are four apertures available, selected by a lever beneath the lens. These are the sequence of f/11, f/18, f/22 and f/32. This diaphragm has seven blades giving an almost circular aperture. Above the lens is the shutter speed dial. At this age, speed selectors are always dials above the shutter housing. These are known as dial-set shutters. This dial bears the shutter name “Acro” (which is Greek for ‘height’). The selected speed is the one at the bottom of the dial – there is a small index mark to show this. B

Beside the lens is the logo for the shutter maker – a circle with the letters AGC in a three-bladed shutter. AGC stands for Alfred Gauthier Calmbach. The shutter is an Acro shutter and it offers speeds of 11/25, 1/50 and 1/75 as well as B and T.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

Above the shutter housing on the right is one of two viewfinders. This is a brilliant finder which I always find very hard to use. The eyepiece measures 10 mm square and needs to be around 200 mm or so from your eye. This gives a rather small and faint image to look at. This finder (the bulk of which is behind the lens board) collapses when the camera closes. On the opposite side of the lens board at the top is the maker’s logo – Contessa Nettel and the letters CN all within two circles and a square.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

Below the shutter housing is the model name – Piccolette – in Italic script. Attached just behind the lens board on the right (or left when using the camera) is the second viewfinder. This consists of a wire frame that pulls out. The eyepiece for this second viewfinder slides out of a housing on the back of the camera. This eyepiece is missing on my camera – more later.

Also behind the lens board, on the right (or top) when using the camera is the shutter release lever. This is not as accessible as it could be and compromises a steady grip on the camera. Further around the shutter housing on the right is a socket threaded for a standard cable release.

Between the lens board and the camera body are the bellows. These are made of leatherette and appear to be in very good condition. I can tell they are leatherette and not leather by looking at the inside which is clearly fabric.

On the back of the camera is a removable disc. This has three functions. The first is that it contains a red window to allow the user to see the frame numbers printed on the back of the film. The second function is that it contains a slide. Sliding this out produces the eyepiece for the second viewfinder mentioned above and also exposes the red window mentioned earlier. When the camera is not in use and this slide is slid in, it covers the red window to prevent light entering and fogging the film. The third function of the disc is that it can be removed. This leaves a 30 mm hole in the back of the camera. This gives access to the lens for cleaning and repair and, if need be, for collimating the lens.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

To access the inside of the camera to load or remove the film, the top edge of the camera body is removed together with a cradle to hold the film and take-up spool. The catch for this is a round disc marked A and Z.  A (Auf) is open and Z (Zu) is closed. Turn the disc so A is against the mark and the edge pulls away – see photos.

The cradle has two spring-loaded spool holders. The take-up spool fits under the winding key and the new film fits at the opposite side, fitting into a leather pad rather than a metal fitting. Between the two spool holders is the film gate. This measures 65 by 40 mm and will give eight negatives on a roll of 127 film. On either side of the film gate is a chrome plated roller. On the frame beside the film gate the last three digits of the serial number are repeated.

When replacing the film cradle with the new film, the edge of the cradle and film have to fit into a fairly narrow slit between body the locking plate. This locking plate carries the full serial number  – 294406. The outside finish of the camera is black paint with a semi-mat crinkle finish. The camera was supplied with a leatherette case embossed with the name Piccolette. I have this case with my camera and it is in remarkably good condition.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

My camera has a round black and brass plaque on one end with the retailer’s name on it. It is “Anton Podworsky O.Y. A.B”. This retailer was based in Helsinki, Finland. “O.Y.” is the Finnish (strictly, Suomi) equivalent of the British “Ltd or USA’s “Inc”. It is literally “Osakeyhtio”. The “A.B.” is “Akiebolag” which is the Swedish for O.Y. (Ltd and Inc). The use of the Swedish A.B. does not imply any Swedish connection but is merely because Swedish is the second official language in Finland after Suomi. I think this plaque adds to  the collectability of the camera – I like anything that tells me about the actual camera I have rather than just generic facts.

Contessa-Nettel Piccolette

Kodak Brownie Cresta

Kodak made a prolific range of cameras over many years. In fact, their ranges of cameras had sub-ranges. This camera is a Brownie which is a range of amateur cameras first made in 1900. Brownie cameras were aimed at snap shot photographers and were extremely simple to use. My first cameras was a Brownie Vecta and produced quite good pictures. This Brownie – the Brownie Cresta – was made from 1955 to 1958 (according to Camerapedia).


The basic shape of this camera is curved. Having the film curved corrects a lot of lens distortion and improves image quality at little cost.

There is little in the way of controls on this camera although there are some. On the top is the film advance knob. This is an ivory coloured plastic knob. This will continue to wind the film from one end to the other – the user has to look in the red window at the frame numbers to control the film movement.


Also on the top is the shutter release button. This also is ivory coloured plastic. There is no double exposure control here – you can take as many exposures as you like on one frame.

At the front of the Cora, at the top, is the viewfinder window. This gives a rather small, square image of the view. Below this is the lens which is labelled as a ‘Kodak’ lens. This is a single element meniscus lens which has a depth of field of around seven feet to infinity. Behind the lens is a slide with three elements. The central element is merely a hole which has no effect on anything – this is the normal way to use this camera. Pulling this slide to the right (as when looking at the lens) moves an additional lens element into place behind the main lens. This gives a focal range from four feet to seven feet and is intended for portraits – it is labelled ‘close-up’.

Pulling the slide to the left (again, as when looking at the lens) moves a pale yellow filter into place behind the lens. This would have been ideal for beach photography (which surely would have been one of the main uses of this camera) as the use of this filter would have helped the surf to standout from the sea, clouds to stand out from the sky. It also would have slightly reduced the amount of light reaching the lens and so reducing the risk of over-exposure with the bright light frequently encountered on summer beaches.


Above the lens, in the corner of the fascia, is a PC connector for flash. Given the age of the camera and its intended market, this will be synchronised for flash bulbs. The synch mechanism is simple and crude. Electrical contact to fire the flash is made as soon as the shutter starts to move. The shutter needs to move 3 to 4 mm before the film is actually exposed. This delay gives the flash bulb a chance to reach maximum intensity before the shutter opens and then the bulb would continue to burn while the shutter was open.

This simply would not work with electronic flash where the flash duration is so brief it would be likely to be over before the shutter opened.


On the base of the camera are two items. First, a standard 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. Centrally, there is the catch to open the camera. Turning this atto-clockwise allows the top of the camera to be pulled up, removing the spool holders and film gate with it. The film gate is 7/8 inches square (my apologies to my metric riders but this camera was made using English Imperial units). The film gate is about 1 1/2  inches away from the film so the edges of the image will not be a sharp line. I doubt anyone was bothered about this.


The film used here is 120 film (still readily available). The spools are held in place with  simple strip of spring steel.

Immediately behind the film is the red window. this is used by then user too see the frame numbers printed on the paper backing of the film. This red window is in the centre of the back – 120 film has three series of numbers printed on it for the three image formats used by 120 film cameras. Right at the top of the back is the viewfinder eyepiece which is 7/16 inches square.


Voigtländer Bessa 46

A folding medium format camera from Voigtlander from 1939


This is a pre-war (pre-1939 – 45 war, that is) Bessa camera from Voigtlander. I can almost date the camera from the lens serial number – 2,518,575. When Voigtlander restarted production in 1945 they were using lens serial numbers starting with 2,7xx,xxx so this camera is well before 1945. It is also stamped with the word ‘Germany’ on the leatherette. That effectively puts a latest date of September 1939 on the camera as this is clearly an export camera. In 1937, Voigtlander serial numbers reached 2,XXX,XXX and this is 500,000 beyond that so this is most probably from the last production in 1939.

lens: Voigtar
focal length:  75 mm
apertures: f/3.5 to f/16
focus range: 3 feet to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Prontor II
speeds: 1 second to 1/175 seconds
flash: no
film size: 120

bessa 1The camera is in nearly new condition. There is a very small amount of black paint missing and some of the corners of the leatherette are lifting. This is almost certainly glued in place with shellac which has hardened over the last 78 years. I am not going to bother regluing it. The other outstanding thing about this camera is that the hinged yellow filter is in place and in good condition. Every other Bessa I have ever seen has this filter missing.

The description:

The camera measures 133 by 80 bob 35 mm when closed and by 97 mm when open for use. It weighs 480 g. Being a camera of its age, there are few controls. On the top three items 1) depth of field calculator 2) falling viewfinder 3) film advance key.

bessa 61) the depth of field calculator is simple to use. You rotate the outer ring until the distance to your subject is at the front by the black arrow. You then look down the centre to find your chosen aperture and follow the curved line both left and right to the outer ring. The numbers at this point give the nearest and farthest distances that will be in acceptable focus. Example: you’re focused on 15 feet and are using an aperture of f/11. When 15 is by the black arrow, the silver line for f/11 shows 9 feet (Actually an unnumbered mark between eight and 10) on the left and just short of 60 feet on the right. Acceptable focus will be from 9 feet to 40-ish feet. Also included are Voigtlander’s standard indications for portrait (a triangle) and the group (a circle).

If you want to know the hyperfocal distance for landscape work, set infinity against the chosen aperture on the right and read the required focus distance from the pointer at the front.

The viewfinder folds flat in order to allow the camera to be carried in a pocket. To open it, lift the back of the viewfinder and both parts will snap into place. Both parts contain glass lens and it is necessary to place the rear of then viewfinder very close to your eye. This is nowhere near as accurate as composing with an SLR camera, but is fine for all but the most critical use.

On the left is the film advance key. This also is hinged when not in use. This must be used in conjunction with the red window (more later). This key also acts as a release for the film take up spool by being lifted up while film is being removed and a new empty spool is put in place.

The front of the camera has a bowed hinged door cover the lens when just not in use. This has an ornate an ‘V’ in the centre. There was also a recessed lever which does nothing while the camera is closed. This door is opened by pressing a recessed button on the base of the camera. When pressed, the door opens most of the way. Zeiss Ikon and  Balda cameras snap fully open but Voigtlander is a gentler company and it is necessary to fully open the door by hand. All my Voigtlander folders are like this (five of them) so I think it must be intentional. As the door opens, the lens comes forward on bellows. When the door is fully open, the lens is rigidly held in place at the right distance and parallel to the film.

bessa 4The first thing to notice here is the yellow filter. Voigtlander supplied these fixed to the front of the lens with many of their cameras but they get broken off. This one is intact which together with the general finish of the camera suggests that it was never used very much. The filter is labelled ‘Voigtlander Moment’. For my younger readers, the purpose of the filter is the block some of the blue light in the sky making it darker and so making the clouds stand out more. This is only of any use with black-and-white film, of course. With colour film, the whole picture will come out yellow! As the filter is blocking some of the light, it is necessary to increase exposure slightly.

bessa 3The lens is Voigtlander’s Voigtar lens. This is a triplet lens (three pieces of glass) with a maximum aperture of f/3.5. Its focal length is 75 mm. The negative size with this camera is 45×60 mm and the diagonal of the lens is 75 mm – the lens is a ‘normal’ lens for this film format. The lens will focus from 3 feet to infinity. Incidentally, this is a front cell focusing camera – only the front piece of glass moves to focus the lens which is not ideal but is a lot cheaper to make.

The shutter is a Prontor II made by Gauthier. This shutter has speeds from one second to 1/175 seconds as well as B and T. B is short for Bulb and keeps the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is depressed. T is Time and the shutter release opens the shutter which stays open until the shutter release iOS pressed a second time. The aperture scale on the top of the shutter housing runs from f/3.5 to f/16. The lever actually goes quite a long way past f/16 and must be approaching f/22.

bessa 8The shutter needs to be cocked before use. There is a cocking lever towards the front of the shutter housing which needs to be moved downwards to cock the shutter. As was usual at this time, there is a shutter release lever on the side of the shutter housing. This cannot be accessed by the photographer as it is hidden behind the door’s supporting struts. Voigtlander have provided a shutter release lever on the lens door attached to the lever on the shutter housing by an articulated rod. Also on the shutter housing is a threaded socket for a standard cable release.

On the bottom of the shutter housing is a red lever. This is a delay action lever – pulling this to one side before firing the shutter delays it by about 10 seconds. The standard advice is never to use these on old cameras as if they go wrong they can wreck the shutter. On my camera, the delay action mechanism barely works at all.

bessa 5The back of the camera has the red window for reading frame numbers off the film backing paper. 120 film has three series of numbers on the back, one for ‘full frame’ which is 60 by 90 mm, one for square and one for ‘half frame’ which is 45 by 60 mm. This camera is a half frame camera and so uses the top row of numbers. The red window is fitted with a blind to stop light coming in and fogging the film. this blind has a clear ‘X’ printed on it. To remove the blind in order to read the frame numbers, there is a thumb screw beside the red window and rotating this exposes the frame numbers.

bessa 7The base of the camera has a couple of items. As already mentioned, there is the recessed button for opening the lens door. At the end of the base is a combination item. In the centre of this is a tripod socket. This is the older 3/8 inch Whitworth threaded socket but has an insert in it with the more usual 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. Around this is a lever which can be rotated through 90°. When rotated, it acts as a foot to enable the camera to be placed on a firm surface in lieu of a tripod. This can be used in conjunction with the delay action device to take self portraits.

When this lever is not being used as a foot, it blocks the catch for the back, making sure that it is not inadvertently opened while there is film in the camera. To open the back, this foot must be rotated out of the way and the top and bottom milled chrome parts of the end must both be pressed in and the back then pulled open.

bessa 9The new roll of film goes on the right in a carriage that is on a spring. When the new roll is in place, the backing paper can bet pulled across the film gate and the tapered end of the backing paper can be fed into the slot in the take-up spool. The take-up spool is then rotated using the film advance key on the top, pulling the backing paper until the paper is secure on the take-up spool. In any case, winding must stop if the word ‘START’ appears on the paper. At this point, close the back and open the red window. Continue winding the film until the number 1 appears in the window. This will be preceded by a series of circles or dots of diminishing sizes to warn you that the number is approaching.

In use:

I shall be trying this camera with a roll of Ilford FP4+ film. I usually use cheap colour film to test my cameras but no such is available in medium format and I have no 120 colour film to hand at the moment.


My test film is back from being developed and scanned by AG Photo and here are a few of the results. No light leaks visible. The negatives are slightly underexposed which is either the shutter (unlikely it will be running too fast) or my exposure meter. Either way, exposures are well within the latitude of the film. The photos:

Bessa 46-6-40
Lincoln Cathedral
Bessa 46-13-41
Flamborough lighthouse
Bessa 46-3-39
Witham in Lincoln

Voigtlander Brillant "TLR" camera

This is Voigtlander’s attempt to cash in on the Rolleiflex design. As well as this cheaper model, they also produced a much more expensive model called the Superba. This camera looks exactly like a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex)  – and it is: it has two lenses and the viewing lens is reflex; it looks via a mirror. The big difference is focussing. Rolleiflex and their cousins focus by moving the front plate (with taking lens and viewing lens) back and forth and the user focusses via a ground glass screen which is missing on this model. Here, focussing is via a helical screw thread on the taking lens.

Voigtlander Brillant, front view

This camera was produced in the early 1950s and the lens serial number dates from between 1947 and 1950 – and is probably from 1950. This camera cost, in 1952, £22/11/6 (old money) or £22.57 in decimal money. The case cost a further £2/17/9 (or £2.89). This was seriously expensive –  the UK average salary in 1950 was £100 per year which is £2.00 per week – the camera cost over ten week’s pay for an average person. For comparison, the average salary in 2016 is nearly £28,000 which would make this camera worth £5,600 today.

This camera is made from Bakelite (an early plastic) which becomes brittle with age. My camera is in very good condition with no visible cracks. The only damage I can see is one of the strap lugs has snapped off.
My usual technique with this blog in describing cameras is to start with the top plate and work my way down. Right at the top is the maker’s name ‘Voigtlander’ in Italic script. Below this in the front panel are two lenses. The top lens is the viewing lens (essentially the viewfinder) – the user looks down on the top of the camera and through this lens via a sloping mirror. There is no focussing screen and this lens is fixed (there was a more expensive version with a focussing screen) – it is essentially a massive brilliant viewfinder.
Below the viewing lens is the shutter assembly with the taking lens. The shutter has the AGC logo telling us that this is a Gauthier shutter – in fact a Prontor II going by the range of shutter speeds.


Gauthier shutter (Prontor II)
As always with older clockwork shutters, it is necessary to cock the shutter before use. There is a lever at the top of the assembly for this purpose – the user pulls the lever down to the right (in use; to the left, in my photo of the shutter) where it stays until the shutter is fired. Just below this cocking lever is the shutter release lever. This release lever pushes down and in. Below this is a threaded socket for a standard cable release.
The shutter has two ranges of speeds operated by different parts of the shutter mechanism. The fast speeds – 1/25, 1/50, 11/100 and 1/175 seconds – are working well on my camera and seem to be close to the marked speed (test film will tell for sure). The slow speeds are usually hesitant or non-functional on old shutters. These are 1 second, 1/2, 1/5, and 1/10 seconds. These do not work  on this camera without the user forcing the cocking lever back to its normal position. In addition to the fast and slow shutter speeds, there are two more. B keeps the shutter open while the user keeps the release lever depressed (or more likely in practice, keeps the cable release depressed). T will open the shutter when the shutter release is pressed and the shutter will stay open until the shutter release is pressed a second time. B and T work well on this camera.
The taking lens is a Voigtlander Vaskar. This is Voigtlander’s cheap triplet (a Crooke’s triplet design as far as I can tell). Triplets usually perform very well if stopped down to f/8 – the test film will show for sure how well this lens performs. The focal length is 75 mm which is ‘normal’ for TLR cameras. The negative is square – nominally 6 cm per side. ‘Normal’ is the diagonal of the negative. Pythagorus gives us a diagonal of √(36+36) =  √72 = 8.5 cm so this lens is very slightly wide angle. Maximum aperture is f/4.5 (very respectable for a cheap camera in 1950) and the minimum aperture is f/16. The aperture is set by a lever on the shutter assembly on the photographer’s left. At the base of the shutter assembly is the delay action lever. As with the slow shutter speeds, these rarely work well on old cameras and the standard advice is to never try them.

Below the shutter assembly is the camera’s model name – Brillant (not Brilliant!).

The left side of the camera has a hinged door with space inside for two filters/close up lenses. My camera has one yellow filter in place – these are a push fit on the taking lens.


Left side showing the filter compartment

The right side of the camera has various controls. The most obvious is the film winder at the top. This winds the film on between shots. he lever to the right of that releases the frame counting mechanism while winding to the first frame.The lever in the middle sets the frame counter to 1 which is displayed in the small window. Detailed instructions on how these knobs and levers work can be seen in the instruction ‘book’ on my Google Drive (one small sheet of folded paper ).


Right side showing controls

On the back there is the ubiquitous red window that medium format cameras usually have. This is covered by an internal blind to prevent the film being fogged while not in use. This is opened by a knurled ring below and to the right of the red window.  The blind has a large white cross on it to make it clear that the blind is in place. This red window is only used to position the first frame. Thereafter, the internal mechanism will move the film the right amount.
Brillant back with red window
The bottom of the camera has a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. This sits slightly proud of the  base, presumably to give enough plastic for strength. On the front edge of the base are two raised spots. Together with the raised tripod socket, these provide a stable base for the camera to sit on for long exposures or self-portraits.


Base of the camera with tripod socket and place of manufacture
The top of the camera has the viewfinder. In this style of camera, you look down into the viewfinder to compose the picture. In storage, the viewfinder folds down out of the way (see top two pictures above). To open, you lift the rear of the top piece – the other three pieces then  rise under spring power.


There is no focussing screen as there would be with a Rolleiflex (because the viewfinder is not used for focussing) – rather, you look through a large square lens via an angled mirror and through the top lens in the front. This is, basically, a giant brilliant finder. The image is very clear and bright but significantly smaller than the negative size. The image is the right way up but reversed left to right. This takes a bit of getting used to but soon becomes second nature. On the left side of the viewfinder panels is a depth of field table (referred to on the camera as a depth of focus table).

looking down the viewfinder
The front panel of the viewfinder has a fold-down section. This is to allow the camera to be used as an direct vision eye level finder. These were referred to as ‘sport’ finders as the direct view is not reversed left to right, making following motion much easier. this fold-down section is used in conjunction with a punch hole in the read panel.
The back of the camera is opened by pressing together two chrome buttons on the top of the back. The back then hinges down in one piece with the base. The new film goes in a recess in the base, held in place by a leaf spring.
inside the camera


The roll of film is a fairly snug fit in here. The film backing paper is pulled over a small roller, across the film gate, across a second small roller and into the take-up spool. On the right hand edge of the film gate is a recessed toothed wheel. This is rotated by the film moving over it and serves to measure how much film has been advanced between shots – the red window only being used for the first frame.
Film recess in the base

The take-up spool fits into a hinged carriage to make fitting easier.

raised carriage for the take-up spool



Bronica ETRS

 I am a bit of a tight-wad. I very rarely pay as much as £20 for a camera. While this makes for a fairly cheap hobby, it does preclude me from buying many models. For many years, I have been looking wistfully at medium format SLRs – such as Hasselblads, Mamiyas and Bronicas. Unfortunately, you just cannot buy these for under £20.
I have recently retired and this excellent arrangement has bought with it a modest lump sum which has been burning a hole in my bank account. So, one Bronica ETRS has been purchased – at 10x my self-imposed limit (actual cost was £189). This has proved to be a confusing camera to buy. These medium format SLRs are very modular and, looking at Ebay, it is usual to sell each module separately. My problem was that, never having handled one of these before, I was not clear as to exactly which modules were essential and which were optional. I got around this by going to a shop (ffordes in Inverness) and buying a complete system from them with a reassurance that I was buying a complete camera. Probably cost me a bit more this way but I also got a six month guarantee as well as peace of mind.

My camera is a basic set-up. It consists of four modules: a body, a lens, a film back and a viewfinder. The only module that is essential is the body – there are no choices here as far as I can ascertain. The lens I have is a 75 mm lens which is ‘normal’ for the 6 x 4.5 negative format of these cameras. There are other focal length lenses available ranging from 40 mm (equivalent to 25 mm on a 35 mm camera) to  250 mm (equivalent to 150 mm on a 35 mm camera). There are four options for the film back – 120, 220, Polaroid and 70 mm. Only the 120 back is usable as neither the 220, Polaroid or 70 mm film is made anymore.

There are several options for the viewfinder of which the most common are the waist-level finder and the prism finder. I have the prism finder which is essentially what all 35 mm SLRs have. I may avail myself of a waist-level finder in due course.

There are many other options options available, none of which is essential. The only module I need that was not supplied is a neck strap. A lot of people do not use straps – even on very expensive cameras – but dropping things is far too easy not to use a strap. I have fitted a cheap and cheerful Chinese strap.


I am going to describe each of the four modules in turn and then describe the complete camera.
First, the body. With the other modules detached, the body does not look like very much. It does, however, contain all the electronic controls.
It is a cube – it measures 90 x 70 x 85 mm (OK, not exactly a cube, but near enough) and weighs xxxg.

The top face is dominated by the focussing screen. This is plastic and measures 55 mm by 42 mm – the 6 x 4.5 in the camera name is the nominal negative size but the actual size is a bit smaller. This gives an aspect ratio of 1:1.3 – 35 mm cameras are 1:1.5 as are most digital cameras and full frame 120 cameras. This means that I shall have some adjusting to do when composing pictures and printing them. I usually print on A standard paper which has an aspect ratio of 1:1.4 – I shall have to either crop the picture or trim the paper.

The focussing screen is removable – several options are available – but this one has a plain field with a split-image centre surrounded by a circle of micro-prisms.
In front of the focussing screen is a row of ten electrical contacts. These are there to allow for the use of a metering viewfinder – by default, no metering is provided meaning I need to use a hand-held light meter which is my default method of working regardless.
Also on the top are the displays for shutter speed and frame counter both in windows on the sides and also a release button for the viewfinder.
The left-hand face of the body has the shutter speed selector. This is a knob and ranges from eight seconds to 1/500 seconds. Whole seconds are displayed in red, fractions in white.. This might seem a b it meagre by modern standards but is more than adequate with careful selection of film speed.
On the top corner of the left-hand face is a battery check button Pressing this lights a red LED in the corner of the focussing screen. half-way down the right-hand edge is a strap lug. below this is a button to release the film back. last item on this side of the body is a cable release socket threaded for a standard release cable.
The right-hand face of the body is dominated by the film advance. This is a large crank handle that you turn one complete revolution to advance the film one frame, lower the mirror and cock the leaf shutter in the lens. Above this is a small lever. This turns through 90 degrees to allow for multiple exposures on one frame of film. Behind the film advance crank is the second strap lug.
The bottom face of the body has the battery compartment which takes a single 6v battery. In front of this is the 1/4 inch UNC tripod boss.
The rear face of the body cube has fitting s for the film back and an exposed cog for the film advance. In the centre is a large hole which is blanked off by a hinged plate – more of this later.

The front face of the body cube is mostly the lens mount. This is huge by 35 mm and digital standards. It has four lugs and is specific to the ETR range of cameras. Inside the mount are six electrical contacts which are a part of the automatic exposure system. Also inside the mount is the reflex lens.

Below the mount are two chrome buttons. On the right (when holding the camera) is the shutter release button. This ass a knurled collar around it which can be turned to lock the shutter release. Turned fully anti-clockwise, it frees both the release button and the cable release. Turned 45 degrees clockwise, it locks the release button but still allows the cable release to fire the shutter. Turned 90 degrees clockwise, both the release button and the cable release are locked.

In the top corner is a PC socket for flash. No accessory shoe is provided as standard so any flash gun must be fitted to the tripod boss – or you can buy the accessory grip which has a hot shoe on it.

On the left is the lens release button. This needs to be turned and then depressed. While depressed, the lens can be turned clockwise for removal.
in order to have a functioning camera, three things need to be fitted to the camera body: viewfinder, film back and lens. Other options are available but these three are essential.
I am going to start with the viewfinder as this is the simplest. There are choices here – none is provided as standard – and I have the prism finder. This is the same as the viewfinder on a 35 mm SLR film camera or on a DSLR digital camera. It means I can see the image the right way up and the right way around.

A second option is a waist-level finder. this allows the camera to be used without lifting it to your eyes – usually on a tripod. With this finder the image is the right way up but back to front. This needs getting used to but I have no trouble adjusting to other cameras with waist-level finders.

The third option is that of a metering finder. This is essentially a prism finder with a built-in light meter to give TTL (Through The Lens) light readings. I am happy with my hand-held meter.
The film back has four versions. I have the 120 back – it takes 120 size film, believe it or not.  Also available are 220 backs, Polaroid backs and 70 mm backs but film is not available for any of these.

The film back holds the film (obviously) and can be removed from the camera with film in it. To do this, you have to insert a thin steel dark slide into a slot in the side of the film back. The film back can be opened to allow for the inserting or removal of film. Inside the film back is a cradle for holding the film in place and advancing it. This needs to be removed to load film, but exposed film can be removed with the cradle in situ.

The cradle has two holders for the film spools, a cog to engage with the camera body for advancing the film and an external knob for manually advancing the film while loading. A nice touch is the presence on the rear door of the film back of a holder for the end of the film carton as an aide memoir.

The lens is quite a heavy lens. mine is a 75 mm lens. As well as containing the actual glass – five elements in four  groups – there is the diaphragm (f/2.8 to f/22) and the leaf shutter. If you have several lenses, each will have its own shutter. These are leaf shutters made by Seiko rather than the focal plane shutters most ‘serious’ cameras have.

In use.

In use, this camera is an anachronism. The shutter system is that used by Zeiss Ikon in their Contaflex cameras in the 1950s. There are actually two shutters in use. Between exposures, the leaf shutter is open, allowing the user to view the image through the lens. To prevent the film being fogged, there is a secondary shutter in the camera body behind the mirror – the hinged plate mentioned earlier. This secondary shutter is crude – it cannot be used for timed exposures.

When you fire the shutter there is a complex sequence of events.:
1) the leaf shutter closes
2) the mirror lifts out of the way
3) the secondary shutter lifts out of the way
4) the leaf shutter opens for a timed exposure
5) the leaf shutter closes again.
When you advance the film, most of the opposite happens:
6) the secondary shutter closes
7) the mirror comes back down
8) the leaf shutter opens for viewing.
All this makes for quite a resounding clunk – compared to my 120 Ikoflex which only has the leaf shutter to move and is nearly silent and vibration free.

Test film.

This is encouraging. The shutter works fine, there are no light leaks, aperture and shutter speed are at least in the right ball park, film advance is correctly spaced. What is not evident on these small scans is the image quality – it is superb.

Enfield folding camera

This camera is a British Ensign camera – it was generously given to me by Harry Davies.  It is a folding camera of a very standard design. Visually, it is very similar to both a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/2  and an Agfa Billy Record. Dating it is problematic, not least because I am not sure of the model. The camera has a Gauthier Singlo shutter which was introduced in 1937 so the camera was made in either 1937, 38 or 39 – WWII got in the way of German imports so that rules out the 1940s.
Ensign, folded

It measures 160 mm by 75 mm by 32 mm. Actually, as this is an English camera, I ought to put the measurements into the old Imperial units: 6 1/4 inches by 3 inches by 1 1/2 inches. That is the metal body – the viewfinder, winder knob and catch protrude from that.

As far as I can see, the body is made from pressed steel painted black. The flat surfaces are covered in black leatherette. The name “Ensign” in handscript is embossed on the front near the catch for the back and “Ensign. Made in England” is embossed on the back. There is no model name embossed anywhere. There is the name “Singlo” on the shutter fascia and there are references on the Interweb to an “Ensign Singlo”. The shutter, made by Gauthier, is a Singlo shutter and the “Singlo” refers to the shutter (the same stamping in the metal appears on other camera makes) rather than to the camera model. Of course, that does not preclude Ensign from using the same name for the camera.
The top of the camera is plain black with just a folding viewfinder. This is a very basic double frame with no glass. The bottom of the camera has a chrome-plated film advance knob and a small button to release the catch on the lens door.
Ensign, open, side view

The back of the camera is also plain with a single red window for the film frame numbers. The front of the camera has the lens door. This has the usual folding leg so that the open camera can be stood on a flat surface. There is also a small (3/8 inch) screw. Undoing this leaves a 1/4 Whitworth threaded hole for a standard tripod screw.

When the door release is pressed the door opens about half-way on its springs. This camera has been stored somewhere damp and the door/lens struts have some areas of corrosion. When new, I suspect this door would have opened entirely on its own. When open, the lens/shutter housing is held very securely.
The shutter, as already mentioned a couple of times, is a Gauthier Singlo – this offers two speeds: 1/25 and 1/75 plus B and T. This shutter is an everset type – there is no cocking lever – but there is a cable release socket.
Ensign, open, front view

The lens is an Ensar – Ensign’s own make – which is 105 mm focal length. It focusses down to about four feet – the last marking on the scale is six feet but the lens moves significantly past this. The aperture ranges from f/7.7 to f/32. On the left side of the shutter housing is a Brilliant viewfinder. I always find these next to useless and always use the folding frame finders.

Inside is as you would expect. The film advance knob pulls out to allow the inserting and removing of the film spool. At the other end, to ease the inserting of the film the lower locating pin falls away – quite literally. I initially thought it was broken. This pin folds in automatically and is held in place securely when the back is closed.

In use.

This camera is quite easy to use.The only difficulty I had was with the positioning of the shutter release – in landscape mode, it is slightly beneath the camera and rather awkward to reach. In portrait mode it is fine. The folding viewfinder is large enough for me to use it while wearing my glasses – something that can not be said for much more expensive cameras of the period.

Test film

In its day, the pictures taken with this camera would have been printed as contact prints. That means they would be 9 cm by 6 cm which is about 1/3 of the size I have them here.  That means the defects would also have been 1/3 as big. In terms of sharpness and distortion, the lens is producing fine results. There is, however, a lot of vignetting – darkening in the corners of the picture – clearly visible in every shot.
The pictures were significantly underexposed. Partly, this is down to my setting on my (old) light meter. The film I used was Kodak Portra 160 which, surprisingly, has an ISO rating of 160. Problem is my light meter does not have a setting for 160 so there will have been a bit of error in my guessed setting. I think the shutter might have contributed as well. Usually with old shutters, they run rather slow causing over exposure but this Singlo shutter is a simple two-bladed device and if the first blade is a bit slow, the second blade will catch-up giving a too-short exposures. Without paying for an expensive electronic test of the shutter, I cannot know for sure.
These pictures are a bit ‘flat’ which I entirely put down to the awfully dull weather we have had in Lincoln recently.
Silver Street, Lincoln


Witham, Lincoln


Broadgate, Lincoln, with cathedral


pedestrian bridge over Broadgate, Lincoln


Stamp End, Lincoln


Marshall’s Yard, Gainsborough


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