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Sony CCD-TR55 Handycam 8mm Camcorder, 1989

Could the word camcorder end up disappearing from the technology lexicon? Arguably it’s already on the way out and at least one generation has grown up in a world where making a video movie means smartphones, tablets and digital cameras. To anyone under 20 the idea of recording moving images and sound, in an antiquated analogue format, using a bulky box filled with whirring gears and motors, and fiddly cassettes full of magnetic tape, must seem rather quaint, but that’s okay. Technology moves on and few will mourn the passing of the age of the camcorder. Back in the 80s and 90s making a home video could be a complicated and expensive business and all too often the results were awful. The only good thing was that it was quite difficult to inflict long and tedious holiday and wedding videos or hours of the kids cavorting on the lawn on others, without tricking them into watching it on your telly…

 

From a technology standpoint, though, it was an exciting time. A small handful of Japanese manufacturers were locked in a fierce battle to produce the smallest, lightest and most well endowed machine. Sometimes it seemed that new benchmarks for size and performance were being set on a monthly basis and whilst most of the camcorders from that era have been rightly forgotten, there were a few truly iconic models, and one such was the Sony CCD TR55 Handycam.

 

What made this one special wasn’t just the size. It was small, but it was also the compact layout, which was a dramatic departure from the so-called ‘shoe shape’ machines that dominated the mid-market. It was one of the first fully featured compact camcorders and thanks to some clever tinkering with the rotary recording/ playback head drum, resulting in a significant reduction in the size of the deck mechanism, it was the first machine that would fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. The TR-55’s lasting legacy was to create a whole new class of compact camcorders, or ‘palmcorders’, and this became the de-facto shape for mid-market camcorders for the next 20 years.

 

In truth it wasn’t dramatically smaller or lighter than what had come before. Throughout the 1980s camcorders had been getting steadily smaller, but the TR-55 was far and away the best looking of the new breed and most importantly Sony made it. That actually meant something back then; Sony was the Apple of its day, renowned for innovation, quality and high prices. It was the brand to have and be seen with and whilst the likes of Canon, JVC and Panasonic were making some excellent machines they lacked the Sony kudos.

 

Sony clearly thought it was a bit special and it was named in tribute to the TR-55, the first transistor radio made in Japan, by Sony, which appeared in 1955.  At first glance the spec doesn’t look that unusual. It uses the Video 8, aka 8mm format, which benefited from small cassettes, only slightly larger than an audiotape. Picture and sound quality were both as good as it got; recording times of 90 minutes were possible (the rival VHS-C system was limited to 45 minutes at normal recording speed) and the only real disadvantage was that recordings could only be played back through the machine on a TV, via an RF modulator. Compact VHS or VHS-C tapes could be played on home VCRs using a simple adaptor cassette. The TR-55 had all of the bells and whistles of the best compact shoe shape camcorders of the day, namely automatic and manual focus, exposure and white balance controls. It had a power operated 6x zoom lens and a bunch of extras, like time, date and title recording, a fader, insert editing and a compact, built-in microphone. There was a flip up viewfinder and a battery running time of an hour or more, and it looked really cute; so what’s not to like?

 

Well, the price for one thing. At £1000 or thereabouts it was at least a couple of hundred pounds dearer than comparably specified rivals, but this wasn’t a big problem for Sony at launch. Eager early adopters would give up on little luxuries, like food and mortgage repayments, to get one. They sold by the shed-load. And if that sounds familiar, back in the day Sony’s slick publicity machine ensured that the launch of a camcorder was an event, like a new iPhone, complete with all the razzamatazz, queues and long waiting lists of punters desperate to get their hands on one. 

 

For the most part the urge to own a TR-55 was justified, though. Picture quality was pretty good; it was really easy to use in full auto mode and could cope with a wide range of lighting conditions even though, on paper, low light performance wasn’t that special. When the need arose it had a useful assortment of manual controls, though gauging their effect whilst out shooting could be tricky with only a microscopic black and white CRT viewfinder to judge the image quality.

 

This one was a review sample and it came into my possession a few months before the official UK launch. I had played with one early in 1989, at the press launch held at a trade show in Germany. It was working fine the last time I powered it up, around 15 or so years ago, but the passage of time hasn’t been kind to this TR-55. It still powers up, briefly, but after a minute or two it just cuts out and if a tape is in the machine and threaded it’s a swine of a job to get it out again. However, one of the oddest signs of ageing is the decomposition of the ‘soft touch’ rubbery coating on the tape compartment lid. It turned into a gooey slime and this was in spite of it being stored in its original box, in cool, dry and dark conditions. In short it was horrible to touch and the only way to make it useable again was to remove the coating. Fortunately the panel detached and the black gunge came off fairly easily using household detergents. It’s not alone, either, and I’ve got several other electronic devices from the 80s and 90s suffering from the same messy malaise.

 

What Happened To it?

At first it sold really well but once the dust settled the high price resulted in a slow down of sales. Sony obviously expected this to happen and within a few months it launched the more affordably priced TR-45. It was slightly less well specified but looked almost identical to the TR-55. Dealers began offering substantial discounts to shift unsold 55s, and in less than a year it was selling for under £800.

 

By the early 90s Video 8 was on borrowed time; picture quality had been adequate for its time but expectations, and TV screen sizes were increasing, making its shortcomings more obvious so something new was needed. The VHS camp led the way with a ‘high-band’ variant of VHS called Super VHS, and its compact camcorder-sized spin-off S-VHS-C. Sony responded with Hi-8, which yielded similar improvements. However, as it turned out these souped up analogue formats were just a stopgap for the main event, digital video recording.

 

First generation digital systems tried to maintain a semblance of compatibility with previous cassette tape formats and high band camcorders and VCRs could play older low band tapes. Digital VHS (D-VHS/D-VHS-C) never really got off the ground and Digital 8 didn’t fare much better, but it all stared to take shape in the mid 90s with the Mini DV and  DV formats. These used much smaller tape cassettes and the potential for near broadcast quality recording. But even that had a relatively short shelf life of around 5 years. Recordable compact DVD and Blu-Ray camcorders provided a brief distraction, and there was even an attempt to use micro hard disc drives for storing digital video, but rapid improvements in digital processing and compression, big reductions in the cost of digital memory devices and advances in image sensor technology led us to where we are today, with wholly solid-state digital video recording systems (i.e. no motors or gears). First generation products stuck with the familiar palmcorder shape but by around 2008, or thereabouts, multi-function smartphones and tablets, and to a lesser extent digital cameras had taken over, for mainstream consumer use at least.

 

Needless to say dedicated, single-function camcorders haven’t entirely disappeared but their heyday is over and nowadays are largely confined to high-end, and professional applications. Vintage camcorders haven’t yet become serious collectibles and it is still possible to pick up near mint machines that once cost hundreds, if not thousands of pounds for a the price of a round of drinks. To be honest, at the moment that’s about all most of them are worth but there are a few milestone machines that are definitely worth looking out for and the TR-55 has to be one of them. Fortunately for would-be collectors the potential of that small handful of game-changers has yet to be spotted. Now is a great time to go bargain hunting, and you can afford to be choosy. Only consider well looked after machines in good working order. Avoid non-runners like the plague, not only are spares becoming harder to find, the folk with have the skills to fix them, like the camcorders themselves, are a dying breed. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:           1989

Original Price:     £1000

Value Today:       £20.00 (0317)

Features:             8mm tape format, PAL system, SP & LP recording speeds, mono sound,  6 x zoom lens, 11-66mm F2.0 with macro, 290k pixel CCD, min illum 5 lux, auto/manual focus, exposure & white balance, manual/auto shutter (120 – 1/400 th sec), backlight adjustment, fade in/out, miniature B/W CRT viewfinder, insert recording, time, date & title recording, LCD tape counter & status indicator, dew sensor 

Power req.                     NP-55 6 volt NiCad battery Pack

Dimensions:                   110 x 108 x 175mm

Weight:                          800g

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)   7


Opax Stereo Microscope, 1985?

Probably the first, and, for some, the last time they peered down a microscope was in a school science class. It can be a memorable experience and even the most cynical teenagers can’t fail to be impressed by the intricacy and beauty of very small things, but all too often that’s as far as it goes.

 

Part of the problem is that school microscopes, whilst generally robust and reliable in design, are fairly conventional in nature. They’re mostly monocular, with a single eyepiece, producing a flat two-dimensional image, which is okay, but here’s a thought. How many students might have been inspired to pursue their education, and a career in science if what they saw through a school microscope was a spectacular view of the real world, showing incredible depth and detail, in the kind of glorious, mind-blowing 3D, that puts even the fanciest high-definition VR headset to shame? 

 

Stereo microscopes are to optics what stereo sound is to audio; it’s like comparing chalk with cheese and given that most of us have two eyes (as well as two ears), it is hard to imagine why anyone would want to use only fifty percent of one of their most important senses. To be fair, unlike hi-fi, when it comes to stereo microscopes cost is a major consideration. Even conventional monocular microscopes can be expensive and it follows that stereo models of equivalent quality are going to cost at least twice as much, and often a lot more, due to the added complexity. Sadly that means few of us get to see what the micro world looks like in three dimensions, but they are out there for those who care to look.

 

Stereo microscopes tend to be mostly purchased by institutions and organisations where the cost-benefit equation favours expensive, professional grade equipment. Eventually, though, these things will be replaced, and one way or another scientific instruments that once cost hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds can end up in the general marketplace, often selling for a fraction of their real worth.

 

This particular microscope’s backstory is unknown but even though it’s not a top-notch, high-end instrument, it was probably bought and used for a serious purpose. When new it would have cost a pretty penny, definitely a great deal more than the 50 pence I paid for it at a car boot sale in early 2014. In spite of that ridiculously low price it is a pukka scientific instrument and you can tell that just by picking it up. It might be small but it tips the scales at just under 1kg. That is mostly due to the heavy-duty cast iron base and upright support arm, plus all of the other metal and glass components; the only plastic parts are the tops of the eyepieces and the two focussing knobs.

 

Each of the optical channels has a pair of prisms, which is another reason why it is so compact. They’re housed inside the four shiny Toblerone shaped metal caps. They work exactly like the prisms in a pair of prismatic binoculars, which is basically two telescopes strapped together, giving a crisp 3D view of distant objects. It’s all about optical magnification and both telescopes and microscopes depend on high quality lenses being spaced at precise intervals in long lightproof tubes, but this has implications when it comes to making them small and easy to use. The trick is to shorten the tubes, and that’s where the prisms come in. They act as mirrors, bending the light through right angles, so how far the light travels remains the same, but the distance between the ends of the lightproof tubes is greatly reduced.

 

The two eyepieces on this model are mounted on swivel joints, with a simple linking mechanism, so they can be adjusted for inter-ocular distance – in other words, how far apart your eyes are. This Opax came with a set of 6 interchangeable eyepieces, which slide into the top of the two chrome tubes. These give a choice of three magnifications, 10x, 30x and 45x. Focus is set by twiddling the knobs on the side. They’re connected to a rack and pinion mechanism that moves the whole eyepiece assembly up and down. The platform, or ‘stage’ beneath the lower objective lenses is where you put whatever it is you are looking at. It’s a slab of ground glass, with room underneath for a light source, so it can be illuminated from below (if the specimen is transparent) or above.  A pair of springy chrome plated fingers is attached to the base, behind the stage, to stop slides and thin objects from slipping around (or getting away…).

 

The quality of construction is outstanding and it was clear that it had been well looked after. All it needed to get it looking like new was a wipe over with a soft cloth. At some point this one had become separated from its wooden storage box, and the lens in one of the eyepieces has some stubborn crud on it and it will need removing. Otherwise optical performance and general condition is almost as good as the day it was made,

 

What Happened To It?

Opax appears to have only made microscopes but strangely there is almost nothing about the company on the web. It is really unusual for a manufacturer to just vanish without trace; even if it had been bought out or gone bust you would expect some sort of record, but in this instance I drew a complete blank. If anyone can fill in the gaps please let me know.

 

The only certainty is that Opax was a Japanese company, probably operating between the early 70s and late 80s, though that’s a guess. It’s based solely on an aggregate of the manufacturing dates mentioned in the few microscopes that have appeared on ebay and other websites in the last few months. There seems to have been at least three monocular microscopes and three stereo models. Prices vary a lot but monocular types with their original boxes typically sell for between £20 and £50 and in keeping with the extra optics, stereo microscopes start at around £60. The brand is clearly not in the top echelon, but judging by the prices and the relatively limited amount of information available it would seem that Opax are quite well regarded and if you come across an instrument in good useable condition selling for markedly less than those appearing on ebay it should turn out to be a reasonably sound investment. If it’s a stereo model, so much the better, and prepare to be amazed.  


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen              1985?

Original Price       £?

Value Today         £20 (1116)

Features               Stereo optics, twin prisms (per optic), interchangeable eyepieces (10x, 30x, 45x), rack & pinion focussing, ground glass stage, retaining clips

Power req.                     N/A

Dimensions:                   200 x 108 x 98mm

Weight:                          1kg

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


Kodak Disc 6000 Pocket Camera, 1982

This week’s fascinating fact is that since the 1940s almost all Kodak cameras and projectors have a secret code somewhere on the case and this can tell you exactly, to the day, or the month, when it was manufactured. It’s called the Camerosity code and on this Kodak Disc 6000 camera the letters CCIA are stamped on the inside of the film compartment cover. This translates as November 1982, just a few months after it was launched in February of the same year. To be honest it’s not much of a code and easily deciphered when you know how. All you have to do is assign the numbers 1 to 9, and 0 to the letters in Camerosity, so CCIA becomes 1182 or November 82. The six-letter code, on many pre seventies products, adds the day in the month it was made (US date format, i.e. MM/DD/YY). Now you can join in the fun, dating all of your Kodak cameras… 

 

Arguably that is one of the more interesting things about the Disc 6000. The Disc format was one of Kodak’s less successful attempts to keep its coffers topped up by regularly introducing new photographic film formats. Until the early eighties this had been a highly lucrative strategy. Being the world’s largest manufacturer of cameras, film and processing materials gave Kodak enormous clout and when they bought out a new type of film not only did it mean that all other camera manufacturers had follow suit and bring out their own licensed versions – fees payable to Kodak, of course -- film processors had to invest in new equipment – bought or leased from Kodak, along with the necessary chemicals and papers -- and camera shops around the world had to stock cameras and film, or risk losing sales. In short Kodak had the photographic industry by its short and curlies except this time the Disc format was a flop (*see also Update below).  

 

Disc film was a poorly judged attempt to ride on the coat tails of the booming home computer revolution. In designing a disc-shaped film it was clear they were hoping some of the digital kudos would rub off. The trouble was the discs, around the size of an old style floppy -- limited the size of the negatives (8 x 10mm) and number of exposures (just 15). The long and short of it was that print quality was dreadful, which more than wiped out the convenience of slim, shirt pocket sized cameras.

 

To be fair the Disc 6000 was an upmarket model and one of the least horrible disc cameras ever made, but all the extra features, better optics and higher standard of construction couldn’t change the fact that when you blow up an image shot on a tiny negative it will look dull and grainy. Those additional features include auto exposure, a switchable portrait/landscape lens, that also corrected for parallax in the viewfinder, it also had a built-in flash and, in a blatant example of deliberate built-in obsolescence. The two lithium batteries that power this camera have a claimed 5-year life, and they cannot be replaced owner. Needless to say in most cases the cost of having the batteries replaced would be more than the camera was worth after 5 years. Not that it was cheap, in fact this one, which came in its original presentation case, with the price label still attached, cost £47.10. Even now that would be a fair whack for what is after all a basic ‘snapshot’ camera that doesn’t take very good pictures.

 

Still, it is exceptionally easy to use, just open the film door, pop in the Disc film cartridge, close the door, open the front cover and take some pictures. A photocell automatically decides on the exposure (shutter speed) setting, the disc frame advance mechanism is motorised, it has a built-in flash and if you want to get hands on there’s a little sliding lever beneath the lens for switching between portrait or landscape shots. This also works on the viewfinder, so what you see is what you get. When you’ve taken your 15 shots just unload the disc and take it into your local chemist or send it off for processing. Well, that was how it used to be, the trouble now is film discs haven’t been made the better part of two decades, and companies still capable of processing films around the world can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and you can be that sure getting a disc developed and printed these days isn’t cheap.

 

The Disc 6000 featured here looks as though it has never been taken out of its presentation box; it certainly hasn’t been used to take many photos as the batteries still have enough juice to work the film advance and flash. It is in absolutely pristine condition, and if you are expecting me to say I paid a fancy price for it, you may be surprised that it cost me just £1.00, at a Midlands antique fair. Normally at this point I go in to details of what had to be done to clean it up or get it working but apart from giving the display case a wipe over, it was pretty much as the day it was made. 

 

What Happened To It?

Kodak’s marketing campaign must have been quite convincing as a fair number of cameras were sold in the early days but once customers saw the results the novelty soon wore off. Production of Disc film stopped in 1998 but the format had been declared a lost cause almost a decade previously and Kodak and virtually all of the licensed manufacturers had wound up cameras production by 1988. It wasn’t just the quality of the prints, though, a new generation of highly automated and attractively priced compact 35mm cameras had appeared and were making significant inroads into the consumer market.

 

There is almost certainly a collector’s market for Disc cameras – just about everything over 10 years old is collectible these days – but I suspect that is focussed (no pun intended) on rare and very high-end models, neither of which applies to the Disc 6000. There’s usually half a dozen or more of them on ebay, typically selling for under £5.00. It’s one to keep an eye on, though, and as time goes by prices may well go up. If there’s one of those semi regular retro revivals it could even get trendy and if someone starts making film and offering affordable processing who knows how high prices could go... Back on planet earth a complete set of mint Kodak disc cameras has to be worth something, if not now, in ten years time, and now is the time to snap them up (also intended…) as they will probably never be as cheap as they are right now.

 

*Update

I am indebted to Roger W, whose father worked for Kodak in the 60s and 70s. It seems that the Disc format had other, less obvious benefits for Kodak.  He writes: One of the attractions of the Disc film was that it could easily processed by machine. Roll film had to be unrolled from the spool and joined together before running through the processor. Disc film was cracked out of its housing leaving it on a central hub which was then slipped onto a spindle with many others to create a ‘kebab’. This could then be dipped into developer etc. and spun to agitate it. Other film development methods had to use expensive nitrogen injection agitation. The biggest advantage was that the kebab could be spun at high speed to throw off water and aid drying.


First seen               1982

Original Price         £50.00

Value Today           £2.00 (1116)

Features                 HR Disc film format (15 exposure), 12.5mm, f 2.8 aspheric lens, 2-mode fixed focus (portrait/landscape) lens, focal range: 0.5 – 1.2m (portrait), 1.2m – infinity (landscape), motorised film advance, shutter speed 1/2000th sec (1/100th sec in flash mode), CDS light meter, optical viewfinder, built-in flash (automatic), 

Power req.                     2 x 3 volt CR123A Lithium battery

Dimensions:                   124 x 80 x 30mm

Weight:                          220g

Made (assembled) in:    USA

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Silma 120m Super Zoom 8mm Projector, 1966

Ever since portable video recorders first appeared in the late seventies several generations have grown up not knowing (or caring) much about what came before, and how good it could be. Photographic film based movie and cine recording has been steadily evolving since at least the late 1880s but it wasn’t until the 1930s, following the introduction of 8mm wide film and lightweight equipment, that home movie making started to take off (though early adopters of the hobby needed to be quite well-heeled). However, it became a proper mass-market product during the 1960s when the technically superior and fuss-free, cassette-based Super 8 format was launched. Within a few years there were scores of inexpensive and easy to use cameras and projectors on the market, some models even had the facility to record sound, but it was the start of the end of an era.

 

In 1966 cine projectors like this Silma 120M Super Zoom were in amongst the first wave of Super 8 products. It has many of the features that helped to popularise the, then, fledgling format. These included a self-threading film loading mechanism. Watching movies on previous generations of projectors involved a lot of faffing about, lacing film around sprocket wheels and rollers, through the gate and onto the take-up reel. With this one all you had to do was fit the reels, switch it on, feed the film leader from the supply reel into a little slot above the lens; a few moments later the film was winding on the take up reel and your latest mini epic was showing on the screen. Other handy options are variable speed replay, forward and reverse playback, pause mode, adjustments for centring the frame, precision focus, and a novel zoom lens. It could take reels up to 17.8mm (7-inches) in diameter -- containing up to 120 metres (400 feet) of film -- lasting around 20 minutes. As an added bonus, on the rear of the projector there’s a handy socket for a room light or table lamp, which switches off whenever the projector is running.

 

Unlike a lot of other entry-level and mid-market projectors made in the mid sixties this one was really well built, mostly of metal. Plastic parts are few and far between, and you can tell, when you pick it up, it weights over 6kg! It’s sleek and elegant, which isn’t too surprising since it comes from the land of style and design. Clearly it’s not in quite the same league as the likes of Ferrari, La Pavoni and Gucci, but alongside rival cine projectors from the rest of Europe and Japan there’s no mistaking the Italian flair for making functional, and at times boring objects, look really smart.

 

I found this one at a Sussex car boot sale. It had clearly only been used a few times; it came in its original box, complete with all the poly packing, a spare bulb and the instructions, all for just £3.00 (haggled down from a fiver)! The stallholder mentioned that it was being sold as a non-runner, but said that the light came on, and it made whirring noises. This didn’t sound too serious, possibly just a broken drive belt, but even if it turned out to be something more serious it was still a great deal and worst case, would make an interesting doorstop or table lamp…

 

It was indeed a drive belt problem. It had probably broken fairly on in its career but it seems that the previous owner just put it straight back in the box. Over a period of several years what remained of the belt turned in an evil gooey slime. More recently it was probably powered up, resulting in said slime being liberally spread around the area of the drive motor and its surroundings. It took the best part of two hours, a dozen or more cotton buds and a fair quantity of isopropyl alcohol to clean up the sticky mess. A new drive belt was fitted some light oil applied to the places recommended by the instruction manual and it was running again like new.

 

Not having played with a decent Super 8 projector for some time image quality of the 120M was a very pleasant surprise. I had forgotten just how good amateur home movies could be, even those shot on fairly basic equipment. Some of the films in my very small collection are more than 40 years old but the pictures are as crisp and colours as bright and vivid as the day the movie was shot. That’s more than you can say about some of my earliest home videos, dating from the late 70s, which are now in an advanced state of decay and almost unwatchable.  

 

What Happened To It?

Although Super 8 was popular for more than a decade, by the early 70s, when Philips launched the first home VCR, it was obvious that the future of home movie making lay with video tape, which offered instant playback, audio recording and long running times. Although Super 8 was very convenient, movies could never last longer than a few minutes, when shot on domestic equipment, and there was the inevitable wait and expense of having films processed. Video didn’t happen overnight, though, in fact it took a good 20 years from the arrival of the first ‘luggable’ portable video outfits until handheld camcorders came even close to matching the quality of cine.

 

The final chapter of Silma’s history was closely linked to the rise of home video. The company was founded in Rivoli in northern Italy in 1951, and initially known as Cirse. The name was changed to Filma in 1959 and it became Silma in 1965, shortly before it was taken over by the German photographic company Bauer. Although moderately successful throughout the 60s and 70s and well known to aficionados, Silma never became a household name. The company finally succumbed to the relentless onslaught of video and ceased trading in 1985. Cine’s days as a home movie format were over several years previously though, and this was in spite of some valiant attempts to keep it going. These included big improvements in camera and projector technology and performance. Even Polaroid had a poke at the demon video with its ill-fated Polavision Instant Movie system in 1977. It tried to challenge the immediacy of video with an ingenious self-developing movie film, but it was seriously flawed and almost certainly contributed to the corporation’s eventual downfall.

 

Like vinyl LPs, 8mm film and Super 8 never completely went away, though and there are still plenty of loyal enthusiasts around the world keeping the formats alive. Film is still being made and is readily available, though at a price. Several companies have processing facilities and hardcore fans can even develop films themselves with a few readily obtainable chemicals. Cine is a very long way from total obsolescence, which means there is a healthy market for cameras and projectors and not just amongst die-hard collectors; a lot of people have reels of old home movies that they enjoy watching, from time to time. A good projector can also be used to make passable cine to video or digital copies, to preserve or share their old movies. It’s fairly easy to do too, just point the video camera directly at the screen, or use a purpose-made cine to video transfer box costing under £20.

 

Top-end projectors, in good condition, can change hands for several hundred pounds on ebay and specialist web sites; lower down the scale middle of the road models like this one can easily fetch £50 or more on a good day. If you don’t mind a spot of tinkering fixer-uppers can be found for considerably less, and because they’re largely mechanical in nature, DIY repairs, with basic skills and a few simple tools, are entirely possible. Some spares can be hard to find though, but commodity items, like replacement drive belts and bulbs are widely available for most models.

 

It is unlikely that cine will ever enjoy the same sort of revival as vinyl recordings and analogue audio but it’s a practical, and still very affordable area of vintage and retro technology, and if you keep your eye out for boxes of old home movies at car boot sales, it can provide an interesting and sometimes comical insight into recent history and the often dramatic changes in society and our surroundings.    


GIZMO GUIDE (Manual)

First seen                 1966

Original Price           £?

Value Today             £25 (0916)

Features                   Super 8 film format, F:1.4 15-27 mm Pallux Zoom lens, forward/reverse/pause projection, variable speed, automatic threading, 120 metre reel capacity, +100 watt/12 volt lamp, room light connector

Power req.                          110- 240VAC 50Hz mains

Dimensions:                         290 x 222 x 160mm

Weight:                                6kg

Made (assembled) in:          Italy

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):        8


Polaroid Automatic 104 Instant Camera, 1965

Anyone who has dabbled in the dark (room) arts of developing and printing photos knows that it involves faffing around with a lot of smelly chemicals, and a fair amount of luck and judgement to get consistent results. The alternative is paying to have films processed, and the pictures are generally a lot better, but either way you never really know how your snaps are going to turn out until after the event when it’s too late to take them again. That was one of the reasons why Polaroid Instant cameras became so popular (and the facility to take ‘private’ photos…). Polaroid cameras first appeared in the late 1940s but they didn’t really take off in the consumer market for another 20 years, and the Automatic 104, introduced in 1965, was an early success, thanks to it being attractively priced, and it introduced instant photography to the masses.

 

The 104 was one of the first Polaroid cameras to use Type 100 ‘pack’ films, which made the whole business of instant photography almost (but never quite…) idiot-proof. The parts of the camera that the user has to interact with are clearly numbered and in theory all you have to do is follow a simple set of steps, though it’s not the sort of camera you can pick up and use without reading the instructions first. Just opening it up and extending the bellows takes practice as does focusing, which involves holding the camera with both hands and using the forefingers to slide a pair of buttons side to side to expand and contract the bellows.

 

Besides the focus adjustment and shutter there are only two manual controls. The first is a slide switch for selecting colour or black and white film and the other one is a dial on the lens barrel, which lightens or darkens the finished print. This was a clever ploy by Polaroid to sell film packs – which is where they really made their money. The point is, it is almost impossible to get it right first time, which results in the user having to take at least two, and sometimes three photos, each costing between ten and twenty times as much as a conventionally processed film print.

 

The Automatic bit is the shutter, which operates over a range of 10 seconds down to 1/1200th of a second. A photosensitive cell mounted next to the lens measures light level; this is connected to a simple battery-powered transistorised circuit that controls the shutter mechanism.

 

Once the focus has been set the next step is to cock the shutter (button 3), and press the release button (number 2, on the top of the camera body). To develop the film you have to grab and pull out a white tab poking out of the left side of the camera. This feeds the film sheets and chemical pouch into a set of rollers and a yellow tab pops out of the side of the camera. Part of the trick to getting a decent image is to pull the yellow tab through the rollers and out of the camera in one smooth, brisk movement. This action ruptures the chemical sachet, spreading the chemical evenly over the exposed negative, and soon to develop positive print. This is where most of the problems with Type 100 film packs usually occur. If the yellow tab is drawn out at a slight angle, or jerked, the chemical doesn’t coat both sheets properly, resulting a blotchy or partially developed print when eventually the two sheets are pulled apart. Timing is also critical. Processing time depends heavily on ambient temperature; it takes longer in cold weather, it’s faster in the warm but if it’s really hot the chemicals ooze out of the film pack, solidify on the rollers and mess up subsequent prints. In short the chances of getting a decent print first time is close to zero. 

 

Get it right, though, and the results can be very good indeed, though Polaroid colour prints do have a quality all of their own. They also tend fade a lost faster than regular film, and can disappear altogether in a matter of a few months to a year or two if not stored in a cool dark environment.  

 

Like most people who grew up in the 60’s and 70s several Polaroid cameras passed through my hands and most were only used a few times due to the very high running costs. This one was a very late acquisition, though, and was found at a car boot sale a few years ago. It appeared to be in very good condition and as an added bonus it was loaded with half a pack of film and came complete with instructions. With an asking price of just £2.50 it was a no-brainer. Needless to say the film pack had long since degraded and Polaroid stopped making them in the late 90s. Fortunately it’s not completely useless and Fuji still make a semi-compatible instant film, which I will get around to trying one day. I have absolutely no doubt the camera still functions. The original PX4 battery died years ago and new ones cost the earth but it’s really easy to rig up a 3 volt supply using a couple of AA cells, which fit easily inside the compartment. With power applied the auto shutter clearly works when tested in variable levels of light, and there’s very little else to go wrong. The bellows are light proof and the pressure rollers are clean and move freely. Otherwise the camera is in excellent condition and it cleans up well and looks almost as good as new.

 

What Happened To It?

Polaroid cameras became progressively more sophisticated throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, to the point where the last generation of regular format models were capable of taking a decent picture almost every time. However, by the mid 1990s it was becoming increasingly obvious to everyone, except apparently Polaroid, that the days of Instant film cameras were numbered and that digital photography was going to remove Polaroid’s one remaining advantage over conventional film cameras. The company came to a messy end, declaring bankruptcy (for the second time) in 2008.The brand lives on, though, and there is a thriving community of users and several companies still marketing cameras and instant film.

 

The 104 Automatic was very successful so they are by no means rare or difficult to come by, often quite cheaply. Polaroid cameras were also very well made, and by their nature generally well looked after (used a couple of times and packed away in the back of a wardrobe…). Collectors will pay over the odds for mint examples and on a good day they can fetch £50 or more on ebay but there are usually several perfectly serviceable ones to be had for £10 - 20 or thereabouts, less if you keep your eyes peeled at car boot sales and flea markets.    


GIZMO GUIDE (Manual)

First seen                  1965

Original Price           £50

Value Today             £25 (0815)

Features                   Auto shutter (10 seconds - 1/1200th) sec, 14mm f/8.8 lens, manual rangefinder focus (1m – infinity), manual aperture (lighten-darken –1 to +2 f stops), Polaroid Type 100 peel-apart film pack (Colour and Black & White), synchronised flash socket

Power req.                       1 x PX24 3V battery

Dimensions:                     200 x 73 x 143mm (folded) 200 x 150 x 143 (extended)

Weight:                             1.1kg

Made (assembled) in:       USA

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     6


Shackman Mini Four x Four Passport Camera, 1975?

The first port of call for most people needing a photo for a passport, driving licence or ID card is one of those automated photo booths in railway stations, supermarkets and shopping malls. They have been around since the 1920s and even though modern ones bristle with fancy digital technology they still manage to take dreadful pictures. But back when there were camera shops and studios on almost every high street you had the option to have your ID picture taken by a professional photographer, with a fair chance of ending up with something that didn’t look like police mug shot, and a lot of them would have used a camera like this one.

 

It’s a Shackman Mini 4 x 4, and as you can see it’s designed to take four identical pictures at once, and like those photo booths you got the picture in your hands almost straight away because it is part Polaroid Instant film camera. For a specialist camera it is remarkably unsophisticated, just a simple lightproof box with four internal divisions, it has 4 lenses, a fixed speed shutter (1/100th sec), and a basic exposure control F/11 – 64. It doesn’t sound very promising, as far as image quality is concerned, but that’s really all you need to take a small photo in a well-lit studio. Attached to the back of the box there’s a standard Polaroid film back that uses type 100 Pack, peel-apart instant film. Sadly this is no longer made but Fuji makes a compatible instant film (FP-100C) that works in most Polaroid cameras that use this film format.

 

It is built like a battleship and the body of the camera has been hewn from lightweight alloy. Up front the four lenses, shutter and aperture mechanism are all mounted on a thin metal plate, sandwiched between the camera body and a second plate with four plain glass protective windows. The design is really simple, with just a handful of moving parts, which makes it robust and very reliable. Operation is also very straightforward. There is no shutter button and like generations of studio cameras before it, it has a mechanical, cable-operated shutter release. Not only does this eliminate the possibility of camera shake, it gives the photographer freedom to make up-close adjustments to their subject’s pose, expression and so on, unhindered by having to peer at them through a tiny viewfinder.

 

This one is a fairly recent acquisition (see date code in Gizmo Guide below) and I came across it at a vast bank holiday car boot sale in Kent. I vaguely remembered seeing cameras like this several years ago in a photographer colleague’s studio so I had a fair idea of what it was for. It looked pretty solid but it wasn’t attracting any attention, probably because it looked to be in a poor state, covered in a film of dirt and gunk. It seems that this wasn’t its first outing in a wet and muddy field… The stallholder was clearly pleased that someone had finally taken an interest in it and was happy to let it go for £2.00, haggled down from £3.00. At that price it wasn’t much of a gamble, though as it happened, underneath the grime it was in excellent condition, and after a thorough clean up it looks like it had hardly been used. The only minor omission was the cable release but this was easily and cheaply remedied and there are plenty of them on ebay, with prices starting at just £3.00, which ironically, is more than I paid for the camera. The shutter and aperture are fully functional and I have no doubt that it is still capable of taking useable photos; there are several suppliers of Fuji FP-100C film on ebay and as soon as I get a spare moment I’ll get one and test it out.

 

What Happened To It?

There is surprisingly little information online about Shackman, though it appears that the company was founded in the 1930s by two brothers, Rubin and Albert Shackman. They were jewellery makers by trade, who turned to manufacturing specialist cameras and optical instruments, like bombsights, during the Second World War. This became the main part of their business and Shackman cameras were developed for a bewildering variety of applications, everything from electron microscopes to oscilloscopes. The few references I could find suggest that D Shackman & Sons became Shackman Instruments at some point in the 1980s and were based in Gerrards Cross, but at that point the trail goes cold and until I get time to investigate further I cannot say for certain if they are still in business.  

 

As far as this particular type of camera is concerned, I suspect that this was one of the last of the line. Everything points to it being made somewhere in the late seventies to mid eighties, and it is the least well-documented model, so it probably wasn’t around for very long. Passport cameras of all types were never made in large numbers though; even when photographic studios were a relatively common sight most people would have used cheaper and more convenient photo booths for their passport pictures, but it was probably the decline and eventual disappearance of Polaroid film in the early noughties, and the spectacular rise of digital photography that killed them off. It is difficult to say how much they are worth now; passport cameras rarely appear on ebay and when they do prices can vary enormously, anywhere from £25 to £250 in the short time I have been monitoring sales. Serious camera collecting is not for amateurs and dabblers though, especially when it comes to specialist designs like this one, so only get involved if you know what you are doing but as you can see, there is always the chance of stumbling across a boot sale bargain.  


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                1975?

Original Price         £200?

Value Today           £50 (0415)

Features                  Lens: f/11 – 64, min focal distance 1.52 metres. Single fixed speed shutter (1/100th sec), optical viewfinder, flash synchro socket, cable-release shutter mechanism, flash shoe, tripod mounting thread, type 100 Pack instant film (10 exposures 85 x 109mm, print size 4 x 35 x 35mm))

Power req.                    n/a

Dimensions:                  158 x 150 x 145mm

Weight:                         1.6kg

Made (assembled) in:    England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


Kodak Pony 135 Model C, 1958

You may be wondering what this rather ordinary-looking 1950’s 35mm film camera is doing both here and on the Geiger Counters page. It is not an especially interesting or unusual design and there are no obvious features that warrant more than a passing mention. It wasn’t ahead of its time in any particular respect and as far as I am aware the pictures it took were not that different in quality to those shot on scores of similarly specified models from the same era, but there is one thing that sets it apart, certainly from most other still cameras, and that’s the lens. This camera is fitted with a 3-element Kodak Anaston lens with a focal length of 44mm; so far so ordinary, but the key point is that it is made using Thoriated glass, which means that it is mildly radioactive. In fact it is actually quite ‘lively’ and the alpha, beta and gamma radioactivity it emits is easily detected, even by modestly specified radiation monitoring instruments, but more on that in a moment.

 

Kodak’s Pony range was mainly aimed at amateur photographers; it’s an intermediate model, sitting between basic point and shoot cameras, like the classic Kodak ‘Brownies’, and more advanced and capable pro and semi-pro designs. The first Pony’s appeared in the late 1940s but this one, the Model C dates from the mid to late 50s. It’s a tough little camera, with a brown Bakelite body, good quality mechanics and optics. It uses 135 film cassettes, which was the Kodak designation for 35mm film; this is loaded into a compartment on the rear of the camera and manually threaded onto a take-up reel. The film is advanced, one frame at a time by turning the large knob on the right side of the top panel (looking at it from the rear), and when the roll has been exposed, it is wound back into the cartridge by the big knob on the left.

 

There are no fancy-schmancy meters or automatic controls, just a decent assortment of manual exposure options. The flash synchronised shutter is manually cocked and the speed can be adjusted between 1/25th and 1/300th of a second in 4 steps. There is also a ‘B’ or Bulb setting, where the shutter stays open for as long as the shutter button is pressed. (Bulb is a reference to the early days of photography when camera shutters were operated pneumatically, by pressing a rubber bulb). The iris or aperture range is from f/3.5 to f/22, in 7 steps, and to make things really easy it can be set by the numbers, or according to the conditions (Bright, Hazy, Cloudy, Cloudy-Bright), calibrated for Kodak’s black and white (Ektachrome) and colour (Kodachrome) films. The focussing ring on the front of the lens barrel is calibrated for distances of between 25 feet to infinity. The shutter’s manual cocking lever is on the side of the lens barrel and just below that there’s a bayonet connector for a flashgun.

 

Back now to that scary-sounding lens, and the reason it is radioactive is simple.  Mixing glass with the radioactive element Thorium (actually Thorium Oxide), up to 30 percent by weight, does several useful things, including increasing the glass’s refractive index. This means that lenses can be made thinner (which also helps reduces the cost). It also reduces chromatic aberrations in the glass, which causes objects to have coloured fringes, due to differences in the way glass focuses different colours. Over the years other radioactive elements have also been used in lenses, including Lanthanum, but it is not as cheap, effective (or radioactive).

 

In its pure state Thorium is only weakly radioactive and emits mostly Alpha particles, and on the scale of nastiness this is considered the least harmful type, outside of the body at any rate. Alpha radiation has very little penetrating power – particles can be stopped by a sheet of paper and do not pass through skin – so on the face of it, its inclusion in glass lenses doesn’t seem especially controversial. However, as Thorium decays it creates Beta and Gamma radiation (weirdly, the production of decay products means that the radioactivity increases over time, which is the opposite of what you would expect). Beta and Gamma has more penetrating power than Alpha radiation and it can cause problems, especially when there’s enough of it, in close proximity to living tissue. Fortunately the amounts of radioactivity given off by these and similar lenses is not generally regarded as hazardous, under normal circumstances and with normal use. However, radiation is tricky and highly contentious stuff so play safe and on no account put a bag full of Thorium-doped lenses in your trouser pockets…  Joking aside, if this is something you are concerned about the clever thing to do is read up on the subject, and if you want to check if the cameras in your collection, or plan on buying, have radioactive lenses do your homework – there is plenty of information online -- and it could be worth your while getting hold of a Geiger Counter (sorry for the shameless plug).

 

My little Pony came from ebay a good few years ago and as far as I recall it cost a couple of pounds. It is still in great condition and I have no doubts that it is still capable of taking photographs. I actually sought this model out, as a radioactive test source, after acquiring one of my first Geiger Counters. It proved to be very effective, though it needs to be in close physical contact with most instruments to get any sort of reading, and it doesn’t register anything when held a few centimetres away. 

 

What Happened To It?

Kodak’s Pony series ran from 1949 to around 1962 and throughout that period most models were fitted with either an Anaston or the higher quality 4-element Anastar lenses, and almost all of them used Thoriated glass. By the time it was being phased out Kodak had introduced the first of its pioneering Instamatic cameras, which at the time was arguably one of the biggest advances in photography for 50 years. Kodak obviously didn’t abandon the 35mm format but it gradually evolved into a serious amateur and semi pro format, with Instamatic and Instant cameras rapidly taking over the mass market. It is not known how many Pony cameras were made but you can take it as read that it was a heluva lot. They are really well made, and usually come with a protective leather case so there are still plenty of them around. They’re flea market and car boot sale regulars and because they look so ordinary, tend not to attract much attention and typically sell anywhere from 50 pence to £5.00, sometimes more if they’re in tip-top condition, boxed and come with instructions. Pony cameras are not yet serious collectibles but inevitably prices will only increase so now is as good a time as any to add one to your collection and whilst it is not much to look at, it does have an interesting story to tell. By the way, although there are no significant health hazards associated with this and other cameras with radioactive lenses if you have one then it is prudent not to let children play with it and it’s a good idea to store it safely, preferably in a metal box. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen            1955

Original Price      £22 ($34)

Value Today        £10 (0315)

Features              35mm format, Thorium doped Kodak Anaston lens: 44mm, shutter: B, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/300th sec, aperture: f/3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, presets Ektachrome/Kodachrome Bright/Hazy/Cloudy/Cloudy Bright, shutter sync, optical viewfinder, film advance interlock (to prevent double exposures)

Power req.                      n/a

Dimensions:                    140x 65 x 85mm

Weight:                            510g

Made (assembled) in:      Rochester, USA

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):    5


Optikon Binocular/Magnifier Spectacles, 1955

Today’s mystery object is this rather unusual optical instrument. It takes the form of pair of spectacles that can be used as binoculars or a close-up magnifier, simply by clipping on a couple of accessory lenses. It was made by a company called Optikon, in Hamburg, and that’s where the trail goes cold.

 

Optikon appears to no longer exist and there is no indication of when it was made so the date of 1955 is a best guess, based on the design, styling and the mixture of materials used. It’s also difficult to say what it is for. If they were simply a pair of spectacle-type binoculars then there would be no problem, but the add-on magnifying lenses, which are standard-issue accessories, simply raise more questions, and possibilities. There is no end of trades and professions who routinely use head-worn magnifiers, from surgeons to watchmakers, but why would any of them suddenly feel the urge to shift from looking at things close up, to gazing at distant objects? Perhaps I’m over thinking this and it simply is what it is, a Binocufier, and if that’s not a real word, it is now, and you read it here first…

 

One thing is certain, however, and that it’s definitely not a toy or cheap consumer durable. This is a high quality, precision instrument with top-grade optics and was clearly built for professional use. It has a good range of adjustments, from variable interocuar distance (58 – 70mm), which translates as the distance between the wearer’s eyes, to individual focus for each lens; even the little pads that sit on the bridge of he nose can be fine tuned for maximum comfort, which also suggests that they are designed to be worn for long periods. The two lens assemblies are housed in lightweight but tough anodised aluminium barrels; the frame looks as though it is made from Perspex and the temples or side-frames are formed from some sort of early plastic.

 

The original temples had become brittle with age, they were broken and the parts that remained were badly cracked. Fortunately spectacle design has changed relatively little over the years and they were easily replaced with modern ones. I found a near identical pair on some sunglasses and they were a perfect fit with the metal hinges. The only real difference is the colour, which was light green but is now light brown. Given time and inclination it should be possible to find an exact colour match.

 

I found them at a Surrey antiques market and what first caught my eye was the custom, padded leather carry case, which immediately marked it out as a quality, and probably once very expensive item. It was complete but in a fairly grubby condition, and the broken temples had obviously dampened the sellers expectations as the asking price was just £3.00.  

 

What Happened To It?

As far as I can tell Optikon of Hamburg are no longer with us, though there are several companies around the world with that name but they all appear to have been established relatively recently. The closest match is the Optikon Corporation of Canada, who are manufacturers of optical instruments but its company history only goes back to 1974, makes no mention of ever having been based or founded in Germany or ever making anything like this. Binocular glasses are still being made, though, as are ‘near vision’ binoculars or magnifiers. A cursory web search turned up a tiny handful of mostly cheap and nasty novelty combination bins/magnifiers and needless to say none of them came anywhere near the quality of this one.

 

There is a small collectors market for vintage and unusual spectacles, and a large and thriving one for antique optical instruments such as binoculars, telescopes and microscopes, and they can fetch eye-watering prices (no pun intended). But these do not fit into any of the usual pigeonholes, so it is hard to say what they are worth. I have only ever seen two of them on ebay and they were both pretty tatty and had wildly optimistic reserves of £50 and £80. Neither of them attracted any bids, so the £25 price I have put on this one is pure speculation but given it’s very decent condition and the accessory lenses and carry case it could even make a little more if a couple of determined bidders took a fancy to it.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen          1955?

Original Price   £?

Value Today     £25 0914 

Features           Combined spectacle-style binoculars and magnifier. Binoculars approx 2.5X magnification, focal range 3m to infinity; magnifier approx 2.5X focal range 20 – 25cm, objective lens 28mm dia, individual focus mechanisms, interocular distance adjustment (58 – 70mm), adjustable bridge pads, folding side frames, fitted leather case

Power req.                    n/a

Dimensions:                   130 x 38 x 50mm (folded)

Weight:                          64g

Made (assembled) in:    Hamburg, Germany

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


Minolta –16 II Sub Miniature Camera 1960

Spy cameras come in all shapes and sizes but as anyone who was around in the 60s and 70s knows, it needs to be small, easily concealed and make a satisfying click when a secret agent snaps away at a super villain’s doomsday machine plans. These are all qualities possessed by the Minolta –16 II, which was clearly based on one of the all-time classic spy cameras, the Minox B, featured in countless movies and TV series over the years.

 

The Minolta –16 is just a little larger than the Minox, and nowhere near as sophisticated but it really looks like a piece of serious spy kit. It has the all-important push-pull film advance and shutter cocking action, and when you press the shutter button all the little gears and levers whirr away inside the shiny metal case. It’s definitely not a toy, though and is perfectly capable of taking good quality pictures under a wide range of conditions, including complete darkness, though you need the optional accessory mount for the optional flashgun. There are a number of clever design touches, including another one borrowed from Minox, and you can tell when a frame has been exposed as the front leaf of the shutter mechanism has a blue circle printed on it, which disappears when the button is pressed.

 

Sadly, though, its picture taking days are well behind it and even though it is in full working order. The film cartridges, which hold up to 20 shots of 16mm wide film are long obsolete and almost unobtainable. Old cartridges can be spooled with modern 16mm movie film stock but only a tiny handful of labs are able to process the film, and will charge you a pretty penny for the privilege.

 

Don’t let that put you off owning one, though, they are beautifully made, it’s all metal construction and very solidly built, and you can still have endless fun clicking and cocking the shutter. The feature list is also impressive, it has a high quality, 4-element fixed focus lens, and a good assortment of exposure controls, which includes a 5-speed shutter (1/30 to 1/500th sec & B-mode), plus a 6 step aperture control (f02.8 – f/16) and both are controlled by a pair of small thumbwheels on the right side of the camera body. It has an interchangeable lens and filter facility and they slide on to the front of the camera, in front of the main lens – this one is fitted with a 1A sky filter. There’s a simple optical viewfinder, a frame counter on the underside and a flash sync socket on the top right side, close to the shutter button. To change film cartridges the camera has to be pulled apart, quite literally, and pressing a small button allows you to detach the outer shell and access the main body of the camera. There are no exposure aids so taking a picture is down to good old fashioned skill and judgement but back in the sixties this would have been second nature to the majority of seasoned camera owners.

 

What Happened To It?

The design of this camera dates from the mid 1950’s, though the original Minolta –16 didn’t reach the shops until 1957. This one is the Mk II version, from 1960. Outwardly it looks very similar to the Mk 1 but it has a better shutter, slightly smaller but more advanced lens plus extra shutter speeds and aperture settings. In spite of the proprietary film cartridge, which no other camera maker adopted, and this model only being around for 3 years, it sold very well, especially in the US, and other Minolta cameras, which also used this cartridge, remained in production for almost two decades. The lack of support almost certainly killed it off though, that and intense competition in the 70s from the Kodak 110 format, which quickly became an industry standard, in spite of being inferior in almost every way. I don’t recall ever seeing the Minolta –16 II on the big (or small) screen, and this certainly wouldn’t have done it any harm but I would be very surprised it hadn’t had made a fleeting appearance at least movie or TV programme, and if you ever spot one, please let me know. 

 

This one is a fairly recent acquisition and came from a bric-a-brac market on the South Coast, haggled down from £15 to £10, which is around half what you can expect to pay for a really nice one on ebay. It is in very good condition, and it came with the detachable flash/accessory/tripod mount, and a single filter but it lacks case and instructions. Complete outfits, especially if they are boxed can easily fetch £100 or more but there are usually one or two on ebay at any one time for under £20. Even apparently rough ones are worth considering, more often than not they were well looked after when used and probably have spent the past few decades collecting dust in the back of a drawer and just need a little TLC to get them back to showroom condition. Surprisingly these little cameras haven’t had much impact in the collectors market, which means that at the moment they are relatively plentiful and cheap, but don’t expect that to last.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen               1960

Original Price         £20

Value Today           £20 0714

Features           proprietary 16mm film cartridge, 1:2.8, F22mm 4-element Rokkor lens, fixed focus (2.7 metres); Shutter: B-mode, 1/30, 1/60, 1/124. 1/250. 1/500th sec; Aperture: f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16. flash sync socket, optical viewfinder, sliding accessory lens/filter mount, tripod, frame counter, wrist strap, detachable flash/accessory/tripod mount 

Power req.                     n/a

Dimensions:                   78 x 45 x 24mm (closed) 105 x 45 x 25 (cocked)

Weight:                          152g

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Etalon Luxor Light Meter, 1962

Cameras with built-in light meters have been around since the 1930s and by the sixties they were being coupled to automatic and semi-automated exposure systems. Until comparatively recently no self respecting photographer, professional, amateur or enthusiast, would dream of pressing the shutter button before taking at least one reading, using a hand-held light meter. Many pros still do, especially for studio shots, and there is no disputing the fact that the facility to take multiple readings can result in a more accurately exposed image, whether it’s a photograph, movie or video. The trouble is it takes time, judgement and experience to interpret the results and as soon as camera auto exposure systems became good enough to get it more or less right, most of the time, simple light meters like this one virtually disappeared.

 

It’s an Etalon Luxor, made by a Japanese company called Chuo Electronics, probably sometime between 1960 and 1963. This is a modest mid-market model, quite small for its time, not much larger than a matchbox, but once you get the hang of it, it is quite easy to use. The technology is fairly conventional in that it employs a selenium photocell – the forerunner of today’s silicon photovoltaic (PV) solar cells -- and when it is exposed to light it generates a small current. The photocell is connected to a moving-coil meter movement, which represents the light level reading on a rotating disc. This is a slightly unusual arrangement; the majority of light meters have a conventional moving pointer over a fixed scale. On this model the moving disc or dial is an integral part of the circular exposure calculator that works out the optimum aperture and shutter speed settings for a given light reading.

 

Another minor oddity it the ‘Arrestor Button’. Basically this is a brake that locks and unlocks the dial. You press it to take a reading and  when the button is released the reading, and exposure calculation is fixed. It also comes with a detachable incident light cover, attached to a short chain, to stop it getting lost. This is a clear plastic block with small lenses moulded into the back surface that fits into the front of the meter. The idea is a light meter is generally used  to measure light reflected from the scene or subject, into the camera lens. However, this can give misleading readings, especially when the scene contains highly reflective, shiny or light coloured objects. To compensate for this the incident light cover is fitted and a reading taken of the light falling on the subject, by positioning the light meter in front of the subject and pointing it at the camera.

 

Once a reading has been taken and the brake applied all the user has to do is rotate the large outer dial ring to set the film speed (ASA or DIN), the aperture settings, on the rotating dial, appear in a window in the outer dial, aligned with the  corresponding shutter speeds. Additionally the EV (Exposure Value) is shown in a second smaller window on the lower half of the outer dial. An experienced photographer now has all the information they need to set the camera's manual exposure controls, to get the best picture or a desired effect. There’s also a secondary dial for moviemakers, calibrated for different film sizes.

 

Using a light meter sounds like a bit of a faff and it is true that it is pretty much unnecessary these days. Digital cameras will make all of the decisions for you. It’s quite difficult to to get it wrong with features like program AE and scene presets and on more advanced models there is always the option to take multiple images with a range of exposure settings. Then there is the safety net of photo editing software, to rescue wrongly exposed images and cover up mistakes. That’s all well and good but old school pros will tell you that there is still no substitute for getting it right first time, using a decent light meter and the ultimate precision instruments, the human eye and brain. 

 

I have always been a lazy photographer and generally rely on the camera, and luck to figure out exposure settings, which may explain why, until cameras got really smart, in the 1970s, I took so few photos that I was entirely happy with. This little light meter is a comparatively recent acquisition, picked up at some time in the early noughties, probably at an antique fair. I doubt that I paid more than a fiver for it and ironically that is about as much as it cost when new. I can be fairly certain about that as it appeared regularly in ads in 1960s photography magazines, generally priced at between £4.50 and £5.00. It is still in excellent condition and in good working order, though it is difficult to know how accurate it is now. I am guessing it led a fairly sedate life and probably spent the last 20 or 30 years safely contained inside its leather case -- which sadly I do not have -- in the back of a drawer. 

 

What Happened To It?

The golden age for light meters would have been between the mid 1950s and late 60s, coinciding with the growth in popularity of photography as a hobby, and the availability of cameras with respectable performance and features at affordable prices. The decline almost certainly began soon after the first Instamatic, point-and-shoot cameras appeared. There was no turning back after that and thereafter the vast majority of light meters would have been mostly bought and used by serious photographers. The final nail in the coffin, though, was the development of digital photography, which removed the variability of film speed from the equation, and the huge advances in fully automated exposure systems made taking photos a pretty mindless, but usually successful process.

 

Light meters never disappeared completely and advanced electronic models continue to be produced to this day, though it has become a highly specialised market, with prices to match. Fortunately light meters were sold in vast numbers, there’s not much to go wrong and they tended to be well looked after. That means there is no shortage of good examples in online auctions, antique fairs and car boot sales, often at surprisingly low prices. There are exceptions, of course but you have to be clued up to snag the rare and more valuable models, which are much sought after by collectors.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen          1958

Original Price   £4.5.2 (£4.26)

Value Today     £8 - 10 0414 

Features           Selenium cell, moving coil movement, aperture scale f/1 to f/32, Cine film 8,16,32,64, shutter speed 125 to 1/10000 sec, speed ratings 3 ASA/6 DIN to 25,000 ASA/45 DIN, Arrestor button, zero adjustment

Power req.                    Self-powered selenium photocell

Dimensions:                   75 x 50 x 22mm

Weight:                          114g

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Aldis Medium Format Folding Slide Viewer, 1960

For all of their sophistication the electronic image sensors in digital cameras still come nowhere close to matching the resolution, colour fidelity and overall quality of large and medium photographic film format. It is also open to debate whether or not they have surpassed 35mm film; some experts claim it will take a sensor with almost 200 megapixels to capture as much detail, but the point is, what we now regard as an old-fashioned or even obsolete technology has yet to be improved upon, at least when it comes to the relatively important question of quality.

 

Sadly, though, it has become an almost irrelevant argument since no one is going to swap their convenient and feature-laden digital cameras and smartphones in favour of film cameras, which means highly functional gadgets, like this Aldis folding medium format slide viewer have already gone the way of the dinosaurs. It’s always tempting to make comparisons with contemporary technology, and you could say it’s a bit like a small laptop or netbook PC, in that it is (semi) portable, it folds up and you can look at photographs on it, but that is really pushing it. Portability and small size are the key features, though. It’s the kind of thing a photographer might carry around with them, to view or share images with clients, and you can tell straight away from the tough, all-metal construction that it is never going to let you down.

 

Inside the hinged metal case there are two main components. At the front is a large glass lens, mounted in a spring-loaded holder that pops up as soon as the case is opened. Behind that it is the light source, a 15-watt pygmy bulb. This is mounted behind a ground glass screen, and this is also mounted on a hinged, spring-loaded holder, with a small shelf on the front for holding a film or slide. A hinged arm on the right side extends upwards to support the lid, which acts as a light shield when the viewer is in use. The lamp is mains powered and it comes with the supply cable attached and a bayonet type connector that fits into a standard light bulb socket. The cable and connector stow neatly inside the case when no in use.

 

That really is all there is to it. There’s virtually nothing to go wrong, apart from the bulb, which is readily accessible and easy to change; no switches, no adjustments, and there’s an optional (or it may have been supplied as standard) adaptor for 35mm films slides.    

 

What Happened To It?

Since the advent of cartridge films and rapid rise in popularity of 35mm cameras in the 1960s, medium format films were mostly used by professionals, so this would never have been a mass-market product. Details are sketchy, but thanks to a little label inside the top of the case I can date the patent application and publication very precisely, to March 1951 and June 1953 respectively. It is listed as ‘Viewing apparatus for transparent picture or the like’, and assigned to a company called Hard Coating Ltd.

 

How and why it came to be produced by Aldis and how much it originally cost remain a mystery, but what is certain is that Aldis Brothers of Hall Green in Birmingham were a well-established manufacturer of photographic products and signalling lamps (the famous Aldis Lamp). The company was sold to the Rank Organisation in the mid 1960s and products thereafter were badged Rank-Aldis, so that, in conjunction with the materials, cosmetics and finish leads suggests that it was made somewhere between 1955 (allowing couple of years after the patent was published and for it to be acquired by Aldis) and 1965, so I have split the difference and come up with a date of 1960 – as always corrections and clarification are welcome. If it continued after the takeover by Rank it probably wouldn’t have been for very long, and if it did I suspect that some or all of the components would have been made in plastic.

 

I fond this one at a wet and muddy car boot sale in Dorset a few years ago and didn’t bother to haggle over the 50 pence asking price. It was as you see it now, in remarkably good condition, with almost no signs of wear or corrosion; indeed, it looks as though it has hardly been used. The few examples I have seen on ebay typically sell for between £20 and £30, depending on condition, which is about right. The value is unlikely to increase as time goes by as it is technically unsophisticated and a borderline collectible, probably only of interest to old school photographers or anyone with a collection of 2¼ inch slides. Don’t let that put you off though; you may not have any medium format films now, but one day… 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                        1960?

Original Price                 £?

Value Today                   £25 0114

Features                         light source 15-watt pygmy lamp, folding holder for 120 roll film/slides (2¼ x 2¼ inch/60 x 60mm frame), optional clip for 35mm slides, ground glass diffuser, magnifying lens

Power req.                     230VAC mains

Dimensions:                   190 x 135 x 65mm (folded)

Weight:                          1.2kg

Made (assembled) in:    England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


Minolta 16P Miniature Camera, 1960

Anyone familiar with the development of cameras over the past 50 or so years -- and I am talking about proper film cameras, not new–fangled digital doohickeys -- will no doubt remember the 110 film format that first appeared in the early 1970s. It was developed by Kodak and for a few years, amazingly successful. This was in spite of the picture quality, which on most cameras was pretty dire, but there’s no denying compact 110 cameras were very convenient and easy to use. There were hundreds of different models to choose from, most of them affordably priced and soon just about everyone had one in their pocket and were snapping away merrily, which made Kodak very happy.

 

You are forgiven for thinking that this Minolta 16P is just another one of those 110 compacts, but you would be mistaken. Were it not for Kodak’s marketing clout and influence the pocket camera market might have looked very different, with even smaller cameras, like this one, capable of taking really good looking pictures. The Minolta 16P uses a film cartridge that bears an uncanny resemblance to Kodak’s 110 cassette but it is spooled with 16mm wide film and predates the Kodak format by more than 30 years. The miniature film cassette concept was developed in Japan by a company called Konan the late 1940s, and later refined by Minolta, who began producing cameras using the cassette in 1955.

 

This model, the 16P, dates from 1960 and remained in production until 1965. It was pitched at the populist end of the market. It is an unashamed point-and-shoot design, fixed focus with a single speed shutter (1/1000th sec) and simple manual exposure control but the one thing Minolta didn’t compromise on was the lens. It’s a 3-element design, made of glass and capable of outstanding results. All the user has to do is pop in a cassette, set the ASA rating using the large round thumb-button (next to the smaller shutter button), then set the aperture by rotating a large thumbwheel on the back. This features a dial and pointer giving four options: bright sun, hazy sun, cloudy bright and cloudy dull. All that remains is to frame the shot through the optical viewfinder, press the shutter button and wind on to the next frame using a smaller thumbwheel on the right hand side of the rear of the camera. There’s also the option of a clip-on flash, which connects to the camera’s sync socket on the left side, and on the underside there’s a standard tripod mounting thread. Other extras include a pair of clip-on close-up lenses and a range of filters

 

The case and all of the important moving parts are made of metal, giving it a really solid feel and it was clearly built to last. The shutter, aperture control and winding mechanism on this one, which has not been touched in any way, still works and feels as good as new. In fact I have little doubt that it could still take a very decent picture, were it not for the fact that the film cassettes stopped being made over 20 years ago. You can still get hold of original, and long out of date films on ebay, and there are specialist companies who can process them. However, for the really determined it is possible to refill empty cassettes with new 16mm film stock and process it yourself using standard film developing techniques and chemicals. For hard-core enthusiasts there is even a specially designed developing tank for this type of film, so one way or another it is still perfectly useable.

 

I came across this one at a Surrey car boot sale, and at first glance I thought it was a 110 compact, but something about the small size, shiny metal case and Minolta badge made me pick it up and have a closer look. It seemed to be in good condition, the shutter clicked and it came with a nice leather case, so I didn’t argue when the stallholder asked £1.50 for it.

 

What Happened To It?

The big question is, if the 16mm format was so good why didn’t it succeed? To be fair it had a pretty good run, it proved popular with enthusiasts and cameras were in production for around 20 years, until the early 1970s.  But Minolta on its own simply couldn’t compete with Kodak and the 110 format, which was adopted by all of the major manufacturers and film companies. Kodak couldn’t lose; it had a near worldwide monopoly on film processing, hugely efficient distribution systems and almost bottomless pockets, when it came to advertising and promotion.   

 

I only became aware aware of the 16mm format in the mid 70s, by which time it had become all but obsolete so this is the first one I have actually owned but I have subsequently acquired a Minolta 16 II, based on a design which first appeared in 1957. This has a similar push-pull winding mechanism to the classic Minox spy camera. The good thing about these cameras is that they are not that expensive and there are plenty of very presentable ones on ebay, with prices starting at well under £20. It is probable that prices will eventually rise, but for the moment at least it seems that they have been largely overlooked or ignored by serious camera collectors.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen               1960

Original Price         £10

Value Today           £5 - 25 0514

Features           16mm film format (ASA 10, 25, 40, 80, 200, 10 x 14mm frame), 3-element, fixed focus 25mm Rokkor lens, f3.5-f16, fixed shutter speed 1/1000th sec, aperture presets: Bright Sun, Hazy Sun, Cloudy Bright, Cloudy Dull, flash sync socket, tripod socket, wrist carry strap

Power req.                    N/A

Dimensions:                  104 x 44 x 24mm

Weight:                         140g

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Kodak EK160-EF Colorburst Instant Camera, 1979

The instant film camera market has always been a treacherous place for both manufacturers, and punters. Polaroid did quite well out of them for around 20 years, until the late 80s but struggled until its eventual demise a few years ago. Others, like Kodak, got their fingers seriously burned, and it too is no longer with us – as a maker of cameras -- though to be fair its downfall wasn’t entirely due to the perils of instant photography.

 

For the consumer buying an instant camera was a gamble, with the odds heavily stacked against them. Polaroid cameras were usually quite cheap to buy, and for the most part they worked fairly well, but the model range changed with alarming regularity during the 70s and 80s. Film cartridges started out expensive and became progressively dearer as the cameras that used them were replaced and production of film packs wound down. Eventually they became unobtainable, at which point the cameras were effectively obsolete, though most Polaroid models probably never made it that far and the majority of them were only used a few times, due to the high cost of film.

 

Kodak played a very dangerous game taking on Polaroid at its own game when its first daylight developing instant camera, the EK2, was launched in 1976. It was clear from the outset that it had tried hard to avoid infringing Polaroid’s patents -- unsuccessfully as it turned out -- but there were several fundamental differences between the way the two film formats worked. Polaroid film is exposed from the top (picture side up), and a mirror has to be used to reverse the image so that it comes out the right way around. After exposure the upper layer of the film becomes opaque to protect the light sensitive layers beneath, while the image is processing, and then turns transparent so the picture becomes visible. Kodak film is exposed from the backside of the print; this simplifies the optics as the image is the right way round and in theory it  means the picture will be sharper and more detailed because the light has to penetrate fewer layers. There is also no need for an opaque layer as the processing chemicals keep out light as the film develops. The other key difference is that Polaroid film packs contain an expensive flat lithium battery, to power the camera, which bumps up the price and reportedly made them less reliable; Kodak got around that problem with a hand-crank mechanism (EK2) or by putting the batteries (4 x AA cells in the case of the EK160) inside the camera.  

 

The EK160-EF (aka Colorburst 250 in the USA) was one of the last of the line and uses a PR-10 film pack containing 10 self-developing prints. It is quite a lump, not as elegant as Polaroid’s offerings, but both camera and film packs were a little cheaper. The cartridge slots into a hatch on the underside of the camera, and all you have to do is frame the shot and press down the shutter release on the side of the camera. The only decision you have to make is whether or not to use the slide out electronic flash gun (to reduce red-eye), if the light is poor.  A second or so later out pops a print that develops in your hand over the course of the next couple of minutes. If the picture was under or over exposed – which it often was – you adjusted the ‘Lighten – Darken’ slider and took another one, adding another pound or three to Kodak’s coffers. It’s virtually foolproof and when you got the exposure right, capable of producing perfectly decent looking snaps. Like Polaroid prints they have to be looked after and kept out of sunlight, as they would fade quickly; they faded anyway, but if you kept them in a dark place they could still be viewable for several years.

 

This one was included in a box of photographic bits and pieces that I came across at a local car boot sale. I haggled the price down to three quid, which seemed about right for a camera of unknown condition and with no hope of ever taking pictures again. As it turned out the box also contained a nice little electronic flash gun, some movie cartridges, a film cutter and some other odds and ends that were probably each worth the price I paid on their own account. The camera cleaned up well and with a set of fresh batteries installed seems to go through the motions, but without a film pack it is impossible to say if it works or not. Unused PR-10 packs occasionally turn up on ebay but the price tends to be stupidly high, and they would be so long out of date the chances of them being any good is virtually zero.

 

As it turns out it may not be a total dead loss and Fuji was manufacturing a near compatible film pack in Japan up until May 2010. Apparently these can be modded to fit into the EK160 – a filter also needs to be attached to the lens to compensate for the higher speed rating – but it doesn’t look too difficult, however getting hold of an in-date film pack at a sensible price is another matter.

 

What Happened To It?  

Kodak’s involvement in Instant photography goes back further than most people realise, and although it’s first own brand instant camera didn’t appear until 1976, it had been quietly manufacturing instant film for Polaroid since the early 1960s. The launch of Kodak’s instant camera smashed Polaroid’s near monopoly, and it quickly retaliated with a patent lawsuit that dragged on for several years. It resulted in Kodak being found guilty of infringing 7 Polaroid patents, and led to them withdrawing from the instant camera market in 1985, facing a huge bill for compensating owners. The compensation scheme wasn’t very well publicised in the UK and Kodak instant cameras were being thrown or given away in their thousands. Ironically, to those in the know, they became quite valuable commodities and if you returned a camera to Kodak you received £10 in cash or a voucher, which could be used against the purchase of Kodak products. Sadly the compensation offer expired in 1988, otherwise this one would be winging its way back to them.

 

Whilst it may be theoretically possible to get one of these cameras to work again the effort and expense is a major drawback so it has to be regarded as a bit of a doorstop. There are still plenty of them around selling for a few pounds (considerably more for mint examples with packing manuals and extras). It is unlikely they will ever increase very much in value in our lifetimes, though, but it scores a few Brownie points as a conversation piece and no collection of instant cameras would be complete without one.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                       1979

Original Price                $39.99 (approx £25)

Value Today                  £5 - £25 1113

Features                        Instant film camera, Kodak PR-10 film cartridge, f1.2, 100mm fixed focus lens, automatic shutter 2 – 1/300th sec, 5-step manual exposure, electronic flash, tripod mounting thread (on r/h side)

Power req.                    4 x 1.5v AA cells

Dimensions:                   205 x 135 x 90mm

Weight:                          1.1kg

Made (assembled) in:    USA

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  4


Yashica AF Motor 35mm Compact, 1981

If you've been dazzled by the speed of development in digital cameras, you either have a very short memory, or weren’t around in the eighties and nineties. It was a time of rapid change in the still camera market, peppered with major innovations, and some dismal failures; sound familiar? Kodak was up to it’s usual tricks, introducing new film formats every couple of years, or so it seemed, and instant camera makers Polaroid were at it as well, bringing out ever more bizarre designs, and spending a lot of time and money fighting off rival systems. Cheap, fuss-free cartridge cameras had been coming out of the woodwork since the 1960’s, aimed mainly at the average snapper, who camera maker’s market research appeared to suggest, cared more about cost and convenience than picture quality.

 

For a while it looked as though 35mm film, one of the oldest formats and the mainstay of the mid to high end of the camera market, might even fall into decline. No one disputed the fact that 35mm film was capable of outstanding, professional results but it suffered from two key problems. Loading 35mm film could be a fiddly business and to get the best out of it a camera needed a decent lens and a good range of exposure options. However, struggling with large cameras, messing around with lenses, twiddling knobs, reading dials and making judgments about aperture and shutter speed was a major turn-off for the average happy-snapper, not to mention the cost of all the kit. But then something happened.

 

In the late seventies and early eighties, a new generation of compact and highly automated 35mm cameras began to appear, breathing life back into the ailing format. The key developments that made them possible were fast auto focus and exposure systems that removed all of the guesswork out of taking a photo. These used advanced electronics, optics and mechanics devised for camcorders. The other innovation was lightweight motor driven film transport mechanisms, which simplified loading, film advance and unloading. Basically, all you had to do was pop in a film, point and shoot, and when the film was finished, the cassette would be rewound, ready for processing. This was pretty much the same proposition that had made Instamatic cartridge cameras so successful, except this time you could take photographs in a much wider range of situations and lighting conditions and there was a very fair chance that it would be correctly focused and exposed, and the quality was good enough for them to be enlarged.

 

The Yashica AF Motor was amongst the first of this new breed of cameras and priced at around £80 it wasn’t significantly more expensive than a top of the range Instamatic cartridge camera. It was small enough to slip easily into a pocket and apart from setting the ASA rating, when you loaded a film, and making sure it had fresh batteries (2 x 1.5 volt AA cells) it was ready to go. Film loading is almost idiot-proof, just line up the film leader with a red mark and close the back. A spinning wheel on the back cover confirms that the film has threaded and advanced to the first frame. If a red light appears in the viewfinder it means there’s not enough light so press the top of the pop-up flash gun, and wait a few seconds for the ready light to come on before taking the shot. The camera focuses as soon as the shutter button is pressed but it can be overridden, by aiming the camera at the subject and pressing the Lock button. This stops the camera re-focussing when the shutter button is pressed. The chosen focus setting -- one of four steps: close-up, portrait, group & landscape -- is shown in a small window next to the lens.

 

This one was one of a number of 35mm compacts that I reviewed for group tests in Next… magazine, in the early 1980s and for some reason was never reclaimed. Although by then I was a committed SLR user I did occasionally carry this one, when travelling light or for holiday snapping, and the results were generally pretty good, though the four-step focus system needed good light and contrast between the subject and the background. As I recall, it also had one of the quietest motor drive mechanisms. It’s still in full working order, which says a lot about build quality, and considering that it has spent most of the last quarter century sitting in the back of a drawer.

 

What Happened To It?

Yashica (short for the Yashima Seki Company) was formed shortly after WW2 and by the time the AF Motor appeared it had produced a long line of generally well-received twin lens reflex, 35mm compacts and SLRs. During the mid sixties Yashica became a leading innovator in the field of automated exposure systems. It also had a reputation for good quality lenses and although at launch the AF Motor received favourable reviews, it was up against some tough competition from the likes of Canon and Minolta in the competitive mid market sector, and relative newcomers, keen to make a name for themselves and grab a slice of this market, like Chinon, Konica, Mamiya and Richo. These makers pitched in with some impressively specified and attractively priced models. Yashica was bought up by another up and coming brand Kyocera, in 1983; from then on the company moved gradually away from high-end to more budget priced models. The name was eventually resold in the early noughties and now appears on a number of digital products sold mainly in the Far East

 

It is unclear how many AF Motors, and the handful follow-up variants were produced but it was never a top seller. It was really well made, though, many are still around to tell the tale and you won’t have much trouble finding good examples in online auctions and even at car-boot sales, sometimes selling for just a few pounds. It still ranks as a solid, practical camera but probably not a classic example of the genre; contemporary models made by Canon and Minolta are generally more sought after by collectors. Nevertheless, if you spot one, in good condition and going for a fair price, grab it becase it  deserves to be given a good home.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                      1981

Original Price                £80

Value Today                  £10 1013

Features                        35mm (25 – 400 ASA). Lens: f2.8, 38mm. Full auto exposure, focus & shutter (1/8 – 1/500th sec), focus lock, auto load, motor wind & auto rewind, film advance indicator, self timer, pop-up electronic flash, low light warning in viewfinder 

Power req.                     2 x 1.5V AA cells

Dimensions:                   131 x 74 x 52

Weight:                          555g

Made (assembled) in:    Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  5


Cragstan Daiya TV-X Junior Movie Viewer, 1963?

When I first spotted this little item at a Dorset car boot sale I thought it was an early seventies or possibly late sixties portable TV; then I picked it up… Big surprise! Instead of the hefty valve and CRT filled lump I was expecting, it weighed next to nothing, it felt almost empty, as indeed it is.

 

The Daiya TV-X is basically a tin box full of nothing but air. That is because it is an 8mm movie viewer or back-projector, cunningly styled to look like a small TV and it’s only when you look around the back that its true purpose becomes apparent – more on that in a moment. It’s almost certainly little more than a toy, probably made by a Japanese manufacturer of tin toys, judging by the materials and construction techniques, and my gut feeling is that it dates from the early sixties. However, I have managed to find very little on its origins or history and I cannot be more precise so if anyone can fill in the gaps, please let me know.

 

The main points of interest are all on the back panel. There is a pair of reel holders designed to take 3-inch spools, which contain around 100 feet of 8mm film. The right-hand, take-up reel is driven, via a simple pulley system, by a small motor inside the case. This also drives, through a set of gears, the cranked sprocket claw that advances the film one frame at a time. The light source, housed in a small tin box to the right of the film ‘gate’ looks like a custom-made torch-bulb with an integral lens. I have never seen this type before and probably won’t see another so I will be treating it very carefully.

 

The bulb shines though the film and onto a mirror, which reflects the image onto the screen at the front. It’s all very straightforward and the two knobs on the front panel are for switching the lamp on and off and firing up the motor. There is also a simple tracking adjustment on the back panel. The take up reel only goes one way, so when you come to the end of the film it has to be rewound manually, using a small crank handle. Sadly this wasn’t included with my TV-X, and was presumably lost many years ago. Lacing up the film is a bit of a palaver; it has to go around a set of rollers and pulleys and through the spring-loaded plate, which keeps it aligned with the gate and sprocket claw.

 

What Happened To It?

For a toy it’s actually quite fiddly to use and my guess it was left up to dad (or less likely mum – remember this was the sixties…) to set it up. It would have been sold for watching short cartoons and children’s films, lasting no more than a couple of minutes. Performance wouldn’t have been an issue, which is just as well as the picture is quite jerky and not very bright so it is only watchable in a darkened room. It wouldn’t stand up to much punishment and it’s a minor miracle this one survived so long without any signs of rust as there is a lot of exposed tin. It eats batteries like they’re going out of fashion, and a full set of D cells back in the sixties would have been more than enough to wipe out the average youngster’s weekly pocket money. In short it’s not much fun and my guess is it wasn’t around for very long, maybe 5 years at best. There were several other toy projectors around at the time but they all would have limited novelty value – less so in the case of a projector as you needed a screen. A good supply of films would have been essential to sustain interest but as I recall most of those available weren’t very good, and this wasn’t a market that Disney and the other big name cartoon makers got involved with. The sixties was also a time when the toy market was expanding and becoming quite adventurous, with many more entertaining diversions becoming available.

 

I paid just £5.00 for this one, which was a bit of a gamble as its condition was unknown but it turned out to be a real bargain. Other than the missing rewind crank (and box and instructions) it was complete, and in quite excellent condition for something that must be the best part of 50 years old. It works too; it was a bit cranky at first but a few drops of oil got it running smoothly again. As to its present value, that’s very hard to say as it is so difficult to categorise. Is it a sixties toy, Japanese ephemera or a movie collectible? It’s all three, and £20 is a complete off the top of the head figure based solely on the fact that it is rather unusual and undoubtedly quite rare. In the end who is to say, but it has to be worth more than a fiver?


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                      1963?

Original Price                £?

Value Today                  £20 0913

Features                        8mm movie viewer, back projection system, manual tracking, carry handle

Power req.                    6 x 1.5volt D Cell

Dimensions:                   250 x 190 x 183mm

Weight:                          1.1kg

Made in:                         Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


Open University McArthur Microscope, 1972

When it comes to lists of important inventions and clever things that changed our lives microscopes rarely receive the sort of attention they deserve. This is regrettble because one way or another the facility to observe really small things has led us to a better understanding of our world, not to mention countless breakthroughs and developments in all branches of medicine, science and manufacturing. Perhaps they're just too familiar and although optical microscopes come in all shapes and sizes, the general design is usually instantly recognisable. You might be surprised, therefore, to discover that this object, which looks a lot like an office stapler, is actually a microscope. 

 

In fact it is a McArthur microscope, named after its inventor Dr John McArthur, who came up with the concept in 1934. This particular version was produced for the Open University in 1971, designed to be compact and rugged, ideal for field use, yet powerful and capable of the kind of performance required for serious scientific study. It met all of those criteria with ease, many thousands of them were made for the OU by Scientific Optics Ltd in Hastings, and such was its popularity that it was later sold to the public and, priced at just £15.50.

 

It is a genuinely innovative design and unlike a conventional microscope, where the specimen is viewed through a tube with lenses at each end, in this instance the specimen slide is held in place by flexible plastic clips in the gap between the top and lower halves of the case, with the light source above it. Light travels around the case, equivalent to a tube length of over 160mm, bent at right angles by a pair of prisms (actually mirrors) – see the diagram above – through to the eyepiece. This is fitted with a 10x lens and it can be removed and used as a magnifier. In the photo the small black tab protruding from the front is a sliding tray containing up to three objective lenses; two are supplied with magnification of 8x and 20x, giving overall magnifications of 80x and 200x. Focus is adjusted using a thumbwheel (lower right side), which moves the objective lenses up and down. The specimen can be illuminated in one of three ways, controlled by a sliding switch on the top. Position one turns on a built-in light – a small torch bulb -- powered by a pair of AAA cells. The centre position slides a polished metal reflector into place so that light coming in through the aperture on the front is directed down onto the specimen, and in the third position light from a lamp can be shone through the hole in the top of the case. The slots above and below the specimen stage are used for filter slides and there’s a threaded hole on the underside, for mounting the microscope on a tripod or stand

 

In spite of the all-plastic (ABS) construction – apart from the lenses and mirrors – it is very much a precision instrument; it weighs under 200g so it is just the job for a spot of close-up work out in the field. It’s tough too, and you would have to be pretty determined to damage it, though openings in the case do seem to let in a fair amount of dust so it needs regular cleaning.

 

What Happened To It?

Several versions of this microscope were produced, one with a revolving stage, and the modular design made it easy for the manufacturers to improve and upgrade the design. I haven’t been able to find out when this one was made – I bought it on ebay several years ago for £15.00 -- or how long it was in production but as always clarification is welcome, so get in touch if you know more about it. It is a timeless design, though, it works, and works well and there’s little or nothing to go wrong so my guess is that it continued well into the 90s.

 

It remains a thoroughly useful collectible, you never know when you’ll need to get up close and personal with something tiny. It’s a handy thing to keep around the house, and, being highly portable, about your person too, for those unexpected mobile microscopy moments…

 

Surprisingly few of them seem to come on to the market, probably only a handful makes it onto ebay UK each year. Prices can vary enormously, according to condition and how many parts are missing but a decent one, with all its original bits can easily fetch £40 to £50, and possibly much more if a couple of keen collectors get into a tussle. The only other source I am aware of is a Canadian ebayer, who seems to have a stock of them and at the time of writing he/she has one or two on offer every few weeks. Prices generally start out quite low and the bidding rarely gets heated but you have to add on the cost of postage, which can be quite high and this rather takes the shine off it.


GIZMO GUIDE (Manual)

First seen                       1971

Original Price                £15.50

Value Today                  £30 - £50 0413

Features                        10x eyepiece, 8x & 20x objective lenses (8x & 200x magnification), internal and external light sources,

Power req.                     2 x 1.5 volt AAA cells

Dimensions:                   126 x 75 x 25mm

Weight:                          170g

Made in:                         England (Scientific Optics Ltd, Hastings)

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  7


Polavision Instant Movie Camera, 1977

Polaroid have come up with some impressive and innovative products over the years, as well as its fair share of old dogs, but this one, called Polavision was a real humdinger and in retrospect, may have marked the start of the decline and fall of a once mighty corporation. Polavision was, quite simply, Polaroid’s attempt to attempt to do for home movie making what it had done for still photography, in short, it was an ‘instant’ movie camera.

 

It was an ingenious sounding idea. Simply pop a cartridge of self-developing movie film into the lightweight camera, shoot your movie, take out the cartridge insert it into the dedicated TV-style viewer, the film is automatically processed and showing on the screen after only 90 seconds. What could possibly go wrong?

 

It failed on so many levels that it’s hard to understand how it ever made it into production but the most obvious flaw was the timing. After a lengthy development the Polavision system was finally launched in 1977, just in time for the video revolution. True, it would take a few years before affordable domestic camcorders made it into the shops, but everyone knew they were coming, and portable outfits were available at the time of Polavision’s launch, which brings us to the second big drawback, running costs. Polavision cartridges cost between £10 and £15, equivalent to £30 - £40 in today’s money, and held only 40 feet of film. This gave a recording time of just two and a half minutes, with no sound, and needless to say they were only usable once. VHS and Beta portable outfits, in contrast, could record for two or three hours, with sound and tapes, which cost a fraction of the price of a Polavision cartridge, are reusable. There were plenty of other reasons consumers gave it a wide berth, including poor picture quality due to the dense multi-layered film, which also meant movies could only be shot in brightly lit conditions. Movies could only be watched on the companion viewer and couldn’t be projected, edited or copied without destroying the cartridge. The camera and player were really noisy, movies deteriorated unless very carefully stored, film jams and breakages were quite common, and the list goes on.

 

What Happened To It?

Polavision limped on for a couple of years before being quietly dropped and the remaining stocks sold off at bargain basement prices. It allegedly lost the company almost 70 million dollars and its failure also led to the resignation of Polaroid’s chairman and founder Edwin Land in 1980 and may have contributed to Eumig’s bankruptcy, who were sub-contracted to manufacture the camera and viewer. The death knell finally came in 1989 when production of film cassettes came to an end. Unused cartridges do turn up on ebay but they are now so far out of date that it is extremely unlikely that the processing chemicals will still be effective. 

 

It was a shame, and it’s important not to understate the technical achievements involved in getting the thing to work, but no-one was very surprised by its rapid demise, or mourned its passing. Even Andy Warhol’s brief interest in the format, and a change in marketing strategy to position it as an industrial tool couldn’t help. It was quickly forgotten, overshadowed by video, though every few years there’s short-lived revival of interest. A fair number of Polavision movies have been preserved for posterity, converted to video or shot from the viewer and these can be seen on YouTube. There are also TV adverts from the day showing the system in all its glory, though I am a little suspicious of the quality of the pictures shown.

 

My first encounter with Polavision was at a press preview, shortly before the UK launch; I and almost everyone else who saw it were largely unimpressed and I can’t remember the Polaroid people ever bothering us again. Fast-forward to 2010 and I spotted this Polavision camera on ebay with a starting bid of 99 pence. I put in a bid of £5.00 and by the time the auction ended only one other fellow saddo bothered to bid, pushing the final cost up to £1.50, plus £5.00 post and packing. It’s in pretty good shape and probably still works, but without a supply of film cartridges or a viewer I will probably never know, unless someone gives me one for free. I can’t see myself paying for one, though I am sure that there are collectors and revivalists out there who are prepared to splash out on mint examples. It’s quite possible that one day it will be worth something but like most vintage Polaroid products, without the consumables they’re essentially just decorative objects so you need to be a fairly dedicated fan to fully appreciate them


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                      1977

Original Price                £600 (camera and viewer)

Value Today                  £25 - £75.00 0313

Features                        1:1.8, f12.5, 5-25mm lens with x2 zoom, 2.5 minute record time using ‘Instant’ movie film, replay and processing on dedicated viewer, twin action grip, battery test, TTL optical viewfinder with focus zone indicator, external ‘Twilight’ (movie light) connector, film remaining indicator

Power req.                     4 x AA cells

Dimensions:                   175 x 210 x 60mm

Weight:                          680g

Made in:                        Austria

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


National Hyper B II Flash Gun, 1965

Judging by the prices on ebay the hobby of flashgun collecting is still in its infancy, which means it’s a great time for anyone hoping to get into what I imagine could be an exciting new pastime… You could do a lot worse than start off with one of these. It’s the National Hyper B II folding ‘fan’ type flashgun and at the moment you would be hard pressed to spend more than £5.00 on one – but don't leave it too long, it might catch on in a big way! A fiver or so is pretty good going for a classic example of 1960’s technology; it’s functional too, though you will probably end up paying significantly more than £5 for flashbulbs and the rare battery it uses. 

 

Since the late 1970s we’ve become accustomed to snapshot cameras having built in electronic flashguns and only those of us of a more mature disposition can remember back to the days when, if you wanted to take a picture indoors or in poor light, you had to have a flashgun and buy disposable, one-shot flashbulbs, either singly, or later, mounted inside little plastic cubes or in bars. This wasn’t something you did lightly (no pun intended); flashbulbs were quite expensive, they often didn’t work – resulting in a wasted shot, that you still had to pay to get developed -- the results were frequently disappointing, and you got burned fingers when you tried to change bulbs too quickly.

 

No one was particularly sorry to see them go, though on the plus side most old-time flashguns didn’t give your subjects ‘red-eye’. This wasn’t because of any significant differences in the light coming from burning magnesium ribbon and xenon flash tubes, but simply because separate flashguns ensured the bulbs were normally positioned well clear of the lens’s central axis, so light reflected from eyes didn’t bounce back into the camera.  

 

The National Hyper B appeared towards the end of the flashbulb era, taking the technology about as far as it could go, for a consumer market product. The most notable feature was the compact size, and this was all thanks to the fold-out fan reflector. To use it all you had to do was attach the device to the camera’s flash shoe and grasping the small knob on the outer leaf, swing out the shiny metal leaves and attach the small metal clip that formed the reflector into the characteristic parabolic shape. Pop in a flashbulb, plug the short connecting lead into your camera’s flash socket (if it wasn’t equipped with a ‘hot’ shoe), wait for the firing capacitor to charge and light an indicator lamp and you were ready to go. If you had a fancy camera with manual shutter and aperture controls, you could work out the optimum settings using a small rotary calculator fitted to the back of the unit. There’s also a Test button on the back to check the bulb wasn’t a dud, though this was by no means infallible. When not in use everything folded away neatly and fitted into a small and surprisingly cheap and nasty plastic case.

 

For added convenience it uses two different types of bulb. The cheapest option is press-fit AGI types, with simple bent wire contacts; these are also the least reliable. The alternative is larger, brighter and more expensive XMB1 bulbs, which have a bayonet type fitting. A small adaptor ring for AG1 bulbs was included with the flashgun and when not in use it clips into a holder on the battery cover. Bulbs are still obtainable and there’s currently plenty of vintage stock on ebay, but they are quite expensive and since they’re a finite resource, you may want to think twice about actually using them.

 

The flashgun is powered by a now virtually obsolete (though still obtainable for around £5 - £10) 22.5 volt battery. This is a similar size and shape to standard 9 volt PP3 type batteries and fits inside a compartment on the front of the unit. This also houses what looks like a AAA type cell, though it is actually a 1000 microfarad capacitor, which when charged, provides the short burst of power to fire the bulb. It is held in place by a couple of spring clips, presumably so it can be replaced when eventually it looses its oomph.

 

What Happened To It?

Flashbulbs and flashguns began their steep downward spiral in the 70s with the development of cheap and near infinitely reusable electronic flash tubes. There were a couple of last-gasps by flash bulb manufacturers, keen to hold on to their markets. The most notable was the Flashcube, an ingenious way of packaging four AG1 bulbs and reflectors into a small box and charging up to ten times as much for the privilege and dubious convenience of no-more burnt fingers. Then came the Magicube, an even cleverer development that did away with the need for batteries, instead the tube was fired mechanically by a spring loaded trigger, a bit like striking a match in fact. There were other attempts to repackage flashbulbs, like Flipflash and Polaroid’s horrifically expensive Flashbar for its range of instant cameras. But the flashbulb and its matching flashgun was doomed and by the end of the 1970s had all but disappeared. National are still with us, though nowadays they are better known in the UK as Panasonic, part of the mighty Matsushita Corporation, and they’re still in the photography business, with a highly regarded range of digital cameras and camcorders.   

 

Where this one came from I cannot be certain. I have a dim recollection of buying it many years ago at a flea market or boot sale, and I certainly wouldn’t have paid more than 50 pence for it. It’s in virtually as-new condition, complete with its horrible grey carry case. I have no idea how long they were in production but it is clear that a helluva lot of them were made and plenty have survived so you’ll have absolutely no trouble getting hold of one, to start off your collection.

 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                       1963?

Original Price                35/- (35 shilling or approximately £1.75)

Value Today                  £5.00 0313

Features                        125mm ‘fan’ type reflector, compatible AG1 and XM1B disposable flashbulbs (adaptor included), exposure calculator, cable and hot-shoe connections, test functions, ready light

Power req.                     1 x A412 22.5 volt battery

Dimensions:                   105 x 45 x 40mm

Weight:                          103g

Made in:                        Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  4


Pentax Asahi Spotmatic SP, 1966

Back in the late 60s and early 70s the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) camera was the camera to have. It was coveted by enthusiasts and a favourite with semi-professional photographers, and a quite a few pros as well, but at more than £200 -- and that was just for the body -- it was way beyond my very modest means. Nevertheless I did get to know this camera quite well as a photographer friend occasionally allowed me to borrow his, under very strict supervision for fear of damaging its delicate mechanisms. He needn’t have worried, they are as tough as old boots and there are still plenty of them on ebay, and most of them, it seems, are still going strong, in many cases after having taken thousands and quite possibly tens of thousands of photographs.

 

So what made the Spotmatic so special? Well, you only have to pick one up to understand its appeal. It feels reassuringly heavy and solid, as if it has been hewn from a solid lump of metal, but it all starts to make sense when you cock the shutter. The action is silky smooth, and you can hear, and feel all of the gears and levers turning and engaging with satisfying clicks, then, when you press the shutter there’s the crisp swoosh of the shutter blinds accompanied by the solid ker-chunk of the mirror flipping up and back down again. It’s pure magic and even after all these years I find myself repeatedly cocking and firing the shutter, just for fun, to hear it going through the motions.  

 

However, what really made the Spotmatic SP stand out was the range and quality of the lenses available to use with it, and the ingenious metering system that assured a perfectly exposed shot almost every time. It is really easy to use.  The aperture is held open for maximum brightness, allowing for pin sharp focussing, then all you have to do is flip the SW lever on the side, which stops down the lens and allows you to gauge the depth of field. This also activates the built in coupled exposure meter; you then adjust the speed and aperture to suit the scene and conditions, aiming to centre a needle on the right hand side of the viewfinder, and when you are happy with it, press the shutter button.

 

I came across this Spotmatic body on ebay, it was listed as being in good cosmetic order but it had a jammed shutter mechanism, so it was being sold for spares or repairs. There were no other bidders and I snapped it up for £10.00. Had I been patient I could have had one in full working order for a fiver more a couple of hours later...

 

As it turned out I was very lucky and it was relatively simple to fix. After removing the bottom cover I spotted the problem, a small lever had become slightly bent and was preventing the shutter from releasing. All it took was a quick tweak with a pair of long-nosed pliers and it was firing sweetly once again. A week later an original 50mm Pentax lens came up for sale, again no rival bidders and it was mine for just £8.00 and I had a very useable 35mm outfit for less than £25 (including the postage).

 

What Happened To It?

Originally a sub brand of Asahi Optical (formed in 1938), the Pentax name was adopted by the company in 1957. Pentax is still going strong and now incorporates a number of other well-known brands, including Ricoh, Hoya and Seiko Optical. 

 

Pentax began producing SLR cameras way back in 1952; the first Spotmatic SPs appeared in 1964 and the SP series remained in production until 1973. It went through numerous revisions and upgrades but all models all shared one common feature, screw-on lenses with a 42mm thread, generally known as an M42 fitting. Countless lenses and accessories were produced for this camera, a great many of them are still available from specialist camera shops, ebay and they turn up quite regularly un junk shops and flea markets. It is a very practical collectible and they’re not expensive. Really good bodies, in full working order, can be found for less than £40, maybe £15 - £25 more if they come with a lens. Bog standard SPs probably won’t increase very much in value, they tended to be quite well looked after and it seems that a lot of them are still around – which speaks volumes for the build quality. However, there are plenty of rarities and special editions for hard-core camera collectors to look out for, and possibly make some money on, but for me, this is the one I always wanted, it’s a very old friend and sparked a lifelong interest in proper cameras, with lots of moving parts that make pleasing noises.

 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                      1964

Original Price                £250 (with 50mm f/1.4 lens)

Value Today                  £25.00 1212

Features                        35mm SLR, focal plane shutter (speeds B, 1 – 1/1/000th sec), exposure meter, 42mm lens mount (M42), shutter cocked indicator, FP & X Flash contacts, self timer (5 – 15 seconds)

Weight:                          860g (with lens)

Power req.                     1 x AG10 button cell

Dimensions:                   143 x 90 x 85mm

Made in:                        Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Speedex Micro ‘Hit’ Spy Camera, 1950?

In an attempt to head off complaints from pedantic vintage camera collectors I had better explain the convoluted title line. Speedex is a brand name used by one of dozens of Japanese companies making these tiny cameras in the late 1940s and 50s. ‘Hit’ is another brand; it was one of the first and most popular makes and has since become the widely accepted generic name for cameras of this type. I could also have substituted Mycro (yet another brand and semi generic name) for Micro. I have thrown in the word ‘Spy’ for good measure because it is often, and mistakenly, used to describe these cameras. The fact is they are essentially toys and no secret agent worth their exploding underpants would dream of using one to take pictures.

 

Hit cameras as I’ll collectively call them from now on were characterised by the film they used, which was 17.5mm wide, paper backed and sold on tiny 10-shot reels. That’s an odd size, I hear you say, but it is one of the reasons these cameras exist. You’ll notice that 17.5 is half of 35, and 35mm film just happened to be relatively cheap in Japan in the mid to late 1940s, struggling to recover from the ravages of WWII. The country was essentially broke and for most photoraphy was an unaffordable luxury, until these little cameras came along. The quality of materials and manufacture was relatively poor but the low cost, cheap film (made by splitting 35mm film stock) and straightforward processing made them hugely popular. It didn’t seem to matter too much that they didn’t take very good pictures – and that’s being kind – the Japanese market was soon awash with models. That probably would have been the end of it but in the late 1940s they began exporting them, mainly to the US, where they often sold for a dollar or less and that sometimes included a very smart little leather carry case. They sold in vast numbers and earned Japan much needed currency but they weren’t taken very seriously as cameras and were often sold as novelties, toys and Christmas tree decorations.

 

Back now to this little Speedex, which is pretty representative of the Hit camera genre. The key features are a fixed focus lens, the lever on the left side is for the single speed shutter (around 1/50th sec), the button on the right side is for selecting  ‘B Mode’, which keeps the shutter open for as long as the shutter lever is pressed, for longer exposures. The viewfinder is a bit of a con as what look like lenses are just plain glass. There’s small round window on the back of the camera through which you can see the frame number, printed on the film’s paper backing sheet and the knob on the top is for winding the film. Exposed metal parts are chrome plated and what looks like black leatherette on the body is actually textured paper. Even so, until you get up close it appears to be high quality miniature camera. This is undoubtedly part of the attraction of Hit cameras; they really look the part.

 

A camera like this was high on my wish list as a kid growing up in the 1960s. Ads showing them in the hands of private eyes and secret agents were a regular fixture in American comic books but back then they might as well have been on sale on the Moon as there was no way, that I could see, for someone living in the UK to buy one. I came across this little Speedex in a junk shop a few years ago. The memories came flooding back; I happily paid the £5.00 asking price, cleaned it up, oiled the shutter mechanism, played with a for a while then put it in a drawer and forgot all about it.

 

My interest was revived recently when I stumbled across a page of Hit cameras on ebay. I hadn’t realised that there were so many different types and they had become a collectible. I even managed to find some film and now have half a dozen unexposed rolls though I seriously doubt that after all these years they’re any good. Incidentally, I suspect that it’s possible to make up some rolls of useable film by hacking a 35mm film cassette and backing the cut film with paper, or block the frame number window to stop light getting in; hey-ho, yet another project for a very rainy day...  

 

What Happened To It?

The Hit camera fad seems to have peaked in the mid 50s but production lasted well into the 1960s and during that time I suspect several million of them were sold. Because of their cheapness, crude design and poor performance they didn’t attract much attention from camera enthusiasts and seem to have virtually disappeared from view, until recently. They’re still a bit of a backwater in the vintage camera collecting market but I have a sense that they could become popular once again and have a lot going for them. They look brilliant, they’re tiny, so collections don’t take up much space, there are hundreds of different models to collect, and best of all, you can still find bargains. Really nice ones complete in their original box and leather case can be found selling on ebay for between £15 and £30. For those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, decent fixer-uppers can be found for a fiver. Prices can only go up, probably not by very much, but there’s only so many out there so get one while you can.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                       1945-ish

Original Price                £0.25

Value Today                  £25.00 1112

Features                        Single speed shutter 1/50th sec & B Mode (open shutter), fixed focus lens, 10-shots on 17.5mm paper backed film, manual film advance

Weight:                          43g

Power req.                     n/a

Dimensions:                   55 x 32 x 35mm

Made in:                        Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  5


Tasco SE 600 Deluxe Microscope, 1966

I didn’t deliberately set out to collect microscopes but I do seem to have accumulated a fair few models over the years. Most of them I’ve been given or found at antique fairs and car boot sales but this one I’ve owned since new, which according to the date on the instructions was some time around 1966.

It was actually the second of my microscopes; the first was a little Merit model, finished in black crackle paint, probably part of a chemistry set, and essentially a toy. This one was a big step up in terms of sophistication, still a bit of a toy but it came in a really well-made fitted wooden box, complete with a set of clear and prepared slides, slide covers, some specimens and a tiny bottle of what was to me, then, a mysterious orange liquid called Canada Balsam.

 

It is a compact, sturdy design, mostly made of metal; a rotating turret fitted with three lenses gives 75x, 300x and 600x magnification. Actually they are rated at 5x, 20x and 40x; the headline figures are due to the detachable eyepiece, which has its own set of lenses, providing another 15x magnification. The specimen platform or stage has a couple of spring clips to keep slides in place and underneath there’s a mirror, mounted on a gimbal, to provide illumination, from the sun (indirectly, unless you wanted to go blind...) or a light source, like a table lamp. According to the instructions a battery-powered lamp was available as an optional extra. Not that you needed instructions to use it, there’s only one control, a pair of knobs on the side, which moves the barrel up and down for focussing and the whole thing pivots on its stand for a comfortable viewing angle.

 

Included in the box of slides are three prepared ones labelled Angora rabbit, something called Silver Berry scaly hair, and ‘Sheep hair manufa-cture’. This last one looks like some coloured strands of wool and my guess it is another early example of Japanese translation skills. To be fair the actual instructions are not too bad, certainly enough to get a budding scientist up and running.

 

And so to the Canada Balsam, which many years later I learned is a type of turpentine, made from the resin of the Balsam fir tree. It’s used to seal specimens between a slide and thin glass slide cover. The instructions say it takes two weeks to dry, which explains why the bottle is still sealed and I never got around to using it – life was too short back then, to wait two weeks for anything… By the way, almost every ‘young scientist’ type microscope I’ve owned came with a prepared slide of mysterious hairy red fibres. They were never labelled and I’ve never found out what they were, so if anyone knows, please put me out of my misery.

 

I can’t remember where my Tasco DeLuxe came from, though many of my early scientific toys and gadgets came from the marvellous Headquarters and General shop in London’s Edgware Road, or one of the many Aladdin’s caves nearby and in the Tottenham Court Road. I can’t recall how much it cost either but it probably wasn’t much more than £5.00 or so, but that was when a fiver was worth something…

 

What Happened To It?

It is still in excellent, almost unplayed-with condition, which suggests that my youthful dalliance with microscopy didn’t last very long. The fact is that once you’ve inspected the bits of your own body and the fluids that can be fitted under the lens, dead insects, leaves and any other flora and fauna that came to hand, you move on to other diversions, it gets packed away and forgotten. This remained undisturbed in my late mother’s loft for over 40 years, and apart from a few specks of dust trapped in the optics, it works as well now as the day it was made. It’s not a serious scientific instrument; the optics are of passable quality and getting a clear, sharp image can be quite a fiddly business. Microscopes of all stripes can be found on ebay and at boot sales but only the oldest and best quality instruments command high prices. Models like this one are rarely of interest to serious collectors so if you want to start a collection it won’t break the bank; just don’t expect it to be much of an investment. 

 

For what it is, and what it cost back then, it was great introduction to the world of the very small, but apart from the seriously nerdy it wasn’t the sort of thing to keep the average young person in the 1960s amused for very long. Of course microscopes are still available and today’s ‘junior‘ models come equipped built-in CCD cameras and designed for PC hook-ups. They look really exciting, though speaking now as a parent I have a feeling that most of them are destined to suffer the same fate as my old ‘scope, but with a much smaller chance of them still working in 40 years time…


GIZMO GUIDE (Manual)

First seen                       1966

Original Price                £5.00?

Value Today                  £10.00 1012

Features                        15x magnification eyepiece, 5x, 20x & 40x magnification objective lenses on rotating turret, adjustable mirror, focus adjustment, 9-piece slide set and cover slips, fibre and fabric specimens, Canada Balsam, fitted wooden case

Weight:                          700g

Power req.                     n/a

Dimensions:                   195 x 65 x 110mm

Made in:                        Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  5


Kodak Instamatic 100 Camera, 1963

This was the second Kodak camera to carry the iconic Instamatic name; the first was the model 50, launched a few months before the 100 in February 1963. The two cameras were broadly similar, at least in terms of optics and general specification, but the Instamatic 100 was the one everyone wanted. It costs a few pounds more but it had a pop-up flashgun (it was an add-on on the Instamatic 50), and the shiny, less plasticky cosmetics looked a lot smarter than its cheaper stablemate.

 

First generation Instamatics used the revolutionary126 film cartridge. This was one of the first and arguably the most successful attempt to make photography idiot-proof, and Kodak lots of money. Until that time amateur photography was often an unsatisfying and unpredictable experience. Virtually all cheap ‘snap’ cameras used cumbersome roll film, which had to be unwrapped and manually threaded onto a take-up reel in near dark conditions. It was very easy to get it wrong, and back then you only found out that the film was blank or full of rubbish photos days or weeks after the event, and after you had paid to have it processed.

 

The Instamatic 100 couldn’t be simpler or more convenient to use. Just open the back, drop in a cartridge, advance the film to the first frame with the side mounted thumb lever and it’s ready to go. It has a fixed focus 42mm f/11 lens and a single shutter speed of 1/90th second, which is fine for most well lit daylight situations. In poor light press the button on the front and up pops the flashgun and the shutter switches to a 1/40th second exposure. It’s hard to convey now how exciting that flashgun was, especially to a 12-year old. It was a proper gadget feature and it’s a testament to the strength of the design that after all these years, and I suspect several tens of thousands of pop-ups later, it still works. By the way, it uses AG-1 disposable one-shot bulbs, which cost a few pence each. They were also pretty exciting, especially for budding schoolboy experimenters; dangerous too, in fact I think I still have a couple of scars, but that’s another story…

 

On the face of it, such rudimentary optics and exposure options suggest that its capabilities are limited but if you followed the rules, made sure the Sun was always behind you, and didn’t try to take pictures in poor light, or close-ups without a flash, then the results could be quite good. Pre Instamatic snapshot cameras typically had ‘hit’ rate of around one in four. In other words, for every decent photo you took, three would end up in the bin. With the Instamatic this rose to better than one in two, which naturally encouraged you to take more pictures.

 

What Happened To It?

This particular model of Instamatic remained in production until 1966 and was exceptionally popular; indeed between 1963 and 1970 more than 100 million Instamatics were sold. The Instamatic name was also used on a range of 110 cartridge cameras in the 70s and even a small number of Super 8 movie cameras. Instamatics peaked in popularity the early seventies. A steady decline followed and the last Kodak camera to bear the Instamatic name rolled off the line in 1984. Kodak continued to be a leading innovator in film photography well into the 1990s but it failed to repeat earlier successes with the ill-fated Disc and APS film formats and waited far too long to get into digital photography, with predictable results. The brand survives but in early 2012 Kodak filed for bankruptcy and announced that it would stop making consumer cameras and concentrate instead on corporate and industrial digital imaging. 

 

This Instamatic was bought for a school trip to France, probably in 1964. I saved up for ages; half the cost came from pocket money and my paper round and the rest from my parents. It was so reliable, and the results were so good that it was the only camera I, and the rest of my family, used for the best part of decade. I can’t remember exactly when or why it was retired but it has spent most of the last five decades unused, sitting around in boxes, cupboards, drawers and various lofts until it came to light recently. Apart from the leather-ish case looking a bit wrinkled, it was in near perfect condition and everything appears to work perfectly. You can still get hold of 126 cartridges, and empty ones can be loaded with 35mm film (see this YouTube video), and one day I’m going to have a go.

 

Sadly, even after all this time and it being practically an antique, old Instamatics are virtually worthless. Millions were sold and it seems a great many 50s and 100s are still around, in junk shops, flea markets, boot sales and of course ebay, where you can pick one up in good condition for a pound or two; expect to pay £10 for a really fine example. Not much of an investment then, but it’s a surprisingly usable collectible. Getting one working again, with 35mm film, sounds like a fun project. In case you’re wondering, you only need to get the exposed film developed as negatives, which shouldn’t be too difficult. You can then scan them into your PC, to view and make prints.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                        1963

Original Price                 £10.00

Value Today                   £5.00 1012

Features                         43mm f/11 lens, 2-speed leaf shutter 1/90th sec, 1/40th sec in flash mode, 126 cartridge film format, built in flash (AG-I single-use bulbs), mechanical film advance, optical viewfinder

Weight:                           267g

Power req.                     2 x AAA cell

Dimensions:                   102 x 52 x 62mm

Made in:                         England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):   3


Sony Mavica MVC-FD71 Digital Camera, 1998

Digital still camera technology has been through some strange twists and turns since the first consumer models appeared in the early 90’s, and this one definitely deserves a mention. It’s the Sony Mavica MVC-FD71, which stores images on standard floppy discs. Okay, so digital memory was still quite expensive back then, and floppies were cheap, but it has to be said, with only 1.4Mb of space available, it’s not especially efficient as a storage medium, or particularly compact. If you chose to save your images in bitmap format, there’s only room for one picture per disc. Fortunately that wasn’t the only option and there’s a choice of three JPEG compression settings, giving each disc a capacity of between 15 and 40 images, even so it probably wasn’t the sort of camera that would be on your shortlist if you were a hardened shutterbug, or wanted to travel light. You would also have needed to be quite well off as it sold for around £700!

 

The rest of the spec isn’t too bad, with a 330k pixel image sensor (640 x480 resolution), 10x optical zoom, 2.5-inch LCD viewfinder, auto flash, 6 exposure modes, 5 effects modes and auto/manual focus. It might not sound like much now but you have to remember that it was still early very days for digital cameras. 

 

Nevertheless, even by the standards of the day it was quite a lump, and that’s mostly down to the floppy disc drive, and the chunky ‘Infolithium’ rechargeable battery. It is the exact same type (NP-F330) as the ones used on Sony’s Handycam camcorder range. A sticker on the front claims the optional higher capacity NP-F550 battery pack was good for 2000 shots. Impressive stuff, but it didn’t mention that you would need around 200 floppies to store them on…

 

I found this one at a car boot sale; the asking price was a fiver and I  haggled it down to £3.00. It even came with a set of half a dozen floppies, so it was quite a bargain and since it was in such good cosmetic condition I wasn’t too worried if it didn’t work for that price. There was no battery, not that it would have been much use if it was the same vintage as the camera as lithium ion packs only have a 3 – 5 year life. As it happened I had a spare that still had a bit of life left in it and I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the camera still worked.

 

Picture quality is a tricky subject on old cameras. Back in 1998 it rated quite highly and reviews conmented that at the lowest compression setting, in good light, images contain a lot of detail and colours are bright and natural looking. A decade and a half later the quality hasn’t changed, but our expectations have and pictures shot on the FD71 now look a bit whiskery, flesh tones seem blotchy, contrast and brightness are all over the place and it doesn’t do well indoors or in low light. Obviously comparisons with modern multi megapixel cameras are grossly unfair, so let’s just say it’s a reminder of how far and how fast digital photography has advanced, and the less said about using floppy discs to store pictures, the better…  

 

What Happened To It?

The Mavica name (derived from Magnetic VIdeo CAmera) goes way back and I saw the first prototype at a Sony press preview of new technology at a trade show back in the early 80s. It didn’t appear again on a consumer digital still camera until 1997 with the launch of this model’s immediate and short-lived predecessor, the FD5. The FD (floppy disc) series lasted until around 2001 when Sony switched to it’s proprietary Memory Stick for image storage. The reason floppies lasted so long on Sony cameras was simple. They were reasonably robust, near-universal, cross-platform (compatible with PCs and Macs – back then), and most models, including this one, had a simple disc-copy function, so you could run off a set of pictures on another floppy, and give or send it to a friend or relative with a better than even chance they would be able to see them on their computer. Remember, back then not everyone had an Internet connection, and those that did were mostly slow dial-up, which made sending large photo files impractical or expensive. 

 

By Dustygizmo standards the FD71 is still fairly recent and at the moment a borderline collectable, but I have a feeling that the currently low prices being asked for this model, and other quirky first generation digicams, will rise over the next few years. The original high prices meant that not many were sold but because they cost so much owners were reluctant to throw them away. The ones that turn up at boot sales and on ebay have usually been well looked after. Indeed, it’s not unusual to find near-mint boxed examples, that cost hundreds of pounds when new, selling for just a few pounds. Now is a great time to start a collection of early digital cameras -- someone has to do it  -- and whilst it may not make you rich, your grandchildren should be greatful.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                        1998

Original Price                  £700

Value Today                    £10.00 1012

Features                          330k pixel CCD, f1:1.8, 4.2 – 42mm lens (10x optical zoom) built in flash, 2.5-inch LCD display/viewfinder, 6 Exposure Modes (Beach & Ski, Landscape, Panfocus, Portrait, Sports, Sunset & Moon), 5 Effects (Normal, Black & White, Negative, Sepia, Solarize), 2 x floppy read/write, email mode (320 x 240 pixel thumbnails), Disc Copy function

Weight:                            550g

Power req.                       7.2 volt Infolithium rechargeable battery pack

Dimensions:                     135 x 115 x 60mm

Made in:                           Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  6


King Folding Binoculars, 1968?

I had all but forgotten that many, many moons ago I once had a pair of folding binoculars, exactly the same as these. The reminder came during a Bond movie on TV. I can’t remember exactly which one but it was probably one of the later Roger Moore efforts. They were clearly portrayed as one of ‘Qs’ high-tech gadgets and looking back I suppose that to someone unfamiliar with them, it might have seemed like an exciting piece of spy kit, but as far as I recall, as a means of observing distant goings-on, they were rubbish. That was confirmed when I came across this one in a Brighton flea market recently, and with an asking price of £2.00, I just couldn’t resist reviving a few old memories.

 

Although technically these are binoculars they are, in fact, Opera Glasses. It’s the application they were designed for; the modest 2.5x magnification means that you’ll get a fairly wide view of the stage from the relatively close quarters of a theatre auditorium and the folding case is ideal for slipping into a purse or pocket. However, the clever folding mechanism imposes a lot of constraints. There’s no room for sophisticated optics, it’s a simple Galilean setup with two pairs of coated lenses. The convex (25mm) objective lenses at the front fold flat when the case is closed; the concave eyepiece or ocular lenses are quite small, just 9mm in diameter, due to the thickness of the case. They move fore and aft, for focussing and to that end they’re mounted on a simple sliding mechanism attached to a screw thread, rotated by a thumbwheel in the centre of the case.

 

They are cheaply made but the actual quality of construction is quite good. The case and all moving parts are stamped metal, so it’s able to withstand frequent opening and closing; the spring is surprisingly strong and they pop open very smartly, with a noisy clunk (mouse over the first  picture to see it open and closed). The focussing mechanism is also very sturdy and after a thorough cleanup all mine needed was a couple of drops of oil to get a silky smooth action. The overall condition was excellent, the lenses polished up well, even the tacky leatherette trim was still firmly stuck in place and the chrome trim shined up nicely. There’s not much to say about its optical qualities; it makes things a bit bigger but the lenses are fairly crude with some edge distortion, and if your eyes are set wider or narrower than the fixed 65mm IPD (Inter-Puplillary Distance), you are not going to get a true binocular 3D effect, or get a squint trying…   

 

What Happened To It?

I can’t say for certain when this design first appeared, but I have a feeling it was in the early to mid 1960s, which would be around the time when I bought my one. It was the sort of thing that made regular appearances in the Exchange & Mart. I can almost picture the ad; it would have shown a keen bird watcher or sports enthusiast, gazing at some far-off creature or event, looking amazed by the size and clarity of the image. You could get away with that sort of thing back then, and I would have almost certainly fallen for it. I still regret not buying a pair of X-Ray spectacles when I had the chance…

 

I have seen the same or near identical models bearing the name Butterfly, Elyco, Glider, Osaniua, Reader’s Digest (probably a promotional item), Sport Glass, Star-Lite, Super Zenith, and I have no doubt there were many others. I am not sure when they stopped making them but my guess would be the mid to late 70s, for no better reason than the decline in opera and theatre going and the appearance of more powerful and better quality pocket binoculars. There is no shortage of this model on ebay and you shouldn’t have to pay more than around £5.00 for a clean boxed example, However, don’t expect too much, they’re an interesting knick-knack, and it’s fun to make people jump when you pop them open, but if you want to see distant objects either buy a decent pair of bins, or get closer…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                       1968?

Original Price                 £3.00?

Value Today                   £5.00 1012

Features                         Galilean optics, folding objective lens, thumbwheel screw focus, 2.5 x magnification, 24mm objective, 9mm ocular

Power req.                      n/a

Weight:                           105-g

Dimensions:                    110 x 63 x 19

Made in:                          Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):    4


View-Master Stereo Viewer, 1955

3D movies and TV is going through one of its regular revivals. If history follows its usual course it will end up being just another passing fad because, quite simply, it’s just not that good, and there’s not much to watch. The only real differences this time is that there is a supply of pseudo 3D stuff to watch, with some TVs able to digitally process 2D material to give the impression of 3D, and some (limited) efforts by TV broadcasters to drum up interest, showing major sporting events in 3D. Who knows, maybe this time around it will take off...? However, with virtually all 3D systems there remains the problem of having to wear special glasses, and for some, pounding headaches after an hour or so. There is also the promise of directly viewable 3D TVs, without glasses, but those technologies still have quite a way to go before they’ll be acceptable or affordable to the consumer market..

 

Which brings us in a roundabout way to the View-Master stereo viewer. It’s a development of the stereoscope, an idea that dates back to the 1830’s. Basically each eye sees a separate image, taken by a camera with two lenses, spaced at roughly the same distance as our own eyes. (Stereo images can also be taken with an ordinary camera on a mount that allows it to move sideways and take two images in quick succession; see also the Nimslo 3D camera). Either way you end up with two pictures of the same scene taken at very slightly different angles and when viewed on a stereoscope the brain recombines them to give the same impression of depth that we get with our own eyes.

 

View-Master is just one of hundreds of stereoscope designs that have come and gone over the past 180 odd years. It has the distinction of being the best-known, longest-lasting and, at the time of writing, it is still in production, though the design of the viewer has changed many times since it first appeared in the late 1930s. The only thing that has stayed the same is the picture wheel or disc – more on that in a moment.

 

This View-Master is a family hand me down, almost certainly purchased by my parents. I can date it precisely, thanks to the excellent 20th Century Stereo Viewer website. It’s a Model C, which was produced between 1946 and 1955. It’s towards the latter end of that date range because a moulded panel, with details of patent numbers, lacks a raised border. It’s made of Bakelite, a tough and durable thermo-setting plastic, which helps to account for it’s near pristine condition. It may also have something to do with the fact that it has spent most of its life in its cardboard box; the novelty wears off quite quickly...

 

Operation is simple; just pop a picture disc into the slot on the top of the viewer. These are around 90mm in diameter and hold 14 images (7 stereoscopic pairs). Face a strong light source, peer through the eyepieces and prepare to be amazed. When you get bored with it there are 6 more pictures on the disk to look at, which you select by pressing down on the lever at the side. Optional battery-powered light adaptors were available for some models, others had their own built in light bulbs, so the fun was never ending… However, like modern 3D systems I suspect that a lack of software rapidly consigned most viewers to the loft or the backs of dusty wardrobes. Viewers usually came with a small selection of discs to get you going but once you’d flicked through the Wonders of the Taj Mahal, The Majesty of the Austrian Tyrol or the delights of an overcast Edinburgh a few dozen times, it somehow lost its appeal. That’s not to say there was a ever shortage of picture discs, far from it, and I seem to remember that you could buy them at souvenir shops at tourist attractions, but they were fairly expensive, and quite frankly, not as involving as the snaps that you could take with your own camera.

 

On the plus side, the stereo or 3D effect was generally very good and the photographers who took them were obviously skilled at composing the shots to achieve the maximum depth. In case you are wondering, I still have the original discs that came with my viewer, it’s just that I don’t know where they are, and if you could see my loft you would understand. This really isn’t a problem, though because there are literally thousands of them for sale on ebay. They often sell for a pound or two, though the older, and more historic views and especially rare discs can fetch more but since more than 1.5 billion of them have been produced to date, I doubt that they will ever be in short supply.

 

What Happened To It?

If you are interested there’s a detailed history of the View-Master brand on the 20th Century Stereo Viewer website. Suffice it to say it has been bought and sold several times and is currently part of the Fisher-Price toy empire. That would seem to be it’s proper home; it always was basically a toy, in spite of it being marketed to adults, but today’s grown-ups can now dabble with their own home-made 3D stills and movies, thanks to a wide assortment digicams, camcorders, smartphones and software applications. Whether or not View-Master can withstand the digital onslaught remains to be seen. I have my doubts, but it has shown a lot of resilience and it remains a fertile ground for collectors, especially of rare and unusual models. Just don’t expect to get rich if you have an old one, and prices are unlikely to go up very much in the foreseeable.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                          1946

Original Price                    $2.00

Value Today?                    £15.00 0912

Features:                           Optical stereo viewer, slot loading, optional light attachment

Power req.                         n/a

Weight:                              188g

Dimensions:                       105 x 92 x 75mm

Made in:                            Belgium

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):      4


Minolta Weathermatic-A Underwater Camera 1980

Taking photographs underwater is a surprisingly difficult business. Aside from the obvious problem of keeping water out of the camera mechanism, there are the controls, which you need to be able to operate wearing gloves, and the viewfinder and displays that have to be viewable through a mask. On top of that the camera has to be able to work at depth, under considerable pressure, in a wide range of temperatures, and it must be robust, to survive the inevitable knocks, bumps and drops. It also helps if it floats, in case you accidentally let go.

 

The Minolta Weathermatic-A ticks all of those boxes, plus a few more besides, and it became a favourite with divers, snorkellers, sailors and outdoor types who got wet. It was one of the first (possibly the first) underwater camera using the long defunct 110 cartridge format. Underwater in this context means it’s rated to a depth of 5 metres, though that was almost certainly a fairly conservative figure and it would probably be able to go twice as deep without mishap. The bright yellow case is a really rugged design and the waterproofing measures are most impressive. There is only one opening, at the back and the removable clear panel is held tightly in place by two rotating compression clamps. A rubber O-ring around the edge of the back panel and seals around the two control knobs, shutter button and film advance lever ensure that no water can get in.

 

Key features include a high quality 3-element, f1:3.5/26mm lens, large focus, aperture and film winder controls and a ‘Sportsfinder ‘ viewfinder that can be used as normal or through diving goggles when beneath the waves. Focus is from 0.9 metres to infinity; it’s continuously variable but there’s a detent on the portrait (3.5m) setting. There are three aperture presets for sunny, cloudy and flash and the shutter has a fixed speed of 1/200th sec. Viewfinder displays include a simple pointer showing the chosen focus setting and an LED that shows insufficient light and flash ready; the latter is powered by a single AA cell.

 

I bought this camera from a friend a dozen or more years ago. It was in as-new condition and had never been used and as far as I can recall I paid a tenner for it. I would dearly love to say it has been with me on many descents to the briny deep but the truth is the deepest it has ever been is a couple of meters, at our local swimming pool plus a few quick sploshes in the sea. That’s not to say it hasn’t been used. It has given reliable service and produced some great pictures on dry land, surviving the attentions of my two kids as they grew up and took it on holidays and school trips. It’s a tough customer and even after lying dormant for several years it still looks good, it works too and the flash fired up straight away.

 

What Happened To It?

Minolta’s Weathermatic camera range, which also included binoculars, followed the trends and changes in film formats with 35mm and aps models in the 80s and 90s. The 110 format was already on the wane by the time this model came out. Nevertheless, it seems that it continued in production throughout most of the 1980s. There were only a small handful of rival waterproof models available, and as far as I can see, and in spite of the 110 formats many shortcomings, none of them were as good as this one. Minolta had a tough time in the 1990s and never really got into digital photography, which would have been the next logical step for the Weathermatic marque. Minolta merged with Konica in 2004 and pulled out of the camera market in 2006.

 

Weathermatic-A models, like this can be found on ebay, often selling for £10.00 or less. This reflects the fact that they are effectively obsolete, 110 film is now very difficult to find, and getting it processed can be a problem. Like any specialist camera it has the potential to become a collectable but it may take a while. Don’t let that put you off, though, that just means there are some real bargains to be had and now is a great time to buy, just don’t expect anyone other than your great grandchildren to benefit from your investment… 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1980

Original Price                   £40.00?

Value Today?                   £5.00 0712

Features:                          110 (16mm) cartridge format, f1:3.5, 26mm 4-element lens, zone focusing (5 distances), 3 aperture settings (sun, cloud, flash), metal blade shutter fixed speed 1/200th sec., LED under exposure/flash ready warning, built in flash, optical sportsfinder with parallax correction frame, next carry strap, 5m submersion

Power req.                        1 x AA cell

Weight:                             347g (ex film & batt)

Dimensions:                      190 x 72 x 38 mm

Made in:                           Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     5


Coca-Cola Burger King Keychain Camera, 1980?

Cameras don’t get much simpler, or smaller, than this one, and I’m pretty sure you won’t find many that are cheaper as it was almost certainly given away as a freebie. This one is clearly part of a promotion for Coca-Cola and Burger King but I have seen the exact same model in Kellogg’s Corn Flakes livery, and I have no doubt there were others.

 

I’m putting the date at late seventies to early eighties but this is just a guess. The 110 film cartridge format was introduced in 1972 but it will have taken a few years for cameras of this type and simplicity to evolve. Similar designs can still be found, but this particular model may have been made by a company called Ansco, or it might have been Micro-Pet, or one of half a dozen other equally obscure makes, but they mostly seem to have disappeared in the mid 80s. I haven’t been able to find anything on the relevant Coke/BK or Kellogg’s promotions, so if anyone out there can help me pin it down I would be grateful.

 

As you can see in the main photograph (above), the largest part of the camera is the film cartridge, which clips onto the back of the tiny camera module (right)  Apart from the film advance thumbwheel on the front, and a shutter button on the back there are no controls. Incidentally, the round circle on the top, which looks like it should be the shutter release is a phoney, it’s just a sticker. The only other notable features are a detachable keychain; there’s a small window in the rear of the film cartridge retaining clip, so you can see the frame number and it has a flip-up viewfinder on the top. In fact that’s a rather grand name for what is basically a piece of plastic with a rectangular hole that you look through, to frame the shot. There’s a notch cut into the side of the viewfinder, which I feel has some purpose, but I have no idea what that is so again, if anyone can enlighten me, please get in touch.

 

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, it takes terrible pictures. It could hardly do anything else, as the 110 film format wasn’t noted for quality. The chances of a tiny plastic lens, probably costing a fraction of a penny to make, capturing a sharp image is next to zero; less than zero in fact when you factor in the lack of any exposure controls. I dare say you might get a recognisable blur on a bright sunny day but that’s almost certainly as far as it goes. To be fair, these were made to be given away. They were a bit of fun and mostly aimed at kids, but I suspect they managed to annoy quite a few parents, pestered into buying and processing a film, with predictably disappointing results.

 

What Happened To It?

The 110 format film remained in production until 2008. There may even be someone somewhere still making it but it had passed it sell by date at least 20 years earlier, killed off initially by Kodak doing their usual trick of introducing a new film type in 1982 (the ill fated and short lived Disc format). Also in the early 80s 35mm compact autos proved very popular and in 1995 Kodak launched the APS format, and latterly the rise and rise of digital photography.

 

Cameras like this are quite collectable, but mainly as promotional items, and I’m guessing that there’s a dedicated Coca Cola or Burger King fan out there who would dearly like to get their hands on this one, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth anything. My estimate of its current value of £5.00 is probably rather generous, especially as I only paid 50 pence for it at a car boot sale. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting and little travelled by water of photography and maybe one day miniature freebie cameras like this will be collectable in their own right, and as an added bonus they don’t take up much space…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1980?

Original Price                   usually free

Value Today?                   £5.00? 0512

Features:                           Single speed (1/100th second) shutter, flip up viewfinder, film advance thumbwheel, shutter button, detachable keychain

Power req.                        n/a

Weight:                             24g (without film cartridge)

Dimensions:                      65 x 35 x 30 mm

Made in:                           Taiwan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     4


Minolta XG-SE, Compact SLR, 1978

This is what a proper camera looks like. True, this Minolta XG-SE doesn’t appear to be significantly different from one of today’s digital SLRs, but the point is, with one of these in your hands, you and not a bunch of smart-arsed microchips are in charge. You control the focus, aperture and shutter speed. The downside is that you usually won’t get to find out how good (or more likely bad…) the photographs you’ve taken are until several days after the event.

 

Now that may not sound like much of an argument for old-tyme 35mm film cameras, but knowing that you may only have one chance to get it right, and it is going to cost you money however the pictures turn out, makes you a better photographer. Even getting it wrong teaches you valuable lessons. You had to actually think about things like exposure, lighting and composition. It’s a far cry from today’s digicams where you just blast away in the hope that one of your snaps will turn out okay, and even if it doesn’t, you can tweak it on your computer. It’s probably a bit pretentious to describe 35mm photography in this context as an art form, but digital has yet to fully replicate the look and texture of film and taking photos with a camera like this  really is more challenging and satisfying, especially when you get it right.

 

I produced my fair share of good pictures on this very camera (well, I think they were okay), which I bought on a trip to the US in 1979. It was state of the art and the best I could afford; I reckon I must have blown a month’s wages on it. But it was worth every penny, becoming a constant companion on assignments and holidays for a good few years, and it never let me down once. The picture shows it fitted with one of several zoom lenses I used over the years, and a Minolta motor drive that I bought for one special job. That was the launch of the first Space Shuttle in 1981, which I was covering for a magazine. The sequence of pictures I shot from the press enclosure, just over 3 miles from the launch pad, were the best I have ever taken, though annoyingly I missed the full spectacle, viewing much of it one-eyed, through the viewfinder.

 

I would like to think that I chose this model for its easy to use controls, range of exposure options and great quality (photographically and mechanically). It has all of those, but it was the compact shape, the Minolta brand, smart black body and a very persuasive salesperson that sold it to me. But whether by luck or judgement it was definitely one of my better buying decisions.

 

The selector wheel on the top spent most of its time in the ‘A’ (Aperture Priority) position and the camera sorts out the shutter speed, leaving the user to manually adjust iris and focus, and for the most part it worked superbly well. There’s a simple illuminated display in the viewfinder that shows the selected shutter speed, so you can make creative decisions about the depth of field and so on, by adjusting the iris. Focusing is also near idiot-proof, with an optical spit screen then ensures pin-sharp results, almost every time.

 

What Happened To It?

It turns out that the XG-SE model was only in production for a year or so. It wasn’t significantly different to a couple of other XG cameras in Minolta’s range, though I doubt that many of them were made. Sadly it’s showing its age now so it’s probably not worth much but it’s an old friend and I wouldn’t part with it. The XG series built up a good reputation for quality and value for money and continued with several improvements and variations until 1982 when it was replaced by the X-370 range.

 

My SE still works; I haven’t run a film through it for several years but I have no doubt that it is still capable of taking brilliant photographs, though not necessarily by me. My photography muscles, such as they were, have become fat and lazy over the years, thanks to a sucession of 35mm and APS auto compacts and super-smart digital cameras. Like everyone else I can’t wait to see the results, or resist the temptation to fiddle with my snaps on the PC, which is a great, but I miss the anticipation and even the smell of a crisp envelope full of newly developed prints. Taking pictures nowadays may be as easy as falling off a log, and you are virtually guaranteed to get a picture in almost any lighting condition, but it just isn’t as much fun as it used to be...


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1978

Original Price                   $290 (with standard 45mm f1.4 lens)

Value Today?                   £50.00? 0312

Features:                          Horizontal-traverse cloth focal plane shutter, 1 second to 1/1000th second, with X-sync at 1/60, centre-weighted CdS cell exposure meter, aperture priority auto-exposure with step-less shutter speeds, manual shutter, PM type focusing screen, with a horizontal bi-prism, electronic self-timer (10 secs), battery check light, hot flash shoe with X terminal,

Power req.                       2 x LR44 button cell

Weight:                            700g (with standard lens)

Dimensions:                     140 x 90 x 90 mm

Made in:                           Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     6


Zenith BM-51-2 Stereo Microscope, 1985?

The world of the very, very small has always been a source of fascination for me and in my time I must have owned at least half a dozen microscopes of varying power, sophistication and quality. My first one, which was probably given to me when I was around 10 or 12, was part of some Junior scientist kit. It was metal, with a black crackle finish and made by Merit, who specialised in science outfits. It probably had a magnification of 50x and came with tweezers blank slides and a small selection of pre-prepared specimens. These were things like fly’s wings and some mysterious red filament thingy, which wasn’t labelled and seemed to be a staple ingredient of these kits.

 

But back to the matter in hand, and this Russian-made Zenith BM-51-2 stereo binocular microscope, with a fixed magnification of 8.75x. There’s not much information online but I am fairly sure they were in production for at least 25 years. They were popular with schools and colleges as they are really tough, and very easy to use. It’s a simple design, and if you look closely at the two eyepiece parts you’ll see that they look a lot like a pair of binoculars. That’s because that’s what they used to make it; they even left on the neck strap retaining loops.

 

This model has only three adjustments. The distance between the eyepiece lenses is set by twisting the two prism housings, the instrument can be raised or lowered – to accommodate larger specimens, and there’s a simple rack and pinion arrangement for focussing. The circular plate in the base can be flipped over – the other side is black. A pair of spring clips can be used to hold thin flat specimens in place. 

 

Stereo microscopes have several advantages over the single barrel type. The image is in glorious stereo or 3D, they are much less tiring to use for long periods, and because there are two optical paths more light gets through, producing a brighter, sharper image. The big downside, of course is the increase in cost and complexity. Good stereo microscopes can be very expensive indeed, but that’s where the BM-51-2 scores so well. The simple, rugged design is pitched at the education market. It is made in Russia and certainly the first ones would have been produced in the Soviet USSR era, when most factories were state owned, cost was not an issue and products like this were often produced for export and sold for artificially low prices to bring in much needed foreign currency.

 

What Happened To It?

Production on the BM-51-2 lasted well into the 21st century. Its replacement is a little more sophisticated, with a magnification of 10x but the general design is basically the same. In the wider world stereo microscopes have changed little over the years, though high-end models often now sport built in video cameras or attachments for the same.

 

Microscope collecting is a specialised field and fine quality antique instruments can sell for tens of thousands of pounds, Even if you lower your sights it can still become an expensive hobby, good quality microscopes costs a lot when new, they last for years so not that many are made and comparatively few of them make it into the marketplace, where prices hold up well. There are bargains to be had but they are few and far between or they are fixer uppers or have parts missing.

 

This instrument is at the bottom end of the scale. Serious collectors tend not be interested in models like this, which are comparatively recent and made in fairly large numbers, which explains why it only cost me £12.00 at a antique fair. They were supplied in wooden carry cases, unfortunately this one wasn’t but it seems to have been well looked after, although it was a bit grubby. It scrubbed up well, though and now looks like new, though judging by the markings I suspect it is from the late Soviet era. It works a treat, and whilst 8.75x magnification may not sound a lot, it’s more than enough for examining things like banknotes and documents, small creatures, working on miniature electronic devices and gazing at the fine detail on a multitude of natural and man-made objects that you only really appreciate when you get up close and personal, and in stereo, of course. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1980

Original Price                   £50

Value Today?                   £20 0312

Features:                          Stereo binocular microscope, fixed 8.75x magnification, rack and pinion focussing, reversible specimen platter, specimen retaining clips

Power req.                        n/a

Weight:                             1.5kg

Dimensions:                      300 x 174 x 130mm

Made in:                           Russia (USSR)

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     5


Polaroid Swinger II Instant Camera, 1970

The Polaroid Swinger was my first encounter with instant camera photography. In fact the one I had belonged to my parents but I commandeered it once they lost interest, though still relied on them to purchase film packs, which were horrendously expensive. That was back in the late 1960s and the camera was a first generation white model. It had a a built in flashgun that used one-shot flashbulbs. This one is a slightly later Swinger II and was a bit cheaper because the flashgun was an optional extra. Both models used Type 20 roll film packs, which produced 8 black and white prints. The film loads into the back of the camera, flipping a large lever on the back opens the hatch, which also give access to a holder for two AA batteries, which powers the cameras simple exposure system. 

 

Taking a photo is fairly straightforward. You frame the shot then pinch the large red and white shutter button. This illuminates a small checkerboard display in the bottom of the viewfinder; you have to twist the shutter button until the word ‘YES’ appears clearly in the display and you can click the shutter button. Next, you press in the blue button on the back, pull back a hinged flap and use your thumb and forefinger to grip the film sheet, which you pull out of the camera in one steady movement. This draws a small sachet of developer chemical and the exposed film through a set of rollers, the sachet ruptures and spreads the chemical over the surface of the film. After a couple of minutes – the actual time varies according to ambient temperature – peel apart the film from its backing sheet and if you were very lucky the picture was revealed. More often than not, though the picture was too light or too dark so you had to have another go; if you got more than four useable pictures from a pack you were doing very well. Film packs also included a sort of squeegee coated with a chemical fixer that you wipe over the image, to stop it fading, at least that was the theory...

 

Having the image develop there and then was a hugely impressive trick; Polaroid instant cameras had been around for quite a while, but very few people owned one as they were incredibly expensive. The Swinger also known as the Sentinel bought instant photography to the masses and it became one of the top selling cameras of all time with more than four million of them made between 1965 and 1970. They were very cheap to buy; I suspect they were heavily subsidised, as usual the real money was made on the film packs with each print costing the equivalent of five or six pounds in today’s money.

 

What Happened To It?

The Swinger’s biggest drawback was that it could only take black and white photos, which by the late 60s was decidedly old hat with colour photography becoming the norm for home snappers. Polaroid didn’t leave that gap in the market unplugged for long and by the early 1970s it had developed a Colour Swinger model. Many more cameras followed and Polaroid pretty much ruled the instant camera roost well into the late 1990s when digital cameras started to take off.

 

This one is in good condition and as far as I can tell in the absence of a film, it is in full working order. I found it at a car boot sale where it was priced at £2.00 but I haggled it down to £1.50. This gives you some idea of its real value. A great many of them have survived so if you want one you can afford to be really picky as there are plenty of examples in mint condition to be had, some in their original box and with instructions. However, I doubt that they will ever be worth very much, production of Type 20 film stopped several years ago so they’re of little or no practical use. Nevertheless, it’s still an interesting object and a must have for anyone keen on sixties vintage cameras and of course, collectors of instant cameras.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1965

Original Price                   £20

Value Today?                   £2 0212

Features:                          Simple manual exposure system, optical viewfinder, optional flashgun, carry strap

Power req.                        2 x AA cells

Weight:                             150 x 125 x 125mm 

Dimensions:                       610g

Made in:                            UK

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):      3


Prinz Dual 8 Proofmaster Cine Editor, 1970

Even though I’m not a home movie enthusiast, for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted one of these. It’s a cine film editor and I suppose I was attracted to them because they look teccy and gadgety; they light up and there are knobs, buttons and cranks to fiddle with. I finally realised my ambition at an antique market recently where this Prinz Dual 8 Proofmaster cried out to me from a manky cardboard box filled with all sorts of old cine hardware and reels of film. On reflection I foolishly ignored the rest of the bits and pieces and paid the stallholder a fiver for it.

 

You don’t need to be particularly cinematically minded to work out what it does and how it works. You load your unedited footage and an empty reel onto the capstans on the two crank arms, thread it through the rollers and under the little spring-loaded guide clamp beneath the screen and crank away. When you find the bit you want to chop just remove the film, snip the section out and rejoin the ends. It’s an absurdly simple and near idiot-proof process that for all of its digital wizardry, video movie technology has yet to match.

 

There’s very little to say on the how it works front. The optical system comprises a small lamp shining through a rotary shutter or gate. This is driven by the sprocket holes that are cut into the edge of the film. Light passes through the each film frame, then a lens and onto a mirror that projects the image onto the rear of the ground glass screen. The only control, apart from the crank handles, is a rotary knob on the lamp housing that switches the frame aperture, between Standard and Super 8 film sizes. In side there’s a small 10 watt lamp, which produces quite a dull image but I suspect that’s deliberate, to avoid damaging the film, through excessive heat and light as it is liable to be stationary for long periods.

 

What Happened To It?

Prinz was a Dixon’s own brand but I can’t be entirely sure who made it. The Proofmaster hails from Japan and it seems very well made, maybe one of the well known photographic companies was doing a spot of badge engineering? There’s very little info about it online so I’m also guessing the original price, which I’ve put at £50. Anyone who knows better please feel free to put me right.

 

Although video killed cine stone dead in the late 80s and early 90s there remains a determined band of enthusiasts who keep it going so devices like this are probably still in demand and sought after. I checked and there always seems to be one or two on ebay though they never seem to fetch much, unless they are in pristine condition. I doubt that many were made cine was never a mainstream hobby. A fair number of people bought cameras and projectors but the hassle and expense of making a jittery 3 minute movie meant that relatively few people got beyond half a dozen reels and only a tiny percentage went on to edit their films. The presently low prices for cine equipment is a surprise though and doesn’t reflect the original cost, precision and high quality of construction of these products. My guess is prices will rise and within the next few years these wonderful looking gizmos could become quite collectable as decorative objects, let alone the fact that they still have a practical use. Who knows, maybe it’s time for retro cine revival? Stranger things have happened…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1970

Original Price                   £50

Value Today?                   £5 0112

Features:                          Standard 8 & Super 8 compatible, twin crank drive, manual shutter advance, 10 watt lamp

Power req.                        220 volts AC

Weight:                             140 x 170 x 235mm (ex crank arms)

Dimensions:                      2kg

Made in:                           Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     3


Prinz 110 Auto Pocket Camera, 1978

The 110 film cartridge format was the successor to Kodak’s hugely popular 126 Instamatic format and as before its principle role was to encourage users to consume film and processing services, rather than sell cameras and promote photography.

 

It first appeared in 1972 almost exactly 10 years after the Instamatic format was launched. The most important feature was the small size of the cassette, which resulted in a new generation of ultra compact cameras. With each frame of film measuring just 17 x 13mm it posed no threat – at least as far as quality was concerned – to 35mm and the larger film formats, but that wasn’t the point. A 110 camera fitted snugly in your pocket or purse and you could whip it out and take a picture of anything that took your fancy with a minimum of fuss.

 

Prinz was a Dixon’s own brand and unusually, the 110 Auto was a notch or two above most other budget 110 cameras of the day. Points of interest include a simple automatic exposure system, a ‘one-touch’ sliding film advance lever on the bottom, a light-sensor on the front, next to the lens, a cable release trigger next to the shutter button and there’s even a tripod mount on the underside.

 

Low cost electronic flash was still to come, so to keep the price down this camera used Flashcubes. This was another ingenious money-spinning idea. Essentially each cube contains four one-shot flashbulbs, (costing many times as much as four ordinary flashbulbs), but the really clever thing about Flashcubes was that they were fired mechanically, similar to striking a match, so the camera didn’t need batteries. In fact the Prinz 110 Auto does use a battery to power the AE system, it’s a proprietary 4.5volt design that needless to say is no longer available.

 

Incidentally, the optional Flashcube ‘stalk’ was an attempt to avoid redeye. This was a perennial problem with 110 cameras, due to the proximity of the flash to the centre-line of the lens. The narrow angle increased the chance of light from the flash bouncing back from the subject’s retinas into the lens.

 

What Happened To It?

110 cameras were initially quite successful; there were scores of models to choose from though it has to be said that most of them were pretty awful. With film size that small the roles of the lens and exposure system are critical but performance and quality just wasn’t an issue for most manufacturers. Never the less, the format enjoyed quite reasonable sales for several years; film was still being made as recently as 2009, though rumour has it Kodak still has a small scale plant in operation.

 

The format didn’t die overnight, but as before it was Kodak that effectively pulled the plug by introducing its ill-fated Disc format in 1982. By now you may have spotted a pattern. That’s right, since the 1960s on average Kodak has launched a new film format every 10 years or so (well almost, the APS format was a bit late and didn’t appear until 1995…).

 

No prizes for guessing where this one came from. As with so many other gizmos on these pages it was rescued from a car boot sale and cost 50 pence. It was an absolute bargain as it came with an unused film, and a flashcube with two good bulbs. It’s in good condition too and the winder and shutter still work, but alas the AE system is all but useless due to the lack of a battery. It should be possible to refurbish the pack with some modern button cells but that’s a project that will have to wait for a very dull rainy day. Cameras like these are far too common to have any real value but there were a number of high-end models made by the likes of Canon, Minolta, Minox, Pentax and Voigtlander and I imagine that they could become quite collectable, so it is worth keeping an eye out for pristine, boxed examples.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1978

Original Price                   £10?

Value Today?                   £2 0112

Features:                          110 format film, auto exposure, flashcube flash with extender, slide lever film advance

Power req.                        538 custom battery pack, 4.5 volts

Weight:                             170g

Dimensions:                     125 x 55 x 27mm

Made in:                          Japan

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):    3


Kodak Brownie Starflash, 1960

I try to avoid using the word cool but I’m going to make an exception for the Brownie Starflash, which has to be one of the coolest snap cameras ever made. Any digital camera designers out there casting around for an iconic retro style to pinch look no further. It’s also the camera I most wanted when I was a kid but by the time I could afford one, in the early 1960s, cameras like this were becoming decidedly un-cool, for reasons that we’ll come to in a moment.

 

But back to the Starflash and it was a hugely successful design with the first ones appearing in the mid fifties. The black and silver model I have here was the most common type but there were several special editions, including a very rare Coca-Cola branded model that’s now worth a very pretty penny. It’s popularity and longevity can be put down to one thing, simplicity. It’s a true point-and-shoot design and if was a bit dark, or you were snapping away indoors, just pop in a flash bulb.

 

There are only two controls, the shutter lever on the side and a very simple aperture lever beneath the lens for switching from black and white to less sensitive colour slide film. The cameras takes 12 exposure 127 roll film and this was its Achilles heel. It had to be loaded in near dark conditions and since this involved threading the end of the reel onto a take-up spool it was a really fiddly business. You could try loading it in subdued light but if you got it wrong and light got onto the film it would be fogged, or if it wasn’t threaded properly it didn’t wind on and you wouldn’t know until it came back from the processors.

 

Despite all that it did take reasonable pictures but the prints were very small, measuring 4 x 4 cm or just over 1.5-inches square. Of course you could have them enlarged but it was expensive. Colour slide film was more successful but it was quite pricey and of course you needed to have a projector in order to view your photographs. Flash bulbs too could rack up the price as well but the disadvantages were more than outweighed by the fun factor, ease of use, robust build quality and the fact that there’s very little to go wrong.

 

What Happened To It?

No prizes for guessing, it was Kodak’s own Instamatic film cassette, introduced in 1963 that did for the Starflash and most of the other roll film cameras around at that time. Kodak’s innovative and near idiot-proof cartridge system solved at a stroke all of the problems surrounding loading a camera with film and as an added bonus automated processing systems were able to produce bigger, sharper prints. Millions of roll film cameras were abandoned almost overnight in favour of the new technology and sad to say, no one really missed them.

 

This one is a fairly rough example that I picked up in a Brighton junk shop recently for £7.00. On the plus side it works perfectly and there was even a roll of film and a pair of vintage batteries inside. I suppose the price was about right but you will find plenty of better examples on sale at boot fairs and on ebay for not much more than I paid for this one. It’s far from rare, though, so many were made that you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding one and you can afford to be choosy and hold out for a mint example in its original box or case, or splash out on one of the scarcer two-tone coloured versions. By the way, films, flashbulbs and processing can still be found but think twice before using one to take photographs as it could develop – pun intended – into a very expensive habit…


GIZMO GUIDE  Manual

First seen:                        1955

Original Price                   £8.00

Value Today?                   £10 - 50 depending on condition 0112

Features:                          Fixed shutter & focus, two-position aperture (colour/black & white), Dakon lens, integrated flashgun, 127 roll film, M2/M3/M5/M25 flashbulbs, carry strap

Power req.                        2 x AA

Weight:                             180g

Dimensions:                      130 x 55 x 85mm

Made in:                           USA

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     6


Polaroid Supercolor 635CL Instant Camera 1985

By the early to mid 80s when Polaroid’s Series 600 cameras appeared, of which the 635CL is a good example, instant photography had evolved into a highly refined science. However, taking pictures and seeing the results a minute or so later were almost a side issue. Polaroid’s real skill was in merchandising the film packs; it almost gave the cameras away in order to persuade very large numbers of people to buy them, and then be forever in their grasp. Sounds familiar? Well, the idea of making money on the consumables, by subsidising the cost of the hardware has been a successful business model for manufacturers of inkjet printers for years, and honed to perfection by the Apple Corporation, for who the iPod and iPhone are just highly efficient vehicles for selling music, movies and apps. But I digress.

 

In the 70s and 80s just about everyone owned a Polaroid camera at one time or another, and generally – though I have no hard data to back this up – purchased two or three packs of film then aghast at the real cost of instant photography, put the camera into the back of a cupboard and forgot about it. In other words they are not rare, though when Polaroid announced a couple of years ago they were stopping production of film packs I suspect quite a lot disappeared into landfill – but that’s not quite the end of the story as we will see in a moment.

 

Like most Polaroid cameras the 635 is absurdly easy to use, just open the door at the front, slide in a 10-print 600 film pack (the film pack also contains the battery), close the door, snap open the lens cover/flash bar, frame the shot, press the button and out pops a print that develops in daylight in around a minute. If you were very lucky it didn’t look too bad. Most of the time though it looked awful, so you took another one, and if you listened very carefully you could hear the sounds of hands rubbing together and cash registers jingling at the Polaroid Corporation.

 

If there wasn’t enough light the flash would fire, and if you judged the result too light or too dark there’s a simple slider control on the front under the lens, so you could take yet another photo. The 635CL had an added refinement in the shape of a close-up facility, basically a pair of lenses that slides in front of the main lens and viewfinder, for snapping subjects between 0.6 and 1.2 metres in front of the lens. 

 

What Happened To It?

Following a sustained campaign by diehard fans Polaroid recently announced that it was going to resume production of instant film packs. For no good reason that I can see Polaroid cameras have become quite trendy, especially amongst art students (so my art student daughter tells me…), and there was sufficient interest to persuade Polaroid to start making them again. In fact the supply of films never quite dried up and old stocks have been on sale on ebay, recently fetching silly prices – at the time of writing 600 film packs were selling for around £25, or well over £2.00 a print.

 

How long this revival will last is anyone’s guess, I give it a couple of years at best. Instant film cameras became obsolete for three very simple reasons, they cost a fortune to run, the pictures were not very good, and the deathblow was finally dealt by digital photography.

 

There are probably still many hundreds of thousands of Polaroid cameras still kicking around; this one cost me two quid at a car boot, so don’t expect anything made from the 1980s onwards to appreciate much in value in the foreseeable. Older Polaroid cameras are becoming collectable though, and later high-end models still fetch a good price, but regard that as an opportunity. Their value should increase in the long term so now is the time to grab a few good examples and tuck them away, while you are at it, it might be a good idea to buy a few film packs while you can, they should be good for at least 10 years if stored properly.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1985

Original Price                   £50

Value Today?                   £5 1211

Features:                          Lens 1:11 / 116mm fixed focus, close-up adaptor, electronic shutter 1/4 - 1/200th sec, image size 8x8 cm, built-in flash, Film Pack type 600

Power req.                       Battery incorporated in film pack

Weight:                             600g

Dimensions:                     145 x 90 x 120mm

Made in:                           UK

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     2


Canon Ion RC-260 Still Video Camera, 1988

Just about everyone these days has a digital still camera, and very good they are too, but the really strange thing is how quickly it all happened. One minute we were all happily snapping away on our compact 35mm and APS films cameras, the next it was all megapixels and jpegs.

 

The rise and rise of the digital still camera has been nothing short of phenomenal and by my reckoning it happened in just six or seven years, starting sometime in 2003/4. In fact it took a good 30 years for pixels to replace film and there were several false starts, which brings us to the Canon Ion, also known as the Q-Pic in Japan and Xapshot in the US.

 

It was arguably the first successful attempt to take electronic photography to the masses but it was by no means the first electronic still camera. That honour belongs variously to Texas Instruments who filed a patent for an all-electronic still camera in 1972, Kodak who demonstrated a briefcase-sized prototype camera in 1975 but my vote goes to Sony who in 1981 showed the first practical model, called the Mavica (MAgnetic VIdeo CAmera). Sadly it never went into production (though the Mavica name was used on later models) but it set the ball rolling and back then, after having seen it at a trade exhibition I was absolutely convinced that one day soon photographic film would be obsolete.

 

Film isn't dead yet and electronic photography took much longer than I expected to take off, but it's been quite a journey and the Canon Ion had a pivotal role to play in this story. Prior to its launch in Japan in 1988 there had been several attempts to launch a still video camera (SVC), but they had all been bulky and eye-wateringly expensive. The Ion certainly wasn't cheap, costing around £700 - £800 by the time you'd bought all the necessary accessories, but this was a fraction of the price of its rivals. However, one of the defining features was that it didn't look like a conventional still camera, it was curvy and futuristic but more importantly it overcame one of the fundamental problems of electronic photography in the 1980s, namely how to view recorded images. Back then home computers -- such as they were -- lacked any significant image display capabilities and there was no easy or economical way to print out electronic images, so Canon designed the Ion to connect directly to a an ordinary TV. 

 

By today's standards the spec is laughably basic, to begin with it's not a digital system, it was loosely based on Canon's analogue camcorder technology, recording up to 50 still video images with a resolution of less than 300 lines on a specially designed 2-inch floppy disc. Essentially these were still frames, and anyone who remembers VCRs of that era will know how poor the quality of still frame images could be. In short it was out-performed on almost every level by cheap Instamatic film cameras, but it was a start and for a while it even looked as though Canon's still video floppy could become an industry standard format. 

 

What Happened To It?

In spite of several attempts to improve picture quality, including a shift to slightly higher definition 'Hi-Band' operation SVCs were doomed by the picture quality and the lack of any means of preserving images, other than on expensive floppies or recording pictures to a VCR (with a consequent drop in the already dire picture quality); printing simply wasn't an option at that time due to the cost.

 

New SVCs continued to appear throughout the early 1990s but there was comparatively little interest from consumers and professionals.  Then in 1994 the digital still camera (DSC) market came alive, thanks to developments in digital storage, data and image processing plus innovative and increasingly affordable products from the likes of Apple, Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus et-al. Like SVCs a decade earlier it was a slow burn to begin with, hardware prices were still very high and quality was still a bit ropey -- compared with film cameras -- but the world had changed.

 

By then home computers had become almost commonplace and the Internet was on the rise so now there was a mechanism to store, manipulate, print and share images. Sales of DSCs finally took off in 2001/2, fuelled by the development of multi megapixel image sensors, cheaper memory, broadband Internet, mobile phones, inexpensive colour printers and well, you know the rest...

 

Several Canon Ions passed through my hands for testing and review in the late 80s and early 90s. They were nice toys to play with but I can't say they left much of an impression. They were far too expensive and the quality just wasn't good enough to make me want one, at least not back then.

 

Times change, nostalgia kicks in and after a lengthy search I finally snagged one on ebay. It is the Hi-Band version of the RC-260 and it would have cost a very pretty penny back in the day. I paid £25.00 for it, which I consider a bargain as it came with a full accessory kit and a dozen still video floppies..

 

My one is in excellent condition and it still works perfectly, using the mains adaptor for power. The weird lead acid rechargeable battery has long since expired and I don't hold out much hope of finding a replacement. Prices for the Ion and its ilk are still quite low, which I find surprising, as I doubt that many SVCs were sold. Cameras like these are  bona-fide technology milestones but they seem to have been temporarily forgotten and my guess is they have an excellent chance of becoming a future collectible so keep your eyes peeled. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1988

Original Price                   £500 - £800

Value Today?                   £100, depending on condition 1211

Features:                          0.5-inch 230K pixel CCD, 9,5mm f/2.4 lens, built-in flash,  video floppy disc, remote control 230 line resolution

Power req.                       8-volt proprietary lead acid rechargeable

Weight:                            400g

Dimensions:                     120 x 111 x 50mm

Made in:                          Japan

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):    8


Hanimex 220 Disc Camera, 1986

I can remember walking out of the UK press launch of the Kodak Disc Camera format, back in 1982, thinking this isn’t going to work. I had the same feeling almost 15 years later, at the launch of the Kodak APS film format. My uncharacteristically accurate insight into the workings of the photographic industry was formed in 1981 when I had a sneak preview of the world’s first digital camera. The prototype Sony Mavica was a large ungainly beast and I can’t now recall if it actually worked or not, but it was clear to me that it spelt the end of photographic film, (though it took almost two decades and a lot of false starts for me to be proved right). Kodak must have known about the Mavica too but it clearly didn’t see the writing on the wall and it spent the next 20 years in denial, hoping that somehow digital photography was nothing more than a passing fad.

 

I was handed one of the original Kodak Disc cameras at the launch, to try out but I must have given it away soon afterwards once I realised how bad it was. I found this Hanimex 220 at the bottom of a box in the loft and I’m not sure where it came from but it’s a good example of the genre. It features the typical slim body, compact lens assembly built-in flash and motor drive of most of its contemporaries. There’s very little to say about it, other than it is beautifully simple to use, just pop in the disc cartridge and a couple of AA batteries and it’s ready to go. The only controls are a shutter button and a simple slide switch on the front for setting sunny/dull days and covering the lens. The flash is automatic and a lever on the top opens the back, for loading and unloading discs.

 

What Happened To It?

The Disc camera format was Kodak’s first attempt to make photographic film look sexy and technically advanced. The early 80s were the start of the digital age and discs were all the rage. LaserDiscs had been around for a year or two, Compact Disc had just started to make an impact on the home audio market and first generation PCs were using floppy discs for data storage.

 

Kodak’s bright idea was to mount the film on a rotating disc, which instantly made cameras a lot thinner and, in their view much more likely for users to slip one into their pockets and handbags and take more pictures. You have to remember Kodak never made a bean out of selling cameras; all of its money came from selling film and processing. On paper it sounded like a good idea, the trouble was the tiny films – each one measured just 11 x 8mm – had to be massively enlarged and produced truly awful grainy prints. Most camera manufacturers had a half-hearted stab at the Disc format but after a brief flurry of interest most users gave up on them and moved onto the increasingly popular and vastly superior compact 35mm cameras that were coming onto the market. Disc cameras were only around for a few years. Kodak finally pulled the plug on the format in the late 90s to concentrate on its next white elephant, the APS format, but that’s another story for another day… I believe you can still buy disc film and there are a handful of specialists capable of processing it but it has little value beyond that of a short-lived novelty. Nevertheless, as time goes by cameras will become scarcer so if you have one, or spot a particularly nice one at a boot sale, preferably still in its box and selling for less than a couple of pounds, grab it. It might actually be worth something one day…


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         1986

Original Price                   £25?

Value Today?                   £1? 1011

Features:                          f2.8, 12.5mm 3-element lens, automatic flash, motor drive, optical viewfinder

Power req.                       2 x AA

Weight:                            160g

Dimensions:                     115 x 82 x 27mm (whd)

Made in:                           Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):     3


 

Waco TV Slide Lighter, 1970?

If only… No, it’s not a miniature TV but you’re forgiven for thinking it is one, especially, if like me, you remember the first ‘Microvision TV developed by Clive Sinclair, back in the mid-1960s. Sadly it never saw light of day and we had to wait until 1976 for the pocket TV to become a reality.

 

This Waco ‘TV’ does have some visual features, though. It’s a slide viewer; pop a 35 mm transparency in a slot in the top and it appears on the screen and a small light bulb behind the screen lights it up. It has another hidden talent; it’s also a cigarette lighter. Press the button on the top and the spring loaded lighter cover pops up. The spring mechanism strikes a flint that lights a petrol soaked wick. It probably ran for years on a filling. Around one third of the TV case is taken up by the petrol tank, the other two thirds are occupied by a pair of ‘C’ cells, to power the viewer bulb.

 

The pretend TV is superbly detailed, all the knobs look as though they should work, the big one at the top actually does, it’s the switch for the slide bulb. The mind boggles at the concept of a fake miniature TV with a built-in slide viewer and cigarette lighter. What were they on? I grew up in the 60s and 70s and it was a strange time but I can’t say I ever remember anyone passing round the slides and fags…

 

I’m not sure where it is made, there are no marks other than the ‘Waco’ badge and I haven’t managed to find any references to it on the web. My guess is it hails from Japan or Hong Kong, but that’s pure speculation based solely on the styling of the TV. If anyone knows better I would love to know.

 

What happened to it?

Novelty table ciggy lighters are quite common though mostly they have just the one obvious function and I can’t see this weird combination of features being especially popular so I suspect it didn’t hang around for very long. This particular one has suffered from leaky batteries at some point. Fortunately most of the damage is inside and after a good scrub with a wire brush and coating of WD40 it should be okay. The plastic battery holder disintegrated when I tried to remove it but a modern replacement fits neatly in the case. I found it at a large antique fair in Surrey and it managed to haggle the dealer down from a fiver to four pounds, which given that the condition can only be described as fair, wasn’t a bad deal.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1965?

Original Price                   £5?

Value Today?                   £5 0911

Features:                          Combination cigarette lighter and 35mm slide viewer

Power req.                        2 x C cell

Weight:                             0.5kg

Dimensions:                      98 x 75 x 100mm (whd)

Made in:                           Japan, Hong Kong?

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):   5


 

Minox B, Sub-miniature Camera 1968

This is real James Bond kit, a classic sub-miniature spy camera that was first developed back in 1936 by a German chap called Walter Zapp. The Minox B, which I have here was made between 1958 and 1972, and I believe this one dates from the late 1960s, due to the type of photo cell used in the light meter. When I first acquired it, over 30 years ago, film was readily available and developing was easy too, I actually managed to get films processed through my local camera shop but now only a relatively small number of companies can handle the tiny cartridges, which contain 9.2mm wide film.

 

It really is beautifully made, like a fine watch, and as you pull the camera apart you cock the shutter mechanism. You have to set the focus manually; the viewfinder is coupled to the focus dial to minimise parallax errors. For close-up work, photographing documents and secret plans, you use the measuring rings on the chain to gauge the focal distance. The exposure setting is elegantly simple, you press a little button next to the light meter dial to take a reading then rotate the shutter speed dial (the large one in the middle) until an arrow on the meter dial aligns with the meter needle. It’s quick and accurate and just the job if you are in a hurry, with the baddies about catch up with you. When you press the shutter button it makes a really satisfying (though not too loud) clockwork motor sound.

 

There’s more gadgets; the knurled strip above the viewfinder window slides a Neutral Density filter in front of the lens, and there’s a circle marked on one of the two shutter leaves, so you can tell if you’ve taken the shot or not. There’s also an accurate frame counter, a flash synch socket, and shed loads of accessories, that Q would be proud of. There even used to be specialist films including, as I recall, infrared film for really dark conditions. Best of all, it takes really great pictures.

 

What Happened to It? 

The Minox heritage lives on and the company, now owned by Leica still makes miniature and sub-miniature cameras. Personally I don’t think the modern ones are a patch on this one and its predecessors. They are still small and very cute but they just don’t look like proper spy cameras any more. As I say I bought this one over 30 years, along with a Minox developing tank, which I stupidly sold to another enthusiast some years later. I think I paid around £50 for both items, which was probably a bit over the top. Quite a few model B’s were made so they’re not exactly scarce; model As are rarer and therefore dearer. Good Minox Bs can be found on ebay for less than £100, and considering the precision workmanship I reckon that’s a fantastic bargain.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                                   1958

Original Price                   £75.00?

Value Today?                   £100.00 0811

Features:                          Complan Lens, f=15mm, manual shutter (T, B, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/20, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500, 1/1000), manual focus (8in – infinity)2 –stage ND filter, external flash sync, Selenium light meter, measuring chain,

Power req.                        n/a

Weight:                             125g

Dimensions:                     100 x 28 x 18mm (case closed)

Made in:                            Germany

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):  6


 

Polaroid Land Camera Model 330 1969

I hope someone will write in and tell me that film packs are still available for the Polaroid 330 Land Camera but until they do this one is purely decorative. That's a shame because it's a really funky looking gadget, dating form the late sixties but those bellows give it the look and feel of a film camera from the 1930s. The 330 was based on a design - the 100 series -- that first appeared in 1963 but Edwin Land, who pioneered the instant film camera, produced his first models in 1947.

 

The 330 is a real handful, and that's before you've figured out how to unfold it and drive the bizarre rangefinder focus mechanism. Once you've taken a picture you need three hands to develop a print. It's a real palaver, first you have to pull a white tab, then pinch and tug at a yellow tab that draws the print through a set of rollers, spreading a secret chemical concoction across the surface of the exposed negative and positive papers. You then had to carefully time the process, making sure it was neither too hot or too cold, then peel it apart. Most times you ended up with an image that was either too bright or too dark, so you had to start over. It was sheer genius and Polaroid couldn't lose with prints working out at around a pound a pop (and that was when a pound was worth something...). 

 

What Happened To It?

The 330 was phased out in the early 1970s to be replaced by a new range increasingly elaborate instant cameras and although briefly challenged by the likes of Kodak and Fuji, Polaroid was the only game in town if you wanted a picture on paper in a hurry. Then it all came crashing down in the early 1990s with the first stirrings of digital cameras. It took another ten years before digicams and colour printer technology came of age but it was all downhill from and eventually even professional photographers, who had kept the technology afloat, bailed out.

 

This one is a boot sale bargain, it cost £5.00 (haggled down from £8.00) and it came complete with the original flashgun, leather carry case and even the instructions. It is in fantastic condition and I have every reason to suppose it is good working order but I'll have to wait until I can find a film for it.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                         1969

Original Price                   £40

Value Today?                   £25 0711

Features:                          Instant camera, 2-element 114mm, f/8.8 lens, rangefinder focus, auto ‘electric eye’ shutter manual iris (lighten/darken), 75/3000 asa colour/black and white film, film timer, detachable flashgun

Power req.                        n/a

Weight:                             1kg

Dimensions:                     200 x 150 x 75mm

Made in:                            USA

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):   51


 

Chinon 722-P Classic Super 8 Cine, 1973

I have to admit straight away that I never got on with cine. It always seemed to involve a lot of time, effort and expense for very little result. There’s only so much you can cram into a 3-minute home movie and in most cases it’s just a few wonky shots of kids cavorting on the beach. Nevertheless, I absolutely love the mixture of precision mechanics and technology, and it came to a peak in the seventies, just before it was killed stone dead by video.

 

The Chinon 722-P Classic featured here is a prime example; it’s a mid-range ‘family’ model that uses Super 8 film cartridges, developed in the 1960s. As the name suggests the film used is 8mm wide, each cartridge holds 50 feet of film, enough to 3 minutes and 20 seconds of shooting. This model has only a handful of controls, the start/stop button on the handgrip and zoom rocker on the top. There’s also an on/off switch on the side and a battery test button on the top, and that’s it. Just load four AA cells into the handle, pop in a film cartridge, frame the shot in the optically coupled viewfinder and press the Start button. Everything is automatic and the only decision you need to take when to start and stop recording. When the film is finished you send it off to be developed. The more adventurous, and those making, shall we say more exotic sorts of films, could develop them at home, usually with nothing more complicated than a bucket and a bottle or two readily available chemicals.

 

The real problem was cine came when the film was returned and the need to mess about setting up a screen and a projector. On the plus side editing was really easy, all you needed was a pair of scissors and some sticky tape. Another major advantage of cine, that’s been long forgotten in the age of video, was that with so little filming time to play around with the need to think carefully about each shot meant that each shot counted and little was wasted.

 

The Chinon 722-P is really sturdily made, very well balanced and since this one is still working faultlessly after more 30 years, you can take it as read that it was very reliable.

 

What happened to it?

In a word, video. The first clumsy and overweight portable video outfits appeared in the late 1970s but they were little of no threat to cine. Then in the early 1980s the first camcorders were launched, they were still large and clumsy but by the mid 80s small hand-held models were coming out of the woodwork. Prices fell and by the late 80s cine was dead. Ironically it wasn’t until the mid 90s that video picture quality started to beat top-end cine but it was all over for film. There’s a still a small hard core of enthusiasts and cine cameras are a regular at car boot sales (this one cost me £2.00) so there are plenty of bargains to be had but grab-em quick, they are disappearing fast.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1972

Original Price                   £100.00

Value Today?                   £15 0411

Features:                          2 x power zoom, auto exposure, through-the-lens optical viewfinder
Power req.                        4 x AA

Weight:                             0.8kg

Dimensions:                     180 x 53 x 180 mm

Made in:                            Japan

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):     4


Kodak EK2 ‘The Handle’ 1977 (manual)

Instant cameras were all the rage in the sixties and seventies, remember, there were no digital cameras back then. The concept was brilliant, the film developed on the spot, so no waiting for prints to come back from the chemist. It was sold as a fun, family friendly technology.

However, although the cameras were comparatively cheap, film packs were horribly expensive, costing around ten times as much as normally developed film and everyone knew most instant cameras were bought by people who wanted to take pictures that were, shall we say, of a ‘private’ nature…

Incidentally, in 1977 Polaroid developed an ‘Instant Movie’ camera system, called Polavision, it was a huge flop, and the timing was dreadful, coming just a couple of years before the first video movie systems.

 

Polaroid had the instant still camera market pretty much to themselves but in the mid seventies Kodak and several other manufacturers bought out instant film cameras, though as we shall see Polaroid were not about to give up their market dominance without a fight.

 

The Kodak EK2 dates from 1977 and was quickly dubbed ‘The Handle’ because of the large handgrip. It’s very easy to use, pop in a 10-shot PR10 pack, crank the handle and its ready to go, the film number is shown in a small window on the back. To take a shot frame your subject in the optical viewfinder, pull back on the large blue shutter button on the right side, crank the handle and out comes the print, which develops in daylight in a couple of minutes.

 

If the picture was too light or dark there’s a crude exposure control on the lens, operated by a thumbwheel. Indoors or in the dark you clipped on a Flip Flash, which contains a set of 10 flashbulbs. Like the Flashcube it was a brilliant way of extorting money from users, with Flip Flash bars costing several times as much as the equivalent number of single-shot flashbulbs. 

 

What Happened to It?

Kodak’s dalliance with Instant Film cameras lasted from 1976 to 1986 and was brought to an abrupt end following a two-year lawsuit bought against the company by Polaroid, for infringing its patents. Part of the ruling was that Kodak had to stop production and compensate stranded camera owners. Anyone who owned one could return it to Kodak in return for a cash, coupons and rebates. This meant that although millions of them were made relatively few are still in circulation. Unfortunately there’s little or no possibility of this or any other Kodak instant camera ever working again but makes an interesting addition to any gadget collection. Good examples, complete with case and accessories can only increase in value.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                        1977

Original Price                   £40

Value Today?                   £20 0211

Features:                          10-shot Instant camera, manual ‘lighten-darken’ exposure control, 10-shot ‘Flashbar/Flipflash’, manual wind

Power req.                        6V ‘J’ Battery

Weight:                             0.8kg (ex film pack)

Dimensions:                      140 x 175 x 140 mm

Made in:                            England

Hen’s Teeth (10 rarest):  6


Kodak Instamatic Camera & Magicubes 1972

Two for the price of one this week with the Kodak Instamatic 56X and the ‘Magicube’. The Instamatic camera range started in 1963 and was the first commercially successful attempt to create a totally idiot-proof camera using a drop in film cartridge. The ‘126’ cartridge was fully enclosed and all you had to do was pop it in the back of the camera, wind it on, point and shoot.

 

It all sounds a bit obvious now but before then you had to faff around with roll film, threading it onto a roller that more often than not didn’t wind the film on properly. 126 Instamatics remained tremendously popular for more than 10 years. The 56X was nothing special, just one of hundreds of very basic fixed focus and exposure manual wind cameras made by Kodak and countless other manufacturers but because they were so cheap and cheerful they were regarded as semi-disposable so probably not that many have survived.

 

The amazing Magicube really deserves its own Dustygizmo slot. What makes Magicubes really clever is the fact that they are pyrotechnic, rather than electrical devices. As you probably know one-shot flashbulbs are filled with a fine magnesium ribbon that’s ‘fired’ by passing a small current through an element. This heats up the magnesium so that it burns and gives off a brilliant flash of light. Magicubes were more like small fireworks. They are fired by the camera pressing a pin in the base of the bulb. It works a bit like striking a match, setting off the magnesium in the bulb. It’s simple, reliable (mostly) and there’s no need for batteries. More importantly for Kodak and the other manufacturers they were very profitable as they cost several times as much as ordinary flashbulbs   

 

What happened to it?

Magicubes were always a bit of a con, most users disliked them because they were expensive and incredibly wasteful and they all but disappeared when cheap electronic flash systems were developed.

 

Sales of 126 Instamatics had started to tail off by the early 1970s so Kodak introduced the 110 cartridge format in 1973, which enabled cameras to be made even smaller and cuter. After an initial burst of interest that too started to wane, so Kodak’s next attempt to maintain their market share was the ‘Disc’ camera format in 1982 (pencilled in for a future Gadget of the Week). It didn’t do very well and by that time first generation digital still cameras were just starting to appear.

 

Kodak never saw it coming and plugged away with its core photographic film business and in 1994 it introduced its last gasp effort, the clever but ultimately doomed APS format. But by then it was too late, digital photography had started to take off, Kodak belatedly jumped aboard the bandwagon but it lost out by being so slow and it has seen its film camera business virtually disappear. But relics like these live on and are becoming collectable, especially the more elaborate Instamatics; there was even an SLR type. Look out too for Disc cameras; because of the format’s lack of popularity and relatively short life they are comparatively rare and good examples could become a worthwhile investment. Check out the Kodak Classics website for everything you ever wanted to know about these cameras.


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                   1972

Original Price               c £20

Value Today?              £1 0111

Features:                     Fixed focus f/11, 43mm lens, 1/50th sec shutter, manual wind, Magicube socket, optical viewfinder

Power req.                   n/a

Weight:                        200g

Dimensions:                110 x 65 x 60 (very approx)

Made in:                       England

Rarity:                          4 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)


Nimslo 3D Camera 1980

Named after its US inventors, Dr Jerry Nims and Allan Lo, the Nimslo camera was one of the most successful attempts at a 3D photographic system to date. Prototypes were developed in the late 1970s and it finally went on sale in 1980 for around £80; the cameras were built in the UK, by Timex Ltd. at its Dundee plant.

 

It’s an ingenious design and one of the key selling points was that it used ordinary 35mm film. When you click the shutter it takes four images through each of its four lenses. The horizantal distance between the lenses -- the outer ones are spaced approximately to equal to that of our own eyes -- means that each image is taken from very slightly different angle to it neighbour. The really clever part, though, is in the processing. The four images are layered one on top of each other, and on top of that is a thin, grooved transparent film, called a ‘Lenticular’ screen. The grooves act like prisms, so as you alter the angle of the print you see the different layers, giving a strong impression of depth.  It’s a bit like one of those toy badges, where the image changes as you move it

 

What Happened to it?

Nimslo prints could look spectacular but it took practice to get it just right as you had to pose your subjects and any objects in the field of view to ensure that they were at the optimum distances from the lens, to get the full 3D effect.

 

Unfortunately only a couple of laboratories were able to handle the special process; it took weeks, sometimes months to get a film developed and it was eye-wateringly expensive. The camera limped on for around 10 years, sustained by a small band of devotees, but it simply cost too much and it was never going to be become a mass-market product. A specialist company in Canada still provides a processing service for Nimslo film and a number of the other 3D cameras that have come (and mostly) gone over the years. If you would like to know more about this fascinating topic pop along to  stereoscopy.com. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:                    1980

Original Price               £80

Value Today?               £100 1210

Features:                     Continuously variable electronically controlled shutter, fixed focus (1:5 6/30mm) lenses, 35mm film 100 - 400 ASA, manual wind and rewind, flash hot shoe, cable release socket, double exposure prevention

Power req.                   2 x alkaline button cells

Weight:                        0.35kg (ex batteries)

Dimensions:                 137 x 74 x 43(very approx)

Made in:                      UK

Rarity:                          8 (1 = common, 10 = Hen's teeth)

 

 

 

 

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