English Cameras & their Lenses (ii)

Jethro, Going Postal

Subtly different from the two ‘iconic’ German cameras in my part i, are these two English equivalents from the 1950s: the Reid, arguably a better-than-copy of the post-war Leica, and the Microflex of 1960 – close in style to the Rolleiflex, and, like the Reid, endowed with a fine ‘TTH’ lens, but with a less well-developed film-wind. The Reid went on sale in 1951, at a price of £118:12s:6d (equivalent today to £3870 53p); the Microflex’s earlier ‘Cord ‘copy’, the Microcord of 1956, cost £62: 2s: (almost £10 cheaper than the Rolleicord V), £1550: 66 in today’s terms. A man in Hong Kong is offering for sale currently, a Microflex, which, reading between the lines, has a damaged shutter, for $1,000; Reid’s, with their lenses (often sold separately) come up from time to time at prices between £1,000 and £3,000 – not just for their rarity/collectable status, but because of Reid & Sigrist’s fine engineering and TTH’s fine lens. So, even ‘a broken Reid’ (if such a thing exists!) would be worth having, and Celestion, the company making then ‘ok-ish’ speakers, was the parent company behind the MPP products. ‘Wiki tells us this:

“MPP’s first major product was the Micro-Technical Camera, in 1948. This was far in advance of any other camera produced in Britain. Mark II followed in 1949; Mark III in 1951; Marks VI, VII and VIII in 1952, 1956, and 1963. (Marks IV and V were not sold.) These had the full versatility and quality of technical cameras; some long remained in professional use.”

All the English lens-makers had been ‘conscripted’ during the War – Taylor,Taylor, and Hobson hugely expanding their premises and work-force, Ross and Wray turning out binoculars, gun-sights and camera lenses, for all three parts of the Armed Services, Ensign and ‘A.G.I’ (Aeronautical and General Instruments) making cameras both for Aerial (‘the Agiflite’) and ground use (‘The Commando’), hence Desperate Dan’s Aunt Aggie (who never, I suppose, ‘went commando’) jocular invocation in my ‘quiz’. Ensigns are, to my mind always worth saluting if not waving about, being innovatively designed and generally very well-made: where other camera-makers often used ‘front-cell’ focusing, where the simplicity (and cheapness) was at the expense of image-quality.

Jethro, Going Postal

‘Ensign’ used radial-arm focusing, where the lens/shutter and front standard all moved back and forth, the front-end of that ‘radial-arm’ indicating the focus and depth of field  on the curved plate, or, even more elaborately, ‘film-plane’ focusing, where the problem was tackled  ‘from the other end’ by moving the film-plane and film back and forth Below, is a picture I took of one of my own ‘Selfix 220 Autoranges’ and its ‘radial-arm’, looking down from above the viewfinder; you might just be able to make out the ‘depth of field ‘scale markings on either side of the distance mark. I think, if I were American, I’d probably say, ‘Kind o’ neat, huh?’

Jethro, Going Postal

Later, top-of-the-range Ensigns were given the justly renowned Ross ‘Xpres’ lens, first marketed by Ross, in an f4.5 version, in 1914, and steadily improved and adapted, until its post-war ‘bloomed’ f3.8 version, still highly regarded, not least, in America. Should you happen to have an Ensign Selfix 820 Autorange, do get in touch with me!  A poor Witness or a good Advocate ? Well, the latter’s  lens was the Dallmeyer ‘Super Six’ which, on its own, can fetch thousands! The Witness, after teething troubles, came on sale in 1953, priced at £121: 16: 8d: today’s equivalent is £3336.67. If you spot one, buy it: it’s probably currently worth at least £5,000, while if it has the ‘Daron’  lens, because rarer than the ‘Super Six’ you could give it an asking price of about four times that!

Jethro, Going Postal

Just as a ‘teaser’ – because there’s bound to be a pt.iii, I’m afraid – which respected German/Austrian came to England to learn how to make lenses, prior to 1808? Oh, and Lancaster, as well as being the name of a Bomber, was the name of an excellent firm of Birmingham camera and lens-makers from the 19th. C.

Jethro, Going Postal

[I disclaim any mis-spellings in the U-tube title]
 

© Jethro 2018
 

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