Early to midcentury cameras are popular now, both among practitioners of old-fashioned film photography and vintage collectors looking to create attractive displays. Many come with matching leather cases and straps and other accessories that add to their vintage appeal. I’ve picked up a few these cameras at estate sales lately and have been learning a bit about their history and features in order to list them in my Etsy shop.
Although I dabble in photography, I am by no means experienced in using old cameras or well-versed on their technical features. However, I did start my journalism career back in the days when young reporters often took their own photos with actual film. I never set out on an assignment without a fully stocked camera bag, which came to seem like my de facto purse. I wish I still had the Pentax 35mm I carried back then but alas I seem to have given it away during one of our many moves, not anticipating that they would come back into fashion.
Anyway, here are a few of my favorite camera finds of late. I absolutely love the worn-in leather of the cases and straps!
Genos Rapid. The Genos Rapid is a German box camera introduced in 1950 that was made of Bakelite. Box cameras did not have all the bells and whistles of more technologically sophisticated cameras but their simplicity was a big part of their appeal for the general public and inspired many people to try their hand at photography. The earliest box cameras were made of wood or metal and allowed no control over focus, aperture, or shutter speed. The Genos Rapid offered a few more frills, such as a shutter button, a flash sync socket, and switches that allow you to choose aperture settings. For these reasons, the Genos is still popular among serious collectors who actually use the cameras they buy. However, it’s boxy appearance also gives it a very appealing vintage look. This one also came with its original leather case and sold quite quickly. I’m now on the lookout for more!
Argus C3. This lovely looking camera was introduced in 1957 and was nicknamed the “brick” for its boxy shape and solid construction. Rick Schuster, who writes about photography at Shot on Film, says the Argus C3 is “beautiful in its weirdness,” with strange design features involving dials, knobs, and lens stuck to the outside. However, it was a best-selling camera in its day and all the exterior gadgets were sometimes a selling point, making it seem more legit from a technical standpoint. It was also reasonably priced compared with other 35mm cameras. I love this one that I found at an estate sale because it was obviously so well cared for by its owner, who–judging by all the framed photographs and art books on display throughout the home–was an avid and skilled photographer. It also came with a very nice case in near-mind condition, as you can see in the photos below.
Voigtlander Vitomatic I. This model was made in Germany from 1957-60 by Voigtlander, a very old and established company that was founded in 1756. The first generation of Vitomatics were viewfinders as opposed to the rangefinder models that followed later. Made entirely of metal and glass, this camera is quite compact and extremely sturdy. A cool feature noted on the photography site, Lomography: the Vitomatic I never needs a battery because the selenium meter absorbs power from the light in front if it. As for the technical details, this camera has a Prontor-SLK shutter and a color Skopar lens 2.8/50. It comes in it’s original leather case, although the strap is missing and there are a few scuffs on the leather–but I really like the worn-in look.
Voigtlander Prominent. Voigtlander is a stalwart in the camera world and the company was known for its quality construction and technological innovations. It was the first to introduce a zoom lens and built-in flash units for 35mm cameras. The Prominent, a 35mm rangefinder, is among it’s top achievements but was probably been ahead of it’s time, according to CameraPedia, which notes that it wasn’t as popular as some of it’s competitors, such as Leica and Contax, when it came out in 1950. The Prominent was the most “intelligent” of the top German cameras but it’s quirky design made it less attractive to casual photographers. “The public was not ready for such a product,” says CameraPedia, “It needed some knowledge of optics. Today we can state that its basic design is still ahead of general top products.” Desirable features of this model include its Synchro-Compur shutter and Ultron 1:2/50 lens. This particular camera, which I purchased from the estate of an avid photographer, also includes a vintage metal film canister and cylindrical leather case. The case attaches to the leather strap, giving the photographer easy access to film while out on a shoot. Plus, it looks really cool!
Agfa Super Solina. This 35mm rangefinder camera by Agfa was made in Germany in the early 1960s. The Super Solina, also sold as the Super Silette, is part of Agfa’s Silette series that started in 1955. It has a flat top plate, a recessed rewind knob flush with the top, a top flash attachment plate, and a Prontor-SVS shutter. This camera comes with a nice weathered leather case that is missing it’s strap. Agfa is another well-known name in photography. The company’s roots extend back to mid-19th century Germany, when it produced it’s first box camera in 1930 and its first 35mm in 1937. The Silette series introduced more modern design elements, including an autoexposure button and capability for 126mm film. It produced it’s last film cameras in the early 1980s and gave up production in 1983.