Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Ansco B2 Speedex

12

I have had quite the medium-format fever this year as I’ve quested for a pleasing shooter that takes 120 film. I could probably have stopped at the Agfa Clack because it was so easy to use and gave such pin-sharp results. But I already had a few other 120 cameras in the to-use queue, and I couldn’t resist buying a couple more because the price was right. This may end up being the Great Medium-Format Winter at Down the Road!

This Ansco B2 Speedex was one of those cameras I couldn’t resist buying, not just because I got it for cheap, but because it takes square photographs. I love square photos!

Ansco B2 Speedex

Ansco made several folding cameras using the Speedex name in the 1940s. They had near doppelgängers in Agfa’s Isolette line; Agfa and Ansco were one company in those days. The B2 Speedex was made starting in about 1940 and as best as I can tell was the entry-level Speedex camera. But in this case entry level didn’t mean cheap; it came with an 85 mm f/4.5 Agfa Anastigmat lens. I couldn’t find an authoritative answer about this lens’s design (three elements? four?), but anastigmat lenses are fully corrected against aberrations, which costs.  The unnamed leaf shutter fired at speeds from 1/2 to 1/250 sec.

Ansco (and sister company Agfa) folding cameras from this period are notorious for bellows full of pinholes that leak light all over your film. I was so delighted to get this camera that I dropped a roll of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros right into it without checking the bellows first. Hoping to guard against light leaks, I just kept the camera closed until I was ready to shoot. I had business in nearby Zionsville, so I took the Speedex along. Its downtown is rustic and charming.

Black Dog Books

A few of my photos came back with my intended subject not quite in focus, like this one. I meant to focus on the sign, but in the photo it is a little fuzzy while the steps behind it are crisp. The B2 Speedex offers no focusing help to the photographer; I must have guessed wrong. The day was very cloudy, so I shot the lens nearly wide open, which reduced my depth of field and therefore my margin for focusing error.

Pumpkin Spice Soup

The B2 Speedex also offers no help reading the light, so I got out my GE PR-1 exposure meter. The light across my little car was interesting, so I shot it, for probably the hundredth time.

Matrix

Ok, so here’s the hundred and first time. I was trying for shallow depth of field, and got it.

Matrix fanny

The little barn in my back yard is another frequent subject, one well suited to the square photograph. This is probably the strongest composition I’ve managed of it. I’d better screw some plywood to the back of that one door along the bottom, or I’m gonna have critters living in there with my lawn tractor.

Barn

The Speedex’s lens was acceptably sharp but isn’t among the sharpest lenses in my old folders. I was pleased to find no darkening in the corners, though.

Check out my Ansco B2 Speedex gallery for more shots. I really enjoyed using the B2 Speedex. I’ll be sure to check the bellows for pinholes, and patch any I find, before I use it again.

Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection!

12 thoughts on “Ansco B2 Speedex

  1. Dani

    Did you go inside Black Dog Books? In one of the back room are author autographed autobiographies which I thought to be neat. I also like that at the front door is kept a water bowl and snacks for our canine friends.

    1. Jim Post author

      I did not! I was focused, so to speak, on my photography. But I’m not surprised to learn about the water bowl and doggie treats; that strikes me as very downtown Zionsville.

  2. ryoko861

    I find it astonishing how well your older cameras still take great pictures. Granted there’s darkening corners or some aren’t focusing like they used to, but they all seem to take a nice picture! This camera did a great job! It’s cool looking too!

    1. Jim Post author

      We were pretty smart even 100 years ago and could come up with some crackerjack lens designs! The rest is really just making sure you have a lightproof box to set the lens in.

  3. Lone Primate

    Oh, that depth of field shot was just for me, wasn’t it? :D

    So where on Earth are you still finding film that suits these cameras, especially in black and white?

  4. Scott Palmer

    That Ansco B2 Speedex is a beautiful camera. And may I also compliment your photo of it? I’m no expert, but it’s well lit and the colorful background complements the camera without drawing attention away from it.

    BTW, re Black Dog books: “black dog” was what Winston Churchill used to call his bouts of depression. Yes, all the best people have it. :-)

    1. Jim Post author

      Scott, thanks. I shoot all of my cameras in my living room on the coffee table. The lighting conditions aren’t perfect but I make them work. I, too, like the colors in the background, though the camera collectors on Flickr tend to shoot their vintage cameras on all-white backgrounds and that’s kind of the standard.

      I’ve used the term “black curtain” to describe the worst I’ve been through.

  5. James

    The Ansco Speedex and Agfa Isolette are some of the most enjoyable cameras I’ve ever used.
    I had a chance to walk all around southern France and Southern Spain with a matched pair of Ansco Speedex cameras (one BW the other loaded with Kodak Portra 160). It was like a dream. So light and versatile. The images were so lush and detailed.

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