When I was 25 I dated a photographer. My camera collection amused her and she encouraged me to shoot with the cameras for which film was still available. I had a few box cameras – they were incredibly plentiful in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I collected them. Most of them took film that hadn’t been manufactured in decades, but one, an Ansco B-2 Cadet, took still-available 120 film. My girlfriend shot 120 all the time, so she brought me a roll of Kodak Plus-X. Except that the Cadet’s viewfinders were dim and hard to use, I had fun shooting the roll. She processed the film and made prints for me. I posted one of the photos a long time ago; go see it here.
When I started collecting again a few years ago I decided to focus on finer equipment. But lately some of the camera-collecting bloggers I follow have been getting some delightful images from their box cameras. I wanted to join the party, so I went box shopping. I decided to look only at post-war cameras that took 120 film, because later box cameras usually had better viewfinders and 120 film is still manufactured. That knocked out the entire line of Kodaks, which all took 620 film. 620 is just 120 on a narrower spool, and you can respool 120 onto those spools or buy the film already respooled. I’ve done that, but it’s losing its allure. That made the Ansco Shur Shot the obvious choice.
Ansco was probably second to Kodak in popularity; they cranked out basic cameras by the thousands. They started making Shur Shots in about 1935. In those days, the company that owned Ansco also owned German camera and film maker Agfa, so you’ll find Shur Shots with the Agfa logo on them, too. US companies that owned, or were owned by, German firms were ordered to divest during World War II, so later Shur Shots like mine are Ansco only.
The Shur Shot is made mostly of cardboard, with metal plates fore and aft and a little wood behind the faceplate for rigidity and to hold the single-element meniscus lens. The aperture is probably about f/13. The shutter, which probably operates at 1/60 sec., is in front of the lens. Loading the film involves removing a contraption from the box and spooling film around it, as the diagram at right shows. There are two viewfinders – one on top for horizontally oriented shots and one on the side for vertically oriented shots. To frame the shot, hold the camera at about bellybutton level and look down into the viewfinder. Then to get the picture, gently slide the shutter lever down and let it spring back. And with that, I have described probably nine of every ten box cameras made.
One sunny afternoon I knocked off work a little early, spooled some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros into my Shur Shot, and headed for Holliday Park. I got the best shot of the day there.
I was also pleased with this shot of the walking path through the park.
On the way home I stopped by Juan Solomon Park. This building was built there last year; I think it has something to do with the sanitary sewer project in my area. It has a sod roof! But it was the contrast between the white framing and the darkness inside through the windows that made me stop for a photograph. Everywhere the sun reflected off something light colored, the camera and film couldn’t cope well, as you can see on the forward edge of the building’s roof.
If you look at these photos at their full scanned size, you can see that the images are a little hazy. Focus is a little soft; the corners are extremely soft and a little distorted. Those characteristics are typical of the entire box-camera genre. But as you can see the images are more than serviceable. For the cost, ease of use, and quality of images the Shur Shot delivers, it’s no wonder that families everywhere used cameras just like this to capture their lives for so much of the 20th century.
Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection!