Cameras, Photography

Certo Super Sport Dolly, Model A

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What I like about old folding cameras is how elemental they are. You get a lens and a shutter, but everything else is up to you. Plus, even the most straightforwardly styled of them look elegant.

It’s like having a beautiful but difficult girlfriend. Especially when something’s wrong in the relationship and she leaves it entirely up to you to fix it. That’s how it has gone for me with this Certo Super Sport Dolly.

Certo Super Sport Dolly

Certo was a German company, headquartered in Dresden. It produced a wide range of Super Sport Dollys (Dollies?) from about 1934 to about 1942. Mine is a Model A, the most common version by far. It takes 120 film. SSDs could be had with a dizzying array of lenses and shutters, but mine happens to feature the most common lens, the capable 75mm f/2.9 Meyer Görlitz Trioplan, set in the most comon shutter, a Compur, which operates from 1 to 1/250 second.

Certo also offered the Model B, which adds the ability to use plate film, and the Model C, which adds to the Model B the ability to rewind rollfilm. Most SSDs have a pop-up viewfinder, but the Models A and C could be had with rangefinders. And some SSDs focus by twisting the front lens element, and others focus by moving the entire lens board.

Certo Super Sport DollyCerto Super Sport Dolly

But back to my Model A. Notice the three frame-counter windows on the back, behind a door that covers them. Masks that clip on inside the camera let the SSD create either portrait 4.5×6-cm or square 6×6-cm negatives. The top and bottom windows count 4.5×6 frames and the center window counts 6×6 frames. My SSD came with only the 6×6 mask. New SSDs shipped with an exposure calculator card inside the door. As you can see, my SSD’s original owner replaced that card with some personal exposure notes.

Certo Super Sport Dolly

My SSD shows signs of heavy use and rough service. But the lens is clear and focuses smoothly. And the shutter snaps with square-jawed, steely-eyed authority. It sounds like it means business. It’s the Charles Bronson of shutters.

But before I could use this SSD, I had to repair it. The focusing mechanism was broken. I outlined the repair here. Once fixed, it behaved beautifully.

Ektar 100 is probably my favorite film for testing medium-format cameras because its exposure latitude leaves plenty of margin for error. I used a light-meter app on my iPhone as I shot my SSD, but Ektar would have let me confidently go commando with Sunny 16.

I shot this roll at Crown Hill Cemetery on an overcast day late last autumn. Just look at the great sharpness that Trioplan lens delivered. The bokeh is middling, though.

Test

I found it hard to frame in the tiny viewfinder. I worried that close shots would be misframed, and I was right. My framing of landscape shots turned out fine, though.

Autumn tree in Crown Hill

I shot a lot of landscapes to check the SSD’s infinity focus. A complete repair of the focusing system would have included properly collimating the lens. That sounded like a hassle so I set infinity focus quickly and dirtily. It turned out okay.

Autumn tree in Crown Hill

Oh bother, a light leak. See it there, on the right, about 4/5 of the way down? There really isn’t much to go wrong with a simple camera like this, but bellows pinholes is one of the most common problems. My cursory initial check of the camera didn’t find any pinholes, but I suppose that’s the problem with cursory checks.

Lane in Crown Hill

This throwaway shot of cars in my driveway shows the leak at its leakiest.

Cars

If you’d like to see more, check out my Certo Super Sport Dolly gallery.

I really liked using the SSD, and so here soon I’ll take it into a dark room and shine a bright flashlight into the bellows to look for pinholes. And then I’ll seal them with dabs of black fabric paint. And then I’ll spool in another roll of Ektar take this beautiful old girl out. Because beautiful old girls do love to be taken out.

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13 thoughts on “Certo Super Sport Dolly, Model A

  1. Very nice review of the Dolly. Those pinholes won’t take a minute to fix. Lately, I’ve been using a little halogen desk lamp to track them down. I turn the lamp on high and point the open lens at it with the back open. The pinholes really light up.

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  2. Ron says:

    Folders are fun. Just picked up an old Moskva 5, a Russian copy of a Zeiss Super Ikonta, with a rangefinder. It also has a mask for 6×6 and 6×9. Haven’t shot it yet, but with the sun finally out, you’re making me want to leave work early and burn through a roll.

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  3. Dan Cluley says:

    I have gone my entire life never realizing how much I wanted to read the words. “It’s the Charles Bronson of shutters” :)

    I have 3 or 4 folders ranging from a Kodak 828 up to a 4×5 Seneca. I am fascinated by the way they look, but between pinholes and alignment issues, my actual use has been mixed at best.

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  4. Nice post, Jim. That is a nice Dolly. I have always liked the compact nature of those square format folders. Right now, I am trying to get the focusing helical unstuck on my Agfa isolette. It’s already been in the naptha, now on to Acetone. If that fails, I’m just going to bash it with a hammer. (well, not really, but it is frustrating!)

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    • I’ve got an Isolette around here with the same problem. If you get yours unstuck, let me know how. I’m sitting right on the fence about whether to just toss the thing into the trash. I gather this is a common problem among Isolettes. I guess the grease in the helical hardens. I have a lovely table radio here with a similar problem in the tuning knob. The solution for that one, when it starts to act up, is to turn it over and turn it hard and fast repeatedly from end to end to loosen and redistribute the grease. I wonder if there’s a similar thing for an Isolette whose focusing still functions but is getting hard to turn.

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