Camera Reviews

Ansco Standard Speedex

In the 1940s and 1950s, Ansco offered a line of folding cameras with Speedex in the name, all of which made square photographs on 120 film. Ansco manufactured some of the models while Agfa manufactured the rest, which makes sense as Agfa and Ansco were one company. Speedexes were available with a number of lens and shutter combinations of increasing capability. Ansco manufactured this one, the Ansco Standard Speedex, in 1950, and it was closer to the bottom of the range.

Ansco Standard Speedex

The Standard Speedex is refreshingly simple. It features a 90mm f/6.3 Ansco Anastigmat lens, set in a self-cocking Ansco leaf shutter that operates at 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 second, plus time (press the shutter button once to open the shutter, and again to close it). It focuses from 3½ feet to infinity. That’s it.

Ansco Standard Speedex

Press the button right next to the viewfinder on top to pop the door open, and pull the door down until it locks to extend the bellows. Dial in aperture and shutter speed, dial in subject distance, compose, and press the shutter button. The viewfinder isn’t huge, but it doesn’t feel cramped, and it gives a clear view.

Ansco Standard Speedex

The wind knob is big and sure. I thought surely its reverse cant would make it hard to use, but I was wrong. It reads “B2/120” because Ansco used its own size codes for its films, and B2 is equivalent to 120.

If you like medium-format folding cameras, check out my review of the Ansco B2 Speedex (here), the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here), the Kodak Monitor Six-20 (here), the Kodak Tourist (here), and the Voigtländer Bessa (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I like folding cameras of this size and shape. I also like making square photographs. I do not, however, like having a top shutter speed of only 1/100. 1/250 is better, and 1/500 is better still, because they let me more easily shoot fast films and get shallow depth of field with slow films. The similar Ansco B2 Speedex has a top shutter speed of 1/250 and is available on the used market for about the same money as this Standard Speedex.

The slowest film I had on hand was Ilford FP4 Plus at ISO 125. That meant on a sunny day I was going to be shooting at f/16 and f/22. Everything within a mile of that lens would be in focus. But that was probably the design goal of a camera like this. For an amateur photographer, it would have been a step up from a box camera. Shooting 1/100 and f/16 meant it wasn’t critical to get focus exactly right, as you’d have huge depth of field. The wide exposure latitude of consumer films like Kodak Verichrome Pan (also ISO 125) meant that you didn’t have to get exposure exactly right, either. It was perfect for the everyday shooter.

Welcome to McDonald's

Snapshooters who bought the Ansco Standard Speedex were looking for a better lens than they’d find in a box camera, but to get it they had to learn a little about exposure. Surely, most of them just used the Sunny 16 rule. That’s what I did for most of this roll.

Country road

You could get Kodak Panatomic-X film then, too, which was ISO 25, 32, or 40, depending on when it was manufactured. That film would have allowed photographers to get shallower depth of field for portraits if they wanted it. I’ve not been able to find any information about the speeds of Ansco’s own films.

Grand old house

The lens’s f/6.3 minimum aperture means that with an ISO 100 or 125 film, you’re not making low-light photographs. But you could shoot your family picnic under an overcast sky and be fine. I never put this Standard Speedex to that test as I was fortunate to have bright, sunny days while I had film in it.

Clubhouse

As I began riding my bike this season, I carried the Standard Speedex in the saddlebag. I’ve carried other cameras that way, usually little 35mm point and shoots. I can fire off a shot almost on the fly with one of those cameras, but not so the Standard Speedex. It takes a minute to open it, make sure the aperture and shutter speed are right, and then frame. At least I didn’t have to also cock the shutter, as is common on cameras of this type. The shutter button takes a little effort to press, but mine could be a little gunky after 70 years. The red window on the back gave a commanding view of the frame numbers on the film’s backing paper.

Whitestown Municipal Complex

I wasn’t able to find any information about the lens’s design, but as an anastigmat lens it’s bound to have more than one element. I got a fair amount of contrast straight off the scanner. I toned it down a little in Photoshop.

Mail station

Before I loaded this camera with film, I tried to identify pinholes in the bellows by taking into a dark room and shining a bright flashlight inside. I found a couple and dabbed black fabric paint on to close them up. This is probably only a temporary fix, but it’s good enough for testing the camera. I missed at least one, however, as several of my images showed light leaks. Oh well.

Passat

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Ansco Standard Speedex gallery.

Cameras like the Ansco Standard Speedex are easy to come by and don’t cost much. Mine was a donation to the collection, but these go for 20 bucks on eBay all the time. As you can see, it is capable of good, sharp images. It’s easy and pleasant to use. But you can buy the Ansco B2 Speedex for about the same money, and it has that 1/250 second shutter rather than the Standard Speedex’s 1/100 second shutter. I’d choose the B2 Speedex if I were in the market.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Standard

10 thoughts on “Ansco Standard Speedex

  1. There is something I find visually satisfying about these old folding cameras. If I were to put an old camera on a shelf just to look at, it would be one of these.

  2. Andy Umbo says:

    I love these format cameras, large format yet “pocketable”. My first camera was a Kodak folder that took 620 and shot a 6X7 frame, better results than some of the cameras I had afterwards.

    I remember sending folders in for bellows replacements when I lived in Chicago, in the late 80’s, and it didn’t seem to be that much of a problem, or really that expensive. Just took it to a local camera store and they sent it somewhere. I had two 120 folders bellows replaced. When I look back on my life in photography, I think a lot of those type of services that were hanging on from the old days, kind of died out in the late 80’s and early 90’s, by the mid-90’s they all seemed to be “gone”. Even 620 was available off the shelf until 1995. I look at late night TV ads for “Flex Seal” and wonder if there’s something in that for bellows fixing? My 8X10 Deardorff need a new bellows and I thought I might take it off, spray it with black Flex Seal, and let it dry and see if it works. What could go wrong?

    BTW, the dirty little secret about those type of leaf shutters is that they’re really inaccurate at high and low speeds. I even had a Compur rebuilt recently, and it was easily off by almost a stop at the higher speeds, best they could do. They always seem to be dead on between about 1/25th, 1/30th, to about 1/125th or 1/200th, dependent on manufacturer. And here’s the secret: Use a 2-stop green filter! Drops Tri-X to ASA 100, Ilford FP-4, to about ASA 30, and lightens green foliage to a nice tone, and makes skin tones a little darker. All good. And you can drop your shutter speeds to a lower, more accurate range. Your Speedex probably uses a “press-fit” series filter holder, and all that info is on line, trouble will be finding one, but eBay’s got all those do-dads!

    • The Certo6 guy does bellows replacements, but it’s not inexpensive. I don’t know of anyone else who does!

      Interesting note about the faster leaf shutters. I would have assumed it was age that made them less accurate. I did a quick skim of eBay for green filters and didn’t find much, but I’m sure with persistence over time I’d find one.

  3. Andy Umbo says:

    Here’s a expressing the “press on” series filter system for older cameras…gonna be hard to find those to fit, but they used to be all over:

    http://throughavintagelens.com/2013/09/vintage-filter-systems/

    Here’s a whole page of X1 green filters on eBay!:

    https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_trksid=p2380057.m570.l1313&_nkw=Green+X1+filter+series&_sacat=0

    You know, in the olden day, a lot of view camera guys just automatically used a green filter for better tonality! Modern “panchromatic” film is really “near” panchromatic, the green filter makes it closer…

    • Ah, I see that my search wasn’t specific enough as I didn’t know exactly what these were called. I used to have a bunch of press-on holders for filters like that. I might still have a couple. I should check, and if I do, see if they fit onto the Speedex. Would be interesting to try that green filter with some HP5.

  4. Yup; had a couple of the Ansco Speedex cameras. One with 85mm Agnar & Vario 200 shutter, one with 85mm Apotar and Prontor 300. As you said, they made a lot of variations! There were similar cameras, like the less expensive Vikings, during the Agfa-Ansco years (they weren’t always the same company) as well. All serviceable even if unexciting. Then GAF bought them and … well that was the end.

    • You had some of the better Speedexes. You can tell because the shutters were named. The ones that didn’t name the shutter on the front used simple Ansco leaf shutters, like this Standard Speedex does. Doesn’t mean they were bad cameras, just not quite as capable.

  5. Nice! I have an Agfa Isolette I picked up a few months ago that looks pretty similar to this. I need to shoot it more but just haven’t found the motivation. This blog post helps.

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