Camera Reviews

Ansco Viking Readyset

Slim when closed, folding cameras were intended to fit in the pocket of a man’s jacket. The front of these cameras opened to unfold a long bellows with a lens at the end. Folding cameras were popular for several decades, but by the 1950s their popularity faded as other camera types supplanted them. One of Ansco’s last folding-camera gasps in the 1950s was its Viking line, at the bottom of which sat the Ansco Viking Readyset.

Ansco Viking Readyset

Produced from 1952 to 1959, the Viking Readyset features an f/11 Agfa Isomar lens of unknown focal length. This single-element lens sits behind the shutter. If you’re wondering why an Ansco camera features an Agfa lens, it’s because these two companies had been intertwined since 1928. They were one company until World War II, when the U.S. government broke them apart due to Agfa being German. After that, Ansco still often turned to Agfa for resources. Agfa made Viking cameras in Munich for Ansco.

Ansco Viking Readyset

The Viking Readyset offers two aperture settings, “Bright,” which I’m guessing is f/16, and “Hazy,” which is the full f/11. You choose this setting with a lever at the bottom of the lens housing. The shutter has two settings atop the lens housing: I (instant) and B (bulb). An old ad I found said that the shutter operates at at 1/40 sec. The shutter button is the long lever along the inside of the front door. Press it down to fire the shutter, which is a simple single leaf on a spring that does not require cocking.

Ansco Viking Readyset

The camera offers two focus zones, 5 to 10 feet and 10 feet to infinity, which you select with a lever on the side of the lens housing. The viewfinder is a simple pop-up “sports” type, on the same side of the body as the winder. The body is metal with a water-resistant coating that feels like it’s made of plastic. There’s a tripod mount on the faceplate, which is a nice touch. The camera also features a flash sync port. The Viking Readyset makes eight 6×9-cm images on a roll of 120 film.

“Readyset” was Ansco’s way of identifying a folding camera as being simple to use. You could buy far better specified Vikings than the Readyset. The top-line Viking featured an f/4.5 lens; the next one down an f/6.3 lens. Both were set in a shutter with a top speed of 1/200 sec. The Viking cameras cost $48.65, $34.95, and $19.95, respectively, when new. $19.95 is equivalent to about $215 today. In comparison, an Ansco box camera could be had for as little as $4.95, or about $55 today.

I’ve reviewed a couple other Agfa and Ansco folding cameras, including the Standard Speedex (here), the B2 Speedex (here), and the Isolette III (here). I’ve also reviewed the folding Kodak Monitor Six-20 (here), Tourist (here), and giant No. 3A Autographic (here); as well as Voigtländer’s original Bessa (here). You can see all of my camera reviews here.

I bought this Readyset Viking for $45 shipped, which is a fairly high price for such a simple camera. I took the plunge because this one appeared to be in very good condition. Unfortunately, the bellows turned out to be full of pinholes. This is a common malady among old folders. I dabbed a little black fabric paint on each hole to make the bellows light tight again.

To open the Viking Readyset, pull out the chromed tab on the front, and then pull the front open. To close the camera, press in the joint on both of the door’s struts, and then push the door closed. Closing the camera resets the focus to 10+ feet.

My test roll in the Viking Readyset was Ilford FP4 Plus, expired since December, 1994, but always stored frozen. To load film, first open the back by sliding the entire top plate (with the carry strap) to the side. Then lift up the chromed, hinged arm , place one end of the film roll on its post, and lower the arm as you place the other end of the film roll on the fixed post. It’s harder to explain than it is to do it. Then thread the end of the backing paper through the slot on the takeup spool, wind the camera a few times, close the back, and wind until the number 1 appears in the red window on the camera back.

Brick Street Inn Hotel

I shot all eight exposures at Zionsville’s annual Brick Street Market in early May. They close the main street and invite art and food vendors in.

Brick Street Market

It was a sunny day, so I left the Viking Readyset on its Bright (f/11) setting. I relied on FP4 Plus’s good exposure latitude — you can underexpose it by 1.5 stops and overexpose it by 6 stops.

Cover band

It’s easy to make a vertical image with the Viking Readyset thanks to the pop-up viewfinder. I found the viewfinder to be reasonably accurate, too. What you put in the center of the viewfinder shows up in the center of the image, and the lens “sees” only a little more around the edges than the viewfinder does. This is true when you focus beyond ten feet, anyway. The two images I made focused in the 5-10 foot range suffered from some parallax error. That 1/40 sec. shutter speed sure makes it easy to get blurry photos from camera shake, as here.

Kettle Korn

The 1/40 sec. shutter also won’t freeze action, as the two people walking in this image prove. The lens is reasonably sharp except in the corners, and as you can see there’s a little barrel distortion.

Flower Shop

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Ansco Viking Readyset gallery.

The Viking Readyset handled easily, in large part because there’s next to nothing to set. That’s the whole point of any Ansco camera with the Readyset name: all I had to do was select the distance range, frame the scene, press down the shutter button, and wind. While winding, you have to move the cover over the red window out of the way to see the frame number on the film’s backing paper.

I enjoyed using the Ansco Viking Readyset. It was no trouble to carry around by its handle, and it was quickly ready every time I wanted to make a photo. But I can see that the slow shutter is always going to put images at risk of being blurry due to shake, even though I have a very steady hand. I probably won’t use this camera again.

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7 thoughts on “Ansco Viking Readyset

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    I’ve owned a few of these type cameras over the years and the lenses inevitably turn out to be about 105mm. I’ve always wondered when a good “snap shot walking around lens” has always been slightly wide, why the camera companies insisted on putting a normal in these types of cameras. There would have been so many “pluses” to design with a slightly wde angle lenses, from smaller folding door, and shorter bellows, to more snap-shot depth of field, and less “blur effect” from movement.

    The bellows thing is really always annoying. I have an 8 X 10 Deardorf with a torn bellows, wating for a solution (probably buy one of the Chinese ones on eBay). Deardorf was notorius for making crap bellows that never lasted long, so that they would always have a repair business. Most of them used in studios were always “holey”, but you just threw a dark cloth over it and kept shooting. IN my own professional business, I always used a Hasselblad for 120 work (bellows not an issue), but many studios I worked in had Mamiya RB/RZ equipment, cameras with bellows. I bought a “beater” RB a while back for some work, and decided I love the oblong format vs. constantly shooting square, but worry about the long term fidelity of the bellows used on the camera and where to get replacement!

    • I have always assumed based on the specs of cameras like these that they were primarily used for exposures of people at 5 to 10 feet — pics of the kids, or Grandma, or Mom and Dad on their anniversary. A normal lens makes sense for that. But you’re right, a wider lens would make cameras like these more useful for walking-around photography!

      It’s probably not long before there will be no sources of bellows anymore, and old folders will become useless.

      • Andy Umbo says:

        I was sitting here in retirement, thinking about how to generate some income without joining the workforce again, and I know there were national sources for getting all these bellows, and I have to say, it was probably some mom and pop in the back room hand folding these things…I’ve seen a few tutorials on it…maybe I should teach myself and sit here with a manhattan, and watching film noir on TV and just fold some up and put them online! After I get my stuff out of my storage space and situated, might be a “thing” to try…

        • tbm3fan says:

          Another item hard to obtain are curtains for Exakta since most all have pinholes. Namely that thin metal strip that is folded over several times to hold the curtain and has two slits in it for the ribbons to go through before being sewed to the curtains. Right now I have cut the old off and glued new to the edge left. I am going to experiment with very thin bronze sheet to see if I can get close to that metal strip.

  2. Dan Cluley says:

    The amount of movement in the picture of the walkers makes me think that the shutter is slower than 1/40.

    Wouldn’t be surprising if it has lost a little speed since leaving the factory.

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