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.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Harry & Izzy's

Harry & Izzy’s
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK
Ilford FP4 Plus
Ilford ID-11 1+1

2021

Despite what it says over the door, Harry & Izzy’s is a steakhouse. This building only used to be a jeweler’s. Actually, only the facade still stands here — a new building was built behind it. Harry & Izzy’s is part of the sprawling Downtown Indianapolis mall, Circle Centre.

Margaret and I had a Downtown night out not long ago. We saw a play and had dinner. Service wasn’t great so we didn’t linger for an after-dinner drink. The bar at Harry & Izzy’s had exactly two seats open, so that’s where we went.

Clearly, Margaret and I have relaxed our COVID restrictions. We are placing faith in our vaccines. When I’m eligible for a booster, I’ll get it straightaway.

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COVID-19, Film Photography

single frame: Harry & Izzy’s

Facade of an Indianapolis steakhouse.

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Film Photography

Ilford FP4 Plus in Ilford ID-11

Kilroy's

I tried developing Ilford FP4 Plus in Ilford ID-11 recently.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

I had shot a roll of film in my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK, an early-1960s viewfinder camera with a coupled light meter. I enjoy using this camera for its big, bright viewfinder and smooth controls that all fall right to hand.

Its one fault is that rewinding can be challenging, and I’ve torn two rolls of film now, including this one. I’m sure this isn’t endemic to the camera line; it must be something wrong with mine specifically.

Union Station doors

I had mixed results from this combo. I can’t tell whether the Contessa is overexposing, or I underdeveloped. The negatives have good density. And an old selenium meter tends to grow weaker with age, leading to underexposure.

The Slippery Noodle

There are so many variables in getting an image. When one doesn’t turn out, I can hardly tell what went wrong. It’s kind of frustrating. My Contessa isn’t getting any younger and may be showing signs of failure. Or I could have miscalculated the development time given that my developer was 22.4° Celsius thanks to the ambient temperature of my warm master bathroom.

On South Meridian Street

I got okay tonality and sharpness with this film in ID-11. After I dialed in my development techniques, I got more pleasing results from HC-110. I like how HC-110 keeps for a good long time, and how little of the concentrate you need to develop a roll.

Window

ID-11, and its Kodak analog D-76, is the developer most people start with and stay with, however. I can see why. Let’s say I left these in the developer for a little too little time. I still got images I could use. HC-110 and Rodinal have much shorter development times, which means it’s much more important to get the time right.

Harry & Izzy's

I bought a 1L packet of ID-11 and I’m burning through it quickly. I haven’t had enough time with this developer to evaluate it well. But I have fresh bottles of HC-110 and Rodinal waiting their turns. I have enough ID-11 to develop about one more roll, and after that it’s back to those other two developers.

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Ilford FP4 Plus old and new

Ilford FP4 Plus then and now
Nikon Df
50mm f/1.8G AF-S Nikkor Special Edition
2021

I came into some Ilford FP4 Plus that expired in 1994. It was stored frozen, so I’ve been shooting it at box speed and so far it’s looked good.

The roll of FP4 Plus on the left is the 1994 stock. On the right is a roll of fresh stock. It’s interesting to me how Ilford has changed the markings on the roll in that time.

You might notice the metal spools. I shot the fresh roll in the Ansco Standard Speedex and the expired roll in the Sears Tower 120 Flash. Metal spools were still inside both cameras, so I used them to take up the first roll I shot in each camera. When you get an old camera with a metal spool inside, you know it hasn’t been used in a very long time.

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Photography

single frame: Ilford FP4 Plus then and now

Comparing a new and old spool of Ilford FP4 Plus.

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Collecting Cameras

Sears Tower Flash 120

In its heyday, Sears was on a quest to sell anything an average person could want. They were Amazon, minus the Web site and the free shipping. Sears offered a vast number of products under its own brands, including cameras under the Tower brand. A number of different manufacturers produced Tower cameras, usually simply relabeling for Sears a camera they already sold directly. Such was the case with this box camera for 120 film, the Sears Tower Flash 120, which Sears sold in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Made by Bilora in (then) West Germany, it was identical to the Stahl Box (Steel Box) camera but for a different face plate.

Sears Tower Flash 120

Like most box cameras, it offers a meniscus lens set behind a rotary shutter. A switch on the front lets you choose between bulb and a timed shutter of probably 1/30 second. The aperture is almost certainly f/11 — I’ve seen other Tower Flash 120s with “f/11” printed on the face plate. The box is made of metal, rather than the usual cardboard. Also, you operate the shutter with a proper button on the camera’s face, rather than a lever on the side. The button even accepts a cable release, although like most boxes, there’s no tripod mount. The Tower Flash 120 offers two waist-level viewfinders, portrait on top and landscape on the side.

Sears Tower Flash 120

I’ve seen two other versions of the Tower Flash 120. One wraps the box’s sides, top, and bottom with a ribbed, rubbery skin. The other uses a plainer face plate (it says “Model 7,” but I’m not aware of models 1 through 6) and a smooth, rather than textured, front and back. Some Tower Flash 120s use a slotted shutter-speed switch rather than the tabbed one on my copy.

Sears Tower Flash 120

My Tower Flash 120 was was donated to my collection by a longtime collector who retired and downsized. It came with its flash attachment, which takes two AA batteries. I’m not much for flash photography so I didn’t try it. But the battery compartment was clean, so I see no reason it shouldn’t work.

If you like box cameras, also check out my reviews of some classic Kodak boxes, the No. 2 Brownie, Model D (here) and Model F (here), as well as the No. 2 Hawk-Eye Model C (here) and its 50th Anniversary of Kodak companion (here). Or look at my reviews of the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here) and Ansco Shur Shot (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I’ve had this camera for a few years, but have put off a minor repair it needed. The bit of plastic that is the red window around back had come unglued. Repairing it meant bending the film pressure plate to get it out of the way, and I was afraid of damaging it. I finally braved it, and with a bead of super glue the camera finally returned to fully usable condition. I bent the pressure plate back into place with no trouble, but unfortunately a little super glue squished out and dried visibly on the red plastic. Fortunately I could still read the markings on my film’s backing paper.

I loaded some Ilford FP4 Plus into the Tower Flash 120. This film expired in December of 1994 but was stored frozen, so I figured it would be okay. The box opens from the sides near the front, by pressing the small button on each side simultaneously.

Tall shadow

The smooth, easy shutter button guards against camera shake. You still need a steady hand, however, thanks to the slow shutter.

Front yard

Surprisingly reflective glass made the viewfinders hard to use. In all but bright, direct sunlight, I saw my silhouette in the viewfinders, which obscured my subjects.

Deck

Thanks to the small, reflective viewfinder, it’s hard to frame subjects. Every last photo I made was far from level. I straightened them all in Photoshop.

Garden

The lens is remarkably free of vignetting, and is soft only in the very corners.

Across the street

I shot the whole roll in my yard, as I sometimes do. Except for the balky viewfinders, the Tower Flash 120 was pleasant to use and returned decent results.

My vee dub

To see more from this camera, check out my Sears Tower Flash 120 gallery.

Remarkably, the Sears Tower Flash 120’s body is based on a camera Bilora made starting in 1935. That goes to show that the box had long been perfected, but was still viable as a family snapshot camera even that many years later. It’s flash attachment made it even more useful. I am unlikely to use this camera often because I enjoy my 1910s-era Kodak box cameras so much more. But if you are box curious, or your collection leans hard into boxes, you would be well served to find one.

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