For many decades, Ansco was second only to Kodak in the United States. Headquartered in Binghamton, New York, the company’s history stretched back to 1841. But its peak years were probably the 1950s, when it routinely manufactured two million cameras a year.
Ansco manufactured simple cameras that anyone could operate, like my Ansco Shur Shot box camera.
Ansco also imported more fully featured cameras from other makers around the world, including Agfa, Ricoh, and Minolta, and rebadged them as Anscos.
During the 1950s, Ansco advertised its cameras and films on television. Many of its commercials were shot on film, and survive.
Here’s a short spot for Ansco films with a simple jingle. Don’t those harmonies just scream 1950s?
Here’s a spot for three Ansco cameras that took 127 film. Ansco manufactured the two Cadet cameras, but imported the Lancer from a German maker. I had a Lancer in my childhood collection. I never put film into it because its weak latch kept popping open, which would have spoiled the film. I hear that this was a common problem with Lancers.
This spot for Anscochrome color slide film mentions its “big extra margin of sensitivity” that makes up for challenging lighting. It also mentions making prints from slides using the Printon process. You can see a Printon print here, which shows that Anscochrome was a capable film.
If you have boxes full of Anscochrome slides, you’re going to want to project them. So you’ll need an Anscomatic projector!
It cracks me up how formally everybody dressed in these commercials. In the 1950s, did friends really gather casually in each others’ homes wearing suits?
Whatever happened to Ansco? Well, in 1967 it began to favor using the name of its parent, General Aniline and Film, or GAF. As GAF, it stopped making cameras, instead selling GAF-branded cameras that other companies made. By the late 1970s, the Ansco brand name was sold to a Chinese camera maker. You could buy Chinese Ansco film cameras through the 1990s.
I bought very few old cameras last year as I focused on shooting my Nikon F2. But as 2014 ended, I kind of went a little nuts. Call it unslaked gear thirst. Last year’s Nikon adventures showed me that I really enjoy shooting SLRs, so that’s mostly what I’ve been buying.
I know I’ve said that I’m more a photographer than a camera collector now. But I still like trying out old gear and sharing my experience with you. So now, instead of keeping every camera I try, I’ll be selling all but the ones I like most and that I’ll shoot again.
Kodak 35. I’ve wanted one of these for a long time and I finally found one at a price I was willing to pay. It’s a 35mm viewfinder camera with a 51mm f/4.5 Kodak Anastigmat lens. I’ve got a roll of black-and-white film in it now. I’m more charmed by its pop-up viewfinder than I am annoyed by its odd and awkward shutter release.
Canon EOS 630. After shooting Nikon all last year, I’ve become Canon curious. Early EOS cameras are cheap and plentiful. I’ve got black-and-white film in it now. This one came with a 35-80mm zoom lens, but I’m shopping for a 50mm f/1.8 lens as I feel at home with 50mm primes. They’re a little pricey because they clip right onto all of Canon’s modern DSLRs.
Canon EOS 650. This is the first EOS camera. I really shouldn’t have bought it as it’s not that much different from the 630.
Canon AL-1. Canon edged toward autofocus with this 1982 camera. You twist the lens’s focusing ring, and a focusing aid reads contrast and lights an LED in the viewfinder when it thinks the subject is in focus. This camera came with a 28mm f/3.5 lens. The AL-1 takes FD-mount lenses, so the 50mm f/1.8 I have on my AE-1 will clip right onto this camera. The battery door latch is broken, but apparently that’s this camera’s Achilles heel and it’s hard to find an unbroken one. I’ll tape the door closed when I shoot it.
Sears KS Super II. Sears white-labeled Ricoh SLRs in the 80s. It is an aperture-priority-only camera with a Sears-branded Ricoh 50mm f/2 lens. This is a K-mount camera, so all of my SMC Pentax-M glass will clip right on. When I shoot this, I might alternate between this lens and my 50mm f/2 Pentax-M lens. Lens smackdown!
Pentax ES II. This is essentially the last Spotmatic, and it offered open-aperture metering with SMC Takumar lenses. A 42mm screw-mount camera, this one came with an f/3.5 135mm SMC Takumar lens. Super Takumar lenses (like the 50mm prime I have on my Spotmatic) require stopping down to meter. I bought this camera mostly to get that 135mm lens, but now that I have the body I’m shopping for a 50mm SMC Takumar too so I can shoot 50mm without stopping down.
Two cameras didn’t make this photo:
Canon T70. I’ve been curious about the plastic fantastic T series for a while and got a good bargain on this one. It came with an FD 50mm f/1.8 lens. I’ve already put a test roll through this camera; review forthcoming.
Minolta Maxxum 7000. It’s the first autofocus 35mm SLR ever. (Believe it or not, the Polaroid SX-70 was the first autofocus SLR.) A Maxxum AF 50mm f/1.7 lens came with it.
These cameras ought to keep me busy for months. Meanwhile, I still want to keep film in my Nikons, both F2 and F3, and use them as my primary cameras. Now if the weather would just warm up enough for me to want to get out and shoot.
Kodak has announced that it has ended production of BW400CN, a black-and-white film.
Film manufacturers keep shrinking their product lines because digital photography has all but collapsed demand. Only technophobes, certain pros, and hobbyists like me still shoot film. That’s enough to support some film production, but not on the scale of just five or ten years ago. I think it’s safe to say that I will write more film “Goodbye” posts in the next few years.
BW400CN’s appeal was that any drug store could develop it in an hour because it was processed just like color negative film. Traditional black-and-white films such as Tri-X and T-Max use a different processing method that the one-hour labs couldn’t do. You always had to send traditional black-and-white films to a pro lab or process it yourself. But now that almost all of the one-hour labs have disappeared, so has BW400CN’s main advantage.
That’s not to say that BW400CN wasn’t worth shooting for its own sake. I shot a roll two years ago in my Olympus OM-1 with its wonderful F. Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 lens. After removing a slight purple caste in Photoshop, the photos were contrasty with rich blacks. BW400CN has a look that the traditional black-and-white films can’t duplicate.
With that F. Zuiko lens, I got plenty of good detail on BW400CN. I love how every word is crisp in this view of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which is on the circle in Downtown Indianapolis.
My neighborhood CVS Pharmacy processed this roll of Kodak BW400CN. If they had not removed their one-hour lab last year, I might have shot more of this film. Alas.
If you’re of a certain age, you remember when a television show had one sponsor, or maybe two; all of an episode’s commercials were for those companies. The show’s open usually incorporated the sponsor, too. When these shows were later syndicated, new “generic” opens had to be prepared that referenced no sponsor, as local stations sold all the commercial time.
One such show I watched in syndication as a boy was The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a 1950s and 1960s family sitcom starring the family of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. A few years ago, someone gave me a big DVD set of episodes as a gift. All of those episodes used the original opens, with the sponsor mentions intact. I learned that for a few years, Kodak was a frequent sponsor.
Some of those episodes included commercials, and it was very cool to see advertisements for some of the Kodaks I have in my camera collection. Here’s Ozzie pitching the Kodak Brownie Starmatic. You can read about my Starmatic here and here.
I used to own a Kodak Automatic 35F, a 35mm viewfinder camera with a coupled light meter and a four-speed shutter. I used that camera on a trip to the Tennessee hills about 15 years ago and really enjoyed it. Here’s Ozzie again, introducing that camera’s forebear, the Automatic 35.
Ozzie and his family didn’t always appear in the Kodak commercials on their show. Here’s a commercial for the Kodak Signet 40, another 35mm rangefinder camera with a coupled light meter. I own a Signet 40; it’s remarkably capable. Read about it here. The spot also briefly shows members of the Pony line (read about my Pony here) and the Retina line (read about my Retinas here, here, and here).
Ozzie and Harriet shilled lesser Kodaks, of course; all the way down to the least-expensive Brownies. But I don’t have any of those in my collection!
Instant photography exploded in the 1970s – and Kodak, watching from the sidelines, was itching to get in on the action.
Polaroid introduced its its SX-70 instant camera in 1972. They were a revelation: you pressed the button and the camera spit out a print that developed before your eyes. Soon, Polaroid offered an entire line of these cameras, and sold them by the boatload.
Kodak watched jealously, and plotted. They didn’t want to just make cameras that used the Polaroid films, even if Polaroid would let them. They wanted to own the films, too. So they developed their own instant film and cameras, and began selling them in the mid 1970s.
Kodak made cameras in two form factors, both of them large and ungainly. These two cameras from my collection, the EK6 and the Trimprint 920, are of the second, later form factor. The first form factor was wider and had a large handle on the side. The less-expensive cameras, like the one on the left, featured a crank for manually pushing the exposed photograph out of the camera. Higher-end models, like the one on the right, used a battery-powered motor to eject the photo. This Kodak commercial from 1977 shows a camera of the other form factor in action.
Kodak’s instant film was similar to the SX-70 film in how it worked. Polaroid had patented its SX-70 film, so it sued immediately. Polaroid won – but not until 1986, by which time Kodak had sold about a bajillion instant cameras. The settlement was enormous, setting Kodak back upwards of a billion dollars. Also, Kodak had to stop making instant film and cameras, and offer its instant-camera customers fat discounts on new Kodak non-instant cameras.
Those who claimed their settlement had to pry the nameplate off their cameras and mail them to Kodak as proof of ownership. The camera above on the left is missing its nameplate; it was glued to the white areas in the middle of the camera’s face. You’ll still find gobs of these cameras around; they’re useless and have no collector value.
I bought a Kodak instant camera at a yard sale when I was a kid, when film was still available. In 1982, I put one pack of film through it – only one, in part because it was very expensive (north of $10 a pack), and in part because the camera wasn’t much fun to use. I remember the camera being clumsy to hold and very susceptible to shake. Every photo in the pack I shot was at least a little blurry. I also remember it being critical to crank the print out quickly at a consistent cranking speed so that the developer would spread evenly across the print. It was interesting to try the camera, but these quirks and limitations were enough that I never used it again.
The only print I still have is one of me standing by a neighbor’s 1968 Mustang. The neighbor boy who took the shot was not careful to hold the camera steady, which is why the photo is so blurry. Despite the camera’s unpleasant quirks, the color fidelity was and remains very good. I have one SX-70 print from 1978 that has held its color too – but the colors have “that Polaroid look” and aren’t quite as realistic as those on this Kodak print.
Even though the Kodak instant film used a similar process to the Polaroid film, the prints could hardly be more different. The Kodak prints were 4″ by 3 7/8″ with a rectangular, landscape-oriented image and a matte surface. In contrast, the Polaroid prints were 3½” by 4¼” with a square image and a glossy surface. Also, the Polaroid prints were set in a paper frame, while the Kodak prints featured the matte-finished material across the entire print surface. Another difference between the two films was that the SX-70 films were exposed on the front of the print, while the Kodak films were exposed on the back. So the Polaroid cameras needed a mirror to flip the image right side out, while the Kodak cameras didn’t. But SX-70 prints shot out of the camera print-side out, while the Kodak prints went back-side out.
Later Kodak instant cameras and film offered a feature called Trimprint, where you could peel off just the rectangular image. The resulting print looked rigid like a regular film print, at least in the ads. I never got to shoot Trimprint film so I don’t know for sure. I do know that Polaroid never offered anything like it.
I’m sure Kodak knew it was gambling with its instant cameras and film; they were just too similar to Polaroid’s SX-70 system. Now they’re little more than a photographic footnote.
I love the packfilm Polaroid cameras, such as my Automatic 250. See it here.