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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.