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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Anscoflex II

Ansco introduced its new Anscoflex camera with a full-page ad in the July 19, 1954 issue of Life Magazine:
"...Styled by Raymond Loewy, this completely new reflex camera combines smart good looks with modern technical advances and sturdy metal-clad construction to bring you everything you've ever wanted in an easy-to-use snapshot camera!..."
Raymond Lowey, the renowned industrial designer, probably did have something to do with some of the design aspects of the Anscoflex, but most of the camera's features were already present in a 1948 Ansco prototype camera called the Shurflex. Ad hype aside, there was a lot that was new and interesting in the design of the Anscoflex. The modular construction of the all-aluminum case was a sharp contrast to the molded plastic cases featured in most of the inexpensive snapshot cameras of the era. When most of Ansco's competition had persisted in using singe-element meniscus lenses in their inexpensive cameras, the Anscoflex featured a two-element symetrical lens design with an additional close-up lens that could be swung into position with the turn of a dial on the camera's front.

Some of the new Anscoflex features, however, offered more novelty than usefulness. The tripod socket was unaccompanied by a cable release socket, and the side-mounted shutter plunger was stiff and likely to lead to blurred shots. While the ad copy likens the ratcheting film advance to winding a watch, it was really more like winding a grandfather clock, with about fifty quarter-turn rotations required to get the film to the first frame on the 620 roll. The built-in yellow filter was something of an anachronism at a time when photography was moving quickly toward the universal use of color.

The most distinctive feature of the camera, the sliding front cover connected to the flip-up barndoors over the viewfinder was something of a gimmick too, though a useful one. What was really important, though, was the extremely large and brilliant view provided by the reflex viewing system with its mirror and massive lenses. Even in the dimmest scenes where the flash would be a necessity to obtain an exposure, the view through the big top window was crystal clear. That brilliant viewfinder was also the feature of the Anscoflex which would lead to a sort of rebirth of the camera a half century after its introduction.

If you visit the Flickr photo sharing site and do a search on the term, Anscoflex, you will turn up thousands of recently made pictures tagged "Anscoflex". However, probably not one in a hundred of the photos were made with film in the camera. Instead, the great majority are the result of pointing a digital camera at the brilliant view screen of the Anscoflex to directly capture the image using the through-the-viewfinder (ttv) technique.

For those willing to re-roll some 120 film onto 620 spools it is still possible to do real photography with the Anscoflex. It won't be a process that is quick, easy or very predictable, but some distinctive images and some satisfaction are guaranteed.

Some examples from the Anscoflex II:




Should your Anscoflex need some cleaning there is an excellent detailed tutorial by Shane Blomberg at Flickr. The manuals for the Anscoflex and the Anscoflex II are at the Butkus site.

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