Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bentzin Primar

I was pleased recently to come across a Bentzin Primar on ebay.  It is a compact plate camera, this one likely from the early to mid-1930s.  The dial-set Compur shutter having a top speed of 1/250 could have been made as early as 1914 based on the serial number.  The lens is a 10.5cm f4.5 Tessar.  The Bentzin closely resembles the KW Patent Etui, but has a somewhat more robust design.

Bentzin Primar 6.5x9
I was relieved to find that the Bentzin accommodates the Rada roll film adapter which is a much sturdier  than the Rollex adapter which is required for the Patent Etui with its very narrow back rails.

The Bentzin needed just a light cleaning of the lens to be ready to make pictures.  I loaded the Rada back with some Tri-X 120 and strolled around Albuquerque's Old Town on a warm afternoon, and then again the following morning to finish off the roll of eight 6.5x9 frames.

My afternoon walk took me by some cottages near Tiguex Park which have undergone a lengthy restoration over the past year.  I snapped a couple shots, but the light was past its prime for this subject.

By pure good luck, a summer visitor to one of the cottages happened by and treated me to a quick tour of the furthest west cottage known as The Priest's House.  She said that the place was about 140 years old and that it had in fact been a priest's residence at one time.

click for 100% enlargement
I recalled making a picture of The Priest's House some time ago with better light.  After some searching through my blog, I found the picture made about six years ago with my No. 1 Series 3 Kodak.

The place does not look much different today from the outside, but the interior has been done over very nicely.  We are thinking we may lodge our daughter there when she comes for a visit from Phoenix.

Folded up, the Bentzin Primar fits easily in the hand or the pocket.

The plate cameras were originally designed to be used with glass plates or sheet film, either in sheet film holders or in film pack adapters.  This shows the Bentzin with a couple of film holders to the left and a film pack adapter at the top.

I believe the film pack adapter for this model held ten sheets.  After the exposure, a paper tab attached to the sheet was pulled to move the exposed negative through rollers to the back of the adapter and to make the next one available for use.  The film packs were fast and convenient, but expensive as they needed to be factory assembled by hand.

Sheet film is no longer available in the 6.5x9 size used in my small plate cameras.  It is still possible, however, to get 9x12 format film for the larger plate cameras from some European sources.

The only practical way to make photos with the small plate cameras like mine today is with a 120 roll film adapter like the Rada or the Rollex.  The roll film adapters work well in these cameras, though they add some bulk.  When putting the film adapter or the ground glass back onto any of the plate cameras it is important to do so only with the bellows extended.  If the back is slid on or off the camera when it is folded up, the back can snag the folds of the bellows and damage them.

All my compact plate cameras.
Kodak Recomar 18, Zeiss Ikon Maximar, KW Patent Etui, KW Patent Etui (w/Trioplan), Bentzin Primar
 Now, these old folding view cameras seem quaint and a little awkward in use.  In the 1920s and '30s, however, they were a big deal; perhaps the equivalent of today's iPhones and Androids.


Jim Grey said...

Having never experienced a camera like this, I was surprised to see that, folded, it fit into your hand. The photo of the camera open made me think it was much larger.

Likewise, I'm surprised to learn that these were a big deal back in the day. They seem so ungainly in use, relative to a dedicated rollfilm camera.

Mike said...

With a roll film adapter on the back, there is very little difference in operation from a dedicated roll film camera. I think it is important to bear in mind what photography was like when the compact plate cameras were first introduced. The Leica-style cameras were not yet on the market. The compact plate cameras offered quality negatives, portability and the additional versatility of ground-glass viewing for close-up work. All the major German manufacturers had a version of this style camera and they sold in the tens of thousands. They do take some getting used to for modern photographers; I'm just now getting comfortable with the wire-frame viewfinder. The lenses were uncoated, but the 4-element Tessars and the sturdy Compur shutters remained the industry standards for about four decades.

JR Smith said...

Every time I think that I know a lot about old cameras...I stop by here and realize that "I know nothin'."

Your comparison to the iPhone...I wonder how many iPhones will survive into the future? My original iPhone 3 is long gone and stopped working properly before that, yet these ancient cameras survive and still work!

Mike said...

Yep. I went for an early Nikon Coolpix because I wanted a no-compromises digital. I think I paid about $900 for it. By the time we moved to Albuquerque the camera was essentially worthless. I gave it to the guy next door.