Exploring a local antiques shop recently, I came across a beautiful 6×6 format folding camera that appeared to be in very nice condition. After giving it a once over and determining nothing was obviously wrong, I plunked down £9 ($12) of my hard earned cash to take the thing home. It turned out I had bought a Yorkshire camera. A GB Kershaw 110 to be precise, made in the great city of Leeds some 60 or so years ago. It was in very nice condition for its age, with just some dust in the optics and a tiny bit of corrosion here and there on the aluminium parts.
The biggest worry with any camera that makes use of soft bellows is pin holes and tears that could cause light leaks. These are usually found around the folds where the material is under the most stress. Thankfully the bellows on this camera are in tip-top shape, requiring no repair at all. Another common problem to look out for in old cameras is worn out light seals, where foam or felt has disintegrated or worn away over the years. Helpfully the Kershaw’s design made no use of either material, so there were no concerns there either.
The lens and viewfinder were very simple to clean of dust, both being made of just two elements. After I finished cleaning things up I loaded a roll of Ilford FP4 Plus. The use of bog standard 120 roll film means the Kershaw is as usable today as when it was new. Getting the film into the camera took a few attempts given the slightly awkward swing out spool holders, but I got there in the end.
In terms of operation, the Kershaw 110 is a very basic camera. A button on the top plate makes the front pop open, extending the bellows and putting the lens into shooting position. A single knob lets you wind the film on, with a red window in the back to let you see which frame you’re on*. The lens is anonymous, but I’d estimate it at around 80mm (45mm equivalent in 35mm terms) with its focus fixed to give you a depth of field from around 3m to infinity. It has a single shutter speed of somewhere around 1/50 of a second and a choice of two apertures, f11 or f16. Its only other features are a bulb mode and a flash sync port. Getting an accurate exposure is rather out the window with such limited control so you’re fairly reliant on the wide latitude of film and hoping for the best!
* 120 roll film is paper backed and that paper has frame numbers printed on to it for cameras like this without mechanical frame counters.
I found the camera simple to use in practice, even if I had a degree of ‘exposure anxiety’ while using it, worrying that for the light conditions I was hopelessly under or overexposing. In the end just about everything turned out fine. The ISO 125 film I’d picked meant I wasn’t too far off in terms of exposure when I was out of the shade.
I found I had no trouble remembering to wind on the film after each shot, so avoided any accidental double exposures. I didn’t have especially high hopes for the optical quality of the anonymous two element lens, but it actually produced some alright results. It’s a little soft at the edges, but the main portion of the frame is pretty sharp – if you can hold the camera still enough.
Indeed the slow shutter speed and awkward handling were the camera’s main let down and I lost about a quarter of the film to camera shake. It’s too bad it can’t take a threaded shutter release as I’m sure that would help quite a bit. It’s made me quite curious to see how good the results could be from a slightly less basic folding camera which could achieve better hand-holdable shutter speeds and with a more serious lens.
Exploring Flickr proves that Agfa Isolette’s and Zeiss Ikons can certainly produce wonderful results. The challenge with such old cameras is finding a copy in good working order without parting with too much money. Certain models are popular with collectors which can push the prices up to silly amounts.
So if you spy an old folding camera in an antiques shop, charity shop or at a car boot sale, don’t just brush if off as a relic from the past – it may be a very capable little camera in your hands. If it’s inexpensive and looks in fair condition, definitely give it a go!