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Richard Gould 3rd April 2015 12:06 PM

Using and choosing an old folder
I have been asked to write something about these lovely old folding cameras, so here goes.

Folders require a completely different mindset to using modern cameras,they are slower to use, you only have a fixed lens, with perhaps one or two exceptions in 35mm, (Some of the retina's come to mind), but certainly with MF cameras the lenses are fixed, and you need to be a little careful about choosing the best camera, for instance, there are some that use 620 film, you can use them, the film is the same size as 120, but the reel is different, and you need to wind 120 film onto a 620 reel, unless you get perhaps an Ensign,some of which can take either 120 or 620 film, I would also avoid 127, if you can get it the film tends to be expensive.
With most folders, both MF and 35mm you will need an exposure meter, some 35mm have them built in, but for the most part they don't work, in fact I only have 2 with exposure meters built in and neither are reliable, also I would suggest getting hold of a separate rangefinder, not many have them built in and unless you work mainly at infinity then a rangefinder is a great help, and they are pretty cheap, I have a watameter which cost me a fiver.
Filters, we all use them, and for folders they are hard to find to filt, so get the smallest you can find, or maybe if you have screw in's then use those, with blu tak to hold them in place.
I would not worry about the bellows, I have yet,in over ten years of collecting usable folders, to see one with bellows that leak, except for Agfa, for some reason many of them used plastic for the bellows and they tend to split, but a good way to check them for leaks is to fire a small flashgun in the camera, bellows open, and you will see any leaks.

Using cameras is very simple, in may ways simpler than most modern cameras., first loading them, when the film is loaded make sure that the film is wound tight, hold the full spool with yor thumb wind until the start make is seen, that way you will avoid fat spool, where the film spills out of the edge of the spool, and the edges are exposed.
A good tip is to wind the film only untilljust before the frame number appears in the red window, then with the camera open wind to the frame number This because when you open the camera it is possible that the film will be sucked in and winding the film slightly corrects this.

Another point I have found is if possible always usew the red window, some cameras such as the super Ikonta's, some ensigns and super baldax have automatic winding, but it rarely works without adjustment to the winding spool due to the fact that 50/60/70 years ago films were completely different to today, and you will get overlapping frames, so it is better to use the red window, also carry a small torch, in dim lighting the frame numbers are hard to see, and if you shine a torch at the window it makes the numbers easier to see, and I have yet to fog a film doing this.

If you are walking and using the camera and likely to use up the film then I find it better to leave the camera open, and try and get into the way of winding on the film as soon as you have taken the photo,
So to sum up, set the exposure, focus the camera cock the shutter, compose and take the picture then wind the film on. This also applies to many 35mm folders, most are knob wind, so again you need to cock the shutter, and with both I suggest that it is better for the shutter if you set the shutter before you cock the shutter, and do not ever go from slow (1/15) to faster speeds with the shutter cocked, indeed with Ensign's wit the Epsilon shutter you will badly damage the shutter if you do, remember these cameras and the shutters are 50 or more years old and need gentle treatment,

For me it is great to go for a walk with a camera without a bagful of lenses and other bits and pieces, just a camera, exposure meter,rangefinder filter and films, no need for should I use this lens or that, it is fixed, and I get a huge kick out of getting a great photo out of something so old, I hope you enjoy your folder, and I hope you find this of use

Rob Archer 3rd April 2015 05:52 PM

Thanks for this. I quite often go out with just a 6x6 folder, a Franka Solida II, dating from the early 1950s. It works as well as the day it was made!
The only downside is that the viewfinder is tiny and as good as useless. I managed to find a Kontur 'both eyes open' viewfinder on an auction site for 20 and it's worth every penny although it takes some getting used to.

Richard Gould 3rd April 2015 07:06 PM

Rob, the Franka's are indeed great cameras, I have a Solida II RF, with a built in uncoupled rangefinder, the lens, although a triplet, is pin sharp stopped down a couple of stops, I don't find the viewfinder that bad, but I am used to small viewfinders, most of the folders, both 35mm and 120, have small viewfinders,

DavidH 3rd April 2015 08:26 PM

I certainly agree that it makes a refreshing change to take out a folder. You can't hurry when using them, so it makes you think about the final result. Although, like most people, I commonly take a camera and other lenses, just a folder (in my case a Solida) and a yellow filter can be very satisfying.

Xpres 3rd April 2015 08:58 PM

Great article Richard.

Like Rob I too am a fan of the Kontur finders and not just for folders. Worth seeking out and at least trying. They don't suit everyone though.

Mike O'Pray 3rd April 2015 11:42 PM

I am not entirely convinced that you can't hurry when using them. In reasonable light conditions a 6x6 can be set at hyperfocal distance on f16 and you simply point and shoot.

Probably quicker than the i-phone with camera built in :D


Richard Gould 4th April 2015 06:50 AM


Originally Posted by Mike O'Pray (Post 101813)
I am not entirely convinced that you can't hurry when using them. In reasonable light conditions a 6x6 can be set at hyperfocal distance on f16 and you simply point and shoot.

Probably quicker than the i-phone with camera built in :D


Yes, Mike, when taking your camera for a walk you can use the hyperfocal setting, but you will find that most of these lenses are best at F11, but simply using a folder slows you down, you have to go though a certain routine, winding the film using the red window slows things down,you need to cock the shutter before each shot, it does the shutter no good simply leaving the shutter cocked, and some of them have a hair trigger shutter release, so if you leave the shutter cocked you can waste film,
Besides that, part of the fun of them is the very slowness that lets you think, and people always want to talk about the camera, they are such friendly cameras,

richardw 4th April 2015 09:34 AM

Another tip from another richard regarding folders
Another tip from another richard regarding folders:

Tripod mounting can be a pain as the hole for the tripod screw is often too shallow for the screw, which bottoms out before the camera is firmly seated. I got round this by using my large format tripod, which takes the long Manfrotto 357PLV plates and a very slight modification. This plate comes with a choice of screws, which are interchangeable. For use with an old folder simply put a flat plain washer under the head of the screw before attaching it to the camera.

It shortens the effective length of the screw, is reversible for use with modern cameras and provides a large contact area to spread the load.

Smaller plates aren't so easily altered as the screws are held in with circlips.


Richard Gould 4th April 2015 10:26 AM

Good tip Richard, and one that I would never have thought of, I never use them on a tripod, I always hand hold, down to 1/2 second with no problem, My studio cameras of choice for still life Etc are my Rollei's with the Rolinar 1 and 2 close up lenses

GoodOldNorm 11th April 2015 12:09 PM

Thank you Richard, I have just bought an Adox Sport folder I will put your tips to good use.

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