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  #1  
Old 25th February 2013, 03:14 PM
Lostlabours Lostlabours is online now
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Default Ensign Cameras

A recent thread on a Kodak 66 threw up an common interest in Ensign cameras.

The history of Houghton cameras the originator of the Ensign trade mark and the later formation of Barnet Ensign and Ross Ensign is quite sketchy and doesn't reflect the true picture of what was at one point the largest camera manufacturer in the UK with a subsidiary in India.

No mention is made of Lord Astor's involvement in the Company and he was probably one of the more influential businessmen of his era, apart fom being a major shareholder in Houghton Butcher he owned the Tmes newspaper group and was a director of Hambros Bank and Phoenix assurance. He'd been Aide-de-Camp in India to the Viceroy 1911-15.

My own collection of Ensign cameras spans about 50 years of productyion from two Victo's, quarter plate and whole plate, plus a half plate Duchess, two SLRs 6x9 and quarter plate, and later 6x9 folder a 420 & 820, I may still have a Ful-Vue somwhere as well.

I'm collecting Houghton/Ensign history and the number od subsidiaries seems unknown on sites relating to the companies history but are in a late 1930's report I discovered.

Any contributions would be useful. I'll be adding some pages of the companies history to a new website that's in preparation.

Ian
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  #2  
Old 25th February 2013, 04:39 PM
Richard Gould Richard Gould is online now
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I'm not sure of the correct adress but I remember a website somwhere that gives a lot of the history of Ensign, they are great cameras, and my very first folder was an Ensign, the selfix 16/20, and I still have and use that camera, together with the others I have collected ov erv the years, including the 12/20,820 and the Commando, and I am still looking for others that I want to own and use one day, I think of all the Folders the Ensign range must be my favorite's both to own and use.
Richard
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  #3  
Old 25th February 2013, 11:20 PM
JamesK JamesK is offline
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This page has a history of Ensign cameras:

http://www.ensign.demon.co.uk/ensigncamerapage.htm

Is this the one you mean?

I got into Ensign cameras as I wanted a 6x9 folder, and saw the 1939 16/20 advertised cheaply. Although I believe I may have a Houghton (forerunner of Ensign) box camera in the loft, the name didn't mean anything to me, but as I like to buy British - even when the company's defunct - I read up on them.

I then bought two post-war models, a 420 and an 820. These are both dual-format, giving either 6x6 or 6x9 images via built-in masks. They are far better built than the 16/20, give fantastic images and even handle like "serious" cameras, having a very solid feel.

The 820 in particular is a "belter" of a camera with a whacking great (for a folder) f3.8 Ross Xpress lens.

Confusingly, I also have the post-war 16/20 a 645 format camera totally unlike the original 16/20, which I've only managed to try out today.

The Ensign bug having well and truly bitten, I bought a Ranger Special, along with accessories, off e-bay yesterday.

I'm also waiting for a post-war Ful-Vue Special to be delivered, which I only bought because I like the design of it! This is a kind of faux TLR with a cast aluminium body.

I'd also like a standard Ful-Vue as, if Dan Dare had been a photographer and not a pilot, this is the camera he'd have used; for those of you who don't know what they look like, check them out on the internet and you'll see what I mean. (If anyone knows where I can get one, please let me know.)

(Note that the pre-war Ful-Vue is basically a box camera-cum-TLR and looks nothing like the post-war version.)

Apparently, the Ensign folders suffered relatively poor sales due to the misconception that German cameras were superior, when in fact the Ensign, with a good lens, can hold it's own against Zeiss and the like.

Also, the company as a whole neglected the 35mm market completely which, along with a lot of other factors led to it's final demise in 1961.

As Richard says, they're great cameras to own and use.
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Old 26th February 2013, 10:50 AM
Lostlabours Lostlabours is online now
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I'll have the adverts and press releases for all Ensign cameras from 1934/5 onwards in BJP Almanacs (I've every copy 1935-1963), prior to that I have some.

A downside to the 820 (& 420) is its weight compared to German cameras, as well as that the British made shutters didn't have a good reputation for reliability. Kodak modified the Epsilon for their UK made 203mm f7.7.

The Xpres is supposed to out perform the equivalent Tessar but this may have had more to do with quality issues at CZJ in the years after the end of WWII.

Ian
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Old 26th February 2013, 11:50 AM
Richard Gould Richard Gould is online now
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I would agree that the Xpress does outperform the tessar, even in the mid fifties, I have cameras from ensign with the xpress, and german cameras from the same period with the tessar, and I get better results with the xpress, both in terms of contrast and sharpness, especially with both lenses wide open, as for the Epsilon lens, yes, they had a bad reputation for reliability, but so far I have only had a problem with 1 epsilon shutter, and that was due to a very amateur repair, I have several prontor shuttered cameras with the slow speeds sticking, and episilon shutters are simpler and therefore cheaper to service than either Prontor or compur, and I find if youn treat then as 50 or 60 year old shutters should be treated they are fine, the biggest problem with them, which I found out the hard way, is never ever go from fast (1/25 or faster) to slow(1/10 or slower) with the shutter cocked, they will never be the same again, and would then require service, if fact, with epsilon it is better not to change shutter speed with the shutter cocked, apart from that they are not bad. The 820 is a bit of a beast, but I find the best way to use it is in what would be portrait for 35mm, in 6x6 the neg is square so it makes no difference, with 6/9 you really need a monopod to help with handling, but I have hand held mine in 6/6 down to the 1/5 without problems, in fact all of the folders I use I can hand hold to the 1/5, and often do, try doing that with a modern SLR.
Richard
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Old 27th February 2013, 12:32 AM
JamesK JamesK is offline
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Ian, what's this 203mm f7.7 lens? It sounds interesting, as I'd like a longer lens for landscapes on the folders.

I tend to use all the folders with a tripod for maximum stability - especially as I'm arthritic - and so I can shoot at smaller apertures.

The 420 & 820 are a bit "chunky", but I find that makes them feel quite re-assuring.

The only real shutter issue I've had was with the 820 when it - literally - froze on me some weeks ago, due to the extremely cold weather.

Fortunately, I'd read about not changing the speed with the shutter cocked, although I'd already developed a "folder regime" of compose / focus / set exposure /wind on / cock shutter.

In practice, I usually zone focus except for fairly close subjects, and then the tape measure comes out.

I suppose one thing about owning a few old cameras is that you can "rotate" them such that you're not just subjecting one of them to wear and tear.

That's what I told myself on Sunday when I ordered the Ranger............
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  #7  
Old 27th February 2013, 09:20 AM
Lostlabours Lostlabours is online now
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The 203mm f7.7 Ektar is a Kodak lens, unusual as it's a Dialyte, 4 air space elements, very sharp and just as good close up as at distances. The ones made in the UK were probably made by Ross and used Epsilon shutters until the Prontor SVS became available. Kodak sold them with their half plate cameras.

They were coated lenses unlike the earlier Goerz Celor or Rodenstok Eurynar, also Dialytes, which were more prone to flare and slightly lower contrast than Tessars. Very small and light ideal for a light weight large format set up.

The Ross/Kodak link goes back many years and Kodak were the distributor of Ross lenses in Australia and New Zealand.

I tend to use medium format cameras hand held these days, I guess because most of my work is large format and until the last few years was always tripod based. Zone focussing isn't an issue although I have 4 or 5 rangefinders, 2 newly restorered/recalibrated and these are excellent for close up work.

When I'm in Turkey I often have to work hand held where tripods are not allowed and you evolve your technique to cope, I shoot 5x4 hand-held as well as 6x17 and 6x6, but the light's different to the UK almost always just off the maximum a meter will read so 1/100 or 1/200 @ f22 with HP5 is easy with 5x4

Next trip I'll try and use the 820 meanwhile I'll give it a good work out in our dingy UK weather first.

Ian
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Old 27th February 2013, 10:01 AM
Paulographic Paulographic is offline
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I have a couple myself. A Ross Ensign Selfix 16-20, 6x4.5 vertical viewfinder, got on our flea market. It had the Rosstar with a simple shutter in poor condition which internet reseach suggested wasn't much good. The body and bellows were sound so I replaced it a Zeiss f6.3 75mm Novar which stopped down is Ok.
I haven't used it yet as plans to get out and about taking pictures last year were ditched due to a flooded house and loss of car in the same.
The Novar originally came off a Nettar which had a tatty body. Before the Selfix I had it on a Kershaw which has a fine body but only had a meniscus lens with sector shutter.
Also a Selfix 420, 8 or 12 on, which now has a 105mm Kodak Anaston. The original lens was an Ensar as I remember with three fasr speeds plus B and T. I found that it covered 5x4", no vignetting but no movements, which with some other bits, including an old Ross Xpres I mentioned in another thread, I gave to someone who liked to play DIY with large format. This I used to have the longer focus lens on a 6x6 folder.
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Old 27th February 2013, 11:31 AM
JamesK JamesK is offline
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I'm going to have to keep a look out for the Ektar lens.

I was looking at an old Ensign on e-bay that someone had fitted a Tessar lens on, but it went for about 75 which I wasn't prepared to pay as it didn't seem to be in that good a condition.

My 16/20 645 has the 75mm f3.5 Xpress lens in an Epsilon shutter. I've only just taken my first film with it, which I haven't had developed yet, so I don't know what it's like, although being an Xpress, I'm hoping it's OK.
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  #10  
Old 27th February 2013, 01:36 PM
Lostlabours Lostlabours is online now
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Tessar lenses were factory fitted on some Ensign models in the 1930's. The selfix 220 with an Ensar f4.5 & Compur was 7 17s 6d, while with a Tessar/Compur it was 10 17s 6d.

In fact the 220 was offered with range of lenses/shutters and cloth or leather covering, 8 variations from 3 5s with an f7.7 Ensar in Ensign shutter, cloth covered to the top of the range with Persian leather and Tessar. Mid range used Prontor shutters.

I tried my spare 105mm lens (un named coated Xpres) on a 5x4 and it covers full frame but I haven't tested it, it's likely to be soft at the corners

Ian
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