Ansco Shur Shot Jr. -- bargain camera was a real bargain!

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by silent1, Feb 10, 2005.

  1. The Ansco Shur-Shot Jr. was about as simple as a camera could get. A box to keep the light out, simple meniscus lens (protected from dirt by way of being inside the camera), fixed (small) aperture, simple rotary shutter without so much as a B setting, and the simplest possible film transport -- a knob that turned the take-up spool directly and red window framing. The body of the camera was paperboard with an inexpensive pebble finish leatherette; winding knob and similar items were held by bent tabs punched through the body material. The lens board was just that -- a board, of wood, grooved and drilled to hold lens and shutter where they needed to be, and incidentally to provide stiffness to the flimsy body (the body material was more like modern posterboard than mat board). A stamped steel faceplate covered the front (mostly to keep fingers out of the shutter, since a simple hole allowed light to reach the lens during exposures) and held the simple polished steel mirrors for the two brilliant viewfinders -- one for portrait, one for landscape format. Film (120, because the camera predated the introduction of the 620 size later adopted for American built Ansco models) was loaded by removing the internal light baffle to gain access to the spools, held in simple spring steel carriages; the advance knob pulled out away from the body to clear the spool. After threading the film's paper leader across the gate and down to the takeup, and turning the spool by hand far enough to lock the paper in place (but not so far as to expose the film, one hopes), the assembly was inserted back into the body (following simple directions stamped into the cardboard of the light baffle itself), the knob pushed home, and film advanced while squinting through a tiny ruby window to look for the framing numbers. The larger 116 (and still larger 122) film was still common when the Shur-Shot Jr. was made, but by the time these cardboard cameras came out one could also buy inexpensive cameras in 127, 828, and even 00 size (the latter about the size of 35 mm minus the sprocket holes -- or modern APS), taking anywhere from 6 to 16 images per roll of paper backed film. A 35 mm was an expensive camera still, though, because of the requirement for a mechanical film stop and counter. Cameras like the Shur-Shot Jr. were cheap even in their day -- this one probably sold for less than $2 when it was new (before the Second World War, or just after), perhaps as little as a single dollar. A roll of Verichrome (before Verichrome Pan) would have cost a quarter or a bit more, and fifty cents would have processed it with return of eight shiny, white-bordered 2x3 contact prints. Well, Verichrome is gone, and so is Verichrome Pan. A film processor who even knows what a contact print is probably charges pro lab rates, extra for black and white (and that will probably be sent out for processing by a specialist). The modern equivalent of a box camera uses 35 mm film, and is cheap because all the parts are molded plastic assembled by workers in India or China who get paid less than most of us spend on film. The shutter still works the same way, though -- a matter of over-centering a spring that pushes a disk around a pivot so that a slot uncovers the aperture for a moment, plus a gate to cover the opening when the disk swings back when the shutter release is, well, released. A double exposure lock is incorporated now, of course. Still, a contact print from 35 mm isn't at all satisfying, unless you're ten years old and can comfortably read the maker's mark on a hat pin. Modern T-max 400 is really too fast for one of these old box cameras, but it'll work with a little manipulation of developing time -- so when the package from Gene M arrived last weekend, I loaded up a roll of what I had and set out to see what this camera, older even than anything I owned as a kid (because I passed up the cardboard cameras in favor of "modern" Bakelite Brownie Hawkeyes and Holidays), would do with a little sunshine and shadow. I'm impressed. The lens isn't even a achromat doublet -- just a single piece of glass, concave on the front side, convex toward the film. The field curvature is obvious in one shot, where a nearby object is in better focus than a distant one at the edge, though it would have been too close if at the center. But even so, the lens is sharp enough that if you put in a 6x6 mask, you might find it difficult to tell the shots had been made in one of the cheapest cameras in history. Take a look...
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  2. The very first shot sets the tone -- this camera is clearly working out of its class, like a Lower East Side cabbie getting behind the wheel of forty-two feet of black lacquered rolling party pad, but it gets the job done. I pulled the film about one stop -- instead of my usual nineteen minutes at 68 F in HC-110 dilution G, agitating every 3rd minute, I cut the time to thirteen minutes and kept the same agitation schedule. Just right...
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  3. To give some idea what the lens is capable of, here's a ho-hum shot, the kind of thing I used to take when I was a kid, forgetting that the geese in the middle were going to be invisibly small in the print...
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  4. And here's a tight crop to show the geese -- about equivalent to making a 4x6 inch print from a 35 mm half frame sized piece of the original 6x9 cm negative. I did cheat a little on this shot -- I steadied the camera on a fence, to avoid movement during the 1/25 second exposure...
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  5. I should probably also note that I have done absolutely no sharpening or other manipulation on these images; they're exactly what you'd get making a straight print of the correct exposure on the proper grade of paper. Dean Williams and CE Nelson should find this one gratifying. In the original scan, you can easily see the pattern of the chain link fence behind the shelter, and trace the areas of rust and good paint on the barbecue stand...
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  6. And yes, I'm guilty -- shooting with the correct light, in winter, using a tiny waist level bright finder, it's hard to notice you're photographing your own shadow, and I got it in two of the three shots above. Here's one more, just the kind of thing this camera was really meant to do: take pictures of people's home places. These don't qualify for the "Where I Live" contest, they were taken too early -- but don't worry, I'll be out there again with the Shur-Shot Jr., and my Pioneer 620, but also with my Ideal plate camera, my Spottie, and my Reflex II. Lots of time and I've got film...
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  7. Donald, great post. I have the Ansco Shur-Flash and was equally impressed with its results. Isn't it amazing what can be produced with a camera that costs less than the film you put in it; and the cameras themselves look cool too! Thanks for sharing the images and the information.
     
  8. tgh

    tgh

    I haven't run any film through mine in years - need to do that again. I never did run but a couple of rolls of BW through it, mostly used color. For some reason I always found BW from it to be a little disappointing compared to color, even though I love a good BW image. Maybe because a BW exposure is all about light and sharpness and contrast. There's not much else. And a simple lens camera with a fixed aperture and one shutter speed has pretty limited amounts of any of the three. A color photo can often get by being less sharp or less contrasty if there's an interesting mix of colors in the image.
     
  9. Good info, photos and writing. THANKS.
     
  10. A fun to read write up, Donald. The remark about the film costing more than the camera you put it in hits home with me. Many of my oldies are that way, but I never thought about it 'til now. You really had me going with the geese shot. I looked dilignetly for those geese, thinking they were aflight. Didn't know they were on the ground 'til I read further. I took many shots like that myself as a kid. At that time it didn't bother me at all that I had to explain to my folks what "those things" were in the photo. "They are fish in the lake, Dad!, don't you see 'em?" These old boxes are a blast for me. A perfect combination of simple photography, nostalgia, and being a kid, again. Thanks.
     
  11. I spent enough time game spotting from a car in the Kruger National Park as a boy, armed with my Box Brownie , to know exactly what it's like to find that the elephant you took a stunning photo of, that seemed close enough to touch, turns out to be that little black smudge just below the horizon line.....

    Didn't matter 'tho! I still thought I was a great wildlife photographer! Well done with the geese, Donald.
     
  12. Great post Donald. I love the look.
     

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