Bolsey B2 - a reluctant post.

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Sep 13, 2014.

  1. Bolsey B2


    Kadlubek Nr. BOL0040
    see for general background
  2. Butkus’s manual for it and its flash unit:

    and a nice article about it by Karen Nakamura at

    some more about the company and other models at

    Jacques Bolsey, the designer and founder of the Bolsey company( , ) is better known as a designer of cine cameras and the Ur-ALPA.

    I got here, as usual, rather circuitously. For a period, I had thought to investigate some of the 1930s and 1940s American cameras, inspired in part by the excellent book

    1972 Glass, Brass, & Chrome: The American 35mm Miniature Camera by K.C. Lahue and J.A. Bailey. University of Oklahoma Press (re-issued in 2002). I had earlier quoted its introduction:

    There is something about a group of fine mechanical parts assembled into pleasing shapes with skillful craftsmanship that creates a desire for ownership and a pride of possession, whether it be an automobile, a mobile sculpture, or a camera. Not that all American 35mm cameras were works of art; indeed, many models were quite the opposite. It is significant, however, that those cameras which became popular had an appeal to their buyers in terms other than their function of taking pictures. During our research for this volume, we had frequent debates with photographic historians on whether our work would be complete if it accented the hardware and simply assumed that the camera purchasers achieved, at least to their own satisfaction, artistically pleasing results. Since the choice was ours, we allowed our side to win. Photography as an art form has been evaluated by those better qualified and, in truth, more interested in art than we are. Our attempt is a history of American 35mm hardware, its evolution from a German idea, and the role it played in making photography America's number-one hobby today.​

    in my “Columnist Manifesto” ( ) pleading the case for vernacular cameras as ‘classic’ in some sense, even without the undoubtedly excellent photos taken with them by people other than me, anyhow.

    My search for American contemporaries of my beloved Prakticas, took me down strange paths, e.g. :

    Clarus MS-35
    Argus C-3
    argus a-four

    and others, most still untold.

    Many of these cameras, nay, most of these cameras no longer work, unlike the old Prakticas….

    One of these I got in a non-functional state was my Bolsey B2

    As I have commented on elsewhere, however, I dug it out recently, and found that, perhaps after a year or so the touch of naphtha I had put into the gummed up shutter, the shutter was working. So I got some film into it and prepared to go out, when the back fell off. There is a little lever that pinches the back to the body, and I found that no matter how I bent it (being aware that at some point the thin sheet of metal would fatigue and fall off), it didn’t stay on. My solution?

    Rubber bands!

    Treating the entire package with some gingerness, I did go out to shoot.

    Here, with comments are the results.

    The camera is genuinely small — see the 35mm film can (old style) next to the camera.
  3. Focus at infinity, even stopped down considerably was not great, nor was it clear that the 1/100 speed — the only speed setting that worked, as I found out — was actually 1/100. Some of the lack of focus on closer examination turns out to be movement.

    Here is an example, unfortunately I had put a fresh roll of Ektar 100 into it. I must remember to try out doubtful cameras with the shorter rolls of Fuji!
  4. When focus did come close, the Wollensak Anastigmat lens and shutter sorta worked. Here is a spider web.
  5. Definitely seemed to work better up close than at infinity.

    Riprap, as it is known.

  6. Really the only near-sharp picture on the roll at infinity:
  7. At this point, I became uncertain that the shutter was firing at settings other than 1/100 (it wasn’t), here I am trying to see when and if the shutter is actually working.

    As you can see, at 1/100 setting, at least the shutter was firing.
  8. It’s really hard for me to say how well this camera might have worked when it was new; but, even without the problems, it felt awkward in the hand, and operation was as strangely 1930ish as many of the post-war American cameras seem to be. In the words quoted earlier:

    Not that all American 35mm cameras were works of art; indeed, many models were quite the opposite.​

    Well, I did it, so I reported my experience. Presumably, others have had better luck than I.
    However, I will say in closing that my last, self-portrait may be submitted for critique. By some generous people, it might even be considered as good as Clifford of fond memory. ;)
  9. The few Bolsey B2's I've handled were all broken. Sadly, your report follows the same theme. Nice cases, though. At least you got some results including an interesting self portrait. Thanks for the post.
  10. I have an old B2 that has some film transport issues. It was in a junk box.
  11. My worse camera ever and mine worked! It does make me appreciate the Argus C3 more. I can see your reluctance JDM but someone had to do it.
  12. I wonder if the Bolsey Jubilee fared any better? I know it had an f2.8 lens and I think the shutter went to 1/200 IIRC. I actually have a lens/shutter unit to fit the Jubilee that I bought from Surplus Shed a few years ago. I plan to adapt it to one of my junk cameras as soon as I can find a way to connect its shutter linkage to a shutter release.
  13. I've never seen a Bolsey in the flesh, and I'd suspect hat not many, of any model, made they way to Australasia. The B2 certainly has the "look" of US cameras of the era; one day I'll try to define exactly what these characteristics are. Thanks for an informative post.
  14. I wait ever so patiently for when you arrive at the proper wording for this definition Rick D. Ha Ha ! That said
    A certain square fattness such as that of the Kodak 35 and the Medalist / II seems to be a trait that this
    model carries too!
  15. I've considered buying one of the elusive Bolseyflex models, but am now having second thoughts. I like cool old cameras, but only if they work.
    Kent in SD
  16. Both my Bolsey B2 and B have stuck shutters at the moment. I need to take both of them apart and clean them :\
  17. Here's a rough size comparison between the B22 and other compact cameras. Of course, this is a front view. The B22 is the thickest of the cameras in the picture. This assumes the B22 to be the same size as the B2.
  18. Thanks Mike. I think it looks to be the same size as the B2. The thickness makes pocketing it somewhat difficult, at least with modern pockets.
  19. JDM- pockets back in the day must have been huge. Still, from reading some of the old photo magazines that belonged to my dad, the B2/B22 must have still been among the more compact offerings (not counting folders). Adjusting for what mid to late 1950's dollars would be equal to in 2014 dollars, the B2 wasn't cheap. I found the actual sales receipt where my dad bought a new Vitessa L (with 50mm f2 Ultron) for around $150. He was working as a linotype operator at a daily newspaper and did the occasional wedding with his Crown Graphic so it must have taken him a long time to save up the money. I inherited that camera and it still functions, although the selenium light meter is off by a couple of stops.
    And thanks again, for a great post.

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