Clarus MS-35: The Camera

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Jun 6, 2011.

  1. Clarus MS-35: The Camera

    1946-52 American Focal-Plane Shutter Rangefinder

    Kadlubek Nr. CLR0010

    lens: Wollensak Velostigmat 50mm f/2.8

    This has to be a Classic Manual "no pictures/pictures" post. The reason this is just on the camera itself is that -- although the shutter seems to be coming back to life with some cleaning and exercise on my copy of the Clarus--about half the time the second shutter curtain does not close all the way. When I started on it, it never really worked at any speed, but 1/1000 speed looks to be doing Ok now and the others show improvement. Before I can post any pictures taken with it, the camera will need some rehabilitation exercise and a diet of soft cleaning. So I promise that if I can get it working enough to get most of a roll accurately exposed, I'll be back with a sequel - "The Return of the Clarus MS-35: The Pictures".

    First, it has to be noted that there is the rather striking resemblance of this American Minnesota camera to the Candid Camera Corporation of Chicago's Perfex models from before and after World War II.

    If you look at the picture below showing the Perfex fifty-five and the Clarus MS-35, there's really no denying the similarities in the camera case design. Perfex was still struggling to keep in business in the immediate post-war environment, and I am skeptical that they would have licensed their body design to a company in Minneapolis, MN.

    A closer look reveals that much of the similarity is due to the cast aluminum (?) body with the distinctive S-curve coming from the back up to the front of the top plate. The body below on both cameras is squarish with rounded ends.

    A closer look reveals that the Clarus has a very different arrangement of the viewfinder and rangefinder windows, and also lacks the extinction meter window of the Perfex design. Where the Perfex lens simply screws into the body, there is a square plate for the lens mount on the Clarus. The Perfex earlier models (44 and 55) have a slow speed mechanism (which rarely works anymore) but the Clarus does not. The shutter speeds listed on the top of the Clarus are 25,50,100, 500, 1000, the same as on the Perfex fifty-five. The Clarus has a Bulb speed as well.

    The arrangement of the knobs and so on are slightly different on the two cameras, and the Clarus has a nicely made, ordinary hinged back, unlike the Perfex where the bottom and back come off together for loading (more like the Contax it was supposed to 'surpass'). The Perfex fifty-five has a hot shoe of sorts, while the Clarus has a flash connector immediately behind the accessory clip.

    Both the Clarus and the Perfex have a screw mount, but they are NOT the same diameter, although both companies used a Wollensak Velostigmat 50mm lens among others.

    The closest I can measure the Clarus mount is ~41.0+ to 41.17mm on the outside of the lens threads. A 40mm Praktiflex lens is too small, and a 42mm Praktica mount lens is too large, I suppose in immediate post-war USA, if it is not 41mm, the measurement could be 1- 5/8ths" (=41,27mm) ?

    The Clarus finishing looks a little finer than on the Perfexes I have. The turning clip for the rear cover is nicely machined, and the interior looks a little more finished than on the Perfexes.
  2. Clarus MS-35

    When the Clarus MS-35 camera was 'introduced' in 1946, it came into a market starved for new cameras. In December, 1947, Peerless (probably the biggest of the New York stores at the time) offered the Clarus for a total of $122.75 in their ad in Popular Photography. In the same issue, Olden offered the camera for $116.25 new and used for $87.00.
  3. Here's a mail-order company advertisement for the camera.
  4. This was, of course much cheaper than the similar featured Leica or Contax cameras. There was one important difference, however. The Leicas and the Contaxes mostly worked.
    By all accounts, the earliest Clarus MS-35s out of the stable had substantial problems with the focal plane shutter. The traditional story told in most sites is that by the later models Clarus had managed to get some of them to work all right, but that it was too late by then. Everyone had heard about the shutter. They didn't make it beyond 1952.

    A year later, Clarus was still trying to make the point that they were a viable, patriotic American alternative to those expensive, elite "krautish" brands.
  5. By the way, do you believe that the two pictures in this ad were "made under identical conditions with two different cameras"?
    I was skeptical myself given the capture of the tennis player's feet in air. However, when I looked at them as a stereo pair (parallel viewing as seen in the ad), there is what seems to be actual depth to the picture, suggesting two cameras side by side.
    The image below is the putative stereo pair switched right to left for cross-eye stereo viewing. Try it yourself, if you have the knack; and see if you can see stereo in the pair. The problem is that there is an effect called "pseudo stereo" even when you look at a pair of the same picture. ;)
  6. I once had a Clarus with f2 "faster" 50mm lens. The Clarus was a much smoother operating camera than the Perfex, also at one time in my collection. I also saw but did not own a Perfex with a leaf shutter and a Kodak Ektar lens (may have been a transplant).
  7. A listing of the features and serial numbers of the many variants created in a long but difficult production run are to be found at a very comprehensive site on this camera by "Scott" at , and other pages accessible from that page. On a "Clarus Camera Forum" there is even talk of a "gold" Clarus. There may have been only one of the gold ones? Scott thinks he has the gold one, but it is only plated, not solid gold. Mine is just chrome plating over whatever the body is made of. :(

    Our own Rick Oleson, may he be blesséd, has some discussion of this camera (scroll down) on his website ( ) and a Google™ here will reveal some previous discussion of this camera.
    That's it for this post. As I said, if I can get the camera shutter firing consistently, I'll be posting some pictures taken with it, but it's not ready for prime time yet.
  8. intesting post
    I have a question
    I read that making Leica copies was a cottage industry in japan
    after the war and that all geman patents were open to the japanese
    WHY didn't the american " roughly similar to leica cameras"
    not use the 39 mm lens mouint?
    if the japanese could and did do it why not american companies?
    True the clarus and prefex were not of the sabe quality and dependability as the german cameras.
    and worst then even some of the not so great Jampanese copies.
    buy why head off in a different direction.
    Argus was a popular company then. they even made cameras with a behind the lens leaf shutter.
    it might have been possibl;e for them to make a camera compatible with Leica lenses.
    Of course hindsight is always ? better
  9. The Perfex was originally designed at a time when American companies would probably have run into potential problems using Leica's exact mount. The patents were only freed up as war reparations by the Allied Control Commission AFTER Germany lost the war. Neither the pre-war Japanese or Soviets worried much about Western patents and the like.
    I would guess that Clarus didn't go with a compatible mount with the Leica or Contax because they were trying to do this before the US got into WWII. They may have already committed themselves to a "Clarus mount" by the time they actually shipped anything.
    During the war, the shortage of quality cameras led various countries to contract for Leica (especially) clones from indigenous manufacturers in the USA, Britain, and the USSR. Most of these did not make it onto the market or to delivery before the end of the war. These are the beloved Leica copies, 39mm mount and all, that have become popular with collectors after the prices of "real" Leicas went sky high.
    I believe that these copies were probably authorized by something called the "Alien Property Custodian" who handled things like the American branches of Leica, Agfa, and so on during the war.
  10. Thanks JDM, fascinating as always, and always educational. Can't wait to see the pictures.
  11. Canon certainly worried about Leica's rangefinder coupling patents before the end of WW-II. They had their own strange mount on the rangefinder-coupled cameras, and while you could interchange the lens, I think you only could use a 50mm lens. (Like the Contax, there was a helical in the camera.) Then they made some L39 cameras, but without a rangefinder. It was only after 1945 that they made the S-II, which was a proper Leica clone.
  12. Fascinating. The old ads are a real bonus; since I'm no longer persuaded by advertising, I struggle to recollect if I really believed the advertisements from my childhood. I suspect I did....While I've come across the Clarus name, I've had no knowledge of the camera or it's history, so many thanks for filling the void, JDM. I hope you can post some images in the future.
    I'm not sure about the "Two camera" claim. A close inspection of the images suggests to me they're adjacent frames from (possibly) a movie camera, due to subtle differences in racquet position, positioning against background features, shadow, etc., which seem to suggest more than just a parallax difference. But who will ever know?
  13. I only know the name Clarus because JDM mentioned it a few times before. Was meaning to trawl the net looking for info on this bit of Americana.
    Great write-up. The advertisements are always a welcome addition. I've got a few Popular Photography magazines from the 1940s, but they are all prior the introduction of this particular camera.
  14. I noticed that the two pics were a stereo pair even before I scrolled down to that observation in the OP. I am a "spread-eye" stereo viewer so the orientation in the original ad works for me.
    I believe they are a genuine stereo pair. The player's position is too perfect not to be a match, and she is displaced correctly against the background. But the two pics were not taken at exactly the same instant. The racquet position is not the same and can't be resolved in 3d when viewing; and the ball is not displaced the same in the two images; it seems to be about the same distance as the background, which I think means that it moved just enough between the two pics to about counter the 3d displacement. I'd say the pics were shot about 1/100 sec. apart.
    Pics aside, an entertaining and informative post!
  15. If two cameras were hooked up to a divided shutter cable, you might get just what August describes in terms of the slight difference in time, especially given slightly different trigger and shutter mechanisms. I rejected them initially because I thought everything was too much in sync until I looked closer.
  16. Does it matter if the images in the advertisement were real?
    The printing quality of ads in the 1940's were so abysmal, they could have shot through a Coke bottle and it wouldn't have made a difference.
  17. Hi JDM
    I had one in 1949-50, it was built solidly, I was never thrilled with the e element lens, it didn't appear as sharp to me as the C3, Kodak RF, or Bolsey (and the Bolsey was a Velostigmat, however I believe that Jacques Bolsey had a bretty remarkable international reputation had some changes made.
    My MS35 stopped working with some of the problems similar to yours. I opened the top cowling and found that a large brass gear had become so worn that it jammed, however the gear was only meshing with a gear that wore only half of that large gear, so I turned it upside down and it worked perfectly. After about a year I sold the camera. I had to have sharp photos because I was stringing for a tiny wire service while a full time Navy Corpsman.
    Best regards, Lynn
  18. Very interesting JDM. Looking forward to more pictures.
  19. A very well researched presentation. I am always amazed how much time "those" camera nerds spend researching the history of various camera models.
    I did find the Clarus in a 1948 Peerless catalog but it didn't provide any worthwhile information above what you have already listed.
    I look forward to your pictures when you finish fixing this camera.
  20. A note of interest: this camera was eventually reintroduced under the name Wescon but it no longer had a focal plane shutter or interchangeable lens. According to the Hove International Blue Book 1992-1993 edition a Wescon was discovered at the Miami camera show in 1991 accompanied by a gold color flash. The former Clarus suffered a down grade the same as the Perfex cameras in that the Wescon has a shutter/lens on front that is the same as from a Bolsey B2. Looking now on the web it seems the Wescon also was made in a focal plane version.
    No one mentioned that a 101mm telephoto lens was produced for the Clarus. Looking now on the web I see a 35mm wide angle was introduced also. Wasn't aware of that one. And there was a faster F2 lens. If you have the patience to wait for photos to load you will enjoy this site:
    Other links are and and
  21. Interesting camera. I will have to look in some of my old issues of Popular Photography and read up on it.
  22. Interesting history. Love the ads, especially the a/b comparison one. Thanks!
  23. For those whose eyes are not up to the reduced type, here is the description from the December, 1948 ad of the comparison test.
  24. One of the cameras that I keep an eye out for, I'll buy one if I can get it cheap. Would love to hear the details of the eventual shutter repair, if it's not something stripped as a result of poor craftsmanship and energetic winding.
  25. Jody, so far I am hopeful that cleaning and exercising the shutter may help it. It has most definitely got closer to "working" since I have been doing so.
    However, you don't need to wait for me to post on any repair necessary. Everything I know about that is found at Oleson's
  26. Oh, the one thing I have always wanted to know is why is it named Clarus? Is that an ugly name or what? The only other Clarus contemporary to this was in "Abbott and Costell Meet the Mummy". Clarus was the mummy.
  27. It is a great camera when it works. There certainly is nothing wrong with the Wollensak lens.
    When I got my Clarus the shutter was really dragging. The problem turned out to be the shaft
    on the shutter speed dial needed some lubrication. It works fairly well now but every once in
    a while I hear a chatter when the shutter is released indicating the hole for a shaft is too
    large. It also had a light leak where the rangefinder coupling lever comes through the top
    because there was no light seal over the hole.
    I have a friend who was a technician at the Clarus "factory" (it was located on the second
    floor of a drugstore). He likes to tell of the guy that fitted the back to the camera. He would
    close the door and would tweek it here or there depending on how it sounded.
    By the time Clarus got the camera to be fairly reliable it had already gained the reputation
    as a lemon and Clarus went out of business in 1952. The design was sold to Wescon of
    Chicago and they continued to make the camera for a couple of years.
  28. I think the mummy was Kharis, at least that was what it was in the original more 'serious' movies.. ;)
  29. Les (and others), I'm just back from a long and exhausting battlefield tour of Virginia, and I have not had time yet to get the Clarus working, if that's even possible. I hope so too, but....
    I found that the first model Perfex I had got seems not to be working although the shutter fires, it seems to be capping and just one speed. So many cameras, so little time.
  30. I forgot to post a link to a couple of shots taken with the Clarus. It has been a tale of woe, but the shutter now seems to work, however, I just haven't been able to get out and try, try again.

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