F24 aerial camera

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by gib, Nov 13, 2010.

  1. gib


    taken today at the Canadian Air Force Museum at Base Borden near Angus, Ontario
  2. Talk about your "lens envy"!
    Somewhat smaller aerial cameras of the same general form were a commonplace surplus item after WWII.
    Imagine one of these lenses actually adapted to a Graflex or view camera.
  3. This reminds me of a TV news magazine story (possibly 60 Minutes) about a decade ago.
    A photographic entrepreneur purchased an old camera from a US Military spy plane, (maybe SR-71 or U-2) converting the camera to make huge images he would then sell to large office buildings as floor-to-ceiling murals for decor in their lobbies.
    Usually billboard size images are very blurry when viewed at arms length, however, due to the use of these spy plane lenses, his images were tack-sharp at nose length.
    Since these lenses were originally made to take images from 15 miles away (or up), he had to modify the lenses, actually reduce their focal length, so these lenses could be focused on nearer images here on terra-firma. I think he removed an element or two from the front of the lens, shortening the physical length of the lenses by about a third. If I remember correctly he bought two of these cameras at surplus auctions for less then $1K each.
    I haven't heard about him, or his company since. Does anyone else remember this story, or the name of the company?
    Also, if I remember correctly, the segment's story-line was less about photography, and more about military defense spending, or waste, and government surplus auctions in general.
  4. The F24 is the classic British air reconnaissance camera. It was first made about 1925 and took photos 5 inches square on to rollfilm. It was stiil in use up to the 1950's. Design was by Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) and manufacture by either Williamson or (later) Vinten. The camera comes in three sections - the camera body with roller blind shutter and motor drive, the lens cone which protected the lens in flight, and the detachable film magazine.
    Operation was either manually, though you needed to be fairly strong to hold one for any length of tme, or more usually, the camera was mounted in an aircraft and the shutter fired by the pilot from the cockpit. They were often fitted to Spitfire aircraft as the photo-reconnaissance versions could outpace almost any other aircraft until the ME262 appeared. They could be mounted pointing forward (see below), obliquely pointing out across the wing, or straight down. The straight down position was usually used for larger cameras. The F24 is one of the smaller air cameras and the larger cameras, often with 36 inch lenses, had to be mounted vertically behind the cockpit. When mounted in an aircraft they were connected up to the aircrafts 24V or 20V electrical system to actuate the shutter and motor drive.
    The standard lens was the Air Ministry version of the uncoated Dallmeyer Pentac 8 inch f2.9. These were made in large numbers of variable quality due to wartime conditions. Most are quite good and some are very good indeed. Not many were made by Dallmeyer and during WWII temporary factories were established to increase production. One such factory was the National Optical Co of Leicester which used a core of experienced staff from manufacturers such as Taylor, Taylor & Hobson (TTH) and then trained people (mostly women) to make the lenses. These lenses can sometimes be identified by the small NOC stamp on the barrrel.
    The 'F' in the name stands for 'film' as earlier World War I cameras were 'P' for 'Plate'.
  5. JDM, the 8 inch F2.9 Pentac is often used in the UK by large format enthusiasts as a portrait lens as it cover 4x5 easily and the big aperture makes controlling the depth of field quite easy. These air lenses had to have big apertures to stop the motion of the aircraft. If you think of a Spitfire doing say 350 - 400 mph that is 500 - 600 feet per second.
    I used a Pentac 8 inch to photograph the 1999 solar eclipse which was almost total where I am in London. Composite photo below.
    The US equivalent for the Pentac lens is the Kodak Aero-Ektar 178mm f2.5. The equivalent US camera to the F24 is probably the Faiirchild K-20 of which Folmer-Graflex made 15,000 for the US Navy from 1941 to 1945.
  6. JDM, "lens envy" isn't appropriate. Most lenses made for aerial cameras are not very practical for use on regular ordinary cameras. This because the longer focal lengths, made, naturally, for large format roll film (4.5"x4.5" on 5" film, 9x9 on 10" film, 9x18 on 10" film) are great heavy monsters that require considerable extension to focus at infinity. The shorter focal lengths, mostly made for 70 mm film, aren't that large but typically have very short back focus. This greatly restricts the cameras they can be used on.
    For example, there's now a 98/1.4 Wild Heerbrugg Falconar on eBay. Ex-F95, I believe. Not mine and I don't recommend getting it. It just covers 6x6 (on 70 mm film) and, according to the USAF data sheet on its back focus is 43.55 mm. Flange focal distance is around 4", diameter is a little over 4". So it won't clear any 6x6 SLR's mirror, can't be front-mounted on a 2x3 Speed Graphic, can't be mounted normally on one either, ... And who wants to shoot 6x6 with a 4x5 Speed? I'm sure that some ignorant fantasist will pay a lot of money for it.
    I have a couple of lenses that were competitors with the 98/1.4 Falconar, viz., a 4"/2.0 TTH Anastigmat also ex-F95 and a 100/2.5 Uran-27. This last is from a Soviet aerial camera. Both cover 2x3, both are front-mounted on 2x3 Pacemaker Graphic boards and both make infinity on a 2x3 Pacemaker speed with mm to spare. They're ok if something faster than f/4.5 is needed, but from f/4.5 down my 101/4.5 Ektar is better and a lot lighter.
    Marc, nice story, smells like an urban legend. One doesn't just remove elements from a lens without affecting image quality.
  7. 'great heavy monsters....'
    quite true :)

  8. Dan, in most of these kinds of "envy" it's the size, not the functionality, that counts. :)
    If you mean to imply that people didn't use these and also adapt them to 4x5" and larger cameras, that's not really true. Going through the ads in late 40s photomagazines, you can find many long (15", 20" etc.) lenses from aerial cameras that are modified and come with a appropriate mounting "flange." I don't think many of them were used on 35mm cameras, of course; but formats were commonly larger, a lot larger, then. Surplus film for the aerial cameras was also sold widely, as some in the ad below.
    This is an early ad of the kind from a surplus house. Note the focus adapter and other accessories for using a modified aerial camera directly or converting the lenses to other mounts.
  9. JDM, I have no doubt that hopeful dreamers bought those lenses. I'm not as sure as you are that many of the surplus lenses were ever used by their buyers.
    That 98/1.4 Falconar I mentioned is a case in point. Fine for braggin' rights if hung in front of a micro 4/3 camera -- people put c-mount lenses on those little beasties, so it has enough back focus to allow room for an adapter, including helical -- but otherwise quite useless except as a paperweight. Not that great a lens wide open, either. Per USAF 25 lp/mm AWAR wide open, 28 at the center.
    A while ago Charlie Barringer gave me a surplus aerial camera lens, a 36"/8 B&H telephoto. Ignore the facts that the cells are held together by a collar and the glass is in poor condition. It weighs 18 pounds, far too much for either of us to use if it were complete with diaphragm and otherwise in good shape. Although it passes light and forms an image -- yes, I asked it -- its highest and best use seems to be as a doorstop. If you think you can use it, its yours for the postage.
    I didn't mention it, but one thing that leaps out of the USAF data sheets is that many of the lenses USAF flew were very poorly achromatised, were best used with heavy filtration. Another reason why they're poisoned gifts. I don't know whether this is true of WW-II vintage.
    If you have have a copy of the VM, read what it says about "Military Optical Ordinance." If you don't have a copy of the VM, get one ...
    Re bigger, well, the F-24's lenses weren't really that big. To get an idea of the cameras and lenses the RAF used before they went digital, see Roy Conyers Nesbit's book Eyes of the RAF. It is weaker on the lenses than I like, still useful. But for really big lenses, take a look at the 1963 GOI catalog. The Russians flew bigger lenses, made aerial cameras that shot larger formats, than USAF, RAF, or the Armee de l'Air. The GOI catalog can be downloaded from http://www.lallement.com/pictures/files.htm
  10. JDM, a little more on size.
    24" isn't very long, that's only 610 mm. I have a light little 610 for my Baby Bertha, am sweating out arrival -- long story, DHL has lost it once so far -- of a 900 for the Bertha. And I have a 700 for my Nikons.
    I wouldn't be surprised to learn that you have longer lenses still. So I can't imagine you envying any of the tiny little aerial camera lenses of nothing at all in that advertisement.
  11. Yes, but these are not old USAF lenses, they are USAAF lenses from the Big Two, and as I said, they weren't being tacked on to "miniature" cameras like 35mm and even 6cm. At the time, lots of people had the same disdain for anything smaller than 4x5 that "full-frame" people now have for APS-C cameras. Size, moreover, is not just focal length :)
    Offerings of these went on into the mid 50s, and somebody was buying them and the film to go into the original bodies as well. There are, here and there in the old magazines, actual examples of use of them, though I confess I haven't the time to track those down now.
    In fact, I am perfectly comfortable with the size of my lenses, although it is true I have accumulated a lot of them longer than 400mm. Hmmm.
    Besides, it was a joke, ein Spaß. Jeez.:p<
  12. rdm


    Talk about your "lens envy"!
    Somewhat smaller aerial cameras of the same general form were a commonplace surplus item after WWII.
    Imagine one of these lenses actually adapted to a Graflex or view camera.​
    I seen one done already. I believe It's on S.K. Grimes website. There is a pic of one mounted on a speed graphic.
  13. 7"/2.5 Aero Ektars have been and are still being adapted to 4x5 Speed Graphics. They're used, too. For examples, Google "David Burnett" or visit http://www.xs4all.nl/~lommen9/ and click on the Aero link.
    But this is a tiny little lens of nothing at all. Longer WW-II vintage ex-RAF lenses, such as 14"/5.6 TTH (Aviar, not so engraved) and Dallmeyer (Serrac, not so engraved) lenses, are too long for Speed Graphics, too big to put in shutter. 8"/2.9 Pentacs are snares for the unwary, most seem to be lousy. As for USAAF lenses, 12 inchers, e.g., EKCo Aerostigmat and Aero Ektar, are too long for Speed Graphics and can't be shuttered. They're mostly nice for fantasy and, um, doorstops. 20 inchers are just impossible. If you don't believe me, try one.
    Longer ex-aerial camera lenses were fitted to Graflex-based "Big Bertha" cameras. I've made a sort of Bertha, am very impressed by the press photographers who used them. Berthas are heavy, cumbersome, very slow to set up, can't be used well without careful planning.
    The last time I was at SKGrimes I saw a 12" Metrogon that they'd just put in shutter for a customer. There's no accounting for tastes. Expensive job. One of the jobs I took them that visit was putting a 100/5.6 S.F.O.M., a Metrogon type from an Omera 31 camera that shot 114 x 114 (in inches that's 4.5 x 4.5) on 5" roll film, on a 2x3 Graphic board. There's no accounting for tastes.

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