Military Cameras

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by mtk, Sep 12, 2004.

  1. mtk


    Hi All, I recently saw a Kodak Bantam listed in a KEH catalogue as a
    US Army Signal Corps camera and it aroused my curiousity about
    military issued cameras in general. What kinds were issued to our
    armed forces over the years? I think I also saw an army issued Lieca
    screwmount once on ebay...What kind of cameras were used by the army
    air corps for recon/intelligence work? Are some of you aware of the
    special diamond stamp on cameras that were sold/purchased in the PX's
    overseas? I shudder at the thought of what may have been available in
    the army/navy surplus stores after the war! Your input is appreciated!
    Thanks! mark
  2. The Kodak Medalist 6X9 ,RF camera was issued to Navy Officers during WW2. The Air Force used Nikon F's and signal corps in the Army used speed Graphics.There were some cameras around surplus years ago ,I think they were called K25 ,a aero camera used for Recon.
  3. One must make a distinction between "normal" cameras that just happened to be adopted and used by the military (in the US and elsewhere) for their own purposes, and dedicated cameras (sometimes referred to as combat cameras) that were designed, developed and manufactured specifically for the military (again, in the US and worldwide). As regards the former, the list would be extremely long; some typical examples would include the Topcon RE Super/RD that were used by the US Navy for quite a few years (and are marked accordingly), or the Leica IIIg marked with the three Swedish crowns for the Swedish armed forces (these are collector items at astronomic prices, as only 125 were made). Incidentally, be aware of Leica screwmounts with fancy WW2-era military or political markings being offered on ebay! These are ALL fakes (converted Russian FED 3) made in Poland and Ukraine to milk gullable Western buyers! Military cameras in the strict meaning of the expression would include first of all aircraft cameras (including both reconnaissance as well as gun cameras, the latter with a distinction between combat and training models). These are relatively easy to find, but of course are virtually impossible to use due both their weight and the need for an external power source. Interesting examples of combat cameras for military reporters would include e.g. the Graflex Combat Graphic and KE-12 (these are plate cameras) as well as the KE-4(1) for 70mm film (a.k.a. "Gulliver's Contax"), certainly the most extraordinary combat camera ever made.
  4. Zeiss Historica has a great article about Hubert Nerwin, a former Zeiss-Ikon camera designer who also designed the "Gulliver's Contax."
    Nerwin's postwar designs include the folding Ikonta 35 and folding Contina II and Contessa rangefinders. He ended up in the U.S., taking a job with Graflex.
    Anyway, take a look at the article.
  5. Bonsignore Ezio wrote in part: "... Interesting examples of combat cameras for military reporters would include e.g. the Graflex Combat Graphic and KE-12 (these are plate cameras) as well as the KE-4(1) for 70mm film (a.k.a. "Gulliver's Contax"), certainly the most extraordinary combat camera ever made."
    For more information on the KE-4, see The Graphic 70
  6. There used to be an official U.S. Army Argus C3 Service Manual on line. Unfortunately, it seems to have disappeared, along with a lot of other Argus information.
  7. There's more to military photographic equipment than small format cameras.

    What fascinates me is aerial camera lenses. Some of these are relatively exotic and can be very good. Unfortunately not all can easily be used on, um, civilian cameras.

    Film gauges used were 70 mm (6x6), 5" (4.5" x 4.5"), 10" (9"x9" and 9" x 18"). Now mainly replaced by digital. You can imagine that the lenses had to have been large, some with immense coverage.

    I've had three adapted -- fine machining required, send 'em to SKGrimes -- and am waiting for on a fourth before deciding whether to invest in making it usable. 38/4.5 Biogon, ex-RAF Vinten F135, super lens. 4"/2.0 and 12"/4 Taylor Hobson, the latter a telephoto. Ex-RAF, Vinten F95 and Agiflite respectively. All three well worth the bother and expense of adaptation.

    The "wait-and-see" is a 14"/5.6 Taylor Hobson Aviar; the view through it is promising, but one of my other 14" lenses may be better AND easier to use.

    And I have 47/5.6 Super Angulon from an ex-Royal Navy Shackman Automatic Dial Recording Camera that was used to record the results of gunnery exercises. Not an aerial camera, it has a steel plate mounting bracket that weighs about five pounds and is intended to be bolted to a bulkhead. All the lens needed before being put on a board was a shutter overhaul.

    I've had one other ex-Ministry of Defense lens, a 6"/1.9 Dallmeyer Super Six. I balked at the cost of having it put on board, eventually sold it to someone who wanted it a lot more than I did. I have no idea which branch used it, or for what.

    I've never seriously considered chasing a 7"/2.8 AeroEktar. Its big and heavy and I'm not sure how it would help me. The 12"/2.8 AeroEktar is even more of the same. And that one is far from the biggest or heaviest aerial camera lens around. The last time I was at Surplus Shack they had a 36"/f4 Perkin Elmer that would have served as a slightly high coffee table. Fascinating, but what to do with it? How to carry it?

    One of my neighbors has an aerial camera lens that staggers my limited imagination. 44/5.6 (may have misremembered the max aperture) Wild Super Aviogon. It covers 4x5, is distortion free. Mapping lens, really, not particularly military. A Japanese site shows one on a Speed Graphic, which solves the problem of putting it in shutter. Wild did, though, make some amazing lenses for military aerial cameras.


  8. mtk


    Dan..WOW those sound like some kind of lenses! I recently was reading a war time biography called "Combat Photographer" that was apparently written just after WW2. Talks about the camera freezing up at high altitudes and the things they did to keep the camera, film (and fingers) from freezing.(Aircraft photo) I find it fascinating that the footage you see now is some 60+ years old and things are really decent considering that all the lens design was done with a slide rule, ball point pen and a legal pad! (not to mention smarts and ingenuity).
    Still to go banging around the trenches and beaches with a small format camera, develop negs in a field tent etc. was no small task! It would be cool to obtain a camera that went thru that kind of hell...Also, that 70mm GIANT contax is some kind of camera too. I had never heard of one before. Thanks, this is great stuff! Mark
  9. Here is an interesting shot of Margaret Bourke-White wielding a large aerial recon style camera during WWII.
  10. Margaret Bourke-White is one of my favorite photographers. While she has much industrial work, she has a great eye for people.
  11. American fighter planes incorporated 16 mm movie cameras in the wings which ran automatically whenever the guns were fired to record hits. They sat flat in the wings so the film must have travelled horizontally past the lens. These cameras were in war surplus stores for years after WWII and may still be avilable. The Germans used Robot (half frame) cameras with a rapid wind system, much slower than a movie camera. I don't know about other countries.
  12. Mark, if you want to learn more about British aerial cameras and the RAF's photographic work in general, you might buy a copy of Roy Conyers Nesbit's book Eyes of The RAF (I think that's the title). Still in print, the paperback version isn't too expensive. I bought a copy to learn what I could about the lenses, its not too useful for that. If you want to learn a little about lenses used in UK aerial cameras, the Lens Collector's Vade Mecum is a little better.

    The Giant Contax's name is Combat Graphic and they're around. When I was contemplating moving up in format from 35 mm, I considered getting one. Decided not to because it shoots 70 mm film, so not many emulsions are available for it, and because of the system's limited range. Yes, its a systems camera but there are few lenses for it.

    Charles, all air forces use gun cameras. US and UK ones show up regularly on eBay, and I saw a soviet 35 mm camera that seemed to be a gun camera yesterday at a camera show. For me, the big question about them has always been what I could do with a fixed-focus single speed 16 mm movie camera. My answer's always been "nothing."


  13. 1970-71, Europe, US Army counterintelligence. Our staplke camera was the Pentax Spotmatic. Had a Perkin Elmer 800mm Catadioptric with a standard Pentax screw mount. Useful mount, because some office got hold of Soviet lenses with the same mount. Leica M3's and a couple of old Leica IIIg's, with sets of lenses. A couple of Minoxes (8x11), polaroids, and a Bolex H-16 Rex movie camera. Had to scrounge around Europe for a set of lenses the one time we used the Bolex. A Graphlex 4x5, and an other 4x5 indoor camwera with extended rails. But when we really, really had to bring home the bacon, we had an automated (for those days) Kodak Instamatic in 127 type film. Had labs available on base. Needless to say, it was like being in a candy shop.
  14. I have the same mental disorder as Dan. I have a large collection of ex-military lenses and a few aerial cameras - everthying from a 48" f8 that covers 9 inch roll film to smaller gems like the Taylor Hobson and Leitz lenses for the Vinten F95 camera.

    I have to smuggle them into the house as my wife does not approve. But they are wonderful assemblies of glass and brass. I've managed to adapt some of the smaller lenses to fit a press camera and a monorail but the 48" lens will make a nice telescope when I have time...
  15. Tim, do you have the 1.5" Elcan for the F95? If so, how much more than 80 mm does it cover? How does it compare with the 38 Biogon? And have you an F95 Biogon too?

    Do you have any of the long Elcans for the F95? I mean, any but the 150/2.8. I don't have one, with a 160/5.6 Pro Raptar in hand its hard to justify chasing another lens near that focal length. The same goes for the ex-Agiflite 150/2.8 Sonnar. One of my neighbors has one, putting it on a board looks to be not too easy. Yes, I have a tiny 6"/9 Cooke Copying lens and may decide to travel with it rather than the Pro Raptar. Small size has charms.

    If you have the 12"/4 Taylor Hobson telephoto, how did you set it up? I shoot mine on a 2x3 Speed, it attaches to the board by a stepped externally-threaded fitting that screws into the back of the lens. It shoots very well.

    After my Biogon adventure -- short version, I bought 20 of them from a surplus dealer, sold most, shoot one -- my wife has allowed me to run amok. She trusts that I won't squander too much, will sell what I decide I don't want to keep, and (an expectation hard to meet) that I'll come out ahead on the deals. A combination of fiscal sanity and the nagging question (from me, not her) "If I got it, what would I do with it?" restrain me. I'm not a dog, I know better than to chase cars ...

    Before the Biogon adventure, which started me on lenses for aerial cameras, she let me run slightly amok on lenses etc. for the Graphics. Her mantra is something to the effect of "Less expensive and distressing than other women."


  16. During the 1970s or Army Public Information Detachment was issued Canon F1s and two brand new Canadian-built Leica M4s, with 28mm and 135mm lenses.
  17. I served as a photographer in the RAF from 1957 to 1970, so all of the cameras which I used were pre 1970. These include 16mm gunsight recorders (GGSR, G45b and G90) B I G cine cameras, the F95 which ran at 4fps or 8fps. The F49, F52, F96 and F97 recce cameras.
    There were also a couple of radar recording cameras such as the F73 and another one, the name of which I cannot remember, which had no shutter.
    For general ground photograpy, I used Rolleiflex 120 and MPP 5x4 cameras. Later Pentax SLR cameras were issued, as we became modernised. I remember finding an old Leica 111 and a box full of Robot Royals in the stores, but they were little used.
    The F96 was the most spectacular camera. It had a 48" lens and carried 1000' of 10" wide film. A full fit for this camera was a fan of 8 plus 2 obliques and a cover camera. I also used a Littlejohn camera which ran on metal tracks. 36"x36" sheets of film were fitted into its slide with black tape.
    As a matter of interest, on exercise when using Canbera PR7s with F95 cameras fitted, the time taken to process a 70mm film, view it, select the targets and produce 4 10"x10" B&W enlargements was measured from the time the aircraft engines stopped until the prints were in the judge's hands. The best we did was 4 minutes and ten seconds. Those were the days!
  18. Very interesting. Did you ever use or set eyes on F134, F135, or F139?

    And how well did the shorter lenses for the F96 shoot?


  19. Wow. I've just found this thread after finding an article on a Combat Graphic. Great camera and am i correct in thinking it's bigger than the Fuji 6x9 RF (Texas Leica)?

    I must say it's fantastic reading all of your comments. As a relatively new vintage Large Format lens junkie (Veritos, Velostigmats, Darlot Petzvals, etc.) this has given me a new area to explore - Military cameras and lenses.

    It's a shame we don't have many camera fairs in the UK and i reckon most of the good stuff has already been picked up. Brass lenses sometimes turn up at the usual suspects, but nothing really nice.

    Where do i start? Can any of you recommend a lens that's fairly easy to find and use on 5x4 or 10x8?

    Thanking you in-advance,


    PS: You guys should publish a book, with lots of your images. So much information here.
  20. Alex, get a copy of A Lens Collector's Vade Mecum and read the section on Military Optical Ordinance. This should, um, curb your enthusiasm for chasing ex-military lenses to use on a view camera.

    Short version, the lenses are mainly big, heavy and can't be put in shutter. The shorter ones (up to 150 mm) for aerial cameras that shoot 70 mm film are smaller, lighter, and have very short back focus, which can be quite limiting. But since these lenses were made to cover nominal 6x6 few come close to covering 4x5, let alone 8x10.
  21. Thanks Dan. I'll have to get a copy of A Lens Collector's Vade Mecum, has to be worth a read, right? So i can read up on Military Optical Ordinance. Mr CAD has a huge cannon of a lens on the front counter with a Pentax fit, painted in olive drab!

    I'll keep trawling through the usual vendor's stock lists in the mean time. I keep finding myself looking at Glenn View's stock in the US wondering what i'd do with one of his lenses. Thanks for kick starting my new obsession! =o)

  22. I got a Spotmatic with a Nato stock number on the bottom, and an arrow which I am told denotes Army. All I can find out aout the number says that the 99 in the middle means "british".
    I recently put it up for sale on eBay, as a "military issue" camera, and some (Expletive deleted) has been mailing me with a sensless tirade along the lines, of can't possibly be military issue, cos there is not scuh thing as a military issue spotmatic! And then goes not to say that the arrow denotes Army, but it would have been actually issued (?) to a some "gay" (!) civil servant in the MoD!
    Of course he signs himself as Ex MoD employee. So that means, he's a civil servant right! And therefore by his own reasoning......
    By his recokning if it had been issued to a soldier it would have been smashed to bits. (Why? Wouldn't that have got the soldier into hot water?) Or missing in action. (Stolen?)
    Er, what action. Early 70's here. Maybe a bit of light skirmishing!
    Besides who said it was issued to a squaddie? The photographer, would I think not hold the rank of private, though possibly corporal, and would not I think be expected to take the camera into action in any case!
    I do know that the navy in the UK issued these for use by various persons, for various purposes. (Forces newspaper photographs.) And I knew one bloke who was the ship's photographer. (Who lost one obverboard, and spent the next few weeks "in the brig" without pay.)
    Mind his main objection seems to be that I' asking far too much, (Ok I priced it high but the 'military' ones' are a bit special!) and that it is grossly misdescribed. (Er, where how?)
    Besides, no one is twisitng his arm!
    Any how, does anyone know how to decipher the nato stock number, and how can I tell if it was army or navy.? Anyone?
  23. Hi, I have an olive drab spotmatic, bought it about ten years ago on ebay, be great to get some info on this!

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